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Welcome to the first edition of DP Draft Reports for the 2023 NHL Draft class! In case this is your first time reading DP Draft Reports, this is where we give our readers a look at some of the work our draft team compiles over the course of the season. Collectively, our group has already invested countless hours attending games, studying film, and putting together game reports, and we want to share some of those reports with you as the season progresses.
This week’s edition features game reports on some of the top prospects for the 2023 class, including Calum Ritchie, Eduard Sale, Caden Price, Noah Dower Nilsson, and Michael Hrabal.
Ritchie is a center for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL who plays a well-rounded game highlighted by his awareness and playmaking abilities. He is off to a strong start this season with four points through his first three games after putting up 45 points in 65 games during his rookie season with the Generals.
Sale is a multi-threat offensive winger playing with Kometa Brno in the top Czech professional league. He was a star at this past summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup and has already registered a goal and two assists in his first six games of the regular season.
A solid two-way defender for Kelowna in the WHL, Price also showed well at the recent Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he was one of Canada’s most relied-upon blueliners. After compiling 21 points in 47 games during the 2021-22 season, he is looking to build his offensive profile and already has five points through the Rockets’ first four games of the WHL schedule.
Dower Nilsson is an energetic, hardworking forward who can push the pace offensively and finish scoring plays. He is lighting up the Swedish junior league through the early part of the season, already with 12 goals and six assists in Frölunda’s first 10 games.
The early favorite to be the first goalie off the board in the 2023 NHL Draft, Czech import Michael Hrabal has put up eye-popping numbers at just about every stage of his career thus far. Through his first couple of games with Omaha in the USHL, he has stopped 70 of 73 shots, including his first shutout of the campaign.
Let’s get to the game reports.
Calum Ritchie | C | Oshawa vs. Barrie (OHL) | 2022-02-19
0 G, 0 A, 3 SOG, 14:52 TOI
Sebastian High: Calum Ritchie looks like a surefire top-5 pick, at least in most drafts, but 2023 is another matter entirely. He was already among the very smartest players in the OHL as a draft-1 player, and without hesitation, I would call his hockey mind elite. He reads his teammates extremely well, consistently supporting them as a passing option to diffuse pressure. He finds soft ice in the offensive zone with remarkable consistency. His routes with the puck are as creative as they are calculated, opening up space for his teammates to attack, though they often fail to find it. He is also a rather unique player. He’s a genuine playmaker, not just a great passer (though he is one), but he dictates the pace of play, uses those aforementioned creative routes to open up space for his linemates, pressures opponents, and forces mistakes that he’s ready to pounce on. He also plays with an intensity and a tenacity you rarely see from a playmaking pivot. While he only weighs 187 pounds as of right now, his 6-2 frame will be a powerful one in the NHL.
In this game, Ritchie did everything but register a point. He showed throughout the game why I’ve dubbed him the “master of the stick lift” in my notes as I counted nine takeaways and one giveaway in his game. Most of those takeaways came in the defensive zone and were promptly followed by a quick and decisive counterattack quarterbacked by Ritchie himself. The gap in talent on Oshawa’s roster between Ritchie and the next man up is a large one. Not only does he out-think all of his teammates, but the skill, passing mechanics, and even shooting accuracy that he flashes are unmatched by his teammates. Despite this skill, he uses his teammates consistently rather than trying to do it all on his own, his delay game is refined, and his distribution, both in transition and in the offensive zone, is calculated and precise. Ritchie is a very purposeful player, every play he makes is well thought out. This is also true with his physicality, which he uses to attack the center lane, gain positioning at the net front, and separate opponents from the puck. Ritchie will not need much – if any – development before joining the NHL squad of whichever team is lucky enough to draft him.
Eduard Sale | RW | Czechia vs. Germany (Hlinka Gretzky Cup) | 2022-08-01
3 G, 1 A, 6 SOG, 23:19 TOI
Sasha Lagarde: After being held pointless in the tournament opener, Sale came to life during his second game against Germany in a big way with three goals and an assist. The most impressive takeaway from this game is how Sale was able to create scoring chances from nothing while managing to score in three completely different ways. During his first shift, Sale entered the zone with confidence, creating space for his teammates by slowing down the pace of play and allowing them to set up in the offensive zone. He found a way to get body position on the defenders in front of the net, eventually tipping the puck past the German goaltender following a point shot from teammate Dominik Badinka for his first of the tournament. Sale continued his impressive showing in the first period by creating more space for his teammates. Even though he didn’t get credit for any assists on the two Czechia goals, his willingness to find open ice and to circulate the puck quickly were key factors to the eventual scoring plays. In the second period, he continued to show why he is considered one of the most potent offensive wingers in this year’s draft. Sale broke away from the German defense with his strong skating stride and finished with a solid wrist shot on a rolling puck for his second goal of the game.
There were times during the second frame, however, when he showed some of his deficiencies in the defensive zone. He got caught with his back to the puck on a couple of occasions and has a habit of exiting the zone too quickly without supporting the breakout. This is the part of his game that needs fine-tuning more than others. As the period progressed, Sale took a pass from Jakub Dvorak and exploded forward for another breakaway before scoring top corner on his backhand. Three goals in three different ways. He finished his offensive clinic late in the second with a powerplay assist, showing how dangerous he can be when given time to create in the offensive zone. More forceful performances like this from Sale will be welcomed as he continues to build up his draft stock.
Caden Price | LD | Kelowna vs. Victoria (WHL) | 2022-10-05
1 G, 0 A, 4 SOG, 22:11 TOI
Nick Richard: It was a bit of a sloppy game on both sides, and Price wasn’t exempt from that, but he still played a key role in Kelowna’s shutout victory on this night. He played over 22 minutes, including time on both special teams units, and utilized his mobility to help drive play for his club. While he showed some great flashes of puck-moving ability, including cutbacks to elude pressure and quick reads to advance the play, he also had some rough moments with the puck on his stick. There were a couple of occasions where Price was a little too casual moving the puck or seemed to panic under pressure, but he typically followed those moments up with strong defensive plays to diffuse the situation.
