What makes the NHL draft so captivating to follow is the dozens of uniquely skilled, diverse prospects that can impact the game in so many ways. Each player has their own strengths and weaknesses, and that in itself creates subjectivity in how we view that player. To become an elite NHL player, you must be among the best in the world at several attributes — ranging from skating, playmaking, puck skills, and shot, among others.
Which brings us to the 2019 NHL draft class. Today I will be laying out which eligible players rank among the best of their peers in the four aforementioned skills. Breaking down these four components, the following is what I search for (although not limited to) when evaluating each skill:
|Skating||Top-speed, edge work, first-step, elusiveness, explosiveness, agility, lateral movement, escape-ability, stride, changing gears with the puck, backwards skating|
|Playmaking||Vision, pass execution, unpredictability, Recognizing/creating space|
|Puck Skills||Creativity, stick-handling, hand-speed, deceptiveness, puck control, handling the puck in-tight|
|Shot||Accuracy, power/velocity, release, shot volume, proficiency in shot type (wrist shot, slap shot, backhand, bad angle, net-front, etc.)|
With that in mind, I’ve gone ahead and determined who I believe is the best of the best in each category.
Honorable Mentions: Tuukka Tieksola, Ryan Johnson, Anttoni Honka, and Leevi Aaltonen
There is no question about it, Jack Hughes and Alex Newhook are in their own worlds when it comes to skating. Hughes has a gear only few in the world can reach, burning defender after defender with ease. Despite his lack of size, there is little concern due to his elusiveness and ability to evade checks. He’ll quickly earn a reputation as one of the NHL’s most dangerous players because of his gaming breaking speed. Newhook sets himself apart as a more complete skater. He is not quite as fast as Hughes, but he owns arguably the best edges in the draft, and his first step is second to none. His speed is threatening and gives defenders little time to play the body on him.
Those who follow are no slouches either. Dylan Cozens’ beautiful stride is mesmerizing in combination with his size. Players that big shouldn’t be able to move as well as him. Philip Tomasino and Rhett Pitlick are two of the draft’s most notable speed-demons, although aren’t as mechanically advanced to break into the top three. Billy Constantinou dazzles on the blue-line with elite escape-ability thanks to his unbelievable edge work and quick first-step. He’s a very poor man’s Quinn Hughes but has the mold of an exciting puck rushing defensemen.
Philip Broberg is arguably the best straight-line skater in the draft. The way he barrels down the boards and attacks the net is near unstoppable because of how big he is. Alex Turcotte, Peyton Krebs, and Liam Keeler make up another explosive group who have the ability of blowing past defenders.
Honorable Mentions: Pavel Dorofeyev, Ville Heinola, and Case McCarthy
Trevor Zegras is the clear top playmaker of this draft by a wide margin. The gap between him and everybody else is quite staggering. Zegras can make what I call “special passes.” Passes that simply no one else can make. And he does this on the regular. As an evaluator, the first time you saw it your jaw would drop in amazement, but as the year went on, his patent no look spinning tape-to-tape passes with defenders draped all over him became the norm. Just another day in the office for TZ.
Zegras’ teammates in Matthew Boldy and Hughes made up the second tier of top playmakers. Boldy has an excellent blend of patience, smarts, and puck protection to create great looks for his teammates. While Boldy is not as flashy as others, I still find myself saying “wow” with the way he picks apart defenses. Hughes on the other hand fits the Zegras type much more than Boldy — he is Zegras-lite if you will. Hughes is able to dictate plays because of his elite vision and ability to stay on the puck despite a lack of size.
From Ryan Suzuki down the rest are nearly interchangeable. In each of them you’d be getting a player who can create and make his teammates better. While they all do it in their own way, you’ll notice I had all but one name mentioned graded as a first round talent. To be a top playmaker it requires high-end hockey sense. It is no small feat. These players are truly the best of the best.
Honorable Mentions: Alex Newhook, Nils Hoglander, Matias Maccelli, and Ilya Nikolayev
Patrik Puistola and Vasili Podkolzin both posses elite puck skills. They aren’t shy to put their stick-handling on display and can dangle past defenders one-on-one. Puistola especially, who tries different things every shift, loving to toe-drag the puck between his legs. Third on the list is Jamieson Rees and he is one of my favorite players to watch. He can score highlight reel goals with his hands and flat-out embarrass the opposition. They have a unique skill-set that separates them from the rest of the pack.
Boldy returns, this time due to his soft hands. He could sick-handle around you in a phone booth if he wanted. Zegras is known for his creativity, seemingly pulling a new trick out of sleeve night after night. Danill Gutik was once arguably a first round talent solely because of his puck skills, and while the rest of his game will hold him back, if you’re looking for a home-run swing in the later rounds for high-upside he might be your guy.
The remainder of the list features guys who can catch your eye any given shift. Three of the final four being members of my top-ten, they are some of the most exciting players to watch in this draft.
Honorable Mentions: Vladislav Firstov, Connor McMichael, Shane Pinto, and Robert Mastrosimone
Yet another USNTDP forward takes the cake for receiving the highest marks for a specific skill. In this instance its Cole Caufield and his otherworldly shot. Caufield has the make-up to become a deadly sniper at the NHL level. He can score from anywhere in any fashion — be it a one-timer from the far circle, wrist shot from the slot, bad angle goal-line prayer — you name it. I love how calculated everything is with him. He didn’t score 72 goals by accident. It’s all the little things he does well like changing the angle of his shot or being able to locate and lift the puck from a scrum of bodies.
The next four in Kaapo Kakko, Boldy, Egor Afanasyev, and Arthur Kaliyev are very similar in how they create their shots. All of them get off high velocity because they have the weight to get behind on their draw backs. Kakko, proved he has 40 plus goal potential after setting the under-18 goal record in Finland’s top pro league. Boldy was able to adapt to a goal scorers role for parts of the year and did not disappoint. Afanasyev tore up the USHL with 27 goals, many being high-end. And Kaliyev showed to be a lethal trigger man who has big time potential to score on the powerplay in spades.
Than from Janicke down to Legare you will find a player who is a good bet to score in the NHL. They all excel in putting the puck in the back of the net in a multitude of ways.