The 2023 World Junior Championship tournament has really been all about one person: Connor Bedard. The presumed No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft before the tournament has only further separated himself from the rest of the upcoming — supposedly great — draft class with a performance the likes of which we have never seen. He’s an A1 legend prospect and a franchise changing talent.
But if you’ve watched this tournament from the jump, there are some other names of note as we start to think about the 2023 NHL Draft. Two players, Canada’s Adam Fantilli and Sweden’s Leo Carlsson, are considered part of the “elite” top of the draft class behind Bedard (with Russian prospect Matvei Michkov, who isn’t in this tournament because Russia’s banned).
Carlsson has been tremendous for Sweden. Frankly, Fantilli has left a lot to be desired. He’s dominated at Michigan against college competition this year as a top-line power forward but he’s been a bottom-six player for Canada. I will caveat that with the reality that Canada’s roster has seven players already drafted in the first round of previous NHL drafts and their captain, Shane Wright, already has NHL experience. But I wanted to see more from Fantilli in this tournament.
Those three players will be in play for the Blackhawks’ first pick in the draft if we assume they stay the course and end up with, at worst, a top-three overall pick (the worst record in the league is guaranteed of at least that).
As a reminder: the Blackhawks have two picks in the first and second round in the 2023 NHL Draft thanks to two trades with the Tampa Bay Lightning. So the Blackhawks will likely have picks at/near the top of the first and second round (their own) and in the mid- to late-20s or early-30s in the first and second rounds from Tampa. So we need to pay attention to more than just the top 3-4 prospects in the coming draft.
Here are a few players who are eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft who intrigued me at the World Junior Championship and might be an option for the Blackhawks with later picks in the draft.
Gavin Brindley, RW, USA
Brindley was part of the incredible freshman class at the University of Michigan that was supposed to include Fantilli and Blackhawks’ first-rounder Frank Nazar. Nazar’s been out hurt all year, which has opened up an opportunity for Brindley both in Ann Arbor and with the US team. He isn’t a big guy (5-8, 165) but he’s got a motor. He has 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 20 games with UM before joining USA Hockey. He received a B grade from NHL Central Scouting on their preliminary 2023 NHL Draft watch list (which they consider a 2nd/3rd round candidate before the season). In his November early 2023 NHL Draft rankings, Scott Wheeler at The Athletic had Brindley at No. 24 overall.
Charlie Stramel, C, USA
Like Brindley, Stramel is playing in the Big Ten this season with Wisconsin, where he has seven points in 18 games as a freshman. Physically, Stramel is the opposite of Brindley. He’s a big center (6-3, 212) and is playing for the US in his second World Juniors in a few short months. Before facing Canada in the semifinal round, Stramel won 56.67 percent of his faceoffs in the tournament to lead the US team. He has not scored a goal yet for the United States but has two assists. He received an A grade from NHL Central Scouting on their preseason watch list, which indicates he has first-round upside as a prospect. In his November early 2023 NHL Draft rankings, Scott Wheeler at The Athletic had Brindley at No. 32 overall.
Gabriel Szturc, LW, Czechia
Szturc is an undrafted 19-year-old whose performance in this tournament may help change that missing piece on his resume. He’s listed at only 5-10 and 176 pounds (again, not a deal-breaker by any means). But the Blackhawks have likely seen plenty of his junior take; he plays for Kelowna, where Colton Dach is/was (depending on the severity of his injury) the captain. Szturc is second on Kelowna with 37 points (and did that in 26 games) and has added five goals for Czechia in this tournament. If not for Bedard, five goals would be tied for the tournament lead. He’s also a terrific player away from the puck. After not getting drafted last year, he might be in play for one of the Blackhawks’ second round picks.
Lenni Hameenaho, RW, Finland
Hameenaho is listed at a shade under six-feet tall and about 175 pounds, so his size isn’t overwhelming. But he has 13 points in 28 games for Ässät in Sweden’s Liiga and produced one goal and one assist in five games at this WJC tournament. He received a B grade from NHL Central Scouting on their preseason watch list.
Samuel Honzek, LW, Slovakia
Honzek was a player I was excited to watch in the World Juniors because he’s tearing up the WHL with Vancouver (where Brent Seabrook is helping coach). But a cut suffered in their second game against the US ended his tournament prematurely. A left wing pushing 6-4 and 185 pounds, Honzek 17 goals and 26 assists in 31 games for the Giants this season. He received an A grade from NHL Central Scouting on their preseason watch list, indicating he’s a potential first-round player. The initial fear was that the cut was his Achilles’ but the Slovak coaches said it was higher on his leg and Honzek hopes to return before the end of the season in Vancouver.
There are a few other players I noticed in this tournament but who wouldn’t necessarily be in play for the Blackhawks right now because they’re likely going to go too high for Tampa’s pick late in the first round but aren’t in consideration for a top-five overall pick. Forwards Eduard Sale of Czechia and Samuel Honzek and Dalibor Dvorsky of Slovakia would be mid-first round options.