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2023 NHL Draft: A Way Too Early Look

By: Joe 412

Yes, I admit it. We’re barely through the first fifteen games of the current NHL season

and the Penguins are, well, what we expected them to be—a light switch. Sometimes on,

sometimes off. We have no idea how the Penguins will end this season, let alone where they

may draft next summer, but Draft 412’s job is to be that look-ahead guide for you.

So, what will the Penguins need next year? What kind of players will they be seeking in

2023 to help build the team of the future?

Without considering a single game, free agent contract or playoff performance (or lack

thereof… there I said it), I think a case can be made that this team needs a little bit of

everything. If there ever was a time to pick the “best available athlete,” this draft season may

well fit that bill for the aging, cap-strapped Pens.

Considering this, a “glance ahead” by Draft 412 to next July isn’t easy. Instead of circling

around a specific player, let’s chat about the overall talent pool in the 2023 selection process.

Grant it, Draft 412 doesn’t believe that the Pens will be positioned high enough to consider the

likes of Adam Fantilli or Connor Bedard, but this draft class is deep, perhaps the deepest in the

last ten years, with real NHL-level value being available throughout the top two rounds.

Forward talent will dominate the first two rounds of draft prospects, regardless of which

scout or scouting system you believe, boding well for the Penguins. Remember, last year’s first

rounder was spent on a defenseman (Owen Pickering) and thus the team may likely look at

other positions when they make their walk to podium.

The truth is simple—this team can use help all along the forward position. The Pens are

starting three centers over the age of 30 (and well over 30 I may add). There are no Jake

Guentzels or Bryan Rusts waiting in the wings (no pun intended) in Wilkes Barre either. But no

matter where they draft in round one, there should be some offensive talent for the taking.

Here are some interesting prospects to keep your eyes on:

 Zach Benson—a left winger from the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice, Benson would bring a

well-rounded game to the Pens. He’s smart, quick and manages the puck well in

traffic. On the smaller side, he may not be ideal for Hextall’s push to get bigger,

but he’s an ideal fit for Sullivan’s system. After his season out west though, he

likely will be off the board before the Pens are up. He’s a talent to covet, and

perhaps a target to move up to draft if they can.

 Eduard Sale—a versatile Czech winger that can play both LW and RW, Sale was a

scoring machine last season, scoring 99 points in 44 games played. He’s strong

on his skates, seems to always be hunting for a breakaway and will blossom into a power

play nightmare for the team that picks him. Draft 412 expects Sale to be

off the board in the top ten, so the Pens may have to wheel and deal to get him.

 Calum Ritchie—Ritchie may be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Pen’s

future. A 6’2” center, Ritchie possesses not only the size one desires in his

position but he’s a responsible two-way player that reminds me of former Pens

great and NHL Hall of Famer, Ron Francis. He plays strong in all three zones and

has the hands to make goalies wince when they face him in shootouts.

 Will Smith—No, not the actor, but the 6’ American born center from the US

National Team Development Program (NTDP). Smith is a smart player that makes

his linemates better with his style of play. His puck handling is top-notch,

reminding me a bit of Craig Janney. He’s developed into a point-per-game guy

for his team and can be a great facilitator of the puck in the pros. Will he fall to

the mid-teens for the Pens? I’m not sure, but I didn’t expect Pickering to be

there last year either.

 Andrew Cristall—Cristall is a water bug of a left winger at 5’10…ish… that’s got

the ability to skate and control the puck, and he always seems to knows where

to be on the ice. He reminds me of Theo Fleury with a little more size, and he

could be available where the Pens will likely draft. He could use a year or two to

improve his strength for the Pro game, but he will make a top six winger for

some NHL franchise in the next two to three years.

More to follow from Draft 412 as the season progresses and these prospects play through their seasons and tourneys. Expect a feature on potential round two steals and some netminders for the Pens to target. But rest assured Pens fans, the 2023 NHL Draft features a deep pool of talented players to watch before the team is on the clock.

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