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NHL Draft Confidential: What scouts and executives think of Celebrini, Demidov and more

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Today we bring you our annual NHL Draft Confidential. This piece comprises conversations I’ve had with NHL personnel over the past weeks and months about the top names and the biggest questions in the 2024 NHL Draft.

As a note, references to “Scout 1” or “Executive 1” across various questions do not mean those answers came from the same person — meaning “Scout 1” may appear in different questions but may be answered by different people. Scouts and executives were granted anonymity in order to speak freely about the prospects in question.


There are big debates and important questions to get to in this draft. None of those debates revolve around the first pick, but let’s start there on what the league thinks of Boston University and future San Jose center Macklin Celebrini.

Scout 1: “I came into the season thinking at worst he could be Nico Hischier. He’s much better than Hischier though. I’m not saying he’s Crosby, but he could be Sidney Crosby-lite.”

Executive 1: “I don’t think the offense is going to be elite in his game in the NHL, but he’s a great all-around forward and I think he’s a better version of what Matty Beniers is.”

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Scout 2: “He was the no-doubt No. 1 pick from his first week in the USHL last season. He’s a potential superstar, a guy you could build a winning franchise around.”

Scout 3: “He’s closer to the Matthews/Bedard range of prospects than he is to Jack Hughes/Dahlin. There were things he did this season that often reminded me of Crosby. He’s super competitive and intelligent.”

Executive 2: “Jack Hughes will have seasons with more points, but Celebrini is the type of player I would rather build my team around to win.”

After Celebrini, the big story in this draft has been around the defensemen. After a historically poor defense class in the 2023 NHL Draft, this is shaping into one of the better defense groups in recent memory. It’s possible to see five or even six defensemen picked in the top 10.

So who is the best defenseman of the group? Many scouts think it’s Michigan State’s Artyom Levshunov, who is 6-2, mobile and had a huge freshman season, or the 6-7, highly athletic Anton Silayev, who played very well for Torpedo in the KHL. But Sam Dickinson from London who is 6-3 and gets a lot of love. Denver’s Zeev Buium and Saginaw’s Zayne Parekh put up monster offensive numbers and Calgary’s 6-3 defender Carter Yakemchuk got a lot of love too. I asked scouts who their preference would be.

Scout 1: “Parekh could be the next Quinn Hughes, the next Erik Karlsson if he hits. He has special skill and hockey sense. The other guys in this draft may be safer — they’ll give you 22 minutes a night. You could miss with him for sure, but he could be special.”

Scout 2: “Silayev is a freak. He has star written all over him. If he were in North America he would have challenged Celebrini all season for the No. 1 prospect.”

Scout 3: “Yakemchuk can be a No. 1 defenseman. He’s big, mean, athletic, and has a ton of natural offensive abilities. He’s a guy you build a winner around.”

Executive 1: “On pure talent, it would be Silayev, but I don’t know if I could call that name given the KHL risks as opposed to one of the other studs available. Levshunov has everything you want in a potential No. 1 defenseman. He’s dominated college hockey after being so good as an underage player in the USHL.”

Executive 2: “Levshunov. Worst case scenario you’re getting a better-skating John Klingberg. Best case you’re getting a star.”

Executive 3: “Silayev is so tantalizing. He’s such a good skater for a guy his size. He’s very physical. He can move pucks. He has superstar potential. You can’t find someone like him other than the draft.”

Scout 4: “Levshunov is the guy. Don’t overthink it. He’s tall, mobile, very smart, can run a pro power play, has some bite in him. He’s going to be the No. 2 or 3 overall pick.”

Scout 5: “Yakemchuk scored 30 goals, is 6-3 and skates well. I’ve rarely seen him have a bad game and often he makes an impact.”

Scout 6: “Dickinson doesn’t have a miss factor. I think worst case you’re getting a top-four-minute-eating big defenseman who can fly. If he really hits and there’s some offense the high side is an impactful NHL defender.”

Executive 4: “Levshunov is as complete as you can get. He was a dominant college player from the get-go. He has no weakness. He was playing big minutes at big times. Silayev is right there with him although not as much offense and Parekh/Yakemchuk are behind those two for me.”

