Just like that, another NHL Entry Draft is in the books, featuring one of the most talked about prospects of a generation. But the Chicago Blackhawks’ new top center isn’t the only prospect worth our fantasy-focussed interest. So, before the free-agent window blows open with a flurry of attention-grabbing signings, let’s take a gander at a few key fantasy prospects selected in the draft’s premiere round, including analysis provided by Senior NHL Writer Greg Wyshynski, NHL Reporter Kristen Shilton, and National NHL Reporter Ryan S. Clark.
As an old-timey traffic reporter might advise, pack your patience with this crew. In what’s forming into an increasingly popular trend in player development, the overwhelming majority of these prospects are expected to spend at least one year, if not more, maturing elsewhere. Perhaps all but one, even. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to look ahead, or remain prepared in case some promising player makes an unexpectedly premature debut.
The 6-foot-3 center showcased his skills across all levels in 2022-23 by playing for Orebro in the SHL, the highest division of Swedish hockey and when he represented Sweden in various international competitions. The hulking two-way center adds to what was an already promising nucleus that has Jamie Drysdale, Mason Marchment, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras.”
Unlike Bedard – this draft’s only slam dunk to play full-time in the NHL come fall – Carlsson could opt for one last pro tour in Sweden before joining the Ducks. The organization and player are bound to have lengthy discussions on that topic throughout the summer. If the 18-year-old does in fact manage to secure a spot with his NHL club, expect modest fantasy numbers to start, unless he shifts to the wing alongside Zegras or Ryan Strome. Still, this towering teen is still likely at least a year out from garnering any serious fantasy attention outside of dynasty competition. He’ll get there though.
How he fits: This is excellent for the Flyers. Might it be the steal of the draft? The Russian winger is signed in the KHL through the 2025-26 season though, which would give rebuilding Philadelphia time to prepare for Michkov to eventually be a prime factor in their offense. He certainly has the potential. Michkov is a skilled winger who is creative with the puck, has an excellent shot, is strong around the net and possesses a distinct slippery quality that makes him hard to contain all over the ice. Last season with the KHL’s Sochi HC, Michkov put up nine goals and 20 points in 27 games. Not bad for an 18-year-old, right? The Flyers could have just made a franchise-altering choice in Nashville.
Asset management is essentially how one can effectively navigate the draft, and the Avalanche did just that. They parlayed a pending restricted free agent in Alex Newhook into a trade that saw them land a first-round and second-round pick from the Montreal Canadiens. Then, it was about using that second-rounder and flipping that for Ross Colton in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Those moves allowed the Avs to find a third-line center at a cheaper price than what it would have cost to re-sign J.T. Compher on the open market. It also led to the Avs getting two first-round picks to help replenish a system that was drained in the chase for the Stanley Cup they won in 2022. Being financially conscious is something every team must consider, and for the Avs, it has become their edict. This draft was a reflection of that concept.
The Vegas Golden Knights have shown time and time again that they’re not the sentimental types when it comes to managing their salary cap. They’ve shipped out beloved players before, and they did it again at the draft, trading “Golden Misfit” original Smith weeks after he helped them win the Stanley Cup.
Smith had two more years at $5 million annually on his contract. The Knights essentially hit the upgrade button: Ivan Barbashev, who was acquired at the trade deadline and played on their top line with Jack Eichel, was signed to a five-year deal worth $5 million against the salary cap annually. Smith does land with a very good organization and team in the Penguins. But that upcoming day with the Cup just got a little bittersweet.
Minnesota selected center Riley Heidt in the second round (64th overall). Heidt, 18 (3/15/2005), played in 68 games for Prince George of the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 2022-23, recording 97 points (25-72=97) and 36 PIM. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, led the Cougars in assists and ranked second in points on his way to earning second-team All-Star honors in the WHL’s British Columbia division. Heidt also represented Canada at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, logging two assists in five games played. Heidt tallied 58 points (21-37=58) and 51 PIM in 65 game appearances for Prince George in 2021-22 after posting eight points (2-6=8) and 12 PIM in 22 games for the Cougars in 2020-21.
