Ola's Top 31 for the 2019 Draft

By Ola · Apr 27, 2019 · Updated Apr 27, 2019
  1. Ola
    MY TOP 31 DRAFT 2019

    I did this last season too. My main purpose is to watch these kids play, form my own opinion -- stick my neck out if you want -- and carefully create my own ranking, so that I can look back at it in 2-3 years, 5 years and even 10 years and see what I got right and what I got wrong and learn from it.

    A few comments to start with:

    * Players not ranked have not been considered, basically. I have mostly viewed the international tournaments, the Hlinka, 5 nations and the U18. Different level of senior hockey. I have not broadly scouted the Canadian junior leagues to find players not selected for national teams etc. that I find interesting. With the digital coverage of the game today, its possible to get a fairly good view of most kids out there, but I really want to avoid getting trapped relying on others opinions on this kid. And when excluding many kids that haven't played against the best of their peers in international hockey I feel that I can make a ranking by what I observe, and that is not as subjective as it gets when you compare kids in totally different environments.

    * This is not a mock draft, its my top 31 created with the aim to -- with the best of my guessing ability -- reflect the top 31 players from the perspective of how good they can become for a NHL team over the course of their career.

    * In my commentary, I sometimes repeat myself. This is to make the comments on each kid as complete as possible so that they can be read stand-alone, i.e. you don't have to read through the whole thing to understand my viewpoint on one player.

    Any thoughts or questions are appreciated! :)
    1. Jack Hughes, C, 5’10 180 lbs (LHS)

    Jack Hughes has the mobility, balance, intensity, hands and offensive creativity to terrorize a defense in the attacking zone. What sets apart a good forward picked first overall from the picks that are not quite deemed to have fulfilled the expectations is the forward in question’s ability to take over a game. Jack Hughes has that ability. When he arrives, he will take over a good 10 shifts per night in the offensive zone. Drive to the net, draw attention, set up teammates, force defenders to cross the line in order to handle him, win back pucks and just in general really push the tempo on the ice.

    While many hockey players can skate and handle the puck, Hughes has that modern ability to really make every play in very heavy traffic, while leaning into defenders and operating right in their wheel house. By being able to take the offensive traffic right into the backyard of the defenders he creates havoc, and goals in hockey are so often preceded by just that, havoc in the defensive game. His streide is tremendously effortless.
    Jack Hughes may not be a generational talent. Someone like McDavid is a much bigger threat from deeper down the ice, starting in the neutral zone or even as low as high in the defensive zone. Whereas Hughes big impact only will come in the attacking zone, which is what really sets the two apart. With that said, I still think Jack Hughes has every opportunity to become a successful first overall pick.

    From my horizon, the 2019 NHL draft is deep in the top end of the draft. I do not feel that Jack Hughes really sets himself apart from the competition as a hockey player. But I do think he is the clear option to be drafted No 1 in this draft because he gives you – and more so than the other candidates -- exactly what you want to get from No 1 pick. That game breaking ability. That top end skill.

    The word congratulation comes to mind when describing Jack Hughes as a prospect in the 2019 NHL draft. Congratulation to the fans of the team that ends up picking him, because you will for over a decade be served with Jack Hughes electric offensive game, but also congratulations to the hockey fans of all teams, because when Jack Hughes comes to town we will get to see his unique ability and electric offensive game. He will be a great addition to the collection of stars of the National Hockey League!
    2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, 6’2 190 lbs (LHS)

    Kaapo Kakko is currently the best player in the NHL 2019 draft. He has the combination of size and speed that you only can find at the top of a NHL draft. He is a tremendously poised hockey player with the size, skating and hands to back up his patience with the ability to buy himself time on the ice. He sees the ice really well and is a creative player, that also can change tempo and push the pace at times. He is a very mature player already and his production in the SM Liiga is very impressive.

    Kakko’s biggest strength is his ability to compete more or less harder than everyone on the ice even at the highest level. Its not a mindset, its an ability like every other. Every shift, every time you lose a puck and gets an opportunity to win it back, Kakko gives everything in a split second. He gets on lose pucks, he makes perfect reads. In that sense, he stands out in the same way Peter Forsberg did when he first came up in MoDo’s organization.

    Kakko deserves consideration at the No 1 spot, the No 2 spot and the No 3 spot, besides the No 4 spot that he currently holds. There is an X factor, or call it margin of error, in every case you evaluate a young hockey player. The game of hockey is so advance that young players are not finished products at the age of 18, everyone need more time to master all aspects necessary to be a complete player. When ranked 4th, it should be noted that an assumption is made that Kakko’s outcome on that scale – call it the margin of error scale – is on the very negative end. There should be very little, if any, downside or risk with picking Kakko 4th in the NHL 2019 draft. The potential error in judgement should be all positive. He is already a very good player, that certainly will get better. The question is not if Kakko will become a very good NHLer, it is if he can become a player somewhere on a range from Olli Jokinen to Mikko Koivu, to compare him to two fellow Finns, or if he will step in and contribute on the same level as Jack Eichel or Austin Matthews have done from the get-go. I cannot rule out any of those scenarios.

    My viewings of Kaapo Kakko are limited to watching him in multiple games over two years, I have not interviewed him, investigated his growth potential, tested him physically etc. As of now I see a kid that isn’t quite as physically strong nor is he the threat from distance as Jack Eichel is, nor has he quite the same skill level as Austin Matthews has. I do however think that he is fully comparable to recent 2nd overall draftee Andrei Svechnikov. On top of that, you has a player that is exceptionally good at a young age. One of the better players this age I have seen, without displaying the elite raw abilities that say Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin did at the same age. How fast can he develop the coming years? A normal development curve would put him into Evgeni Malkin territory, but there is of course reason to assume that Kakko is a very early developed young man who probably will not grow as much physically as the average kid his age.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Eric Staal
    3. Alex Turcotte, C, 5’11 195 lbs (LHS)

    Alex Turcotte is good at a lot of things. His play-making ability is very good. He processes the game so fast, and is excellent at finding open lanes. As a very gifted young man and a product of the excellent USNDP his hands are stellar and his ability to handle the puck in all situations is excellent.

