Sharks losing NHL Draft Lottery shouldn't be disappointing, per Chris Peters
Draft expert: Sharks shouldn't be upset if they lose lottery originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.
Sharks fans are about to get a chance to breathe: The 2023 NHL Draft lottery is on Monday.
This might be the most-anticipated draft lottery in franchise history, as the Sharks have the fourth-best odds to win the No. 1 pick and select consensus top prospect Connor Bedard.
The 5-foot-9 center is thought to be a future superstar, and draft guru Chris Peters of FloHockey thinks Bedard has clear Hall of Fame potential.
But there are more special prospects than Bedard in this draft: There’s 6-foot-2 center Adam Fantilli, who has drawn comparisons to Nathan MacKinnon; 6-foot-3 center Leo Carlsson, projected to be a first-line center; and 5-foot-10 winger Matvei Michkov, who might be the best goal scorer in this draft not named Bedard.
For most of this season, it has been considered a top-four class at the very top of this draft.
However, fast-rising 5-foot-11 center Will Smith might belong in this elite group too, opening eyes after pacing the recent U18 World Junior Championships with 20 points in seven games for gold medal-winning Team USA.
So the Sharks should have a Grade-A prospect to choose from, whether they get the No. 1 pick or fall to No. 6.
Per draft-focused site Tankathon, the Sharks have a 9.5 percent chance at getting the No. 1 overall pick, a 9.5 percent opportunity at No. 2, a 0.3 percent longshot at No. 3, a 15.4 percent likelihood of staying put at No. 4, a 44.6 percent chance at No. 5, and a 20.8 percent chance at No. 6.
From Bedard to Carlsson to Ryan Leonard, ex-Shark John Leonard’s younger brother, I spoke with Peters about who San Jose might pick from No. 1 to No. 6.
Sheng Peng: Is the draft a clear 1-2 in Bedard then Fantilli, and a clear top-four of Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson, and Michkov, as many have suggested throughout the year?
Chris Peters: "If you simply strip away [the other stuff], if it was just about the players themselves, I think there's a clear top-four. The order can differentiate, I think. Obviously, everybody's gonna have Bedard No. 1.
"[From Bedard to] Fantilli, it's a gap. But it's not massive, it's not the Grand Canyon. You're looking at two very special players there.
"Now the thing about Fantilli is, there's certainly, I would think, some teams out there that might prefer Leo Carlsson. There might be some teams out there that would prefer Matvei Michkov.
"On draft day, if we were looking at it the way it goes, I would believe that in most scenarios, it would go Bedard No. 1 and then Fantilli No. 2.
"But the fact that one of those four players is Michkov and there's mitigating circumstances and a high-risk factor with that potential pick, that's where things kind of get shaken up."
SP: If the Sharks end up with the No. 4 pick, and say Bedard, Fantilli, and Carlsson are picked, should they select Michkov, even if his KHL contract doesn’t allow him to come over until 2026-27?
CP: "I think the contract is certainly a part of it, but it shouldn't be a huge part of it, because in most scenarios, the Russian prospects, you're not going to get for a couple of years anyway.
"But the biggest issue is just the continued escalation of tensions with Russia in the world, what that means for players going forward, the ease of getting them out.
"The Sharks did it with [Shakir] Mukhamadullin. They were able to get guys over. The situation with Michkov is there's a lot of unknowns in terms of the various things that may have to be achieved for him to leave the country when the time eventually does come. You do have years to figure it out.
"The player is at such a high level, this is such an impressive player, how much risk are we willing to eat for the potential massive reward that he provides?
"But if there were not these mitigating circumstances, there's a strong case that Michkov could go second. He was, for a long time, talked about in the same breath as Connor Bedard. I don't think that he did much this season to dispel that notion.
"The unfortunate thing is we haven't seen him in international competition and hadn't had those peer-to-peer opportunities, where we saw Bedard, Fantilli and Carlsson all play at the World Juniors this year. So that's a factor.
"The recent developments with the unfortunate passing of his father ... that's a huge like, what does that mean? It's something that you actually have to take into account.
"You just feel for the kid. There's a massive life change there for him as well, that's now occurred.
"The thing about Michkov is he has the potential to be a franchise-changing player, he's one of the most intelligent players that you'll see in terms of his offensive sense, his awareness, his ability to find the net, the execution that he's able to operate at with how quick he processes the game. That's a pretty substantial skill set.
"But he is a wing, he doesn't have the size of guys like Fantilli. That also changes the dynamic a little bit.
"But if you are sitting in the fourth position, and Fantilli is gone and Carlson is gone and obviously Bedard will be gone, now you have a decision to make, and you have to say, how much risk are we willing to eat for the potential of having an absolute superstar player?"
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SP: The top-four of this draft, could they all be potential No. 1’s in other years?
CP: "I think so. Leo Carlsson looks more like that guy that went in the next couple picks than a sure-fire first. But I would say that's accurate. Certainly, Michkov and Fantilli, in my opinion."
SP: Impossible question: Project and rank the NHL careers of Bedard, Carlsson, Michov, and Fantilli?
CP: "I think Bedard has the potential to be a Hall of Fame-level player."
"I don't think he's the next Connor McDavid.
"There's not a lot of direct comparables. I think we've gotten out of whack with the way the scale has changed with Connor McDavid and how we evaluate players.
"What if Connor Bedard has a similar career as Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane. Still a Hall of Fame-caliber career, that's still amazing.
"If that's the level of production you get, then you've got a franchise-changing talent right there.
"Where it gets a little bit closer for me, I really think there's not a ton of separation between Fantilli and Michkov.
"Fantilli has the size, speed, and physical advantages. I would say that Michkov is the smarter overall player, the more creative, and potentially, the more offensively impactful player.
