Prospect Ramblings: Year of the Short King

Aaron Itovitch

2023-02-13

Prospect Ramblings: Year of the Short King

 The NHL will always have an inherent bias against small players. This isn’t necessarily wrong, since it’s an inevitable reality that players under 5-10 are less likely to make an impact in the league. While players like Alex DeBrincat, Cole Caufield, and Quinn Hughes have found important roles in the NHL, they are still the exception rather than the rule.

I do, however, believe that the 2023 NHL Draft will be a massive culture shift for the league. Just looking at the Dobber mid-season consensus rankings, there are eight players listed as 5-10 and under in the first round. If I reference my independent rankings, this number goes up to 12, as the amount of pure upside talent in this draft is like no other.

The “Short King” identity this season isn’t limited just to semi-obscure players like Frank Nazar and Lane Hutson, who our Director of North American Scouting, Sebastian High, had ranked 2nd and 11th respectively. In 2023, it starts with the consensus first overall pick.

When thinking about Connor Bedard, size is probably the last thing that comes to mind, but, at 5-10, he is very much an undersized player. I don’t need to explain why Connor Bedard is a surefire NHLer, but the reality is that other incredibly talented players get passed up. This year, however, the talent will be too tantalizing to pass up, and it will hopefully begin a shift in consensus scouting culture.

There are many notable “Short Kings” that come to mind in 2023, beyond the likes of Bedard. Andrew Cristall, Matvei Michkov, and Jayden Perron will be the focus of this particular ramblings. All three of these players are much more divisive than Bedard, but in the ‘Year of the Short King’, there are cases to be made for all of them.

Andrew Cristall:

Probably a player that I’m higher on than anybody else, I see Cristall as something beyond boom-or-bust. If Cristall hits, the boom will be legendary. Somewhat of a Mitch Marner mould, but with a better shot and weaker skating, I don’t often see a prospect and confidently say that their ceiling could be a 100-point player.

I’ve hedged my personal bet on Cristall by banking on him at third overall. If there’s a trend with these small players, it’s their incredible shot. Cristall doesn’t get quite as much power as Bedard and Michkov, but his accuracy is phenomenal.

However, despite this incredible skill, Cristall shines in his playmaking. While production in junior can’t ever be overvalued, his 26 goals and 36 assists for 62 points in 36 games speaks for itself.

There are valid criticisms around his skating, as he does lack a true top gear, but his mechanics are very smooth and refined. His edgework is above average, and his high-speed decision making is elite. His hockey IQ is so advanced that it’s hard to notice the slight deficiencies in his skating.

In a draft with Connor Bedard, it’s hard to be one of the most creative players out there, but Cristall just has so much fun when he’s on the ice. From my first viewing of his in September, I was hooked. It does comfort me however that I know, assuredly, that I’m not the only one.

Would I pick Andrew Cristall third overall if I was an NHL GM? Probably not since his size will likely push him into the teens. But would I pound the table for him outside of the top-10? Absolutely.

Matvei Michkov:

I’ve been low on Matvei Michkov all season. From ranking him as low as sixth in my personal November rankings, to now sitting at four behind fellow Short King Cristall, I’ve found the defensive woes to be very problematic.

Michkov has phenomenal hockey IQ, but the defensive effort just isn’t there for me. However, nobody is drafting Matvei Michkov for his defense.

The goalscoring is an obvious elite skill. Michkov’s shot is beautiful, and for such a small frame, he gets an incredible amount of power on his shot.

However, his offensive prowess goes beyond goals, as I’ve personally been wowed by his playmaking. The offensive IQ is so dynamic with Michkov that he truly does make his entire team better when he’s in the offensive zone.

Even better, these offensive instincts are going to be translatable to the NHL. He’s middle-driven and evades physical pressure along the boards very well.

His skating has room to improve, but he’s become so effective in other facets of the quick game that it’s entirely surmountable. While he is 5-8, it’s not crazy to see him grow into the mould of the modern day Alex Ovechkin.

His contract status with CSKA is a worry, but I don’t think he would have played in the NHL next season anyways. The ceiling is incredibly high, and the floor is too early to guess.

If there’s a team who believes in the upside, Michkov would be a steal. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Jayden Perron:

Jayden Perron is this years’ Lane Hutson. A guy that I’m confident ranking top-10, but that will probably slip outside the first round.

When it comes to Perron, the size is more noticeable than Cristall or Michkov, since he is very very small. We’re talking about a player that is 5-9, 163, but that relies entirely on his IQ to evade physical pressure. In the cases of both Cristall and Michkov, they aren’t afraid to get involved in some higher-pressure hockey, but Perron rarely gets involved in a board battle.

This isn’t to say that his defense is bad, as he actually does have decent defensive IQ, but the physical aspect of the game is lost.

The offensive toolkit, however, is fantastic. He’s one of the more dynamic playmakers in the draft, with an elite vision of the ice. He’s pulled off some passes that have genuinely made my jaw drop.

His shot is also very dynamic, as he finds slots many wouldn’t be able to find.

Having Macklin Celebrini on his team definitely helps his case, but Perron is a very special player.

Knowing he’ll likely be available in the second round just adds to his appeal for me. Somebody is about to get a steal.

Honourable Mentions:

Barring Bedard and those spoken about up above, there are a few other notable short kings in the 2023 draft.

Timur Mukhanov has been a quick riser for me, as he has incredibly translatable skills to the NHL. Despite being only 5-8, he can easily be projected as a checking winger. He plays a physical game, and doesn’t look out of place against bigger competition in Russia.

William Whitelaw is oozing with upside, but there are genuine questions around NHL projectability. If his hockey IQ and neverending motor can work to his favour, he could become an incredibly effective top-sixer.

Finally, Denver Barkey is one of my favourite players to watch in this draft class. Luckily, he is on a team with both a Habs prospect in Logan Mailloux, and another 2023 draft-eligible in Oliver Bonk, so I’ve been able to watch quite a bit of him. He shines on the ice as one of the more creative players in the OHL, and, while he does have some sort of ‘boom-or-bust’ risk, could be a great second-line winger.

 There’s so much small talent in 2023. The only question is: which GMs will take the risk and go for them?

Thanks for reading! You can catch me on Twitter with bi-weekly personal rankings updates @itovitch , and at the Puck and Roll Podcast!

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