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A Preview Of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (Part 1)

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It’s never too early to zero in on the next crop of young talent. Thus begins a new series covering many of the top prospects eligible for 2019.

2018 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Time to put away the golf clubs and dust off those Red Wings jerseys and merchandise, folks. Another season is upon us in just a few short weeks. Going into this season, the expectations are not exactly high, and, if you’re like me, you’re less concerned about the team’s place in the standings as you are with seeing the continued growth of the young core of the team, and the thrilling prospect (pun intended) of having Filip Zadina and/or Michael Rasmussen possibly crack the NHL roster. That is the most I can ask for at this point, and is the only thing that really helps me cope with the crushing sadness of losing our beloved captain. The 2018 NHL Draft was very kind to the Wings, and if they play their cards right, these losing seasons that we have had to sit through in recent years will pay massive dividends in the next few years. I am, of course, talking about the 2019 draft. But in reality, I am also talking about the 2020 draft. Because just as you thought the level of talent that we have seen in recent drafts couldn’t be sustained, we’re seeing the likes of Jack Hughes, Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Alexander Holtz, Marco Rossi, and Lucas Raymond all knocking on the door over the next two seasons. I’ll say this right now. If you’re picking first overall in any of these next two seasons, you’re landing a franchise player. If you’re picking in the top 5 in either of these upcoming drafts (especially in the 2020 draft), you’re still landing a legitimately elite talent. But before we can get to the 2020 draft, there is the matter of the 2019 draft.

As it stands right now, I’ve been doing some serious homework on the crop of talent that will be available next June, and have personally watched and compiled notes on almost 80 players already, 39 of which I have viewed multiple times. That being said, I feel like this is a good opportunity to begin discussing these prospects, and what the expectations for them should be over the course of this season. For the most part, I will try to keep these prospects in an ordered ranking, but because there are some prospects which I have yet to view and compile notes on to my satisfaction (e.g., Valentin Nussbaumer, Cole Caufield, Drew Helleson, Ryder Donovan, Petr Cajka, Vojtech Strondala, Michal Teply, Matvei Guskov, Case McCarthy, and Henry Thrun just to name a few), that can’t always be the case. So when I say that I have ranked a prospect in my preliminary rankings, assume that the rankings could be different once I compile more comprehensive notes on many of the players that I just mentioned, and I am not snubbing these players on purpose. Only players which I have personally watched in-game footage of (shift-by-shift only; highlights do not count) are included in this list. In which case, I will discuss players that I fail to mention in this preliminary series at a later point in time, when I have the resources to do so, and I will provide a finalized ranking once I have done so. For now, since I have already compiled notes on a considerable number of prospects for the draft, I am going to discuss prospects in groups of four, as I have hours upon hours worth of shift-by-shift footage and highlights for all of you to go over at your leisure.

Before getting into this series, I’d like to give a very special thanks to Anthony at prospectshifts.com (who also runs the YouTube channel NHL Prospects), and my strongest endorsement of his website. Many of of the shift-by-shift videos in this article, and in articles to follow, wouldn’t have been possible without his contribution, and I strongly recommend his website for your prospect footage needs. It is a goldmine of a resource, and the best open-source resource for finding prospect footage that I have ever found. Special thanks also go out to YouTuber Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts, another excellent resource for in-game prospect footage.

Anyways, without further ado, let’s get started.

1. Jack Hughes (C - USNTDP U18)

Even someone who doesn’t pay as much attention to junior prospects could see this coming from a mile away. I will eat my hat if you can find a player better than Jack Hughes in this draft class. This kid is a circus freak, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. While rather smallish in stature, Hughes makes up for what he lacks in physical strength with his blistering speed, agility, and elite-level stickhandling to gain an inside track on defenders and burn into the open ice. Containing Hughes is a lot like trying to catch your own shadow. He’s exhausting for defenders to continually try to cover. It’s only a matter of time before they can no longer keep up with him. He is also incredibly calculated in his decision making. He understands what defenders are going to do to try to stop him, and thinks one step ahead of them to exploit any weaknesses in their coverage. Once he gets that positional leverage on a defender, he has an incredible arsenal of offensive tools. First, Hughes is a world class playmaker, and what makes him especially dangerous is his ability to find those seams in the ice to skate with the puck deep in the offensive zone, and dish it to his teammates in prime scoring areas. He will find passing lanes that you didn’t think existed, often leaving gaping wide holes in the defensive zone coverage and in the goalie’s positioning, resulting in easy tap-in goals for his linemates. His sense of timing on his passes to his teammates is phenomenal. Any linemates that are on the ice with him are exponentially more dangerous because of this. Steve Kournianos at The Draft Analyst commented that he can make a no-look pass better than any junior-aged player since Connor McDavid. He’s 100% right. You’re looking at the best playmaker since McDavid.

