This is one of my favourite pieces to put together every year and it has been for a long, long, long time. I started covering draft prospects for Hockey’s Future back in 1999 when I was 18-years old.
In one way or the other, I’ve been writing about the NHL draft for the last 20 years and it will never get old. The first draft I attended was back in 2000 in Calgary. I remember it well because my buddy and I had worked the night shift at Save On Foods in Cranbrook B.C. and then drove directly to the draft. We were exhausted but we made it in time to watch the New York Islanders selected Rick DiPietro 1st overall. The first round of the 2000 draft was Russian heavy and the Oilers got involved selecting Alexei Mikhinov with the 17th pick. Nobody would blame you if you don’t remember Mikhnov as he only played two games in 2006-07.
The first draft I covered as a member of the media was in 2006 for Hockey’s Future in Vancouver. The only draft I missed was when the Oilers drafted Darnell Nurse 7th overall in 2013. The draft was hosted in New Jersey that year and was a one-day event because the off-season was being rushed due to the lockout-shortened season.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a hardcore draft nerd, always have been and always will be. Over the past 14 years, I’ve managed to develop a number of contacts in the scouting and media world and once I year I reach out to them for their annual rankings. My rankings are always a mix of what my contacts are telling me, what I’ve seen myself and what the numbers are saying.
THE TOP 31:
1. Jack Hughes: (C) – USA NTDP-18
It was almost unanimous for Jack Hughes. I had seven scouts give me their top 30 prospects and six of them went with Hughes, the other one went with Kakko. His offensive upside is through the roof, I’m interested to see how long it will take for him to reach his potential in the NHL.
2. Kaapo Kakko: (RW) – TPS TURKU, FINLAND
If Kakko had another month of hockey he may have tracked down Hughes for the top spot because he was on fire to end the season. The one scout who had Kakko at number one said his performance at the World Championships was too impressive to not have him at the top. Finland has had a number of elite level prospects come to the NHL over the past five to seven years but Kakko may be the best of the bunch.
3. Bowen Byram: (D) – VANCOUVER GIANTS
Byram is right on par with some of the elite defensemen who have been taken in the top five over the past few years. The last couple of drafts have given us Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskinen and Cale Makar. One scout told me that Byram will impact the game just as much as any of them — that’s high praise. I’ll be interested to see what type of offers the Hawks get to move the 3rd overall pick.
4. Alex Turcotte: (C) – USA NTDP-18
I’m not sure if a prospect of this calibre has ever flown under the radar as much as Turcotte has this season. Not only was Turcotte in the shadow of Jack Hughes but also had to deal with some health issues during the year. The best quote I received from a scout on Turcotte was that “almost every aspect of this kids game is underrated.”
5. Vasili Podkolzin: (RW) – SKA St. Petersburg (Jr./Div2)
In no way did Podkolzin have a disappointing season; he just didn’t have a sensational season like many of the other players on this list. He does everything well at both ends of the rink but needs to put all of it together at the same time. It looks like he will stay in Russia for two or three more years but I’d sure like to see what he could accomplish playing in the Canadian Hockey League for a season. One scout still had him as high as three on his list, which did surprise me, while another scout had him at 13. He’s a true wild card.
6. Kirby Dach: (C) – SASKATOON BLADES
I prefer Dylan Cozens to Kirby Dach, it’s close, and the consensus from the scouts I spoke to had Dach one spot higher in these rankings. Dach has the ability to control the pace of the game and make his teammates better.
7. Dylan Cozens: (C) – LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES
Cozens built on a really strong rookie season in Lethbridge by putting together a very impressive sophomore campaign. He was extremely consistent for the Hurricanes and if he continues to progress next year he may be ready to break into the NHL in the fall of 2020.
8. Cole Caufield: (RW) – USA NTDP-18
Goal scoring is important and nobody does it better than Cole Caufield. One scout I spoke with questioned his hockey sense a little bit and wondered what he’ll become if he can’t score goals at the next level. I know he’s small but his goal totals are just so damn impressive he had to be in the top ten.
9. Trevor Zegras: (C) – USA NTDP-18
Zegras has a very high hockey IQ and really stands out as a playmaker. One scout south of the border told me that he’d be a steal no matter where he goes in the draft.
10. Peyton Krebs: (C) – WINNIPEG ICE
Krebs is one of my favourite players in the draft. He didn’t have much help in Kootenay but still managed to put up 68 points in 64 games. He was the captain of the ice and will become a leader at the next level as well. He recently tore his Achilles and while I hope it won’t impact his draft status it probably will, even just a bit.
11. Matthew Boldy: (LW) – USA NTDP-18
Boldy was the power forward of the sensational USA NTDP. His shot is excellent but he does a lot more than just shoot the puck. He really stood out at the All American Prospects game. I don’t see him having top-five upside but he could go anywhere from 6-12.
12. Philip Broberg: (D) – AIK, Sweden
Broberg is a big, powerful d-man who moves extremely well. He’s one of the best skaters in the entire draft, which should mean he’d have some offensive upside at the next level. One scout told me he has all the tools to be a top-pairing guy for ten years in the NHL.
13. Arthur Kaliyev: (RW) – HAMILTON BULLDOGS
A couple of scouts had him in the top ten but the majority of them had him the 15-20 range. Kaliyev absolutely torched the OHL this past season but could be sitting around on draft day waiting for his name to be called. He has a reputation for giving up too easily on puck battles and his top end speed isn’t elite. He has amazing offensive upside but one scout I spoke to earlier in the season said he wouldn’t touch him in the first round. Wild card.