"The separating factor there is Fantilli is physical. He's solid enough defensively. He's good through the neutral zone. He's got speed. He checks a lot of the boxes. He'll help you win in the toughest times of the year.
"Whereas Michkov, he isn't one-dimensional. He isn't just a goal scorer. He's a tremendous playmaker. I think he's an offensive genius.
"But defensively, he's a wing. He's not going to impact the game as much as a No. 1 center could.
"That's where I give Fantilli the advantage.
"The only thing that I hesitate with, with Leo Carlsson, I think the skating is only OK.
"Great size package. Very good intelligence, he's a very smart hockey player. He's got tremendous confidence with the puck on his stick, he had a really productive season as an under-19 in the Swedish League, one of the best productive seasons for a player of his age in recent memory.
"Each of them have top-line potential, [but] I think Connor Bedard is a franchise-changing prospect, both Fantilli and Michkov could potentially be franchise-changing prospects, and I view Carlsson as a franchise building block, as opposed to the guy that's going to change your franchise."
SP: When comparing Carlsson to Michkov, is it fair to say that teams that might choose Carlsson over Michkov are picking a safer floor, and not just because of the difference in when the players can come over to the US?
CP: "At least for me, that's the case.
"But I don't necessarily know that would be the case for all NHL teams, because there are a lot of teams out there that love Leo Carlsson and are really excited about the opportunity to potentially have him.
"I would say that yes, the Russian factor is a major factor. But I would be willing to bet that there are going to be teams out there that have Carlsson ahead of Michkov. There could even be some that have him ahead of Fantilli, for all I know."
SP: What makes Carlsson a potential No. 2 overall pick?
CP: "It's just the size-skill combo.
"He's very gifted in terms of his puck skills. Which matters more for the bigger players. There are plenty of under-sized players with tremendous puck skills and speed. There aren't a ton of big guys that you feel like are going to be top-end offensive producers.
"You look at a guy like Mikko Rantanen, players like that, that have size and skill, they can make a pretty significant impact.
"I think that's what teams are looking at with Leo Carlsson, it's that size-skill combo, on top of hockey sense being another standout trait for him.
"I think there might be teams that would probably grade him as high as second in the hockey sense department. Personally, he's third of the four. But that's where he can create a little bit of separation between himself and maybe even an Adam Fantilli.
SP: What if the Sharks fall out of the top four? Is there a tremendous dip with prospects like Will Smith, Zach Benson, Ryan Leonard who are hovering around the top four?
CP: "I don't think there's a tremendous dip. There's a dip. But I don't think it's dramatically so after the top four. Especially because of the way that the US players in particular, Smith, Leonard, guys like [Gabriel] Perreault, Benson.
"At this under-18 Worlds, we've seen Dalibor Dvorský really pop off. If you're looking for defensemen, David Reinbacher looks like he could be a potential top-four [defenseman]. There are a number of avenues that you can go.
"To me, right now, the closest guy is Will Smith, he's one of the most dynamic overall players in the draft, he has 1-on-1 puck skills that are really tremendous and allows him to create some space for himself. Has creativity, just tremendous vision as well.
"He's shown, over the course, of the U-18 World Championships and certainly for all of this season, he has matured a lot in his game. Its put him on a path to potentially being the fourth, fifth [pick], somewhere in there. We don't know what's gonna happen with Michkov. But he could absolutely land in that range.
"The big question for him though, is he a center or a wing? He's a center right now. With his size profile, with his skating ability, he's okay defensively, there are definitely teams out there that view him more as a wing than a center, which then changes the projection.
"[Another] guy that I think has really vaulted himself into this discussion of the top-five, top-four with Michkov potentially moving down, is Ryan Leonard.
"The reason? He's the least productive, but he's still incredibly productive, of the three guys on [USA's U-18] line [of Smith, Perreault, and Leonard]. However, he's the most physical, he's the quickest. He's got skill. He's got a power game to him. There's a meanness to him. He's a very complete player, he does everything that you want.
"The only thing that's a concern, he's this physical player, very physically strong, he's not the tallest guy, basically 5-foot-11. So he's average-size, slightly below for NHL purposes.
"But he does all of these things, on top of being a tremendous goal scorer, he's almost at 50 goals this season.
"He's got some of that 1-on-1 make-you-miss ability that Will Smith has. I don't think he processes the game, and even Ryan has said this to me himself, that he may not be able to make the plays that Will Smith or Gabe Perreault make. [But] he could often finish them.
"Zach Benson's another one where he's not a big guy. But he's tenacious. He's really good off the puck. Very competitive. On top of that, he's got the skill with the vision, good passing and playmaking ability. The concern there is at his [5-foot-9] size, is he a good enough skater to overcome that?
"I think he is. I also think his hockey sense is a big separator as well. Not being the best skater doesn't scare me as much, even at his size, just because he thinks the game at a very high level.
But yeah, those are the guys that are most primarily in the mix [for the top-five].
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SP: How disappointing should Sharks fans be if they have to pick outside the top-four?
CP: "It's always disappointing the lower you go. But I would also say that there are plenty of instances where the player selected at that same range outside of the key guys, I mean look back at the Nico Hischier Draft, and you say the Colorado Avalanche had the worst record in the NHL, ended up with the fourth-overall pick and got Cale Makar. They got the best player in the Draft.
"In that range, there's still a lot of potential there. The drop-off from Leo Carlsson to Will Smith, while I believe there is a gap, it's not so significant.
"Will Smith has top-six potential, potentially a top-line guy, maybe not a top-line center, but a top-line wing. Ryan Leonard potentially plays a key role and plays a style that helps you win games.
"Losing the lottery is not the end of the world."