The 2023 NHL Draft was the most hyped group of prospects in recent memory, with an absurd level of expectation being placed on the shoulders of the players at the top of the draft. There was this idea in many peoples’ minds that teams would find future stars in the late first round and even into the second round, and while that may be a bit of an exaggeration, I do think it was an above-average group.
The Detroit Red Wings went into the draft with the 9th and 17th overall picks in the first round as well as three consecutive picks from 41-43rd overall in the second round. That level of draft capital early in the draft is extremely valuable, and even though they ended up trading down with one of those picks, the Red Wings were poised to come out of the 2023 Draft with a really great group of young players.
Detroit selected 11 players in the 2023 Draft, so let’s take a look at each of them and how they’ve fared in the roughly six months since being selected!
9th Overall: Nate Danielson (C)
Nate Danielson was a controversial pick in the Red Wings fandom on draft day, with some people hoping Dalibor Dvorsky or Zach Benson would be the player selected. However, that all changed in the NHL Preseason where Danielson looked like a bona fide NHLer already at just age 19. He’s a strong skater, checks hard, and makes smart plays with the puck, all of which comes together to make him a really solid NHL prospect.
Danielson’s point totals in junior haven’t been particularly inspiring over the past 18 months or so, though that can partly be attributed to the low-scoring environment he played in. The points just never really followed him around with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but every bit of tape I’ve watched on him has been exciting and encouraging.
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Danielson has the potential to be a strong two-way, top-six center in the NHL, though his offensive game will need further development to justify a spot that high in the lineup. He was recently traded to the Portland Winterhawks and added a goal and an assist in his debut with the much higher scoring team. Here’s to hoping this is just the start of an offensive explosion for him as he looks to crack the NHL or AHL lineup next season.
17th Overall: Axel Sandin Pellikka (RD)
Selecting Axel Sandin Pellikka (ASP) with the 17th overall pick is looking like a brilliant move by the Red Wings. They landed this pick in the Filip Hronek trade with the Vancouver Canucks, and I’d say both teams are pretty happy right about now. The Canucks landed a top-four defender who has meshed well with their star point-man Quinn Hughes, and the Red Wings landed a future top-four defender with the potential to be a dynamic two-way force.
ASP has been lighting up the SHL this season, with his nine goals leading all defensemen and his 13 points being the second-most among all U20 players. He was excellent for Sweden at the 2024 World Juniors, gradually earning more ice-time and attention as the games got more important. He scored two goals in the knockout round and was ultimately named the best defenseman in the tournament following Sweden’s Silver medal run.
He likely has another year in the SHL ahead of him before making the move to North America, but ASP’s potential is very exciting. He is a better defensive player than most give him credit for, but his offensive game is obviously his strength. Sandin Pellikka projects to be a meaningful two-way piece in Detroit’s top-four group, likely one who plays significant power play minutes as well.
41st Overall: Trey Augustine (G)
Trey Augustine has had a very positive season so far, earning the starter’s net for Michigan State University and playing exceptionally well there. He also helped lead Team USA to the gold medal at the 2024 World Junior Championship, with a .936 save percentage (SV%) in four games played (he only missed games due to an illness).
Through the first 19 games of his collegiate career, Augustine has a .919 SV% and a 13-3-2 record. That would be impressive for most NHL goaltending prospects in the NCAA, let alone a freshman who still doesn’t turn 19 for another month. While Augustine certainly isn’t the largest or most athletic goaltender in the world, he has a phenomenal base of technique and hockey sense that allows him to position himself incredibly well for whatever his opponents throw at him.
Obviously goaltenders have a different development curve than skaters, but this season has been an excellent start for Augustine and his dream of becoming an NHL goaltender. I think another year or two in the NCAA would be the likely next steps for him before moving to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL and trying his hand at the professional game.
42nd Overall: Andrew Gibson (RD)
Andrew Gibson is a big right-handed defender who plays a physical defensive game and has a great shot from the point. Gibson is a really solid defensive player, in part due to his large frame and in part due to his skating which allows him to cut off attackers and push them to the outside frequently.
Gibson’s offensive game is going to go a long way in determining his ultimate NHL ceiling. His production is up a bit this year from his draft year in the OHL (not by much though), and if he can continue to take steps in the right direction, I think he could be a solid second-pairing defender on the right side.
However, the most likely scenario is that this is pretty much what he’ll be offensively, a good skater with a hard shot and not the best offensive touch or playmaking. If that’s the case, there’s still very likely going to be a role for him as a shutdown defender on an NHL third pairing. There were a lot of players on the draft board with much more potential than Gibson at this point, but he plays a very important position and that likely improved his draft value significantly.
