The price of Upper Deck Series 2 Hockey has gone up. As we show in our review, that raises some questions regarding how worthwhile the product is for 2023-24.
Having said that, there is always a saving grace for this release that is scheduled for March 6th, 2024. Each time, it comes with a new and exciting crop of Young Guns. The cream of the crop, without any doubt, is Connor Bedard. However, we can’t remember the last time there was this much buzz around a rookie.
Alexis Lafrenière? You must be kidding. This is unprecedented stuff. Indeed, the hype around this guy is so great that it pushed up the box’s value. We hope it comes down again.
But you don’t need me to tell you to look for Connor Bedard Young Guns. By the way, look for Connor Bedard’s Young Guns. You are wondering what happens when you pull other guys. Sure, you will be disappointed. But HOW disappointed? Our guide to Upper Deck 2023-24 Series 2 Hockey is here to answer that burning question.
The players in this tier are all individuals with enough talent and upside to be NHL stars. While they each have flaws and issues (who doesn’t?), none of them seem likely to derail what should be an excellent career.
There aren’t many 18-year-old hockey players who don’t need an introduction. Indeed, the list begins and ends with Bedard. The buzz around him has been significant for a while.
But he turned it on for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League in 2022-23 with a ridiculous 143 points in 57 games. That seems almost impossible at any level and any age.
Bedard was the first to reach 140 points in the WHL since 1995-96, at age 17. Then, at the World Juniors Championship, he nabbed 23 points in 7 games and led Canada to the gold.
Topping it off, Connor has had a solid start in the NHL, much as expected, with 33 points in his first 39 games in the pros. Bedard was even selected to represent the Blackhawks at the 2024 National Hockey League All-Star Game.
He made history by being the youngest player ever selected. However, Bedard broke his jaw and will miss a few weeks of action. That will do little to stop the irrepressible Bedard on his seemingly unavoidable road to superstardom.
The USA Today explained the secret of Connor’s brilliance: “He steals pucks, finds passing lanes, and makes reactionary plays against defensemen, so once they commit to a side, he’s already beaten them. Makes every teammate around him better. It doesn’t have an ideal size or elite top-end speed, but it is built solidly and has a solid lower body. Combined with lateral quickness and fantastic edgework, he’s tough to knock off the puck. Has one of the Top 5 wrist shots right now.”
No, this is not Alexis Lafrenière under an assumed name. Alex has a respectable pedigree, as an 83rd overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft and a star for Harvard University, where he had 42 points in a mere 34 games in the 2022-23 season.
One important fact you need to know about Laferrier is that he did not want to go for skating lessons until his sister offered him Skittles as a bribe. I respect that as a fellow Skittles lover. He has a good amount of upside.
Elite Prospects describes him as “a dangerous player off the rush. He gains the line and creates room for himself to make plays. Alex is a true dual-threat scorer and likes to play a real power game, even at a modest 6-foot-even and 179 pounds.
Think a scoring forward with some grit, not the second coming of Cam Neely.” At only 22, his tool kit could expand. So we like Alex’s odds.
Mackie is 21 and was the 24th pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. He also had a tremendous senior year at the University of Michigan. That all sounds pretty promising. His first few NHL performances didn’t set the league alight, but Samsokevich is young.
And for such a youngster, he has an elite hockey mind. Mackie is best known for his ability to scan space and his awareness of where teammates are at all times.
Those are invaluable qualities in a young player. They allow the right wing to create as he skates past the defender. Add a great wrist shot to this; you have a genuine potential star.
Tye was undrafted but has refused to be ignored. His 2021-22 performance in the OHL was inspiring, as the left wing notched 79 points in 63 games. Some expected him to be deterred by the jump to the AHL, but he continued to impress with 57 points in 72 games last season.
Tye made his NHL debut during the Western Conference first round and became just the eighth player to score in a playoff game on their debut.
We like him, and so does Sports Forecaster, which says he has “excellent offensive instincts. It is also fairly versatile up front. Produces offense at every level. Has worked very hard to reach the National Hockey League level as an undrafted free agent. Is not overly big but displays a strong lower base and enough bulk to handle the rigors of the NHL.”
