How deep is the 2023 draft class? Six out of the top 20 prospects ranked by PNHLe will be drafted this June. That list includes all prospects playing outside the NHL right now, and six of them haven’t even been drafted yet: Adam Fantilli (1st, 128 PNHLe), Connor Bedard (3rd, 117), Leo Carlsson (5th, 114), Lukas Dragicevic (7th, 112), Will Smith (12th, 93), and Andrew Cristall (19th, 88).
As I pointed out last week, top four-lock Matvei Michkov does not feature here because of the scarcity of historical MHL & VHL data. If he sticks in the KHL and is given any playing time at all, expect him to appear on this ranking in a hurry.
The University of Denver Pioneers had significant changeover at the end of last year after taking home the NCAA Championship, including losing their top four scorers: Bobby Brink (PHI), Carter Savoie (EDM), Cole Guttman (CHI), and Brett Stapely.
But Denver has managed to remain one of the top teams in college hockey so far this year. One reason is that Mike Benning (FLA), Shai Buium (DET), and Sean Behrens (COL)—all members of the 2021-22 Championship squad—continue to hold down the blue line for the Pioneers. All three are solid fantasy stashes in deeper leagues, though Benning in particular continues to flash attractive offensive upside with seven points in his first 10 games.
While Buium and Behrens will face relatively deep defensive corps for Detroit and Colorado, Florida is surprisingly wide open and Benning is arguably the Panthers top prospect on defence.
Another reason for the Pioneers’ continued success is that Massimo Rizzo (CAR), Carter Mazur (DET), and Casey Dornbach (undrafted) have done an excellent job picking up the significant scoring slack left at Forward. Rizzo, a seventh round draft pick in 2019, leads the team with 17 points in 10 games. Last year he popped 36 points in 39 points as a freshman. That was in a supporting role. Now he is taking center stage and thriving with the increased ice time and opportunity.
It might be a couple years still before we see him in a Canes jersey but poolies will start to learn his name if he keeps up anywhere close to this kind of production for a longer chunk of the year. Skating has been the primary deficit holding him back. He is a very confident and creative puck handler who is consistently able to find and capitalize on seams in opposing defences.
Mazur, who also went nearly a point per game last year as a freshman, has largely been the one slamming home Rizzo’s passes. Although he was more of a distributor last year (ten goals, 24 assists), he is currently on an insane goal per game pace with 10 in 10. He has the kind of whip-like shot that will make Savoie feel like a distant memory to Pioneers fans before long. He could look good before too long chipping in for the Wings as part of their young, exciting core.
Magnus Chrona is back between the pipes for a fourth year in Denver. He plays for the Lightning, so he has Andrei Vasilevski and Hugo Alnefelt ahead of him, but his college success has been consistent and undeniable: he has averaged a 2.22 G.A.A. and a 0.912 SV% over his four NCAA seasons. Someone to stash and forget about for now in deeper dynasties.
I feel like I’m Strauss Mann’s number one fan at this point because I’ve hyped him up so consistently for the last couple years but the Sharks prospect continues to dominate. Although he has only played one AHL game so far this year because he is stuck behind the promising Eetu Makiniemi and the struggling Aaron Dell, he performed very well in that one outing (2.05 G.A.A./0.929 SV%) and has looked good in four ECHL games too (2.24/0.940).
Mann has now posted top-notch numbers in the USHL, NCAA, SHL, ECHL, and AHL. The Sharks signed him to a one-year contract at the start of this past year, and the uncertainty in the San Jose crease with James Reimer a 1A/1B guy at best and Kappo Kahkonen struggling early means that there is lots of opportunity.
Mann owners will be hoping that he can at the very least move back up to the Barracuda (AHL) and split starts with Makiniemi down the stretch in 2022-23. Dell, an over-the-hill backup, should not be the reason this young Mann is in the ECHL right now but either way Dell is an unrestricted free agent after this year and the Sharks will not re-sign him.
Perusing the three CHL leagues, there are several intriguing players near the top of their league’s scoring race who are currently averaging two points per game or more: Ty Voit (TOR) is leading the OHL with 30 points in 15 games, Logan Stankoven (DAL) has 20 points in only 9 games in the WHL, and Zachary Bolduc (STL) is right behind Jordan Dumais (featured here last week) for the lead in the QMJHL with 27 in 13.
Looking into Voit, I got deja vu: he is yet another highly skilled, undersized (5-10, 161lbs) forward prospect whose development was interrupted in a critical year by Covid cancellations. He was drafted in 2021 by the Leafs despite not playing a single game that year on the strength of his 28 points in 49 games in his Draft-1. After losing his Draft season entirely, he returned with a vengeance in his D+1 like many of his OHL peers and put up 80 points in 67 games.
Now this year Voit is averaging two ppg on a fairly weak team without a lot of high-end talent. Aside from Voit, there is Benjamin Gaudreau (SJS) in net, Sandis Vilmanis (FLA) at forward, and two other low-end drafted prospects. Not a ton to work with but Voit is making it work in the early going by scoring an incredible 54% of his team’s points. He is a tenacious, energetic type of player who is always in motion and processes the game at high speed. His middle-six NHL projection from Dobber Prospects is tracking very well so far.
I anticipate Stankoven becoming a very hot commodity in fantasy before much longer. He is already fairly well known in prospect circles but has flown a bit more under the radar than some of his peers due to a combination of size (5-8), pedigree (2nd round pick), and the fact that he is playing in a Dallas system that also boasts Wyatt Johnston, Mavrik Bourque, and Thomas Harley.
This guy will rack up stats across the board at the next level. He hits, creates plays, and snipes at will. Expect gigantic numbers from him this year and a quick ascension up the ranks into the Stars’ lineup starting next year where he will likely start in the AHL.
As for Bolduc, he was considered one of the top QMJHL prospects available in 2021 and put up a very impressive D+1 season last year that included 55 goals in 65 games (99 points)—a total that tied for second league-wide, one behind William Dufour (NYI). The Blues have big big big money tied up long term in a bunch of contracts that may not age well (Faulk, Krug, Leddy, Saad, Schenn, Thomas, Kyrou), so they will be looking for young players like Bolduc and Scott Perunovich to step up from within the organization before much longer.
When the Blues sent Bolduc back to junior after training camp, Coach Craig Berube said that he wanted to see Berube work on his playmaking and defensive responsibilities—not just shooting and scoring.
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