The Next Generation: CTP’s November Top 31 for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft

November was an interesting month for the crop of 2019 NHL draft prospects. We saw some climb up the rankings and into our hearts (see: Philip Broberg), and others drop out of the radar entirely as first round potential picks (see: Maxim Cajkovic). To see exactly where these kids ranked last month, you can find our October draft rankings in two parts here, top 15 and bottom 16.

Again, the omnipresent and ambiguous ‘we’ is Ellie Green, and CTP’s capitalcorrespondent. We’re late this month, because November has one less day than we thought it did. Sit down, buckle in and get ready to read about the draft prospects we project to go in the first round.

Prized Hockey Infants

1) Jack Hughes is not slowing down. He’s opening up the gap between himself and Kakko once again, with 43 points in 22 games with the US National U18 team. If you need to see examples of how Hughes is an all around, team changing asset even when he’s not putting it in the net, you can take your pick.

2) While Hughes seems to have the first overall pick locked down, Kaapo Kakko is equally secure at second overall. Kakko is still chugging along in the Liiga, with 17 points in 22 games with TPS, no small feat for a player not front and centre on the first line every night like Hughes. His patience with the puck is still one of the most glaring assets to his game, and that’s why we still have him, firmly, a step above the other frontrunners.

3) Kirby Dach’s thirty-nine points in twenty-nine games aren’t as impressive as Hughes’ numbers, but he’s still the elite playmaker he was in October. His betweenness scores (via Evan Oppenheimer) far outpace his teammates in all situations and at even strength, and as of November 26th, he was tied for fourth overall in even strength points in the WHL with Portland’s Joachim Blichfeld, a San Jose Sharks prospect. Dach is the only eighteen year old in the top five.

4) Bowen Byram is the Vancouver Giants’ (WHL) highest scoring defenseman, and the third highest scorer on the team. His skillset is losing a little bit of its shine, when you look at some of the offensively talented European defenseman just slightly further down this list. Size will never go out of style, and combined with twenty points in twenty-six games, the kind of production you’d expect from a smaller defenseman, such as Guelph’s Ryan Merkley, Bowen Byram is endearing himself to scouts more and more each game, hence him moving up a spot in our rankings.

5) Dylan Cozens is well, well on pace to outscore his production from last year. He has thirty-one points in twenty-four games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. But, he’s also on pace to rack up more penalty minutes than last season, which may be a result of his physical play that toes the line of what’s necessary and what isn’t.

6) Alex Newhook continues to impress, scoring at nearly a two point per game pace in the BCHL since late September. The Boston College commit has forty-five points in the twenty-eight games he’s played so far this season, and is one short of the thirty assist mark. It’s November. Per Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst, Newhook is on pace to become the BCHL’s youngest scoring champion since Scott Gomez in 1996-97.

7) Vasili Podkolzin has shuffled up a spot on the list, from eighth to seventh, but his gain is in no way limited to where he sits now. He’s gaining more recognition, so expect to see him go high in more and more rankings. His physicality and leadership vault him well ahead of other skilled Russian draft prospects such as Likhachyov. There’s the chance that he could end up as the first Russian to be drafted out of a Russian men’s league in the top five since 2004.

8) Peyton Krebs’ ability as a playmaker and to rally his team late haven’t diminished, but he dropped a spot to allow Podkolzin to rise up the ranks. It’s less a failing on Krebs’ part, and instead the issue of Podkolzin getting very good very fast. Krebs currently has 28 points in 24 games, 9 points ahead of the closest point scorer on the team (Brett Davies, a 2017 Dallas Stars draft pick). 21 of those 28 points are assists, the most obvious testament to his playmaking that you can get.

9) Alex Turcotte, unfortunately the inferior Alex at this point, remains largely out of the U18 lineup. Turcotte has only played three games so far, and though he has two points in those three games, the small sample size is concerning. Turcotte seems to be falling prey to hockey’s double edged sword — injuries and a wealth of talented players competing for the same spot — and isn’t coming out on the right side of the fight.

