NHL Draft 2023: Pronman and Wheeler answer the biggest questions facing NHL teams (2023)

Today, we’re trying a new format as part of our continued draft coverage. In recent days, Corey Pronman and Scott Wheeler solicited draft-related questions from The Athletic’spool of beat writers and then each took a stab at answering them.

In total, 15 of our beat writers submitted questions, ranging from specific asks about options for their picks and trade scenarios to more wide-ranging questions about the draft on the whole.


Consider this our experts’ pre-draft press conference of sorts.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres have a need for more defensive depth in their prospect pool. Will they be able to address that at No. 13 or would you endorse a best player available approach given the strength of the class at center and wing? If they don’t go defense in Round 1, who are some defensemen the Sabres could look at in Rounds 2 and 3? —Matt Fairburn

Pronman: I personally think Tom Willander and Dmitri Simashev are reasonable talent choices at 13, Willander especially if you don’t want to go down the KHL contract path. I personally think whichever direction they go, be it forward or defense, their prospect pool is quite small and getting some more physicality into the pipeline would be ideal with the 13th pick.

Wheeler: I certainly think there’s a case to be made for Axel Sandin Pellikka and Willander at No. 13 (I’d find Simashev’s to be less compelling). If they do take a defenseman at No. 13, I’ll be intrigued to see which way they go, too. Corey’s right that their pool does skew smaller, but their actual NHL defense, with Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power and Mattias Samuelsson all around long term, certainly doesn’t lack size. I wouldn’t rule out Sandin Pellikka as a potential complement to those guys as a result. It’s not hard for me to imagine a Samuelsson and Sandin Pellikka pairing. I don’t think they necessarily have to take a defenseman there, though, and depending on which forwards are available I’d certainly encourage keeping an open mind. As for the D options in the second round? While there are several names to keep an eye on (righties Beau Akey, Lukas Dragicevic, Hunter Brzustewicz, and maybe Oliver Bonk, and lefties Etienne Morin, Tanner Molendyk, and Caden Price), there is a consensus drop-off between Sandin Pellikka and Willander and those guys.

We now know the Sabres have the No. 13 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Here's an early look at some of the options available to Kevyn Adams at that spot @TheAthletic: https://t.co/Y6ZoMOeZpF

— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) May 9, 2023

Calgary Flames

The Flames are in best player available territory at 16. Considering how loaded this draft class is supposed to be, how likely is it that a forward like Colby Barlow or Nate Danielson falls to them at that spot? —Julian McKenzie


Pronman: I think it’s possible one of them are there, more likely being Barlow but not ruling out Danielson being there too. The league likes both players a lot though.

Wheeler:More and more I think the expectation is that two or three of David Reinbacher, Sandin Pellikka and Willander will be gone by No. 16, with eight of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, Will Smith, Dalibor Dvorsky, Ryan Leonard and Zach Benson gone at forward. If that leaves a next tier that includes forwards Barlow, Danielson, Gabe Perreault, Oliver Moore, Brayden Yager, Matthew Wood and Samuel Honzek, then you can do the math. There are 18 names there, which promises that at least two of them (likely both from that third group) will be there. I think there’s a chance one of Barlow or Danielson is one of the two that’s left.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have so many early-round picks over the next three drafts, and now that they have Bedard, they’re more likely to try to package them and move up in the draft. Given the talent at the top of the draft, what do you think the Blackhawks would have to package with the No. 19 pick in order to move into the top 10 or the top 15? And just how much of a difference in talent would they be looking at in that range as opposed to No. 19? In other words, how expensive would it be to move up, and how worthwhile would it be to do so? —Mark Lazerus

Pronman: It all depends on the caliber of player you’re talking about to pick. Getting a player like Reinbacher, Leonard or Dvorsky would be a needle mover, but I don’t see 19 plus a second being enough to do that. If you’re not getting a true premium guy or a guy you have top eight or so on your team’s personal list, I don’t see the value in doing so. You’re going to get a player you are very passionate about at 19.

