For the first time ever, the St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions.
Congratulations to the Blues organization on a fantastic season and a well-earned Cup. Now that hockey is finally over, we can finally direct our undivided and unwavering attention to what really matters— the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The draft is now less than 10 days away, so I’d like to present my final mock draft for 2019. This is my best guess at how the draft will go. I’m going to be wrong more than I’m right— there’s no doubt about that. Absolutely nothing is guaranteed in this draft; it’s anyone’s guess at how it plays out.
Here’s my best attempt:
1. New Jersey Devils — Jack Hughes (LHC, USNTDP)
Kaapo Kakko did just about as much as was possible to try to win the top spot, but Jack Hughes is a fantastic fit for the Devils and I just can’t see them passing on him. A 1-2 punch of Jack Hughes, who has the upside to become one of the NHL’s premier offensive talents, and Nico Hischier, 2017’s 1st pick and an emerging two-way beast, is simply too much to pass up.
If I had to pick an adjective to describe Hughes’ game, I would choose “quick”. He’s an elite skater, a fast thinker, and he can transport the puck under pressure in a hurry. His raw ability and upside is unbelievable, and I just can’t see a player with his combination of feet and brains failing to become a quality NHL player.
2. New York Rangers — Kaapo Kakko (RW, Liiga)
This one is a no brainer anyway, but I’m not sure there’s any better fit for the Rangers in this draft than Kakko, an all-around dominant offensive threat. The Rangers have no shortage of depth for the future, but they still lack the elite young players that will eventually lead them to the playoffs. With Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov as young building blocks up front, the Rangers now have the foundation of a high-octane offence in place.
It’s difficult to identify any sort of significant weakness for Kaapo Kakko. He’s dominant along the boards and around the net, using his strength, hands, and edgework to protect the puck and navigate to dangerous areas. His combination of smarts, hands, and shooting ability make him a formidable scorer, and he has the vision and touch of a high-end playmaker as well. Ask someone who the best goal-scorer in the draft is, and they’ll probably answer with Cole Caufield, but Kakko’s 22 goals in 45 Liiga games is similarly impressive to Caufield’s 72 in 64 contests with the USTNDP once league quality is taken into account.
3. Chicago Blackhawks — Alex Turcotte (LHC, USNTDP)
The sense is that the Blackhawks have narrowed their options at 3rd overall to two players: Bowen Byram, a defenceman out of the WHL, and Alex Turcotte, a two-way beast of a centre from the NTDP. Of those two, the Hawks’ depth on the blueline with players like Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin suggests that they’ll go for the forward.
The best all-around player in the draft, Turcotte was a dominant offensive threat for the USNTDP, even managing to outproduce Jack Hughes against USHL competition. A fantastic skater, playmaker and scorer with strong two-way ability, Turcotte projects as a Patrice Bergeron-lite type at the NHL level.
4. Colorado Avalanche (from OTT) — Bowen Byram (LHD, WHL)
A lot can happen on draft day, but at this point I believe Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Alex Turcotte, and Bowen Byram have all proven themselves worthy of top 4 picks, and those four will make up the first quad of selections at the draft. With Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Tyson Barrie already present on Colorado’s blueline, positional need could direct the Avs towards a forward (Kirby Dach, Trevor Zegras and Dylan Cozens would probably the primary options if they opt for an attacker), but Byram has cemented himself as the BPA at this point in the draft and I don’t think the Avalanche will stray from that.
An all-around beast, Byram controls the game in all facets. He’s more than capable offensively, tallying 71 points in 67 games for the Vancouver Giants. Byram owns the transition game, using his skating, intelligence, and first pass to accelerate the breakout and move the puck into the offensive game. Defensively, he isn’t an absolute stalwart, but his play in his own zone is nicely developed for his age. With this selection, the Avalanche would be getting a player who is a strong bet to be a top-pairing player with the upside to be a future #1 defenceman.
5. Los Angeles Kings — Kirby Dach (RHC, WHL)
Dach has always seemed like a perfect fit for the Kings’ California counterpart, the Anaheim Ducks, but they don’t pick until 9th, when Dach will likely be off the board. Instead, he goes to the Kings, who still share no shortage of similarities with the Ducks beyond the state they play in. They’ve had success with heavy hockey in the past, and although the game— along with Kings’ management— has changed, I still get the sense that they would love to add a player with Dach’s combination of unbelievable skill with a tantalizing physical package.
