The 2023 NHL draft is over, which means I'm already looking forward to the 2024 draft. Actually, that's a lie. I started looking forward to the 2024 draft before I even finished my prep work for this year's. Mainly all I was doing was adding the players who were already getting a lot of hype for 2024 through this past season.
The 2023 draft looked to be one of the better and deeper drafts in recent memory, both for the potentially generational talents at the top and in how long the tier of "potential first rounders" ran into the second round. The 2024 draft looks to also be very good at the top, though it won't have a Connor Bedard to clearly lead the group and put up silly, historic numbers.
The other thing I can say is that early on, it looks like the 2024 draft will be the Year of the Defenseman. The last two years had some interesting prospects on the blueline, but not a lot of clearly elite defensemen at the top of the draft. Some guys were taken at the top, but I'm guessing that's more because some teams just had to have a defenseman rather than it being that obvious. But this year seems to be very deep and strong for defensemen, from the top of the draft and into the second round.
The forwards, by comparison, is not quite as deep as this past season. It has some strong options at the top but – as of now – seems to drop off pretty quick. That can change with any of the "maybe" pile having big breakout seasons, and we can keep an eye on the USNTDP as usual to have some stars emerge like they did this year.
All of that out of the way, here's some quick notes on 20 of the top prospects I've seen mentioned.
The Cream of the Crop
The very top of the draft consists of a trio of very strong forwards: Macklin Celebrini from Canada, Cole Eiserman from the USA, and Ivan Demidov from Russia.
Macklin Celebrini will likely enter this coming season as the favourite to be the first overall pick. He's a 5'11" center who starred for the Chicago Steel in the USHL, leading the entire league in scoring with 46 goals and 86 points in 50 games. He set a USHL record for scoring by a 16 year old, and next year he will join Boston University in the NCAA despite being a June 2006 birthday. He followed that up by leading Team Canada at the World U18 championships with 6 goals and 15 points in 7 games. He finished 5th in the tournament in points, behind only four top prospects who were all drafted in the first round this year. He's the real deal, and may not be at Bedard's level but has a chance to be pretty damn special.
The top contender to unseat Celebrini for first overall is the American, Cole Eiserman. He was a star for the USNTDP, often playing with the U18 team despite being a year younger. He finished with 97 goals and 148 points in 94 combined games for the U17 and U18 teams. He added 12 goals and 20 points for Team USA at the U17 championships, then added 9 goals and 11 points in 7 games at the U18 championships. He's a 5'11" winger who seems to be more of a pure, high octane offensive force than Celebrini, though he probably lacks some of Celebrini's two way potential. The remarkable thing is that Eiserman has an even later birthday – August 29th – making them both two of the younger prospects in the draft.
A dark horse to be first overall is the Russian Ivan Demidov. He's a 5'11" right winger, and is a chunk older with a December 2005 birthday. Demidov had 62 points in 41 games in the MHL in his U17 season, and already got a taste of the KHL with two games for one of the top Russian teams: SKA St Petersburg. By comparison, Matvei Michkov who was Russia's top prospect in this year's draft had 51 points in 28 games. So while Demidov is a bit behind on a point per game pace, he's still in very good company. He's more of a playmaker than the pure goal scorer that Michkov is, but he could be poised to have a big season as an early pro like Michkov did. He may not wind up first overall, but he'll very likely be top 10 like Michkov.
The Top Defensemen
The 2023 draft had 8 defensemen taken in the first round, but only 2 were taken in the top 10 and only 3 were taken in the top 15. 2022 was a bit better, with 9 total defensemen taken in the first round, 3 in the top 10, and 5 in the top 15.
But as of right now, I already count at least 9 top defensemen prospects going into the 2024 draft season who seem more likely to be first round picks, with maybe 6 of them who could be top 10 picks. There's no guarantee of course, just ask "top defensemen prospects" going into 2023 like Cam Allen and Caden Price how that turned out for them. But it definitely seems like this coming draft will be very strong in defensemen, both at the top and throughout the first 2-3 rounds.