Wheeler:I won’t be surprised if the Blackhawks try to parlay some of their second-round draft capital in this class to move up, whether that’s with No. 19 to climb higher into the first round, or to make a play on another first-round pick or another high second. Given the core group of talent you’d likely be gaining access to by moving up from No. 19 even a few spots, though, I do think you’re looking at more than No. 19 and the earliest of their four seconds. We know they have a pick in the 30s, a pick in the 40s, and two picks in the 50s as things stand right now. Does No. 19 plus the pick in the 30s and one of the picks in the 50s get you into the top 15? Maybe? Is that a worthwhile play? I’d need to know who they’d be after.

Colorado Avalanche

Colorado’s prospect pool isn’t deep right now, but is defense or forward more of a need? What attributes can the Avalanche brass look at to try to hit on with a late first-round pick? Colorado has hit on early first-rounders in recent years but has had inconsistent results with middle- and late-round picks. —Peter Baugh


Pronman: Their system is quite thin, and ideally the Avs add a center or defenseman they are excited about. That organization has prioritized skating in the draft a lot in the Joe Sakic era. Molendyk (defense, Saskatoon), Carson Rehkopf (center, Kitchener), Mikhail Gulyayev (defense, Avangard) and Bradly Nadeau (wing, Penticton) all check the skating box with emphasis.

Wheeler:The Avalanche’s pool is so shallow that they’d be prudent to prioritize talent, keep prioritizing talent, and worry about positional need if/once you get the system back to a healthier place. I agree with Corey re: their prioritization of plus-level skaters, and I’d add Gavin Brindley (center and wing, Michigan) to that list, as well as Nick Lardis (wing, Hamilton) as more of a long shot.

Detroit Red Wings

For a Red Wings team that has its most organizational depth on the blue line, would you rule out a defenseman with one of their two first-round picks (No. 9 and No. 17) in favor of two forwards, or consider a ‘D,’ especially on the right side? —Max Bultman

Pronman: I think after trading Filip Hronek you have to be open minded with one of the picks. Moritz Seider and Simon Edvinsson are building blocks but afterward there are no sure things in the pipeline even if good prospects remain. If you want a right-shot defenseman, Willander and Bonk are in the reasonable ballpark at those pick ranges.

Wheeler:Given the talent pool at forward, I’d be tempted to use Day 1 to really move the needle up front and double down on an injection of talent up front. But I’m sure they’ll consider a D at both slots, and it’ll be hard to ignore the righties. Willander, in particular, checks a lot of the boxes they’ve emphasized with their draft picks on defense because of the way he skates and defends.

A major shake up has begun in Toronto. Potential chaos is percolating in Arizona.

And while the Red Wings' summer isn't shaping up to be 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 seismic, it could still prove pivotal.

Could it include a draft trade up? @m_bultman examines:https://t.co/SQtU2jA0Y3

— The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) May 22, 2023

Minnesota Wild

The Wild own the 21st pick and two seconds. Is that enough equity to potentially move up in this deep draft and snag a bonafide future No. 1 center? —Michael Russo

Pronman: The only potential bonafide No. 1 centers for me, on a contender anyways, are Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson and Smith. That is not enough to get to those players. I think Danielson and Dvorsky have chances to be No. 1s but more likely are second-line centers on a good team. Even then, I think that’s not enough to get to where they will go in the draft.


Wheeler:Concur with Corey. I’ve got a lot of time for Dvorsky, the speedy Moore, and the direct skill of Yager. There are some who are high on the roundedness of Danielson, and others who believe a breakout is coming from Calum Ritchie, too. But at their ceilings, Dvorsky, Moore and Yager are probably impactful second-line centers, and Danielson and Ritchie are probably solid second- or third-line centers. I think the package you’re describing may be enough to move up and grab a Moore or a Yager in the teens if they’re there. A Ritchie may still be there at No. 21, too. But you’re not likely finding your 1C of the future where the Wild are currently picking in the first round.

Montreal Canadiens

Assuming Michkov is there at No. 5, we all know about his potential, but what are some of the reasons why the Canadiens could be tempted to pass on him aside from his KHL contract and his passport? Are there elements of his game that you think teams are concerned about? —Arpon Basu

Pronman: He’s listed at 5-foot-10, but some scouts feel he’s closer to 5-foot-9. He’s an elusive skater, but has average footspeed, and is a one-way winger. I think he could be a star, but I admit if he did become that he would be a unique star. There aren’t many impact NHL players in my lifetime who look and play like him, and there is a chance his game won’t translate to a high degree in the NHL. There’s nobody in the NHL who looks like Michkov, but there are 25 Reinbachers.

