Scout’s Analysis: 2023 NHL Draft class looking elite after Hlinka Gretzky Cup

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After taking a short break, following an exciting 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, the scouting fraternity is already busy preparing for the next wave of potential stars.

For over a year the 2023 NHL Draft class has been establishing itself as an elite group of prospects.

Judging by the quality of play at the recently completed Hlinka Gretzky Cup, this cycle of players is not likely to disappoint. The names at the top of the class include Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov, but the depth of high-end talent doesn’t end there. It’s going to be an exciting year tracking draft-eligible prospects for 2023.

A stacked Canadian squad defeated Sweden 4-1 Saturday to capture gold at the tournament. Finland downed an upstart Czechia group 3-1 to win the bronze.

Here are some players who stood out with their play last week in Red Deer, Alta.:

GOALIES


Michael Hrabal, Czechia
6-6, 201 lbs
| Catches: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible

A “hybrid/blocking” style goalie who uses his large frame to his advantage. When players attempt to get him moving side to side, and stuff pucks around his out-stretched legs, his width in his crease makes it challenging for shooters. Hrabal is the kind of goalie who can play deep in his net and allow pucks to come to him. The less he gets moving around the better. It’s important for him to play between the posts and not get scrambling. He’s not exceptionally athletic for his stature, so he needs to play a composed game. When he squares up, shooters have little net to look at when trying to score from range.

Samuel Urban, Slovakia
6-1, 196 lbs | Catches: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Urban was under siege for much of the tournament. He was, arguably, the MVP of Team Slovakia. The “butterfly/athletic” goalie never quits on pucks. He’s rangy in his crease, and showed he can move laterally to make first and second saves. An area of weakness is his rebound control. Urban has active pads and tends to kick pucks back out into traffic areas. He needs to improve this area of his game as the season progresses.

Scott Ratzlaff, Canada
6-0, 172 lbs | Catches: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Ratzlaff wasn’t called upon to be elite in this tournament but held down the fort when required. He ended the tournament with four wins and a .962 save percentage. The butterfly goalie is athletic and takes up enough net with his wide stature in the crease. He will have plenty of eyes on him this season in Seattle (WHL).

Eric Olsson, Sweden
6-3, 183 lbs | Catches: Left | 2024 Draft Eligible


His birthday (Sept. 27, 2005) falls after the Sept. 15 cutoff for the 2023 draft, making him a target for 2024. There is much to like about this prospect. He has sound crease composure and size. Olsson tracks very well and has good feet and gloves. If he was eligible for 2023, he would be a high-end goalie target. The fact he has two full years of development ahead of him should elevate his stock further as he trends towards 2024.

Eemil Vinni, Finland
6-2, 187 lbs | Catches: Left | 2024 Draft Eligible


There is a real possibility Vinni and Olsson will battle for the top-rated European goalie slot come 2024. Vinni has good size, great feet, moves very well laterally and controls his rebounds. He’s also not shy about jumping out of his crease to play the puck and outlet up ice. He didn’t have the net to start the tournament but established himself as the No. 1 for Finland as the week rolled along.

DEFENCEMEN


Cameron Allen, Canada
5-11, 190 lbs | Shoots: Right | 2023 Draft Eligible


The right-shot defender was captain of Team Canada and led by example. Allen is a tenacious defender who plays with a competitive edge. He took away time and space effectively and made responsible decisions with the puck. The two-way defender is more of a distributor than a shooter in the offensive zone. He scored one goal and six assists for seven points.

Dylan MacKinnon, Canada
6-2, 185 lbs | Shoots: Right | 2023 Draft Eligible


MacKinnon is a valuable defender who isn’t likely to push the play offensively but contributes in the small areas of the game. A reliable two-way “D” who has the ability to skate pucks or join the rush as an extra layer but generally focuses on his defensive responsibilities. He’s a low-risk player with above average physical edge and sound three-zone awareness.

Tanner Molendyk, Canada
5-10, 180 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Molendyk contributed one goal and three assists for four points in the tournament. He had the look of a player who could have scored more if the puck bounced his way on occasion. He’s a fluid skater with sound hockey IQ. Molendyk was used in all situations for Team Canada. A transitional “D’ who has the potential to produce offence for Saskatoon (WHL) and log a ton of ice time.

Lucas St. Louis, USA
5-11, 170 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


The son of Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis, Lucas definitely has some of his father’s playmaking genes. He started the tournament handling the puck with confidence and showing deception and vision in the offensive zone. His defending ranged at times, but he was generally engaged and didn’t shy away from the battle areas. Unfortunately for him, and his teammates, the wheels fell off and the group got away from playing as a team. St. Louis doesn’t have a history of elite scoring statistics. He skates very well and gives the impression that he could contribute more than history has shown. Lucas will be playing for Dubuque (USHL) this season before heading to Harvard in 2023-24.

Kristian Kostadinski, Sweden
6-5, 214 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Teams looking to add a defensive “D” who plays with some edge will track Kostadinski closely this season. He’s a big body who knows his limitations and plays to his strengths. He isn’t likely to produce much offensively, but he is capable of making the first pass. Kostadinski takes pride in cleaning out his crease and making life miserable on opponents along the boards.

Theo Lindstein, Sweden
6-0, 179 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Lindstein is an elite skater who is quick and agile. He projects to be a transitional “D” who can man the power play. In the offensive zone, he is more of a distributor than a shooter. He’s not an elite defender but it’s not an area of concern or weakness either. Lindstein scored one goal and five assists for six points at the tournament. He hasn’t historically shown he can produce a high level of offence for a full season. Time will tell if he is starting to come into his own.

