Updated: Sep 28
COLUMBUS- The 2023 draft class is considered the most talented since the 2015 class, and after the season the Blue Jackets had, there is a lot to look forward to. Every first round pick in 2015 has seen NHL ice, and there are 12 players who have seen over 400 games. Today I’m going to run through my top four prospects, since the Blue Jackets are guaranteed a top four pick, and give some NHL comparison after studying their play for the last couple of weeks.
1. Connor Bedard
This should come as a surprise to nobody. Connor Bedard is the highest rated prospect since Connor McDavid. Watching him play and seeing his freakish ability to score from anywhere on the ice is truly astonishing. His shot is similar to that of Auston Matthews, and his playmaking ability is similar to Connor McDavid’s. He won’t be able to turn the Columbus Blue Jackets organization around all by himself, but if Columbus were to draft him, he would be a huge piece to the future of the team. He seems to be NHL ready, and physically is in the best shape a hockey player could be in. He is a strong skater and he has a strong shot that we have seen beat goalies in the world juniors from various distances.
Bedard stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs in at 185 lbs.
It is impossible to compare his overall play to anyone, he is a very unique player with a very unique skillset that has impressed NHL scouts since he was just 13 years old. His playmaking ability is almost unheard of, especially considering his under six foot height. He has the potential to rewrite the record books for not just a franchise, but for the National Hockey League.
Regina (WHL) 57 gp, 71g 72a for 143 points.
2. Adam Fantilli
The Toronto native has averaged almost two points per game this year with the University Of Michigan. He is a strong player with a ton of potential to be a good power forward at the NHL level. His shot power is good, but accuracy could use a little bit of work. He has good hockey sense, and even though he was the youngest NCAA D-1 player this year, he dominated the game and was able to secure the Hobey Baker award, given to the top player in the NCAA for that year. The Blue Jackets have had some success with Michigan alumni Zach Werenski, Kent Johnson, and Nick Blankenburg, who have all shown they can be fundamental to the future of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the end goal of a Stanley cup. Fantilli could be the missing first line center between Johnny Gaudreau and Kirill Marchenko.
Fantilli stands at 6-foot-2, and weighs in at 187 lbs.
NHL player comparison: Jack Eichel
Like Eichel, Fantilli would be the first overall pick in any of the recent drafts, but the fact is, there’s a generational talent named Connor in the same draft class. Both standing at 6-2, Eichel has 27 pounds on Fantilli, weighing in at 214 as opposed to Fantilli’s 187. They both play as power forward center men, and they have the size and skill to take over the game.
Michigan (NCAA D1) 36 gp, 30g 35a for 65 points.
3. Leo Carlsson
Leo opted to play professionally in the SHL this year, and the player that he has showcased playing against grown men is a player that looks to be NHL ready. He is a player that has silky smooth hands, and he can get himself into a scoring position very easily in the fast moving SHL game. His IQ is off the charts, and just like the first two prospects, he can solidify himself as the number one center for the Blue Jackets as early as next year. His stats do not look like Connor Bedard’s, but he has been playing in a much more talented professional hockey league as opposed to the North American juniors.
Carlsson stands at 6-foot-3, and weighs 194 lbs.
NHL player comparison: Aleksander Barkov
Barkov is another big center at 6-foot-3, and like Carlsson, he has smooth hands that can make defenders and goalies look silly. He is never afraid to make the big play, and he comes up big for Florida night in and night out, especially on penalty shots and shootouts.
Örebro HK (SHL) 44 gp, 10g 15a for 25 points.
4. William Smith
No, not the guy from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. Will Smith is already a household name I would say, but this guy has the chance to make himself the second most well known Will, especially if he is able to keep up the pace that he is at right now with the US national team development program. He is putting up numbers that we haven’t seen for the development team since Auston Matthews. Here is the problem: The Boston College commit is not quite NHL ready, and it is likely he would still need at least a year of college hockey before he can make a real impact at the national league level.
Smith stands at 6-foot, and weighs in at 172 pounds.
NHL player comparison: Trevor Zegras
Smith and “Z” are two very flashy players that can score goals with McDavid-like ease, but lack some in the defensive department. Their shots and play making abilities make up for what is lost in defense.
USNTDP (USHL, IND) 57 gp, 47g 75a for 122 points.
This draft is stacked, possibly the most talented class since 2015. You may be asking, where is Michkov? Well, Matvei Michkov is the closest in this draft to Bedard, and he is certainly a promising young player. The only problem is his KHL contract. It would be a few seasons until he is able to play in North America, and a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets would benefit most from immediate help. Michkov is like Kaprizov, with a possible higher ceiling.
Whomever the Jackets are able to pick, it looks to be promising for them.
-Ian Phillips for Yamo Media