    But Alex Turcotte has a strength that puts all his other abilities in the shadow, and that is his ability to skate with the puck. He is an excellent skater; controlled, low center of gravity, so fast, unique acceleration. And he can handle the puck in all situation, he has perfect awareness of what is going on around him. He has that overdrive gear with which he will push any D trying to contain him when he challenges them on the outside, but he can also slow down the pace and change tempo if necessary.

    Turcotte’s speed and hockey sense spills over to his defensive game making him one of the better 200 ft players we have seen in the last years’ drafts. He will stress the puck carriers, win lose pucks and get back fast and support the defenders.

    Turcotte may not be the 2nd best player in this year’s draft, he may not be the 2nd most skilled player and he may not have the 2nd highest potential – but he has everything that is crucial for a forward to succeed in the NHL game of today. When he arrives, he will on every given night be one of the top 2-3 puck carriers on the ice, no matter which team he ends up on and no matter which team that team plays. He is very good, albeit not on par with the best in the NHL, around the net and in the last fifth of the ice so to speak. But on the other hand, he has a 200 ft that not many top offensive players can sport. All in all, I see a player in Alex Turcotte that will change the outlook of his team in the NHL. A player that will be impossible to shut down, a player that will contribute not only when scoring but on a shift by shift basis – but that also has an offensive game that can lead his team.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Henrik Zetterberg
    4. Alex Newhook, C, 5’11 190 lbs (LHS)

    The phrase the sky is the limit is not entirely easy to use regarding hockey players. We have all just seen Nikita Kucherov finish a NHL season with 128 pts. As a Swede born in the early 80’s, I have followed Daniel Alfredsson’s long career fairly close, that peaked with him scoring 103 pts during a very defensive era. When we refer to the sky those performances must meet whatever criteria we set up, and if someone like Daniel Alfredsson who was drafted as a 22 y/o can get to that level – who cannot?

    That can be debated, but Alex Newhook is a kid who comes into the discussion from the complete opposite perspective, because against the background of his tremendously good skating and top notch focus offensively you can state that the sky is the limit for this kid, even if he doesn’t become one of the most clutch performers out there like Kucherov has been this season or Alfredsson was at his peak.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Matt Barzal

    5. Trevor Zegras, C, 6’0 180 lbs (LHS)

    Trevor Zegras is an upright skater with a slick step and excellent crisp passing game. He can also be fairly nifty around the net.

    Zegras’ passing game is at a level where he today could step onto the ice in the NHL and distribute the puck on a powerplay. He has the agility and awareness to turn away from pressuring PKers and the vision and crisp passing game to deliver the puck. He also has that area passing game that many great modern kids use so well, you can’t see the entire ice but you can count the defenders, if 5 guys are in your picture, the Ds will be open. That multi-dimensional offensive game. Keep the puck within the team, send it around the boards to your D when necessary, throw that blind pass diagonally through the zone to the opposite attacking D since you can see that the forward have dropped down. This kid’s head on his shoulder is screwed on right.

    Zegras should have a very good shot at becoming a solid 2nd line center or top 6 forward if he is moved to the wing. Overall his ability is comparable to someone like Jodran Eberle and I would be surprised if he couldn’t perform at the same level as Eberle has in the NHL. On the other side of the spectrum, he doesn’t quite seem to have skill level that would enable him to duplicate with what Johnny Hockey is doing in Calgary or Elias Pettersson is doing in Vancouver. But with that said – if someone like Zegras ends up on a functioning high octane PP the points can pile up in a hurry. Kind of like for Mike Riberio when he was on those PPs in Dallas or Washington.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Jordan Eberle with a touch of Mike Riberio

    6. Vasily Podkolzin, RW, 6’1 190 lbs (LHS)

    Vasily Podkolzin is the most offensively gifted player of the 2019 NHL draft. In different eras we have described the offensive game of the NHL with different. To succeed in today’s NHL, the key is to master the multi-dimensional offensive game.

    The offensive game is today not about powering your way to the net like an Eric Lindros could do, or to be able to slow down the pace and change tempo to beat your guy or thread passes to a jungle of legs and sticks like a Peter Forsberg could to. Nor is it about having blazing speed and an ability to exploit open ice behind Ds like the Bure, Bondra, Mogilny and Gaborik’s was known for. No, it is about genuinely challenging the defense all the time from all angels and directions and in all ways possible, and with genuinely I mean to not only skate up towards a D and deke a little with the intention to break and turn up ice to find a trailer all the time, but really try to undress your guy, really try to beat him. Because when these light, fast and immensely gifted kids do just that, it really pushes the defense of today’s NHL teams. They can often stop the first guy, but when doing so the defender often takes himself out of position, you don’t know where the puck is going, or the attacker can manage to move it to a teammate before going down. And its those situations that leads to goals, that have caused the upswing in scoring we have seen the last year. An Elias Petersson may not be the fastest or strongest guy in the NHL, but he illustrates this way of playing offensive hockey perfectly. The creativity to see the lanes and openings, the talent to execute on those plays and a snappy shot that will put the puck in the opening’s goalies are forced to give them eventually.

    Podkolzin is not the prettiest skater in this draft, nor a super smooth puck handler. He doesn’t have Laine’s force behind his shot. But he fits the above-mentioned criteria to a T. I give Jim Benning a lot of credit for drafting Elias Pettersson. Pettersson was not always the most impressive kid on the ice when he put on his skates his draft year, on the contrary he had some concerning nights. Vancouver had a history with the Olli Juolevi pick, whom many have seen subsequent to the pick and asked themselves why exactly was this kid picked 5th overall? He may or may not have turned it around lately, but for a while he was not impressive. But Benning took a shot on Pettersson and the rest is history.

