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Post-Mortem on the 2023 NHL Draft

This is a FanPost written by T McGee

DBTB – Another draft season in the books.  And once again, the Adams-led Sabres – granted, in a small window – performed admirably.  With “only” 8 selections in the 2023 Draft, they managed to snap up 3, maybe even 4, possible first-round talents when all was said and done.  And the fans should be pleased.  They added more defense, including a 2nd and a 3rd spent on right-shot defenders, a position of need.  They added size, skill, guys with long development windows, others with short ones.  The whole spectrum.  Something for everyone.  Let’s take a quick look:

Draft Picks:

I’m not as in love with Zach Benson as many here are, and that’s OK.  Make no mistake, I respect the player.  There is no doubt he’s a gifted talent and a true playmaker, one of the best in the class.  From a pure talent perspective, he’s closer to Top 5 than to the teens.  But I do have some concerns.  Could his size hold him back?  Will he become injury-prone when you couple that size with his play style?  Impossible to say at this point.  

Given where most folks had him, and where the Sabres selected him, its not a choice you can quibble with too much.  The value is definitely there.  He could very well become another Brad Marchand (without the licking)…but I fear there’s a chance he becomes another Joel Farabee (a mid-first rounder who’s missed considerable time over his brief pro career – 46 games over 3 seasons), like Benson a smaller player (5’11) who likes to play in the dirty areas around the net.  Maybe my concerns are unfounded, and I hope they are, but I still have them for now.  I’ve been wrong many times before so it’s very possible most everyone else on DBTB are right and I’m way off.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

The next couple of picks I loved.  

Anton Wahlberg – I had as a 1st rounder, and I think he will have an steady upward progression this season.  Strbak was chosen right around where I had him on my Board, and he certainly fills a need.  Gavin McCarthy is another player with a lot of upside IMO, and a lot of role flexibility – he can play whatever style you want and adjust his game easily to fit that style.  

Miedema is a big-bodied power winger with a ton of upside and a bomb of a shot.  He’ll need time to hopefully develop some consistency and learn to use his size to his advantage, but they can afford to be patient with him.  And they will be.  So those 2-4 round choices were all, if you ask me, very strong and they got excellent value.  

Strbak is the only guy who went earlier than I had him on my Board, and even that was only a difference of 2 spots. In the 5th they took a goalie, which I support.  I’m not a huge Scott Ratzlaff fan.  Not to say he’s bad – he isn’t, he’s quite good as a junior goaltender – but the small size and the fact there were other goalies still on the Board that I liked better made me kind of say ‘meh’ to Ratzlaff.  

That said, given their interest in smaller goalies – Levi, Comrie, now Ratzlaff – maybe the Sabres’ scouting department feels there’s some market inefficiencies there and they can take advantage before the rest of the League catches up.  You’re seeing guys like Dustin Wolf in Calgary and Devon Levi receiving a lot of accolades.  Maybe smaller, more athletic tenders are the new Russian goalies?  

Either way, if Levi or UPL work out, they may never need Ratz to be an NHL netminder.  It’s always good to have that organizational depth. In the 6th and 7th, they went off the Board but still managed to focus on size and defense, which should make some of this crowd happy.  Sean Keohane was a guy who floated around between the 160s and 230s for me.  I didn’t get to see a lot of him, and while when I did, there were certain plays that jumped out to me, where he really flashed, you were always left wanting more.  Let’s hope the Sabres can put those pieces together.  Panocha is a complete unknown to me.  I saw him play internationally for the German team, but I don’t have a single note on him, so nothing he did really struck me – positive or negative.  

This is a good example of pro scouts knowing a lot more than guys like me on the Internet.  If he can be a serviceable AHL defender, the Sabres did some good work.  If he ever becomes more than that, they got themselves a steal. All in all, I give it a B+.  Not quite as good as last year, but certainly better than most.  Benson was a strong pick as he fell down the Board, they knocked it out of the park in the next few rounds, addressed several needs and got value in the process.  I think they got a steal in Wahlberg and in McCarthy.  So high-fives all around!

How Did I Do?