Beyond his playmaking, Hughes is an elite finisher. The leverage and space that he gets over opponents with his speed and agility also allows him to cut towards the net, where he tends to use his very heavy wrist shot, or his silky smooth hands to undress goaltenders from in close. In close, he needs very little room to get his shot off, and requires very little space to elevate the puck, either on forehand or backhand. Overall, Hughes will knock you off your feet, and still leave you wanting to see more.

On the defensive side of the puck, Hughes is essentially a one-man breakout and zone entry. Once he gets the puck in his own end, he’s very quick to transition back to offense, and his blinding speed and magnificent agility make him an excellent option to cut through the ice and skate the puck out of harm’s way. Hughes is also a skilled pickpocket, and can close gaps between himself and other players in little to no time to get back on his backchecking duties, and he supports his teammates below the faceoff dot as should be expected of a center. With that being said, I’d say that there are forwards with more developed two-way games on this list, like Alex Turcotte, and he’s not someone that I’d expect to be in contention for the Selke. Hughes can often be physically overmatched by other players since he’s physically smaller and doesn’t have the upper body strength to engage in physical battles for the puck along the boards and around the front of the net. As a result, Hughes relies more on digging for pucks in such battles, and isn’t strong enough that he can do much to muscle puck-carriers off the puck. One issue that this raises to me is whether Hughes is better off sticking with playing as a center at the NHL level, or if he switches to playing as a winger, as I think he will transition to the NHL better if he switches to playing wing, and he doesn’t have to worry as much about these extra responsibilities. But regardless of whether he ends up playing as a center or a winger in the pros, he is going to be going first overall. Period. That is probably the only thing that we can say with absolute certainty at this point. He is the type of player that you wouldn’t be surprised if they put up 100 point seasons at the NHL level in a few years. While I don’t think Hughes will quite reach McDavid’s level, he has genuine superstar potential, and could rival (or even surpass) Auston Matthews for best American-born player in the NHL in a few years. So, in short, you might be looking at the best junior-aged forward since McDavid.

If you’re in the Plymouth area, you need to go watch him play. There’s a good chance that he’s going to shatter a lot of the NTDP U18 scoring records this season, and I advise you to take as much of it in as you can. If you can’t watch Hughes play with the NTDP, then keep your eyes peeled for the World Juniors in December and January, the Five Nations Tournament in February, and the U18s in April, as he will be playing at all of these tournaments, barring a serious injury that prevents him from playing (knocks on wood). Landing Jack Hughes would immediately make any team better, and would set them up for success for years to come. What’s even better is that if you miss out on 1st overall this year, the top 5 for the 2020 draft is looking terrifyingly good, and the projected 1st overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, is currently looking like the best junior-aged player to come out of the QMJHL since Sidney Crosby. With the Wings losing Zetterberg this season, combined with the expiration of a lot of long-term contracts and freed up cap space these next two years, this is the best possible time for them to rebuild, and they would be smart to do everything they can to stock the cupboards and load up on skill. There is no other player in this draft that would do more to accelerate that rebuild than Jack Hughes.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Note: Some of the footage will overlap with the first video, but this feature mostly features new footage, and is equally valuable. Video Credit to YouTuber bigwhite06.

