Welcome, my friends, to a new Draft season. And one that has the potential to really shake up the status quo in the NHL. Perhaps the most game-changing player drafted since Cale Makar (although he wasn’t thought of like that when selected), Connor Bedard is widely thought to be a mini-Connor McDavid with a slightly less dazzling speed/skill/IQ package. And that by itself is impressive. But he’s not alone. Matvei Michkov, a Russian sniper who has starred in every stop, from the MHL – Russian juniors – to the KHL, with stops at the abbreviated World Juniors, the Hlinka, and the U-18s, will be eligible for the Draft. Other names like Fantilli, Wood, Dvorsky, Carlsson, Stramel, Ritchie, Danielson, Smith and maybe even Sale could all be #1 centers in the NHL. That’s crazy. Then you add in the potential top-line caliber wings: Benson, Yager, Heidt, Musty, Peddle, But…and you become so starry-eyed with the forwards available, you miss some quality defenders like Gulyayev, Dragicevic, Lindstein, Leslie, Karki, Allen and others. And there are some potentially pretty strong goalies that could go in the Top 2 rounds: Erliden, Hrabal, Vali, Zavragin and Ratzlaff could all go off the Board in the first 50 players.
So, as you can see, this is a very deep, extremely talented class with some legitimate high-end talent at the top and pretty strong all the way through the Top 20 or so. Now, I said that last year and guys like Lambert, Wright, Savoie and Miroschnichenko proved me wrong, all falling to one degree or another in the final draft order. My hyperbole bears watching.
The WHL will be the bellwether for this class, not dissimilar to a few years ago when they had guys like Dach, Cozens, Krebs, and Byram all widely thought of as Top 10 players (up until Krebs’ untimely Achilles tendon injury). This year, it’s Bedard, Benson, Yager, Heidt, Dragicevic and Danielson competing for spots in the Top 10. It’s not crazy to think they could have 3 of the Top 5 forwards off the Board and both of the Top 2 defenders. Nuts.
But there is talent all over the place. The OHL should be better, US college hockey should see some real stars emerge, and the Swedes and Russians both have 3-4 potential 1st rounders. The Czechs, the Slovaks and even the Swiss might break into the 1st round. The one area which seems to go in cycles is the US NTDP…while its possible they could get 3-4 players drafted in the Top 32, I think it’s more likely they will be heavily represented in the 2nd – 3rd rounds. So it’s a bit of a down year for them.
We recently had the Hlinka U-18 tournament and predictably, the Canadians marched to the gold medal with a team absolutely loaded with studs. In fact, in a pre-tournament game, they beat Team Canada’s entry into the delayed World Juniors 6-4. A team of 17 year-olds beat a bunch of NHL draft picks! The Canadian Hlinka team consisted of 10 of the top 20 scorers in the tournament, including leading scorer Cal Ritchie from Oshawa in the OHL. Sweden’s puck wizard Otto Stenberg finished 2nd for the bronze medalists, while Czech forward Eduard Sale put up 6P in 5 games for a Czechia team that did not make it to the medal round. Now we’re ready to jump into the regular season for another year of great hockey!
For those of you unfamiliar with this exercise, to start the season I use the inverse of Vegas odds and then slot in BFLO where I think they will finish. That’s how I determine the draft order. So don’t think this is my prediction of where teams will finish or who the Cup Winner will be. Like everyone else, I’m just following Vegas’ lead.
And now, for your reading pleasure…
#1: ARIZONA: Connor Bedard 5’10 C, WHL
#2: MONTREAL: Adam Fantilli, 6’4 C, NCAA
#3: CHICAGO: Matvei Michkov, 5’11 RW, RUS
#4: SEATTLE: Eduard Sale, 6’2 C/LW, CZE
#5: SAN JOSE: Leo Carlsson, 6’3 C, SWE
#6: COLUMBUS: Dalibor Dvorsky, 6’1 C, SWE
#7: ANAHEIM: Charlie Stramel, 6’4 C/W, US NTDP
#8: NEW JERSEY: Brayden Yager, 6’1 RW, WHL
#9: DETROIT: Cal Ritchie, 6’1 C, OHL
#10: PHILADELPHIA: Cameron Allen, 6’0 RHD, OHL
#11: NASHVILLE: Nate Danielson, 6’1 C, WHL
#12: BUFFALO: Quentin Musty, 6’3 LW, OHL
#13: OTTAWA: Colby Barlow, 6’2 RW, OHL
#14: WINNIPEG: Mikhail Gulyayev, 5’11 LHD, RUS
#15: DALLAS: Zach Benson, 5’10 LW, WHL
#16: WASHINGTON: Otto Stenberg, 5’11 C/W, SWE
#17: VANCOUVER: Matthew Wood, 6’4 C, BCHL
#18: LOS ANGELES: Artuu Karki, 6’2 LHD, FIN
