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The 2023 NHL draft is done. Prospects have donned their new teams jersey, fans have cheered and complained, and players rose and fell to the surprise of many. Which teams seemingly came out on top based on what we think and believe when looking at the selections? What fans might be more disappointed than excited following the big day? Let’s get into our draft day grades.
2023 NHL Draft Grades Part Two
Columbus Blue Jackets 2023 NHL Draft Grade
The Blue Jackets picked third and came away with the guy who was expected to be the number two pick, Adam Fantilli. With their second-round pick, they took his star linemate, centre Gavin Brindley (who was ranked 18th on LWOH’s board). In the third round, they took another really skilled player in William Whitelaw (ranked 45th) at 66th. Their two fourth-rounders were defender Andrew Strathmann (ranked 77th) and centre Luca Pinelli (ranked 50th) at 98th and 114th, respectively. Their last three selections were goalie Melvin Strahl, centre Oiva Keskinen, and winger Tyler Peddle.
Fantilli will step into the Blue Jackets lineup and is expected to be an instant success. He has all the smarts and skill needed to be at the very least a top-six forward. Meanwhile, Brindley was highly regarded by many outlets, and was expected to be a first-round pick. If he and Fantilli become linemates in the future, they could be a scary good duo. Whitelaw is a ball of energy on the ice, and could provide upside as a middle-six energy forward, which every team needs. Strathmann and Pinelli are both projectable players, with Strathmann more as a bottom-four defender and Pinelli similar to Whitelaw in terms of being a middle-six guy in the future. Peddle is the last notable, who needs to be monitored closely moving forward.
2023 NHL Draft Grade: A+
Dallas Stars Draft Grade
The Stars first pick came at the end of the second, at 61st overall. With that, they took defenseman Tristan Bertucci. They passed on several notables in Gracyn Sawchyn and Riley Heidt for him. After Bertucci, they used their five remaining picks on centres Brad Gardiner (79th) and Angus Macdonell (189th), defenseman Aram Minnetian (125th), goalie Arno Tiefensee (157th), and winger Sebastian Bradshaw (221st).
Bertucci could be a depth defender down the line, maybe breaking into the middle pair, but he wasn’t ranked by LWOH, and could have likely been had later in the draft. Aram Minnetian (ranked 57th) at 125th is an excellent value to have, but there is still some risk in taking him despite the value. He could be a player one day.
Stars 2023 NHL Draft Grade: C
Detroit Red Wings Draft Grade
The Red Wings had a ton of picks (11 to be exact), including six in the first three rounds. Starting with the 9th pick, they took a swing on Nate Danielson (ranked 20th). They then followed that pick up with Axel Sandin Pellikka at 17th (ranked 12th) who likely could have gone much earlier. With their three second rounders they took goalie Trey Augustine (ranked 41st) at 41st, and defensemen Andrew Gibson (ranked 91st) at 42nd and Brady Cleveland (not ranked) at 47th. In the third round, they took Noah Dower Nilsson (69th) at 73rd. Their remaining five picks don’t look to provide the best of value at this time, but time will tell.
As for their currently notable picks, Danielson has some untapped potential, but looks more like a potential shut-down center in the ilk of Anthony Cirelli, rather than someone who is expected to live up to top-10 pick hype. Not a bad pick, but a reach. Sandin Pellikka is the opposite, as he has high-upside but some risk due to size concerns, who fell further than expected. Augustine was a good get, and someone who could become a starter down the line. But Gibson and Cleveland were reaches, and Dower Nilsson looks more like a bottom sixer than a complementary middle sixer in the future.
Red Wings 2023 NHL Draft Grade: C+
Edmonton Oilers 2023 NHL Draft Grade
The Oilers were yet another team to open without a pick in the first round. They also only had three picks total. But their first pick was one of this writer’s favourite selections of round two; defenseman Beau Akey at 56th (ranked 39th). Their last two picks were used on goalie Nathaniel Day and center Matt Copponi.
