After a month of decompressing following a disappointing playoff loss, it is finally time to start thinking about the upcoming 2023 NHL draft, and the first round NHL Draft options for the Rangers. The Blueshirts started the season with two first-round picks and a second-rounder before Drury moved the lower of their two first-round picks and the second rounder at the deadline. Despite losing 2 picks in a loaded draft, there’s a lot to be excited about with the late first round NHL Draft options.
I am not claiming to be an expert whatsoever on the players that I am about to write about. I simply don’t have enough time to be considered a “full-time scout,” or whatever. I am simply a prospect enthusiast, and if you have differing opinions on these players, please feel free to express them!
Before we dive into the 10 first round NHL draft options for the Rangers at pick 23, let’s take a quick look at the current pool and identify some needs. This will be Drury’s third draft at the helm of the Rangers. In 2021 and 2022, Drury selected a winger with his first pick in both drafts (Brennan Othmann & Adam Sykora).
Othmann had a weird season in Peterborough, but he is one to watch in camp this fall due to his intense style of play. Sykora had a fantastic season for HK Nitra, and it will be interesting to see how Drury handles his next step. Personally, I feel that he should move to another league in Europe before making the jump to the AHL. Will Cuylle and Brett Berard both pre-date Drury’s drafts and both wingers have NHL upside. Cuylle in particular could make the jump next season.
While the Rangers have a strong corps of middle-six winger prospects, the depth on the back end and up the middle is sparse. Bryce McConnell-Barker is the only center prospect with any NHL upside, and the clock is beginning to tick for Matthew Robertson and Zac Jones on the blue line.
That said, the Rangers have a relatively old forward core, so to me the clear need at pick 23 is a forward, and preferably a center. Drury clearly wants his scouts to prioritize players with a high compete grade, and frankly some “plus” level skaters are a need.
Options 1 through 5
These late first round NHL Draft options, aside from Gavin Brindley, are not ranked by preference. I used the rankings from Scott Wheeler, Corey Pronman, and EliteProspects because they are quality rankings. It takes time and commitment to rank 100+ players and provide summaries of those players, instead of posting a screenshot with rankings and no explanation. EP also has as close to an NHL scouting staff as you can get.
Gavin Brindley, RW/C, University of Michigan (NCAA), 5’9″ 165 lbs, 38 P in 41 GP
- Wheeler: 24
- Pronman: 29
- EP: 21
- Consolidated Ranking: 25
Brindley is one of my favorite late first round NHL Draft options in this draft and had, in my opinion, an underrated draft season and one of the most impressive NCAA draft seasons in recent memory. Time and time again players his age struggle to make the step up to college hockey in their draft year. Not Brindley. Every tool in Brindley’s toolbox gets a plus grade. He is an excellent skater, has an outstanding competitive level, knows how to use his speed and skill in transition, and his brand of hockey leads to the tangible result of goals.
Brindley looked the part of a late-first-round pick during the first half of the season. A strong U20 WJC performance on the team’s fourth line with Charlie Stramel kicked off a torrid end to his Freshman season with Michigan, ending the season with 28 points in 21 games. Brindley has C/W versatility and his style of play makes him a rare high-upside/high-floor pick at this stage in the draft. He reminds me a little bit of Seth Jarvis, who was a player I ranked 9th on my 2020 board.
Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL), 6’2″ 185 lbs, 59 P in 59 GP
- Wheeler: 19
- Pronman: 27
- EP: 14
- Consolidated Ranking: 18
Ritchie was the number 2 pick in the OHL draft and came into this draft season with a ton of top-10 hype. He is widely regarded as an extremely toolsy player whose lack of consistency can frustrate and is reflected in his middling production. However a 6’2″ right-shot center who can skate well and is highly skilled with a great shot is not a hard sell at this stage in the draft. It’s that tool kit that had many scouts thinking he would be a top-10 pick, and it is the reason why he could be off the board by the time the Rangers pick.
We know that Drury is willing to bet on toolsy talent that has struggled to produce. That is exactly what he did when he selected Othmann. But the major difference is that Othmann did not have questions surrounding his compete level, whereas Ritchie does (Pronman scored him as “below average”).
I am skeptical that Drury sanctions a pick for a player he deems as lacking compete, but the Rangers are in need of a home run draft pick and Ritchie has the potential to live up to that billing. He was playing through a shoulder injury to end the season, so that may have been a factor in that evaluation by Pronman.