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

2. Kaapo Kakko (RW - TPS U20)

After the obvious choice of Hughes at first overall, there currently isn’t a consensus on who should be the second overall pick. You’ll hear different people give different options. Organizations like Future Considerations, Hockeyprospect.com, and independent scouts like Steve Kournianos have Alex Turcotte at #2. But for my ranking, I personally think next to Hughes, Kakko is probably the player that I find myself drooling over the most, and he is another early favorite to go 2nd overall. That, and he has probably the funnest name to say in the entire draft. Kakko is a rather stocky 6’4” winger with silky smooth hands, and exceptional vision and agility. He plays more of a power forward style, but has a level of elusiveness and finesse to his game that often catches a lot of defenders off guard. He’s well-balanced on his skates with great lower body strength, and when combined with his ability to shield and protect the puck, and his elusiveness in close quarters, this makes him difficult to knock off of the puck, and makes him exceptionally good when facilitating the play along the boards and the corners. Kakko possesses incredibly good stickhandling abilities and very quick hands in close. As much as he can beat goalies from the high slot cleanly, Kakko is downright surgical below the faceoff circles, particularly around the mouth of the crease. He has a knack for wreaking havoc around these areas, is very quick to jump on loose pucks that plonk around in the low slot, and is difficult for defenders to move once he sets up shop down there. He is usually keeping his feet moving, always looking for open ice when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick, and has a very keen sense of where the play is going to develop to get himself into the right spot on the ice to make a play. He strikes quickly, and if you’re a defender, you have to keep an eye on him when he’s in that vicinity, because he can burn you if you let your guard down. He can also show a lot of patience around the mouth of the goal if he knows he has time to make an extra move to ensure that he beats the goaltender. Kakko is additionally a gifted passer that makes great reads with the puck, and has quick decision-making abilities with it. This becomes especially apparent when you watch him facilitate the play along the half boards, the corners, and the close quarters around the crease. He is fantastic at protecting the puck around these areas, which gives him plenty of opportunities to carry the puck deep into the zone, and find a teammate that is an immediate threat to feed the puck to in the slot. I can’t actually think of any forward in this draft class that is better at driving the play down low in the offensive zone as Kakko. While most of his best work is in the close quarters around the crease, Kakko’s shot is blisteringly heavy, including both his wrist shot, his snap shot, and his one-timer. He’s not gun shy either, making him a particularly dangerous scoring threat when he’s open in the slot and shooting off of the pass. He has a lot of the assets that you love to see in a power forward. He’s so good at facilitating the play deep in the offensive zone, has fantastic vision, superb stickhandling and creativity with the puck, he’s a monster in all of the most physically punishing areas of the ice, strong on the puck, has a fantastic shot, and has also developed very good habits away from the puck, and plays an overall intelligent and mature game for an offensive winger of his age. I know there are going to be a lot of teams drooling over him this season.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

Video Credit: Hockey Prospects Center - YouTube

3. Alex Turcotte (C - USNTDP U18)

While Jack Hughes was the first prospect that was coming out of the USNTDP system in 2019 that I learned about, Alex Turcotte was the first US-born prospect that I had the chance to watch in any substantial form before last season. Hailing from Island Lake, Illinois, and son of Alfie Turcotte, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 1983, Turcotte can dazzle you in ways that very few prospects in this draft can rival. Turcotte has so many things going for him. He has blindingly fast footspeed and excellent agility, incredibly soft hands and elite puck skills, fantastic vision and hockey sense, and a tireless work ethic and two-way game. Turcotte in open ice skates like he has been shot out of a cannon, and just as impressive as his straight line speed is his lateral agility, which can quickly overwhelm both defenders and goalies alike. This might be off base for me to say, but I get some Athanasiou vibes from watching how he skates and handles the puck at high speeds, although I think he will end up a lot more dynamic than AA. He possesses an incredibly powerful stride, and has extremely good balance on his skates, making him difficult to knock off of the puck, and allows him to handle contact extremely well. Turcotte’s passing abilities and vision are nothing short of elite, and his ability to deliver the puck with the precision and timing that he does at the speeds that he moves is a very rare commodity, even in this pool of talent. Turcotte is known as more of a pass-first player than a shooter, but Turcotte’s wrist shot is hard and accurate, and he can get great velocity on it with little room or time. He also possesses very dangerous moves in close, and has an impressive bag of tricks and dekes that he can use to beat goalies one-on-one. But what makes Turcotte so enticing is the situational awareness and decisiveness with which he approaches the game. His smarts and awareness make him easily one of the best candidates in the draft to have a future as a top six two-way pivot in the NHL one day. The next season for Turcotte will be pivotal, as he was promoted part way through the season from the U17 squad to the U18 squad, where he thrived despite playing more limited minutes under the U18 squad’s impressive depth. This season I have the feeling that Turcotte is going to thrive while playing a larger role on the U18 squad, and could solidify his position as a top 5 pick in June, if not top 3.