#19: NY ISLANDERS: Riley Heidt, 6’0 C/LW, WHL
#20: BOSTON: Daniil But, 6’4 RW, RUS
#21: ST LOUIS: Lukas Dragicevic, 6’2 RHD, WHL
#22: NY RANGERS: Will Smith, 6’0 C, US NTDP
#23: EDMONTON: Noah Erlinden, 5’10 G, SWE
#24: PITTSBURGH: Tyler Peddle, 6’2 C/LW, QMJHL
#25: MINNESOTA: Ethan Gauthier, 5’11 RW, QMJHL
#26: CALGARY: Mazden Leslie, 6’1 RHD, WHL
TRADE: BUFFALO #42, #45 -> CAROLINA #27
#27: BUFFALO (CAROLINA): Maxim Strbak, 6’2 RHD, USHL
#28: CHICAGO (TAMPA BAY): Theo Lindstein 6’0 LHD, SWE
#29: VEGAS: Gavin McCarthy, 6’1 RHD, USHL
#30: MONTREAL (FLORIDA): Kasper Halttunen, 6’3 RW, FIN
#31: TORONTO: Brayden Edwards, 6’1 C/RW, WHL
#32: COLORADO: Ethan Miedema, 6’3 RW, OHL
1#12: Quentin Musty, 6’3 LW, OHL: A feel-good story who happens to be a beast as well, Musty is a former Jr. Sabre and grew up in the southern suburbs of Buffalo. From there, he was the top pick in the OHL Draft, and wound up on a young but very promising Sudbury team. And while that club has 5 NHL draftees on its roster going into 2022-23, Musty is the most talented of the group. A fearless power winger who can really rip the puck, Musty fills a role the Sabres don’t have much of in the pipeline. He’s a possession monster who uses his broad frame and reach to shield the puck from defenders while he uses his powerful stride and nose for the net to drive the middle of the ice. Just seems to bounce off defenders as he makes his way through the Neutral Zone and cutting into the slot once he gains the O-zone. He’s a bull (6’3 195#). Can carry a guy on his back, Mario-style, and one-hand the puck to the low slot. But don’t be mistaken – he’s not a put-your-head-down guy. Musty has amazing puck skills. A great playmaker in transition, will dangle guys all day, make defenders look bad, and then send some sauce cross-ice for an easy tap-in goal. Will curl-and-drag, go inside-out, and pretzel just about any D-Man in his way. Uses his body, reach, and good balance to be extremely hard on the puck. Can hang onto the puck for hours until he sees a pass he likes (which can be good or bad). Great passer on fore- or backhand, going in either direction or at full speed. And when he decides to fire the puck, it doesn’t stay on his blade for very long. A very good release, and his accuracy is remarkable. Can pick corners with the best of them. Such good hands settle the puck as soon as he receives it, and head is usually up looking for teammates or identifying holes in the goaltending. Can go top shelf, far corner, or under the blocker all on the same shift, just probing to find that opening. Surgical in his shooting. And when dude gets time to step into one, look out. It’s a precise laser beam that a lot of goalies can’t catch up to. Nose for the puck, he’s always heavy on it, especially in the O-Zone. Skating is very good. Burst out of the blocks is exceptional – reminds me a bit of MacKinnon with his big frame exploding like he was shot out of a rocket. A powerful skater whose linear speed is top-notch, his edges could use some refinement. Tends to go really wide when he moves side-to-side, and his turns can be big loops. Doesn’t change direction a lot, which I think could really benefit his board game. If he can tighten up his lateral skating and get more efficient in his movement overall – some of his fakes and dekes are overly dramatic and pro defenders will not fall for them – he would be an absolute terror to stay in front of. Like a lot of young players, Musty is weak when it comes to playing off the puck. He can get caught standing still on either end, watching the play. When its obvious the puck isn’t coming his way, he can tend to glide a bit too much for my taste. One other issue that I see is that his intensity and game management can fluctuate. At times, it looks like he’s just out for a Sunday skate, and other times, he tries to do too much and overhandles the puck – which can lead to ugly turnovers. But as one of the younger kids in the Draft class – a mid-July birthday – Musty will have time to develop his game. And he’s already putting up points, with 31P in 50 games on a poor Sudbury team. But they’re young and will be worlds better this coming season. Musty was Team USA’s leading scorer, with 5P in 4 games, at the Hlinka tournament. I think he will improve game over game this year, and be a strong candidate for a Top 10 spot when all is said and done.
