2019’s Battle At The Top
A quote from Bob McKenzie’s recent article/ranking aptly sums up how this draft is trending, regardless of which horse you’re betting your money on at the halfway point of the draft: “We still have Hughes at No. 1,” one NHL scout said, “but he’s No. 1 within a group of five or six. At the start of the season, Hughes was in a group by himself. He has company now.” Hughes having ‘company’ is a sharp tell that this year’s top 5 may be a pull-them-out-of-a-hat kind of preference driven run of selections.
Looking past some of the marquee eligibles we’re trying to pin down, the CHL TPG was a smashing success in terms of giving insight to the depth of the class. It appeared at season’s open that this year would come in light in terms of how deep it was, but the Canadian classic showed why that has changed. To name just a few, you had a statement at the top from Peyton Krebs hoping to push his way into the top 5, a subtly effective Bowen Byram display why he’s been on a WHL tear lately, a puck wizard in Nick Robertson establish being one of the most skilled players out of those least talked about, a rising Samuel Bolduc who’s fast becoming a hybrid monster who can play in this modern arena, and Graeme Clarke jump out of the depths of wherever he’s consensus listed currently to potentially become some team’s darling and headline surprise pick.
With so many talented prospects gearing up and peaking, the second half is going to be a crucial measuring stick. With that in mind, here’s DraftBuzz Hockey’s scout Anthony Mauro’s current draft board broken down by tiers.
#1. Kaapo Kakko, F, TPS (LIIGA)
#2. Jack Hughes, C, NTDP U18 (USDP)
Tier I features the main battle between USA and Finland, again, and this year’s version is way, way closer than Matthews and Laine ever was. Personal preference has Kakko a literal hair above the speedy, catch me if you can Hughes. Kakko is commanding with the puck, even moreso than the American, and is a much stronger shooter. They are different types of passers, with Hughes being a Mach One type of playmaker who guides the puck to his target after he abuses his coverage and Kakko more of a slow it down, rag the puck in front of his check type. If Hughes can improve his finishing ability and minimize the errors with the puck (which are far too prevalent for my taste) he has the makeup to win me back over.
#3. Dylan Cozens, LW, Lethbridge (WHL)
In a tier all by himself, Cozens has built separation from the rest as an all-around, no weakness pivot who oozes winning mentality. Self sufficiency is huge, and he still has projectable growth upside on top of his stellar play. Amongst a collection of talents jockeying daily at the top, his consistency from game-to-game is reassuring for this placement.
#4. Vasili Podkolzin, F, SKA-1946 (MHL)
#5. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
In what seems an unlikely pair, both the Russian forward and Dub defender provide similar on ice excellence along with distinctive traits fit for rounding out the top 5. Podkolzin has the slight edge because of how well he’s performed in the international spotlight and F > D valuation.
#6. Alex Turcotte, C, NTDP U18 (USDP)
#7. Peyton Krebs, LW, Kootenay (WHL)
#8. Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
Consider this a group of how this round of roulette fared at the half as they are millimeters away from each other in rank. Turcotte gains the slight edge after coming back from injury without a hitch as a smooth, two way workhorse who ALWAYS makes the right play. Krebs/Dach are such strong WHL prospects with Dach getting edged out because of good, not great skating and creativity.
#9. Matthew Boldy, F, NTDP U18 (USDP)
#10. Trevor Zegras, F, NTDP U18 (USDP)
#11. Spencer Knight, G, NTDP U18 (USDP)
With back-to-back difficult trios to parse, this NTDP tier of three is one that can rival Tier 4 in pure skill yet still has a touch more to prove being more raw at this point. Boldy is explosive on the puck and is essentially a more projectable Wahlstrom, while Zegras is an exciting puckhandler whose flashes can bring fans out of their seats. Knight is a stud goaltender who has all of the desired ingredients to put him on the map in the top half of the first round.
#12. Victor Söderström, D, Brynäs IF (SHL)
#13. Cole Caufield, F, NTDP U18 (USDP)
#14. Nils Höglander, LW, Rögle BK (SHL)
#15. Cam York, D, NTDP U18 (USDP)
Two Swede’s finally break up the American onslaught – both showing they belong with pro’s in the SHL. Söderström is a composed, sturdy defender with a full toolbox and minimal questions. While Caufield looks primed to follow DeBrincat’s footsteps as a diminutive sniper, he’s looking to break barriers and get selected much closer to his real value than his predecessor was. Höglander, although his stride needs work, has been a pure delight as a puck hawk who’s every bit clever as he is determined to attack and be a plus player. York may well be that defender who slides because he’s so unassuming as a supporting piece to USA’s epic front line, but ends up being one of the top producing defenders.
#16. Alex Newhook, F, Victoria (BCHL)
#17. Philip Broberg, D, AIK (Allsvenskan)
#18. Moritz Seider, D, Adler Mannheim (DEL)
#19. Raphaël Lavoie, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
#20. Bobby Brink, RW, Sioux City (USHL)
#21. Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton (WHL)
#22. Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie (OHL)
#23. Ilya Nikolayev, C, Loko-Yaroslavl (MHL)
#24. Graeme Clarke, F, Ottawa (OHL)
#25. Pavel Dorofeyev, RW, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
#26. Connor McMichael, C, London (OHL)
#27. Ryan Johnson, D, Sioux Falls (USHL)
#28. Arthur Kaliyev, LW, Hamilton (OHL)
#29. Lassi Thomson, D, Kelowna (WHL)
#30. Brett Leason, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
#31. Alex Vlasic, D, NTDP U18 (USDP)
Here are 15 other non top 31 players in a few thought provoking classifications:
- Nick Robertson, C, Peterborough (OHL)
- Antti Tuomisto, D, Ässät U20 (Jr. A)
- Patrik Puistola, F, LeKi (Mestis)
- Marshall Warren, D, NTDP U18 (USDP)
- Jamieson Rees, C, Sarnia (OHL)
- Phillip Tomasino, C, Niagara (OHL)
- Artemi Knyazev, D, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
- Mikhail Abramov, F, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
- Anttoni Honka, D, KeuPa HT (Mestis)
- Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga (OHL)
- Mads Søgaard, G, Medicine Hat (WHL)
- Matias Maccelli, LW, Dubuque (USHL)