NHL mock draft: How the first round could play out

Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli top our mock draft board heading into the NHL All-Star break, but the forward-heavy field is wide open after that.

The prize awaiting the winner of the 2023 NHL Draft lottery is a generational one. (Getty)
The prize awaiting the winner of the 2023 NHL Draft lottery is a generational one. (Getty)

While the NHL standings are far from set, the All-Star break lends a brief moment of stability to look at team needs, and where they might address those based on the current standings as we head toward the 2023 draft.

Beyond Connor Bedard, and perhaps Adam Fantilli, there is little consensus in the first round. Positionally, the opening round will be forward heavy, which could lead to teams needing defensive prospects to trade down, or waiting until later to select positionally.

Here is Yahoo’s first 2023 Mock NHL Draft, looking at how the opening 32 picks could play out. You can read our Midterm NHL Draft Rankings here.

2023 NHL Mock Draft

1) Columbus - Connor Bedard, F, Regina, WHL 
There is no question, whoever wins the NHL Draft lottery will welcome Connor Bedard as an immediate impact player. In Columbus, scoring has been a major issue, but infusing Bedard alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine will provide a significant boost. Columbus is desperate for blueline help, but don’t expect them to trade or pass up on any of 2023’s quartet of top forward prospects.

2) Chicago - Adam Fantilli, F, Michigan, NCAA
Spending two seasons with the USHL’s Chicago Steel prior to joining Michigan this season, nothing would seem more logical than the Blackhawks selecting Fantilli and centering him as the answer to the end of the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era. He’s a big, skilled centerman, who could become the face of Chicago's rebuild and future success.

3) Anaheim - Matvei Michkov, F, Sochi, KHL
Anaheim has a talented group of prospects climbing the ranks. If they select higher than third, Bedard and Fantilli will be the obvious selections, but should they remain outside those two, it would not be surprising to see the Ducks swing for the fences and remain patient with Matvei Michkov. In terms of dynamic skill, only Bedard usurps Michkov in this draft. If it’s timed right, Michkov could become the piece that completes a rebuild in a few seasons when he jumps to North American ready to make an immediate impact.

4) Arizona - Leo Carlsson, F, Orebro, SHL
Last year, Arizona grabbed Logan Cooley and Conor Geekie at the top of the opening round. The year prior, it was Dylan Guenther. If a defender was available this high, they'd certainly scoop him up as it’s an area of need for Arizona, but rounds two and three will feature plenty of options at the position. With that in mind, the lowly Coyotes might as well choose the player perhaps most pro-ready physically in this draft. Carlsson has been an impact player in the SHL, and could contend for a top nine role in Arizona immediately if the Coyotes so desire.

5) San Jose - Zach Benson, F, Winnipeg, WHL
Similar to other teams at the top of this draft, San Jose needs blueline help more than anything, but at fifth overall, it’s not worth sacrificing overall talent for positional needs. Depending on the return for Erik Karlsson, should the team choose to trade him, they could find positional support in other ways. Benson is a dynamic player who is difficult to defend due to his speed, hands, and his lateral movements through lanes. San Jose is rebuilding, so choosing a dynamic player who can score in bundles makes sense, and Benson defines those traits.

6) Vancouver - Will Smith, F, USNTDP
Goodbye Bo Horvat, hello Will Smith. Saying goodbye to one franchise centreman could lead logically to welcoming another. Although it’s too early to call last year’s ninth overall pick Jonathan Lekkerimaki a flop, his draft-plus-one season has been a nightmare. Smith can bring flash offensively, but he also provides a reliable presence in all zones. Headed to Boston College, Vancouver also has the luxury of bringing Smith to the league, or AHL, whenever they see fit.

7) Montreal - Eduard Sale, F, Brno, Czechia
The franchise has targeted European skaters with regularity in the opening round of NHL drafts in recent years, so taking Sale makes sense for the Canadiens. If they wanted to add another Slovak, Dalibor Dvorsky is another option at this point in the draft, but Sale provides slightly more dimension in his game, alongside elite speed and vision.

8) St. Louis - Andrew Cristall, F, Kelowna, WHL
If someone is going to reach positionally, St. Louis could take a defender like Axel Sandin-Pellikka in this position. Cristall, however, is similar in some regards to the team’s most successful selections in recent seasons, players like Rob Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. The Blues have struggled in the draft recently, so choosing for skill, and utilizing a best available approach may benefit the team here. Who they believe is the best available is anyone’s guess, but Cristall is an elite playmaker, who already thinks the game at a professional speed.

9) Detroit - Dalibor Dvorsky, F, AIK, Allsvenskan
Moritz Seider and Simon Edvinsson have the blueline for the foreseeable future, but Detroit still needs scoring to compliment Lucas Raymond and Marco Kasper. If the Filip Zadina selection turns out as poorly as it seems, and if the Wings part with Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana, the need to add top-end scoring talent will become a focus. Dvorsky is a shooter, who wants the puck every shift. Like many Red Wings prospects, he’s already developing in Sweden, and the Wings would likely place him with a trusted team like Rogle in the SHL to continue his development.