10) Arthur Kaliyev’s thirty-eight points in twenty-five games (evenly split between goals and assists) have him neatly in the top two for team scoring — he trails just points behind Colorado Avalanche prospect Brandon Saigeon, two years his senior, and the third place scorer, Matthew Strome, is ten points behind Kaliyev. Needless to say, first place on his team is easily within reach for a player who’s easily in tenth place in scoring in the entire OHL. His high shot volume is ruining save percentages around the league and any team would be lucky to have him.

11) Voices Around The League™ are calling Victor Söderström the next great Swedish defenseman and they may not be wrong. Splitting time between Brynӓs IF’s senior and J20 teams, Söderström has 10 points in twenty-six games so far this season, as well as two in three international games for Sweden’s U18 team, both impressive for a defenseman. His initial transition to the SHL from junior, where he was overshadowed last year by Boqvist, Sandin, and others, wasn’t just a fluke — Söderström is in the men’s league to stay, playing second pairing minutes no less, and only looks to improve from here on out.

12) Raphael Lavoie’s numbers aren’t out of this world to start his QMJHL season, but with 13 goals and 12 assists, he’s establishing himself as a well rounded centre/wing who will continue to utilise his playmaking abilities on both sides of the puck, as well as burying it in the net whenever he gets the chance. His skating is still on the rough side, but there’s too many months before the draft for it to fully condemn him now.

13) Philip Broberg continues to have one of the highest upsides in the class, and there’s a strong chance we see him rise into the top 10, or at least past Byram as the best defenseman from this draft. He has 6 assists in 22 games in the Allsvenskan— not shockingly good, but for a rookie 17 year-old in a men’s league, he’s holding his own.

14) Cam York may be an aggressive defender, but he’s got point scoring totals you just can’t look away from. With sixteen points in twenty-one games for the US National U18 Team so far this season, York’s puck moving skills have helped his teammates a lot in the scoring categories. He’s missed only one game this season, which seems to be something to keep an eye on, with regard to the USA U18 program.

15) Ryan Suzuki has fallen one spot as the shine from his Hlinka-Gretzky tournament has begun to fade. He’s still a stellar playmaker, evidenced by 24 of his 32 points this season with the Barrie Colts being assists. he’ll need to find the net a little more to raise his stock, but he’s made up well for the time he lost in mid October to an injury.

16) Valentin Nussbaumer is shackled to the incredibly bad Shawinigan Cataractes, but is looking like a second rate Nico Hischier-esque player with incredible skating skills. The general awfulness of Shawinigan will be making Nussbaumer look worse than he actually is, has he, and the team, are constantly fighting a losing battle. 16 points in 25 games could cause him to sharp fall out of favour.

17) Anttoni Honka has a total of 5 points in 21 games across two leagues, 15 games with JYP of the Liiga and 6 with KeuPa HT in the Mestis. Offensively, he isn’t lighting it up, and this could be a preset to him sliding down the rankings as the season progresses. But, his play against kids his age shows that he’s clearly a step above the rest when it comes to his ability to move the puck with a surprising amount of finesse.

18) Boston University is going to be a lucky team when Trevor Zegras joins them next year — with thirty-four points in his twenty-one NTDP U18 games this season, Zegras is a scoring threat with the high end skating, hockey sense, and agility necessary to survive in today’s NHL. Stylistically, he’s been compared to Mat Barzal, thanks to his exceptional passing ability combined with an arsenal of blistering shots, which is high praise. A two way, defensively responsible center that loves stripping the puck from the opposition, Zegras is a must have at eighteen.

19) Cole Caufield may be undersized, but he plays with a versatility that makes him an attractive choice. The Wisconsin native, committed to his home state’s Badgers, has scored eighteen goals and seven assists for a total of twenty-five points in his twenty-two games with the USNTDP U18 team this season. In his eight games with the USNTDP Juniors team in the USHL, Caufield has ten points in eight games, seven of them goals. Caufield is excelling at the U18 level just as much as he did with the U17 team last year (63 pts [44G/19A] in 40 GP), after a nineteen game stint with the U18 last season ended with Caufield scoring a “measly” seventeen points. Greatness comes in all shapes and sizes, and Caufield could be poised to be the next Joe Pavelski.

