2023 NHL Draft Prep: BN’s Top 50 Defense Prospect Rankings

We are in the thick of over-analyzing season ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft. Who’s good? Who’s going to be a star? Who’s likely to be a bust? And, most importantly, who do you want the Blackhawks to draft next week (other than Connor Bedard)?

I’m admittedly a draft nerd. Whether it’s NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB, I absolutely love the idea of young players having their dreams come true when they hear their name called (or get a phone call from an executive). This is the best time of year — when playoffs aren’t an option.

Lots of people out there pour days into scouting and projecting prospects. I read a lot, and watch a lot as well. So when I throw together mock drafts, I try to consider skill and fit as best as I can.

This year, I thought I’d take things up a level and offer my own rankings for the upcoming draft. I consulted and considered a wide range of prospect rankings, from EliteProspects and Bob McKenzie to McKeen’s and others. Today and tomorrow, I’m sharing my rankings for the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft broken out into two lists: the Top 50 defensemen and, tomorrow, the Top 60 Forwards.

For the purposes of comparison, I have included the rankings of each player (as available) from NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings and two lists from the esteemed NHL draft analysts at The Athletic, Corey Pronman and Scott Wheeler. Pronman ranked 142 total players on his overall list; Wheeler ranked 100, but also subsequently provided a list of 27 players who “missed the cut” on his top 100 list. Those are referenced as “Honorable Mentions” for Wheeler.

The NHL draft player cards were produced by the wonderful JFresh Hockey.

Make sure you check out our list of 12 right-hand defensemen that might make sense for the Blackhawks from last week. Now, let’s get to our Top 50 rankings.

2023 NHL Draft: Defensemen Ranked 1-10

1. David Reinbacher, RHD
6-2, 195
NHL Central Scouting No. 5 European Skater
Corey Pronman No. 6 overall
Scott Wheeler No. 12 overall

Pronman: “He’s very polished defensively for such a young player, and projects to shut down good NHL forwards. He’s able to both skate and pass pucks up ice. He’s got good offensive touch, showing solid hands and better vision.

2. Tom Willander, RHD
6-1, 180
No. 12 European Skater
No. 15 overall — Pronman
No. 27 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “He’s one of the rare breed of Swedes who committed to college at 17 years of age, as he is going to Boston University. … Willander’s skating is his main asset for the NHL; he is one of the best skaters in the draft. He has a quick, powerful skating stride and can push the pace up ice with the puck.

3. Axel Sandin Pellikka, RHD
5-11, 180
No. 7 European Skater
No. 22 overall — Pronman
No. 16 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “There aren’t many players in this draft class who’ve come along quite like Sandin Pellikka has in the last year or so. He has been utterly dominant at the J20 level, played big minutes when things mattered most as an underager at the world juniors (including in three overtimes), looked himself in the SHL, and was the best defenceman in the tournament at U18 worlds in Switzerland for my money.

4. Lukas Dragicevic, RHD
6-1, 195
No. 18 North American Skater
No. 31 overall — Pronman
No. 36 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Dragicevic is very dangerous with the puck on his stick. He has good hands and better instincts and vision. He can run a power play like a pro. He shows the high-end IQ to let plays develop, hold pucks under pressure, and jump into attacks at the right time to go with a strong point shot.

5. Dmitriy Simashev, LHD
6-4, 200
No. 19 European Skater
No. 10 overall — Pronman
No. 35 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Simashev is a toolsy defenseman as a 6-foot-4 blueliner who skates quite well for his size. He’s not dynamic offensively, but he has good puck skills, can beat checkers one-on-one with his hands, makes a solid outlet pass and makes some plays from the offensive blue line. He’s smooth and solid defensively, being good on his gaps and retrievals.

6. Étienne Morin, LHD
6-0, 180
No. 19 North American Skater
No. 40 overall — Pronman
No. 32 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “The best 2023 D prospect in the CHL for my money this year, Morin had a tremendous season for the Wildcats, leading them in scoring with 72 points in the regular season … He plays a highly involved game built around upper-echelon skill, a confidence and calm with the puck in all three zones, above-average skating (though I wouldn’t call it a strength and it can look a little upright at times), and a sound understanding of when and where he can impact play.

7. Oliver Bonk, RHD
6-2, 180
No. 20 North American Skater
No. 26 overall — Pronman
No. 41 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Bonk’s toolkit looks like an NHL defenseman. He’s a 6-foot-2 right shot with strong mobility and offensive touch. Bonk is able to skate pucks up ice, make some skilled plays, and shows good poise from the blue line.

