Today is the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
There is a lot of commotion surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers. The newly revamped front office is making hockey intriguing on Broad Street for the first time since 2019-2020 via trades and rumors of extra movement.
At this time, the Flyers will make their first selection with the seventh overall pick. Brilliant forwards and the cream of the defensive crop will be available on the draft board. How will the dominoes fall in Nashville?
1) Zach Benson; LW; WHL
‘Best available’ has a few different meanings. Daniel Briere reiterated those words when he addressed the media with Brent Flahr.
Matvei Michkov is a curious case. He could slip down the draft board but represent the best offensive skill of all forwards. Benson is considered one of the fastest skaters in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, coupling a better defensive game than Michkov. Either one of these selections would be incredible for the Flyers.
A lot will ride on the meeting Michkov has with the Flyers. However, we’re talking about a skater that otherwise would be the top prospect of this draft. Six teams could pass on Michkov before Briere approaches the podium, a sign of caution. Meanwhile, the draft board will have other quality forwards widely available (also including Ryan Leonard). Michkov, without a doubt, has the potential to be a superstar in the NHL, but on contract with the KHL through 2025-2026, he could as easily decide to hold out on signing with the team who drafts him if he doesn’t want that market.
Benson scored the second most points by a U18 WHL skater in the last 25 years. He only trails Connor Bedard but leads Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That is some stellar company.
On the Winnipeg Ice in 2022-2023, Benson totaled 98 points (36G, 62A) in 60GP with a +68 rating, including another tremendous postseason performance of 17 points (7G, 10A) in 15GP with a +2 rating.
1) Oliver Bonk; RD; OHL
Top defensive prospects will have already disappeared from the draft board. The names likely unavailable will be David Reinbacher, Axel Sandin-Pelikka, and Tom Willander. Bonk might be the ‘best available’ defenseman, a sensible selection with the 22nd overall pick.
It could be considered a minor reach to select Bonk at 22nd overall, but he improved drastically last season. Bonk made the CHL All-Rookie Team and the OHL Second All-Rookie Team, then won the Hlinka Gretzky Cup gold medal with U18 Canada.
Bonk fits the profile of the defenseman the Flyers should aim for. He is defensively sound, staying in front of most offensive transitions and forcing opponents to dump the puck into the defensive zone. From there, Bonk can defend the back wall behind the goaltender, preventing the backdoor setup. Finally, there’s an investment in a defensive defenseman.
With the London Knights, Bonk tallied 40 points (10G, 30A) in 67GP with a +17 rating in 2022-2023. Bonk added another 11 assists in the postseason, competing for the J. Ross Robertson Cup. He has an advanced offensive game, a boarder line two-way defenseman. Improving his skating and puck-carrying through the transition into the offensive zone will take his confidence to the next level. His work ethic doesn’t require questioning, and Bonk plays a physical game, disrupting passing lanes and clearing the crease for the netminder.
His father, Radek Bonk, played 14 NHL seasons, spending most of his career with the Ottawa Senators.
3) Scott Ratzlaff; G; WHL
Once a promising, deep goaltending depth chart is starting to present more uncertainty. Carter Hart isn’t clear from the Hockey Canada investigation, Ivan Fedotov may never play hockey in Philadelphia, and Felix Sandstrom fell out of favor in 2022-2023. The Flyers did acquire Cal Peterson in the three-team trade that sent Ivan Provorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it remains unproven if he can get back on track in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’
Ratzlaff is a hybrid goaltender who deflects screened shots to low-danger areas by prioritizing his positioning instead of relying on an acrobatic recovery. His sound puck control offers a refreshing note.
Going a combined 29-8-0 in the WHL and Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2022-2023, Ratzlaff won the WHL Championship with the Seattle Thunderbirds and a gold medal for Canada.
3) Zachary Nehring; C; USHS-Prep
Drafting another center is critical for the Flyers despite the Kevin Hayes trade. Nehring is 6’3″ and 179lbs. A commit to Western Michigan University, Nehring is a physical forward, still growing into his size and frame.
He is a puck-protecting center who shows playmaking and scoring qualities. Nehring doesn’t have fantastic speed, but he compensates with his on-ice awareness and processing in transition.
4) Matthew Mania; RD; OHL
A composed defenseman who displays playmaking skills, Mania could be a potential top-four defender in an NHL lineup. He drives the puck but isn’t nearly as physical as John Tortorella would desire, which he will challenge as he did to Cam York.
Mania played in 67 games and tallied 38 points (10G, 28A) with a +21 rating with the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL.
4) Ruslan Gazizov; C; OHL
There is a ton of deception in his game. Gazizov is creative and crafty in his offensive contributions, understanding how to get open without relying on speed and offering lineup flexibility. His development lies heavily in improving his two-hundred-foot game, which is the difference between making an NHL lineup or not.
Gazizov is second year eligible for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. He also competed for the J. Ross Robertson Cup with Bonk, totaling eight points (2G, 6A) in 17GP during the postseason; 48 points (23G, 25A) in 56GP during the regular season.
5) Petter Vesterheim; C; HockeyAllsvenskan
In the fifth round, the Flyers are looking for players who are coachable. Vesterheim could be a late round gem. He transitioned into the second highest ranked Swedish league in 2022-2023, scoring two goals in 12GP with a -3 rating.
6) Tuomas Uronen; W; Liiga
Uronen has a heavy wrist shot, but his work on the forecheck is what the Flyers will appreciate. Most of his value comes in the offensive zone, creating space for his teammates. He played five games in Liiga, but spent most of his time in the U20 SM-Sarja. Uronen totaled 43 points (20G, 23A) in 39GP with HIFK U20.
6) Luke Coughlin; LD; QMJHL
Coughlin is a two-way defenseman who can shoot effectively from the blue line and forces takeaways with physical checking. The weakness to his game is in transition through the neutral zone, which will be a crucial area of development with the Flyers. With Rimouski Oceanic, Coughlin totaled 19 points (5G, 14A) in 37GP with a +5 rating.
7) Yegor Rimashevsky; C; MHL
Rimashevsky is on contract with MHK Dynamo Moskva through 2024-2025. There is reason to believe that very effective Russian skaters will drop late in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, making for a smart gamble. Rimashevsky is a smooth skater with size and puck-moving skill. He doesn’t present much defensively, but does offer the flexibility to move to the wing. In 2022-2023, he tallied 26 points (13G, 13A) in 29GP with a +5 rating.
(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)