As the first month of the 2018-19 hockey season draws to a close, fans of some teams are already looking forward to the next generation of talent, and lucky for them, the 2019 NHL Draft class is full of gems.
We’ve decided to tackle the monster project of a monthly series ranking projected first round picks in the 2019 NHL draft, because, y’know, it’s not like we have anything better to do. If you’re wondering who the disembodied ambiguous ‘we’ is, it’s Ellie Green, and our Chasing The Puck CapitalCorrespondent, who remains tragically uncredited in the author section.
Headlined by all but certain first overall pick Jack Hughes (though we should keep our wits about us, because the same buzz was centered around Nolan Patrick at this time two years ago), the 2019 Draft Class is rich with talented centers, scoring wingers and future power play quarterbacking defenders, and any draft where Cole Caufield could fall outside the Top 15 is one worth taking a closer look at.
(15th Overall): Philip Broberg (D, AIK [Allsvenskan])
With speed and skating ability on his side, Broberg turned heads at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament with his explosiveness off the rush. Still considered a very raw player, the 6’3” defenseman has an upside as large as any defenseman ranked above him in the draft. His puckhandling leaves something to be desired, and until then it’s questionable whether he’ll truly be able to capitalise on his speed. Making up for his patchy offensive showings are his defensive capabilities. Broberg is consistent and efficient at getting opposing players off the puck and clearing the crease of both the puck and the opposition. He’s a strong prospect that will require a bit of work, but has massive potential as a more defensively minded defenseman.
(14th Overall): Ryan Suzuki (C, Barrie Colts [OHL])
One player that left an impression on us at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament this summer was Ryan Suzuki. Brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, formerly of the Vegas Golden Knights, Ryan Suzuki is an Ontario born lethal weapon. Labelled as a playmaker first and foremost, the younger Suzuki still has a nifty wrist shot that he can capitalise on when there are no passing opportunities. He can connect a pass with a teammate from just about anywhere, and his accuracy is a huge strength a game where mistakes can be disastrous.
His game has a few more bells and whistles than his brother’s, but his glaring flaw seems to be a reluctance to engage in physical play and battles along the boards. The lack of physicality doesn’t always hurt his play, however, as he has the agility and quick thinking to weave his way out of danger. His brain works incredibly quickly, so plays are executed at a breakneck speed. Suzuki will play in the OHL again this season with the Barrie Colts, coming off a rookie season with 44 points in 64 games, but his name is in the mix to contend for the scoring title this season, if he can make up for a mid-October injury.
(13th Overall): Victor Söderström (D, Brynäs IF J20 [SuperElit])
Söderström is a right handed defenseman. That itself is going to bump his stock up significantly past countrymen like Björnfot and Broberg, but what distinguishes Söderström from his peers is his two-way play and the enthusiasm with which he embraces jumping into the rush and maintaining adequate defensive coverage. Considered by Brynӓs IF to be Adam Boqvist’s successor, they let Söderström slow cook in the U18 team last year while Boqvist had the run of the U20 team, and now that Boqvist has moved on, Söderström is quickly showing the SuperElit league that his team’s faith was not misplaced.
In this highlight from last August, during a friendly match between the U17 division of Tre Kronor and Leksands IF’s U20 team, Söderström calls for a pass down the length of the blueline and outpaces the man coverage played by the other team to fire an unsaveable shot from the edge of the right faceoff circle. His ability to read the other team’s plays and keep himself a few steps ahead of the competition will be invaluable to any team lucky enough to pick him up. Keep in mind — this is the work of a sixteen year old playing against a U20 team.
An excellent stickhandler with a knack for accurate stretch passes off the first touch, Söderström is known for his speed and his confidence, creating and facilitating numerous end to end rushes. Zone entries are his bread and butter, and once he’s gained the offensive zone, he can be counted on to shore up the defense and let the forwards work their magic. He uses his speed and agility to his advantage and focuses on catching the little mistakes opponents might make so he can use his elite puck handling to relieve them of possession. Söderström is an excellent special teams player and has a shot made for assists on the power play, creating rebounds for his teammates to deflect, and can also play on the penalty kill, where his attentiveness to defensive coverage and mastery of one-on-one defending makes him impossible to escape.
(12th Overall): Raphaël Lavoie (C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads [QMJHL])
This big bodied, versatile player can showcase his talent both at center and on the right wing. He has slick hands and is comfortable making difficult plays in the offensive zone. He spent last season playing with 2018 6th overall pick Filip Zadina, and ended the season with 63 points in 68 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads. Other than his size, Lavoie shows strength in his passing game, and though he’s seemed to have his sights set on scoring to start his season in the QMJHL, he remains able to dish the puck just as well as he puts it in the net. His skating needs to take a step forward, but his shot from in close is dangerous and his straight line speed is above average.
Lavoie is also noticed for his physical play, often on the receiving end of a net front scuffle and using his body to absorb thundering hits from the opposition. All is done in the name of team success, and he’s very much willing to take the beating so his team doesn’t have to.
