Two key events marked the scouting calendar for the month of November: The U20 Four Nations event and the U18 Five Nations event. The two tournaments were held concurrently in Europe and gave scouts an opportunity to get multiple looks at players outside of North America, while still seeing the very best of the USNTDP.
That program continues to be the talk of the scouting world. It’s been absolutely dominant and they won the tournament by outscoring their opponents 24-7 in five games.
Speaking of the program, it’s also a key stop as scouts look to see how players respond without the likes of Jack Hughes in the lineup to carry the group offensively. As he departs for the WJC camp and the tournament, scouts are interested to see who slots in where, who steps up in his absence and which players thrive under these different conditions. These players have a chance to improve their draft stock.
The focus now shifts to the world juniors, where only the cream of the crop of the draft eligibles get to show their wares against predominantly 19-year-olds. Five of the top seven players selected in 2018 played for their countries as underagers in the 2018 tournament and three of those players (Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov and Brady Tkachuk) are now NHL regulars.
Here are our rankings for December:
1. Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP, 5-foot-10, 168 pounds: The next proving ground en route to going first overall is on the big stage at the WJC.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS (Liiga), 6-foot-4, 207 pounds: Is a big piece for his home club playing against men, which might suggest dominance at the WJC, but that’s easier said than done.
3. Vasily Podkolzin, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (MHL), 6-foot-1, 183 pounds: Proved he could hang with the under-20s in an elevated role. Won’t get to Vancouver for the WJC, but he’s off to a great start in Bonneyville at the World Junior A Challenge.
4. Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL), 6-foot-3, 185 pounds: Struggled the first two weeks after the CIBC Canada-Russia series, but has been on a tear since. Will have to adjust to, but should benefit from, a decreased work load with Lethbridge’s recent trade additions.
5. Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL), 6-foot-3, 195 pounds: Point production has slowed, but he’s dedicated to the craft, and a right shot centre with his size is an extremely coveted asset.
6. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL), 6-foot-1, 195 pounds: Ahead of the curve defensively and the offensive side is just starting to take off.
7. Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP, 6-foot-1, 187 pounds: A goal scorer first, but vision that makes him a dual threat. One-on-one skills are well above average thanks to silky smooth mitts.
8. Raphael Lavoie, C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL), 6-foot-4, 192 pounds: A full array of tools from which to draw and all of them are NHL calibre. Playing with the full toolbox every night is a challenge.
9. Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP, 5-foot-11, 189 pounds: With injury issues still pending, he may very well find himself in the Morgan Rielly/Brett Connolly category, where he’s still a high pick regardless of how many games he plays this season.
10. Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL), 5-foot-11, 180 pounds: Dealing with the pressures of being a franchise centrepiece, rumours surrounding that franchise moving, the challenges of being in his draft year, and now the additional responsibilities of being named captain. That’s a lot to deal with, especially for a 17-year-old.
11. Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie Colts (OHL), 6-foot, 172 pounds: Thinks the game well, skates well and has great vision. Would like to see his game move more into the interior and would also like to see him shoot the puck more.
12. Cam York, D, USNTDP, 5-foot-11, 171 pounds: Climbing quickly because of an elite skating ability, paired with excellent vision that works at both ends of the ice.
13. Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP, 6-foot, 166 pounds: Will be tested by taking over the top centre ice position while Hughes is at the WJC. Ability to play both wing and centre effectively is a big asset.
14. Arthur Kaliyev, RW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL), 6-foot-1, 190 pounds: See No. 8…
15 Alex Newhook, C, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL), 5-foot-11, 190 pounds: Points come in bunches, and a lot of them are of the highlight variety. Leads the BCHL and will likely be in that same spot upon returning from the World Junior A Challenge.
16. Cole Caufield, RW, USNTDP, 5-foot-6, 155 pounds: Will generate hours of debate amongst scouts the same way Alex DeBrincat did.
17. Philip Broberg, D, AIK (Allsvenskan), 6-foot-3, 190 pounds: Big defender who skates well. Late invite to Sweden’s WJC camp in the wake of Timothy Liljegren’s injury — can he capitalize on the opportunity?
18. Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL), 6-foot-3, 201 pounds: Quietly going about his business and with less pressure to be “the guy” he is thriving every night.
19. Nolan Foote, LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), 6-foot-3, 187 pounds: A shooter who’s gotten back to shooting. Foot speed and board battles have improved. There’s lots of room to add strength on a big, solid frame.
20. Jakob Pelletier, LW, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL), 5-foot-9, 161 pounds: Drives the play with a fearless compete level. Makes plays at all speeds and has helped alter the QMJHL landscape as the centrepiece of the contending Cats.
21. Alex Vlasic, D, USNTDP, 6-foot5, 193 pounds: Found a new gear at the U18 Five Nations event and contributed mightily at both ends
22. Anttoni Honka, D, JYP (Liiga), 5-foot-10, 179 pounds: Stars are aligned for him to get big minutes at the WJC, where he can put all of his tools on display against his peer group.
23. John Beecher, LW, USNTDP, 6-foot-2, 203 pounds: Possesses an all-around, solid 200-foot game and can play with the pace desired in today’s NHL.
24. Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL), 6-foot-3, 188 pounds: A riverboat gambler who must continue to work on play in his own end. There’s a Thomas Chabot waiting to come out.
25. Victor Soderstrom, D, Brynas (Sweden U20), 5-foot-11, 179 pounds: A solid two-way game with projected offensive upside. Is playing top six minutes in the SHL.
26. Matvey Guskov, LW, London Knights (OHL), 6-foot-1, 172 pounds: Learning the OHL game from the wing will benefit his eventual move to centre, where he projects to play at the next level.
27. Lassi Thomson, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), 6-foot, 188 pounds: Continues to emerge. Next stop on the way up the ladder is making Finland’s WJC team.
28. Spencer Knight, G, USNTDP, 6-foot-3, 197 pounds: I’m dead set against taking a goalie in Round 1, but not all NHL teams feel that way and Knight is getting a lot of buzz.
29. Moritz Seider, D, Mannehim (DEL), 6-foot-3, 183 pounds: Missed time due to injury, and now back playing with his peers at Division 1 of the WJC. The event should allow him to showcase some of the offensive upside he’s not quite ready to pull off playing in the DEL.
30. Brett Leason, LW, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL), 6-foot-4, 207 pounds: For those in favour of raising the draft age, I present you with Exhibit A. Leason has been passed over twice at the draft already.
31. Vladislav Kolyachonok, D, Flint Firebirds (WHL), 6-foot, 176 pounds: A tireless worker who applies himself aggressively on the offensive side.