8. Maxim Strbak, RHD
6-1, 200
No. 48 North American Skater
No. 34 overall — Pronman
No. 71 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “Strbak’s a pro-built, stocky and physically strong defender who can play hard minutes. His game lacks soft skill and his skating can look a little heavy at times, but he compensates with timely pinches and effective closeouts to rub players off the puck.

9. Tanner Molendyk, LHD
5-11, 181
No. 28 North American Skater
No. 25 overall — Pronman
No. 42 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Moldenyk is a strong two-way defenseman despite not being the biggest defender. This is because of his excellent skating ability and strong work ethic. Molendyk’s edgework is very good. He closes on checks like a pro, and is able to evade pressure at a high level. His top speed is good, not great, but he can lead a rush in the NHL.

10. Andrew Gibson, RHD
6-3, 202
No. 31 North American Skater
No. 54 overall — Pronman
No. 101 overall — Wheeler (Honorable Mention)

Wheeler: “There’s a lot to like. He’s a big, above-average athlete who shoots right, moves well, has learned to play to command his ice defensively against the rush and in his own zone with his length and physicality, and drove results on a poor Soo team this year as a rookie.

2023 NHL Draft: Defensemen Ranked 11-20

11. Mikhail Gulyayev, LHD
5-10, 172
No. 10 European Skater
No. 30 overall — Pronman
No. 21 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “Gulyayev put together the most productive 16-year-old season by a defenceman in the MHL’s modern history (13 seasons dating back to 2009) when he posted 35 points in 54 games last year, regularly playing 20 minutes per game in a league famous for typically relying on older players.

12. Theo Lindstein, LHD
6-0, 185
No. 14 European Skater
No. 42 overall — Pronman
No. 58 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Lindstein’s game is quiet but effective. He’s a strong skater who can kill a lot of rushes and transport pucks up ice. He’s a smart puck-mover who makes a great first pass and has some blue line poise.

13. Arttu Kärki, LHD
6-2, 176
No. 37 European Skater
No. 41 overall — Pronman
No. 80 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Kärki has a toolkit that instantly stands out. He is quite mobile for a 6-foot-2 defenseman. He is able to pull away from pressure easily and skate pucks up ice often. He’s also quite skilled with the puck. That combination allows him to accomplish a lot off the rush, and walking the blue line. He’s a creative offensive player who looks to make plays in the offensive zone and finds his teammates well while also having a great point shot.

14. Jakub Dvorak, LHD
6-5, 210
No. 15 European Skater
No. 61 overall — Pronman
No. 85 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Dvorak was having a strong season up until a broken clavicle kept him out for a few months, including missing the world juniors. His offensive totals don’t jump out at you, but Dvorak is a solid two-way defenseman. He’s a big, smart defender who makes a lot of stops due to his reach, brain and work ethic.

15. Hunter Brzustewicz, RHD
6-0, 190
No. 41 North American Skater
No. 58 overall — Pronman
No. 40 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “He has become more and more active in transition. He can comfortably play his off side. His on-ice intelligence gets high grades for how methodical and poised he is. His head is always up and he’s comfortable beating the first layer of pressure even if he’s not a dynamic creator past that. There’s a lot to like. He projects as an effective No. 3-5 defenceman at the next level.

16. Luca Cagnoni, LHD
5-9, 182
No. 35 North American Skater
No. 44 overall — Pronman
No. 45 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “He walks the line really well, defends with his feet, can lace shots through or attack into space to use his quick release. He played a significant role on a top junior team this year, has legitimate playmaking ability, and distinguishes himself on the back of his smarts (he understands spacing and plays within the flow of play and often one step ahead of it), rounded skill, and footwork.

17. Beau Akey, RHD
6-0, 175
No. 33 North American Skater
No. 50 overall — Pronman
No. 60 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “Akey is a defenseman with a lot of offensive talent. He’s a very skilled puckhandler and distributor who doesn’t shy from jumping up into the attack. He looks to make plays and attack. Akey is a strong skater who is dangerous in transition. Inside the zone, he can make tough plays with the puck while also having a hard point shot that can beat goaltenders clean.

18. Daniil Karpovich, LHD
6-2, 209
No. 59 European Skater
No. 47 overall — Pronman
Honorable Mention — Wheeler

Pronman: “Karpovich has an NHL defenseman toolkit. He’s 6-foot-3, over 200 pounds already and skates like a pro. He has the mobility to escape pressure and turn pucks up ice at a high level. His defending is solid due to his reach and feet on top of having some physicality in his game.