20) Tobias Björnfot has played in one SHL game, and 20 SuperElit games. He hasn’t showcased an elite scoring talent in that time, but he’s also playing in a league with players up to three years older than him, so 9 points in those 20 SuperElit games (3 goals, 6 assists) isn’t bad when it comes combined with a +11 rating. His game is still described as being timeless, not too flashy but a responsible player that can be trusted to get the job done.

21) Though John Beecher’s B rating from NHL Central Scouting means that he’s projected to be picked in the second or third round, we feel that the pro-sized, speedy center is more likely to be a late first round selection. The Michigan commit has four assists in eight games this season, his second with the USNTDP. Last year, on the U17 NTDP team, Beecher scored forty-one points in sixty games, impressive considering he was competing for ice time with the likes of Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Jack Hughes, and Alex Turcotte. His NTDP coaches say that his skills lie in power and tempo and that Beecher, who compares his game to that of the Winnipeg Jets’ Blake Wheeler, reads the pace of place exceptionally well and adjusts it to his liking, and that’s a skill any team would appreciate.

22) With 24 points in 22 games, Matthew Boldy is quickly proving why everyone believed he could be an offensive driver away from Hughes. His size still hasn’t slowed him down, and it doesn’t look like it will. We’d like to see some more of him away from Hughes before we boost him into the top 15, but we don’t doubt he’ll get there eventually. This Boston College commit has a high ceiling that isn’t falling any time soon.

23) Simon Holmström is a speed machine and fearless to boot, ready to dominate the J20 SuperElit League. A remarkable passer with an explosiveness to his game, Holmström has been getting one game auditions with HV71’s SHL club since he was sixteen, showing that the club has faith in him getting there someday. For now, Holmström is setting the SuperElit League ablaze, with six points in seven games and one point in his two international junior games so far this season. He had thirty points in twenty-eight games with the J20 squad last year, so, at the very least, look for him to continue the same point per game pace this year. He’s been compared to the likes of Viktor Arvidsson, and if his fully realized potential is anywhere near Arvi’s skill level, he’s a steal at twenty-third overall.

24) After winning a silver medal at the Hlinka Memorial, it seemed Albin Grewe could go nowhere but up. Earning a berth with the SHL’s Djurgårdens IF, Grewe spent a lot of time riding the bench, playing six SHL games and one Champions Hockey League game for the team before being sent down to the J20 team. The demotion was a blessing in disguise — Grewe went off on a tear for 22 points in 17 games played. While his forty-five penalty minutes (roughly one minor penalty per game) are concerning, Grewe’s stickhandling, energy, and penchant for driving the net make for an offensive threat to watch out for.

25) Pavel Dorofeyev has wormed his way into the top 31 after he missed out on last months honourable mentions, just barely. He didn’t manage to bag any points in the limited minutes of 10 KHL games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, but has 24 points in 15 games with Magnitogorsk’s MHL (Junior) affiliate. Of the top 20 scorers in the MHL, none have played as few games as Dorofeyev, who ranks 19th (the leading scorer has 29 games played), and he’s the youngest of the top 20 scorers too.

26) Matthew Robertson, a left handed defenseman playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, holds steady at spot number twenty-six from last month. With three assists in six games for Edmonton of the WHL this season, coming off a four point in five game Hlinka tournament, Robertson is holding steady. Last year, in sixty-seven games with Edmonton, he scored twenty-four points, and this year, Robertson is already an eighth of the way to that WHL career high with only six games in the books. Look for him to surpass that high and make some new records. His strength, power, and dependability in tough situations make Robertson a versatile defenseman, able to put fear in his opponents’ hearts in a multitude of ways. His long reach and ability to disrupt zone entries make him a valuable pick, but his merely average straight line speed might raise some question marks in a league where defenders are required to be just as mobile and agile as the skaters.

