For the second straight year, it looks like we will have a player go wire-to wire as the top rated prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft. There’s no doubt Jack Hughes will be that guy.
After watching his brother Quinn go seventh overall to Vancouver in 2018, Hughes is poised to be the next “big thing” in hockey. We’ve witnessed quite a run of exceptional first overall picks recently, dating back to Connor McDavid (2015), working through Auston Matthews (2016), Rasmus Dahlin (2018) and now Hughes. Unlike 2018, things are wide open beyond Hughes, with names like Kaapo Kakko, Dylan Cozens, and Vasili Podkolzin expected to be in the top five.
After having a record low two players go in Round 1 of 2018, the WHL is poised for a big rebound in 2018-19. It’s a down year in the OHL, where as the QMJHL is solid, but we will have to wait until 2020 to see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere and Justin Barron. For a second straight season the USNTDP will boast five or more first-rounders. The Finnish contingent is not quite as strong as the past two seasons, where the same can’t be said about the Russians. Sweden will be well represented once again.
Several players came into this season already with looks from last year’s U-17s and the book has continued through the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, the USA Hockey All-American Prospects game, the USHL showcase and, of course, the start of the regular season.
As scouts continue to compile reports, here’s our initial list of of the top 31 NHL Draft prospects for 2019.
1. Jack Hughes, C, (USNTDP) 5’10.25, 168 pounds: Give it a month to separate the haves and have-nots before fans of the have-nots begin living by the phrase, “lose to choose Hughes.”
2. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, (SKA St. Petersburg, MHL) 6’1, 190 pounds: If first impressions mean anything, then we’re looking at a budding star. Has produced in all the major international events to date, and was particularly noticeable at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup where he put up 11 points, including a hat trick in the bronze medal game.
3. Dylan Cozens, C, (Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL) 6’3, 181 pounds: Quiet confidence, extremely respectful, his character alone makes him a first-rounder. But with size and skill he’s cemented amongst the elite in this draft class.
4. Kirby Dach, C, (Saskatoon Blades, WHL) 6’3.5, 199 pounds: Used the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup as a springboard. High hockey IQ consistently has him in good position to score. While finishing was an issue a year ago, the early returns say that won’t be a problem this season.
5. Kaapo Kakko, RW, (TPS, Liiga) 6’2.25, 194 pounds: Thinks it well, enjoys controlling the pace of the game which he can do with size and good puck protection skills. Off to a great start in the Liiga. The next big thing from Finland in what has been an amazing run for the country since 2015.
6. Raphael Lavoie, C, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL) 6’3.5, 191 pounds: Has size and strength that will make him a physical force once he fills out. Is a snipe show who doesn’t mind the play turning physical. Lackadaisical lapses creep into his game from time-to-time, but those should become less frequent with age and working under new Halifax bench boss Eric Veilleux.
7. Bowen Byram, D, (Vancouver Giants, WHL) 6’0.5, 194 pounds: Experienced great growth under Giants assistant coach Dean Chynoweth last season and should benefit even further this season being exposed to Chynoweth’s replacement, Jamie Heward.
8. Alex Turcotte, C, (USNTDP) 5’11, 189 pounds: High hockey IQ as a result of coming from a hockey family. Is self aware and doesn’t play beyond his capabilities. Has good vision and shows patience with the puck.
9. Peyton Krebs, C, (Kootenay Ice, WHL) 5’11.25, 180 pounds: Takes a pro mentality to the ice regardless of game or practice. Well-rounded player who drives the play and makes others around him better.
10. Philip Broberg, D, (AIK, Allsvenskan) 6’2.75, 199 pounds: A massive coming-out party at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup brought him from out of nowhere to first-round consideration. Fearless in rushing the puck, he will have to improve his stick skills to be considered a true, modern defenceman.
11. Alex Newhook, C, (Victoria Grizzlies, BCHL) 5’10.25, 190 pounds: Had a monster rookie season in the BCHL, regularly exhibiting highlight-reel abilities. His playmaking ability is elite, but he can shoot it too, and becoming a more complete goal-scorer will be the plan this season. Effort doesn’t deviate on the defensive side.
12. Matthew Boldy, LW, (USNTDP) 6’1.5, 187 pounds: High compete level in his game, has excellent stick skills, especially in tight. Has good vision and patience, but must play with more pace.
13. Trevor Zegras, C, (USNTDP) 6’0, 166 pounds: Good vision and has the hands to allow that vision to work in traffic. Has stick skills that play well with his speed and agility. Shifty player who makes plays.
14. Ryan Suzuki, C, (Barrie Colts, OHL) 6’0.25, 178 pounds: The OHL will hang its hat on the brother of Vegas first-rounder Nick. Plays and thinks the game at a high pace. Will continue to develop offensive skills in Barrie under one of the best in Dale Hawerchuk.