Emil was one of the standouts and the captain of the Swedish team that took bronze at the Juniors in 2022. The Flyers were happy to see the progress their pick (54th overall) made in the 2021 NHL Draft.
He has had 4 NHL appearances so far with no points, but that doesn’t seem like a cause for concern. Elite Prospects explains his upside thus: “Andrae plays with a high work rate when the puck is close and does whatever he can once he has committed to winning a puck battle. Andrae walks the line well to open shooting lanes from the point, using his edges and body in an evasive way. He’s got excellent vision from the point and can make great plays to set up his teammates with high-danger chances.”
If there is one thing this crop of Young Guns has, it’s Swedish centers. Carlsson was just picked 2nd in the 2023 NHL draft and, not long after, was debuting on the ice in the pros. There have been incredible flashes of brilliance for Leo in the NHL already.
On November 10, he became the first Ducks player to score a hat trick by doing so before his 19th birthday. He also played for the senior Swedish team in the 2023 World Cup and played a crucial role for them, scoring 5 points in 8 appearances.
DraftKings says of the player: “Carlsson has great puck-handling skills and offensive ability. You can see him skate around smaller defenders, which may not always be the case in the NHL. Carlsson also uses his size well to create space and knock defenders off the puck on the forecheck. He can go to the tight areas along the boards, win battles, fish the puck out, and make plays. If all goes well and translates to the next level, Carlsson has a good chance of becoming a solid power-scoring wing.” If anything, I think they are being too conservative. Leo is already solid. He has a good chance of being a superstar.
We like what we see with Benson. He was a high draft pick (13th overall in 2023) who already made his NHL debut and scored at age 18. Consider me intrigued. He tore up the Western Hockey League in 2022-23 with 98 points in 60 games. That includes an impressive 62 assists.
Sportsnet says of the player: “He has great vision and excellent hands. He makes plays in tight spaces and is constantly aware of where his best options are. On many nights, he was the best player on a team full of NHL-drafted players. Jason Bukala’s scouting report: An elite, slightly undersized, offensive talent.” We would discuss Benson much more if Bedard weren’t in the 2023 draft and the Young Guns were here. If you don’t get Connor, this is a grand consolation prize.
There is a lot to like here. Matthew was sensational in the OHL in 2022-23, with 95 points in 64 games. He followed that up with a solid performance at the 2024 Juniors. Earning a spot on the Bruins roster as a 19-year-old is also a fine achievement.
Then, on October 22, 2023, Poitras scored two goals in his NHL debut. However, there are things this youngster must improve.
Sports Forecaster explains, “Although he is a bit small, he has a high skill level and competes on every shift. He is a good passer, even in tight spaces, and will take a hit to make a play. His shot is good enough, so defenders must respect it. He needs to get faster and stronger as he matures.” But it seems to me his chances of succeeding remain high.
Tristan has put up some great numbers. But unfortunately, they were at the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Therefore, it was hard to tell how well he would hold up at the highest level.
The Ducks decided to throw him into the thick of things anyway, and so far, Luneau has played 7 games with 2 assists and 1 goal.
The Athletic thinks highly of him: “Luneau’s game isn’t dynamic, but he’s a smooth-skating (without being explosive, something some scouts worry about) right-shot defenceman who can competently run a power play, is a plus-level passer, has developed his shot into more of a weapon, and reads the play at as high a level as just about any defenceman in the draft (with and without the puck at both ends).” Who are we to argue?
Fraster played with Connor Bedard at West Van Academy Prep. As a teenager, he tore apart the Western Hockey League and played in the Juniors for Canada.
All this to say, this kid has pedigree. In his four NHL games so far, Minten hasn’t wowed anyone. But he is just 19 years old. What do the scouts say?
The Athletic says, “He’s a heady three-zone player who makes smart, calculated choices with the puck and can flash skill through his hands and playmaking when opportunities present themselves. He’s got great spatial awareness and understands how to use the sheet and opposing coverage to his advantage both on and off the puck.” I like his odds.
