I recently attended the World U-17 Challenge in Langley and Delta, BC, where the 2006 age group was on display. It’s still way too early for many of these prospects in terms of discussing where they might fit into a draft. But that never stopped us.
Today I will focus on the clear top group of players I have identified for the 2024 NHL Draft. These are just the players I’ve seen so far this season, so it’s not a complete look at the upcoming draft classes – I don’t know the Russian ’06s well, for example, and some top players are injured or unavailable for the World U -17 Challenge so I haven’t seen them yet. One early theme is that after the 2005 senior group looked light on defense, the 2006 group seems to have a lot more in that position.
1. McLean Celebrini, C, Chicago-USL
Celebrini is the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NHL draft as it stands now. He’s an electric offensive player with high-end skill and creativity with the puck and can make a lot of tough plays with good pace. He has the outstanding scoring ability, but given his average frame I love how hard Celebrini works on the ice to go with his offensive talent. He looks like a guy who separated himself from the pack for next year’s draft as it stands now.
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2. Artyum Levshunov, RHD, Green Bay-USHL
Levshunov has looked very impressive in the USHL to start this season. He is a player with all the traits you want in a top-flight defensive prospect. He’s highly skilled, can make plays, he’s mobile and has good length. I don’t see him as an elite-at-one-end-of-the-rink type of defender; The offense is very good but not amazing, and his defense needs some sharpening, but he has a lot of pro potential to be a top flight defenseman in the NHL.
3. Col Ezerman, LW, USNTDP-USHL
Eiserman scored at an incredible level to start his first USNTDP season. His pure skill level is elite, showing game-breaking one-on-one abilities to go along with a big shot. That combo allows him to be so dangerous despite not being the biggest winger. He is a strong skater, but his skill is what drives his game.
4. Ivan Demidov, RV, SKA-MHL
Demidov has already put up big numbers in Russia’s top junior league this season. He is a player with special skills who at any moment can beat defenses one-on-one to create a scoring opportunity. He combines that with a high-end motor, shows a type of relentlessness you love from a 5-foot-11 winger, and he doesn’t shy away from playing in traffic. He has all the offensive touch you want, but Demidov lacks NHL speed and has an awkward-looking skating stride that will be tested at higher levels.
5. Berkley Cotton, C, Spokane-WHL
Catton is a notch or two below Celebrini in terms of pure offensive talent, but there are a lot of similarities between the two of them in terms of their size, skating and level of competition. Catton can be a dynamic offensive playmaker in his own right and can be a high-end driver with even strength despite not being physically imposing.
6. Sam Dickinson, LHD, London-OHL
Dickinson was off to a strong start in London. He has plenty of NHL traits due to his 6-3 frame, strong skating ability and some offensive touch. Dickinson is very skilled with the puck, but I wouldn’t call him a natural puck-mover. Defensively he is quite solid due to his reach, feet and tackle. He has a lot of NHL potential.
7. Charlie Ellick, RHD, Brandon-WHL
Elick’s physical tools jump out at her as a 6-3 defender with pro mobility. He’s not a top-end puck-mover, but he has good hockey sense. He competes hard, isn’t afraid to use his big frame and makes a lot of defensive stops. It’s easy to think of Braden Schneider while watching Elick due to his similar younger teammate and handiness, but I’d argue he’s ahead of Schneider at the same age.
8. Arun Kiviharju, LHD, TPS-Finland
Kiviharju was an excellent player at the junior level in Finland and excelled in U18 international play (he was a top player for Finland’s U18 team as a 15-year-old). Kiviharju has outstanding hockey sense and can make a lot of tough offensive plays. He’s a strong skater, though for a 5-9 defenseman, I wouldn’t call it elite little-boy skating. That, and particularly his frame, will be the biggest debate on him, as there aren’t many 5-9 defensemen in the NHL, but he has a very good chance to be the next one.
9. Henry Mews, RHD, Ottawa-OHL
Mews is a solid all-around defender. He is a good skater who competes hard, which allows him to be a good defender despite his average size. He’s not a flashy offensive type, but he’s very smart with the puck and can make plays from the point.
10. Will Skahan, LHD, USNTDP-USHL
Skahan is a highly intriguing defender. He skates pretty well for a 6-4 blueliner. His offensive touch isn’t top-end, but he can make strong outlets and projects to have secondary offense like a pro. The length, feet and physicality combined with the secondary offense gives him a lot to work with.
11. Igor Chernyshov, LW, Dynamo Moscow-MHL
Chernyshov is a tool. He skates well, has a good-sized frame and has excellent hands. He plays a direct north/south style, which will translate well to the pros although he has some playmaking in his game.
2025 NHL Draft Eligible List
What follows is a look at the top late-2006 birthdays I’ve seen so far this season and Michael Misa, who is playing younger than a 2007-born. I haven’t seen any 2007s other than Misa.
1. James Hagens, C, USNTDP-USHL
Very, very early, Hagens looks a level above the field for the 2025 NHL Draft. He is a dynamic forward. He is an excellent skater with dangerous speed and edge work. He has outstanding individual skills and playmaking ability and all these attributes lead to him being able to break a shift at any given point. His only drawback is his 5-foot-10 frame, but everything else about him points to NHL stardom.
2. Michael Misa, LW, Saginaw-OHL
Misa was granted exceptional status to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old and got off to a great start with Saginaw. He is an excellent skater with a ton of skill and offensive creativity. He has the ability to make a lot of tough plays at a fast pace, which makes him a great prospect despite being just 5-11.
3. Roger McQueen, C, Brandon-WHL
McQueen hasn’t been very productive in the WHL yet, but there’s no doubt he’s a top-tier prospect. He is a 6-5, right-shot center who skates well and has very good offensive skills. I would like to see him be more consistent and it will be something to monitor over the next two years, but he is a player full of potential.
4. Logan Hensler, LHD, USNTDP-USHL
Hensler has a long way to go in his development, but a 6-5 defenseman who can skate and move the puck is a rarity. In time, he has the ability to be a true professor of higher echelon.
5. Porter Martone, RW, Sarnia-OHL
Martone is an easy player to imagine becoming a good NHL player. He is a great winger who skates well, has very good puck skills and good enough vision to make plays at higher levels. He has a direct playing style that will translate well to the pros.
6. Gabriel D’Aigle, G, Victoriaville-QMJHL
D’Aigle looked very impressive for a 15-year-old in the QMJHL. Hailing from the same area of the province as Marc-André Fleury, D’Aigle has the athleticism, sense and size to be a highly intriguing prospect and will be on the radar for years to come.
(Photo by Macklin Celebrini: Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)