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Jack Hughes (photo via NHL.com)

Hockey

Top-10 2019 NHL Draft Prospects

Many teams at the bottom of the standings have dismissed hopes of a late playoff push. Therefore, it’s time to look to a better future. Here is a profile and scouting report of the current top ten picks in the 2019 NHL draft. This marks the 50th anniversary of the modern NHL draft.

#1: Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP

5’10”, 168 lbs., Playmaker

Watching Jack Hughes gives the feeling that you’re watching a young Patrick Kane at work. He’s good, and he knows it. Hughes makes a game of weaving through the offensive zone, head up, scanning for opportunity the whole way. Hughes missed a few games at World Juniors, but looked like one of the United States’ top players when he did hit the ice. He had four assists in four games, including the gold medal game against Kaapo Kakko and the Finns. His size may force him to the wing during faceoffs against bigger centers.

Hughes’s top talents are playmaking and skating, in no particular order. His vision can take over a shift in the offensive zone, and if he’s given room in neutral ice, Hughes can and will make his own entry way. The hands and skating ability are reminiscent of Nathan MacKinnon and, of course, Kane. Hughes blew by Phil Kessel’s record for points by a 16 year old in the USNTDP with 116 in just 60 games, a near two points per game pace. This is one short of the all-time record for any age set by Auston Matthews, a now 40 goal scorer in the NHL who put up 117 points as a 17 year old. While not as prolific a goal scorer, Hughes will be gunning for Matthew’s record for the rest of the season. As of now, he’s on pace for 120 and will easily move into the most assists all-time for the US National Team Development Program.

#loseforhughes!

#2: Kaapo Kakko, RW/LW, TPS

6’2″, 190 lbs., Power Forward

Kakko receives a lot of comparison to fellow countryman Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, a 2nd overall pick who scored more goals as a teenager in the NHL than Wayne Gretzky. Both fire the puck often and accurately. Kakko has 11 goals through 29 games in the highest level of Finnish professional hockey, and iced the Americans in the World Junior gold medal game with a go-ahead goal in the last two minutes.

He often puts himself in positions to succeed, leading to easy goals. He has an NHL grade shot, and he likes to pick the far upper corner of a vulnerable goaltender. Kakko has slick hands in tight situations, and can turn defenders inside out at high speeds. Close to the goal, the sizable Finn can maneuver around traffic and find just enough space to find a teammate or the back of the net, as he’s also a capable passer. While not an elite skater, Kakko still uses quick cuts to create room for himself along the offensive boards, especially so given his size.

#3: Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes

6’3″, 185 lbs., Two-Way Forward

Dylan Cozens is a “five-tool player” who can use his plus skating to create odd-man rushes and still get back to help defensively. He was the WHL rookie of the year with 22 goals in the 2017-18 season. He’s eclipsed his goal and assist totals in a dozen fewer games this year and will almost definitely be hearing his name in the 3-6 range come June.

Cozens’ confidence and willingness to try moves like this can lead to a few turnovers, but that’s nothing that can’t be ironed out before or at the NHL level. You can find Cozens captaining his CHL top prospects team, Team Cherry, against Kirby Dach and Team Orr this January 23rd.

#4: Vasili Podkolzin, LW, SKA St. Petersburg

6’1″, 190 lbs., Power Forward

Craig Button at TSN really thinks this kid can be a star in the NHL. Podkolzin netted a hat trick in the Hlinka Gretzky bronze medal game to down the United States 5-4, and led the tournament in scoring overall. He gave American defenders the works more than once, scoring multiple highlight reel goals.

Podkolzin is strong on the puck as well, cutting to the net with sheer willpower it seems.

He looks like he flat out wants to be a game changer, and the drive to do so will make him dangerous at any level of play. Podkolzin will be a threat to score nearly any time he steps on the ice.

#5: Bowen Byram, LHD, Vancouver Giants

6’1″, 192 lbs., Two-Way Defenseman

Bowen Byram, right now, is the best defenseman in the 2019 draft. Moderately sized, Byram has elite offensive capabilities– look at what he does here:

Byram holds the Vancouver Giants all time record for points in a game by a defenseman with five. The Hockey News has his NHL arrival at the 2020 season, so he may not be immediately ready for the big league. The team that drafts him will be getting an aggressive mentality to contribute on offense, the modern defender in the NHL needs a little of that. Byram is a plus skater who can use his body very effectively to protect the puck when getting around.

