The 2023 NHL Draft will be noted for its outstanding center depth, with a projected top four of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, and Will Smith.
Given the importance of centers in a lineup — faceoffs, two-way play, etc. — it’s always a position to keep an eye on. And, with so many high-value targets to choose from this year, it’s as good a time as any to load up down the middle. A good portion of the elite centers could switch to the wing one day, but that’s a topic for another day.
Today, we’ll take a look at the top wingers available in the 2023 NHL Draft. Matvei Michkov is the clear top option as one of the draft’s top prospects. Ryan Leonard may be the only other player selected in the top 10, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the draft, it’s that anything can happen.
With the 2023 NHL Draft approaching, here’s a look at 15 of the best 15 wingers to watch this year:
Matvei Michkov, C (HK Sochi, KHL)
Michkov is the third prospect with a legitimate potential of altering a franchise, behind Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. In reality, Michkov’s tenure in Sochi was perhaps underappreciated. Despite playing on the league’s poorest squad, he managed to finish fourth in team scoring with 20 goals in 27 games. Michkov was in the lineup for six of the team’s nine wins, and his 0.74 points-per-game average during his tenure in Sochi is the greatest by a U-19 in league history, beating out Evgeny Kuznetsov, Eeli Tolvanen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Kirill Kaprizov, and Artemi Panarin, among others. He’s special, but NHL teams must be patient because he has a KHL contract through 2026. I wouldn’t pass him up if I were in San Jose or Montreal.
LW Ryan Leonard (USNTDP)
Leonard is coming off an extremely fantastic U-18 tournament in which he scored a game-winning goal. The seven-game series was a microcosm of Leonard’s genuine abilities: quickness, talent, and physicality all rolled into one. He’s the type of player that every team wants.
LW Colby Barlow (Owen Sound, OHL)
Barlow, one of the few players to come close to 50 goals this season, has scored at all levels and is as comfortable with the puck as anyone. His all-around game has space to improve, but scoring is certainly not an issue. He was injured during the OHL playoffs, but he played well for the U-18s.
Matthew Wood (NCAA, University of Connecticut)
As a freshman, a point-per-game average on one of the greatest teams in the Hockey East is a solid way to start your college career. At every level, he has done nothing except score points and succeed on the power play. His relationship with top 2024 potential Macklin Celebrini contributed significantly to Canada’s bronze medal in the U-18s.
RW Gabe Perreault (USNTDP)
This season, Perreault’s main problem has been his apparent reliance on his teammates to get things done. But breaking the 100-point threshold isn’t something that happens by chance, especially when so few players have done so. The major issue is his skating, yet he has a good offensive game akin to Lucas Raymond’s.
Eduard Sale, RW (Brno, Czech Republic)
Sale struggled with consistency, particularly in the second half of the World Junior Championship. But he showed enough big-game potential in that event to keep me interested. He’s most effective when he’s deceiving, which comes with more confidence. I’m curious if he’ll go to the AHL and follow in the footsteps of Buffalo’s Jiri Kulich, which may be advantageous.
LW Andrew Cristall (Kewlona, WHL)
Cristall would have easily surpassed 100 points if he hadn’t had a lower-body ailment. Cristall has everything going for him in terms of skill. His skating, on the other hand, may be a disaster at times. There’s a lot to like about a vacuum. He’s deadly with the puck on his stick, though. You should be alright if you surround him with quality linemates.
LW Quentin Musty (Sudbury, OHL)
While I’d like to see Musty produce more, he possesses enough pro attributes — quick release, strong top-speed, and active scanning — that I’m confident in the appropriate team developing him into a brilliant top-six scoring winger. He’s also built like a tank physically.
RW Ethan Gauthier (QMJHL, Sherbrook)
Gauthier is one of my favorite players in terms of style since he is fierce, active, and never stops moving. This year, he increased his offensive production by 30 points to 69, establishing himself as a powerful goal-scorer. In a middle-six role, his power-forward approach fits him nicely.
LW Nick Lardis (Hamilton, OHL)
Late-season domination can be deceiving, but Lardis may have been the most intriguing forward down the line. After scoring just 19 points in 36 games with the Petes, he exploded with 25 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Hamilton before going on a playoff tear.
RW Charlie Stramel (University of Wisconsin, NCAA)
Stramel rounded up a solid World Junior Championship performance with a powerful second half with Wisconsin. There are numerous teams interested in the 6-foot-3, 216-pound forward with a high hockey IQ. Sure, the offense didn’t cooperate, but he’s a pain to play against.
LW Daniil But (Yaroslavl, MHL)
This year, the large, skillful winger averaged a point per game for Yaroslavl’s MHL clubs and even scored a pair in 15 KHL games. He can cause a lot of havoc in the crease, both with his shooting and by pushing guys around.
RW Kasper Halttunen (HIFK, Liiga)
Halttunen had no impact against men but was far too good for HIFK’s U-20 team. He’s huge, has a strong wrister, and has performed at every level up to Liiga. The coming year will be significant. A little more maturity will help him take his game to the next level next year.
RW Koehn Ziemmer (WHL, Prince George)
Heidt was hardly the only draft prospect worth keeping an eye on at Prince George. Ziemmer finished with 41 goals and 89 points in 68 regular season games, his 71 goals ranking second only to Bedard among 2023 qualifying players over the past two years. Ziemmer is a powerful power forward who makes good use of his strength and should be able to carve out a successful NHL career.
Jesse Kiiskinen, RW (U-20 Lahti, Finland)
Kiiskinen was one of the few Finns who stood out offensively during the U-18s, following up on an outstanding year with the Pelicans’ U-20 program. There’s a lot to adore about the puck. Away from the rink, he’s still a work in progress, particularly in forechecking, skating, and defense, but he has a promising future and a high potential to work with.