Scout 7: “It would be real close for me between Levshunov, Yakemchuk and Dickinson, and depending what day I wake up I have a different one at the top. I’ve entertained Buium as well. Silayev looks great but we never saw him live so it’s tough to feel confident in putting a guy that high on your list.”

Scout 8: “I only watched the players in USA, but I keep seeing Levshunov ranked very high, and I didn’t even think he was the best defense prospect in college. Buium was way better when I saw him. Levshunov is very good, but I thought Buium was an impactful college defenseman all season.”

Scout 9: “I have the least concerns about Yakemchuk. He’s consistently competitive and he creates a ton of offense. I feel he defends better than Levshunov, who would be No. 2 for me.”

Scout 10: “It came down to Buium or Levshunov for me and I leaned Buium. Levshunov started off great, but I didn’t love his postseason play. Buium was impactful from the get-go and right into the important games as well.”

Executive 5: “I’m between Buium or Parekh and gave the edge to Parekh. Buium defends better, but he doesn’t have the type of hockey sense Parekh does. That’s not to take away from Buium — he’s super smart, he makes a lot of plays — but Parekh sees the game at a whole different level.”

Scout 11: “It’s clearly Levshunov. He looks like a future star. He is going No. 2 to Chicago or No. 3 to Anaheim, no questions asked.”


There’s a lack of consensus about who the best forward in this draft class is after Celebrini. Berkly Catton is a contender, but the knock against him is his size. (Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images)

Just as there is a lack of consensus on the best defenseman in the draft, there is a lack of consensus on who is the next best forward in this draft after Celebrini. You have the three WHL forwards in Spokane’s Berkly Catton, who is dynamic but 5-foot-10, the competitive goal scorer Tij Iginla, and the 6-3 center in Lindstrom who can fly and is highly physical. There is the dynamic 5-11 SKA winger Ivan Demidov. And then you have 6-2 winger Beckett Sennecke, who was lights out in the OHL playoffs.

Scout 1: “With Lindstrom, best case you’re getting a legit No. 1 center. I think even if you miss on Lindstrom and he’s a third-line center, he’s a type of third-line center a GM is ecstatic to have, the kind that winning teams have in the playoffs.”

Executive 1: “I do have a concern on Lindstrom that you’re just getting a second-line two-way guy. His tools are outstanding but I don’t see the high-end skill and sense to score a lot in the NHL. They’re small but my lean is to Catton or Demidov because they have so much offense.”

Executive 2: “Catton looks like a can’t-miss top-line forward. He could be a first-line center. I don’t say this lightly about 5-10 forwards, because so few of them can stay in the middle, but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t a 1C in the NHL.”

Executive 3: “I’d take Catton or Iginla. They’re highly skilled guys who compete, play fast, put the puck in the net and were excellent in the WHL. Give me a break where all the lists have Demidov. He’s lighting up the MHL, but that league is so bad. Michkov was great versus men over there and went seventh.”

Executive 4: “Iginla has a lot of pro elements to his game. He’s super skilled and can score, but he’s detailed, he competes hard, he gets offense in the tough areas of the ice. He’s not that big yet, but you look at the dad and you’re hoping when Tij fills out he’s going to be a handful to deal with. The trajectory he’s on is pointed straight up as well.”

Scout 2: “It’s Lindstrom for us. You may be getting a second-line center, but he’s a second-line center who plays super hard, is a great skater and your coaches will be able to rely on.”

Executive 5: “I can see the arguments for Catton and Sennecke but I’d pick Demidov because he’s slightly more dynamic offensively than the other guys. Sennecke has more of a power element. Catton is a complete player offensively — he has no weaknesses — but Demidov can make so many plays and is high-end with the puck. Demidov doesn’t lead with speed, but is great east-west although he doesn’t skate like the other two. Lindstrom would be fourth for me.”

Executive 6: “The body of work would go to Demidov. The pure physical tools would make you pick Lindstrom. The best player in the last six months would be Sennecke, and he would be my lean.”

Executive 7: “The disrespect I see for Catton is crazy. He scored 110 points, Captain Canada at the Hlinka where he dominated, is a dynamic play-driving center. If he were two inches taller he’s the no questions asked No. 2 pick.”