1#27: Maxim Strbak, 6’2 RHD, USHL: Lanky Slovak defender (6’2 185#) who plays a two-way game. A long stick and reach, coupled with good lateral skating, allow for him to defend a lot of ice. Strbak has played in the Finnish system for the last several years, moonlighting at international tournaments for his home country of Slovakia. He’s not going to post big numbers offensively – 8P in 39 games at the U-20 level – but he’s very responsible in his own end and has the makings of a shutdown defender who can also trigger the transition game. Awareness in his own end is excellent. Strbak disrupts a lot of passes, either eliminating passing lanes with his stick, or closing out the forward with the puck and preventing the pass from being made. Even defends well in space. Identifies breakdowns quickly and efficiently and will instantly come off his check to protect the high-danger areas of the ice. Can cut off a passing play to a dangerous area or get a stick on puck and send a potential shot into the seats. On-puck, he’s got really good gaps and his skating keeps him in front of puck carriers, letting him harass them with his size and stick, often breaking up plays before they become dangerous chances. Can play a heavy game. Will get a forearm into the chest of an opponent, takes away the center of the ice and drives players into the corners where he separates them from the puck. Already has some strength. Where he can get in trouble is getting too cute against the forecheck, sometimes making poor choices with the puck. Needs more poise when under pressure. Will put the puck through the middle of the ice in his own end (a cardinal sin where I come from!), sometimes make a blind pass reversing the puck along the boards, or attempt a hero pass way up ice too often. Any of these likely result in turnovers. Needs to become a better puck manager. Skating is good; he has good burst and his transitions are relatively smooth. Could be better skating backwards, and sometimes glides too much when he over-relies on his reach and stick to make plays. But his lateral movement is strong, and he can get from the wall to the center of the ice very quickly to eliminate chances. Offensively, he’s a work in progress. Able to skate the puck up, Strbak can be a very good first-pass transition triggerman as well. When he makes the right decision, his passes are on the mark and on time, and gets forwards through the Neutral Zone with possession and speed. And he has the tools, so there’s potentially more there, but they’ve rarely come together all at the right time. Has a low, hard point shot that he keeps ankle height for deflections, ricochets, and tips from his teammates, only bolstered by his ability to get pucks through. He can move well laterally, so he can smoothly walk the line while running the PP but seems to lack the confidence to really attack from the point, electing to make the safe play nearly every time. Not a dynamic player in the O-zone, he keeps the puck moving but does not use much patience in seeking out time and space or picking apart coverages. In the long-run, I think Strbak can be more than a shut-down defender. Making small improvements to his skating, becoming more confident with the puck, and making better decisions coming out of his own end could lead to a really high-end 2-way defender. He’s shown that kind of game at last year’s Hlinka (3P in 5 games) and internationally for the Slovak team (12P in 15 games). Was one of the handful of draft eligibles who played in the World Juniors, and despite being the youngest on his team, Strbak might have been their best defender although his play was a bit up and down.
2#62: Caden Price, 6’1 LHD, WHL: With the selection from Vegas in the Eichel trade, BFLO goes with defense once again, this time grabbing a smooth skating, offensively-inclined blueliner to deepen their prospect pool. This is the first Kelowna D-Man they’ve added since the days of Tyler Myers and, later, Josh Gorges. Price is a very late birthday, just missing the cut-off for the 2024 Draft by a few weeks but plays a much more mature game. Notched 21P in 47 games as a Top 4 D-Man for much of the season, his play picked up as the year went on and he looked confident, poised and comfortable in the waning days of the regular season despite his youth. Price can be best described as ‘slick’. He’s a strong skater, with very good burst, solid 4-way mobility and easy transitions. His feet could be a bit lighter, especially when he’s attacking in the O-zone (something he likes to do), but he can keep up when pushing play or leading the rush and has good recoverability when the puck heads the other way. Because of his average size, he needs to rely on his skating to bail him out when a counter catches his team up ice, but Price does an excellent job of getting back to protect his own end and closing off the center of the ice. He can get caught chasing pucks a little bit too much in those situations, but most veteran defenders will fall victim to the same problem, so I don’t put too much stock in Price’s lapses when defending the rush. Not a big hitter, Price will engage physically, especially in board battles, and on very rare occasions will drop the mitts if things get out of hand. So he's by no means soft, but he isn’t going to blow guys up in the Neutral Zone or manhandle big forwards at the top of the crease with one hand in most instances. He’s smart in puck recovery, and for his age, is surprisingly calm and poised when under pressure. Price can evade a forechecker with a single fake or look-off, then take a couple strides before putting a puck on the tape at the redline. Not only able to carry the puck out of trouble, he’ll gladly lug it through the Neutral and into the O-zone without hesitating, and has the puck skills to do so. At evens, Price still looks for openings to attack in the O-zone, getting below the dots or up in the high slot looking to make plays or put pucks on net. There’s a crafty element to his game – his stick positioning and ability to slip pucks between skate and stick, or around defenders to his teammates, is notably advanced. He’s even more effective – although a bit of a gunslinger – on the PP, when he gets time (which wasn’t often last year). This year he’ll see a lot more time there and may very well be the Rockets’ top PP QB. With more ice time and a much bigger role, Price will sink or swim in a League loaded with top-end talent. But when put in difficult situations before, he most definitely swam. Let’s see if that trend continues. Price looked the part for Team Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the Hlinka, where he played big minutes on Canada’s top D-pair and chipped in 5P in 5 games. He’s one of those defenders who could rise late a la Kevin Korchinski this past year. The Sabres can afford to bet on potential given the depth of their prospect pool, not to mention Price is one of the youngest players in this draft class with an August birthday. This is a good choice, and honestly, Price probably goes much earlier.
This is a FanPost written by a member of the community. It does not necessarily express the views or opinions of Die By The Blade.