    After watching Podkolzin I cannot recommend any other action, take him, don’t pay attention to the new grey hairs staring at you when you look in the mirror in the morning, and lean back. It’s the best bet, its what makes the most sense. Is he perfect? No, but it should pay off.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Elias Pettersson
    7. Spencer Knight, G, 6’3 190 lbs

    Spencer Knight has everything you want in a goalie. Good size, great technique, modern style -- that economical movement pattern, while still being able to get from post to post really fast when necessary. Calm and collected.

    There are many truths in hockey. Often they are well motivated. Can it be motivated to pick a goalie in the first round? So many starters out there are not 1st round picks. So many 1st round picks have not turned out the way expected. That are facts. But its important to remember that there are many aspects that affects these things. Looking around the league, there are many goaltenders out there who have taken advantage of the best goalie coaches in the world in the NHL and really prolonged their shelf life by improving their game and staying with the developments, but their expiry date is running out. Meanwhile, the distance between a young kid coming out of juniors/college and the 27-35 y/o NHL goalie that has honed their craftmanship year in and year out have grown. Many of the young kids have faced adversity and they have often not been able to overcome that adversity. But this cannot go on forever, NHL teams cannot keep relying on the Lungo, Miller, Andersson, Hank, Smith, Runne, Ward, Howard, MAF, Halaks of the world forever. A generational change is coming sooner rather than later.

    Spencer Knight is not unique, he isn’t one of the best goalies his age the last decades. But he is a very competent and solid goaltender, that has a perfect platform to build a solid NHL game on. MTL picked Carey Price 5th in 2005, they do not regret that pick in light of Gilbert Brule going 6th, Jack Skille going 7th, Devin Setoguchi going 8th, Brian Lee going 9th and so forth. My best bet is that Spencer Knight will become a very good starter in the NHL that will push himself into the top 5-10 category among keepers in the world. That makes him worthy of being picked at this spot in the NHL draft.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Carey Price
    8. Matt Boldy, LW, 6’2 190 lbs (LHS)

    If you want a player, Matt Boldy may be your guy. He has everything, skating, hands, vision, hockey sense and a shot.

    In some ways Matt Boldy is still finding his way as a hockey player, in that he from the perspective of being as complete as he is, is encouraged to build on that and play with great guys but in more of a supporting role. There is a risk with guys like Boldy, and certainly also European guys playing men’s hockey from a young age, that you label them as low potential players. But I have no doubt that if Boldy played in like the OHL or Q or another lower level junior league and was not surrounded by a bunch of guys like Jack Hughes and co – impressive stats wouldn’t be an issue, but he would also develop and focus more on areas as a goto source for offense. Something that he will snooze a bit in the capacity he is used in right now.

    Its hard to compare Boldy in terms of style with current NHLer, because he has many options open to him. Can he develop his shot more and become more of a shooter? His speed? Can he develop chemistry with more of a top-notch offensive talent? Someone like Chris Kreider could be mentioned, but I don’t know if its meaningful. Boldy is a very good hockey player who should become a very solid top 6 forward in the NHL.
    9. Bowen Byram, LD, 6’0 190 lbs (LHS)

    Bowen Byram is a very gifted defenseman. His big strength is his smarts and understanding of the game, but his skating is very good.

    Playing defense in the NHL is not comparable to participating in a skill-competition. Its about doing it fairly well (which can be very hard, you are exposed back there) night in and night out, shift after shift (which not many can do). It will wear on you, a lot, and the land ahead can always be compared to a mine field. Bowen Byram may not blow you away when you watch him for a shorter stretch. But he just breaths having that necessary aura for a top defenseman in the NHL. He raises to the occasion. He competes so hard. He is chippy. And he just overall has that grade A personality that you want a pilot of an airplane you are in to have, that you want your surgeon to have if you are to undergo a surgery, that you want your major to have if you are going into battle, that you want the quarter back of your NFL team to have and so forth.

    Teams are built from the backend and Bowen Byram checks so many boxes of being a top defender in this league. Why shouldn’t he be selected first overall? Second overall? Why should he last to the 5th selection?

    There are two things that hurts Byram’s prospects:

    First of all, size still very much matters for defenders in hockey. The scale has tipped in favor of speed and offensive hockey and to the detriment to size and strength. But more so than ever before, this has created a dived between how a defender and how a forward should be built in pro hockey. Size and reach will always be a factor defensively, if you ever played the game you know what a difference it is trying to beat that 6’5 defender wide compared to that 5’10 defender. Hockey isn’t a black and white game, there will always be bigger forwards. No coach will want a defender put in a situation around the net in which he is giving up 4-5 inches in relation to the forward he is going up against. Listings are what they are in hockey, maybe they are a bit more honest today than what they used to be, but facts are that Bowen Byram is not a big defender. He is not small, but he is on the small side. Maybe his deep skating stride unfairly makes him look smaller than he is – but no matter what we can conclude that this kid is not 6’3. Nobody can dispute that a NHL team can carry a number of smaller defenders in today’s game. But you still must have a mix. And whether that mix is 4:2 or 3:3 or whatever, it is something a coach and GM must pay attention too.

    Second of all, there are a number of alternatives available for how to construct a successful power play in today’s NHL. And when you look at the best power plays in the NHL right now, its obvious that they are not streamlined in terms of design. But, while Tampa Bay and a few others manage to get the job done with irregular designs, an overwhelming majority of the successful PPs are set up on the right side with a RHS PPQB ready to one-time the puck. Bowen Byram is a 2-way defender, but offense is a big part of his game. More so than his defense. Many teams need to make adjustments to their power play to incorporate him there, and if you are not successful with those adjustments or you have the unique player types that can cope with them – the risk is substantial.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Charlie McAvoy
    10. Dylan Cozens, C/RW, 6’3 185 lbs, (RHS)

    Dylan Cozens is a right shooting center with very good speed and size. He has an admirable personality and a genuine love of the game. What more needs to be said? Should we move on to the next player?