47th Overall: Brady Cleveland (LD)
I was quite critical of the choice to draft Brady Cleveland on draft day, and nothing has really happened to change that so far. Cleveland is a big defender who plays an incredibly physical game, hitting just about anything that moves. However, his offensive game leaves much to be desired, with everything from outlet passes to zone exits not really being strengths.
He scored just nine points in his draft year across 74 games with the NTDP (adding 166 penalty minutes) and hasn’t earned a point in just 10 games played with the University of Wisconsin so far this season. If Cleveland can hit his potential then he could be a physical force out there, whipping around the ice and keeping opponents honest with some big checks, however, there will need to be some significant growth in many parts of his game in order for him to get there and I really just don’t see it yet.
73rd Overall: Noah Dower Nilsson (C/W)
Noah Dower Nilsson was not simply drafted because his brother Liam is already in the Red Wings system. Okay, maybe that’s part of why they took him but Dower Nilsson’s puck skills and shot are serious NHL weapons and he has the potential to become a depth NHLer for Detroit if things go well. Currently, he lacks the footspeed to compete in the NHL, but there’s time for him to develop that with training and continued growth as he’s still just 18.
Dower Nilsson missed the start of the season due to injury and was beginning to look like himself again after a few SHL and J20 games. He was loaned to IF Björklöven in the Allsvenskan in order to get him some more ice time playing against men this past week, but he was injured in his very first game. Hopefully he can stay healthy soon and begin to build some momentum once again.
117th Overall: Larry Keenan (LD)
Larry Keenan has been good for the Penticton Vees this year, a team that is always stacked with talent in the BCHL. He won’t be known for his offense as a pro but he’s the second highest scoring defender on his team right now with 16 points in 33 games. Keenan is primarily a defensive defender with the size and skating to be an effective pro someday. He has done well in the transition from the high-school prep circuit to the BCHL, but will have another big leap to make when he joins the University of Massachusetts in the NCAA next year.
137th Overall: Jack Phelan (RD)
Jack Phelan is a big right-shot defender playing in the USHL who is committed to the University of Wisconsin. The good news is that Phelan is currently on pace to double his previous career high in USHL points. The bad news is that his previous career high was five points. Phelan is certainly not an offensive dynamo, but his size, position, and defensive game give me a little bit of hope that he can become a pro player in the Red Wings’ system (likely in the AHL).
147th Overall: Kevin Bicker (LW)
Kevin Bicker is a German winger who hasn’t been able to score much in the DEL this season in low minutes. He has some playmaking touch, works hard, and excels in front of the net where he is surprisingly difficult for most players his size to box out. Bicker was good for Germany at the recent World Juniors, scoring four points in five games, and screening Canada’s Mathis Rousseau on three of Germany’s goals in their match.
169th Overall: Rudy Guimond (G)
Rudy Guimond is a goaltender who played in the high-school prep circuit last year and was quite successful there. This year he made the jump to the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and it hasn’t gone too well. Through his first 19 games, Guimond has a .873 SV% and a 7-8-3 record, though it’s not simply his fault as Cedar Rapids have scored the third fewest goals in the USHL this year (14th out of 16 teams). A better team in front of him would be nice but Guimond has lots of work to do as well. Hopefully he can find his stride in the USHL this year before jumping to the NCAA with Yale University going forward.
201st Overall: Emmitt Finnie (LW)
Emmitt Finnie is the undisputed double-letter king of this draft class; half of the 12 letters in his name are doubled which is sweet. On a more serious note, Finnie has been on a positive trajectory this season, with his scoring rate increasing slightly despite the massive exodus of talent that the Kamloops Blazers have faced. This year they lost Logan Stankoven, Caeden Bankier, Olen Zellweger, Matthew Seminoff, and have only had 10 games of Fraser Minten so far.
Finnie isn’t going to be a high-end point-producer as a pro, but his tenacity in puck battles and his hard-working, physical game seems to line up well with what Detroit has been trying to develop over the past few years. I think there’s a chance he could become a depth NHLer if his offensive game and skating can keep up, but I’m sure the Red Wings would be pleased with him as a solid AHLer considering he was a seventh round pick.
How is This Draft Class Shaping Up?
The Red Wings’ 2023 Draft class is looking like it could be a real difference maker for the franchise going forward. They’ve got Danielson and Sandin Pellikka who both look like potential top-of-the-lineup players, Augustine who has the potential to be an NHL starting goaltender, Gibson as a bottom-four defender type, and a handful of guys who could fill in the depth chart for the Grand Rapids Griffins and possibly earn a few NHL games.
It’s rare to land significant talent past the first 20 picks or so of the NHL draft, with the vast majority of the league’s high-end players being selected early in the first round, so even landing a few depth pieces throughout the second round and beyond should be appreciated as the success that it would be. I think this class has the chance to leave a real imprint on the franchise, with several players who could become important pieces of the next great Red Wings teams.