10) Philadelphia - Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D, Skelleftea AIK, J20 Nationell
The Flyers need help up and down their lineup, but at no position is their future need more glaring than on defense. In preseason polls, Axel Sandin-Pellikka was just another name in the crowd. Since then, Sandin-Pellikka has emerged as the top blueliner in the draft class. He could easily slip into the top ten, and it’s hard to see teams like Philadelphia, or the first repeat drafting teams (Montreal, Vancouver) passing on his well-rounded game.

11) Ottawa - Ryan Leonard, F, USNTDP 
Trading out of the first round last season, Ottawa hasn’t added a top-end prospect since Tim Stutzle and Jake Sanderson in 2020, that is unless 2021 tenth-overall pick Tyler Boucher can find his way out of a very non-linear development path. That should have Senators fans worried. Leonard might not be on the board when the Senators get up to select, either, as his stock has been on the rise all season. He’s relentless, and will quickly endear himself to whatever fanbase he joins.

12) Montreal (via Florida) - Riley Heidt, F, Prince George, WHL
This is where the draft gets interesting. Montreal, set to make their second selection of the opening round, have a plethora of options. The group of skilled forwards remains large at the midpoint of the round, there are several defenders teams will begin to consider, and of course, it’s unlikely a goaltender is selected already. In this circumstance, it might benefit Montreal to trade down and choose a goaltender like Michael Hrabal or Carson Bjarnason who can someday solve the Carey Price dilemma, which shows no sign of resolving itself. Otherwise, adding another skilled forward like Heidt is probably their best move.

13) Nashville - Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yastreby, MHL
It’s been seven years since the Predators chose a defender in the top 50 picks, and that year they took two: Dante Fabbro and Sam Girard. It’s time the team adds another home-grown defensive prospect to the organization. Gulyayev is an excellent skater, and fits the modern mold of smaller, mobile defenders currently finding success in the NHL.

14) Vancouver (via NYI) - David Reinbacher, D, Kloten, NL
After grabbing a forward in the top ten, Vancouver might look to shift gears in hopes of finding a future sidekick for Quinn Hughes. They have prospect depth needs at all positions, so diversifying their opportunities in the opening round could be a tactic we see the beleagured Canucks employ. After acquiring two younger forwards in the Bo Horvat trade, adding blueline depth is a must. Reinbacher is one of the best pro ready blueliners in this draft, and has the upside potential to emerge as the best defender from 2023’s draft.

15) Buffalo - Oliver Moore, F, USNTDP
Buffalo has a scary dearth of prospects and young NHLers. Selecting in the middle of the first round, the options are endless. It would not be a surprise if Reinbacher or Gulyayev are still available to see the Sabres choose a defender they can be patient with. If not, the group of forwards, including Oliver Moore, a University of Minnesota commit who quietly finds ways to produce, is still deep at this point in the draft.

16) Calgary - Brayden Yager, F, Moose Jaw, WHL
To say Calgary’s draft success has been abysmal is approaching an understatement. Whether it’s by choice in keeping their picks buried, or because of faulty scouting, the Flames have failed to produce a homegrown impact player since they selected Matthew Tkachuk in 2016. Yager has a fantastic shot and an unteachable scoring touch. While he needs defensive work, he provides the Flames with a high-ceiling prospect.

17) Pittsburgh - Matthew Wood, F, Connecticut, NCAA
It seems incredible that the Penguins are actually making first-round picks again. Matthew Wood is a player who can step into Pittsburgh’s lineup sooner than later since the late birthdate prospect will already have a season of NCAA competition under his belt. Does he project as a top-line replacement for Crosby or Malkin? No. Does he project as a sizeable middle-six player with power-forward tendancies? Absolutely.

18) Colorado - Otto Stenberg, F, Frolunda, J20 Nationell
There’s no guarantee Stenberg is still available at this point in the draft, but he has a combination of skill, speed, and the ability to be downright annoying to opponents that should intrigue the Colorado Avalanche as they look to extend their winning window. In a season or two, Stenberg could step in as a low cost member of the forward corps, who plays a style that lends well to the bottom-six of a contender before he emerges into a top-six scoring role.

19) Minnesota - Gavin Brindley, F, Michigan, NCAA
Brindley, who plays for the University of Michigan, is one of the better passers and playmakers available in the opening round. The Florida product is dogged in his puck pursuit, and will be ready to make the step to pro hockey sooner than later.

20) Washington - Calum Ritchie, F, Oshawa, OHL
He’s no Alex Ovechkin, but the six-foot-two forward has a lot of the attributes that fans in Washington have become accustomed to loving. Ritchie could become a mid-to-late first-round steal. He had a ton of hype leading into the season, and although he’s struggled a bit, he projects as the type of forward that can benefit Washington as they begin looking at the inevitable retool and rebuild that will follow the Ovechkin era.