    Canada is hockey, and hockey is, to a large extent, Canada. But while Canada always will produce great players, its program will also have ups and downs. The last years, we have seen many impressive talents from Canada not quite hit it off in the NHL. Even if its too early to close the book on any of these kids, guys like the following have at least been slow out of the gates: Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennet, Dal Colle, Jake Virtanen, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse among others. NHL teams have taken notice and it certainly shows in the number of top 3/5/10 picks made out of the CHL the last years. The reason for this is not because Canadian kids today are born with less talent or because the CHL teams are doing stuff worse than they used to, its simply because others are improved their programs a great deal. The CHL is the core of a very decentralized program. A great number of teams run by a great number of tremendously experienced and accomplished hockey personalities. It has its pros, but a con is that it is not easy for anyone at the top to ensure that all programs keep up with the modern development of the game. OTOH the USNDP is a formidable success. It collects the top talent in the US and ensures that all these kids are coached and trains as well as is known at any give time. If a new development is made in any field, it can be implemented in the USNDP’s approach instantly and instantly reach all top US kids. Sweden has considered adopting a similar program to not be left in the dust behind US hockey, but has – for now – after much consideration decided to not do it but instead adopt a hybrid model with 4 full time advisors employed that will visit the top programs and kids to ensure that they are developed with state of the art methods.

    Hence Dylan Cozens raises questions marks against the above back-ground. No doubt he is talented, but so is all those kids mentioned above too. A big forward will just never really skate as well as a top smaller skater. Speed will not be a big positive factor in the NHL. The shot is significant – but not a guarantee for success in any way. The hands help, but so much is about distributing the puck, finding lanes, being creative, not necessarily being able to dangle with the puck.

    But even with all the above-mentioned concerns and questions marks, its undeniable that Dylan Cozens is more than a talent designed to dominate junior hockey. He has so much quality in his game. This is undeniably a result of the summer camps that in fairly recent years have gone from giving players an opportunity to hit the ice and skate hard for a while and then have a little fun working on their skills summertime, to being super focused and hard-working development schemes. When Dylan Cozens breaks in on the net with the puck he will not as much as glance on the puck. This was an ability that 15 years ago, a few selected Russians could possess coming out of their elite schools putting 10x as much of time into drilling technical aspects of hockey as real in game situations. Its not a result of putting 1 hour into it per day over three months, it requires much more work than that. He can skate, he can navigate around the defenders with a great reach, he can keep the puck within the team, he can protect it will around the boards, he will win back lost pucks. He will be hard to move around the net. As more and more really talented Ds on the smaller side make the NHL, the size a Cozen type possess will also pay off more in certain areas when he ends up in 1 on 1 situations with those 5’9-11 Ds.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Cory Perry
    11. Phillip Broberg, LD, 6’3 200 lbs (LHS)

    Phillip Broberg has an excellent combination of size and skating. He is an aware and poised hockey player who moves the puck really well up ice, he can value situations really well and combines small simple passes perfectly with longer stretch passes or skating the puck out of his own end. His shot is strong from the blue.

    His lateral movement and backward skating is not perfect, but it still certainly qualifies as good for the average 1st round pick (sometimes scouting reports are a bit sloppy describing a player’s skating ability, you can have excellent top speed, but not be very agile and so forth. Broberg is a great skater heading up ice, it should however be noted that he is not great/exceptional when he comes to moving backwards or laterally).

    His size should not be underrated. For forwards, you could argue that it is a disadvantage overall to be too big. A forward 6’3-6’4 will start to have problems skating with the ultra light 5’10-6’1 counter parts flying around rinks of NHL teams these days. But for a defending player, size and reach is still very important. A majority of goals are still scored in front of the net. Even if the average NHL forward is getting smaller and the number of down right small forwards are exploding, there are still plenty of bigger punishing forwards around that must be handled around the net. Broberg will be a very solid piece when everything is said and done. He will move really well, he will move the puck really well, he will be able to defend and log a lot of minutes, and he will bring a lot of size to his team.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
    12. Cole Caufield, RW, 5’7 157 lbs (RHS)

    Caufield is a fairly good slippery skater who has a very solid righty shot and a great nose for the net. He has tremendous focus enabling him to be an unique goal scorer and he understands his teammates really well and thrives at building a special chemistry with his linemates.

    In a world with strong unconditional claims on how one kid is better than another, someone like Cole Caufield is a perfect reminder of just how much nonsense that is. Take him and he will give you grey hairs or pass on him and he will give you grey hairs. But that is not an excuse to surrender and walk away from the analysis. There are many objective factors to consider, lets break them down.

    The – big – problem very small players face is not related to the physical play, like many believes. It is almost entirely related to skating and speed. Its really simple physics and anatomy. If you take a normal human being and super size him, his weight will grow exponentially in relation to his strength, or vice versa, if you shrink him his weight will decrease exponentially in relation. I.e. the big guy is in absolute terms stronger, but also weaker in relation to his weight, with the mutatis mutandis result for the smaller guy. Hence the smaller guy will be more agile and more athletic. But pure speed has another dimension -- the length of the stride. There is literary a tipping point in this regard. For the same reason an ant cannot outrun an elephant, someone like Sean Dhooghe or anyone being 5’3 will just never be able to compete going a lap around the rink with fast guys 6-7 inches taller than him, no matter how strong he is. The human body is placed right around its tipping point for agility/relative strength vs speed. Endurance is of course also a factor.

    Hence Cole Caufield will never be a significant threat going the length of the ice, he will not have that blazing speed. And the risk you face with a kid being this undersized is that he will display those drowning symptoms we have seen before. Who haven’t followed a smaller talented gifted players try to break into the NHL with the result being that the kid that in juniors could get to the loose pucks, win it back on the back-check, break away in the transition game and be everywhere and anywhere in on the ice – in the NHL instantly looks overmatched and behind the pace?