Arturs always seems his best when representing his native Latvia. Some of his performances in the last two World Cups were spectacular. But will that translate into NHL excellence for the 156th overall selection 2019?
There is a lot of upside here. He has a big body, 6”3 and 203 pounds. But Arturs also retains a surprising amount of quickness. His style has some flaws, as he sometimes stands too deep in his butterfly (his primary style). Nonetheless, I am a believer. That is the kind of thing you fix over time.
We like a lot about Kevin. As an 18-year-old, he was sensational in the Western Hockey League. Playing solid defense while slashing 73 points in 54 games.
That kind of skill doesn’t grow on trees, so Korchinksi was drafted 7th overall. The Blackhawks have given him a lot of minutes on the ice, and he has looked pretty good with 9 points in 44 appearances. Especially considering the young age of this defenseman.
The Atheltic rates him highly and describes the player as one who “handles the puck smoothly on his hip, his impressive footwork and maneuverability help him adjust to, away, and around pressure, and then he reads and anticipates the play at a high level so that he can make something happen out of all of his movement and carries.”
Pavel left Russia to ply his trade in the Ontario Hockey League as a teenager and excelled over there. So much so that the Ducks selected him 10th in the 2022 NHL Draft.
The Athletic has some nice things to say, “Mintyukov is an adept three-zone player whose game tilts towards offensive through his eagerness to engage in transition and off the offensive zone blue line. When looking to be active, he can involve himself in all areas of the game. He’s also talented as a handler and shooter (though I think a few highlight-reel plays have exaggerated that a little). Add an athletic 6-foot-1 frame, and there’s a lot to like.”
However, they note that he “can play a little too much on instinct at times.” Which is a nice way of saying he isn’t showing much intelligence on the ice. But a lot of that is probably inexperience.
Players in this tier have enough upside to be hockey stars. However, they either have a severe flaw or are showing worrying inconsistency. They could go either way.
There is some upside here. Maxence is only 22 and was drafted 187th in the 2019 NHL Draft. His performance in the AHL for 2022-23 was solid, with 40 points in 72 games played.
The Senators believe he will contribute to them in the future. The player has been competing with first-round selection Lassi Thomson for a spot, and the word is that Maxence is more than holding his own.
They have said that offensively, Guenette is way ahead of schedule. Now, Ottawa is focusing on developing his defense. There is a chance that all this comes together to form an offensively productive NHL defenseman. But stardom is probably a stretch.
Jackson has a good amount of pedigree. He was a 39th pick in the 2019 draft and helped the US to the World Juniors Championships gold in 2021. His performances at the University of Minnesota, especially in his senior year, were impressive.
His best skill is probably the top-notch skating he brings to the fore, and it allows him a very strong two-way game. His speed and acceleration are critical to a wonderful end-to-end match. He can also score, but scouts wish LaCombe were more creative. I can see it going either way for him.
The mark against Stevenson is that he is a late bloomer and went undrafted. However, Clay has the size and reflexes you want in a goalie. He can read games with the best of them and has the reactive skills to stop pucks at a high level.
His record in the AHL this season is top-notch. Stevenson. He leads the AHL in GAA and shutouts, while he is among the leaders in save percentage.
According to Elite Prospects: “He works hard to attach himself to his check, with mirroring footwork and great body-on-body positioning, driving them into the boards when the moment is right. He’s physical but always with a purpose. Good luck getting past Svozil in the neutral zone. He takes away the middle of the ice with his stick, skates with risk-mitigating footwork, and closes with aggression at just the right moments.”
All this is enough to make him a top-four defenseman. He also has above-average offensive tools. So, could potentially be a star. But it’s not completely sold.
The 138th overall selection in the 2018 NHL draft has shown relatively consistent form at all levels. Good but unspectacular production.
That’s enough for a promising NHL career but not for stardom. There is no question that McGing has a good skill set. But he is undersized for the position at 5”9 and 174 pounds, which may hold him back somewhat.