27) Yegor Spiridonov has put himself on some radars over the last month as a solid all around centre who plays well on both sides of the puck and can be trusted to drive a line. He centred Dorofeyev on Magnitogorsk’s MHL affiliate, and the two gelled well together. With 17 points in 19 games, Spiridonov does well to allow his linemates to shine, which can be seen both on ice and in his numbers (6 goals, 11 assists).

28) Vojtech Strondala has the coolest name in this draft, and that’s not where the buck stops. A 5’7” offensive dynamo with a left-handed shot, the center is playing in the Czech second league as a seventeen year old. Not only is he playing, he’s excelling, with twelve points in twenty games against adult competition, following in the footsteps of Czech Extraliga graduate Martin Nečas, HC Kometa Brno’s latest North American pro product. After starting this season with HC Kometa Brno’s U19 squad, scoring seven points (five goals and two assists) in two games, everyone held their breath when Strondala was called up to HC Kometa Brno’s main club in the Czech Extraliga. When four games came and went with Strondala scoreless (save for an assist in a Champions Hockey League game), the hype cooled off slightly, just in time for him to be loaned to the Czech second league and set those expectations aflame again. Strondala has climbing potential — keep an eye on him. If he continues to excel with SK Horacka Slavia Trebic, we might see him up with HC Kometa Brno again soon.

29) Drew Helleson, who admittedly became typecast as a defenseman because he was taller than his teammates, has made that placement well worth it — in twenty-two games with the US U18 NTDP team, Helleson has scored nine points, four goals and five assists. A right-handed shot coming into a league hungry for them, the speedy, efficient defender is a threat on the power-play. In sixty-one games with the U17 NTDP team last year, Helleson had forty points in sixty-one games, thirty-five of them assists. The Boston College commit’s aggressive style and playmaking ability makes him dangerous, and playing aside big names like Cam York (#14) gives him a chance to climb even higher in the first round, after not making the Top 31 or Honorable Mentions last month.

30) Alex Vlasic was on our radar last month, but somersaulted into the top 31 because of his ability to play in both the offensive and defensive zones. His hard, accurate shot awards him chances from the blueline, but he also shines when moving the puck up the ice to avoid danger at his own net. As a defenseman, he mirrors his cousin Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks in his ability to play a strong shutdown role with the USNTDP, where he currently has 11 points in 22 games. Look for him to be a penalty kill staple in the future.

31) Spencer Knight is ranked last in our list purely because the draft order isn’t set yet. We firmly believe he could go anywhere, likely outside of the top 10, to a team looking for a goaltender to be ready a handful of years down the line. It all depends on which team with poor goaltending depth wants to take a chance on a potential star netminder when he’s developed.

Dearly Departed

This month, we say a tearful goodbye to Yaroslav Likhachyov, who was propelled into last month’s top 31 by Ellie’s force of will alone. His foot speed doesn’t look like it’s progressing, and with 10 points in 27 QMJHL games plus so many other prospects taking steps forward, Likhachyov fell prey to the competitive nature of draft rankings. We still see Jakob Pelletier going high in the second round as he flourishes against QMJHL competition. 41 points in 27 games is a stellar effort, so don’t count him out just yet. Sasha Mutala isn’t putting up points like we expected in the WHL, so we’ve sadly kicked him off our top 31 list too. This month, we’ve also said ‘so long’ to Maxim Cajkovic (a weak Saint John team isn’t doing him any favors), Nolan Foote (not enough Foote-speed), and Blake Murray (whose greatest crime is being on Sudbury Wolves but not being Quinton Byfield or David Levin).

Honourable Mentions

Mikko Kokkonen, the smaller Finnish defender, is still floating on the bubble of the top 31 prospects for the draft, and putting up solid points as a blueliner in the Liiga. Jakob Pelletier has a chance to move back up into the mix through his speed and awareness. As a big, strong skating defenseman, teams could look favourably upon Moritz Seider, a German playing in the senior DEL league showing a great level of maturity to his game.

That’s all we have for November, but be sure to check back at the end of December, where we’ll hopefully remember the number of days in the month and get the rankings out on time.

(Picture Credit: Victoria Sports News)

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