Just like that, another NHL Entry Draft is in the books, featuring one of the most talked about prospects of a generation. But the Chicago Blackhawks’ new top center isn’t the only prospect worth our fantasy-focussed interest. So, before the free-agent window blows open with a flurry of attention-grabbing signings, let’s take a gander at a few key fantasy prospects selected in the draft’s premiere round, including analysis provided by Senior NHL Writer Greg Wyshynski, NHL Reporter Kristen Shilton, and National NHL Reporter Ryan S. Clark.
As an old-timey traffic reporter might advise, pack your patience with this crew. In what’s forming into an increasingly popular trend in player development, the overwhelming majority of these prospects are expected to spend at least one year, if not more, maturing elsewhere. Perhaps all but one, even. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to look ahead, or remain prepared in case some promising player makes an unexpectedly premature debut.
Ready to contribute?
Selected: 1, Rank: NAS1
Wyshynski: “There’s a reason why this was colloquially known as the ‘Bedard Draft.’ Bedard is considered by several evaluators as a generational talent. He gives the rebuilding Blackhawks a playmaking center who is also prolific …”
No need for the header’s question mark in this case. If healthy, Bedard will log substantial minutes through 82 games for the Blackhawks in 2023-24. He projects as a fantasy gem for years and years to come and should be handled as such.
Selected: 2, Rank: INS2
Wyshynski: “… The 6-foot-3 center showcased his skills across all levels in 2022-23 by playing for Orebro in the SHL, the highest division of Swedish hockey and when he represented Sweden in various international competitions. The hulking two-way center adds to what was an already promising nucleus that has Jamie Drysdale, Mason Marchment, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras.”
Unlike Bedard – this draft’s only slam dunk to play full-time in the NHL come fall – Carlsson could opt for one last pro tour in Sweden before joining the Ducks. The organization and player are bound to have lengthy discussions on that topic throughout the summer. If the 18-year-old does in fact manage to secure a spot with his NHL club, expect modest fantasy numbers to start, unless he shifts to the wing alongside Zegras or Ryan Strome. Still, this towering teen is still likely at least a year out from garnering any serious fantasy attention outside of dynasty competition. He’ll get there though.
Selected: 3, Rank: NAS2
Shilton: “… Regardless of when Fantilli slots in, he’ll be able to drive his own line, elevate teammates and generate consistent production across the board. He already put together a 65-point season for the Wolverines. What would his NHL output look like out of the gate? After the bitterly disappointing season the Blue Jackets just endured, they have to hope that answer comes sooner than later.”
Like Carlsson, the reigning Hobey Baker winner (as a freshman) could still be a year removed from logging his first full season in the NHL, opting instead to play his Sophomore season at Michigan. Unlike the second-overall selection, Fantilli boasts immediate fantasy potential, should he veer off the collegiate path and straight into Nationwide Arena in 2023-24. Especially if he shifts onto the wing within Columbus’s top-six, to start. He’s big, he’s smart, and he’s going to wow us all in the long run as a top center in the NHL.
Adam Fantilli’s NHL draft profile
Check out some of the top plays from Michigan center Adam Fantilli.
Will Smith, C, San Joe Sharks, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Selected: 4, Rank: NAS3
Shilton: “… A smart two-way center, Smith is a gifted puck handler and primetime playmaker who can make skaters around him better and contribute on special teams, particularly in a penalty killing role. And given the rebuilding mode San Jose has been through in recent years the promise of what Smith will eventually add on a regular basis has to be truly exciting. Smith is a spark plug who should eventually be a top-line skater for the Sharks.”
Committed to Boston College, Smith is at least a year removed from showcasing his scoring and other talents at the NHL level. Considering where Sharks GM Mike Grier is positioned in his rebuild, there’s no rush here. This prince of scoring will inject some fresh energy into a San Jose squad that could desperately use some. He’ll ultimately pace out at a point/game with a healthy serving earned on the power play.
Will Smith’s NHL draft profile
Check out some of the best plays from USA Hockey National Team Development Program center Will Smith.
Selected: 7, Rank: INS2
Shilton: “… Michkov is a skilled winger who is creative with the puck, has an excellent shot, is strong around the net and possesses a distinct slippery quality that makes him hard to contain all over the ice. Last season with the KHL’s Sochi HC, Michkov put up nine goals and 20 points in 27 games. Not bad for an 18-year-old, right? The Flyers could have just made a franchise-altering choice in Nashville.”
