The first round of the NHL Entry Draft is always interesting. It could be blockbuster trades, players falling or an off-the-board selection that no one saw coming that generates the excitement.
This year I would have to say the intrigue mainly surrounded one player in Russian enigma Matvei Michkov.
After Bedard, most scouts will tell you that the next most talented player in the draft is Michkov, and it’s not really that close. You would assume that makes him a lock for second overall, but there are some concerns with the fact he is under a KHL contract through 2026. Not to mention the geo-political issues currently with Russia. He is also a little undersized standing at 5-10, 172, and some teams value centers and defensemen over wingers, and Michkov is a right-winger.
There was no drama or suspense surrounding the first overall selection, unlike last year when Shane Wright fell out of first all the way to fourth overall. Connor Bedard was the clear first overall selection, and it really was not even close.
But after Bedard who was going second overall? For some time, the consensus second-ranked player was NCAA freshman Adam Fantilli. The Toronto native had a season for the ages winning the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA as a freshman, joining the likes of Paul Kariya and Jack Eichel as the only players in history to achieve that feat. Fantilli also played for Team Canada internationally winning the Gold at the World Junior Championships, and the World Championships.
On draft day there was some buzz that the Ducks had a different player in mind and selected Swedish center Leo Carlsson second overall. That allowed the Columbus Blue Jackets to select Fantilli at third overall.
Now Michkov is starting to fall, but not beyond a range that most expected given the concerns with his file.
The fourth selection belonged to the San Jose Sharks, who did not have an appetite for Michkov and his wait time and selected Will Smith. Each player can choose their draft song and Smith appropriately selected the theme song from The Fresh Prince.
The Michkov slide continued through the fifth selection as the Montreal Canadiens passed on the potential superstar to select the first defenseman in the draft in German David Reinbacher. While Reinbacher may have been a lot of scouts top-ranked and most NHL-ready defender, many also believe his upside is as a middle-pairing defenseman and Habs fans on Twitter reaction was unhappy with the pick.
The Arizona Coyotes selected next at sixth and also passed on Michkov for a defender and selected Russian 6-4 Dmitri Simashev. A highly ranked prospect by respectable outlets such as HockeyProspect.com ranked him fifth and Shane Malloy and DobberProspects at eighth. He was a divisive prospect as others ranked him low in the 20s.
Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers selected Michkov in a move that would seem to signal the teams’ commitment to a rebuild in selecting the Russian winger who will remain in Russia for at least three years before he is a contributing player.
There was plenty more intrigue as the draft continued with players selected sooner or later than expected. Detroit GM Steve Yzerman has not been shy about getting his guy and selected Moritz Seider a lot earlier than most had him ranked. That turned out to be a great selection. This year he selected Nate Danielson at ninth overall well before many had him ranked. It is hard to second-guess Yzerman and the Red Wings, but time will tell.
Arizona made their second selection at 12th overall and went back to Russia selecting the behemoth 6-5, 203-lb left winger. This was another early pick for some as he was not a consensus first-round ranked player.
The Buffalo Sabres have a dynamic young team and added another potential star in Zach Benson. He has tremendous offensive upside after a 98-point season in 60 games. He fell below where many ranked him, perhaps as a result of his size as he is 5-10, 170 lbs.
Another selection to raise some eyebrows was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ selection of Easton Cowen of the London Knights with the 28th overall pick. It looked like GM Brad Treliving may have been trying to trade down and add some more picks then select Cowan with a later pick as not one scouting outlet had him ranked in the first round.
No goalies were selected in the first round of the draft this year. Other notable players that will have to wait for day two of the draft to hear their names called include Andrew Cristall, Gavin Brindley, Riley Heidt, Ethan Gauthier Gracyn Sawchyn, Nick Lardis, and Jayden Perron.