(11th Overall): Arthur Kaliyev (LW, Hamilton Bulldogs [OHL])
Power forwards coming out of the OHL have had quite a bit of success in the NHL and Arthur Kaliyev is the next one in line. With more skill than one would assume given his size, his shot and release confound goaltenders at the OHL level, and he’s able to find open ice and unexpected shooting lanes with ease. His offensive instincts are remarkable and his ability to create chances for himself and his teammates helped bolster the depth and secondary scoring of the Bulldogs’ Memorial Cup winning roster last year and are carrying the Bulldogs through a rebuilding year, as evidenced by how he closed out September against Peterborough. Kaliyev also impressed at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup this summer, playing for Team USA and looks to have a shot at a role with Team USA at the WJC.
(10th Overall): Alex Newhook (C, Victoria Grizzlies [BCHL])
A good boy who wants to get an education, Alex Newhook is making the immense and terrible sacrifice of playing Junior A to maintain his college eligibility. This obviously means that he’s embarrassing the living daylights out of anyone unfortunate enough to get matched up with him. Committed to Boston College for the 19-20, the only question mark here will be how he adapts to the jump in competition from the BCHL to the NCAA. The risk level is similar to that of Cale Makar, who the Colorado Avalanche selected out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2017. Cale Makar, as we all know, turned out brilliantly in his rookie year and is poised to have an equally impressive sophomore season.
But enough about next year (and Cale Makar, who’s already drafted, and so technically does not matter within the scope of this article). During the 17-18 season, Newhook scored 66 points in 45 games with Victoria of the BCHL, and this season, while wearing the C for the Grizzlies, he’s already scored 20 points in less than a quarter of the games he played last year, indicating a strong increase in scoring. If all Newhook needed was a season to get comfortable in the BCHL, then the NCAA better watch out — once Newhook joins an already strong Boston College team, (including the likes of Oliver Wahlstrom, Logan Hutsko, and Jack McBain) he’s bound to find his feet quickly.
When it comes to the details of his game, Newhook has star potential. His boasts one of the highest ‘hockey-IQs’ of the draft class with the obscenely soft hands to match. At 5’11”, Newhook isn’t the biggest kid, but he doesn’t fold when pressured by bigger opponents and that allows him to be a scoring threat from almost anywhere on the ice. His nose for the net is undeniable, and with playmaking that is equally as good, this season looks to be a huge step for this immeasurably talented centre.
(9th Overall): Maxim Cajkovic (W, Saint John Sea Dogs [QMJHL])
Maxim Cajkovic of the Saint John Sea Dogs describes himself as a “technically skilled sniper who can make good passes” and he’s not being overconfident— he’s right. Possessing exceptional vision and soft hands, Cajkovic impressed on Team Slovakia during the U18 World Championship last year, leading the tournament with seven assists in five games against older competition. This summer, in the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, he scored at a point per game pace, scoring two goals and two assists in four games, including a particularly cool one against Switzerland. His high end speed, skill and playmaking impressed Saint John enough to select him as the first overall pick in the CHL’s import draft. Last season, Cajkovic notched 21 points in 28 games with the Malmö Redhawks of Sweden’s SuperElit U20 developmental league and is well on his way to similar production in the Q.
(8th Overall): Vasili Podkolzin (RW, SKA St Petersburg [MHL])
While captaining Team Russia at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament over the summer, Vasili Podkolzin scored 8 goals and 3 assists in five games, totalling 11 points and tying him with the all time goals leader in the Hlinka(-Gretzky) cup. He has the speed to outpace backcheckers and uses his frame to give himself space, best seen when he rushes the net from the opposite end of the ice. With a blistering shot from in close, Podkolzin stepped up to a new level and is looking to continue the hot hand into his first season with SKA-1946 St Petersburg in the MHL.
Among a myriad of skills, Podkolzin established himself as the complete winger at the Hlinka-Gretzky cup. Smart, fast, and not afraid to see plays through right up to the net. An interesting aspect of his game also comes in his use of space to create plays, and he knows how to put himself in the best position to receive a pass and get the shot off. His start to the MHL season has been decent, though a step forward in scoring would be reassuring to see.
(7th Overall): Peyton Krebs (LW, Kootenay Ice [WHL])
Krebs is one of the top playmakers in this years draft. Seriously, this kid can pass. He’s a centre with a strong pass first mentality who slips passes through the smallest of openings to create a play out of a seemingly impossible situation. Something nice to see at a young age in Krebs is that he flourishes under pressure, namely in late game situations where he can be relied on to spark some sort of offense when the team is down. This will lend well to the NHL, as will his sharp, crisp passing.
As well as his ability to play in all situations (half wall on the powerplay and heading a penalty kill unit), scouts have highlighted Krebs’ strong leadership both on the ice and in the locker room, and his ability to follow through and finish his checks. As he progresses throughout his NHL career it seems likely he’ll wear a letter for any team he ends up on.