Dach, a 6’4” playmaking centre, has outstanding vision and unbelievable skill on the puck. His playmaking is his primary source of offence, but he’s a formidable scorer with hands, strength, and shooting ability around the net. Looking purely at upside, there are very few players that I would be comfortable putting ahead of Dach— in fact, Hughes and Kakko would be the only no-brainers. He needs to work on skating and consistency, but if he can piece everything together, he could be a top line player one day.
6. Detroit Red Wings — Trevor Zegras (LHC/LW, USNTDP)
Steve Yzerman always placed a premium on skill with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and that should continue with the Red Wings. Trevor Zegras is one of the most purely skilled players in the entire draft, making him a perfect fit for Yzerman’s focus at the table.
Arguably *the* best pure passer in the draft, Zegras is a dynamic, creative talent with distribution skills that can leave you in awe. At first, the no-look, spin-o-rama passes seemed like luck, but it quickly became apparent that they were the products of elite skill once he repeated the feat several times on different occasions. Some people don’t love his flash, but Zegras’ upside as a playmaker is nearly unparalleled among 2019 eligibles.
7. Buffalo Sabres — Matthew Boldy (LW, USNTDP)
I see the Sabres looking towards the USNTDP with this pick. Some might argue that they’ll find elite scorer Cole Caufield more attractive, but I feel Boldy’s all-around package will be more appetizing to a Sabres team that has got to be looking for a return to the playoffs soon.
A polished two-way winger, Boldy is a dual-threat attacker with a responsible defensive game. He is a terrific scorer, a skilled passer, and to top it all off, he possesses the versatility to play up and down in the lineup. He hasn’t proven his ability to drive play on his own (he spent most of his time with either Alex Turcotte or Trevor Zegras as his centre), but the talent is obvious.
8. Edmonton Oilers — Dylan Cozens (RHC/RW, WHL)
The Oilers are in a very difficult spot as an organization— they’re capped out, but still need to add offensive support for Connor McDavid, a legitimate starting goalie, and possibly another defenceman or two. The draft is just about the only way the Oilers can add talent without opening up significant holes in their lineup. They can’t afford to waste another top 10 pick. Dylan Cozens, a Yukon native, brings a unique balance of upside and safety to the draft, making him a good fit for the Oilers.
A 6’3”, right-shot centre, Cozens brings an attractive physical package to the table, but he’s also an outstanding skater, an excellent puckhandler, and a developed scorer. He isn’t the most dynamic attacker, but his offensive ability is clear. His mix of speed and physical ability could compliment Connor McDavid very well.
9. Anaheim Ducks — Vasili Podkolzin (RW, VHL)
With Dach and Cozens off the board, Podkolzin seems like the next best fit for Anaheim. He’s physical— sometimes described as a “pit bull”— and he has a bit of a mean streak. Philip Broberg or Cole Caufield could also be in play here, but I think Anaheim goes for the Russian.
Podkolzin put himself on the map with a dominant Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, quickly leapfrogging to the consensus top 5. He lagged behind in league play, failing to crack a point-per-game in the MHL, which is quite concerning, but his all-around offensive toolkit should be very attractive to NHL teams.
10. Vancouver Canucks — Alex Newhook (LHC, BCHL)
At the beginning of the year, Newhook was in the conversation to potentially go as high as 2nd overall (it didn’t take Kaapo Kakko long to cancel that thought), but it’s very difficult for a BCHL player to maintain that status throughout his draft year, regardless of how dominant he managed to be. Newhook seems to find himself in the 10-15 range at this point, and has been pinned to the Canucks at 10th overall by many.
There’s no doubt about Newhook’s skill. Talent-wise, he is easily a top-10 talent— as displayed by his fluid stride, great shot, and playmaking ability. However, the concern with him— as well as all BCHL and Junior A players— is how well his game will adapt to higher levels. The small sample makes me a little uncomfortable, Newhook’s performance at the U18s is a promising sign that he can continue his dominance against tougher competition.
11. Philadelphia Flyers — Peyton Krebs (LW/LHC, WHL)
The group of players from picks 5-12 are quite similar in skill, and could realistically go in almost any order. Krebs’ recent Achilles injury will probably bump him down to the bottom of this tier— it’s unlikely to impact his play long term, but why take that chance when you could get a similarly skilled player without any health issues? The Flyers have the depth in their system to recover if anything goes wrong in Krebs’ recovery.