Justin has a decent enough pedigree. He was selected by the Panthers 87th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. He also played for the national Canadian under-17 team, though not much since. His performances in the Western Hockey League were excellent, but the transfer to the AHL was tough on Sourdif.
According to Sports Forecaster: “Owns tremendous hands and great puck skills, overall. Shoots the puck with aplomb and can dominate offensively at times. He is also versatile enough to play either center or right wing. Lacks consistency in a major way (not only game to game but at times shift by shift). He must work on that aspect of his game and eliminate the moments when he tends to disappear on the ice. Physically, he possesses all the tools for success, though he is not large and does need to get stronger.”
I can see him going either way. At 21, Justin still has time to learn.
Connor was selected 24th overall in 2020 and, at age 22, has begun to make his mark in the NHL. He has looked great for Calgary so far, with 23 points in 39 games. Zary has +/- of +14. Great stuff for a rookie.
He has proven to be a real source of energy and creativity on the ice. But he is probably not quite good enough to be a full-time first-line guy.
Sports Forecaster says, “A great skater, he can score goals and play a solid two-way game. However, his strongest attributes are his ability to find teammates with his crisp passes and excellent vision. Owns a projectable frame. Due to his hockey sense, grit, and fearlessness, he can rack up many assists and play in all game situations.”
There is a general sense that at 23, Lohrei is a bit behind on the development curve. He has appeared in 27 games for the Bruins but hasn’t looked particularly useful out there.
According to Stanley Cup of Chowder, “Lohrei is now listed at 6’5” and weighing 211 lbs, placing him on the taller scale for NHL players. But his ability to generate offense separates him from your typical big man on the backend. His style of play is that of a ‘two-way’ defender. He executes better in the offensive zone at the moment, but his play at the Prospects Challenge demonstrated massive strides from his draft season to his last season with the Buckeyes.”
Raphael showed enough offensive potential in the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) to earn a 58th overall draft pick in 2020. But he never looked as good as expected in the AHL or the NHL. But he still has good tools.
According to Sports Forecaster, Raphael is “A true goal-scorer; he owns tremendous size and strength, skating ability (displaying both quickness and long speed), and a powerful shot. He has a scoring mentality at all times. Lacks consistency in a major way and needs to improve his play in the defensive zone greatly to become an impact NHLer. Needs to fill out.”
Players on this level are likely good enough to be regulars in the NHL. However, they are unlikely to be stars or for their cards to have value.
Even with this, they have enough talent to make stardom possible, if not a likely one.
Giroux has only one game in the NHL for the Wild. They were not all that impressed, and soon, the player was shipped to the Buffalo organization.
Damien did show some potential in the past, especially when playing in the Ontario Hockey League back in the day. But he just hasn’t shown enough mettle in the AHL and NHL to look like his career will be much of anything. But at 23, that could change.
Tyler was a 7th-round draft pick and has generally played like one in the AHL. Angle has had two appearances in the NHL so far. Also aged 23, so things can change. But there is no reason to believe a significant turnaround is in the cards. Or that value is in the cards. See what I did there?
Though Merela has played in the World Cup for the Finnish national team, which is nice, there are many issues here. First of all, he is 25 years old, which is very late to have your first NHL appearance. Though he has 15 appearances, he notched one goal and no assists. So, the Finn has hardly set the league alight. Second, he went undrafted.
Joel is a gritty two-way player with the skills to make it. However, there is probably not enough juice for hobby love. Dobber Prospects describes this player as a “Defensively responsible forward with strong and gritty puck-handling skills that only enhance his ability to drive the play to the net.”
The 73rd draft pick in 2018 has played for the United States at all levels up to Juniors and played for the country in the 2020 World Juniors Cup. But he has never shown a great aptitude for offensive production.
Now, at 23, he may be able to be a reliable defensive presence in the NHL, especially because his skating and defensive skills are above average. Emberson’s performances for the Sharks have been solid. But it’s hard to see how Ty develops excellent offensive capabilities out of nowhere.