Here are some of the top defensemen as of now, listed in no particular order:
Artyom Levshunov – Levshunov is a 6'2" right shot defenseman from Belarus who played in the USHL last year, putting up 42 points in 62 games as an U17 defenseman. That was good for 5th in the entire USHL among all defensemen regardless of age, where the four ahead of him were all 2+ years older than him. He actually finished narrowly ahead of Owen Power in their U17 seasons in the USHL, and Power wound up being first overall – albeit in a weaker looking draft.
Adam Jiříček – brother of David Jiříček, who was taken 6th overall by Columbus in 2022, Adam is following in his footsteps. He is a 6'1" right shot defenseman from Czechia, so a bit shorter than his older brother but with time to grow another inch or two. He also is playing in Czechia and will play for the same team in the top pro level. Adam has not advanced to pro as quickly as his brother, but his international performances look better on paper. He looks poised to be a top 10 pick, and likely a first rounder at the very worst.
Sam Dickinson – a top OHL draft pick who forced a trade to the hated London Knights (spits), Dickinson is a 6'3" left shot defenseman with a June 2006 birthday. Playing behind older and NHL drafted prospects like Isaiah George and the Montreal Canadians first round draft pick with sex based crimes on his record, Dickinson finished with 23 points in 62 games, and another 8 points in 21 playoff games. And his tracking data as a 16 year defenseman looks excellent across the board. Playing on a top team, he'll have a chance to carve out a bigger role for himself and get more PP minutes where his point totals will likely spike.
Aron Kiviharju – A top Finnish prospect who has had hype for this coming draft for two years already, Kiviharju had a bit of an off year by his standards. He's a 5'10" left shot defenseman and an elite offensive producer since finishing with 30 points in their U20 junior league as a 15 year old, and constantly playing above his age group for Finland internationally and leading their defensemen in points. This past year, he made his Liiga pro debut where he played 21 games as a 16 year old. He's moved to HIFK this off-season where he'll likely be given more of an opportunity. He's not a glass cannon either, getting strong reviews for his transition defense despite always being one of the youngest players at whatever level he has played. He has a chance to reclaim his hype as the top defenseman for this draft, but he'll have steep competition.
Zayne Parekh – Coming off a record setting season in the OHL for goals by an U17 defenseman with 21, but he somehow had more goals than assists (16) as a defenseman. He also had more goals than assists in the playoffs, and for Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. He's a 6'0" right shot defenseman playing for Saginaw, and has been a top prospect in Ontario and for Canada for years. He gets rave reviews for his skating and also his playmaking with the puck, even if he had more goals than assists this year. He seems very likely to finish as a first round pick as well, if not a top 15 guy.
Cole Hutson – Cole is the younger brother of Lane Hutson, a 2nd round pick by Montreal in 2022 who has seen a huge breakout in the NCAA with Boston University (48 points in 39 games). Like Lane, Cole is also coming into his draft season playing for the USA's national development team, and he's also very short for a defenseman (5'8"). However, late growth spurts seem to follow in his family. His oldest brother Quinn was also very short, and wound up at 5'11". After talking about "bone age" and getting expert testimony from specialist doctors in his draft year, Lane was also only 5'8" but is now 5'10". So while size is a worry for now, it likely won't be as much in time. And that's good, because he's already outpacing his very talented brother Lane in terms of offensive production and looks better defensively at the same age and level. He's just an extremely exciting offensive defenseman, and if the league learned their lesson from how far Lane fell in 2022, and he tops his production in his draft year, then Cole is a strong candidate to at least be a late first rounder.
Henry Mews – Playing for one of the top OHL teams in Ottawa, Mews is a 6'0" right shot defenseman who finished with 31 points in 55 games. Like Dickinson, Mews has very strong tracking data almost across the board, and while he played a more limited role since Ottawa was pretty deep, he earned the time he got and will get more of a role this coming season. As of now, if he has a nice stepping stone season in his draft year I could see him ultimately going in the second half of the first round.