Expected to land as a winger at the NHL level, Krebs is a fluid playmaker with a wide array of offensive skills. He’s an above-average skater, a beautiful playmaker from below the goal line, and a solid finisher in the slot area. His upside isn’t quite as high as some of these other players, but it’s difficult not to envision him in a top 6 role with an NHL club sometime in the future.
12. Minnesota Wild — Cole Caufield (RW, USNTDP)
Paul Fenton has made it clear that his club will be going after the best player available. Unfortunately, it’s anyone’s guess who that player is at this point. Cole Caufield has skyrocketed up draft boards thanks to his dominant U18 performance (with some people projecting him as high as 5th overall), so I can’t see him going much later than 12th.
Arguably the best scorer in the draft, Caufield has an absolute rocket of a shot and a terrific sense for open area in the offensive zone. His hands are high-end, although he could stand to become more disciplined in when he tries to beat defenders one-on-one. He’s the type of player who needs a strong playmaker to succeed, but he’s the perfect compliment to an elite passer and that’s very valuable (just look at how much the Oilers have struggled to find a proper winger for Connor McDavid as an example).
13. Florida Panthers — Philip Broberg (LHD, Allsvenskan)
Broberg could sneak into the top 10 if a team really wants a defenceman, but I don’t see that as being overly likely. I think the 10-15 range is where we’ll see the defencemen start to leave the board, beginning with either Broberg or Moritz Seider.
Broberg made his mark at the Hlinka, leapfrogging Byram on some lists. As it became evident in Allsvenskan play that he doesn’t have many high-end tools other than his elite skating ability, he began to fall on most draft boards. But if he can develop some of those other skills? Watch out.
14. Arizona Coyotes — Moritz Seider (RHD, DEL)
The Coyotes showed a willingness to draft for need with their selection of Barrett Hayton at 5th overall last year, and they could use a right-shot defenceman. And after his performance at the World Championships, Seider no longer looks like a reach at this position.
A smooth skating 6’4 defenceman, Seider is sure to be attractive to NHL teams. He has shown some offensive upside through his skating ability and willingness to join the rush, but I wouldn’t bet on him becoming a major offensive contributor at the next level.
15. Montreal Canadiens — Thomas Harley (LHD, OHL)
The Canadiens need left-shot defencemen, and with several available at this pick that wouldn’t be considered reaches, I would be surprised to see them choose not to address that. Cam York could be an option here as well, but Thomas Harley’s physical profile should be more appealing to the Habs brass.
A brilliant offensive defenceman, Harley is a smooth skating playmaker from the back-end. He’s an exceptional passer, strong on the breakout, and a good powerplay quarterback. Harley’s game is still raw, but there’s tons of upside here if his development goes smoothly.
16. Colorado Avalanche — Phillip Tomasino (RHC, OHL)
I anticipate that we’ll see Victor Soderstrom’s name called right around this selection, but if the Avalanche do end up taking Byram at 4 then there’s a good chance that they opt for a forward (or possibly a goalie, hello Spencer Knight). Phillip Tomasino is a bit raw, but his tools are phenomenal and he absolutely oozes high-end upside. With the #4 selection as insurance, the Avalanche can afford to take a bit of a swing with this selection.
There’s still some connect-the-dots to be done in regards to Tomasino’s toolbox, but his creativity and skill on the puck is exceptional. He’s a terrific all-around offensive talent with great feet, vision, and puck skills.
17. Vegas Golden Knights — Spencer Knight (G, USNTDP)
He’s still a terrific goaltender, but age will catch up to Marc-Andre Fleury at some point. The goaltender will be 35 next season, and it’s time for Vegas to begin developing a plan for when the day finally comes.
Enter Spencer Knight, an American goalie with the National Team Development Program. Arguably the best goaltending prospect since John Gibson, Knight is a good bet to be a starting goalie for many years at the NHL level with potential for even more. His stats with the USNTDP aren’t quite where you want them to be considering his pedigree as a prospect, but I’ve heard nothing but praise about his game.
18. Dallas Stars — Victor Soderstrom (RHD, SHL)
The Stars are in an interesting position as a team. There’s no shortage of star power in their lineup— Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen is a pretty solid core quad of players, and they were fairly successful with that group. But they need to fill out the roster, and with no major position needs, I think we’ll see a “best player available” approach from them here.
