The initial round of the 2023 NHL Draft has concluded, and it’s time to assess the successes and setbacks of the evening. While several teams emerged with a sense of accomplishment, others experienced disappointment at Bridgestone Arena.
Undoubtedly, the Chicago Blackhawks were the happiest franchise on Wednesday night. Securing the first overall pick, they acquired Connor Bedard, a generational talent who will significantly impact the franchise’s future. Just two picks later, the Columbus Blue Jackets also celebrated a similar victory.
Conversely, a few teams may have made questionable choices in a talent-filled first round. Additionally, fans hoping for exciting trades were left disappointed by the lack of action in the trade market.
Let’s delve into the notable winners and losers from the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft.
Winner: Chicago Blackhawks
This one is self-evident but true. The Blackhawks landed the highly sought-after Connor Bedard, a prodigious talent that made them the envy of the other 32 franchises. Bedard’s pre-draft credentials compare favorably to the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, promising to invigorate Chicago’s rebuilding efforts.
In addition to Bedard, the Blackhawks also selected Oliver Moore from the U.S. National Development team with the 19th overall pick. Moore, renowned for his exceptional speed, displayed his skills with 25 points in 23 games in the USHL last season. If both Bedard and Moore live up to their potential, Chicago will boast a formidable duo for years to come.
Loser: Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes possessed two top-12 picks in this draft, but both choices turned out to be surprising for less favorable reasons. With the sixth overall pick, the Coyotes selected Russian defenseman Dmitriy Simashev, followed by Russian winger Danil But at twelfth overall. Unfortunately, both players are currently locked into contracts with the KHL, which complicates their NHL timeline.
While Simashev and But possess ample talent to become impactful contributors for the Coyotes, Arizona missed an opportunity to leverage their first-round picks in a draft where teams were eager to trade up. They could have acquired a significant haul of future assets while still acquiring either Simashev or But. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.
Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Anaheim Ducks surprised many by selecting Leo Carlsson with the second overall pick, which allowed the Blue Jackets to claim Adam Fantilli with the third overall pick. Fantilli was widely regarded as the second-best player in the draft class, granting the Blue Jackets a solid consolation prize after missing out on Bedard.
In the 2022-23 season, Fantilli, playing for the Michigan Wolverines, accumulated an impressive 65 points (30 goals and 35 assists) in just 36 games. This performance earned him the Hobey Baker Award and the Big Ten Tournament MVP honors. In other years, such achievements would have made Fantilli the top pick, but this year, Bedard took that spot. Nevertheless, the Blue Jackets benefited from their draft position and secured a talented player, countering their historical draft lottery misfortune.
Loser: The trade market
In the hours preceding the first round, there were reports of teams aggressively attempting to trade up into the top five or top ten picks. The Toronto Maple Leafs were also rumored to be considering trading their first-round pick to make a significant impact. Unfortunately, none of these anticipated trades materialized.
The San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens made their selections at fourth and fifth overall, respectively. The Maple Leafs retained the 28th pick and chose Easton Cowan from the London Knights. In what was expected to be a loaded draft year, teams seemed content to stay put and bolster their prospect pool without resorting to drastic moves or trading away significant assets.
Winner: Philadelphia Flyers
Among the teams reportedly seeking to trade up were the Flyers, aiming to secure their desired pick. As it turned out, they didn’t need to make any moves and still managed to get their target player without surrendering any assets.
Matvei Michkov, regarded as one of the most skilled players in the draft class, fell to the seventh overall pick due to concerns about his KHL contract and geopolitical circumstances surrounding Russia. Despite these concerns, the Flyers took a chance on Michkov, potentially obtaining incredible value. If Michkov transitions to North America in the next few years and fulfills his potential, Philadelphia will have a superstar on their hands.
Loser: Legendary goaltenders announcing picks
Carey Price and Pekka Rinne have both delivered incredible performances in front of thousands of fans in NHL arenas. However, during the first round of the 2023 draft, they unintentionally provided some amusing moments.
Price joined the Montreal Canadiens’ representatives to announce the fifth overall pick but momentarily forgot David Reinbacher’s last name. Eventually, GM Kent Hughes intervened and provided assistance.
Nineteen picks later, Rinne had the honor of announcing the Nashville Predators’ selection at 24th overall. Rinne smoothly announced Tanner Molendyk’s first name but required a reminder for the pronunciation of the last name. After a brief pause, Rinne recollected the full name, allowing Molendyk to celebrate the moment with his new hometown fans.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about NHL Draft
Q: Who were the winners and losers of the 2023 NHL Draft?
A: The winners of the 2023 NHL Draft were the Chicago Blackhawks, who acquired Connor Bedard as the first overall pick, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who secured Adam Fantilli with the third overall pick. The losers included the Arizona Coyotes, who made questionable picks and missed out on potential trade opportunities.