By: Brayden Fengler / January 5, 2023
If it wasn’t already, Connor Bedard has made certain that his name will be known ahead of this year’s NHL entry draft. For years now, Bedard has been touted as the headlining star of the 2023 draft class, heralded as the next potential generational talent. This may very well be true; however, Bedard isn’t the only star of the 2023 class. Not by a long shot.
Bedard surely silenced any possibility of not going first overall, thanks to his performance in this year’s World Junior Championship. Still, many of the players that remain immediately behind him in the draft rankings all possess the potential to become stars in their own right. This draft is deeper than any in recent years, and the Canucks don’t need to fall to the very bottom of the standings in order to feel good about their odds going into the 2023 draft.
How the Canucks Should Draft
Currently, the Canucks sit 25th in the league. Even the second-year Seattle Kraken have pulled themselves out of the depths that they were in last season. An expansion team that failed spectacularly in their opening year, Seattle, is currently in a playoff spot. Of any example that may indicate where this Canucks team could be headed for the rest of the year, this is one that strongly indicates that they are being left behind. It shows that previously poor-performing teams in their own division are leapfrogging them spectacularly.
with the standings in mind, Vancouver should be looking to add the best player possible in this year’s draft, regardless of position. As tempting as drafting for position can be, the Canucks need to extract the most talent possible. If they draft positionally and pass on higher-ranked players that could be flipped for more value, they are misinterpreting their true position within the NHL. Good teams can draft for position, but the Canucks are not one of them.
Players of Interest
We’re not quite at the halfway mark of the NHL season just yet so there is still a chance that Vancouver can actually fall for Bedard, with the 8th worst record in the league. But perhaps a more reasonable estimate for their final draft position, based on past Vancouver luck and the skill still remaining on their team, is more in the range of 5th-10th overall. At that position they will still have a chance at acquiring some extremely talented young players.
With such a deep draft year, it’s hard to predict exactly how all the pieces are going to fall. Some teams may take the best available player, while other teams may have their own scouting that leads them in a different direction more than would be the case in a weaker year. Inside the projected top 10 players in this year’s entry draft, there are a few names that the Canucks should hope to select.
The Next Three
Just as we are assuming that Connor Bedard is out of the question for the Canucks, I will be focusing less on the three prospects that seem to be the consensus to immediately follow Bedard in this draft. Making Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, and Leo Carlsson, also quite likely to be out of reach for Vancouver.
Fantilli, Michkov, and Carlsson are all dominant young forwards in their own right, playing in very different circumstances leading up to their draft year. Fantilli is a Toronto-born centre currently playing at the University of Michigan, whereas Michkov, a Russian young gun, is contributing his talents in the KHL, and Carlsson is skating in his home country’s professional league the SHL in Sweden. Fantilli and Carlsson are towering youngsters at 6’2″ and 6’3″ respectively while Michkov measures in at 5’10”.
Unless the Canucks fall further, then I expect, all three are likely out of reach. But if given the choice between the three forward prospects I’d say that the Canucks should like to go with Leo Carlsson. No, not just because of the Swedish connection, but because he is predominantly known for playing centre and wing with equal success. Due to the uncertainty in the years ahead, if the Canucks are able to pick Carlsson as the best available piece, while also being able to immediately use him to fit their needs, that would make for an extremely good first-round outcome.
The next, more realistic possibility for the Canucks is that of Zach Benson, the 17-year-old from Langley B.C. would be more than just a hometown kid playing here in Vancouver. At 5’10, he’s fast with his skates, quick with the puck, and he can’t seem to stop scoring in the WHL, racking up a total of 50 points in 32 games so far for the Winnipeg Ice.
Zach is a playmaker and an individual scorer, and although putting goals in the net is flashy, it’s Zach’s playmaking and team-focused abilities which make him attractive for the Canucks, a team that could use a little more cooperation.
Up The Middle
The Canucks may be put in the position after the first few picks of the draft where their best option is one of two extremely talented right-shot centremen in Brayden Yager or Will Smith. Both names give me ideas for jokes and puns galore, but I shall spare you my self-indulgence.
Brayden is a fantastic young player currently playing for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. He doesn’t flinch under pressure and can produce for his team when they need it most. Sure, he doesn’t have a Connor Bedard-level release, but he does have one that looks NHL-ready, and if the Canucks are committed to winning now, for better or worse Brayden could fit into that picture.
From a Canadian to an American, Will Smith boasts a similar appeal. Smith is a bright 17-year-old, possessing insanely accurate control of the puck, giving him the ability to blow past his appointments with speed and leaving them picking up their jock straps in his wake. Smith’s focus and abilities have made him a USA Hockey gem.
Both Brayden and Will could fit into the Canucks lineup relatively soon or could make for a hefty trade chip if the Canucks choose to sort out their issues up the middle in a different way.
Lots of Time
There is a lot that can still change before draft day 2023. The Canucks current position in the standings leaves them in a precarious position where we could see them fall further and improbably contend for the Bedard sweepstakes if they decide to trade Bo, and if Miller and the rest of the team just can’t find the chemistry to succeed.
Or, they could also go on an unexpected run which may result in them nearly missing the playoffs or sneaking in through the wild card spot. It’s hard to tell which direction this team will head in, but if they stay in the bottom 10, then by the end of the season, this list may have more meaning.
These young stars still have the ability to move up and down the projected lists as well. So as we get closer to the summer we will likely reevaluate how things are looking for the Canucks, both in terms of how this team is doing, and how all pending draftees have used the remainder of the season to impress us.