His awareness and four-way mobility helped to net him his first goal of the season in the opening frame, putting the Rockets up 2-0. He received a short pass at the point, took one step towards the middle before stopping up to shake the defender, made a quick move back to the wall in order to open up the shooting lane and let go a quick snap shot that was able to beat the netminder through traffic. His confidence and willingness to step up or join the rush were evident throughout the contest, but he never did so without support behind him. This mentality allowed him to shut down a handful of opposing rush attempts before they were able to get started, keeping the ice tilted in Kelowna’s favor when he was out there.
Though there were a couple of instances where he got caught puck-watching and sagged ever so slightly out of position, he was mostly solid in his own end and did well to stay between his check and his own net. He was aggressive yet composed defending the rush and had one really nice sequence where he stuck to the oncoming attacker, forced him wide, and got his stick on the shot attempt to send it high and wide. Despite a couple of misplays early in the game, Price settled in as the game went along and showed why he is one of the top defensive prospects in the class with his mobility, puck-moving, and play-scanning abilities.
Noah Dower Nilsson | LW | Frölunda J20 vs. Oskarshamn J20 (J20 Nationell) | 2022-10-01
2 G, 1 A, 6 SOG, 18:06 TOI
Alexa Potack: This was a two-goal, three-point night for Dower Nilsson. His first goal came on a clean-up of a shot by Isac Born. Born drove to the net from the right wing, easily beat his defender but put the shot into the pads of the Oskarshamn goaltender. Dower Nilsson, coming down the left wing, took advantage of lazy defense after the shot by Born and followed up with the goal. His second goal was also a result of taking advantage of defensive errors. This time, it was a shorthanded goal due to a misplayed puck and overaggressive goaltending. One of his Frölunda teammates fired the puck down the ice after a faceoff won by Dower Nilsson before Oskarshamn’s goaltender misread the ricochet along the boards, and Dower Nilsson ended up with a loose puck at the top of the crease with nobody in the net. It was not a high-skill goal, but it demonstrated his ability to read plays as they unfold. No matter if the goaltender was in the net or far from it, one of Dower Nilsson’s best off-puck qualities is his forechecking. So, he would have likely been there anyway, which makes it consistently easier to be in the right place for opportunities such as this one.
Even when not scoring shorthanded goals, he has a strong forecheck and can stave off an oncoming rush with agility and aggression. On multiple shifts, Dower Nilsson forced an Oskarshamn defenseman with the puck from the top of the faceoff circle to behind the goal line. While he does not usually force errors that land the puck on his stick, he creates time for his teammates to change lines and position themselves. The aggression that Dower Nilsson employed on the forecheck in this game was visible in many other moments of play. Whether it was a battle along the boards or shaking off a defender that was pushing him toward the blue line, he was competitive and fought through it.
Dower Nilsson isn’t a poor skater by any means, but skating on a line with Isac Born makes his flaws more noticeable. Born flies up and down the ice, which created a few 2-on-1 opportunities in the first period while Dower Nilsson trailed behind. Though his speed is not a critical issue, it is an area for improvement. While Dower Nilsson was excluded from some of those odd-man rushes, he got involved by creating many of those opportunities. He demonstrated great vision in this game and found lanes, even through congestion.
His low point of the game led to Oskarshamn’s first goal. Thirty seconds after a second period penalty kill, Dower Nilsson failed to clear a puck from the corner, and it ended up perfectly on the tape of an opponent. When the Oskarshamn forward received the puck, he shot quickly, and it ended up being a deflection goal. While this was a bad play, vision is usually a strength within Dower Nilsson’s game, but mistakes happen. Overall, this was a solid game for Dower Nilsson, and it showed why he is one of the most highly touted Swedes early in the 2023 draft cycle.
Michael Hrabal | G | Omaha vs. NTDP U18 (USHL) | 2022-09-24
46 SOG, 3 GA, 6 SOG, .935 SV%
Colin Hunter: After some confusion as to where he would be playing to start the year, Hrabal was announced as Omaha’s starter for game one of their season against the NTDP. Despite a miscue in overtime, the 6-6 Czechia native was the driving force behind Omaha, stopping 43 of 46 shots, including several high-danger chances in an overtime loss.
Hrabal displayed a number of highly intriguing tools throughout the course of this game as he was forced to handle a wide variety of scenarios. His positioning and quiet, effective footwork allowed him to make saves on several clean shots look routine. The confidence he has in his ability to read and anticipate plays was evident, quickly and effectively moving into position and often beating the play. Particularly impressive was Hrabal’s ability to identify passing or deflection options and appropriately react to the shooter or passer’s decisions. Team USA frequently had a player in front of Hrabal, but he used his frame well to track pucks and identify shooting threats despite the traffic. Hrabal’s patience on his feet was particularly useful in the second and third periods, allowing him to stop a number of breakaways and facilitating effective lateral movement on passing plays. He does, however, appear to be a little over-reliant on the RVH, tending to sit in it during developing plays below the goal line with little to no near-post threat. He got burned by this on a couple of passes out front during the Hlinka Gretzky, and it would appear that no change was made. Further, in future games, I would like to see him play a touch more aggressively in his positioning and start using his body to shift into pucks instead of just reaching for them.
Hrabal caught the eye of many with his first weekend of games in the USHL. If he can prove that the skillset he displayed in this game is legitimate through consistent play, he could very well be hearing his name announced early next June.