This year’s NHL Draft, slated to begin Wednesday, has all the makings of an explosive 2023-24 season. The top five projected picks are some of the most decorated skaters in junior hockey history. From No. 5 to No. 1, these five scout picks are expected to make a big splash upon their entry into the league.
No. 5: Matvei Michkov
Russia has been home to some pretty iconic NHL stars, but arguably none more so than the legendary Alexander Ovechkin. All eyes are on Ovechkin as he chases Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record — but, in the meantime, someone else has broken his. Russian right-winger and projected fifth pick for the 2023 Draft, Michkov shattered Ovechkin’s record as the Russian national team’s youngest goal scorer. Michkov tallied seven points in this year’s playoffs with an impressive 27 penalty minutes, marking him as an aggressive and passionate player.
No. 4: Leo Carlsson
Carlsson, the youngest player in the Swedish Hockey League last year, went on to be named this year’s Swedish Junior Hockey Player of the Year. NHL Central Scouting named Carlsson the No. 1 international skater after the 18-year-old led all Swedish Hockey League U-20 players in overall points this season. Between that and his seven-game, six-point playoff world championship run, Carlsson is no consolation prize for the San Jose Sharks, who earned the No. 4 spot in this year’s draft lottery.
No. 3: Will Smith
Jack Hughes, Auston Matthews, Quinn Hughes and Tage Thompson are just some of the many United States National Team Development Program, or USNTDP, graduates that have cracked the code for huge success in the NHL. Smith, a center, is expected to join his fellow graduates this year as the projected third-overall pick. At the end of the 2022-23 season, Smith stands second in the USNTDP record books for most overall points with 191 and most points in a single season with 127.
No. 2: Adam Fantilli
The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is known for producing NHL rockstars, and sophomore Fantilli is no different. Continuing on the theme of breaking records, Fantilli became the first-ever player to win the Hobey Baker award, a gold medal in the junior world championships and a gold medal in the world championships in a single season. The Hobey Baker award is given to the top male player in all of college ice hockey, and Fantilli has demonstrated his commitment to the sport on and off the ice.
No. 1: Connor Bedard
The hype around Bedard has been virtually unparalleled. The 17-year-old center wrapped up his last season with the Regina Pats of the Canadian Hockey League with an astounding 100 goals. At the end of this historic season, he also became the first player in history to be named the CHL’s top goal scorer, draft pick and player of the year all in one season. With such a high skill level heading out of the junior leagues, coaches and analysts are even projecting that Bedard will see major league playing time almost immediately.
While fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, who will pick first this year, are no doubt ecstatic about the idea of landing generational talent Bedard, the teams picking next will see no shortage of exceptional talent from this year’s prospect pool. The other 31 teams — and their scouts — have some tough decisions on their hands.