15. Matthew Robertson, D, (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL) 6’3, 201 pounds: Has had to take some lumps by being overplayed early on in his career. All of the elements are in place to become a top four defenceman at the next level.
16. Matvei Guskov, C, (London Knights, OHL) 6’1.25, 177 pounds: While centre might be what he projects as at the next level, he’ll learn the North American game from the wing in London. This son of a former player is a better shooter than playmaker.
17. Yaroslav Likhachyov, RW, (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL) 5’10, 168 pounds: One of Russia’s better players in August. Possesses some of the best one-on-one skills in this class. If he can pace his feet to match his magic puck skills, sky’s the limit.
18. Victor Soderstrom, D, (Brynas, Sweden U20) 5’11, 179 pounds: Right shot offensive defencemen are always coveted. Uses good, agile skating ability to retrieve pucks, exit the zone and be part of the rush. A puck-mover with the ability to work on the PP.
19. Maxim Cajkovic, RW, (Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL) 5’0.75, 185 pounds: Shoot-first mentality will serve this sniper well. His shot is hard, heavy, quick and accurate. He will get ample opportunity to be part of a hastened rebuild in Saint John.
20. Cole Caufield, RW, (USNTDP) 5’6.75, 155 pounds: Looks like and plays similar to Alex DeBrincat. Small in stature, big in heart, wicked shot, deceptive quick release and has just enough jam in his game to not be taken advantage of.
21. Arthur Kaliyev, RW, (Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL) 6’1.25, 190 pounds: Can score at will, but his playmaking is highly underrated. His performance in last year’s OHL Championship against Sault Ste. Marie vaulted him into first-round consideration. Produced well with 24 of his 31 goals last year scored at even strength.
22. Cam York, D, (USNTDP) 5’11.25 , 171 pounds: Think prototypical new-aged defenceman. A great skater who moves pucks quickly and efficiently. A southern California native once coached by Scott Niedermayer.
23. Valentin Nussbaumer, C, (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL) 5’10.5, 167 pounds: Sees the ice well and creates offence where there’s seemingly no play to be made. Slight of frame — adjusting to a more physical brand will be key in determining his place in this class.
24. Alex Vlasic, D, (USNTDP) 6’5, 193 pounds: Rangy D-man whose straight skating plays well on both sides. He’s still growing into his body and agility will come with maturity. There’s some untapped offensive upside there, but he has no problem playing with a defence-first mentality, which has served his cousin Marc-Edouard well in San Jose.
25. Nolan Foote, LW, (Kelowna Rockets, WHL) 6’3.5, 190 pounds: Busted on to the scene two years ago and lit up the WHL with 19 goals while playing the PP for a great Kelowna team. Fell out of the public conscious due to injury issues last year, but if healthy will rise up the draft board by the time June rolls around.
26. Anttoni Honka, D, (JYP, Liiga) 5’10.25, 179 pounds: Right shot defenceman uses feet and a lightning quick release with the wrist shot to get pucks through. Will carry it fearlessly, with good top-end speed and mobility.
27. John Beecher, LW, (USNTDP)- 6’2.75, 204 pounds: One of the more cerebral players in this draft class in that he’s not flashy and doesn’t dazzle you with any particular part of his game. However, with his size and ability to play a complete game, he almost always finds a way to contribute.
28. Michael Vukojevic, D, (Kitchener Rangers, OHL) 6’3, 205 pounds: A late arrival on the OHL scene, it didn’t take long for Vukojevic to earn top billing on Kitchener’s back end. Made his mark during Kitchener’s post-season run where he played big minutes continuously matched-up against the opposition’s best. Some cooled on him with a mediocre August tournament.
29. Nick Robertson, LW, (Peterborough Petes, OHL) 5’8.75, 162 pounds: Smallish, quick, nifty puck handler and a wicked shot have the younger brother of Dallas prospect Jason beginning to make noise with solid showings at both the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and the All-American Prospects game.
30. Samuel Poulin, RW, (Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL) 6’1.25, 206 pounds: Continuing a trend over recent years, the son of former NHLer Patrick has a high compete level matched only by his work ethic. While he may not be as skilled as some on this list, he will likely remain in the top 31 because of his size, pedigree and work ethic.
31. Anthony Romano, C, (Sioux Falls -USHL) 5’10.25, 188 pounds: A bit of a flyer here, but he jumped off the page at the USHL Fall Classic. Great skater, solid work ethic and an honest all-around game. His resume is undercover, due mostly to injury, but had a big year in Tier II, posting more than a point per game with Aurora during 2017-18.