Video Credit: Hockey Prospects Center - YouTube

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

4. Alex Newhook (C - Victoria Grizzlies)

Alex Newhook is a prospect which I have always been left with a very strong impression of every time I’ve watched him. Committed to play for Boston College in the NCAA, Newhook will be spending his draft season in the BCHL as a result. I’ll be the first to admit that not everybody is going to agree with me on having Newhook this high (Future Considerations has him 16th, Hockeyprospect.com has him 3rd), and I must always stress that a lot can change over the course of the next season with a larger sample of viewing.

Newhook had a standout season last year, leading the entire BCHL in P/GP as a rookie in his draft -1 year. His rookie season was so good, in fact, that he finished the season with the 3rd highest P/GP numbers for a U17 player in BCHL history (minimum 20 games played), and the highest in 14 years, which spans most of the 22 year history of the league. His numbers were considerably better than recent 1st round pick Tyson Jost at the same age, for some perspective. It’s very easy to see why scouts are so high on him. The St. John’s, Newfoundland native plays a high-octane offensive game at a breakneck pace. He has a motor that never stops running through all three zones, and he has an incredible attention to detail in how he approaches and thinks the game out. He possesses lightning quick speed, incredible balance and agility, elite-level edgework, and has a very powerful first step that lets him change his pace and direction to devastating effect. He can beat defenders cleanly from the inside or the outside, and he will often make defenders look downright silly doing it, freezing them up by luring them with a stutter step and then rapidly changing his direction before walking around them. His speed, combined with his fantastic puck skills and stickhandling, makes him lethal in open ice. In the offensive zone, Newhook is a threat to score from just about anywhere. He possesses hands as soft as a newborn puppy, and his wrist shot features a pro-level release on it. He also has superb vision, and combined with a keen sense of his teammates’ positioning, and an impeccable sense of timing and patience with the puck, he seems to create scoring chances for his linemates every time he steps on the ice and touches the puck. Unlike Hughes, Newhook also possesses a physical bite to his game, and he can play a power game that compliments the incredible skill that he possesses. What sets Newhook apart from a lot of the other very talented crop of forwards in this group is his brain. Newhook is extremely good at reading opponents’ coverage and finding holes and weaknesses to exploit. And he is relentless in how he tries to find leverage over opponents, displaying a killer instinct and an implacable drive to completely dominate his opponents. He is probably one of the best puck thieves in the entire draft class. He always wants the puck, he will hound puck carriers relentlessly to get it, and he has the anticipation and positional savvy that he can find himself getting in the way of passes and making opponents cough the puck up to him. The biggest reason he’s so effective as a player is because he’s willing to do all of the difficult things the right way. And doing these things often ends up getting him rewarded. An intercepted pass here, a takeaway there create breakdowns in the opponents’ defense, often resulting in odd man rushes, scoring chances, or the puck in the back of their net. There aren’t many players in this draft class that are as constant of a threat on the ice even without the puck on their stick, and it doesn’t surprise me that he’s in the discussion as a top 5 pick. The one knock that I have heard, although is not something that I have noticed yet, is that he’s not as consistent defensively, and he doesn’t get back on the backcheck with as much effort as he puts in the offensive zone. As I’ve said, this was not a serious issue in my viewings, and his defensive play gradually improved over the course of his last season. Overall, I can’t say enough good things about him. Whether he’s a one-and-done or not in the NCAA remains to be seen, but his style of play is something a lot of teams would covet, and I see it translating very well to the professional level. That’s why I currently have him as my #4.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

Final Verdict

The 2018-2019 season has the potential to be a turning point for the franchise. With the recent news that Steve Yzerman has stepped down as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the plethora of changes in the Wings roster that are going to happen either during this season or next offseason, and the massive influx of cap space that is going to occur with the expiration of the Kronwall, Howard, Nyquist, Jensen, Witkowski, and Vanek contracts, the complexion of the Red Wings organization has the potential to change drastically in the span of the next 10 months. And to top it all off, the top-end talent in the upcoming draft is very impressive. As much as I would have loved seeing Rasmus Dahlin in a Red Wings uniform, the fact that the Wings managed to land Filip Zadina, and the fact that there is Jack Hughes available this season really makes that an afterthought. Even beyond Hughes, landing one of Kakko, Turcotte, or Newhook drastically improves the Red Wings already substantial prospect pool.

Anyways, that’s all for today. In the next part of this series, I will be covering the prospects which I have ranked between 5-8 on my preliminary rankings, including Bowen Byram, Vasili Podkolzin, Peyton Krebs, and Dylan Cozens. Stay tuned folks!