(Photo: Matt Hiscox Photography).
Now, with the 2023 NHL Draft only taking place four months ago on Jun 28th and 29th, this article may seem a little premature to some, given the fact that such a short amount of time has elapsed. But I assure you, after you read just what kind of production these prospects have been turning out this season, you, too, will be a believer.
To start, we could easily talk about a player like Matvei Michkov, who fell to the Flyers at seventh overall and is playing at almost a points-per-game pace in the KHL right now. Or perhaps Gabe Perreault, who is currently Boston College’s leading scorer despite them having multiple top ten picks on the roster like Will Smith, Cutter Gauthier, and Ryan Leonard. This, of course, came after Gabe had to wait until the Rangers practically ran to the podium to take him 23rd overall this summer. However, teams are supposed to hit on their first and second-round picks. Where you can begin to decipher the good from the great general managers is the talent they are able to acquire in the mid to later rounds.
Like the Anaheim Ducks did when they selected Yegor Sidorov (an 18-year-old from Belarus) in the third round this summer, 85th overall. Yegor, or as he is more commonly referred to as Egor, is a 6’0 183 pound winger who can play both sides of the center. The Ducks found Egor playing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the Saskatoon Blades. Where last season this elusively creative player somehow managed to score 40 goals and 36 assists for 76 points in just 53 games. Now, why so many teams chose to pass on a player operating at a rate of 1.43 points per game in his draft year is beyond me, but I’m sure Anaheim was elated to add this offensive threat to their arsenal.
But as good as Egor was last season, I wouldn’t mention him in this article if he wasn’t producing at a higher rate this year. Now, at 19 years old, Sidorov finds himself back with the Blades for perhaps his third and final season because so far this year, in 23 games played, Egor has managed to score in bunches totaling 21 goals (thanks to his excellent one-timer) and nine assists for 30 points to date. An average that, if he can maintain, projects him to finish the season with 60 goals and 26 assists for 86 points.
A player with this type of creativity and goal-scoring ability won’t remain unsigned for long. Expect the Ducks to be waiting in the Blades locker room after their final game this season so they can ink this player to his first of many professional contracts.
The next player worth mentioning is the Flyers’ 95th overall pick from this past summer, Denver Barkey. This diminutive center, who stands at just 5’9, must have reminded general manager Danny Briere a lot of himself, seeing that he was able to generate nearly a point per game last season while playing for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). This plus player has an innate ability to put defenders in some sort of state of hypnosis, as they all just seem to forget about the man they are supposed to be covering and focus on him. This allows Denver to create space for his teammates so they can set themselves up to put home a perfect pass that he somehow manages to place right on the blade of their stick. While Barkey finished last season with 59 points in 61 games, he is currently on pace to blow those totals right out of the water, seeing that he is projected to score 37 goals and 57 assists for 94 points this season. All of this, mind you, comes with him also maintaining a +14 rating right now that projects to him finishing the season a +40!
Denver’s game will prove to translate well at any level simply because when he is on the ice, he makes everyone on the line with him better! He even proved this recently when he made multiple highlight reel passes to current Flyers players in their preseason games. So please don’t sleep on this player, as I’m predicting many more great things will come from him soon enough.
Moving on now to a player who was taken still later in the draft and is currently paying the team that drafted him dividends, we find Luca Pinelli. Another undersized center that the Columbus Blue Jackets took in the fourth round this summer with the 114th overall pick. Like Barkey, Pinelli never seems to take a shift off. Leaving it all out on the ice, Luca has become known as a duel threat. He is a player who is equally as dangerous in the offensive zone as in his defensive zone. So much so that he was able to finish last year a +30, but while being defensively responsible is great and will undoubtedly help you get to the next level. You have to be capable of a bit of offense, too. And Luca is proving this season that he can do just that. In 22 games played thus far, Pinelli has been able to drive the play to the toll of 17 goals and eight assists for 25 points. A feat that, if he continues along this pace, will see him end the season with 53 goals and 25 assists for 78 points.
While his lack of size may hinder or delay Pinelli’s quest to the NHL, his ability to make plays and put the puck in the back of the net will not.
As we all know, building a team is not all about scoring goals. You also need someone who can prevent them. So, it was with this thought in mind that the Los Angeles Kings decided to draft USA-born goaltender Hampton Slukynsky in the 4th round with the 118th overall pick. Hampton is a 6’1 190, pound netminder who plays with some flair. He plays so aggressively that you rarely see him inside the blue paint when the opposition is in on a rush. Hampton is always out-challenging the shooter.
Nevertheless, once his team is pinned down inside their zone, Slukynsky manages to deny opponents with his lightning-quick reflexes and stretch arm strong like elasticity. Using these traits to his advantage, Hampton recently won a gold medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championships in 2022-2023 and is currently playing for the Fargo Force, where he is undefeated with a 9-0-0 record while more impressive yet maintaining a league-best 1.53 goals-against-average and stopping a league-leading .927% of the shots he has faced to this point. However, that’s not all. Slukynsky also leads the league with three shutouts to his credit.
Hampton has accomplished all this while equally splitting time in the net with his older goaltending partner, Anton Castro. So, you can just imagine what his numbers could be if he had the net all to himself. A chance (if he keeps up this kind of play) that he will have next season when he is due to play for the Northern Michigan University Wildcats.
Many teams and scouts over the years have slept on this guardian of the blue paint, but that’s ok. Because the Kings did not, now they can just sit back and watch their young netminder continue to develop. With any luck one day, they may just see Hampton turn pro and get a chance to don their classic black and silver jersey.
The last player we will discuss in this article is a former Prospect Watch guest that the Nashville Predators took in the seventh round 218 overall this past summer. Aiden, who now plays for the Penn State Nitty Lions, is having a fantastic freshman campaign, scoring nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points in just 15 games played thus far. To put his production to this point into some perspective, that’s a seventh round prospect who is currently just one point off the pace of Macklin Celebrini, who most NHL scouts have listed as the first player due off the board this summer. I know Fink is a year or so older than Celebrini, but to even be considered in the same company as a player like Macklin proves Aiden is on the right track.
I don’t know about you, but I think Nashville may have just put other teams on notice with this one. Many people have been sleeping on players coming out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) for some time now. And honestly, I don’t know why, seeing that last season, all Aiden did was score 41 goals and 56 assists for 97 points in just 54 regular season games played for the Brooks Bandits and then managed to continue to win both back-to-back AJHL Championships and back to back Centennial Cups.
Fink is for sure a player to continue watch grow playing in the NCAA, for he can do it all offensively, especially in big games. Yes, I do believe Barry Trots and the Preds got some good value out of this pick, and he should continue to excel once he reaches Music City.
While these are a few of many promising prospects to come out of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, I believe these are the ones that have offered their respective teams the most bang for their buck. (I.E., draft stock used on them) to this point. Who knows, in a few years, if their early production since being drafted continues to pay off, they just may find themselves earning a chance to turn pro by signing an entry-level contract.