June has arrived and along with it is the conclusion of the 2018-19 NHL season. In the peripherals of NHL scouts and GM’s alike is the draft. An event in which the landscape of an organization can be changed tremendously.
It has been a couple months since the last rendition of the rankings and lots of change have come in that span.
Since the December rankings were published, the IIHF World Junior tournament, CHL Top Prospects game, Five Nations tournament, U18’s, men’s world championships, along with dozens of the remaining regular season and playoff games have been played. Players have heated up and others have cooled while scouts have had more opportunities to get a better look at draft prospects.
I have also updated the format for the rankings. The December rankings article was used as a test run where I tried different things and settled on what I liked and what I did not. For example, I since have added information for 31 of the players listed in which I go more in depth, provide more details, and express some thoughts that I currently have with them.
Something that I find intrigue in is how different people rank different players and more specifically what traits they value the most.
The theme for my rankings? Upside matters.
Now by upside, I don’t mean that I’ll have an extremely risky player like Honka or Broberg ahead of a safer guy in Söderström, but rather that when deciding between two similarly ranked players, I’ll choose the one with the greater perceived upside.
The primary example of this can be seen in the top 2.
Deciding between Hughes and Kakko for first overall has became increasingly difficult and rightfully so. Kakko had an incredible World Championships where he was undoubtedly Finland’s best player at 18 years old. Meanwhile Hughes, who certainly didn’t have the greatest tournament, had just broken an Ovechkin record at the U18’s two weeks prior.
Taking a peek at 2016, a fairly similar situation could be found. At one, both years had an American phenom who dominated at the National Team Development Program and was born in a non-traditional hockey market. At two, there’s a Finn who has steadily closed the gap due to a strong World Championships following a World Juniors where he had just won gold.
The gap between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko has shrunken so far that realistically New Jersey could select either player and have a large audience applauding them for making the right pick.
Jack Hughes is the prototypical small skilled forward but glorified. Very few can skate as well as him or handle the puck at that speed. Kaapo Kakko is a new age power forward who is unique in the way he plays. Instead of the blazingly fast speed that Hughes has he trades it in for incredible balance and puck protection abilities while boasting similarly fantastic hands and vision. Many have put Kakko ahead of Hughes but I’ll be sticking with Jack. Not because I believe the Hughes will have a bigger impact next season but because I believe that he’ll have a bigger impact in 5 years. Upside matters.
The Battle of the WHL has also picked up since the December edition of my draft rankings. Dylan Cozens, Bowen Byram, Peyton Krebs, and Kirby Dach have continued their good play and all remain in the top 10. The order has been shuffled a bit as a guy like Dach who was previously the highest of the three, has been increasingly difficult to judge. On the other hand, Bowen Byram took off in January and has not looked back.
As mentioned in the December rankings, the WHL are producing players at a spectacular rate. The first player selected from the WHL in 2018 was Ty Smith, at 17th. Meanwhile this season the WHL could see 4 players drafted in the top 10 alone.
The WHL is only topped by this years US NTDP team. Led by Hughes and then followed by Turcotte, Zegras, Boldy, Caufield, and York all in my top 15, the 2001’s are the best NTDP group ever.
The league having a weaker year would be the OHL, who sees the first ranked player at 12. The QMJHL talents are also expected to go later this year and with fewer quantity than the OHL. Highest ranked is at 23 and they are the sole QMJHL player in the top half of my rankings. Both leagues should expect a bounce back next year with Lafreniere and Byfield being two players who could both go as high as top 2.
I think that it might also be noteworthy to discuss the different tiers in the draft. I see six. The first one is obviously the top 2 followed by Byram and Turcotte making the 2nd tier. The third one is much wider spanning from 5 to about 11. Then it is 12 to 22 where there’s a bunch of talent with top 6 or top 4 potential who could go in any order and make sense to me. 23 to 30 is the typical late round type draft pick with potential that could allow them to match their peers ranked higher while also containing certain flaws that could hold them back. 31 onwards is then the typical 2nd round prospect who isn’t necessarily expected to be a consistent NHLer but could work out into a middle-6 option or better if all goes right.
Along with that, it would also be important to leave some context on how I rank players. I value speed and creativity from players ranked at the top. Having a good shot, vision, and being effective defensively also helps. I’m not as hard on shorter players as some but I also see the value in tenacious players who give it their all in every shift and can use their size to be all-the-more effective when possible. I haven’t watched every single one of these prospects but I have gained a considerable amount of knowledge on a good portion of the group ranked.