Wheeler:I would order the reasons for skepticism as follows:

1. His play and competitiveness off the puck.

2. His size/position combo (though he is more advanced physically than I think he gets credit for).

3. His skating (which I also think is stronger than it usually gets credit for).

4. He’s got some tendencies/habits that I’d like to see him slowly work away from in terms of some of the ways he uses his linemates, too.


I think ultimately the game-breaking, first-line skill level and historic production win out, though. There may not be any players like Michkov in the NHL in terms of makeup, but there aren’t many playing in the NHL who had a statistical profile like his either and you can find the ones who did with a quick scroll through the league’s top scorers.

New York Rangers

Can you give us some options for the Rangers at No. 23? And if they’re mostly left wings, can you give us some other options? —Arthur Staple

Pronman: So that’s a no to Quentin Musty and Eduard Sale, then? I would jump at David Edstrom if he’s still there. A big two-way center who can skate would be a major add for that organization, especially given they don’t have a lot of that style of player on their depth chart.

Wheeler: There are a handful of left wings who will be among the consensus best players available at No. 23. If they’re hellbent on going elsewhere, I’d probably zero in on a player like Ritchie, a right-shot center who is 6-foot-2, has room to develop physically, and plays the game with both skill (including an NHL curl-and-drag shot) and detail.

Philadelphia Flyers

Historically — particularly since the implementation of the salary cap — teams hang on to top-10 picks and there aren’t many trade-up or trade-down moves. Do you get the sense that will hold this year? Do you think there’s a chance that the Flyers might be able to execute a trade up to nab a specific target or a trade-down to stockpile more picks — or should fans operate under the assumption that the Flyers will almost certainly be picking at No. 7? —Charlie O’Connor

Pronman: I think the unique circumstances surrounding the caliber of talent of a player like Michkov and the factors around drafting him (his KHL contract plus Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) create an environment where a trade to acquire him could be realistic. Though as Charlie said, such trade suggestions typically are more fan and media driven than realistic.

Wheeler:The number of questions we get about trading top picks certainly outweighs (by multiple factors) the number of times a high pick ever actually gets moved. With that said, I agree with Corey on Michkov creating the potentialfor a trade. I would add, too, that the small number of defensemen and larger number of teams who covet one could also create the environment for trades and/or heighten the urgency some teams feel to potentially move up and nab one of the top D. If my scouts were high on multiple forwards, I’d strongly consider researching which teams want to take a Reinbacher, Sandin Pellikka or Willander and explore a trade-down. I would argue the Flyers could use a high-skill forward more than one of those defensemen, which could position them for a move-back, but given the way Keith Jones has talked about building from the blue line out, I’m not sure they concur. They’re going to be in a very interesting spot at No. 7.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Picking at No. 14, what chances are there that Penguins could land a prospect ready to help within a couple of seasons? If the answer is none, what value would pick have to other teams? —Rob Rossi

Pronman: If the Penguins are committed to winning in the near term, I don’t see an option available at 14 that will help them do that barring something highly unusual happening in the draft. That pick should be shopped if that is their objective.

Wheeler:I wouldn’t be surprised if UConn’s Wood turns pro after his sophomore season next year, and certainly after his junior year two seasons from now. There are others, like Barlow, Honzek, Danielson or Musty who have the physical tools to progress through junior to pro and maybe surprise some folks with their timelines. But I think it’s unreasonable to expect that any of them will be impact guys immediately upon arrival.

St. Louis Blues

If the Blues tried to move up in the draft from No. 10, who would be worth moving up to get in relation to their needs, and how much would it cost? They also have No. 25 and another first-rounder that will be anywhere from Nos. 29-32. Could they use one of those to climb higher than No. 10 and could it be worth it? —Jeremy Rutherford

Pronman: I think the most obvious trade-up scenario in this draft is for Michkov. It’s a calculation a lot of NHL teams need to make depending on if/how much he falls on draft day.

Wheeler:The Blues’ pool is strongest on the wing, so if they’re going to look at spending assets to move up it’s likely with a center or defensemen in mind. Dvorsky, a center, and Reinbacher, a defenseman, would seem the most likely targets in that scenario, and one of the other first-round picks would seem a reasonable price to move up a couple of spots at that range in the draft.