Beecher is a 30th draft pick and was an essential part of the US national team in the last Juniors World Cup. Still, his performances in the AHL have somewhat dulled the enthusiasm surrounding the Bruins’ prospect.
The 23 points in 61 appearances for the Providence Bruins last season were below expectations, and he is already 22, so perhaps he is a bit behind where we would like him to be.
Final Word On Sports endorsed his skills but also had questions: “Beecher has the size, skating, and defensive game to be an effective forward in the NHL. His offensive game shows flashes, but questions remain. Will he produce more with more ice time and some opportunities on the power play? Is there untapped offensive potential there?” My feeling is he won’t quite get there.
You will first notice that Hardy is on the old side for a hockey prospect at 25. Since being drafted in 2016, he has spent most of that time in Sweden and did not set the Scandinavian scene on fire.
But in 2023, Aktell finally made his NHL debut. The Predators are happy with what they have seen. Hockey News wrote of the player, “He can control the game’s tempo, takes good care of the puck, and can move the play up ice while joining the rush. Hâman Aktell, a left-handed shot, is also a smooth-skating defenseman who owns a physical, aggressive style of play and uses his size to his advantage.”
Still, he doesn’t score enough to have value in the hobby. Incredibly, this late in his career.
Walker is an undrafted 26-year-old. Therefore, it is not what you usually look for in a Young Gun investment. But after years of trying to make the scene, he has gotten a spot for Calgary and has looked much better than expected. Still, it’s not a hobby value type.
This Finnish player was drafted in the fourth round in 2020. Though not very well known, he brings a lot of skills under the radar. Dobber Prospects describes the player as: “A speedy forward with excellent playmaking ability.
Shows a high competitive level with a non-stop motor. Enjoys going to the hard-nosed areas.” But he hasn’t played this season, which lowers our enthusiasm for this player.
Just 21 years old and a decently high draft pick (78th overall in 2020). But clearly, it is a primarily defensive asset, which does not bode well for Knazko’s collectability.
Though considered a primarily defensive guy, there have been sparks of offensive promise for Ludvig. In particular, he put up good numbers in the WHL back in the day.
But we haven’t seen enough of that since moving to the AHL. The 19 games John played in the NHL haven’t been more promising. Dobber Prospects summarized him well as an “Old-school defensive defenseman who can take care of his zone. Upside for leagues that include shot blocked, hits, and PIMs.”
Dimitri helped Russia win Olympic silver in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and was a fixture in the Kontinental Hockey League over the last few years.
He is massive, at 6”5 and 240 pounds. But what Voronkov lacks is technique. He is just an average skater, not a creator of chances, but someone who can capitalize.
The Belarusian was drafted 205th overall in 2020 and came to the AHL the following year. Ilya has shown minimal offensive flair.
Sports Forecaster says, “Has excellent size for the blueline position in the NHL. Moves the puck well out of danger and displays good mobility. He is not an elite point-producing defenseman, but he can chip in on offense from time to time. Needs to develop into a more consistent player from game to game.”
I don’t see much potential for value.
Hunt was selected 65th overall in the 2020 draft because the Wild saw some offensive upside there. But Daemon remains a defense-first player.
Elite Prospects think he has exceptional skills in that regard: “Hunt explodes through his first two steps, demonstrating real discipline through his stride as he effortlessly generates a ton of power skating the puck up-ice. He closes gaps early, using backward mobility to match the attacker’s speed, and funnel plays wide. He has the element of physicality and problem-solving skills to slow odd-man rushes for support.” But he won’t score all that much.
Though this is the lowest level, that doesn’t mean the players here are wrong. Though some certainly are.
It means their cards will not have value for one reason. Perhaps these players are too old, unlikely to break in, or very well-defined role players. Either way, avoid these players.
The most apparent problem with Nick’s prospects of success is his age. The man is 26 years old, which is not ideal for a Young Gun. Some of that is injuries and bad luck. But it’s hard to see a path to genuine stardom here.
We are happy for Matt that he has finally made the NHL. You got this, dawg! But at age 29, there is no upside here.