To conclude these rankings I’d like to speak to how fun of a year it’s been to rank these players. The competitive top 2 resulted in endless discussion that will undisputedly continue on. Perhaps even a couple seasons into their careers. This draft class is heavier on centres and lacks right-handed blueliners resulting in an abundance of centres in the top 10 (everyone excluding Byram has spent a portion of their season at centre) and a lack of right defenders in the first round (the sole two are Soderstrom and Seider). Due to that I could see teams at the draft reaching for unexpected players and surprising fans and analysts alike. It might be a defender going to a team that needs and prioritizes defence but it could also be a team selecting a different mold of centre than is projected. Either way, it adds excitement and suspense once the draft arrives.
1. Jack Hughes - C, NTDP (5’10”, 168 lbs)
Skilled dynamic playmaking centre. The type of player that teams dream of having. He is able to create plays out of nothing through elite skating and hands while also understanding the situation and when to attack. He is the type of talent that put fans in seats and is the type of player that franchises build their team around.
2. Kaapo Kakko - C/RW, Liiga (6’1”, 181 lbs)
A big player who plays well around the boards and can be extremely difficult to push off the puck. Possesses great vision and terrific hands, especially in-tight. To go along with that has the important hockey iq. He can read a play and has the same understanding that Hughes has of how it’ll develop and when to pounce on it. He uses his size and hands to create amazing plays around the net and while he may not be the fastest guy, his smarts, skill, and usage of size easily make up for it. If Hughes goes first, the team that ends up with Kakko at two will leave the night with an excellent consolation prize.
3. Bowen Byram - LHD, WHL (6’1”, 192 lbs)
Byram started this season off slow but since heating up he has been nothing but spectacular for the Vancouver Giants. His 6 overtime goals so far this season are also a WHL record. Great player with great skating and situational awareness who controls the game from the backend with smart and efficient choices. He was just the firstdefender in WHL history to lead in playoffs scoring.
4. Alex Turcotte - C, NTDP (5’11”, 189 lbs)
Turcotte is the type of player that coaches love. Determined, competitive, skilled, and complete. His overall game adds to his value and I still have him ranked highly despite a few injury concerns that did take a portion of his season away from him. If he’s healthy, a compelling argument could be made for potential as an elite number one centre. He’s fast and excels at playmaking. This past season he led the USHL in points per game.
5. Trevor Zegras - C/LW, NTDP (6’0”, 168 lbs)
Trevor Zegras in a nutshell is a Hughes lite. Zegras possesses good skating, passing, and vision and could become a top line player in the NHL. He can be a bit too much of a perimeter player and some think that he’s another beneficiary of Jack Hughes but his creativity and skill is undeniable and like I said, upside matters. Zegras has elite upside.
6. Kirby Dach - C, WHL (6’4”, 198 lbs)
Kirby Dach is one of those prospects that consistently leaves me pondering. He started the season off extraordinarily well before trailing off, perhaps due to injury. During that span attention was brought to how he wasn’t the fastest of skaters or about how his pace could hamper his jump to the pro game. To conclude the season he heated up once more and had some fantastic moments in the playoffs. He has his flaws, specifically in consistency, and he certainly won’t be the fastest player but he’s one of the best playmakers in the draft and there isn’t much doubt about that.
7. Matthew Boldy - LW, NTDP (6’2”, 187 lbs)
The big winger excels in anticipation and is probably one of the most offensively complete wingers in the draft class. He’s not considered speedy but he’s already taken big strides from last season and now it’s at a level where it’s no longer a real issue. Fantastic hands and polished game will have NHL scouts intrigued and could be an excellent complimentary winger on a top line.
8. Alex Newhook - C, BCHL (5’11”, 183 lbs)
After a slow start to the season Newhook heated up and concluded the season with a strong playoffs and U18s alleviating some previous concerns. Newhook is another player whom I’ve contemplated ranking in a ton of different positions. His skating and hands are elite and with a couple years in college to polish his game, it’s not impossible that he develops into an elite player. Risky pick with undeniable upside.
9. Peyton Krebs - LW/C, WHL (5’11”, 181 lbs)
Peyton Krebs was in tough situation. He is the captain of a franchise that was second-last in the WHL with a -143 goal differential and is moving to Winnipeg in 2019-20. Despite that he plays a determined and tenacious style and goes into every game with the right mindset. The pass-first forward has even been playing centre for the team, adding to his versatility as well. He’s a competitor who’s character and leadership have been praised on various occasions and with an impressive understanding of what the right play is at that very moment, there’s no denying the intangibles that go along with his skillset. On Kootenay, he led the team in scoring by 16 points.
