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Bedard tops Central Scouting North American ranking for 2023 NHL Draft

Regina center had 143 points in 57 games; Orebro forward Carlsson No. 1 among International skaters

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Connor Bedard, a center with Regina of the Western Hockey League, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters presented by BioSteel for the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft.

Central Scouting on Tuesday revealed its final list of the top North American skaters and goalies, and the top International skaters and goalies. Center Leo Carlsson of Orebro in the Swedish Hockey League is No. 1 on the final ranking of International skaters.

Central Scouting conducted its final meetings with a five-day in-person session in Toronto earlier this month following a two-day video conference to discuss and finalize the regional lists.

The 2023 draft will be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, with the first round June 28 and Rounds 2-7 on June 29. The NHL Draft Lottery to determine the first 16 picks in the draft will be May 8 (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVAS) at NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.


[Rankings: North American skaters | North American goalies | International skaters | International goalies]

[PDFs: North American skaters | North American goalies | International skaters | International goalies]

[RELATED: Carlsson tops Central Scouting International ranking for 2023 NHL Draft]


"Bedard has the elite skills and attributes that elite NHL players have, and it's the precision in which he reads the play, is always in the right place and how he executes and capitalizes on plays," Central Scouting vice president Dan Marr said. "What places him in that Connor McDavid-special category is his natural presence of mind and instincts that allow him to channel all these attributes to dominate when the opportunity is there and when it's needed most by his team."

Bedard could become the second player from Regina selected No. 1 in the NHL draft, joining Doug Wickenheiser, who was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens in 1980. The last player from the WHL chosen No. 1 was forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011.

"If I'm picked No. 1, it'd be awesome," Bedard said. "I think whether you get drafted first or whatever round, it's a dream come true. If I get that honor, it'd be unreal, I'd be super grateful to the people who have helped me with that. For now, I'm just kind of focusing on what I can do to improve myself as a player. It'd be unbelievable to go No. 1 but we'll see what happens."

The 17-year-old (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) led the WHL in goals (71), points (143), shots on goal (360), points per game (2.51) and goals per game (1.24) in 57 regular-season games. He also had a plus-39 rating, won 53.6 percent of his face-offs and had 45 power-play points. His 35-game point streak (44 goals, 46 assists) from Sept. 24 to Feb. 1 was tied for league's longest this season.

Bedard had 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in seven games for Regina in its first-round playoff loss to Saskatoon. He was the first WHL player since 2012 to score 10 or more goals in a single playoff series.

He also led all players at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and was named the tournament's top forward and most valuable player, helping Canada win a second straight gold medal.

The top three North American skaters remained unchanged from the midterm release in January, with University of Michigan center Adam Fantilli at No. 2 and center William Smith of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team at No. 3. Rounding out the top five are University of Connecticut right wing Matthew Wood, who moved up from No. 8 in the midterm rankings, and NTDP right wing Ryan Leonard, who dropped one position to No. 5.

Fantilli (6-2, 195) won the Hobey Baker Award as the top men's player in NCAA ice hockey this season. The 18-year-old freshman led NCAA players with 65 points and was tied for first with 30 goals in 36 games.

"Everybody kept questioning, 'OK, can he play his game at the next level,' and we learned teams had to adjust to him," Central Scouting director David Gregory said. "He's the guy that was dictating how Michigan was going to play their game and how everyone else had to play against them, so he's a really special player. He's not going to last beyond the third pick, and the team getting him is getting a great player."

Smith (6-0, 181), a right-handed shot, is second on the NTDP with 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) in 52 games. That includes 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 22 games against NCAA competition. He is committed to play at Boston College next season.

"Very rarely do you see an off game from him; he's always creating scoring chances," Gregory said. "I love the fact he plays with his head up and is always moving so he knows he can handle the puck at full speed. He doesn't worry about looking at the puck and is looking for opportunities and that's what makes him such an elite player."

Wood (6-3, 193) led Connecticut with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) and 102 shots on goal in 35 games. Wood had been selected in the second round (No. 41) by Regina in the 2020 WHL bantam draft and could have played with Bedard. Instead, he chose to attend Connecticut and carved his own path as the youngest player in NCAA Division I men's hockey this season.

"For a guy of his size to have his trajectory go this way, there's going to be a little bit of a fever come draft day on who gets him," Gregory said. "I think the smart play with Wood would be to keep him in college at least another year and have him continue to develop. If he goes from point A to point B in Year One and does the same growth in Year Two, you're looking at a very special player."

Leonard (5-11, 192), who will join Smith at Boston College next season, is third on the NTDP with 76 points (42 goals, 34 assists) in 49 games. He had 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 22 games against NCAA competition.

"We knew him as a highly skilled player all the time, but he added a 200-foot element to his game," Gregory said. "He has competitiveness and grittiness and is willing to be the guy that stirs the pot if that's what his team needs, and shows leadership that way. He can read the game very well and is built like a truck. He can handle any kind of physical play and that's made him a more complete player."

Center Nate Danielson (6-1, 185) of Brandon (WHL) made one of the most significant jumps in the final ranking, to No. 7 from No. 13 on the midterm list.

"In the second half of the season I thought he really started to play and use all his assets, his size, his smarts, his speed, his shot," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "I think it reflects in how well he did over the second half and got rewarded with a little bump in the rankings. From a coaching perspective, you can throw him anywhere in the lineup. I really like him on wing because he uses his speed more playing the wing, but he can play center, can kill penalties and can run a power play."

Danielson led Brandon in goals (33), assists (45), points (78) and power-play goals (13) in 68 games. The Wheat Kings did not qualify for the WHL playoffs.

Carson Bjarnason of Brandon (WHL) is No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies.

Bjarnason (6-3, 186), who was No. 1 in the midterm ranking in January, was 21-19-6 with a 3.08 goals-against average, .900 save percentage and three shutouts in 47 games.

"He's very focused and determined with very good quickness, especially in reactions, recovery and lateral play," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He's got good overall net coverage and has good pro potential."

Photo: Paige Bednorz (Danielson)


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