#6: Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades

6’4″, 198 lbs., Playmaker

Big, right handed center who is breaking out of a scoring slump. If you value size, this is your guy. Dach scored just 16 goals his first 71 WHL games, and came back this year with 18 in 43 matches. The Canadian is captaining Team Orr against Dylan Cozens’ Team Cherry in the CHL top prospects game. Dach sits in the top-20 in WHL scoring with 50 points on the season.

A knock on Dach could be his inability to win faceoffs. If he isn’t beating junior players on the dot, he’ll be eaten up pretty easily against NHL centers. There’s some learning to do in that regard. Dach won’t push defenses back on their heels with his speed, but his ability to accurately get air under his passes means that he can create his own passing lanes. He’s one of the best playmakers in the draft who has a decent shot to keep goaltenders honest.

#7: Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP

6’2″, 187 lbs., Playmaker

Matthew Boldy plays a very complete game all around. When he’s not shooting, he’s got more than enough awareness to find any one of his teammates for a better opportunity. In fact, he’s got the hockey IQ of anyone in the draft class. James van Riemsdyk comes to mind when looking at him.

That’s a tenacious defensive effort that leads straight to an absolute snipe, giving his team the lead. For the U18 Americans, Boldy has 21 goals and 18 assists in 35 games played, 7 of the goals coming against older NCAA competition. Matthew Boldy had one of the best seasons in American history with 76 points in 61 games with the National U17 crew. He had been ranked as high as third overall on some draft boards.

#8: Raphael Lavoie, C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads

6’4″, 198 lbs., Power Forward

Lavoie is a plus skater with exceptional offensive IQ. He’s soon to be a two time 30 goal scorer in the QMJHL in his two full years with Halifax. The big forward has seen his stock rise this year, going from mid-to-late first round to top-10 in the span of months. He works hard up and down the ice and has a truly legitimate set of hands on him. Budding elite skill, coupled with his size, leads to highlights like the one below:

This video is about a year old, but here is a perfect example of how Lavoie uses his frame to shield the puck from the defender and open a gap in the defense. On display is great patience until the ice clears up for him, and he takes advantage. Rarely does he try to force a low percentage play. Clearly comfortable at 3 on 3 overtime, Lavoie holds the QMJHL record for overtime goals in a season. Nobody else has eclipsed 4.

#9: Philip Broberg, LHD, AIK

6’3″, 203 lbs., Two-Way Defenseman

Broberg looked like a potential top pairing defenseman in the making at Hlinka Gretzky Cup over the summer, and has since taken massive strides in his development this season. Granted, that’s against kids, but he looked good against his own age. He’s such a good skater– it really stood out, especially at this tournament, where he put together a really impressive highlight reel.

Broberg used that explosive skating to be deadly in the transition game and on the rush, sometimes taking things into his own hands and cutting to the net. He scored a Bobby Orr-like goal against Slovakia by pouncing on a loose puck in the neutral zone and just toasting the defender on his way across the crease, leaving his feet in the effort.

https://twitter.com/AIKhockeyGIFS/status/1034894283290161152

This wasn’t Hlinka Gretzky, it was Allsvenskan– second tier Swedish hockey– but look at those wheels. It’ll be interesting to see who drafts him, as his stock went up so rapidly it’s hard to project.

#10: Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP

5’11”, 194 lbs., Playmaker

Turcotte is one of, if not the best skater in the draft class. His speed makes him a constant threat, and while his stock has fallen due to injury, the brains are all in the right place. Turcotte can deliver dimes at high speeds, and plays with a very direct, north/south attack style.

Turcotte will come blazing upon the defenders and before they can react, he’s found an open teammate waiting. In the 13 games he’s played for the U18 Americans, Turcotte has nine goals and nine assists. He is one of the most electrifying talents available, and do not be surprised if he is drafted higher– even in the 5-9 range.

Could end up in the top-10:

Ryan Suzuki, F, Barrie Colts

Peyton Krebs, F, Kootenay Ice

Alex Newhook, F, Victoria Grizzlies

Trevor Zegras, D, USNTDP

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