Victor Soderstrom, a smooth puckmover, has been talked up as high as 10th overall. He was looking like a good bet to be a top 15 pick earlier in the year, but Morris Seider might have bumped him off as the top RHD in the draft and that could hurt his draft position by a fair amount. Soderstrom’s calling card is his intelligence and calmness on the back-end— he’s capable of making smart plays under pressure, advancing the play on behalf of his team. He’s a strong skater and has a pretty good shot. His offensive upside isn’t massive, but he brings a lot to the table in transition.
19. Ottawa Senators (from CBJ) — Cam York (LHD, USNTDP)
Erik Brannstrom was a massive boost to the future of Ottawa’s blueline, but there’s still plenty of room for another blue-chipper. York, the NTDP’s top defenceman, is a few years out from NHL duty, but he brings a broad array of skills to the blueline.
His offensive upside won’t blow anyone away, but York is steady, dependable, and skilled. He skates well, makes intelligent plays with the puck, and possesses a decently developed two-way game.
20. New York Rangers (from WPG) — Arthur Kaliyev (RW, OHL)
With Kaapo Kakko already wearing the jersey, the Rangers can afford to take a swing with this pick. New York has great depth down the middle and a collection of talented prospects on the blueline, but besides Vitali Kravtsov (and now Kaapo Kakko), the wings are looking a little roomy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arthur Kaliyev goes earlier than this, but if he falls the Rangers should be all over him.
A scoring winger, Kaliyev destroyed the OHL with his combination of shooting ability and offensive instincts. He’s an extremely agile skater, which serves him well in the art of collecting rebounds, even with his average top speed. People like to talk about Kaliyev’s engagement issues— I think those concerns are overblown, but it’s true that he has some poor habits that need to be corrected. However, I would be surprised to see that become a real problem in the development.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins — Ville Heinola (LHD, Liiga)
The Penguins have enjoyed a long period of success, but they seem to be on the downswing of their competitive arc. As a result of that success, their prospect pool is absolutely barren. Calen Addison— arguably their top prospect— is a blueliner, but defence is still their biggest weakness from a futures perspective.
A Finnish defenceman, Heinola has tons of upside. His Liiga production was exceptional, and he showed very well at the World Junior Championship. Heinola makes intelligent plays to move the puck up ice, using his edges to escape forechecking pressure and make a strong first pass. He is excellent on the powerplay, and can impact the game offensively in a notable way.
22. Los Angeles Kings (from TOR) — Raphaël Lavoie (RHC/RW, QMJHL)
Lavoie will likely be an attractive option for the NHL teams at the draft for two reasons: his combination of skating/power, and his terrific playoff performance for the Halifax Mooseheads. As a 6’4” power forward, he fits the Kings mould, while his skating ability will lend itself to the Kings’ focus on adding speed.
Lavoie is no burner, but he moves well for a player his size. He has nice hands, a good shot, and he knows how to use his physical ability to create space and opportunities for himself. I’m not quite convinced with his offensive upside yet; there’s a decent chance that he settles into more of a checking role in the NHL.
23. New York Islanders — Ryan Suzuki (LHC, OHL)
Barzal is the type of young player you want to build around, but the Islanders are weak down the middle otherwise. Suzuki is the top centre available at this point, and his deft playmaking could potentially mesh well with Oliver Wahlstrom down the road if the scoring winger doesn’t click with Barzal.
The rest of his game needs to catch up, but Suzuki is a wonderful playmaker. His vision can be unbelievable at times, and his ability to get the puck off his stick in a hurry can be a terror for defences. Also a strong skater, Suzuki can contribute off the rush and bring the puck through the neutral zone. His shot can be dangerous, but he needs to use it far more often than he currently does if he wants to be a true scoring threat at the NHL level.
24. Nashville Predators — Pavel Dorofeyev (LW/RW, MHL)
The Predators remain very deep on the blueline, and still have a few promising defencemen on the way as well (Dante Fabbro isn’t a *new* arrival, but next season will be his first full campaign in the NHL). With Eeli Tolvanen’s struggles acclimated to the AHL, Nashville’s forward group isn’t looking quite as good for the future as it once does. With most of the top defencemen gone by this point as well, I would be very surprised if the Predators don’t go for a forward with this selection.
As a Russian forward who hasn’t seen much of an international role, Dorofeyev has dodged the radar for much of this season. He’s a late first on most birds, but could conceivably go as high as 20 to the Rangers. He saw significant KHL time as an 18 year old, a promising sign. A slick winger, Dorofeyev has a nice set of hands, good smarts, and a threatening shot.
25. Washington Capitals — Nils Höglander (LW/RW, SHL)
I’d like to see Bobby Brink leave the board soon, but I’m not sure he’s a fit for a Capitals organization that lacks the prospect depth for a swing like that. Instead, I think they go for Nils Höglander, a Swedish winger who brings an intriguing balance of safety and upside to the draft table.
Logging a full season in the SHL this year, Höglander has now recorded three seasons of professional hockey (he spent parts of his 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons in the Allsvenskan). His skill extends far behind this role, but Höglander is energetic and can play a bottom-six type game if necessary. For these reasons, I believe his floor as a prospect is quite high. However, Höglander also carries no shortage of upside, making him a very attractive prospect. He has great wheels, mesmerizing hands, and his offensive instincts are quite advanced. It’s hard not to see at least a top 9 player here, with potential for even more.
26. Calgary Flames — Connor McMichael (LHC, OHL)
The Flames are set on the blueline for the foreseeable future, with Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington all looking like dependable NHL players. The focus with this pick is going to be an attacker.
Connor McMichael is one of my personal favourite players in this year’s draft. A quick, well-rounded centre, McMichael played an important offensive role for a deep London team. He’s an excellent skater, a good puckhandler, and a skilled finisher. He doesn’t seem to be a play driver— the play doesn’t run through him frequently enough for that classification— but he’s an excellent option to play among other skilled players.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning — Bobby Brink (RW, USHL)
This is a perfect fit. The Lightning have a rich history of successfully betting on smaller players with game-altering skill. Bobby Brink fits that profile perfectly.
An intelligent winger, Brink destroyed the USHL this season, factoring in on over half of his team’s points when he was in the lineup (Brink missed a chunk of time around Christmas after breaking his ankle at the WJAC. He played the gold medal game in that tournament on that injured ankle, playing a crucial role in the USA’s win). Brink has a fantastic shot, fantastic instincts, and great vision. The only thing holding him back is his skating. The Lightning are a perfect fit for him to really improve in that area.
28. Carolina Hurricanes — Jakob Pelletier (LW/RW, QMJHL)
Courtesy of Tom Dundon, we can be sure that this pick will be a forward. Jakob Pelletier would certainly seem to be the BPA at this point under those circumstances.
An all-round offensive winger, Pelletier is undersized but he makes up for any size deficiencies with tremendous agility in tight spaces. He’s an intelligent playmaker and a good finisher around the crease. Pelletier’s determination and compete will make him a favourite among coaches and observers.
29. Anaheim Ducks (from SJS) — Vladislav Kolyachonok (LHD, OHL)
The Ducks went for a forward at 9th overall. Will we see them go for a defenceman here? I think there’s a good chance we do. Vladislav Kolyachonok’s mature game and U18 performance could see him sneak into the first round.
It isn’t easy to play for the Flint Firebirds, one of the OHL’s bottom-feeders, but Kolyachonok approached the task with determination and maturity. His play begins in the defensive end, where he plays terrific one-on-one defence, but continues through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone, where he uses his skating and intelligence to advance the puck.
30. Boston Bruins — Albin Grewe (LHC/RW, SuperElit)
The Bruins have good depth throughout the entire lineup, so I doubt that positional need will be much of a factor here. Albin Grewe, a Brad Marchand-lite, is a perfect fit for Boston.
Grewe plays an agitating game, but that doesn’t stop him from making his presence felt on the scoresheet. The forward is a well-rounded offensive threat, with quick feet, a good shot, and nice hands. He’s excellent on the forecheck and in the physical aspect of the game, which serves as a perfect compliment to his skill.
31. Buffalo Sabres (from STL) — Matthew Robertson (LHD, WHL)
It’s difficult for me to envision a situation where Robertson falls out of the first round. His combination of skating and smarts is terrific, and he seems like a strong bet to be a top 4 blueliner.
Primarily known for his intelligence, Robertson was an anchor for the Oil Kings this season, logging minutes in every situation. He’s a fantastic skater and isn’t afraid to skate the puck out himself. Robertson consistently makes great reads and intelligent decisions, moving the puck away from pressure and putting his teammates in great positions to make plays with the puck. His puck skills lag behind the rest of his game and severely limit his offensive upside— if he can improve his hands, Robertson could be an excellent two-way player.