The Rink’s 2023 NHL Entry Draft first-round mock draft


With the 2023 NHL Entry Draft nearly upon us, The Rink staffers Eric Andrews and Andy Campbell wanted to put together a mock draft to see what might unfold come Wednesday night in Nashville. Of course, this draft is highly unpredictable, but the guys took their best crack at it and provided their rationale along the way. Maybe they end up being close, maybe things pan out wildly different than what is shown below, but either way, mock drafts are always a fun exercise for looking ahead to the future of the league and the sport we love!

1) Chicago Blackhawks 

Andy’s Pick: Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL)

Nothing to overthink here, folks. He is the No. 1 prospect in the world, a potential generational talent and no amount of click bait you can read will make Kyle Davidson decide to move this pick. It just ain’t gonna happen. No. 98 will be flying off the shelves in a red, white and black jersey come Wednesday night.

2) Anaheim Ducks  

Eric’s Pick: Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)

Like the first pick, there is no need for Anaheim to overthink this one. Fantilli offers everything you could want in a prospect with his size, speed, skill, and compete level. While many in the industry are wondering if the Ducks look elsewhere, they stick to the script here and take the future star pivot.

3) Columbus Blue Jackets  

Andy’s Pick: Leo Carlsson, C, Örebro HK (SHL)

This is where things could begin to get interesting. No. 3 may be where people start to wonder when Matvei Michkov’s name will be called, but a year ago, the Blue Jackets signed Johnny Gaudreau, only to have a dismal 2022–23 campaign, finishing second last in the NHL. Waiting on Michkov for a few years may not be something Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen can see through. Carlsson has all the tools to be a legitimate No. 1 center in the NHL. At 6-foot-3 with speed and terrific skill set, though he may head back to Sweden for another year or two, by the fall of 2025 at the latest, he’ll be ready to be an impact player for the Jackets.

4) San Jose Sharks 

Eric’s Pick: William Smith, C, U.S. National Team Development Program

While the Sharks could certainly consider Michkov here, I think Mike Grier opts for a safer option in Smith, an uber-creative centerman. San Jose is starving for high-end talent, and landing a player like Smith will go a long way for their rebuild.

5) Montreal Canadiens  

Andy’s Pick: Ryan Leonard, RW, U.S. National Team Development Program 

Tough call for Director of Scouting Nick Bobrov and General Manager Kent Hughes with Michkov still here, but with Leonard they get a hard-nosed player who buzzes around, is unafraid to go in the gray areas and win pucks and plays with an edge. It is certainly a player of need up front for the Habs with all of their smaller skilled forwards. With Smith going at four, Leonard will be the second incoming Boston College Eagle in the top five.

6) Arizona Coyotes 

Eric’s Pick: David Reinbacher, D, EHC Kloten (NL)

Bill Armstrong and his army of matching suits take the stage at No. 6 and take the best defenseman in the draft class in Reinbacher, a do-it-all minute-munching blueliner. With Arizona needing a new long-term No. 1 defenseman following Jakob Chychrun’s departure, Reinbacher fills that need. The Coyotes could absolutely consider Michkov or another forward like Dalibor Dvorsky, but in the end, the high-end rearguard wins out.

7) Philadelphia Flyers 

Andy’s Pick: Matvei Michkov, RW, HK Sochi (KHL)

With the Washington Capitals’ interest in Michkov widely reported, Flyers General Manager Daniel Briere would be wise to pick up the phone and utilize as much leverage as he has here to find the right deal to swap picks with the Caps. In the end, given the Flyers’ full rebuild mode and another first-round pick at 22, Michkov makes perfect sense here and the return on a trade won’t be enough to pass up on this player. They can afford to wait for a talent that may ultimately be the best player taken in the draft.

8) Washington Capitals 

Eric’s Pick: Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Sweden)

A player many scouts feel belongs in the conversation alongside “the big five,” Dvorsky gives Washington a highly skilled centerman to build their next core around while also being able to have him in the fold to support Alex Ovechkin at the end of his career as well. Given the Capitals’ lack of center depth, especially in their pipeline, Dvorsky makes a world of sense for Washington if they are unable to secure Michkov.

9) Detroit Red Wings 

Andy’s Pick: Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL)

Some feel Oliver Moore would be the take here considering his playing likeness to Dylan Larkin. That may be true, but the versatility of the big-bodied Danielson, who can play a number of different roles, fills a massive need for Detroit, who could be two to three years away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. He has NHL size, decent speed and wins pucks, a great all-around player who Steve Yzerman will love.