Gracyn Sawchyn, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), 5’11” 160 lbs, 59 P in 59 GP
- Wheeler: 44
- Pronman: 116
- EP: 13
- Consolidated Ranking: NR
I will admit that of the first round NHL Draft options, this is an incredibly unlikely pick at this stage in the draft. Sawchyn might even be available when the Rangers pick in the 3rd round. Sawchyn played his DY-1 on the stacked NTDP team, which he left to join the Seattle Thunderbirds for his draft season. The Thunderbirds were a wagon this season, winning the WHL Championship in a loaded year for the league and reaching the Memorial Cup Final. Sawchyn’s production may not stand out compared to his WHL peers, but unlike many of his peers, he was not asked to be the Thunderbird’s top player.
Sawchyn is a little bit undersized, but his competitiveness and motor make up for anything he gives up physically. He has a lot of skill to his game and he is able to use it to attack the middle of the ice, which is exactly what you want an undersized player to show; he certainly should not be described as a perimeter player.
Ultimately, Sawchyn at 23 would be a big upside swing and I can see the argument that this is too high for a player you might even be able to get in the third round (for what it’s worth I think he goes around pick 50). But do not be at all surprised if Sawchyn is one of the biggest risers on drafted rankings lists come this time next year. He has all the makings of a player who will break out production-wise, and that seems to be the only reason he is not ranked higher.
If you don’t believe me, take it from WHL guru Joel Henderson.
After seeing more and more draft rankings come out, it seems pretty evident to me that Gracyn Sawchyn is the West’s most undervalued NHL Draft prospect.
— Joel Henderson (@dathockeydoe) May 30, 2023
Riley Heidt, C, Prince George Cougars (WHL), 5’10” 178 lbs, 97 P in 68 GP
- Wheeler: 23
- Pronman: 59
- EP: 27
- Consolidated Ranking: 20
You might be noticing a trend here with the size of these first round NHL Draft options, with three of four forwards slotting in at under 6′. I think what has made the depth of this draft class somewhat divisive is the abundance of highly productive, undersized forwards who have questions surrounding their ability to translate their game after pick 15. You see that reflected here in Pronman’s ranking of him compared to Wheeler and EP.
Dirty little secret: Consensus rankings do not exist beyond the first ~10-15 picks in the draft. First round NHL Draft options are all very subjective past the consensus top picks.
Heidt was the star producer of a pretty middling WHL team and is the most highly skilled of these five first round NHL Draft options. He is arguably the top powerplay producer in the WHL this past season, and it is widely agreed that if he makes the NHL he will be running a powerplay unit due to his hands, sense, and ability to hit seam passes. His success rate on slot passes is well above average too, as are his attempts.
The reliance on powerplay scoring does make him a risky draft pick, as 45% of his points have come on the powerplay whilst his high-scoring WHL peers sit between 20-30%. His 25 goals accurately reflect that his shot is not a “plus” aspect of his game, but his 72 assists tied Connor Bedard for the lead in the WHL. Heidt would be a big swing on skill by Drury, and while he has some warts to his game it would be a good upside play.
Samuel Honzek, C/W, Vancouver Giants (WHL), 6’4″ 185 lbs, 56 P in 43 GP
- Wheeler: 25
- Pronman: 13
- EP: 20
- Consolidated Ranking: 21
Honzek was a massive riser among first round NHL Draft options before his injury at the WJC. Unfortunately it is still likely that he will be gone before the Rangers even think about drafting. While the production might not stand out in a significant way, Honzek’s toolkit is what separates him from most first round NHL Draft options in this range and is why I think he might go closer to 15 despite some questions about his upside in that range.
Honzek is a 6’4″ forward with positional versatility and no weakness in his game. Pronman rates both his shot and his compete level as above average for the NHL level, and his two-way game has been widely praised. Few first round NHL Draft options have this toolset.
Honzek is on the older side for this class, as he is a November 2004 birthday, and that is why I think the questions about his upside are very legitimate. You’d like to see more production given his enormous size advantage as an older player at the Junior level. If the Rangers were picking at say, 15, I don’t see myself getting excited about this pick given those factors. But at 23 you are getting a near-certain NHLer with a tantalizing toolkit. If all 10 of these first round NHL Draft options are on the table when the Rangers draft, my money is on Honzek being Drury’s guy.
Check back in a couple of days for part two!