Unlike meteorologists, who are wrong half the time but are never held accountable for their ‘predictions’, I am always held to account by the (mostly) friendly folks at DBTB.  And this year is no different.  My final Mock Draft turned out to be rather uninspiring.  I didn’t do as well in the 1st as I’ve done the past couple of years, but I did improve in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and late in the Draft.  So all around, probably a wash.  But I’m a little disappointed to be honest.  A couple really off the Board picks (Easton Cowan in the 1st caught me off-guard!) torpedoed my predictions.

Below is my accounting of how many players I had in the round that were actually taken in that round, and how many spots total in the round.  So in the first I had 26 players in my Mock Draft going in the 1st round that actually went in the 1st round in real life, out of the 32 selections made in that round.   Hardly anything to crow about, but I figured people wanted to know.  And now you have learned one thing…don’t listen to me! 1st: 26 out of 32 (6 exactly right!) 2nd: 17 of 32 (2 exactly right!) 3rd: 8 of 32 4th: 6 of 32 5th: 4 of 32 6th: 4 of 32 7th: 3 of 32.

Draft Picks:
Top 32 Watch List for 2024

The good thing for me is, there’s always another Draft.  And the 2024 Draft, right now, looks solid.  Not as good as this year’s but potentially better than 2022 and 2021, with more balance and still some high-end kids at the top of the Draft.  The depth is a little spotty, though…I had to stretch a bit to come up with a Top 32 at this stage of the season.  That said, I like Cole Eiserman as the best player in the class right now.  He’s a pure goal scoring machine, and it’s not out of the question to see him break Auston Matthews goal scoring mark at the US Development Program, which is no small task.  

Artyom Levshunov is the top defender in the class at the moment; great size, a right-shot, a plus skater, the Belorussian came over early and put up stunning numbers as a Draft -1 blueliner in the USHL –  42P in 62 games on a mediocre Green Bay team.  Macklin Celebrini – great name – is the top Canadian player in the Draft at the moment.  He’s a super-creator, a slick, elusive centerman who might have been Canada’s best player despite being under-age at the U-18s this past Spring.  Ivan Demidov will be playing the role of Matvei Michkov in this year’s Draft – an explosive offensive machine who happens to be Russian (with all that entails) and under contract in the KHL through 2025.  Will he slide as well?  It wouldn’t surprise me.

So here are some names you’ll hear over the course of the Draft Season, which begins at the end of July when the Hlinka Tournament kicks off.  This isn’t a ranking by any means…just some names of players that caught my eye during the past year.

  • Cole Eiserman, 6’0 RW, US NTDP
  • Artyom Levshunov, 6’2 RHD, USHL
  • Macklin Celebrini, 5’11 C, USHL
  • Ivan Demidov, 5’11 RW, RUS
  • Sam Dickinson, 6’3 RHD, OHL
  • Konsta Helenius, 5’9 RW, FIN
  • Adam Jiricek, 6’1 RHD, CZE
  • Berkly Catton, 5’11 LW, WHL
  • Zayne Parekh, 6’0 RHD, OHL
  • Maxim Masse, 6’1 RW, QMJHL
  • Karl Sterner, 6’3 RW, SWE
  • Aron Kiviharju, 5’10 LHD, FIN
  • Igor Chernyshov, 6’2 LW, RUS
  • Tanner Howe, 5’10 RW, WHL
  • Cole Hutson, 5’9 LHD, US NTDP
  • Henry Mews, 6’0 LHD, OHL
  • Sasha Boisvert, 6’2 C, USHL
  • Michael Hage, 6’1 C, USHL
  • Dominik Badinka, 6’2 RHD, FIN
  • Will Skahan, 6’4 LHD, US NTDP
  • Adam Jecho, 6’3 RW, FIN
  • Zeev Buium, 6’0 LHD, US NTDP
  • Michael Braddsegg-Nygard, 6’1 RW, SWE
  • Gavin Hodnett, 5’8 LW, WHL
  • Carter Yakemchuk, 6’2 RHD, WHL
  • Kristers Ansons, 6’4 LW, LTV
  • Felix Lacerte, 5’10 C, QMJHL
  • Cayden Lindstrom, 6’5 C, WHL
  • Tomas Lavoie, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL
  • Linus Eriksson, 6’0 C, SWE
  • Yegor Surin, 5’11 C/W, RUS
  • Jakub Chromiak, 5’11 LHD, OHL

Talking Points