Sam Cosentino’s 2023 Mock Draft: Plenty of intrigue after No. 1


While rankings always involve some degree of personal beliefs, biases and background, the mock draft process is different. Take how you feel about a player, add in how you think teams make their decisions, and then sprinkle in some public opinion, and you have a recipe for a mock draft.

Analyzing this year’s deep draft class has been a blast. There are so many good players to choose from at the top, and the rumour mill has been churning big time here in Music City.  The certainty of Connor Bedard going first overall does take away some of the intrigue, but it sure does get interesting after that.

The most intriguing element in all of this is Matvei Michkov. Teams have been clamouring to meet with him — even teams outside the top ten, just in case things go really sideways — and his willingness to take those talks, and the fact that there are boots on the ground, is huge.

In my opinion, Michkov enters the conversation as early San Jose with the fourth-overall pick, and he’s not likely to get past Washington at pick No. 8. 

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Things could take a right turn as early as the second or third pick, although personally, I think Anaheim and Columbus would be missing out on impact players with size down the middle of the ice, should either of them take a pass on either of Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson.

Take nothing away from the ultra-talented All-American boy Will Smith, though. At five-foot-11.75 and 180 pounds (as measured at the NHL Combine), Smith isn’t small, but size seems to be back in vogue after everyone watched Vegas overcome Florida in the Cup Final. 

A number of issues will impact what we see Wednesday night. Most prominent is that, as of writing, there are eight teams with multiple first-round picks. That always makes for intrigue as it opens up a number of possible strategies: take a safe pick and a home-run potential pick; take the best player available and then address an organizational need; or, especially this year, make the first pick and take offers on the second. 

Arizona has the most interesting scenario with picks at six and 12. If the status quo remains, the Coyotes will get two great players. If, like the Sean Durzi deal, they want to address the here-and-now because the cupboards are stacked, there will be a number of suitors for both picks. 

With that said, here’s how I see things going down in round one:

1. Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard, C

Say hello to Patrick Kane 2.0.

2. Anaheim Ducks: Adam Fantilli, C

Say hello to Ryan Getzlaf 2.0.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Leo Carlsson, C

Already a success in the men’s league, Carlsson boasts plenty of upside, including a frame that has room for massive physical growth.

4. San Jose Sharks: Will Smith, C

The USNTDP standout is well suited to play at today’s speed, with high-end goal-scoring and playmaking capabilities. 

5. Montreal Canadiens: Ryan Leonard, C

The Boston-area connections are strong for GM Kent Hughes and executive vice president Jeff Gorton. Leonard is a bulldog, an agitator and a goal scorer.

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6. Arizona Coyotes David Reinbacher, D

A two-way, right-shot defender who can play in all situations, Reinbacher is a young man loaded with character, with plenty of room for physical growth.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: Matvei Michkov, RW

While recent history with Russian players hasn’t been kind, this player seems worth the risk. A more conservative approach can be taken with Philadelphia’s second pick at No. 22.

8. Washington Capitals: Dalibor Dvorsky, C

A detail-oriented player who can also man the wing. He’s in top condition, and comes to the table with high-end compete and a work ethic to match.

9. Detroit Red Wings: Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D

While this may be a tad high for the Swedish defenceman, Detroit’s staff identifies players it likes and is never influenced by outside noise.

10. St. Louis Blues: Nate Danielson, C

A sound two-way player, whose B game still plays as a 3C, but who’s A game puts him in a top-six/match-up role. 

11. Vancouver Canucks: Tom Willander, D

With little in the cupboard on D in Vancouver, this player offers a BPA/organizational need at the same time. 

12. Arizona Coyotes: Zach Benson, LW

As a teammate of Conor Geekie (who went 11th overall to Arizona in 2022), there would be an extensive book on this player whom the puck seems to follow. 

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13. Buffalo Sabres: Colby Barlow, RW

A team that took two centres in round one last year, moves to the wing to find this sniper waiting for them. 

14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Brayden Yager, C:

Fits the profile of Dubas’s draft record in Toronto.  

15. Nashville Predators: Matthew Wood, C

There will be some recency bias, as Wood is coming off an excellent U-18s, but more evidence can be found as the youngest player in NCAA D1 hockey this season was also UConn’s leading scorer.

16. Calgary Flames: Samuel Honzek, C

If the board shakes down with this player still available, Craig Conroy may sprint to the stage. 

17. Detroit Red Wings: Otto Stenberg, C

Stenberg addresses an area of organizational need, fits the “take a D with one pick and a F with another” model, and there is plenty of track record with Detroit picking good Swedes. 

18. Winnipeg Jets: Oliver Bonk, D

While the D already off the board seem to have a shorter runway, there’s big-time development to be had with Bonk in a London program that does it the right way.

19. Chicago Blackhawks: Gabriel Perreault, RW

The obvious family connection aside, can you imagine this guy feeding pucks to Bedard?

20. Seattle Kraken: Oliver Moore, C

There’s nice synergy between the way Seattle wants to play and how Moore attacks the game with speed and tenacity.

21. Minnesota Wild: Daniil But, RW

An organization that likes big players takes a swing with this physical specimen. 

22. Philadelphia Flyers: Calum Ritchie, C

Having played hurt all season, and turning in a gutsy, successful performance at the U-18s, Ritchie would be a value pick considering he was a top-10 guy at the start of the scouting season. 

23. New York Rangers: David Edstrom, C

Edstromshined at U-18s. He’s another player with room for physical growth on a frame that can handle another 20 pounds, and missing two months with injury also bodes well for his projection. 

24. Nashville Predators: Quentin Musty, C

The mantra under Trotz is take big swings. Musty is a gifted forward with size, whose analytics are amongst the most favourable in the draft class.

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25. St. Louis Blues: Eduard Sale, LW

Plagued by inconsistency due to sporadic playing time as a pro, Sale is a highly skilled scoring forward who can also make plays. Flashes of brilliance at the world juniors should not be forgotten.

26. San Jose Sharks: Mikhail Gulyayev, D

By the time he arrives in California, Erik Karlsson will be long gone, and this player brings some of that element to the table, including elite skating and puck skills.

27. Colorado Avalanche: Tanner Molendyk, D

Hefits along the lines of Girard/Byram. A world-class skater who defends well and checks the analytic boxes heavily used in this organization. 

28. Toronto Maple Leafs: Dmitri Simashev, D

With an opportunity to add size on the back-end, a GM with a fresh perspective moves slightly away from the typical smallish, skilled, speedy forwards.

29. St. Louis Blues: Lukas Dragicevic, D

This player is still learning the finer points of playing defence. His offensive instincts — including a 75-point season that featured a 27-game point streak — are enough to gamble on for this team with the last of its three firsts. If they keep it…

30. Carolina Hurricanes: Gavin Brindley, RW  

A bundle of energy with a vivacious personality, this guy loves to get after it, and would be a dream for Rod Brind’Amour to coach.

31. Colorado Avalanche: Kasper Halttunen, RW

With mentorship available in the forms of Rantanen and Lehkonen, this player offers size and high-end shooting ability. He’s also fresh off a productive U-18s.

32. Vegas Golden Knights: Riley Heidt, LW

A team that leans heavily toward WHL/Canadian content gets a player whose numbers lean heavy power play (44 per cent). But 97 points in that league is difficult regardless of how they’re accumulated.

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