This year’s 2023 NHL Draft is absolutely loaded with diverse talent. At the very top is Connor Bedard, who has established himself as a franchise talent and is on another planet compared to the rest of the field. Bedard led the CHL in scoring this year with 143 points in only 57 games. He also thrilled fans at the World Junior Championships, where he danced around defenders and led the tournament in points (23), goals (9), and assists (14). Here is one of his biggest goals of the tournament:
Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, and Leo Carlsson have all had great years and represent the second tier of this class. Beneath them are a number of high-end talents, more than in most years. For this article, I will highlight several players who are not getting as much attention as those at the top and could make for a sneaky pick-up later on in fantasy drafts. Every draft has its hidden gems. Back in the 2015 NHL Draft, for instance, we saw Sebastian Aho fall to the second round (CAR, 35th) and Troy Terry drop to the fifth (ANA, 148th). 2023 could be another 2015.
Here is a review of four players I think will go higher in the draft than they are currently ranked and become useful fantasy assets in time:
Nick Lardis Height: 5-11 Weight:165 lbs Shoots: L Position: Winger Goals: 37 Points: 65 Games: 69
Lardis started the year back with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) looking to build off his tremendous 2021-22 campaign. Although he began the year on the second line, he excelled to the tune of six points in seven games. He was getting some good looks with his quick release and went on a short stretch of five goals in five games in late November. But then he had only two points over the entire month of December. Things were not looking good for Lardis at that point. Plus, the Petes then acquired forward Brennan Othmann, the 16th pick in 2021 by the New York Rangers. The addition of Othmann took away ice time from Lardis and really hurt his draft stock.
His fortune then took a turn for the better as he and Sahil Panwar got traded to Hamilton just after New Year’s in exchange for Avery Hayes and Gavin White. Lardis was lights out after joining the Bulldogs and really elevated his game, putting up 21 points during a particularly notable 10-game point streak. His stock is only going to rise with how superlative his game has been since Christmas.
Against his former team, too. Does it get any better than that?
Gabe Perreault Height: 5-11 Weight: 171 lbs Shoots: L Position: Winger Goals: 45 Points: 105 Games: 52
Gabe Perreault is on this list because he is projected to go in the second round by some, which for a player who scored 105 points in 52 games is quite shocking. Gabe is an electrifying talent who shone on the top line for the USDP. His high hockey IQ is one of his best features, as he is constantly moving with and without the puck. It is impressive to see someone who competes so hard but is so smart at the same time. He knows where defenders are looking to pass, then gets in the lanes to block them and is always thinking about that next step while the play is moving. He consistently finds himself in the play and in a position to score, and the puck seems to follow his around the ice.
The biggest question with Perreault is whether he can still get it done without highly-rated prospect Will Smith. Of the 45 goals Perreault scored, Smith had a hand in all but 12 of them, so it is a bit of a red flag how much Perreault seemingly relies on Smith for offence. The thing with Perreault, though, is he is the highest-scoring player on the team and regularly finds himself open to receive those passes. He has a great sense for where to go so that high-skill players like Smith can find him. He is an offensive player who is extremely creative with the puck, battles hard, and is disciplined. Of course, he has some pretty good hockey players in the family as well: his brother plays for the AHL San Diego Gulls, and his dad played in the NHL for over a decade.
Riley Heidt Height: 5’11 Weight: 178 lbs Shoots: L Position: Centre Goals: 25 Points: 96 Games: 68
Riley Heidt is one of those players whose game is flawless in some areas and flawed in others. His skating is simply exceptional. He is able to push the pace and make plays at a high rate. His combination of speed and playmaking is special to watch. He is always making amazing passes; it is his vision that separates him and makes him so dangerous. He has a bomb of a one timer, which is especially deadly on the power play.
The biggest concern with Heidt is not what he does with the puck but what he does without it: he sometimes can be caught coasting and is not always completely engaged in the play. When the puck gets on his stick, though, he transitions between zones and finds teammates with ease. If he continues to up his pace and get bigger, he will add another layer to his naturally raw talent.
Bradly Nadeau Height 5’10 Weight 162 lbs Shoots: R Position: Winger Goals: 45 Points: 113 Games 54
Bradly Nadeau is one of the most intriguing players in the entire draft class. Bradly plays in the BCHL, where he is dominating alongside his brother (Josh Nadeau). Bradly is offensively gifted, with a bullet of a shot and high-end playmaking abilities as well. He is effective both with and without the puck and consistently makes something happen out of nothing.
Nadeau is a unique player. His point totals are off the charts: the last player to put up more than him was back in the 2015-16 season when Scott Conway finished with 116 points. His game and completeness make him a real fit for an NHL team’s top six. The one knock against him would be his pace of play but that is not a big concern. Although the speed of the NHL can really expose a player’s substandard skating, Nadeau’s transitional game is one of the best in the draft. He can find open teammates or claim open ice himself and get off his deadly shot.
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