Executive 8: “Demidov. He’s just dynamic, he’s the clear No. 2 forward for me. Then it would be between Lindstrom or Iginla.”

Scout 3: “Demidov has a chance to be the next great Russian star in the NHL. He’s a game breaker.”

Scout 4: “I would probably take the big guy in Lindstrom. The skating, the heaviness, the offense, it’s all very appealing. I like Catton and Iginla but I don’t see special small-guy traits in them.”

Scout 5: “It’s clearly Sennecke for me. He has the potential to be a game breaker. He’s big, he’s fast, he has elite skill and processing, even has some bite in him. I get the concerns on his production, but you watch the last 2-3 months of his season, he looked like a star.”

While much of the conversation in the first round will be on the order of forwards and defensemen picked, we can’t forget the men in net either. This is not a flashy goaltender class. The main names to monitor are 6-6 goalie Marcus Gidlof from Leksands, 6-5 Mikhail Yegorov from Omaha, 6-1 Carter George from Omaha and the two KHL goaltenders Ilya Nabokov and Pavel Moysevich.

Executive 1: “It’s a bad goalie year. I don’t think the run on goalies starts until late second/early third.”

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Executive 2: “Yegorov in Omaha is a very good prospect, he’s just the victim of a terrible team and structure around him. You put him on a different team and he would be the consensus No. 1 goalie prospect. He’s huge and very athletic in the net.”

Scout 1: “I don’t think you’re going to see a goalie picked until the third round. We’d be debating between Yegorov and Marcus Gidlof as our top option.”

Executive 3: “Yegorov, but I’m not happy about it. This would be a good year to pass on a goalie.”

Executive 4: “Carter George is the best guy. He’s complete but he’s small. Pucks are going to whack into Yegorov and Gidlof’s chest that will get by George but he’s so athletic and smart that I think he finds a way to play. Gidlof is second and Yegorov third for me. Yegorov has so much talent. He’s a brilliant kid who speaks perfect English. He needs a lot of work, but I’d love to take a chance on him.”

Scout 2: “We like Moysevich. He’s big, he has traits that play well versus pros. He would be in consideration in the second or third round.”

One name we haven’t even mentioned yet is all-time U.S. NTDP goal-scoring leader Cole Eiserman, who came into the season as a potential top-five pick. Mind you, even in the summer I was hearing from NHL scouts who thought the hype on him was a bit over the top. Eiserman had a great season — he scored 58 goals in 57 games for the NTDP — but other parts of his game drew some concerns from evaluators.

Executive 1: “He reminds me so much of Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom. He’s very skilled and can rip the puck but so many of his details and habits are going to be a problem as a pro. I’ll let someone else take him.”

Scout 1: “This kid is getting ripped apart by people, I think there is some paralysis by analysis going on. He’s not Celebrini, and he’s probably not the next-best forward or three available, but he’s a heck of a player. He’s super skilled, he can score like few others, and I don’t see as many holes in his game as others do.”

Scout 2: “People remember his bad games, but they don’t remember the games where he gets a ton of scoring chances, is engaged and makes scoring look easy. This guy didn’t just score a lot with the program, he scored at extreme levels.”

Executive 2: “There’s a lot of work to do with this kid. He’s the best in the draft at the hardest thing to do in the NHL but that’s why Oliver Wahlstrom went so high, and I see a lot of similarities between the two, although I think he’s better than Olly at the same age. The risk and the reward balance itself out more in the teens.”

Scout 3: “I keep wondering: What’s his impact without the puck? He’s competitive, he finishes checks, blocks shots, etc., but he’s not that big, fast or smart. I don’t think the way he plays works in the NHL.”

Another forward I asked a lot of NHL people about was Demidov. He should be a very high pick — possibly as high as second overall in the draft — but there was enough divergence of opinions that I felt it was worth digging into.

Scout 1: “His skating is awkward-looking. I don’t know many, if any, NHL forwards who skate quite like him. He’s a dynamic player obviously, but in the top five, there’s a lot of risk for me with the feet, size, position, nationality. I’d be more comfortable with him closer to 6-10 in this draft.”

Executive 1: “He’s as dynamic a forward as there is in the draft with the puck on his stick. He’s a tenacious competitor who plays an honest game without the puck.”