Kalle Kangas, Finland
6-4, 205 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Kangas had a bit of an uneven tournament. He started the week playing with a presence. He’s a big body but not physically punishing. His length and ability to take away space with his reach is a plus when engaged in his zone. There were times in the tournament his execution with the puck and his ability to defend against speed were put to the test. There is an interesting foundation in place with Kangas, but I’m looking for more definition and consistency as the season progresses.

Jakub Dvorak, Czechia
6-5, 203 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


The captain for Czechia was deployed in all situations. He logged a ton of ice time. Dvorak is a big body who is a capable skater. He isn’t shy about leading the rush or joining as an extra layer. Although not elite in any singular category, he is very competitive and involved in all three zones. Dvorak is heading to Swift Current (WHL) this season. At this stage of his development, he projects to be a two-way “D” who isn’t likely to contribute on the power play as a pro.

This space is too limited to go into great detail about the underage defenceman at the event but these two players get a mention for their skill and upside for the 2024 Draft:

Niilopekka Muhonen, Finland
6-4 194 lbs | Shoots: Left
| 2024 Draft Eligible

Hulking two-way “D.”

Arvid Bergstrom, Sweden
5-10, 160 lbs | Shoots: Left
| 2024 Draft Eligible

Transitional “D” who is an elite skater and very similar to teammate Lindstein.

FORWARDS​


Eduard Sale, Czechia
6-1, 165 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Sale is an elite offensive talent. He was lethal on the power play. Off the rush, he has the ability to drive the play with speed or pull up and distribute. His off-the-puck detail and willingness to engage more in the hard areas will be tested throughout the season but there is no denying his upside as a potential top-of-the-lineup forward at the NHL level is significant.
He ended the event with four goals and two assists for six points. He also scored two ridiculously skilled goals in the shootout.

Kasper Halttunen, Finland
6-2, 207 lbs | Shoots: Right | 2023 Draft Eligible


The early leader in the clubhouse for the hardest shot in the draft class. Halttunen rips pucks from the flank on the power play. He also possesses a lethal snap shot that he gets away quickly in tight areas. Sometimes offensive-minded forwards play a moody game that lacks some detail and push at times. He definitely falls into that category after this event. This kid has size, can play quick when he wants to and no doubt has offensive upside. His effort overall has to go to another level to make his element more consistently dangerous. He scored one goal and two assists for three points in five games at the tournament. More drive will result in more results.

Emil Jarventie, Finland
5-11, 170 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Jarventie became more and more noticeable as the tournament progressed. He’s an energetic forward who’s equal parts goal scorer and playmaker. His ability to get under checks and create turnovers are skills that come to life via his work ethic. He had a positive week producing two goals and three assists for five points.

Otto Stenberg, Sweden
5-11, 181 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Stenberg tied for second in tournament scoring with nine points (five goals and four assists). He was noticeable from the drop of the puck on day one. He plays an energetic, involved, quick and skilled game that produces results. One of my favourite players in the tournament. He didn’t cut corners and led by example as Sweden’s captain.

Quentin Musty, USA
6-2, 205 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Musty has elite puck touch in tight around the net. He’s blessed with the ability to create offense. His three-zone effort and detail, however, need to improve as does his skating. If he puts in the work, gets stronger and raises his consistent compete level, he has a chance to open eyes as a big body with great mitts who can score. Musty led the Americans with five points (one goal and four assists) at the tournament.

Kevin Bicker, Germany
6-2, 175 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Germany lacked depth, but Bicker gave all he had the entire tournament and carried the team on his back for stretches. He’s a solid skater who can attack off the rush. He has the skill to beat opponents one-on-one and competes in the hard areas. Another positive attribute was his 200-foot game. He checks all the way back to his net. Bicker scored four points (one goal and three assists) at the tournament and it could have been more if he was surrounded by more support. He might fly under the radar a bit, but he’s a name to keep an eye on.

Calum Ritchie, Canada
6-1, 174 lbs | Shoots: Right | 2023 Draft Eligible


After a bit of a slow start, Ritchie played his best hockey in the back half of the event. When he is moving his feet and pushing the pace, he produces offence. There were times he seemed to lack the required drive, but the fact he elevated as the games became more important is a plus. Ritchie ended up leading the tournament in scoring with 10 points (four goals and six assists). He brings size, with room for strength, and excellent puck touch.

Denver Barkey, Canada
5-7, 150 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Barkey was like a “rash” on opponents the entire tournament. He NEVER gives up on the play. His combination of quickness, compete, battle and skill are impossible to ignore. He was deployed at extra strength and the penalty kill. Barkey ended the tournament with four points (two goals and two assists). He didn’t lead the event in scoring but was arguably the most noticeable player every night.

Brayden Yager, Canada
5-10, 162 lbs | Shoots: Right | 2023 Draft Eligible


Shoot first … ask questions later! Yager was a threat to score every game. He ended the tournament with nine points (five goals and four assists). He shoots the puck hard and accurately. When he sniffs out any kind of free space in the offensive zone, he is looking to get the puck to the net. Like many kids at this stage of his development, he needs to add strength so he can be more effective along the wall and when the games get physical. Yager has, at worst, second-line NHL upside. He could end up being a top-line point producer as a pro.

Zach Benson, Canada
5-10, 150 lbs | Shoots: Left | 2023 Draft Eligible


Benson and Barkey are a lot alike in many areas of their games. The difference, for now, is Benson is more polished offensively overall. He’s quick, fast, and highly skilled. A motivated player with and without the puck. Benson has the skill set to pick opponents apart on the power play.

Honourable Mentions

It’s my goal to be transparent when presenting my observations to our readers. I don’t ever want anyone to think I have bias in what I am presenting. Having said that my “Honourable Mentions” go out to the entire Canadian team. I could have literally written something on every one of the players on Team Canada. This is an elite group overall. The team didn’t have a single weak link.

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