10. Dylan Cozens - C/RW, WHL (6’3”, 185 lbs)
Big, speedy, skilled centres are desired by teams league wide and Cozens has the potential to be a difference maker for the team that ends up drafting him. He’s been a tad bit streaky this season but when he’s on, he’s on. Also is proficient at using his body and strength to find or create open space. Definite top 6 potential.
11. Cole Caufield - RW, NTDP (5’7”, 157 lbs)
The small but lethal sniper will be another player to watch in this draft class. The linemate of Jack Hughes was over a goal per game and set the record for goals in the US development program history. Still, he is smaller and his skating isn’t necessarily elite so some GMs may stay away but DeBrincat has had tons of success early in his career and Caufield similarly is a smaller guy who can put the puck in the net. Also had a fantastic U18 tournament which he was named MVP of.
12. Philip Tomasino - C, OHL (6’0”, 181 lbs)
Playing with fewer minutes than most on a stacked Niagara team has resulted in less opportunities to showcase his skillset when compared to his peers. Regardless of the ice time he has still shown great potential and was over a point per game with production. On the rush he can blast by players with speed which is perfect for the modern NHL. Another later birthday as well. Definitely has steal potential if picked later in the first.
13. Cam York - LHD, NTDP (5’11”, 172 lbs)
The California-born blueliner adds to the collection of US program players who could potentially be picked in the first round in this draft. Has tons of skill but doesn’t stand out in one aspect and is likely more of a beneficiary of his environment rather than the one driving the play. Could become a really solid top 4 defender though and has potential to become a #2.
14. Ville Heinola - LHD, Liiga (5’11”, 176 lbs)
Two-way defender with fantastic production in the Liiga who has progressed as the season went on. Benefited from power play time but that responsibility was given by the coaching staff who had enough faith in his abilities.
15. Pavel Dorofeyev - LW/RW, MHL (6’0”, 163 lbs)
Slight but skilled. Dorofeyev has great hands and vision and has continued to dominate in the Russian junior leagues. Some concern over his intensity and pace but with some development in that department the sky would be the limit in terms of potential.
16. Victor Soderstrom - RHD, SHL/SuperElit (5’11“, 176 lbs)
The Swedish blueliner is the top right handed defensive option on my list and many other scouts tend to agree with me on that. The recently turned 18 year old has played 44 SHL games this season and has accumulated 7 points. For players as young as Soderstrom this typically is rare as at this point there have only been 4 other U18 defenders to play 40 or more games in an SHL season.
17. Arthur Kaliyev - LW, OHL (6’2”, 190 lbs)
Somewhat of a one-dimensional forward, Kaliyev excelled at that dimension scoring 50 goals and hitting the 100 point mark. A rare feat for a 17 year old in the OHL. Facets of his game such as backchecking, compete level, and sluggish skating are however are major flaws that will need to be addressed. If he works on those to an acceptable level, he could be a top 6 forward for a team long-term and we all know how important goals are. High-risk, high-reward type pick.
18. Vasili Podkolzin - RW, MHL (6’1”, 190 lbs)
The feisty Russian winger is a polarizing prospect. Some have him in the top 3 while others in the 20’s. He’s a competitor and has shown the ability to perform as a star on teams but when playing in his native Russia he hasn’t really shined as much as some believe he can. Some of that could be attributed to ice time and deployment but as a top prospect I would still want to see better. He’s also reportedly got multiple years on his KHL contract and is hesitant to go to North America. He’s got a skillset that will unquestionably be valued but if I were a team I’d be cautious. There’s a ton of uncertainty with Podkolzin.
19. Moritz Seider - RHD, DEL (6’4”, 183 lbs)
Big, tough, right-handed defender with a nice shot. What’s not to like? A bit harder to evaluate due to him playing in the DEL with limited minutes but some facets of his game lead me to believe that there’s some upwards potential.
20. Thomas Harley - LHD, OHL (6’3”, 183 lbs)
Big mobile defender with some nice offensive traits. Once again, what’s not to like? Aside from the good skating and size combination, Harley also has the birthday advantage as an August-born player being much younger than a ton of other prospects. Along with that? He rose a ton throughout the year going from last years 15 points to 58 this season which leads me to wonder what his ceiling might actually be. A bit too aggressive which results in occasional defensive mishaps but he has solid gap control and is raw with tons of room to grow.
