2023 NHL Draft: Top 10 Jr. A players to watch

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      It isn’t easy picking the right development path for a young prospect.

      In Canada, the top choice is typically the Canadian Hockey League and its three divisions: the OHL, WHL and QMJHL. You play more than 60 regular season games, and the mix of youth and veterans makes it difficult to succeed. It’s where most of the top Canadian prospects typically tend to go.

      But sometimes, there are other factors to consider. Ice time can be difficult to obtain, and the chance at getting a scholarship to a top American university and get the extra development time in the NCAA can be alluring. And that’s why many quality Canadian prospects choose to play in the CJHL or BCHL, better known as Junior A.

      You still get the grind of a tough junior season, and for the top players, it’s a chance to immediately get much more ice time. Some notable CJHL alumni include Cale Makar, Drake Batherson, Mark Giordano, Claude Giroux, Adin Hill, Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, MacKenzie Weegar and John Tavares. Alex Newhook and Kent Johnson are two examples of high picks from recent years with Jr. A experience, while potential 2023 first-rounder Matthew Wood put a beating on the BCHL a year ago.

      The BCHL, though, is an interesting case. They left the CJHL in April of 2021 before leaving Hockey Canada altogether earlier this year, becoming independent. That means they don’t have to follow rules and regulations placed by any other governing body, but players that participate in BCHL games during a season can’t play for any Hockey Canada-affiliated league. So there’s a risk, but that hasn’t stopped the league from producing quality talent.

      Here’s a look at 10 Canadian Jr. A prospects worth keeping an eye on for the 2023 NHL Draft:

      Bradly Nadeau, C (Penticton, BCHL)

      There’s always one high-end Western Canadian Jr. A player, and that’s Nadeau. A potential first-round pick, Nadeau had 45 goals and 113 points in 54 games with Penticton this year, earning him the league’s MVP title in both the regular season and playoffs. It was the first 100-point season by a prospect since Kent Johnson in 2019-20, with Alex Newhook scoring 102 the year before that. From a points perspective, Nadeau had one of the best seasons from a NHL Draft prospect from Canadian Jr. A in quite some time. Stylistically, he has a high top speed, a very quick wrister and works his butt off, but his defensive game needs work. Nadeau’s brother, Josh, was the only other player to hit the 100-point mark this year in the BCHL, and the pair are set to go to the University of Maine.

      Aydar Suniev, LW (Penticton, BCHL)

      A University of Massachusetts commit, Suniev deserves a lot of love for his play in Penticton. He had 45 goals and 90 points in 50 games while playing alongside Nadeau, helping to round out the most dominant line in Canadian Jr. A hockey. He then finished with 23 points in the playoffs, good for fifth in postseason scoring. Suniev can shoot from anywhere, and can put some tremendous velocity behind his shots. He’s also deceptive, often making goalies think he’s shooting up high before either making a pass or going low. Suniev might end up being a valuable middle-round pickup.

      Aiden Fink, RW (Brooks, AJHL)

      A two-time Canadian national champion, the young winger had a tremendous season. He led the AJHL with 97 points, good to earn MVP and top forward honors. He was also the only player to break the 10-point barrier at the World Junior A Challenge, scoring five goals and 12 points with Canada West en route to a fourth-place finish. Fink’s best trait is his ability to simply hold on to the puck under pressure. He’s unfazed while showcasing strong, smart playmaking abilities. He can do a bunch of everything with the puck, with versatility being the name of the game.

      Hudson Malinoski, C (Brooks, AJHL)

      See, you’re starting to understand why Brooks was the top Canadian Jr. A team this year. The 19-year-old was the 65th-ranked North American skater after putting up a solid 69 points this year. He was more of the set-up man for Brooks, with 53 assists, but he can be quite dangerous around the net, too. The Providence College commit’s skating is probably his biggest weakness, but his hockey IQ is quite advanced.

      Hoyt Stanley, D (Victoria, BCHL)

      It’s always good when a big defenseman has an effortless stride, and that’s exactly the case for Stanley. The best Jr. A draft-eligible prospect, Stanley possesses a high top speed and does a good job at making decisions at pace. Stanley has the muscle in his 6-foot-2 frame to play a physical game, but it’s his decision-making with the puck that will make you intrigued. Stanley is a former teammate of Connor Bedard’s, having played with him growing up in the Vancouver area.

      Connor MacPherson, RW (Leamington, GOJHL/OJHL)

      While MacPherson technically played in Jr. B this year, he’s off to Penticton next year – and Leamington will happen to join the OJHL next year. He had 28 goals and 63 points to earn MVP honors, and then won the league championship and the playoff MVP title when it mattered most. A University of New Hampshire commit, his chemistry with twin brother Ryan was undeniable.

      Morgan Brady, D (Spruce Grove, AJHL)

      Brady isn’t much of an offensive defender, and he proved that at the World Junior A Challenge. He is, however, as physical as it gets. He had 106 penalty minutes while still recording 26 points during the regular season. He was willing to throw his mid-sized 6-foot-1 frame any time he could, and he’s just so difficult to play against in the defensive zone. In a word, he’s “intimidating.”

      Aiden Celebrini, D (Brooks, AJHL)

      Another Bandit, the brother of top 2024 NHL Draft prospect Macklin Celebrini is projected to be a late-round pick. While he doesn’t have the offensive flair Macklin does (he’s a forward, after all), Celebrini’s ability to read plays at a high level makes him one to watch. He’s very aggressive and willing to lay out an opponent to gain access to the puck. There’s something here with the Boston University commit.

      Aron Jessli, LW (Pickering, OJHL)

      It was a tremendous season for Jessli, a Niagara University commit. He led the OJHL’s Pickering Panthers with 25 goals and 68 points, good for third among U-19 skaters in the Canadian Jr. A league. The 162nd-ranked North American-based skater by NHL Central Scouting, Jessli moved from Norway to Canada to play minor hockey in 2019 and spent two years there before moving to play junior in Finland during the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season. He returned back and played well with Pickering, showing a physical side to go along with a good release and strong work ethic. Will it be enough to earn NHL Draft consideration? Maybe as a late-rounder, but we’ll see.

      Owen Beckner, C (Salmon Arm, BCHL)

      Beckner played his best hockey down the stretch, recording a point in all but one game in February and putting up numerous multi-point efforts. Committed to Colorado College, Beckner is a good playmaker that can get himself out of trouble with his footwork. He’s also reliable in the defensive zone and has some significant muscle on his frame.

      Other notables: Ty Campbell, D (Smiths Falls, CCHL), Giacamo Martino, LW (St. Michael’s, OJHL), Warren Clark, D (Steinbach, MJHL), Ethan Morrow, G (Wellington, OJHL), Sam Court, D (Brooks, AJHL).


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