    But many things speak in Caufield’s favor. He can move at a high pace on the ice still, even if he won’t set any records going around the rink. His hockey sense is really strong enabling him to make great reads. And especially, he is not only a threat going to the net, moving in on a breakaway or odd man rush – Caufield is also a threat from a classic AO/Laine position with his slapper, and that is very important. That weapon from the outside is so valuable. In a strong environment and with sufficient support, Caufield should be able to become a player that can score important goals that on many nights can be the difference between getting a point or two or no points. I think he has a good shot at becoming a 30 goal scorer.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Joe Mullen
    13. Jamieson Rees, F, 5’10 175 lbs (LHS)

    Jamieson Rees has everything you want in a hockey player in today’s game. His work-ethic is as good as it gets, he has hands that enables him to turn even the best defenders among his peers inside out, he can hit and his mind enables him to pursuit pucks and stay on top of the pace as well as anyone else in this draft.
    He has no real flaw, there is no reason for why Jamieson Rees should not get serious consideration at a really high position in this year’s draft.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Pat Verbeek

    14. Kirby Dach, C/RW, 6’4 200 lbs (RHS)

    Kirby Dach’s combination of being strong on the puck, his vision and his playmaking ability stands out in comparison with more or less anyone. From the face-off dots and in in the attacking zone, he is a formidable threat. What is holding him back is of course his speed. He does not skate like Dino Ciccarelli, he has no major flaws in his stride. He is a perfectly OK skater for someone his size, but the problem is that in today’s game and the pace it is played at – your role on the ice impact on the game will decrease substantially as long as you aren’t a great skater, period. I.e. not considering your size at all. And if you put Dach up against a Debrincat and have them do a bunch of a different skating tests on the ice, Dach is not going to match up. He is not a great skater, period. When he hits the ice in his rookie season in the NHL, whenever that is, his speed and mobility is going to be an issue, hands down.

    But the game of hockey is not black or white, there are always room for different type of players. As we see more speedy players break into the game, especially at center, it becomes more important to find players that can get them the puck. Sometimes there is a notion that a fast player should play with another fast player ‘that can keep up with him’, but that is nonsense. It didn’t work in the 90’s when Vancouver acquired Alexander Mogilny to skate with Pavel Bure and it will not work in today’s game. A perfect teammate for Tyler Seguin is not a Carl Hagelin, it’s a Jamie Benn. Kirby Dach has potential to become an excellent option next to a speedy center like that. There are many of them in the league already and they are becoming more and more every year. But it should be noted that it is not easy to do what Jamie Benn is doing in Dallas or Blake Wheeler is doing in Winnipeg. Blake Wheeler was drafted in 2004 and Jamie Benn was drafted in 2007. Even if they are not all over the place every summer, there are plenty of very gifted hockey players with size and skill that have laced up the skates the last decades without even remotely being able to duplicate what Jamie Benn or Blake Wheeler have been able to accomplish, what Todd Bertuzzi did before them. But this new speedy game is the reality Kirby Dach is growing up in today, he is more prepared for it than previous candidates. I like a lot of things that he brings to the ice. He is versatile and smart down low, he is so strong on the puck. Can take faceoffs. He has that fast release whenever a puck drops down on his stick. He should have a good shot at becoming a good NHLer, strong top 3-4 forward.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Jamie Benn

    15. Kaedan Korczak, RD, 6’3 200 lbs

    Korczak is a bit of a personal favorite, he is a modern defender that passes the requirements in all areas, but he can also play a hard-nosed no-nonsense game. Any NHL team that can get defender that can keep the gap and move the puck, and add those abilities at RD, would be absolutely delighted.

    Of course the shortage of these guys in the NHL isn’t caused by there not being born any slightly bigger hockey players the last years, its because its so hard for these guys to get to a level where they can skate and keep up with the top forwards in the NHL. That will naturally also be the big challenge for Korczak. But my bet is that he is up for it, these guys have grown up facing these conditions. Nobody have put 300 lbs in front of him and asked him to squat it 10 times.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Travis Hamonic
    16. Victor Söderström, RD, 5’11 180 lbs (RHS)

    Victor Söderström is a 2-way defender who has top notch agility, a really good break out pass, very good offensive game from the blueline, and a defensive game that is very strong and authoritative for a player of his stature (listings are what they are in hockey, I think VS might be listed a bit on the small side, wouldn’t be surprised if he fairly soon shot up towards 6’1 190 lbs in the books).

    To a large extent development is up to the kid in question that must put in the hours and get the job done, but Victor Söderström cannot be described in any other way than being a player with very high potential as well as a very high celling, so to speak.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Ryan Ellis
    17. Raphaël Lavoie, RW, 6’4 200 lbs (RHS)

    Raphaël Lavoie is a very strong, effective and fairly gifted young top offensive prospect. Lavoie’s offensive game should translate really well to the NHL; he may not have the offensive go to ability of some of his peers but that does not mean that he will not be able to keep producing while he gets higher up in the food chain and face tougher opponents.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Mark Stone
    18. Moritz Seider, RD, 6’4 200 lbs (RHS)

    Moritz Seider has everything you want in a defender. He is a very gifted and talented kid. He has size, he is physical and aggressive. He can skate. He has good hands; a heavy shot and a can move the puck.

    However, the hardest part when mapping young talent in hockey is cross scouting, i.e. comparing one kid in one environment with another kid in a totally different environment. And if that ever becomes clear, its when you look at a kid like Moritz Seider. As the game of hockey has grown and the different programs around the world are competing in what more and more is becoming comparable with an arms race between super powers, hockey has become more and more about training and developing. Just like say gymnastics. Talent is necessary, but you are nothing without extremely hard elite training. There is no way a girl doing well training 5 times a week for an hour at the time even remotely is going to be able to compete with another girl in an elite program working out 6-8 hours per day more or less every day of the year. If we look at like Canada playing Sweden in the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament this summer, the game is so fast, the tempo is so high, all players are on the same page and forces everything by perfectly utilizing each other. I would say that any D that laced them up for the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament 10-15 years ago, would be a tad shell-shocked early on if they hit the ice in that game. The game is constantly developing. And if like Alex Pieterangelo of 2007 would be rattled of the pace in a game in 2019 (not saying that he couldn’t adopt with time, of course he can, but just to illustrate how fast the game is), Moritz Seider of Germany in 2019 will have to adopt to the pace in Canada and Sweden in 2019.

