After yet another grueling season, the 2023 NHL Entry Draft is nearly upon us (taking place June 28-29). Unlike the past two editions, the Seattle Kraken find themselves making their first selection of the draft much later in the proceedings due to their 40-point turnaround from a disastrous 2021-22 campaign.
General manager Ron Francis and his staff are currently set to hit the draft floor with 10 picks, with four of those picks coming in the first two rounds (one first and three seconds) and five across the first three.
Despite only having three drafts under their belt, the Kraken’s scouting department has quickly elevated the quality of the organization’s prospect pool. According to rankings provided by several reputable outlets, the Kraken’s pool ranks as high as fifth (Elite Prospects) and as low as 16th (The Hockey Writers), quite the accomplishment for such a green program.
Even if the Kraken decide to parlay one or more of those picks into established NHL talent, they will have several chances to grab more highly-regarded prospects over the next few days. Let’s dive into five intriguing prospects (and five honorable mentions) who may be available when the Kraken are on the clock with the 20th pick of the first round.
Colby Barlow, Right Wing, Owen Sound Attack
Barlow is a highly skilled forward who stands out as a top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft. At 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, he already possesses an ideal frame for handling the physical demands of the professional game, with room to fill out.
Barlow’s offensive abilities are his calling card, showcasing exceptional puck control, playmaking instincts, and a lethal shot for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. Barlow’s 46 goals in 59 games paced the Attack and ranked fifth in the entire league, although his goals-per-game rate ranked third among OHL skaters to play in at least 50 games.
Barlow also excels in setting up scoring opportunities for his teammates while also demonstrating a commitment to the defensive side of the game.
Barlow’s skating could benefit from working on his agility and acceleration, but his tantalizing scoring potential would be a boon for a Kraken squad lacking a bonafide goalscorer.
Samuel Honzek, Left Wing, Vancouver Giants
Honzek is a dynamic and electrifying forward prospect eligible for selection in the 2023 Draft. Despite his imposing stature (he stands at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds), Honzek also flashes deceiving bursts of speed, agility, and quickness for a player of his size, even though his technique could use some work. While his ability to maneuver through traffic is a clear strength, he isn’t shy to leverage his body to protect the puck in contentious areas.
Honzek possesses elite puck-handling skills, showcasing creativity and poise in tight spaces when physical play won’t cut it. His vision and playmaking ability are top-notch, making him a reliable distributor. Honzek’s offensive instincts and natural scoring touch make him a constant threat in the offensive zone. Despite only suiting up in 43 games in the WHL this season, the forward still tallied 23 goals and 56 points, sitting second on the Giants in scoring.
While his defensive game and skating require sharpening as he progresses through the more demanding professional ranks, Honzek’s offensive prowess and physical tools make him worth considering in this range.
Dmitri Simashev, Defenseman, Lokomotiv
Simashev is one of the 2023 Draft’s most polarizing first-round prospects. Standing at a towering 6-foot-4 and weighing 201 pounds, Simashev possesses a commanding physical presence on the blue line and isn’t afraid to use it to his advantage.
Simashev’s strength and reach allow him to excel in defensive battles and clear the crease effectively. He frequently showcases exceptional hockey IQ, displaying solid positioning and decision-making in his own zone under pressure. Additionally, he is adept at moving the puck up the ice with accurate passes, even if his overall offensive ceiling isn’t quite at the same level as his defensive upside.
Adding to his length and reach, Simashev’s surprising mobility and aggressiveness with his puck-handling make him one of the more sneakily dynamic skaters in this range, especially at his size. Every decision exudes confidence and is executed in a split second. An underwhelming shot and occasional hesitation bring his long-term production at the NHL level into question, but few, if any, of this year’s prospects are as refined as he is at such a young age.
Brayden Yager, Center, Moose Jaw Warriors
Once considered a potential top-10 pick, Yager remains an electrifying forward prospect despite his diminutive 6-foot, 166-pound frame. Yager stands out on the offensive end in particular, as he possesses decent speed and hockey sense.
Yager’s offensive awareness and intuitive positioning enable him to create scoring opportunities for himself, although he sometimes struggles when handed the brunt of the workload of transitioning the puck. He owns a lethal shot with a lightning-quick release, making him a formidable goal scorer from various positions on the ice. In 67 games this season, Yager scored 28 goals and 78 points while adding six goals and 16 points in 10 playoff games.
Despite his offensive prowess, Yager also demonstrates a regular commitment to defensive play, utilizing his tenacity and anticipation to disrupt opposing attacks. While he could benefit from adding some strength to his frame and working on his skating mechanics, Yager’s shot makes him someone worth taking a flier on in the mid-to-late-first round.
Oliver Bonk, Defenseman, London Knights
Bonk is an impressive two-way defenseman, showcasing an appealing combination of size, skill, and defensive awareness. Standing at a solid stature, Bonk utilizes his 6-foot-2 frame effectively in physical battles, even if he isn’t a prototypical bruising defender. He displays excellent defensive instincts, consistently making smart reads and positioning himself well to disrupt opposing plays.
Bonk’s stickwork is calculated and precise, enabling him to poke check effectively and break up plays without putting himself in compromising positions. He demonstrates strong skating ability, showcasing good mobility and fluidity on the ice.
Offensively, Bonk contributes with crisp outlet passes and has a booming shot from the point. With continued development, his offensive skills can potentially become an additional weapon. His 2022-23 stat line reads 10 goals and 40 points in 67 games, and he compiled an additional 11 points in 21 playoff games as his London Knights reached the OHL Final.
While he could benefit from adding more aggression to his game, Bonk’s overall package of size, defensive acumen, and offensive upside make him a safe pick in Round One.
Kraken 2023 First-Round Draft Targets: Honorable Mentions
Eduard Sale, Left Wing, HC Kometa Brno
Quentin Musty, Left Wing, Sudbury Wolves
Calum Ritchie, Center, Oshawa Generals
Tanner Molendyk, Defenseman, Saskatoon Blades
Mikhail Gulyayev, Defenseman, Avangard Omsk
Kraken Have Options in First Round
As the Kraken are only entering their third draft as a fully-fledged NHL franchise, they have the benefit of not needing to be too picky when it comes to picking prospects based on positional need.
In almost any draft scenario, teams would be better off picking according to a “best-player-available” guideline. Outside of the truly elite top-end prospects, most players will need multiple seasons to develop before being an impactful figure at the professional level.
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An NHL team’s roster can change significantly over the course of two or three seasons, so it’s almost impossible to predict what a team’s greatest need will be several years in advance.
Luckily, the Kraken should have a number of intriguing options to choose from when their number is called. Holding three picks in the second round also affords them the ability to package multiple picks and move up if the opportunity arises.
Whichever path the Kraken choose to take, you can be sure Francis and company will have faith in the decision. After last season, so should everyone else.
Data courtesy of Elite Prospects.