Akey is a smart defender who plays a more responsible style, but has flashes of offensive skill and smarts. He may not become a star by any means, but he could very well become a really good top four defender in the future. Day went 17-10-0 with the Firebirds in the OHL and his stats were less than stellar at a 0.874 save percentage and a 3.91 goals against average. Copponi is 20 years old, but is coming off a solid sophomore season with Merrimack in the NCAA and is worth the swing at 216th overall.
Oilers 2023 NHL Draft grade: B-
Florida Panthers Draft Grade
The Panthers are coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and did not have their first round pick. Instead, they had to wait until 63rd overall for their selection. That pick was centre Gracyn Sawchyn (ranked 46th), who fell quite a bit in the draft. Panthers fans should be excited about that. At 127th overall, they then took defenseman Albert Wikman (ranked 79th), who is another excellent choice outside the top-125. Their remaining picks were not very notable, but again, should be watched moving forward.
Sawchyn and Wikman were absolutely great value picks after falling further from the consensus. Sawchyn has some intriguing offensive upside if he can put the pieces together, but his value lies in his strong defensive game and motor. That said, Sawchyn could very well be a middle-six player in the long haul. As for Wikman, he got experience against men and plays a responsible game. Offensive skill flashes on occasion, but doesn’t seem very translatable nor consistent. Could be a bottom-pair defender down the road, regardless.
Panthers 2023 NHL Draft Grade: B
Los Angeles Kings Draft Grade
The Kings were yet again another team without a first round pick. They waited until pick 54 and took Jakub Dvorak (ranked 84th). In the third round, they selected Koehn Ziemmer (ranked 49th) who was arguably better than their first pick. Their next notable draft pick was Matthew Mania at 150th (ranked 66th).
Dvorak is a big defender, but his skating is a big red flag at this point. The Kings are fully trusting their skill and skating coaches to improve that area. But he is a big man who defends well. Ziemmer is strong in his own end and plays physically, but also provides a fun-to-watch offensive game. Mania is a high-upside pick, with little risk as he was picked right at 150. He has incredible upside, but his defensive game, as a defender, needs to be worked out. Great pick there for the Kings, however.
Kings 2023 NHL Draft Grade: B-
Minnesota Wild Draft Grade
The Wild had the 21st overall pick and took center Charlie Stramel. They then had two second-round selections, which they used on Rasmus Kumpulainen and Riley Heidt, both centres. Aaron Pionk, a defenseman for Waterloo in the USHL, is an intriguing pick at 149th, who is also a zamboni driver. Leafs fans, beware.
Stramel (ranked 38th) was taken pretty early, but he is a big centre who was much more highly regarded entering the season. He is a modern day power forward with some skill to boot. Kumpulainen was not ranked by LWOH, had a decent season playing in the U20 Finnish league this year, and also has a big frame. Heidt (ranked 32nd) was anticipated as a potential first, early second, who fell much farther than anticipated. He has some strong upside, but needs to work on the mental part of the game to take that next step. That includes discipline, as he took costly penalties at times.
Wild 2023 NHL Draft Grade: C-
Montreal Canadiens Draft Grade
The Canadiens picked at 5th this year, and with it, they took David Reinbacher. A highly touted defender playing in Switzerland. Their next pick came in the third round, and with it, they took what some consider the best goalie in the class, Jacob Fowler. They then took wingers Florian Xhekaj and Sam Harris, defenders Bogdan Konyushkov and Luke Mittelstadt, goalies Quentin Miller and Yevgeni Volokhin, and centre Filip Eriksson.
Reinbacher should be a top pair defender in the future, though he may never be considered truly elite. He will still provide a lot of value to Montreal. But, he may have been a bit of a reach at five. Getting Fowler (ranked 60th) in the third round is excellent value, and could pay off down the road. But Xhekaj (yes, he is the brother of Arber Xhekaj), was a big reach in the fourth. Only Luke Mittelstadt, their final selection, truly pops off as an intriguing pick.
Canadiens 2023 NHL Draft Grade: C-
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