    But Moritz Seider surprises me when I watch him (during the little I’ve seen of him), I like a lot about him. German hockey is doing a lot of good things. Seider definitely has talent. But he is raw for sure.

    Everyone is looking for that RD with size, that can eat minutes and play in all situations. And if you don’t draft him high, he is almost impossible to find. With that said – the requirements to play in the NHL are really high. The pace when the play turns is very high today. Last season all NHL teams passed on Bode Wilde and many several times, as far as I can tell, teams ‘disqualified’ his foot work. As a European, its eye opening when you time after time see fairly capable and complete defenders come over from Europe and just not keep up with the pace of the transition game in the NHL, at all.

    In the end, all you got is your best bet and Moritz Seider to me seems to be a kid that will be able to handle the NHL pace. And if he can do that – he will have many intangibles that will push him up the list as an NHL defender.

    Comparable player in terms of style and potential impact: Adam Larsson
    19. Alex Vlasic, LD 6’6 190 lbs (LHS)

    Alex Vlasic will become a defender that can eat minutes and be a defensive force to be reckoned with for years to come. He is not without skill with the puck. Strong overall, at the way he is able to get by effortlessly when he face up against the best of his peers really stands by.

    The big breaking point for defenders like Alex Vlasic is the ability to stay with the pace of the NHL pace when the play turns from attack to defense. When forwards -- defending in a non-stationary defensive scheme – can turn up ice with speed under their skates and challenge you at 20 mph, simple math tells you that one lost second due to an incorrect read or need to turn around to get going, translates to 30 foot lost.

    For this reason, there is a great shortage of defenders with some size that can stay with the pace, move the puck under pressure as well as defend fairly well in the NHL. But it is obvious when you follow someone like Alex Vlasic that they have a different background than the previous generation of NHL defenders. They have grown up playing a majority of forwards that play at the level they do not because their size but because of their speed and skill. Alex Vlasic hasn’t in mid-May been put in front of a bar with 350-400 lbs on it and been ordered to squat it 8 reps times 5 series until his legs look like tree trunks.

    Vlasic should nonetheless have a lot of filling out to do, and its hard to know from only watching him in games if that will result in him becoming a 230 lbs guy or a 205 lbs guy.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Colton Parayko (as a lefty)
    20. Karl Henriksson, C, 5’9 170 lbs (LHS)

    Karl Henriksson is a creative passer and strong puck handler that is superb and skating and playing hockey in heavy traffic.

    Henriksson is a multi-talent who was an option for the Swedish national team in soccer as a 15 y/o, before he eventually decided to focus on his hockey career. Its easy to love how he thinks the offensive game, how fast he moves the puck, how creative he is. He also has a great stride and can really push opponents facing the best of his peers, and he has the balance to do it even when someone is leaning into him.

    There is one thing – from my POV – that is holding Karl Henriksson back, and that is his stamina. He doesn’t have the endurance at this point to be a No 1 center against the best U18 national teams in the world and skate hard for 20 minutes a night. In itself, that is not strange. At the absolute highest level we don’t often see it, but hockey is a tremendously challenging sport when it comes to endurance. A shift in hockey is like running up for stairs for 40 seconds. If you are in really good shape you can do it with light legs for 15-20 seconds before you start to get heavy legs, a hockey game is 30 shifts over a couple of hours. These kids can often do it for the full game. Its not remarkable in any way that a kid is not at that stage.

    That is certainly one thing that must be monitored with Henriksson. Another is his development curve, is he an early developed kid who the competition will gain on with time, or is his curve heading in the right direction? He is still raw, is he gaining on the competition as there is reason to believe that he can since he has so much development potential in some fundamental areas? It can be hard to evaluate a kid playing next to a real future super star (like Raymond in Henriksson’s case), but from what I can tell he is feeding of his teammates and building on what they have instead of just riding along. His ability to play in traffic and move the puck is exactly what you are looking for in today’s game.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Brayden Point
    21. Igor Spiridonov, C, 6’2 190 lbs (RHS)

    I have followed international junior tournaments since 1993, at first a little more sporadically but eventually on a yearly basis. The last 5 years or so, the Russian hockey program has evolved dramatically, and Igor Spiridonov is a result of that. Young Russian hockey players was perfectly drilled products, but their National team would from time to time have issues and you did not often leave a tournament thinking that Team Russia the team had outshone everyone else, managed to over-achieve, found new tactical approaches or just outsmarted everyone overall. In a way that have changed, and the reason for it is the competitive nature of the Russian top junior league. You have a large number of clubs with a very competitive and competent junior organizations that in a competitive environment is pushing each other.

    Igor Spiridonov is not only a complete hockey player that has size, can skate, handle the puck and that has a powerful shot – no matter who you put him up against, he should also be labelled as a smart, tactically sound and experienced clutch performer.

    Even if the distance between picks in certain ranges in a NHL draft gets magnified this time of the year, Igor Spiridonov is not far behind anyone and whoever gets him on draft day will next year look back at the pick with a great deal of confidence.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Travis Zajac

    22. Drew Helleson, RD, 6’2 190 (RHS)

    Close to 31 franchises in the NHL has a void to fill on the right side of their blueline, and Drew Helleson should have every opportunity to be able to fill such a void.