21. Bobby Brink - RW, USHL (5’10”, 165 lbs)
Huge riser in the draft due to his fantastic season in the USHL. The combo with him and Flames prospect Martin Pospisil has proven to be one of the best in the USHL this past season. Brink boasts a great release on his shot which he has used to score 35 goals in 43 games this season. Nice hands too which helps him get into position to best utilize his shot and create plays. Skating could use some work but it’s not all too bad.
22. Nicholas Robertson - C/LW, OHL (5’9”, 168 lbs)
Great skater, relentless style, nice hands, and really good shot. Robertson is and will be a fun player to follow due to those qualities. He was also less than a week away from being eligible in 2020 instead. Underrated prospect by many, maybe even myself at times, but I think that he finds himself a nice spot on an NHL roster eventually.
23. Philip Broberg - LHD, Allsvenskan (6’3”, 198 lbs)
I’ll acknowledge that I’ve probably got Broberg too low but frankly, I don’t know where he belongs. He has thrived against peers while his flaws have been magnified against men. Has to work on being less stubborn and more aware but his physical tools such as skating and size warrant taking the risk higher in the draft.
24. Connor McMichael - C, OHL (6’0”, 170 lbs)
He was acquired by the Knights in 2018 when they dealt Robert Thomas to Hamilton. The trade is now paying dividends for London as McMichael has thrived this season. He was the Knights leading scorer.
25. Raphael Lavoie - C/RW, QMJHL (6’4”, 198 lbs)
Another big guy who just played in the Memorial Cup tournament for the Halifax Mooseheads. One of the older players eligible in this years draft but his performance in the playoffs and memorial cup for Halifax certainly raised some eyebrows.
26. Spencer Knight - G, USDP (6’3”, 198 lbs)
Top goaltending prospect in this draft class and is another member of that stacked NTDP team. Some say that he’s the best goaltending prospect since Vasilevskiy in 2012.
27. Nils Höglander - LW, SHL (5’9”, 185 lbs)
The smaller forward has great hands to go along with fantastic skating and has earned extended time in the SHL this season.
28. Ryan Suzuki - C, OHL (6’0“, 172 lbs)
Has the tools to takeover games but can be found being overly tentative. Risky pick but the tools to succeed are prevalent if the desire to take over games are too. Arguably top 15 skill — his vision and playmaking are superb.
29. Patrik Puistola - LW, Mestis (6’0”, 174 lbs)
No U18 player as ever produced at a better rate in the Mestis than Puistola. Great hands and vision. Boats a desired offensive skill-set. Another player that I think may be underrated by some.
30. Jakob Pelletier - LW, QMJHL (5’9”, 161 lbs)
Smart, offensively capable winger who produced at a fantastic rate. His motor combined with his offensive instincts gives him a fairly legitimate chance at being a solid middle 6 scorer.
31. Samuel Poulin - LW, QMJHL (6’2”, 207 lbs)
Like Pelletier, Poulin produced at a fantastic rate in the QMJHL. Could work on improving acceleration and somewhat choppy stride but he’s otherwise complete and would certainly be an intriguing option for a team picking after 25th. Especially for teams that could use a power forward.
32. Ilya Nikolayev - F, MHL (6’0”, 190lbs)
33. Mikko Kokkonen - LHD, Liiga (5’11”, 190 lbs)
34. John Beecher - C, NTDP (6’3”, 209 lbs)
35. Ryan Johnson - LHD, USHL (6’0”, 161 lbs)
36. Albin Grewe - C/RW, SHL (6’0”, 187 lbs)
37. Jordan Spence - RHD, QMJHL (5’10”, 165 lbs)
38. Henry Thrun - LHD, NTDP (6’2”, 190 lbs)
39. Samuel Fagemo - LW/RW, SHL (5’11”, 194 lbs)
40. Nolan Foote - LW, WHL (6’3”, 187 lbs)
41. Tobias Björnfot - LHD, SHL (6’0”, 187 lbs)
42. Robert Mastrosimone - C, USHL (5’10”, 170 lbs)
43. Brett Leason - C, WHL (6’4”, 205 lbs)
44. Anttoni Honka - RHD, Liiga/Mestis (5’10”, 170 lbs)
45. Kaedan Korczak - RHD, WHL (6’2”, 192 lbs)
46. Matthew Robertson - LHD, WHL (6’4”, 201 lbs)
47. Nathan Legare - RW, QMJHL (6’0”, 201 lbs)
48. Lassi Thomson - RHD, WHL (6’0”, 187 lbs)
49. Brayden Tracey - LW, WHL (6’0”, 176 lbs)
50. Simon Holmstrom - RW, SuperElit (6’1”, 192 lbs)