“Riley is a slick, playmaking center with elite vision and hands,” said Brackett.
Minnesota selected defenseman Aaron Pionk in the fifth round (149th overall). Pionk, 20 (1/16/03), collected 36 points (12-24=36) and 51 PIM in 60 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL last season. The 6-foot-1, 173-pound native of Hermantown, Minn., ranked tied for fourth among USHL defensemen in goals. He ranked tied for fifth on the team in assists and tied for sixth in scoring. Pionk recorded 28 points (9-19=28) and 14 PIM in 51 games with the Minnesota Wilderness in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in 2021-22. He tallied 40 points (15-25=40) in 20 games for Hermantown High School in 2020-21.
“Aaron was recently converted to defense,” said Brackett. “He is a smart, puck mover with an accurate shot.”
The Wild selected defenseman Kalem Parker in the sixth round (181st overall). Parker, 18 (10/12/04), tallied 38 points (6-32=38) and 64 PIM in 68 games with the Victoria Royals in the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 2022-23. The 6-foot, 192-pound native of Saskatoon, Sask., ranked tied for second on the team in assists and tied for third in scoring. He collected 20 points (2-18=20) and 70 PIM in 66 games with Victoria in 2021-22. Parker also tallied one goal in three games for Canada at the 2022 IIHF Under-18 World Championship.
Wirtz later apologized with a carefully-crafted message from his PR team, but the damage was done. The men directly responsible for the cover-up were gone, but the man at the top had no empathy for what took place. That’s why it felt vile to see Chicago rewarded with the No. 1 pick in the lottery when by any semblance of basic humanity, they should have received unprecedented punishment for allowing a player in their system to be repeatedly abused by a former coach.
It’s just profoundly unfortunate, sad, and infuriating that this should be the Blackhawks ushering in a new era of success with a marquee player — and yet, because of the NHL’s feckless response to the abuse of Kyle Beach the same owner is allowed to stay in charge.
Winner: The Flyers, who hit the draft’s biggest home run (after Bedard) with Matvei Michkov
Philadelphia is deep in a rebuilding process and had the PERFECT prospect inexplicably land to them at No. 7. Teams at the top of the draft were scared off Michkov due to his KHL contract running through 2026-27, paired with the instability in Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine. Still, Michkov is legitimately a top-3 player in this class. A kid who recorded 20 points in 27 KHL games this season, despite being 18-years-old. He’s a pure passer, a gifted lamplighter, and it’s wild that teams would be so myopic as to pass on him because of a three year wait.
Enter Philadelphia: Who now have one of the most gifted young players in their prospect system and someone who will be ready to jump to the NHL as soon as the rest of their rebuild is realized. What an amazing pick.
Loser: The inexplicable draft of the Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes wrote the book on how bad teams stay bad with their picks on Wednesday night. Nobody in the NHL botched their draft capital more than Arizona, who took the No. 6 and No. 12 picks and ended up with two massive reaches.
There’s nothing functionally wrong with either Dmitri Simashev or Daniil But. They’re both legitimate first round talents who could surprise, but based on everything we’ve seen they were not the best talents on the board at either of the Coyotes picks. It’s almost as if the team was absolutely locked into taking a defenseman at No. 6, then got thrown for a loop by the Canadiens taking David Reinbacher — so instead of pivoting their board they freaked out and reached for their next-best D.
We can’t even assume they wanted players who could contribute right now, because neither Simashev nor But can come in right away. Why the hell don’t you take Michkov and land one elite talent? This is a draft that will be studied for years in how not to draft in the NHL. No, it was simply another end of the wild weather spectrum Nashville displayed over the past few days. Temperatures careened into the 80s and 90s with humidity so high it not only slapped you in the face upon going outdoors but made even the briefest of walks feel uncomfortably swampy. And on Thursday when everyone from prospects to coaches to executives were looking to leave town those thunderclouds grounded incoming and outgoing flights to put a multitude of travel parties in a lurch. The rain only made for more soupiness afterward, too.
The great city and good people of Nashville were tremendous hosts for an entire week’s worth of events; it’s too bad the weather systems across Tennessee weren’t quite so hospitable.
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