21) Edmonton - Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha, USHL
Dear Edmonton, please don’t pick another forward. It might be too late to develop a goalie to fit into the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl prime, but if Edmonton has any plans for the future, it’s an area of need they’ve unsuccessfully attempted to plaster over for years. Hrabel’s six-foot-six frame doesn’t let a lot through, and he’s not only big, he’s mobile and technical. Carson Bjarnason is the other first-round goaltending option, but it’s time for Edmonton to think strategically in their selections.

22) Vegas - Nate Danielson, F, Brandon, WHL
There is no room in Vegas in the foreseeable future, which makes Danielson a safe pick. He has such a well balanced game and is so smooth on his feet, that at times, you forget how good Danielson is. Giving him time to gain confidence in junior before heading to the AHL could help Danielson emerge from being a middle-six prospect to something more.

23) NYR - Dmitri Simashev, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, MHL 
The bright lights of New York City entice some of the NHL’s biggest offensive stars. To compliment the flash, it’s always nice to have a 6-foot-4 shutdown defender in the mix, and Simashev fits the bill. His mobility and ability to personally transport the puck hint that there may be offensive upside in Simashev’s game, but in the latter half of the first round, a minute munching blueliner who can handle top-line match ups is a dream outcome.

24) Los Angeles - Samuel Honzek, F, Vancouver, WHL
Going off our own midterm draft board a bit, Samuel Honzek is the type of player Los Angeles has selected with regularity. He’s 6-foot-4, has top-six potential, and is a proven scorer. It’s an enticing package. The only caveat in Los Angeles is positionally, and a defender like Dmitri Simashev or Likas Dragicevic might make more sense.

25) Seattle - Bradley Nadeau, F, Penticton, BCHL
After struggling to find the right spot for Shane Wright this season, perhaps the Kraken will look at Nadeau as a no-brainer for a variety of reasons. First, his offensive upside has the potential to eclipse a dozen or more players selected before him. Second, his development path is fixed — Nadeau is headed to the University of Maine, where he’ll have the chance to play key minutes as a leader of the program. No need to rush Nadeau until he’s ready to step in and contribute.

26) Winnipeg - Gabe Perreault, F, USNTDP
For better or worse, the Winnipeg Jets have swung at some fascinating prospects in recent years…with mixed results. Last year however, Winnipeg went for a safer selection in Rutger McGroarty before hopping on the polarizing Brad Lambert train. It would not be a surprise to see Winnipeg go back to the US National Development team well again this year and choose Gabe Perreault. He is a goal-scorer's goal-scorer, with an accurate shot and deceptive release. Winnipeg is in win-now mode, so they can be patient with Perreault while he works to round out his two-way game.

27) Chicago (via Tampa Bay) - Kasper Halttunen, F, HIFK, Liiga 
Picking again in the first round, Chicago could go in any direction with this one. Knowing their rebuild is only beginning, taking Halttunen, who is still adding elements to his game in limited minutes in Liiga, could pan out well for the Blackhawks. Halttunen is 6-foot-3 and looks like a dominant player among his peers, but his ceiling is concealed at the moment in Liiga. In fact, this pick could just as easily become another Finnish prospect like Lenni Hameenaho or Jesse Kiiskinen. Chicago’s second pick will be a dealer’s choice for an organization facing a long rebuild.

28) NYR (via Dallas) - Charlie Stramel, F, Wisconsin, NCAA
Continuing the trend of adding size and alternative elements to their lineup, the New York Rangers grabbing Charlie Stramel could make sense for a variety of reasons. First, he can become an affordable bottom-six role player soon, and it’s not inconceivable his offense elevates to second-line capabilities. The 6-foot-3 University of Wisconsin forward is still finding his way in the NCAA, but overall, his game projects well.

29) New Jersey - Alex Ciernik, F, ​​Södertälje, J20 Nationell
Entering their contention window, the Devils could do anything with this pick, from trading it altogether at the deadline, to trading down, or using it on a player who can add a swiss army knife of characteristics to their roster like Alex Ciernik. He’s a blazing skater with offensive upside who could play a checking-line role as a penalty killer, or, as he continues to progress, could find his way higher up the lineup. He’s an intelligent player coming out of a revitalized Slovakian program.

30) Toronto - Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City, WHL 
The Leafs did not select a defender in the 2022 or 2021 drafts and it’s been four drafts since Toronto used a first- or second-round pick on a blueliner. Dragicevic is a 6-foot-2 right shot defender who can activate from the back end, and will figure into future powerplay plans. If there is another organizational need, it’s Toronto’s inability to draft and develop a starting goalie internally. Hrabal or Bjarnason could address this need.

31) Carolina - Colby Barlow, F, Owen Sound, OHL
In the OHL this season, Barlow has scored in just about every conceivable way. He gets it done around the net, and although not flashy, is equally adept at finding soft spots to shoot from, and in attacking high-traffic zones to chip in the dirty stuff. Barlow could work his way into the top 15 of this draft.

32) Boston - Oliver Bonk, D, London, OHL
For much of the season, Bonk has remained outside of our first round, but his performance at the CHL Top Prospects Game, and continued consistency in London, suggest teams may dip in earlier for Bonk. The Boston Bruins have an organizational need on the blueline, and Bonk, as the final pick in the opening round, is a safe enough selection.

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