19. Caden Price, LHD
6-0, 190
No. 47 North American Skater
No. 51 overall — Pronman
No. 46 overall — Wheeler

Wheeler: “One of the younger players in the draft due to his late-August birthday, Price impressed scouts with his creativity and vision at last summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup and was Kelowna’s most productive defenceman as a 17-year-old this season. He’s got good size and sees the ice at an advanced level, consistently executing east-to-west plays and passes through coverage.

20. Gavin McCarthy, RHD
6-2, 187
No. 52 North American Skater
No. 53 overall — Pronman
No. 77 overall — Wheeler

Pronman: “McCarthy’s toolkit is one that should do well in the pro game. He’s got good size, he’s a right shot, he skates well, and he’s showing a lot of offense this season in the USHL. I don’t think he’s a natural puck-mover, but McCarthy has good skill and can make the occasional tough offensive play.

2023 NHL Draft: Defensemen Ranked 21-30

21. Albert Wikman, LHD
6-0, 191
No. 32 European Skater
No. 121 overall — Pronman

22. Tristan Bertucci, LHD
6-2, 175
No. 32 North American Skater
No. 83 overall — Pronman
No. 76 overall — Wheeler

23. Emil Pieniniemi, LHD
6-2, 175
No. 31 European Skater
No. 64 overall — Pronman

24. Samuel Mayer, LHD
6-3, 201
Third-year draft eligible (unranked)
No. 84 overall — Pronman

25. Andrew Strathmann, LHD
5-11, 185
No. 44 North American Skater
No. 63 overall — Pronman
No. 63 overall — Wheeler

26. Quinton Burns, LHD
6-1, 185
No. 34 North American Skater
No. 122 overall — Pronman

27. Dylan MacKinnon, LHD
6-2, 190
No. 61 North American Skater
No. 90 overall — Pronman

28. Cam Allen, RHD
6-0, 192
No. 46 North American Skater
No. 53 overall — Pronman
No. 92 overall — Wheeler

29. Matthew Mania, RHD
6-1, 180
No. 70 North American Skater
No. 90 overall — Pronman
No. 88 overall — Wheeler

30. Aram Minnetian, RHD
5-11, 195
No. 78 North American Skater
No. 62 overall — Pronman
No. 52 overall — Wheeler

2023 NHL Draft: Defensemen Ranked 31-40

31. Brady Cleveland, LHD
6-5, 210
No. 64 North American Skater
No. 114 overall — Pronman

32. Hoyt Stanley, RHD
6-2, 187
No. 85 North American Skater
No. 92 overall — Pronman
No. 98 overall — Wheeler

33. Carter Sotheran, RHD
6-3, 202
No. 71 North American Skater

34. Mazden Leslie, RHD
6-1, 181
No. 125 North American Skater
No. 94 overall — Wheeler

35. Matteo Fabrizi, LHD
6-5, 234
No. 141 North American Skater
No. 85 overall — Pronman

36. Larry Keenan, LHD
6-3, 186
No. 73 North American Skater
No. 123 overall — Pronman
Honorable Mention — Wheeler

37. Paul Fischer, LHD
6-0, 183
No. 58 North American Skater
No. 119 overall — Pronman
Honorable Mention — Wheeler

38. Drew Fortescue, LHD
6-1, 176
No. 60 North American Skater
No. 120 overall — Pronman
Honorable Mention — Wheeler

39. Matteo Mann, RHD
6-5, 225
No. 84 North American Skater

40. Matthew Mayich, LHD
6-2, 187
No. 72 North American Skater

2023 NHL Draft: Defensemen Ranked 41-50

41. Konstantin Volochko, RHD
6-0, 172
No. 42 European Skater
No. 115 overall — Pronman

42. Matej Vovsik, LHD
6-3, 192
No. 51 European Skater

43. Sawyer Mynio, LHD
6-0, 163
No. 62 North American Skater

44. Axel Hurtig, LHD
6-4, 203
No. 100 European Skater
No. 93 overall — Pronman

45. Nikita Ishimnikov, RHD
6-3, 194
No. 42 European Skater
No. 129 overall — Pronman

46. Konnor Smith, LHD
6-6, 209
No. 94 North American Skater
No. 125 overall — Pronman

47. Samuel Barcik, RHD
6-2, 192
No. 60 European Skater

48. Axel Landén, RHD
6-1, 183
No. 44 European Skater
No. 126 overall — Pronman

49. Ivan Remezovsky, LHD
6-1, 163
No. 69 European Skater

50. Patrik Volas, LHD
6-4, 209
No. 94 European Skater

2023 NHL Draft Prep: RHD Options for the Blackhawks

written by

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab

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