(6th Overall): Dylan Cozens (C, Lethbridge Hurricanes [WHL])
Cozens is a big, physical player whose one, visible flaw in his game comes in his overenthusiam when laying hits. It can often leave him a step behind the play, but (usually) that’s a wrinkle that can be ironed out of a player’s game fairly easily. However, this is balanced out by his hard, accurate shot and ability to make plays at a high speed. He’s a deft and capable skater that has strong balance to go with his very tall frame, which will bulk out as he ages.
As reigning WHL Rookie of the Year, Cozens has a very high upside as both a centre and a winger if he continues his impressive start to the WHL season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Projected as a first line player and consistent enough to anchor a penalty killing unit, Cozens would ideally control the physicality with a bit more finesse, but it might turn the heads of certain teams with a more traditional mentality— finishing your checks is something NHL coaches value.
(5th Overall): Bowen Byram (D, Vancouver Giants [WHL])
In the modern game, the role of the defensive defenseman is slowly phasing out. What’s imperative now is the ability to move the puck and jump into offensive play as and when needed, the kind of game Bowen Byram is perfectly suited for. Last season, he put up 6 goals and 21 assists for 26 points, and is on pace to smash that at the start of this season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Transition is the name of the game right now in the NHL, and Byram has a knack for finding the lane to pass or skate the puck out of the defensive zone to create offensive chances, controlling play from the back end.
Byram is a strong skater who utilises his explosive speed in all the right ways. He has a big frame combined with the speed and offensive talent of some of the smaller, more dynamic defenseman the NHL is trending towards.
(4th Overall): Kirby Dach (C, Saskatoon Blades [WHL])
In 2016-17, it took WHL rookie Kirby Dach nineteen games to score ten points. In 2017-18, it took Dach seventeen games. This season, it took him six, and he went on to score two more against the Edmonton Oil Kings to bring him to a total of twelve points (a quarter of them goals) in his first six games of the season. Dach’s game against Swift Current in September (I know, but we didn’t have a roundup in September) was one to remember, as the seventeen year old scored three goals and two assists against the reigning WHL champions. He also played at above a point per game place at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament this summer and made a particularly good impression on Team Canada with his shootout moves.
(3rd Overall): Alex Turcotte (C, USNTDP [USHL])
Full disclosure — until we realized which one of the NTDP draft eligibles Turcotte was, we had him ranked a little lower, but after the first gif we saw of him, we understood why Future Considerations and HockeyProspect.com have him inside the top three.
Turcotte is a fast, agile power forward with a scoring touch that can’t be beat and his puck possession maintenance is unreal for an eighteen year old. Turcotte played a strong first half of the season last year with the USA U17s, scoring 47 points in 39 games, and earned himself a promotion to the U18 team, where he scored 16 points in 19 games, despite having a limited role with the team. Turcotte is one of those lucky players who thrives in any situation he’s put into, and switching teams midseason only encouraged him to do more with the ice time he had, a good sign for an NHL team on the lookout for consistency as well as potential.
Though Turcotte does generally prefer to pass, he’s in possession of a hard, accurate wrister paired with a quick release, and has the patience and awareness to take his shots perfectly with regard to angle and timing and let the velocity do the work for him. Scouts keep coming back to timing, when talking about Turcotte, and his unparalleled situational awareness, and one thing is for certain — for any team that snatches him up, it’s the right time for sure. He will attend the University of Wisconsin starting in the fall of 2019.
(2nd Overall): Kaapo Kakko (RW, TPS [Liiga])
Consensus second overall and contender for the world’s best name, Kaapo Kakko doesn’t look remotely out of place in the top Finnish men’s league to start the season. A healthy 6’1” and 186lbs, Kakko may have a little more filling out to do, but already plays a mature physical game while nimble enough to stay standing when being harrassed on the forecheck. Through his start to the Liiga season, the Finnish right winger has shown flashes of immense patience. We’re of the opinion that the gap between Hughes and Kakko isn’t as cavernous as some would have you believe, and Kakko is ticking all the boxes to prove that he’s the full package.
There’s the debate of positional bias in the Hughes v Kakko question— a projected 1C is worth more than a projected 1RW, still, but while Hughes carries a slightly higher risk, Kakko’s floor is arguably (and we stress, arguably) a step above. There’s no doubt, however, that Hughes’ ceiling remains the highest reward in the draft.
(1st Overall): Jack Hughes (C, USNTDP [USHL])
Jack Hughes, a center with the USNTDP program, has been projected as the first overall pick in the 2019 Entry Draft for as long as either of us can remember. Last year, as a sixteen year old, Hughes captained the U17 team and scored 48 points in 24 games while also playing 36 games with the U18 team, scoring 68 points in 36 games. Hughes impressed at the U18 WJC, scoring twelve points in seven games. He’s continued his blistering pace into this year with eleven points in eight games on the USNTDP U18 team and continues to set the bar with his smarts and dynamic playmaking ability.
That finalises out our top 15 fifteen draft prospects for October! Next month will bring a re-evaluated look at who will end up as a lottery pick, and we’ll hear from some of our CTP NHL writers as to what they think their team will be looking for in this year’s draft. Stay tuned.
Feature image credit: Rena Laverty