10) St. Louis Blues

Eric’s Pick: Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL)

The Blues consider a number of different options here, and while I think they would ideally like more size, they choose to not overthink it and take the most skilled player remaining. In Benson, St. Louis adds a supreme offensive talent to complement their core. The Blues could certainly think about a defenseman or a bigger forward here, but skill wins out in the end.

11) Vancouver Canucks

Andy’s Pick: Oliver Moore, C, U.S. National Team Development Program 

The Canucks have a variety of needs, and with this pick, the best move is to take the best pure skater in the draft. That’s Moore. He is an exciting player that is a pure blazer. He could be brilliant in the Big Ten next year at the University of Minnesota, and it will be a year or two before the NHL awaits, but he’s incredibly talented with a ton of value at 11th overall.

12) Arizona Coyotes

Eric’s Pick: Matthew Wood, RW, University of Connecticut (NCAA)

After grabbing their future stud defenseman at No. 6, the Coyotes turn their attention to forwards at No. 12. In Wood, Arizona gets a big goal-scoring winger who could be a perfect match for Logan Cooley down the line. The Coyotes could opt for a center, but go with who many scouts would consider the consensus best player available at this spot.

13) Buffalo Sabres

Andy’s Pick: Tom Willander, D, Rögle BK J20 (Sweden)

Buffalo may wince after Arizona’s pick of Wood, as he would be an excellent complement to their young offensive core. Buffalo then shifts to the blueline. With Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power being the Sabres’ top two left-handed defensemen for years to come, addressing the other side could be critical. Willander’s stock is on the rise and the smooth Boston University commit could fit in nicely with Buffalo’s long-term plans. A future trio of Dahlin, Power and Willander looks mighty nice for the organization.

14) Pittsburgh Penguins 

Eric’s Pick: Gabriel Perreault, LW, U.S. National Team Development Program

New Penguins executive Kyle Dubas has a decision to make between swinging for the fences with a supreme offensive talent or opting for a safer type of pick. In the end, the Pens take a swing and scoop up Perreault, a crafty dual-threat winger with the hopes he pans out and is able to pair up with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the twilight of their careers.

15) Nashville Predators 

Andy’s Pick: Daniil But, LW, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Russia)

Here’s the first big leap in the first round, but if you are going to “swing for the fences,” as General Manager Barry Trotz has asked his team to do, But, a 6-foot-5 power forward may be the guy. He’s a monster, protects the puck and the Preds have little in terms of prospects on the wing. There are other wingers on the card that may be as attractive, but few can ignore But’s upside.

16) Calgary Flames

Eric’s Pick: Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound (OHL)

The Flames are an interesting case, seemingly being in turmoil with a number of players looking to leave Cow Town, but also not really having any glaring holes in the organization, either. As such, Calgary scoops up a meat-and-potatoes goal-scoring winger in Barlow, who fits the traditional Flames mold.

17) Detroit Red Wings

Andy’s Pick: Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver (WHL)

By all accounts, Honzek is a faster skater than what was initially reported. He is big and can finish, but above all else, what scouts like about him is his work ethic and character. That’s something Steve Yzerman and company will not ignore. The Wings get a great prospect here at 17.

18) Winnipeg Jets

Eric’s Pick: Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)

Winnipeg adds a high-end offensive defenseman to their pipeline, something they were clearly lacking. Sandin Pellikka will take time to develop, but given the Jets are on the verge of tearing things down, they have the time needed to wait for the elite-skating puck-mover.

19) Chicago Blackhawks

Andy’s Pick: Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury (OHL)

If Brayden Yager is available and taken here, I will not be sad, but there are questions whether or not he will be a pivot in the NHL. So, if you are going for a winger, as Kyle Davidson should here, you need some sandpaper. Musty is everything you need here at 19. He needs to work on his skating, but he is a puck-winning player who can finish. With skill players like Bedard, Frank Nazar and Lukas Reichel in the system and on the smaller side, you need some muscle. Great pick here with Musty.

20) Seattle Kraken

Eric’s Pick: Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL)

Despite clearly being set for the future down the middle, the Kraken grab Ritchie, a well-rounded power forward, with the plans to either use him as an ideal third-line center or as a winger to complement Matty Beniers or Shane Wright down the road. Injuries held Ritchie back during his draft season, so Seattle is also banking on this being a “buy low” type of scenario.

21) Minnesota Wild

Andy’s Pick: Otto Stenberg, C, Frölunda HK J20 (Sweden)

He may be a few years away, but the Wild have a deep prospect pool and can afford to wait. Since that’s the case, you need to take a high ceiling into account, and Stenberg has that. He’s raw, plays with a ton of heart and has a cannon of a shot. A lot of value with this take for the Wild.