Scout 2: “He’s very good. He is an elite-skill player who plays hard. The skating is a little unorthodox, but he gets around fine, it could be NHL average. He has to be in the mix to be the second forward picked. That said, I can tell you who may be the best hockey player, but if it’s my job at stake and I have to pick between super-talented Canadians like Catton, Iginla or Lindstrom or a 5-11 Russian winger I’m probably taking the Canadians.”

Executive 2: “He’s not close to Matvei Michkov at the same age. I felt Michkov was on the same level as a player as Connor Bedard, there were just risk factors outside of his game.”

Scout 3: “He’s a more direct player, better habits, more competitive than Michkov is. I am much more comfortable that his game is going to translate.”

Scout 4: “His skating looks a little weird, but the result is still good. He was dominant in their junior league, back-to-back MVP of that league, and he was so good in their playoffs. He looks like a potential star.”

NHL people pay attention to public discourse and where guys are being slotted on lists. So I decided to ask them who they think is being underrated among the top group of names.

Scout 1: “Marek Vanacker. He has good speed. He plays with a lot of energy. He can score, he can PK. There’s a lot of utility in his game.”

Executive 1: “Parekh. I would have trouble removing Parekh from Buium. Parekh’s skill, skating and sense combo is a level above everyone else. His defense is a major concern. I don’t ever see Parekh top 5 or 6 on all the lists. Buium gets there, but we don’t see Parekh mentioned in that breath as much.”

Executive 2: “Adam Kleber. He’s 6-5, he’s a great skater. He kills plays everywhere. It’s easy to s— on him because he’s not overly physical.”

Scout 2: “Beckett Sennecke is easy to dislike because of his first half. The second half he answered all of the questions I had in the first half. He competed harder every night and elevated in the playoffs. People may have hedged themselves on him early on but he’s a top 10 player in the draft, maybe even top seven to eight.”

Scout 3: “Carter Yakemchuk. I keep seeing him at 11-12 and it surprises me. He could be the best defenseman in the draft when it’s all said and done.”

Scout 4: “I think Sennecke is in play right after Celebrini goes. I’m not saying he’s going in the top five, but he’s in the conversation with all those other guys being commonly discussed.”

On the other side, which players are being overhyped?

Scout 1: “Anton Silayev. “I worry about the offense in his game. His puck moving, for the NHL, is basic. He’s very good but I don’t see the star potential others do.”

Scout 2: “Adam Jiricek. There’s too much uncertainty with him. He was great at the Hlinka, but he missed most of the season, and he wasn’t great in his league after the Hlinka too.”

Scout 3: “Cole Eiserman. He reminds me a lot of other shooters without other dimensions in their games like Alex Holtz, Filip Zadina, Oliver Wahlstrom. He’s just not the kind of player I like.”

Scout 4: “I see Artyom Levshunov often mentioned as the No. 1 D in this class and I don’t see it. He may be when it’s all said and done, but Dickinson, Buium, Yakemchuk, Silayev are right there with him for me. It’s certainly not a clear-cut situation.”

We end this year’s scout survey with a rapid-fire poll of the best traits in the draft.

BEST SKATER

Berkly Catton

Sam Dickinson (multiple votes)

Michael Hage

Cole Hutson

Cayden Lindstrom (multiple votes)

Jett Luchanko

Zayne Parekh (multiple votes)

Anton Silayev

Stian Solberg

BEST HANDS

Ivan Demidov (multiple votes)

Berkly Catton

Trevor Connelly

Michael Hage

Zayne Parekh

Beckett Sennecke

Carter Yakemchuk

BEST HOCKEY SENSE

Macklin Celebrini (majority votes)

Berkly Catton (multiple votes)

Zeev Buium

BEST SHOT

Cole Eiserman (majority votes)

Tij Iginla (multiple votes)

Carter Yakemchuk (multiple votes)

Macklin Celebrini

MOST COMPETITIVE

Cole Beaudoin (multiple votes)

Michael Brandsegg-Nygard

Macklin Celebrini (multiple votes)

Konsta Helenius

Jett Luchanko (multiple votes)

Stian Solberg

Carter Yakemchuk (multiple votes)

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic. Photos: Maksim Konstantinov / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images; Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images)

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