2023 NHL Draft: Bedard tops Central Scouting midterm rankings

Not surprisingly, Bedard of Regina in the Western Hockey League is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings presented by BioSteel of the top North American skaters eligible for the draft, which is scheduled to be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The first round will be June 28 and Rounds 2-7 on June 29. The NHL Draft Lottery to determine the first 16 picks in the draft will be held in April.

Central Scouting revealed its midterm ranking of the top North American skaters and goalies, and the top International skaters and goalies, on Friday. Center Leo Carlsson of Orebro in the Swedish Hockey League, the top professional league in Sweden, is No. 1 among international skaters.

[PDFs: North American skaters | North American goalies | International skaters | International goalies]

Rounding out the top five North American skaters are center Adam Fantilli of the University of Michigan, center William Smith of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, right wing Ryan Leonard of the NTDP, and center Brayden Yager of Moose Jaw in the WHL.

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) was named the most valuable player of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship after leading gold medal-winning Canada with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in seven games to become the third NHL Draft -eligible player to be named WJC MVP in the past eight tournaments (Alexis LafreniereCanada, 2020; Jesse PuljujarviFinland, 2016).

“Connor Bedard has risen to every challenge and situation over the past three years and has excelled due to his tremendous talent, and he’s done so as one of the youngest players on each team,” Central Scouting vice president Dan Marr said. “At this year’s World Juniors, he again showed that he is a high-character player, and the hockey world was able to see his leadership ability to take charge and take his team to a gold medal.”

The 17-year-old right-shot center holds the record for most goals and points by a Canadian player in a single World Juniors, and he had the fourth-most points of any player in a single WJC, behind Sweden forward Peter Forsberg ( 31, 1993), Sweden forward Markus Naslund (24, 1993) and Finland forward Raimo Helminen (24, 1984).

Despite missing 11 games while participating in the WJC, Bedard still leads the WHL in assists (39) and points (70) in 29 games, and has a 28-game point streak (31 goals, 39 assists). It’s the longest in the WHL since Brett Leason (Anaheim Ducks) of Prince Albert had a 30-game streak in 2018-19.

“When we start to use the term ‘generational talent,’ some people get into a knot about that stuff and think we’re loosely using that as a description, but that’s exactly what [Bedard] is. And when you have that type of talent, it’s all-encompassing,” Sportsnet scouting analyst Jason Bukala told the “NHL Draft Class” podcast. “There are special athletes in any sport that come along once in a while. They’re just in tune in so many different categories, and I’d qualify Bedard that way.

“He can be in the League right now, and depending on what team he was playing for, certainly be right there in the Calder Trophy discussion as NHL rookie of the year, in my opinion.”

Fantilli (6-2, 195) leads Michigan with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 16 games as an 18-year-old freshman. He had five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games for Canada at the 2023 WJC.

“Fantilli’s freshman year results over the first half of the season are truly impressive,” Marr said. “He has proven that he has the necessary intangibles and commitment to do what is needed to be the best he can be, which is why he is a projected top draft pick for 2023.”

Smith (6-0, 178), who is committed to play at Boston College next season, is second on the NTDP with 54 points (22 goals, 32 assists) in 30 games. He took part in USA Hockey’s WJC development camp but had to leave because of an illness.

Leonard (5-11, 190), also committed to Boston College, ranks third on the NTDP with 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 28 games, and is first with eight power-play goals.

Smith and Leonard are two of five NTDP skaters projected to be first-round selections, according to Central Scouting. Center Oliver Moore (5-11, 188) is No. 6, right wing Gabriel Perreault (5-11, 165) is No. 15, and center Danny Nelson (6-3, 202) is No. 22.

Yager (5-10, 166) is tied for 12th in the WHL with 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 40 games. He also has 26 power-play points (seven goals, 19 assists) and has won 51.3 percent of his face-offs.

Carlsson (6-3, 198) had six points (three goals, three assists) in seven games for fourth-place Sweden at the 2023 WJC while playing left wing. He has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) and is averaging 15:26 of ice time in 25 games with Orebro.

“He had some minor problems with illness during the preliminary round of the World Juniors but was a key player (two goals) in the quarterfinal round against Finland,” NHL director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. “Leo has an excellent set of tools, including skating, puck-handling, mobility and great offensive instincts.”

Rounding out the top five international skaters are right wing Matvei Michkov (5-10, 172) of Sochi in the Kontinental Hockey League; defenseman Axel Sandin Pellikka (5-11, 176) of Skelleftea in the SHL; Slovakia-born center Dalibor Dvorsky (6-1, 201) of AIK in the second division in Sweden; and left wing Eduard Sale (6-2, 174) of Brno in the Czech Extraliga.

“The biggest difference between (Carlsson and Michkov) right now is circumstances, whereas Carlsson is in a positive environment to hone his game and development while Michkov has missed time with injury and changed teams (loaned to Sochi from SKA St. Petersburg),” Marr said. “A strong and consistent second half by both these talents will determine who will ultimately be No. 1 on a final list. Each is deserving of the recognition based on their performances over the past couple of seasons.”

Michkov has five points (four goals, one assist) and is averaging 15:33 of ice time in eight games with Sochi; he did not have a point and was averaging 3:11 of ice time in three games with SKA St. Petersburg.

The No. 1 North American goalie is Carson Bjarnason (6-3, 186) of Brandon (WHL). He’s 15-11-2 with a 2.88 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and two shutouts in 29 games.

“Carson is very competitive, focused and determined,” said Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting. “He has very good quickness, especially in reactions, recovery and lateral play. He’s got very good pro potential.”

The No. 1 International goalie is Alexander Hellnemo (6-2, 183) of Skelleftea’s team in Sweden’s junior league. The 19-year-old, who was born in Boblingen, Germany, is 9-5-0 with a 2.37 GAA and .921 save percentage in 14 games. He is also 3-2-0 with a 2.46 GAA and .893 save percentage in six SHL games with Skelleftea.

Photos: Michigan Photography; Orebro Hockey

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