22) Philadelphia Flyers

Eric’s Pick: Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Daniel Briere sprints to the podium to snag Yager, who many feel could even crack the top 10. Yager is a smooth-skating center with an excellent shot, and with a lacking prospect pool, Philadelphia suddenly looks significantly better for the future with the additions of Michkov and Yager as future goal scorers.

23) New York Rangers

Andy’s Pick: Riley Heidt, C, Prince George (WHL)

Some have Heidt in the top 20 and others in the second round, but the Rangers are another team that will be looking for center depth and one with playmaking ability. Heidt plays with great instincts and awareness. He still needs to mature physically and there will need to be a firm development plan for him, but he has a shot to be a nice pro some day.

24) Nashville Predators

Eric’s Pick: Eduard Sale, LW, HC Kometa Brno (Czechia)

The Predators continue with their mentality of swinging for the fences, taking a player who is clearly the most talented player remaining on the board. The skillset alone would have warranted potentially a top-10 pick, but Sale’s work ethic and consistency have drawn significant questioning this season, resulting in his stock falling. If Barry Trotz and his no-nonsense approach to the game can straighten out Sale, Nashville could have a gem here.

25) St. Louis Blues

Andy’s Pick: Dimitri Simashev, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

St. Louis needs a defenseman, and should Simashev be here at 25, it would be an absolute steal for them. He’s 6-foot-4, skates extremely well, can move the puck and plays stingy defense. The blue line for the Blues is aging, and having a top-four defenseman in the pipeline is a must. Great fit here for Simashev.

26) San Jose Sharks

Eric’s Pick: Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna (WHL) 

After securing a high-end center at No. 4, the Sharks take a swing on potentially landing another big-time producer here at No. 26. Cristall is one of the more debated players of the draft class, as his 5-foot-9 frame combined with subpar skating ability leaves legitimate and serious concerns about an NHL future. But, given the immense offensive talent he has been thus far in his career, Mike Grier hopes more development helps get Cristall up to speed enough to become an NHL producer.

27) Colorado Avalanche

Andy’s Pick: Gavin Brindley, RW, University of Michigan (NCAA)

With all the talent in Colorado, it’s hard not to envision Brindley buzzing around with the rest of them. Some worry about his size, but he plays bigger than he is and has a contagious intensity. He will get better being around quality talent in Denver, and the Avs seem like the team that will know exactly how to use his intangibles.

28) Toronto Maple Leafs

Eric’s Pick: Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon (WHL)

The Maple Leafs only hold one pick in the first four rounds of the draft this year, so they need to make this pick count. They opt to take Molendyk, a highly efficient and well-rounded defenseman who can do a lot of things well. While Molendyk might not be the most exciting option on the board, he provides Toronto with a dependable modern-style blueliner for the future.

29) St. Louis Blues 

Andy’s Pick: Charlie Stramel, C, University of Wisconsin (NCAA)

With their third pick in the first round, the Blues complement their skill picks with some toughness down the middle. Stramel may end up being a third-line center, or at worst somewhere in the bottom six, but he is big and a pain in the neck to play against. He needs to have a better year in Madison, but should his game grow, he has a good shot at being an NHL regular.

30) Carolina Hurricanes

Eric’s Pick: Bradley Nadeau, LW, Penticton (BCHL)

Carolina has been desperate to add goal scoring to its organization over the last few years, so with this pick they take a bit of a swing on a guy who might have the most offensive upside remaining in Nadeau. Nadeau is on the smaller side, but the Hurricanes have shown that if you are willing to work hard, a smaller frame does not bother them (see: Jarvis, Seth). Nadeau’s hockey smarts and offensive skills make him a worthy pick here for a team knocking on the door of hockey’s elite teams.

31) Montreal Canadiens 

Andy’s Pick: Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha (USHL)

We may not see a goalie being selected in the first round, but if so, it may be the Habs that do it. Montreal has a lot in their prospect cupboard exclusive of a goalie of the future. Hrabal may be the best of this class due to his size and athleticism. The UMass commit will take time to develop, but all the tools are there to be a regular NHL fixture in the pipes.

32) Vegas Golden Knights

Eric’s Pick: Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)

Gauthier feels like a perfect fit for the Stanley Cup champions, as he plays a competitive and physical style while mixing in a nice offensive skillset. While there are a few players still on the board who most think will almost positively go in the first round, it is hard to argue against the fit here and that Gauthier is anything other than the best player available for Vegas to select.

The first round of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft begins at 6 p.m. CDT in Nashville. Be sure to follow Eric on Twitter (@WALaxer19), as he will be live on site in Nashville and plans to tweet out his live reactions and analysis to the Blackhawks’ picks and trades throughout the draft.

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