With the Montreal Canadiens now firmly entrenched in the bottom of the NHL standings, here are some intriguing targets they could be looking at for the 2023 NHL Draft.
Yes, anyone reading this now will have Connor Bedard playing on replay in their heads. Bedard is an absolute generational talent, but only one team is getting him, and we all know what he can do.
To pin the 2023 NHL Draft‘s value simply on him or Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson is doing a disservice to the top-heavy nature of this draft class. In the event that the Canadiens do not win the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery, they could realistically still get a star outside the top 5 this year.
Montreal Hockey Now took some time with TSN‘s Craig Button to go over the outlook of the 2023 NHL Draft after the notable first four prospects to see how things were shaping up.
“There’s some real depth in this draft,” said Button regarding the quality of the 2023 NHL Draft. “The Vancouver Canucks, I just go to them. They talk about tanking, at fifth overall in the draft (2017), they got Elias Pettersson; a superstar. At number seven, they got Quinn Hughes; a number 1 defenseman in the NHL. Yes, we know Connor Bedard, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby; they’re no-brainers. But to think you’re not getting a quality player after that is ludicrous.”
And Button isn’t the only one who’s enamored by this 2023 draft class, as many are having difficulty providing a consensus top 10 list of players for this year; due in large part to the sheer amount of high-end talent at the top of the board.
Here’s a look at that top talent, in no particular order.
Up first is smooth-skating defenseman Axel Sandin-Pellikka, who is already playing meaningful minutes in the Swedish Hockey League at 17 years old.
Despite not getting many points at the World Juniors, Sandin-Pellikka had some of the best underlying numbers in the tournament and was a monster on the transition for Sweden.
“Axel Sandin-Pellikka; he’s a really good defenseman. All you got to do is how the coach used him at the World Juniors; he had the most time on ice per game (for Sweden) at 17 years old,” said Button regarding the high-end potential of Sandin-Pellikka. “You got a right-shot defenseman that’s settled with the puck, poised and makes good plays.”
Dalibor Dvorsky, another talented center pegged to be a top-six player in the NHL in this draft, is a serious option for the Montreal Canadiens. First and foremost, Dvorsky is a very good friend and a former linemate of Canadiens prospects Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar.
But most of all, he’s a dependable, sturdy, left-shot center that could be a perfect complement to Nick Suzuki Down the line. He has a very high floor in terms of potential, but Button believes he has the potential to be a high-end 2nd line center.
“Dalibor Dvorsky is just a really good two-way centerman. I think he’s going to have a really good NHL career. Is he going to be a Mikael Backlund? Well, that might be the downside of (his potential),” said Button regarding the Slovak center. “This is a good player. Maybe he’s more along the lines of Bo Horvat. We’re talking about a really good player.”
If we look south of the border, centerman Will Smith is turning heads right now with the United States Development team, as his combination of elite hockey IQ and exceptional skating makes him a sure-fire top-10 pick for this June’s draft.
“Will Smith; a good-sized centerman. We’re talking about hockey sense, another great hockey sense player. He can make plays, score goals,” said Button regarding the skilled center from the United States National Development Program. “At times, it almost looks too easy for him, because he is so smart.”
And then there’s the other phenom in the WHL, Zach Benson. Trailing only Connor Bedard in the WHL scoring race, Benson has significantly outperformed Matthew Savoir (9th overall) and Conor Geekie (11th overall) this season, despite being a year younger.
The 5’10 winger is drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane or Clayton Keller due to his exceptional combination of skill, vision and shooting ability. What’s more? He’s also a gamer in the playoffs, and is likely saving his best for last in the WHL’s spring dance.
“Zach Benson; I think he’s got a Patrick Kane-type game,” said Button regarding the immense potential of the WHL’s diminutive dynamo. “You can’t eliminate Zach Benson based on height because of how he plays.”
Montreal Canadiens Smorgasbord
Even if the Canadiens don’t pick 1st or 2nd overall, there are some very interesting consolation prizes this year. Not only will there be potential top-line talent well into the Top-10, and possibly leaking out of it, but the Canadiens will even be able to be more selective based on their needs, given how deep the 5-15 range is right. now.
“The Montreal Canadiens will have a smorgasbord of talent to choose from. They’ll be able to say ‘I may have that player rated higher, but we want this player at this position.’ Right? And that’s what the draft offers you,” said Button regarding the embarrassment of riches in this draft. “I think this is a great opportunity for them to build out their prospect pool.”
Needless to say, the quality of players available with two first-round picks, and possibly a third if the general manager Kent Hughes has his way, could be a franchise-altering draft for the Canadiens if done right.
Read More: MHN 2023 NHL Draft Rankings
To listen to the full interview, see the video below: