The NHL Draft doesn’t get as much love as its counterparts in the NBA or NFL. That’s because we see those draftees play in college, in the NFL’s case for a few years, while the NHL Draft features a lot of kids coming from junior teams and Europe. However, a great draft pick can help an NHL team right off the bat. Rasmus Dahlin was the first pick for the Buffalo Sabres in 2018, and while they didn’t make the playoffs, the Swedish defenseman was a huge boon on the blue line. You think that the Capitals and Penguins would be where they are without Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby, respectively? You don't even need the top pick to get a great prospect, especially in this draft.
Here’s our first look at the top 10 prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft, set for June, which is headlined by a one-two punch that is starting to cause debate.
1. Jack Hughes, C, US U18 NTDP
While there are murmurs about Hughes not being the top pick in this draft, we aren’t biting on that just yet. Sure, at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he’s not giant. There’s a chance that in the NHL he will move to the wing. You know who is another American forward with a ton of skill who ended up on the wing in part because of his size? Patrick Kane. And Hughes could be that caliber of player at the next level with his elite speed and talent. He put up 112 points in 50 games for the U.S. under-18 team, breaking records left and right. Yes, it’s a little dull when a prospect goes wire to wire as the clear top guy in the draft, but don’t overthink it. Hughes is the best player in this draft class.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS
That being said, Kakko would make a wonderful consolation prize and would be the best prospect in several past draft classes. The Finn notched 38 points in 45 games in his home country’s top league. Only two players his age, Aleksander Barkov and Mikael Granlund, have managed more. While you would perhaps be a smidge disappointed to get a Granlund with your top pick, everybody would love a Barkov. Kakko also has impressed at the World Championships, which is helping to fuel the argument that he belongs above Hughes.
3. Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades
You want that prototype big center? Dach is your guy. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs a hair under 200 pounds, but despite his size he has deft hands and is a sharp passer. That calls to mind Joe Thornton, though that comparison would be a bit of a stretch. Still, the kid is the kind of pivot you can build around, and he should get even bigger and stronger as he fills out.
4. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver Giants
Byram is the consensus best defenseman in this year’s class. His stock has been on the rise because he led the WHL in playoff scoring by putting up 26 points in 22 games in Vancouver’s effort to win the title. It fell one game short, losing in overtime to Prince Albert in Game 7, but being a top-five pick would be a nice consolation prize.
5. Alex Turcotte, C, US U18 NTDP
This is a huge year for America’s developmental program. As many as six of its players could be drafted in the first half of the first round. It was an injury-marred year for Turcotte, but he was able to turn heads at the U18 World Championship. There are some concerns that he might be a product of his teammates, but he also averaged 1.68 points per game this season when healthy.
6. Cole Caufield, RW, US U18 NTDP
Caufield is destined to be the most polarizing prospect in this class, as all he does is score. He netted 72 goals in 64 games this season for his team. When playing for the American squad at the U18 World Championships, he scored a whopping 14 more goals, tying Alex Ovechkin for the most ever in one tournament. These are great numbers, but here is a concerning one: 67. That’s Caufield’s height in inches. He’s only 5-foot-7, which is strikingly short for the NHL. (He’s shorter than Martin St. Louis.) Only two players his height have ever been drafted in the first round. Caufield will have to break a trend, but the league has gotten more speed-based and less physicality-based. In the modern era, a prospect like Caufield can make it work.
7. Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Cozens is basically the opposite kind of prospect compared to Caufield. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he is a center who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 180 pounds. Cozens can also skate like the wind. He didn’t have great teammates around him on Lethbridge, but he still managed 84 points, which was the most of any under-18 player in the WHL. Put him on the right roster, and the numbers should be there.
8. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, Neva St. Petersburg
Podkolzin had a weird season. He played across three levels in Russia, including a three-game cup of coffee with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg in which the Russian failed to register a point. He had three points in seven games at the World Junior Championship. So why the intrigue? Because Podkolzin doesn’t even turn 18 until June 24. He played in the KHL as a 17-year-old. Imagine how hyped you’d be if there were a 17-year-old in Triple-A baseball. It’s kind of like that.
9. Trevor Zegras, C, US U18 NTDP
Zegras is one of those players who could stickhandle in a phone booth, although there’s a chance the 18-year-old has never seen an actual phone booth. We’re all getting old. He has great hands and real skill as a passer. That helped him pick up nine assists at the World U18 tourney.
10. Philip Broberg, D, AIK
If Broberg were a baseball prospect, they’d say he was “tooled up.” Some consider him the best skater among defensemen in this draft class, even though he’s 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. The Swede was named the best defenseman at the U18 championships. If Broberg lives up to his potential, he’ll be a real star. This is partially a bet on physical skill, but the results have been there as well.