Six 2023 NHL Draft Prospects Who Impressed at the U18 World Championship
Over the past couple weeks, the IIHF’s U18 World Championship tournament provided us with another chance to watch some of the top prospects in the upcoming NHL Draft (and next year’s draft) as they skated with and against each other on an international stage.
A few players really jumped off the screen as we watched, and their performances in the tournament could impact their draft stock. With the Chicago Blackhawks possibly having as many as six picks in the first two rounds of the 2023 NHL Draft — and with us waiting one more week for the draft lottery to tell us when Chicago’s first pick will arrive — it’s worth taking some time to assess the tournament now that it’s over.
The United States came back to beat Sweden in the gold medal game, while Canada captured bronze. There were some big numbers put up by players who will hear their names called in June, so let’s take a look at some of note.
First, one player who isn’t on the board this year but will certainly hear more talk as we begin talking more seriously about the 2024 NHL Draft was forward Macklin Celebrini. He doesn’t turn 17 until June but is committed to play at Boston University next season; he spent his season with the Chicago Steel this year, putting up 46 goals and 40 assists in only 50 games. He had a huge tournament even though he was underage, putting his name in the same class as some other notable players — including Connor Bedard. He’ll be a strong consideration for the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
United States forward Cole Eiserman is also a 2024 draft-eligible prospect who had a very strong tournament (nine goals in seven games). His nine goals tied Will Smith for the most in the tournament. Eiserman and Celebrini will likely compete for the top spot in next year’s draft.
But let’s talk about players who are in play for the 2023 NHL Draft.
Will Smith, C, USA
Smith was named the Most Valuable Player in the tournament after a dominant performance. Listed at 6-0 and 181 pounds, he was the No. 3 North American Skater in NHL Central Scouting‘s final pre-draft prospect rankings. He led the entire tournament with 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) in seven games. If the Blackhawks lost the lottery twice and wind up with the fifth pick in this summer’s draft, Smith would be the lead candidate to be Chicago’s first pick in the first round.
Gabe Perrault, RW, USA
Perrault (5-11, 165) skated on the top line for the US with Smith and Ryan Leonard and they were nearly unstoppable throughout. Perrault finished second in the tournament behind only Smith with 18 points, and his 13 assists led the entire field. He was the No. 10 North American Skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings, up from 15 in their mid-term rankings.
Just how good was Perrault’s season? He (and Smith, though Perrault did it first) passed some really good names on the all-time list for the US National Development Program. Fun note here: Gabe is the son of Yanic Perreault, the faceoff specialist who has worked with the Blackhawks for a number of years. And it shows in his son’s game.
Ryan Leonard, RW, USA
The third member of the top line for the US finished third in the tournament in points with 17 (8 goals, 9 assists). Listed at 6-0 and 192 pounds, he was the No. 5 North American Skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings. He’s committed to Boston College, which mean’s in the fall he’ll be heated rivals with Smith and Boston University. That could be fun to watch. All three of these young men put on a show throughout the tournament.
Otto Stenberg, C, Sweden
Stenberg (5-11, 180) was the No. 6 European Skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings, but his play in this tournament may have helped him climb into the top 15 in the coming draft. With 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) in seven games, he was the top point producer who didn’t play for the United States in the tournament.
Dalibor Dvorsky, C, Slovakia
Dvorsky (6-1, 201) finished sixth in the tournament with 13 points in seven games. His eight goals tied Leonard for third in the entire tournament, trailing only Eiserman and Smith (nine each). He was the No. 3 European Skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings and his size could make him a popular pick in the second five selections of the draft in June.
Matthew Wood, RW, Canada
Wood is an interesting player to consider heading into the draft this year. Like Adam Fantilli, likely the No. 2 overall pick in June, Wood already has one full NCAA season on his resume; he produced 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 35 games for UConn this past season. His stock is climbing, too. Wood was rose from the No. 8 North American Skater to No. 4 in the final pre-draft rankings from NHL Central Scouting. With his size (6-4, 193) and ability to score with ease, he could be a player to watch in the 7-14 range in the draft. If he fell to the Blackhawks’ second pick in the first round I wouldn’t be angry. Scott Wheeler at The Athletic wrote a nice profile on him.