The first round of the 2023 NHL Draft is in the books, and now it's time to evaluate the highs and lows of the evening. Several teams walked away with their heads held high, but that was not the case for everyone at Bridgestone Arena.
The Chicago Blackhawks were certainly the happiest franchise on Wednesday night. They had the privilege of drafting Connor Bedard, who will immediately change the outlook of the franchise's future. Just two picks later, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a similar feeling.
On the other end of the spectrum, at least one team might have reached a couple of times in a first round that was littered with talent at every position. Plus, fans hoping for some wheeling and dealing on the draft floor were left very disappointed by the severe lack of action on the trade market.
Let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft.
Winner: Chicago Blackhawks
This one is obvious, but it's true. The Blackhawks picked up a generational talent in Connor Bedard, and they were the envy of the other 32 franchises. Bedard's pre-draft resume compares very favorably to the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, and he will supercharge Chicago's rebuild.
On top of getting Bedard with the No. 1 overall pick, the Blackhawks also drafted Oliver Moore of the U.S. National Development team with the No. 19 overall selection. By all accounts, Moore is a high-end speedster, and he put up 25 points in 23 games in the USHL last season. If he and Bedard live up to their potential, that will be a lethal one-two punch in Chicago for a very long time.
Loser: Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes had two picks in the top 12 picks of this draft, and both picks wound up being surprises for the wrong reasons. With the No. 6 overall pick, the Yotes took Russian defenseman Dmitriy Simashev, and the selected Russian winger Danil But at No. 12 overall. Both of those players are currently locked into KHL contracts, which muddles their NHL timeline a little bit.
Both of those players are plenty skilled enough to become big-time contributors for the Coyotes, but in a draft where teams seemed desperate to trade up, the Yotes could have taken advantage of that. There is a chance Arizona could have gotten a haul of future assets for one of their first-round picks and still gotten one of either Simashev or But. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Anaheim Ducks pulled off a slight surprise when they selected Leo Carlsson with the No. 2 overall pick, and that allowed the Blue Jackets to slide in behind them and select Adam Fantilli with the No. 3 overall pick. Fantilli was considered by many to be the obvious No. 2 player in the draft class, so the Blue Jackets got a decent consolation prize for missing out Bedard.
In the 2022-23 season, his first with the Michigan Wolverines, Fantilli totaled 65 points (30 goals and 35 assists) in just 36 games. That earned him the Hobey Baker Award and Big Ten Tournament MVP honors. In other years, that type of pedigree would be good enough to make Fantilli the top selection in the draft, but this year, he was behind Bedard. That wound up benefitting the Blue Jackets, who have experienced poor luck in the draft lottery.
Loser: The trade market
In the hours leading up to the first round, there were multiple reports about teams desperately trading up into the top five or top 10 picks. There were also rumblings that the Toronto Maple Leafs might be dangling their first-round pick while trying to make a splash. Unfortunately, none of that drama came to fruition.
The San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens made their selections at No. 4 and No. 5 overall, respectively. The Maple Leafs held onto the 28th pick and chose Easton Cowan of the London Knights. In what was considered to be a loaded draft year, teams didn't feel the need to sell the farm and do anything drastic. Everyone seemed content to sit at their current draft position and load up their prospect pool.
Winner: Philadelphia Flyers
One of the teams reportedly trying to trade up were the Flyers, who wanted to improve their draft position to make sure they got the guy they wanted. As it turned out that ended up happening anyway, and Philadelphia didn't have to give up anything to make it happen.
Matvei Michkov was considered one of the most skilled players in this draft class but fell to No. 7 overall due to concerns about his contract in the KHL and the general geopolitical climate as far as Russia is concerned. That said, the Flyers were willing to take a swing on Michkov, and they might have gotten incredible value. If Michkov gets over to North America in the next couple of years and delivers on his talent level, Philadelphia will have a superstar on its hands.
Loser: Legendary goaltenders announcing picks
Carey Price and Pekka Rinne have both put on some incredible performances in front of thousands of fans before. They probably feel comfortable in the spotlight of an NHL arena, but they both provided some unintentional humor during the first round of the 2023 draft.
Price went up with the Montreal Canadiens' brass to announce the No. 5 overall pick, and it was a cool moment for the franchise, at least until the iconic goaltender forgot David Reinbacher's last name. Eventually, GM Kent Hughes went up to the mic and gave him some help.
Some 19 picks later, Rinne had the honor of announcing the Nashville Predators' pick at No. 24 overall. Rinne had no trouble with Tanner Molendyk's first name, but he needed a reminder about how to pronounce the last name. After a brief pause, Rinne remembered the full name, and Molendyk was able to celebrate the moment in front of his new hometown fans.