Luke comes from the jaw-droppingly beautiful town of Canmore, Alberta. No really. Spend your honeymoon there, if you don’t mind the cold. But at age 28, he is too close to retiring back there to get much value for Philp’s Young Guns card.
Matt has worked tirelessly to improve his form and capabilities. He may soon break in and be a starter in the NHL. But he is doing this at age 29. I hate having to discount players like this with so much grit. But you know, his cards will be worthless.
Undrafted? 27 years old? He played most of his career in the Baltic states. Let me invest all my money in this guy!
Our friend Bobby is an undrafted 27-year-old rookie. So, you know. Sorry if you pull his Young Gun.
There are two strikes against Michael. It’s usually three, and you are out. But these two are big ones. First, he is a defense-first type. Kesselring never put up good numbers anywhere. Second, he is 24 years old, which is not ideal for a prospect.
Lucas is 26 and has never gotten great numbers. He played a few NHL games this season and looked fine. But it’s a bit late in the game.
Billy is an undrafted 27-year-old with no offensive upside. However, he did go to Yale, which is very impressive!
Selected in the 2015 draft, Ryan did not make the progress that the Blackhawks expected. Now 26, he seems to have turned a corner and may make a promising career out of it in the NHL. Still, he is older and does not have much offensive upside.
Hunter does his own thing. You can see that from his wild, long hair and unkempt facial hair. And that means he doesn’t abide by things like development schedules. That means that he is only breaking into the NHL at age 28. He seems cool, but that doesn’t put value on his cards.
The 25-year-old Finn was undrafted. He worked his way into the NHL with challenging defensive performances in the Finnish Elite League (Liiga). But with no offense in Scandinavia, we certainly aren’t expecting any in the NHL.
Marc was a 109th overall selection, dropping low because of the ceiling on his offensive ability. Nothing he has done since then has changed that opinion of him. He is also no longer young and is playing in a terrible market.
Upper Deck had a balancing act on their hands for the 2023-24 Young Guns crop. The product everyone would want is the one with the budding superstar.
Therefore, they made the Series 1 Young Guns list stronger than the Series 2. That is only natural. But that makes it less satisfying to open these boxes. Still, Tier 1 is pretty deep in 2023-24 Upper Deck Series 2 Hockey. There are 13 players there, aside from Connor.
How many of them are likely to be stars in the NHL? Prospects are hard to predict in this league. But we have our eye on Zach Benson, for sure.
There is also a lot to like about Fraster Minten and Kevin Korchinksi. Still, no one emerges as THE other name in the class. There are plenty of good players, but you few that really jump out as fantastic investments. You better hope to hit Connor Bedard.
451. Connor Bedard
452. Damien Giroux
453. Tyler Angle
454. Waltteri Merela
455. Maxence Guenette
456. Jackson LaCombe
457. Clay Stevenson
458. Nick Swaney
459. Joel Teasdale
460. Ty Emberson
461. Stanislav Svozil
462. Alex Laferriere
463. Matt Murray
464. Mackie Samsokevich
465. Tye Kartye
466. Emil Andrae
467. Luke Philp
468. Leo Carlsson
469. Hugh McGing
470. Matt Tomkins
471. Justin Sourdif
472. John Beecher
473. Hardy Haman Aktell
474. Zach Benson
475. Walker Duehr
476. Uvis Balinskis
477. Mikael Pyyhtia
478. Matthew Poitras
479. Bobby McMann
480. Tristan Luneau
481. Michael Kesselring
482. Fraster Minten
483. Samuel Knazko
484. Lucas Condotta
485. Arturs Silovs
486. Kevin Korchinksi
487. Billy Sweezey
488. Pavel Mintyukov
489. Ryan Shea
490. John Ludvig
491. Hunter Shepard
492. Dmitri Voronkov
493. Ilya Solovyov
494. Daemon Hunt
495. Nikolas Matinpalo
496. Connor Zary
497. Mason Lohrei
498. Marc Del Gaizo
499. Raphael Lavoie
500. Checklist: Bedard/Carlsson
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