We’re a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season, so we’ve started to see where some of the next generation of superstars could end up. The Draft is one of the biggest nights in the League as teams try to pick another key piece of the puzzle that helps win the Cup. Vancouver will host all 31 teams as players wait to hear which team will call their name. The 2018 draft was the arguably the best draft we’ve seen since 2003 so 2019 has some big shoes to fill. With the 2019 World Junior U18 and U20 Championships right around the corner, you’ll get a glimpse of the 2019 Draft’s brightest young stars. We’ll start off with the consensus 1st overall pick.
#1: Jack Hughes
You may know the name Jack Hughes because his brother, Quinn, was selected 7th overall by Vancouver last year. The Florida native is currently playing for the United States Development Program of the USHL. The USNTDP has helped bring up some of the best of the NHL like Auston Matthews, and Charlie Mcavoy, so you know he’s in good hands. He currently has 15 points in 10 games in the USHL, the best junior league in the US. The young Center has been seen as the American Connor Mcdavid. Hughes is everything you want in a franchise centerpiece that warrants a 1st overall selection. He can squeeze through tiny holes with his elusiveness, he can fly down the ice, but his best attribute is his IQ. Jack has a special ability to see the ice, and more importantly his open teammates. His confidence with the puck is amazing. Even when playing exhibitions versus Michigan and Minnesota or other USHL teams, he wants the puck on his stick. At just 17, Hughes has outshined and outskated guys 3-4 years older than him. He’ll likely represent the 20 and under USA team at the World Juniors, so keep an eye on him.
#2: Kaapo Kakko (“KAH-po Kok-oh”)
At the ripe age of 17, Kakko is already playing for TPS in Finland’s highest professional league. He’s often compared to his fellow Fin Patrick Laine, but Kakko is a better playmaker and a better skater than Laine is. He’s strong and has the smarts to play against anyone. His patience and quick-thinking means he reads the play quickly and can find himself in open areas. To be playing in the Liiga with former NHLers almost 10 years his senior is a huge feat in its own right but Kakko is holding his own. He’s got 7 goals and 17 points in 25 games for TPS this season. He’s made a small argument to potentially be 1st overall, but almost everyone is in agreement that he will be the 2nd player taken. He could be a Top 6 forward in year 1 with whoever selects him come June, 2019. He’ll try to make a bigger argument for 1st overall with Finland later this month.
#3: Kirby Dach
Kirby Dach is a Canadian Center that stands at 6’4, 198 pounds. He currently has 42 points in 32 games while playing for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. Kirby rose up the boards during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup while playing with the 2020 Draft’s Top Prospect, Alexis Lafreniere, on Team Canada. He has great vision and playmaking skills that along with his size, open a lot of opportunities. He’s a very smart player and uses his size to drive the net and set up show in front of or behind the net. He’s got incredible hand eye coordination as he had several A+ chances off of deflections in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He has an all-around offensive build that would fit into the NHL game nicely. He’s not a consensual 3rd overall pick but he seems to be the most common option there. I project him to be an offensive superstar, very similar to what Blake Wheeler has been in recent years. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the U18 WJC, this time likely without Alexis Lafreniere.
#4: Dylan Cozens
Dylan Cozens is a versatile forward playing for the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Canadian was drafted 19th overall by the Lethbridge in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft and broke out last year as a rookie. Another all-around guy but has a balanced shoot/pass mentality. He’s a very agile skater even in his 6’3, 185-pound frame. He’s got a team first mindset, as he was the assistant captain for Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament. He’s a really strong player with a huge upside. He has strong vision on the breakout and on the Power Play. I could see him going anywhere from 3 to about 6 or 7. He’s got 41 points in 30 WHL games, and at the pace he’s at, I see him at pick 3 or 4. He will also represent Canada at the U18 World Juniors.
#5: Vasili Podkolzin
The first Russian on our list, Vasili Podkolzin is a 6’1, 190-pound Right Winger. His best asset is the strength he possesses when the puck is on his stick, but his shooting ability is a close 2nd. He reminds me a lot of Alex Ovechkin. He played 1 game in the KHL but has spent most of his time in the MHL, the top Junior League in Russia. He hasn’t had a spectacular season but averages a goal every other game, sitting with 5 goals and 7 points in 10 games. He’s one of those guys who could slip in and out of the top 5, depending on what rankings you look at. He’s got everything you want in a winger, but he will likely be an Ovechkin/Laine type player. I could see him move ahead of Dach and Cozens, but the only knock I have on him is the role he’d play. The 1-dimensional type of play we’ve seen in guys like Ovi, may be the reason he falls out of the Top 3. Vasili will be playing with Russia in the U18 WJC.