Heading towards the NHL Draft, a panel of three Sportsnet Insiders — Sam Cosentino, Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman — were asked for their thoughts on some players in the 2019 class and where some noticeable trends at the draft will go from here.
1. At which pick does the draft really start?
Sam Cosentino: The draft starts at three. I fully expect Alex Turcotte, Bowen Byram and Kirby Dach to be the next three players selected after Hughes and Kakko, not necessarily in that order. Vasily Podkolzin is the big question mark. In my opinion, he’s the next-best player available and if I were a GM I would take him at three. For teams picking early in Round 1, they’re hoping to get a player who can step into the NHL sooner than Podkolzin’s two-year KHL contract will allow. There is great debate amongst teams as to who the next-best available player is after the top two.
Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek): The draft starts at three where the Hawks have a big decision to make. We know Hughes and Kakko will be off the board when Stan Bowman hits the stage in Vancouver and scouts wonder if he’ll take the best defenceman in Byram despite the fact the Hawks have used their last three first-round picks on blueliners. Or, will he nudge towards Turcotte whose game has been compared to Jonathan Toews? Or do they try to move down and pick up another asset in the process?
Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC): It is three. Depending on who you believe, Chicago is looking at Dach or Turcotte. Not as much at Byram. Around this time, everybody lies, so you can’t say for sure. But Chicago’s decision really gets things started.
2. Outside of Hughes and Kakko, which draft prospect are you most intrigued by, either because of something in his game, or general uncertainty around where he could get picked?
Sam Cosentino: There are four players I’m most interested to see where they wind up. Podkolzin is the first player. Pure talent, drive, compete have him amongst the top five for me all day. His KHL contract and the ‘Russian factor’ likely make him a value pick lower than he should go. I do think Chicago is in play for him at No. 3 and so is Detroit at No. 6. But I have a strange feeling he’ll end up just outside of the top 10, and I think that will be a steal.
Arthur Kaliyev is the next-most interesting player. I’ve seen a lot of him and there are many layers to that onion. Based on numbers alone, he sits in elite OHL company with Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Alex DeBrincat and Jeff Skinner after a 51-goal season. Kaliyev no doubt has some indifference in his game, but when he’s on he’s an underrated playmaker and he skates better than people give him credit for. The combine didn’t do him any favours, but when it comes to pure goal-scoring ability, he’s amongst the top three in this draft class.
Raphael Lavoie is another player I’ve seen a lot of. I loved his playoffs and Memorial Cup. He does have some inner drive that hasn’t been clear in all viewings. He does suffer from the late-birthday, over-scouting syndrome, where people have had an additional year to pick apart his game. He does a lot of things well and when he’s engaged, he can be absolutely dominant.
Spencer Knight is also intriguing as I’m a guy who prefers never to take a goalie in Round 1. But, we do have four teams with multiple first-round picks, and we do have teams that need to improve at that position, even if the wait is three-to-five years. Knight will go in Round 1, but where?
Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek): Moritz Seider. For the second year in a row we’ll see a German player selected in the first round (St. Louis picked Dominik Bokk last year) but unlike recent German first-rounders (Bokk and before him Leon Draisaitl) Seider will be drafted from a German club team. It’s really a tip of the hat to the development program Mannheim has put together led by skills coach Pertti Hasanen who had previously worked with the New Jersey Devils. Mannheim management refer to Seider as “The Diamond”.
Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC): Podkolzin. By all accounts, a supremely talented player. It will take a GM secure in his future to select someone who won’t be available for two years.
3. Which team is most likely to make a blockbuster trade over draft weekend, and why?
Sam Cosentino: There are three teams I think will be in play for a big trade.
San Jose is in an interesting spot along their perennial line of success. They don’t have a first-round pick, but I do think they would like to get in the mix. There may be an option for them to retool on the fly, but getting into Round 1 would be paramount to making that happen.
I think Colorado is an interesting team. With two first-round picks, and two third-round picks, they do have some ammunition to acquire a player who can help them next year, with the option to continue stockpiling talent.
Toronto is another team that I can see trying to make something happen with one of the forwards on their current roster. Without a first-round pick, the Maple Leafs may be able to make some noise.
Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek): I think there are a few teams looking to shake things up. Philadelphia has indicated their first-rounder is in play and, outside of a few players, they are open for business as their march back to playoff status continues. They’ve already made the Kevin Hayes and Matt Niskanen deals, they’ve bought a player out (Andrew MacDonald) and nobody thinks Chuck Fletcher is close to done.
Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC): There’s a good-sized list. To make it more fun for Canadian fans, I will say Toronto and Vancouver.
4. The Edmonton Oilers picked first four times in six years and now New Jersey is picking first twice in three years. Do you think this will encourage the league to change its draft lottery rules again any time soon, and, what would your ideal rules be for the draft lottery?
Sam Cosentino: I’m not a huge fan of the lottery system at all. I believe there’s enough checks and balances inherent in the system that make an old-school draft order plausible. Worst regular season team picks first, second-worst picks second and so on.
If the league is worried about teams tanking, introduce fines that will deter them from doing so. Not just monetarily, but loss of first-round picks for three straight years if it’s proven a team tanked to move lower in the standings. I also believe that weaker teams get hurt so much on the business side that sustaining long-term mediocrity is not really an option. I don’t think teams just outside the playoffs should have any chance of moving up into the top seven or eight picks.
Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek): From what I understand if the Oilers won the lottery again there would have been a change. That obviously didn’t happen, but the Devils are very much creeping into Oilers territory at the lottery here.
Personally, the intrigue and excitement generated by the Crosby draft in 2005 had no rival and that made all teams eligible to win first overall. I love the idea of doing that every year. Sure, you can weight it slightly heavier for non-playoff teams, I’m fine with that, but I still like the idea of every team having a shot.
Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC): I’m pro-lottery. I like that this format does not reward tanking. There’s a risk in not trying to win.
5. In 2016, a record number of American-born players were taken in the first round of the NHL Draft. This year could set a record for number of first-rounders taken out of the USNTDP. Meantime, last year was a weak one for the WHL with only two players taken in the first round, while this year could be light on QMJHL talent in Round 1 and the OHL may not see a player taken within the top 10 for the first time since 1986. Should this be considered the new normal, or do these just happen to be strong years for the USA?
Sam Cosentino: The US has been on a steady upward trajectory for the last decade and there are no signs of their developmental system slowing down. This year will be a bit of an anomaly — the USNTDP will set records — and we may see the most US born players ever taken in a single draft, but that is the cyclical nature of the draft.
The population of the United States dictates percentages are bound to rise, especially as the game grows in non-traditional markets. We’ve seen big strides in California and Arizona. Texas and Florida are coming. The success of these states largely depends on players retiring there, and then coaching their kids who’ve grown up in those areas. St. Louis and Chicago are two great examples.
Centralization has worked well for the US, especially with the program’s ability to give other players a shot at the Hlinka-Gretzky and World Junior A Challenge. I don’t see centralization ever happening in Canada, but we’re already starting to experience a shift in what’s happening at the grass-roots level in both countries. Skill development is key and the Americans are doing a great job at it at the lower levels of minor hockey. Canadians emphasize winning way too much at the younger levels, where systems are being employed, coaches are being paid ridiculous amounts and the elite have the resources to introduce specific skill training at too young an age.
The OHL is usually steady. Although this projects to be a bit of a down year, I do think there’s a big rebound year ahead with the 2002-born draft class. The WHL has experienced the opposite, with last year being a down year, and this year being a banner crop. The QMJHL is typically steady with some influx of European players and this year is no different.
Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek): If you don’t think USA Hockey is and will continue to be a force in hockey and specifically at the draft, you’re fooling yourself. America is interested in hockey all over the country and they have the population and resources to compete with any country. You see it at every international tournament, too. The USA is always in the conversation to win gold at every age level and that’s not about to stop anytime soon nor is it just a lucky cycle right now. And here’s the scary part for the rest of the world: where once the best American athletes chose sports like football, basketball, track, etc., they are now starting to choose hockey. Good luck rest of the world.
Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC): I think it’s a year-to-year thing. When Commissioner Bettman took over, there was a mandate and desire to extend the footprint across the US. That is reflected in players coming from California, Texas and Arizona. Canada is still a strong creator of talent. If anything worries me, it’s Europe — particularly countries like Slovakia.