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With the way NHL Draft eligibility works, there typically isn’t a ton of prospects to choose from in a given year.
The 2021 draft was unique in that Owen Power, Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson – all University of Michigan players at the time – were taken in the top five. But they were only eligible to get selected as 2002-born players in a 2003 draft due to their late birthdays.
So, realistically, we’re looking at four first-year eligible prospects from the NCAA for the 2023 draft. And, boy, are they a doozy. The top prospect, Adam Fantilli, could end up going second overall after his incredible first half with the University of Michigan. Size is a real thing with this draft class: three of the four players are known for their magnitude, while the fourth, Gavin Brindley, is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
It’s about quality over quantity this year, which could see all four NCAAers going in the first round in Nashville this year. Here’s a breakdown of who you need to know from college’s top circuit this year:
Adam Fantilli, C (University of Michigan)
Fantilli isn’t just the best draft prospect out of the NCAA – he might be the best college player, period. He’s second in scoring behind Ryan McAllister but may have held the top spot had an illness not taken him out of a pair of games earlier this month. The 6-foot-2 forward plays a heavy game, isn’t afraid of anyone, period, and he can pick corners and generate offense as good as anyone. He’s a consensus top three pick, but I think I’d be leaning towards him as a No. 2 given the way he’s played against older competition. The University of Michigan has no shortage of quality talent, but Fantilli is the engine behind that force right now.
Matthew Wood, RW (University of Connecticut)
It’s not uncommon for Western Canadians to go from Jr. A to having pivotal roles in the NCAA, and Wood is the latest example. Standing tall at 6-foot-3, Wood had one of the best seasons from a U-18 player in recent BCHL history before embarking on his college career. He’s been one of the best Connecticut forwards this season along with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ryan Tverberg, a promising sign from a young freshman. Wood is a safe bet to go in the first round, with some believing there’s potential for Wood to go in the top 10, although I’d expect he’ll end up closer to the middle of the first.
Charlie Stramel, C (University of Wisconsin)
Another big kid at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Stramel has consistently been above the rest of his peers physically. He looked excellent with the USNTDP last year at just under a point per game after missing a large part recovering from surgery before serving as an extra forward for USA at the summer World Junior Championship. “Big Rig”, as he’s often called, will assume a role with the team again this winter, where he’ll be utilized as a solid net-front presence deeper in the lineup. He doesn’t have a ton of points to show for this season, but I’ve become a bigger fan of his game in recent weeks as he gets more comfortable with the college hockey landscape. Sometimes it feels like he’s just a big body roaming around and not much more, which could force him toward the bottom of the first round. I like his long-term potential at this point and the world juniors will be an excellent measuring stick for him.
Gavin Brindley, RW (University of Michigan)
At the complete opposite end of the size chart, we’re heading back to Michigan for Brindley, a 5-foot-9 winger. A fringe first-rounder, Brindley has been a nice secondary offensive option for the Wolverines this year, mainly as a playmaker. Don’t let his size fool you – Brindley is tenacious. He wants the puck as badly as anyone, and he’ll pressure you all night long to make it happen. Brindley is quick, does an excellent job of keeping calm under pressure and can sometimes wow you with a bit of pizzazz. I think he’ll turn into an effective middle-six forward in the NHL.
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