NHL Draft-Eligible Team of the Month: All-Pro Squad
By Tony Ferrari,
If the 2023 NHL draft had an all-star team of prospects already playing in European men's leagues, Tony Ferrari shows what it would look like.
To familiarize you with a variety of NHL draft prospects, each month, I will bring you a themed ‘Team of the Month’ for the 2023 NHL draft. Much like any all-star team, we will have three forward slots, two defenders, and a goalie who will get some love and recognition.
The series has arrived at an All-Pro team, comprised of a lineup of players playing most of their games at the men’s level. It means it focuses solely on the European talent in the draft class. This often means their point totals don’t immediately jump off the page, but they are ahead of the developmental curve in many cases.
Let’s dive into why some of these players play above their age group.
Alexander Rykov, W, Chelyabinsk (VHL)
A July-born winger who plays with intelligence and patience, Rykov has displayed good value at both ends of the ice. The young Russian has played at all three levels of Russian hockey, from the junior ranks (MHL) to the top league (KHL), but he has played primarily at Russia’s second level, the VHL.
Rykov has been a solid offensive producer, with just over half a point per game. He can burst up the ice at times, and he varies his speed fairly well, throwing on the brakes to gain separation before finding a teammate driving the slot. Rykov is a sneaky-good Russian eligible for this year’s draft. He combines relative youth for the draft class with good pace, improving offensive skills, and sound 200-foot play.
Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Allsvenskan)
The Dvorsky debate has raged on over the last 24 months. It all started with an outstanding Hlinka Gretzky tournament in 2021 as a 16-year-old. The young Slovak had a good draft minus one season playing in Sweden. There was quite some hype building for Dvorsky coming into this season.
While he has certainly done his part in producing, as with any top prospect, Dvorsky has had his game come under the microscope quite a bit. There have been questions about his play facilitation and teammate utilization, but his shot and positional play away from the puck remain massive strengths. Dvorsky seems to understand where to be, when to be there and how to locate his shot at a high level. He may not truly drive play, but he could excel on the wing at the NHL level as an off-puck shooter.
Matvei Michkov, W, Sochi (KHL)
The move to Sochi has been a massive blessing for Michkov. He remains one of the most talented players in the draft, with a dangerous shot when he gets to high-danger areas and puck skill that can dazzle at times. The problem was that Michkov was playing a style of game that just wasn’t translatable to the NHL as he tried to challenge three players and deke himself out of trouble or force the puck through problems rather than solve them before getting involved.
In Sochi, he began to play hockey in a system. Michkov is using his teammates more consistently, a trait he’s always been excellent at when he chose to do it, but he would rarely do it before his move to Sochi. Michkov may fall outside of the top five for various reasons, both valid (translatable play) and overblown (contract issues), but he could very well wind up a top-three talent in the class.
Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skelleftea (SHL)
The puck-moving defender has put his name on the map at just about every level he’s played at, from under-18 showcases to the world juniors. But his play at the SHL level has made him one of the top blueliners in the class. He’s been dominant at the junior level, and he’s improved as the year has gone on at the men’s level.
Sandin Pellikka is an elusive skater who creates space and passing lanes at the offensive blueline and is willing to attack the slot when given the room. The young Swede is in contention for the best defender in the 2023 draft class and may be the first D-man off the board. His defensive game is built on his mobility and ability to close and strip pucks using his stick and agility.
Jakub Dvorak, D, Liberec (Czechia)
Dvorak is a throwback defensive blueliner who uses his size well and plays a boring game in the best way. He isn’t the flashiest of players, but he uses his mobility effectively to challenge opponents defensively in 1-on-1 situations. He can use his size and stick to separate man from puck to regain possession.
Dvorak is currently out with an injured collarbone, but the 6-foot-4 blueliner has had a very understated season in the Czech pro league. He’s played in 24 games this year at the men’s level without a demotion to the junior ranks and has looked steady and stable in the process. Don’t be shocked to see the defender’s name called at some point in the second round.
Ian Blomquist, G, Vasteras (Allsvenskan)
The 2003-born netminder boasts solid numbers in the Swedish second level. Blomquist stands 6-foot-2, so he just makes the cut for what NHL teams are looking for in NHL goaltenders in terms of size. He didn’t get into games at the World Junior Championship, but he was on the Swedish roster and looked good in pre-tournament action.
Blomquist has posted a .909 save percentage in the Allsvenskan despite the team in front of him not being the strongest, sitting 11th in a 14-team league. Blomquist has a lot to work on but has flashed some solid technique in the crease for Vasteras. He needs to get stronger to develop some more explosiveness in net laterally.
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