    The big breaking point for defenders like Drew Helleson is the ability to stay with the pace of the NHL pace when the play turns from attack to defense. When forwards -- defending in a non-stationary defensive scheme – can turn up ice with speed under their skates and challenge you at 20 mph, simple math tells you that one lost second due to an incorrect read or need to turn around to get going, translates to 30 foot lost.
    For this reason, there is a great shortage of defenders with some size that can stay with the pace, move the puck under pressure as well as defend fairly well in the NHL. But it is obvious when you follow someone like Drew Helleson that they have a different background than the previous generation of NHL defenders. They have grown up playing a majority of forwards that play at the level they do not because their size but because of their speed and skill. Drew Helleson hasn’t in mid-May been put in front of a bar with 350-400 lbs on it and been ordered to squat it 8 reps times 5 series until his legs look like tree trunks.

    Playing D in the NHL is not easy, nor will it be for Drew Helleson. But with how well he has been developed in by the USNDP, his natural skill level and thought process he should be capable to in 5-6 years possess a top 4 role on a blueline in the NHL and be an option for his coach that can play in most situations.

    Comparison in terms of style and impact: A modern Ryan Pulock
    23. John Beecher, C, 6’3, 210 lbs (LHS)

    The USNDP is doing a fantastic job at providing a tremendous opportunity for young talented hockey players to hone their trade, and John Beecher is another testimony of that. A true physical specimen, John Beecher has galloping speed, a mind that keep him in pursuit of the puck all over the ice and hands as well as in game experience that makes him hard to contain for defenders even when playing against the best of his peers.
    John Beecher is from my point of view a better hockey player than he is allowed to show on the US U18 team playing behind centers like Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte.

    Given the platform John Beecher will stand on as he joins University of Michigan this fall – he should have every possibility to expand his register and assume a bigger role in the NCAA. If he can do that he will become a really valuable player for a NHL team down the road that will be a lot more than a depth center that can get the puck deep. In addition, it should not be forgotten that as there are more room for smaller puck moving defensemen in the NHL, the more guys there will be out there that will have a hard time containing someone like John Beecher if he gets a shoulder on them.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Rope Hintz

    24. Ilya Nikolayev, C, 6’0 190 (LHS)

    Ilya Nikolayev is a really smart and skilled playmaker, that also is gritty – clutch – and remarkably strong on the puck. On top of that he possesses a heavy shot and has the ability to pick corners even on the best goalies among his peers.

    The question you ask yourself when you see Nikolayev play is, what will prevent this kid from becoming a Russian Patrice Bergeron? The big challenge for him will undoubtedly be to either acquire another gear in his skating – call it separation speed – or develop that 6th sense that enables him to get a jump on players around him due to making top reads.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: David Krejci
    25. Cam York, LD, 5’11 180 lbs

    Cam York is an across the board very solid defender. His hockey sense is probably his biggest strength, next to his excellent mobility on his skates.

    He will become a NHL defender that can be used in all situations and that – despite his lack of size, which he makes up for with a very active stick, great balance and mobility – really has no flaw. There is really nothing not to like about Cam York, at least when he is located on a hockey rink.

    To develop as a hockey player and acquire the ability to play at an elite level in the NHL, you must to start with get to play in all situations of the game at a high level. Someone like Cam York will face the risk of getting caught in a mold where he earns himself a spot in the NHL early during his career, but not immediately get a lot of power play time – due to stiff competition – nor necessarily the most important minutes of a game. In that role it can be difficult to take the next step, to go from being a very solid defender but that has not learned to shoulder a go to role. Cam York should have the ability to – eventually – master anything that is thrown at him, but can he beat out the competition and become someone that gets the nod?

    Comparable players in terms of style and impact: TJ Brodie
    26. Case McCarthy, RD, 6’1 200 (RHS)

    When we watch a hockey game, we all notice the big hit, the flashy stickhandling move, the thundering shot and other plays of similar magnitude. We also notice something else, namely mistakes. If a group of spectators of a hockey game were asked to rank the players, to a large extent their performance is based on the sum of those positive and negative data points.

    But to take the next step – to move from junior hockey to men’s hockey, and the best league in the world that is the NHL – other factors will play a significant factor. The NHL coach, who is the person selecting the players that gets to step on the ice, will in today’s game particularly look at (i) the player’s ability to process the play, understand what should be tried to be done on the ice in specific situations, during the furious tempo of the NHL game, and (ii) if a player meets certain requirements enabling him to handle certain situations that he will be exposed to on the ice. As a result, a very common phenomena around the league, is that fans cannot understand why coaches of NHL teams plays certain players, often defenders, when other young more sexier versions outside the team couldn’t possibly do worse, and at least provide some upside. And in some situations, it can certainly be a legit question to ask.

    Case McCarthy may not be a stand-out on the USNDP; his numbers might not cause much action on Twitter; and does he not commit the odd mistake every now and then on the ice? However, he is nonetheless a very talented and across the board very solid defender. His skating is very smooth going in both directions, he can rush the puck up ice and join the attack, and he can make that first pass. In addition, he is a sturdy defender that can hold his own along the walls even against bigger forwards.

    After going through Boston University’s program, he has every opportunity to come out the other end as a defender capable of playing in a top 4 role in the NHL.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Brandon Montour
    27. Tobias Björnfot. LD, 6’0 203 lbs (LHS)

    Tobias Björnfot is a complete and competent defender who can skate, make the first pass and control the gap as well as the physical aspects of defending in today’s game.

    Which ever team drafts Tobias Björnfot will feel comfortable with their selection, as should they. From an objective point of view, you could argue that he is good enough to start get consideration earlier than I rank him here. And I understand the reasoning behind those arguments. However, as the game develops and young players adopt to new requirements, the bar is also raised. Tobias Björnfot is no worse than many defenders picked around 10-15 say 5-10 years ago, but since the industry developing hockey talents out there nowadays produce a handful of kids at this level yearly and another 10 or so that has potential to work themselves into this group that will go in the 2nd and 3rd round this year – the market does get saturated to a certain extent.