14. Victor Soderstrom: (D) – BRYNAS, SWEDEN
The only number that matters for Soderstrom is 44, the number of games he played in the SHL this season. Soderstrom was the only 17-year old to play a regular role in Sweden’s top league this season, not an easy feat. For reference, Adam Boqvist couldn’t secure full-time action on the same club just one year earlier.
15. Alex Newhook: (C) – VICTORIA GRIZZLIES, BCHL
Newhook absolutely destroyed the British Columbia Hockey League this season finishing with 102 points in 53 games. His most important performance came at the U18 World Championships where he put up 10 points in seven games and silenced any doubters.
16. Spencer Knight: (G) – USA NTDP-18
I had conflicting reports on Knight. One scout told me it’s difficult to get a read on him because he didn’t see a lot of action playing behind a stacked USA NTDP while another scout was confident in saying he’s the best goaltending prospects he’s seen in at least five years. Knight will be an interesting study on draft day to see which teams are willing to use a first round pick on an elite level puck stopper.
17. Cam York: (D) – USA NTDP-18
York was a driving force on the blue line for the powerhouse Americans. He isn’t a brilliant skater but still manages to get around the ice very well. He has the ability to control a game with nothing more than his puck handling ability.
18. Raphael Lavoie: (RW) – HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS
Lavoie is one of the taller players in the draft and also one of the oldest. If this big forward was born ten days earlier he would have been eligible for the 2018 draft. His regular season numbers didn’t improve much during his draft year but he absolutely exploded in the QMJHL playoffs scoring 20 goals in 23 games. One scout wondered, prior to the playoffs, if he’s already starting to reach his peak.
19. Bobby Brink: (RW) – SIOUX CITY MUSKETEERS, USHL
Bobby Brink absolutely blew up offensively in his first full year of junior hockey. He’s not a big player and doesn’t have top end speed but his instincts make him a first round talent. Two scouts told me he’s just scratching the surface offensively and this is a player who put up 1.58 points per game in the USHL.
20. Phillip Tomasino: (C) – NIAGARA ICEDOGS
Even with a slow start to the season, Tomasino managed to triple his point production compared to his rookie season in the OHL. He skates extremely well and many people are expecting huge things from him offensively next season. Take it for what it’s worth but one scout had him in his top 12.
21. Tobias Harley: (D) – MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS
Harley is a big, strong d-man who also showed some significant offensive upside this season. He’s not overly physical but he pumped up his draft stock with a strong showing at the Under-18 World Championship.
22. Egor Afanasyev: (RW) – MUSKEGON LUMBERJACKS, USHL
If Afanasyev can improve his skating he could end up having some nice upside at the next level. He doesn’t understand all aspects of the defensive side of the game but by all accounts, he is willing to work at it. He will let the team that drafts him decide where he will play next season.
23. Matthew Robertson: (D) – EDMONTON OIL KINGS
Robertson is a safe pick who is still likely figuring out exactly what he’ll be capable of at the next level. He’s very sound defensively and would probably be a top 20 pick if scouts could get a better read on what he will or won’t be able to do offensively at the next level. I like him.
24. Moritz Seider: (D) – MANNHEIM, GERMANY
The 17-year old Seider was the rookie of the year in Germany’s top league. He also played for his country at the World Championships. A big kid who moves well and reads the game even better. A few scouts said they’d like to see him in North America next season.
25. Ryan Suzuki: (C) – BARRIE COLTS
The younger brother of Canadien’s prospect Nick Suzuki has emerged as an excellent playmaker for the Barrie Colts. One scout told me he needs to grind a little bit more but it’s not enough of an issue to push him out of the first round.
26. Connor McMichael: (C) – LONDON KNIGHTS
McMichael put up 72 points in 67 games while playing the majority of the season outside of the top six on a stacked London Knights squad. He will play a much larger role on the Knights next season. There could be some great value to be had with this player if he’s on the board late in the first round.
27. Thomas Bjornfot: (D) – DJUGARDENS, SWEDEN
He was the best defenseman in Sweden’s top junior league this season and has been a part of the national program for three years. He’s not in the same class as Broberg but a few scouts did have him higher than Soderstrom.
28. Robert Mastrosimone: (LW) – CHICAGO STEEL, USHL
This pint-sized forward had a very good regular season but cranked it up a notch in the playoffs where he led the USHL in scoring. He performed well on the international stage as well.
29. Pavel Dorofeyev: (LW) – MAGNITOGORSK, KHL
He’s a shifty winger who spent half the season in the KHL and half the season playing junior in Russia. He scored 17 goals in 19 games and to be honest was probably too good for the junior league. I had a chance to watch him with the big club at the Spengler Cup and you could tell he has significant offensive upside.
30. Brett Leason: (RW) – PRINCE ALBERT RAIDERS
He worked hard on his skating to a point where it allowed him to blow up offensively in his third year of draft eligibility. He won’t be classified as a good skater at the next level but other elements of his game should give him a chance to contribute. I did have one scout tell me that he cheated a bit offensively this season.
31. Samuel Poulin: (LW) – SHERBROOKE PHOENIX
His numbers won’t blow you away but he’s a hard-working kid who has an absolutely wicked shot and he loves to use it. He needs to work on his skating but still seems to be projected as a late first rounder by most people I talk to.
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