The initial feeling with the 2019 NHL entry draft is that it’s almost polar opposites with the 2018 NHL entry draft. It is a very deep center draft, with a few standouts on defense, but not in abundance like 2018 had. The WHL is loaded as well, while the 2018 class from Western Canada was quite depleted. Oh and the U.S. program is STACKED. This could be a historic year for the Americans.
It all starts with the consensus first overall pick in Jack Hughes, who is pushing for the generational tag. Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko is Hughes’ biggest threat, but for now it’s safe to say he’ll go first in Vancouver. There are a lot of other names you will hear about throughout the season, including Canadian defenseman Bowen Byram who is currently slated to be the top blue-liner of the class. The goaltending crop has some high-end talent this year as well, featuring Everett’s Dustin Wolf and the U.S. program’s Spencer Knight.
This will be the first of two parts (part two can be found here), in which I present my top-31 rankings for the 2019 draft. Here are rankings 1-15:
1. Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP (USHL)
The definition of a franchise center. The combination of his elite hands and elite skating have proved to be to difficult to contain. His body adjustment is truly incredible, allowing him to create scoring chance after scoring chance. You cannot put him in an uncomfortable position.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS (Liiga)
Kakko plays a powerful game, but also brings high-end skill. His hands are flat-out dirty, with the ability to dance around anyone. He can score goals from just about anywhere on the ice. 6’2″ power forwards who can break open a game don’t come around very often.
3. Vasily Podkolzin, RW, Podolsk (MHL)
Podkolzin has the unique ability of making other players better as a winger. He can also break a game open with his deadly shot and speed. He has incredible awareness of recognizing space and high-end vision to set up teammates. His compete level is what really stands out, he plays the game with such purpose. He is just a workhorse.
4. Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Turcotte has a strong blend of power and finesse in his game. He has top speed in which he uses to attack the net and make life not so fun for defenders. He’ll do the dirty work to score as well. There is no one trait he has that makes you go “wow”, yet he is a fun player to watch who is very effective at impacting the game.
5. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
Byram at this point is the clear top defenseman. His defensive game is sound, allowing him to log big minutes. His offensive awareness gets high marks for his precise timing of when to join the rush. He is one of the best at taking calculated risks, seemingly always ending in his favor. He doesn’t dazzle with flashy hands, but makes such smart decisions with the puck and makes difficult plays look routine.
6. Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL)
Krebs is a highly skilled playmaker who loves to push the pace of the play. His speed is dangerous and allows him to control any given shift. I’m also a fan of him defensively and could see him one day being a shut-down center. This comparison is to easy to make but he reminds me so much of Dylan Larkin.
7. Cole Caufield, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
Let’s get the elephant out of the room – Caufield is 5’6″. Besides that I really don’t see any other indication as to why he should not be a high first round pick. He has speed, electrifying hands, and a tremendous shot. His release is something special, as he is so deceptive of where he is going to put the puck. If you couldn’t already tell by his 54 goals last season, he’s a goal scorer.
8. Dylan Cozens, RW, Lethbridge (WHL)
Cozens is a big man with some wheels. Combine that with his big frame and tenacity with the puck and he is a monster. Maybe the best puck protector in the draft, he is able to will his way into prime scoring chances. His skills aren’t dynamic, but he can occasionally make a nice play. His shot boasts a powerful release , which helped him lead all WHL rookies in goals last season.
9. Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie (OHL)
Suzuki is a brilliant playmaker. He possesses incredible hockey sense and can find teammates you didn’t even know were open. Maybe the smartest player in the draft. He also has an underrated shot with a wicked release. Just an all-around effective player.
10. Anttoni Honka, D, JYP (Liiga)
Honka is a shifty offensive defensemen who likes to handle the puck. He is an effective puck mover who also has the ability to create offense on his own. He does need work defensively, however, making questionable decisions at times.
11. Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
Dach is a very shifty big man. He can make plays from in tight with his hands and score from the dirty areas. His hand-eye coordination is by far the best in the draft. He is also a very good skater for his size, which allows him to make plays on the rush. He does have a tendency to disappear, but when he’s on he’s on.
12. Alex Newhook, C, Victoria (BCHL)
Newhook is the kind of player that can get you out of your seat with an exciting play. He has tremendous speed and quick hands, although his hockey sense is questionable. As a center, I’d like for him to dictate the play more. He waits for the puck to get to him, rather than pursue it himself. Yet, its hard to look past his end-to-end rushes. Big upside here.
13. Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Zegras isn’t an overly flashy player but the talent is there. He has a motor and is always around the puck. His hockey IQ is quite evident, as he makes tough plays look easy. He’s the kind of player who can quietly dominate the game at both ends of the ice.
14. Maxim Cajkovic, RW, Saint John (QMJHL)
Cajkovic is a fun player to watch. He’s shifty but doesn’t over think things and plays with a “just get the puck to the net” mentality. I would like for him to hold on to the puck longer to make a play, but his style still works. He burst onto the scene at the U18s where he put up 11 points in 5 games as an underage player.
15. Philip Broberg, D, AIK (J20 SuperElit)
Broberg is a big body blue-liner who can skate like the wind. He is ultra-aggressive with the puck, which leaves him prone to some bad mistakes. He came out of nowhere at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, showcasing his fearless mentality. The upside here is massive, but he is raw. It wouldn’t be surprisingly if he becomes a top-5 pick when it’s all said and done.