Veeti Väisänen – Väisänen had a breakout season this year to push himself into the conversation alongside Kiviharju as the top Finnish prospects in 2024. He had 22 points in 37 games at the U20 level as a 16 year old, and he seems poised to get some time in the Liiga this coming season. He's a 6'0" left shot defenseman who also has rave reviews for his defense. There's a chance he winds up more of a second round guy than a first rounder, it will depend on how strong a season he has. But he's built some hype for himself going into this season.
Carter Yakemchuk – Yakemchuk is a 6'2" right shot defenseman playing for Calgary in the WHL. He profiles as more of a PP specialist and offensive defenseman, with 19 goals and 47 points – but 15 goals and 29 points came on the powerplay. His 5 on 5 tracking data doesn't look as strong as the others, so he may not wind up being a first rounder like the others. But if his 5v5 play improves and that powerplay production continues, he has the size and handedness to push him into the late first round.
Outside of those 9 guys that seem pretty likely to be first rounders, there are several others who could get there with strong seasons (I've bolded the ones that do not have a lot of first round hype as of now, but are of interest to me): Ty Henry, Will Skahan, Zeev Buium, Anthony Cristoforo, Dominik Badinka, Jakub Chromiak, Charlie Elick, Alfons Freij, Tomas Lavoie, Sebastian Soini, Sebastian Soini, and Xavier Veilleux. That's 12 other names who I've seen on early draft rankings or having hype from various public scouts.
The Other Top Forwards
Tanner Howe – Playing side saddle to Connor Bedard on Regina, Tanner Howe is a skilled forward in his own right. He may not be at Bedard's level, but he had 85 points in 67 games which was by far and away the most for U17 prospects. He likely had a boost playing with Bedard, but there's real talent there. He has a chance to show his value without Bedard this coming year.
Luke Misa – Older brother of Michael Misa, who has early hype as the 2025 NHL draft's first overall pick, Luke is a 5'10" center playing for Mississauga in the OHL. Despite being on a pretty poor team that is rebuilding after trading away their best players, Misa had a pretty strong season with 43 points in 64 games as a 16 year old rookie. He'll be one of Mississauga's focal points this coming year as they start their rebuild with other top prospects like Porter Martone (2025).
Berkly Catton – Will compete with Howe as the top prospect out of the WHL, Catton is a 5'11" forward who plays for Spokane and had 55 points in 63 games – good for second on his team in points, and second for U17 players in the WHL. He also was one of Canada's top players at various international tournaments, and will be again this year.
Michael Hage – One of the top prospects coming out of Ontario last year, he was supposed to be a partner with Celebrini on the Chicago Steel. He's a 6'1" center who missed all but 13 games with an injury he suffered very early in the year. He returned and finished with 10 points in 13 games, and will likely return to Chicago this year to lead another strong team before heading to Michigan University in the NCAA – one of the top programs in college hockey.
Konsta Helenius – The likely top forward prospect coming out of Finland, Helenius is a 5'10" right winger who already played more games in the Liiga (33) than he did the U20 junior level (19) despite being a 16 year old. In junior, he was a monster – putting up 28 points in just 19 games. In the Liiga, he still managed 11 points in the 33 games after being loaned to Jukurit, where as of now it looks like he'll return next season. He was also a top player for Finland's U17 and U18 teams, scoring 43 points in 22 combined games.
Tij Iginla – Iggy! That's right, the son of Hall of Famer Jerome Iginla is about to reach the NHL draft. How old does that make you feel? He's a 6'0" center who played a very limited role on Seattle, the WHL champions who were loaded with talent. He played in only 48 games where he had 18 points during the regular season, and 3 games in the playoffs, but will be given a bigger opportunity on the Kelowna Rockets after being traded in the off-season. Playing alongside Andrew Cristall, he has a chance to put together a very strong draft year. As of now he probably wouldn't be considered a first rounder, but with that name and a better chance to prove himself he has a shot at it.