San Jose Sharks

Given that the Sharks have picks No. 26 and 36 but don’t pick again until the end of the third round, is there a goaltender in this class worth using one of those two selections on? —Corey Masisak

Pronman: I think you have to highly consider Michael Hrabal with either of those picks. He’s 6-foot-6, quite athletic for the size, has a good track record and has played well in big moments this season.

Wheeler:Despite some ups and downs through the middle third of the season, Hrabal remains the consensus top goalie prospect in the draft. I’d be hesitant taking him that high if I were most teams given what else will be available, but I would understand the appeal for San Jose given where the Sharks’ pool is at, what they’re likely to add at the very top, and the ability to still add another strong B-plus grade prospect with the other of those two picks even if they use one of them on Hrabal.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are in a position where they have to find contributions from prospects on cheap contracts reasonably soon (Hello 2021 pick and new golden boy in Toronto, Matthew Knies). What are the chances of the Leafs finding a player at No. 28 who will be ready for the NHL in, say, 2025, and what are some options for pro-ready(ish) picks? —Joshua Kloke

Pronman: Like Knies you can keep an eye on late birthdates, especially those who are physically developed. Charlie Stramel, Brindley or Nico Myatovic fit that bill.

Wheeler:Corey’s list sounds about right to me. Oscar Fisker Mølgaard’s pro experience, Kasper Halttunen’s physical maturity, and Ethan Gauthier’s pro-style game could all maybe help them make the jump faster than some of their peers in that range, but the middle of those three would need to make a lot of progress in some important areas, and all three feel like long shots to get to where Knies has got along a similar timeline.

Vancouver Canucks

How big a role should positional value play in Vancouver’s consideration set with the No. 11 pick? Is there a defenseman worth selecting this high if Reinbacher is off the board? Can, and should, this team be willing to take another winger with their first-round pick? —Thomas Drance

Pronman: I prefer taking position into account the later you get into drafts. Early on, the marginal difference between players high on your list is a lot larger than even when you get to No. 40, No. 50 and No. 60 on a list. That said I think Willander and Simashev are reasonable picks at No. 11 on talent and unless they feel the winger is the clear best player available, it would be hard to stomach not getting a center or defenseman given how thin their system is at both spots.

Wheeler:Mentioned it in my Sabres answer, but I think Willander warrants consideration there and will get it from teams in that range. I think Willander has a pretty straight path to becoming a really solid NHL defenseman, too. But to your question of what they “should” do, I’d make the case that they shouldbe focused on adding talent, and a potential star and you’re more likely to have an opportunity at a player of that impact level by taking a forward there, even if that’s a winger. I think there will be impact centers and wingers taken after the Canucks draft at No. 11, and I don’t think their pool is in enough of a position of strength at any one position to be ruling out players that high in the draft based on where they play.

In hindsight, no one was ever going to out-tank the Blackhawks.

And now Vancouver will have to watch a childhood Canucks fan in Connor Bedard star for Chicago.

What can Vancouver do at No. 11? @ThomasDrance has more:https://t.co/2H8tAihba1

— The Athletic NHL (@TheAthleticNHL) May 9, 2023

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have excelled in drafting small, dynamic skill at good draft spots since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta: Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Cole Perfetti, Chaz Lucius and Brad Lambert are just a few hits but they’re not the only ones. Even if you advocate for best player available, teams’ NHL rosters (and needs) change all the time. Do you think there’s a chance the Jets watch Ehlers’, Perfetti’s, and Lucius’ recent injury troubles and take a big swing toward size and grit in the first round? —Murat Ates

Pronman: I would wager they try to add size and skating into their organization soon, although Rutger McGroarty was a high-end compete type with decent size.

Wheeler:The Jets are picking in a range where a few players with size could well be available (Musty, Barlow, Ritchie, etc.) and I’d expect that they consider that an area of focus given the makeup of their pool and the uncertainty surrounding the futures of players like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Pierre-Luc Dubois with the organization long term.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly/ The Athletic; photos: RvS.Media/Basile Barbey/Getty Images, Jari Pestelacci / Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images)

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