If this budding star even nears his explosive potential, the wait for Flyers fans and fantasy managers alike will be well worth it. Comparing him to Nikita Kucherov, Stathlete’s Meghan Chayka claims Michkov would be a top pick in any draft.
“He’s creative offensively and moves the puck to high danger areas. Michkov is a shoot first player and is extremely potent off the rush. He has good anticipation and instincts both offensively and defensively.”
She already had me at the Kucherov resemblance. While the three-year contract with the KHL is a bother, to be sure, this goal-scorer is only going to be that much more effective when he finally lands in Philly. A cross-seas move he seems committed to, at least today. Hopefully so, since 40-plus scorers are always fun to watch, regardless of rooting interest.
Selected: 8, Rank: NAS5
Shilton: “… There’s a deceptiveness in Leonard’s game that makes him hard to track, and a pair of dangerous hands helped him pump in 11 goals and 20 points in 17 tournament games last season. That combination of size, skill and grittiness should translate well for Leonard in Washington, and what should be a projected top-six forward role.”
Once more seasoned after his spell at Boston College, this fearless winger is going bang his way into the hearts of fantasy managers everywhere. More importantly, he’s going to score goals too. Quite a few of them, if Leonard works his way onto the Captials’ top line and power play. Which falls well within the realm of the possible.
The highlights that will have the Capitals fans geared up for Ryan Leonard
Take a look at some of the best goals from Capitals draftee Ryan Leonard.
Selected: 13, Rank: NAS6
Clark: “… Just look at what he accomplished in his second full season. Benson went from 25 goals and 63 points in 58 games in his first year to bursting through to score 36 goals and 98 points in 60 games with the Winnipeg Ice. …”
Admired most for his exceptionally high hockey IQ and above-average vision, Benson projects to eventually fill a Top-6 slot in Buffalo. All goes swell, and the wily winger could put up 30 goals – on Dylan Cozens’ wing perhaps? – in a few short years.
Selected: 15, Rank: NAS4
Shilton: “… Wood is an enticing long-term prospect once he learns to use his body to his advantage and can challenge at the professional level while wielding the same skill he’s shown already as a college freshman.”
This raw, young player needs time to further develop, particularly in the skating department. Once up to speed – literally and figuratively, in regard to other aspects of his game – Wood could conceivably slide in, and contribute nicely, on the Predators’ second line and power play. Again, this isn’t happening tomorrow. Keep this future fantasy asset in mind for 2025-26, at the earliest.
Selected: 17, Rank: INS7
Shilton: “Steve Yzerman and Co. went for a true offensive defenseman prospect in Pellikka. Considered by some scouts to be the best blueliner available in the draft, Pellikka fits into what the Red Wings ultimately want to be, which is a deep skill team. Pellikka is often compared to Kris Letang – he’s dangerous with the puck on his stick with the shot and vision to match. …”
This puck-moving defenseman has 50-plus-point potential once ready to fill a prominent role with the Wings at even-strength and on the power play. No question, Pellikka is a blue-line fantasy asset worth attention once his maturation process is complete.
Selected: 18, Rank: NAS12
Shilton: “… Barlow is willing to go where other players aren’t – the “dirty areas” if you will – but he’s bringing so much offensive upside with him, from excellent anticipation and playmaking to a special way of simply reading the ice. Winnipeg has to expect Barlow’s game will transition well into an important role with their team once he’s finished developing a little further.”
With respect to draft position, Barlow might be my favorite selection of the first round. Jets fans are going to adore this physical winger, who brings it every shift. Fantasy managers are going to love the goals he scores as a top-six winger and power-play commodity.
Oliver Moore, C, Chicago Blackhawks, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Selected: 19, Rank: NAS8
Shilton: “… His skill set brings to mind another USNTD product – Detroit captain Dylan Larkin – and the fact Moore generates the way he does without necessarily being surrounded by the best players on his wing bodes well for his future.”
Such a favorable comparison should sound pretty sweet to any fantasy manager with foresight. There’s an excellent chance this gifted skater shifts to the wing once settled in the NHL, perhaps even on Bedard’s side. Which would translate into buckets of points, season in and out.
Other first-round selections with projected fantasy upside:
2023 NHL draft fantasy prospects – Bedard, Carlsson, more