The top three picks in the 2023 NHL Draft.
As the NHL finishes the first month of the 2023-24 season, it is important to reflect on changes in the league. One of the brightest changes this year has been the new class of rookies who have joined the league. With fourth overall pick Will Smith playing the year with Boston College (shameless plug, go read my article on the relationship between college hockey and development), this leaves Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, and Leo Carlsson. All three have made their NHL debut, and this article will focus on how they have adjusted to their new teams, especially in comparison with last year's draft.
Taken first in the draft, Connor Bedard was described as a generational talent who could save any team from the bottom of the standings. Drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, Bedard made his debut against his childhood idol Sidney Crosby and finished the game with a point to aid the Blackhawks' 4-2 win. Bedard scored his first goal against the defending Vezina winner, Linus Ullmark, and the Boston Bruins, who are coming off the best season in NHL history. Through 11 games, Bedard leads the Blackhawks in goals, with five shots on goal with 34. There is no question whether the rookie has fit right into the league.
Taken second in the draft to the Anaheim Ducks was Leo Carlsson. Due to injury, Carlsson started later than Bedard and Fantillli, but his presence was immediately felt with a goal in his first game against respected goaltender and Boston University alum Jake Ottinger. Carlsson is joining a young Ducks core that struggled last year but has found its stride since. Alongside Mason McTavish, Troy Terry, Ryan Strome, and Trevor Zegras, as well as consistent play from goalies, the Ducks may find themselves not at the bottom of the standings!
Third in the draft to the Columbus Blue Jackets was Michigan star Adam Fantilli. Fantilli is a physical player, which has already begun to show through his young career. In a preseason game, he was hit hard but got right back up, which showed a lot of promise. He has begun to throw big hits around, including against Carter Verhaeghe of the Florida Panthers. However, Fantilli is more than the weight he can throw around. In 12 games, he has six points, and he is already playing alongside Dimitri Voronkov and Kirill Marcheniko on the second line.
In comparison to the 2022 draft picks, first round picks have totaled 109 games between seven players, half of which were played by the first overall pick in 2022, Juraj Slafkovsky. In comparison to Bedard, Slafkovsky has 12 points in 51 games, giving him 0.24 points per game. Within this first month of the season, four members of the 2023 first round draft have played, totaling 37 games. In comparison to Slafkovsky, Bedard has 0.63 points per game and is only heating up. This comparison is not to say Slafkovsky or the 2022 Draft is necessarily a bust, but to showcase how stacked Bedard and the rest of the 2023 Draft are. Members of the most recent draft have quickly adapted to the NHL level, while 2022 Draft members, for the most part, have taken a little more time to develop. Regardless, the most important part of the draft is not necessarily the first couple of years. After all, New Jersey Devils star Jack Hughes took a couple of years to develop but is now a top player in the league.
Overall, the top three picks in the 2023 NHL Draft have shown that they deserved to be picked. However, they are not a Calder lock-in. Rookies like Luke Hughes, Devon Levi, Matthew Knies, and Matthew Poitras all have proven they have potential. In a group of rookies that have this level of talent, it is impressive that the younger group of recent draft picks have made such a dent.
All views and opinions are my own and do not represent the National Hockey League.