Michael Brandsegg-Nygård – Yeah, try saying that name 5 times fast. Brandsegg-Nygård is the top prospect to come out of Norway in a long time. He's a 6'1" right winger who played in Sweden last year, producing 17 goals and 38 points in 35 games in their U20 junior league. He also got a taste of the pros with 3 points in 11 games for their second tier league, the Allsvenskan. He has a chance to be the first player from Norway to be drafted to the NHL since Emil Martinsen Lilleberg was taken in the fourth round by Arizona in 2021, and by the time he makes the NHL he may find himself the only NHLer from Norway if Mats Zuccarelo (35) retires.
Maxim Massé – Massé is a 6'1" right winger playing for Chicoutimi in the QMJHL. He finished his D-1 season as a 16 year finishing second on his team with 62 points in 65 games, and first in the QMJHL in points by U17 players. His tracking data is very strong as far as overall offense, and specifically for generating shots and scoring chances for himself. His other tracking data for defense is okay, but his transitions are not great – though that may mainly be the team relying on his center/linemates to carry the puck into the offensive zone rather than a 16 year old rookie. He'll be one to follow this season who could be a first round pick.
Igor Chernyshov – A 6'2" left winger from Russia, he finished the season with 38 points in 38 games and already got a taste of the KHL. He played 5 games at the pro level with Dynamo Moskva, and scored his first KHL goal right before his 17th birthday. He has a good shot and skater, and is poised to be someone who winds up high in the first round if he has a good draft year split between the KHL and lower levels.
Ryder Ritchie – Ritchie is a 6'0" right winger from the WHL who plays with Prince Albert, who were again one of the worst teams in the league. Hhe finished with the third most points on the team, and was tied for second in the WHL for U17 scoring. He is quite young with an August 2006 birthday to boot. He showed a good amount of skill and a decent shot, and looks like he has the potential to be a top 15 pick and very likely a first rounder.
Alexander Zetterberg – No relation to Henrik, Alexander is a tiny (5'8") center from Sweden who is reportedly a lot of fun. He had 34 points in 43 games in Sweden's U20 junior level, on a team where he was one point behind for the most points as one of their youngest players.
Outside of these 11 guys, there's a slew of interesting forwards who will fight for first round status.
Justin Poirier and Mac Swanson are tiny little skill demons who I think have good chances of becoming my sentimental favourites in this draft. There's also, in no particular order: Emil Hemming, Clarke Caswell, Brodie Ziemer, Kamil Bednarik, Sacha Boisvert, Trevor Connelly, Kristian Epperson, Gavin Hodnett, Oskar Vuollet, Félix Lacerte, Cayden Lindstrom, Lucas Pettersson, Max Plante, Karl Sterner, Yegor Surin, Roope Vesterinen, Christian Humphreys, Simon Zether, and Andrew Basha.
There are only two goalies who are coming into this season that have some kind of hype. Neither seem likely to be first round picks, but looks like they could be the top goalies taken as of now.
Eemil Vinni appears gets mentioned the most, he's a 6'2" Finnish goalie who is the main goalie Finland has used internationally for his age group. Honestly, his numbers the past two years in the U18 and U20 junior levels have not looked great, and even worse in the two games he has played in the Liiga. So we'll see if he looks better this year, where he appears to have been loaned to their second tier pro league – the Mestis.
Eric Olsson is a 6'4" Swedish goalie who has had okay to good numbers through Sweden's junior league. He's not been Sweden's top goalie internationally, likely because he has a very late 2005 birthday, but has gotten into some games for them. He has more of the size NHL teams like in their goalies, so I could see him winding up being ranked and selected ahead of Vinni if he has another good season this year.