    So Tobias Björnfot is a high quality player from a lot of perspectives, and is in my opinion not behind where say Josh Morrissey was 6 years ago when he was drafted 13th overall, but in the near future I believe that the requirements of top defenders in the NHL will rise and someone like Björnfot will probably have to settle in on a 2nd pairing and a non-go-to role.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Josh Morrisey
    28. Peyton Krebs, C, 5’11 190 (LHS)

    Peyton Krebs is a very gifted forward offensively, that can skate with the puck, distribute it and that overall plays with a lot of electric creativity. Among the kids eligible for the 2019 draft, Peyton Krebs is one of the best hockey players out there. If not top 10, so at least top 15.

    The big challenge for Peyton Krebs will be to establish himself in a bigger role in the NHL. Because even if the game today is about speed and skill and hockey sense, and Krebs sum of those abilities is high – the competition for top 2 line center spots and goto roles on power plays in the NHL is still very tough. Looking back at how young hockey players have fared in the NHL the last years, after the absolute top kids – we have seen that it’s the best skaters, or the best playmakers, or the best stickhandlers that teams have found a use for, not the second best in each category, albeit if that kid checks several of the boxes so to speak.

    Peyton Krebs should have the ability to become a valuable top 2 to 3 line center in the NHL, but it will require that whomever drafts him also invests in him.

    Comparable player in terms of style: Alex Keerfot
    29. Albin Grewe, C/RW, 6’0 190 lbs (LHS)

    Albin Grewe has the work ethic, speed and skill to be position himself as a candidate for a top 9 position on an NHL team even at a young age. The higher the level he plays the better he plays.

    Stand alone that should not be enough to warrant a ranking in the top 31. The big question is if he has potential to grow more than his peers. He is one of few kids I have been both up and down and the up again this year. He finished last season on a high note and started this season strong. But then he lost a lot of energy and didn’t play with that flair and puck confidence a kid like him must have to put himself in contention. But during the U18 WJC he worked himself back to the level he must be and he will get the nod from me.

    So what type of player is he? Grewe is a good skater, with good hand and a good shot, but it is his physical game that sets him apart. He is a good hitter, both with and without the puck. He competes really hard. And its that the combination of his physical play and his ability to understand offensively gifted teammates that I believe will make him attractive for NHL teams just in a year or two.

    There is a reason for why NHL teams really rate these kids as high as they do and pick someone like Ty Dellandrea 13th overall in the draft. They are needed. The game of hockey is and will always be a combative sport. The last years, while the game has become faster, many physical players have lost value and in some cases their roster spot in the pros. But that is not because the importance of the grinding aspects of the game has lost value, it is certainly only due to the fact that the old guard did pass the speed and skill requirements of the NHL game we see right now. You want all players on the ice to be able to take away time and space for the opponents with their skating and understanding of the game; to be able to keep the puck within the team and find passes to a teammate no matter where he is on the ice, be it that you have to throw it across the neutral-zone or the attacking zone; and you also want especially all forwards to be able to suck in pass that is within their reach and be able to protect it for at least a little while and find an opening, even if they are pressured. Anyone that can fit those requirements and bring a lot of grit to the ice and a really competitive nature will be really valuable to their NHL team.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Alexander Steen
    30. Keean Washkurak, F, 5’10 185 lbs

    Keenan Washkurak does not fit the bill for being a star player in junior hockey as well as he fits the bill for having potential to become one of those really valuable 2-way winger that can play in the NHL.
    There is always an element of uncertainty when watch a young hockey player, and preferably you want a kid to be able to assume a bigger role in juniors than what you predict that he can become in the NHL.
    But I see a lot of growth potential in Keean Washkurak. He is a young raw kid who has a fairly good game and plays with some poise and a boatload of energy and grit. The hands are there, the stride is there, if this kid can develop physically and get a bigger role for the Mississauga Steelheads next season I could take big strides in relation to his peers in the near future.

    There is a reason for why NHL teams really rate these kids as high as they do and pick someone like Ty Dellandrea 13th overall in the draft. They are needed. The game of hockey is and will always be a combative sport. The last years, while the game has become faster, many physical players have lost value and in some cases their roster spot in the pros. But that is not because the importance of the grinding aspects of the game has lost value, it is certainly only due to the fact that the old guard did pass the speed and skill requirements of the NHL game we see right now. You want all players on the ice to be able to take away time and space for the opponents with their skating and understanding of the game; to be able to keep the puck within the team and find passes to a teammate no matter where he is on the ice, be it that you have to throw it across the neutral-zone or the attacking zone; and you also want especially all forwards to be able to suck in pass that is within their reach and be able to protect it for at least a little while and find an opening, even if they are pressured. Anyone that can fit those requirements and bring a lot of grit to the ice and a really competitive nature will be really valuable to their NHL team.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact: Ty Dellandrea
    31. Leevi Aaltonen, LW, 5’9 155 lbs (LHS)

    There is only one word to describe Leevi Aaltonen: Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-dang. A.K.A the Finnish Woodpecker (Lat. Picadilus blanka hyacintus la sisulainius). If you ever tried to sleep in a wooden house when a woodpecker tried to make a hole in the wall you will understand how defenders feel when they face Leevi Aaltonen during games.

    His skating is in some areas at the top of the draft. He has those super quick feets, gets going in no time and can really fly at top speed. He is relentless, stubborn, gritty and also smart on the ice, knows what to do with the puck when he gets it.

    In the first round of a NHL draft, many players will not come close to the NHL. Many players will make it without making any kind of significant impact. Of course Aaltonen must put in a lot of work and really push things, but I believe that he will become a valuable top 9 winger. But still he will probably drop when the NHL teams make their selections in June, because is the upside there? How about his size? But when you look at the NHL, does Arvidsson have upside? How many goals have he scored, 30? Not many matches that. Carl Hagelin. I think it’s a bit backwards.

    Comparable player in terms of style and impact (pick your poison): Reijo Routsalainen, Carl Hagelin or Victor Arvidsson

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