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A Preview Of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (Part 2)

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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

In my previous article, I went over four prospects which, in my (too) early rankings, could end up being top 4 picks in 2019. We covered Jack Hughes, the young phenom playing for the USNTDP’s U18 squad this year. We covered Kaapo Kakko, the Finnish sensation playing for TPS in the Finnish Liiga. And we covered the speedy two-way centers Alex Turcotte and Alex Newhook, both fantastic talents in their own right. Today we discuss four additional prospects, who I have ranked in my preliminary rankings between 5-8. We start with the promising young two-way defender, Bowen Byram.

5. Bowen Byram (LHD - Vancouver Giants)

You’re going to see a trend this season when you hear people talk about some of the top prospects in this draft. The 2019 NHL Draft is front-loaded with a lot of prospects from the WHL. After laying an egg in the 2018 Draft, this may be one of the strongest showings the Dub has had in recent memory. There may be no better player coming out of the WHL this year than Bowen Byram.

The jury is still out on who the top defenseman in this draft is, and you’ll hear different players’ names tossed around depending on who you talk to.

Some scouts are very high on Philip Broberg (who we will be discussing later), but the one name you’ll probably hear tossed around the most (at least at this point) is Byram.

I will leave the debate over the best defenseman as something to be settled over the course of the season, however, I will be the first to admit that it took me a few viewings to truly appreciate what Byram does.

My first viewings of him were at the U18s back in April, but he was playing limited minutes on Team Canada during that tournament, so I couldn’t get as good of a sense of why a lot of scouts place him so high in their rankings without seeing what he can do when munching 20+ minutes in a game.

The best opportunity to view him came at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he was part of a very talented top 4 defensive corps along with Justin Barron (who is only eligible in 2020), Matthew Robertson, and Kaedan Korczak. Byram finished top 6 in defensive scoring at this tournament, scoring a goal and adding 3 assists in 5 games while being leaned on a lot to play heavy minutes on special teams.

Byram is not a particularly large defenseman, but he excels in just about every facet of the game that you’d want. His skating and agility are probably his best assets. Very few defensemen in this draft can rival his straight-line speed, or match his lateral quickness and elusiveness in open ice. His quickness lets him jump from attacking in the offensive zone to immediately transition back to defense, which makes him fantastic at defending on the rush, and keeps him in pace with the tempo and flow of the game. Byram’s gap control is very good, and he is very good at keeping opponents to the outside.

He uses his stick very well to break plays up and times his pokechecks very precisely. He has a great sense of when to step into the play and activate, makes smart pinches, and is very good at supporting his defensive partner. He’s very good at holding his own blue line and intercepting puck-carriers by either stripping the puck off of them, or taking the body. He’s a fiery, competitive player that loves playing physically, and is always getting into battles with opponents and mixing it up in scrums.

Sometimes he can be caught puck-watching or straying from the low slot when he’s looking to transition into offense, but at this point in time, it’s not a serious issue.

He is probably one of the best puckhandling defensemen in the entire draft class. He shows incredible confidence, poise, and calmness with the puck, and has a very good handle of it through traffic, able to protect it even through a sea of sticks and bodies. His puck movement is very crisp and precise, and he makes a great first pass out of the defensive zone.

He makes very intelligent decisions with the puck consistently, and he is able to read the opponent’s forecheck quickly and make stretch passing plays that leave opponents’ forechecks in a bad position to defend against counterattacks. An all-situation two-way defenseman, Byram is an excellent quarterback on the powerplay, where his puck movement can dictate the flow of the game from the point, and where he can get his heavy slapshot on net through traffic, which often results in juicy rebounds for his teammates to pounce on in the low slot, and an outstanding penalty killer that manages the slot effectively and disrupts the movement of the puck around the crease.

If Byram finds an extra offensive gear this upcoming season, you will probably be hearing his name called very early on June 21st. In my opinion, Byram is one of a few defensemen in this draft that has genuine top pair potential, and is not someone I see falling outside of the top 10 unless something drastic happens, or if other prospects simply step up. But it would take a lot for that to happen.

Video Credit: Hockey Prospects Center - YouTube

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

6. Vasili Podkolzin (C/W - SKA-1946 St. Petersburg)

Podkolzin is one of those players that was completely off of my radar until the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. There was no draft-eligible player at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup that put on a better showing than Podkolzin did, who was tied for 1st in tournament scoring with Alexis Lafreniere, scoring 8 goals and 3 assists in just five games while acting as captain for Team Russia.

Podkolzin is, at least in my opinion, the most exciting prospect to come out of Russia in this crop of talent.

Podkolzin possesses some very scintillating tools. The first thing that draws your eye to him is his brilliant straight-line speed and agility, and how explosive his first step is. Podkolzin’s skating is very deceptive, as he can go from a crawl to a full sprint in very little time. If defenders aren’t minding their gaps, this means he’ll more often than not blow right by them.

It’s quite common to see Podkolzin knife his way through opponents’ defensive formations on the rush, and get a partial breakaway with the goaltender, where he can either label the puck for the top corner with his deadly accurate wrist shot, or undress the goalie with his soft hands and creative stickhandling abilities. His balance and edgework are good enough that he can effectively absorb open ice contact by pirouetting on his skates to disperse the impact from hits, which allows him to retain possession of the puck.

On the forecheck, Podkolzin is very effective at protecting the puck along the boards, making great use of his body and angles to get leverage over opponents when the controlling the puck, and preventing opponents from taking it away from him. He’s not a physical player, or particularly strong by any means, but he can maneuver around the boards very effectively, and fights through contact when making plays.

Podkolzin is also very good at reading the defensive zone coverage, and exploiting holes in that coverage to make a cut towards the net when he has the puck, or, when he doesn’t have the puck, finding open ice for himself to accept a pass. His hands are good enough that he can deaden more erratic passes quickly, and his shot off of the pass is downright nasty. He can get his shot off with little-to-no time or room, making him incredibly dangerous when he has set up in the low slot, because he can go into heavy coverage and still get a great shot off on net.

Podkolzin also makes great use of his teammates in the offensive zone, although I would consider him more of a finisher than a playmaker. Podkolzin plays a very mature game for his age, and has a superb work ethic.

If you like intangibles, Podkolzin’s intangibles are off the charts. He never takes a shift off, gives the same effort in his own zone and the neutral zone as he does in the offensive zone, and is always engaged in the play.

Overall, Podkolzin brings an excellent blend of skill, speed, hockey sense, and a fiery competitiveness and work ethic that a lot of teams inside the top 15 are going to want to take heed of, and I could see him as someone who could eventually step into a leadership role in the future.

One of the most complete players available next June, and, along with Dylan Cozens, someone who has been recently name-dropped as a player of interest by Kris Draper, after Drapes got an eyeful of him back in August. All I can say is, Drapes has awesome tastes in players. Currently one of my favorite prospects for the Wings to target if they land outside of the top 3 next June.

Video Credit: Hockey Prospects Center - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

7. Peyton Krebs (LW - Kootenay Ice)

One of the really nice things about the WHL is that you are made fully aware of the young and upcoming players coming through Western Canada at an earlier age than any other league in the CHL, as players can get drafted in the WHL Bantam Draft a full year younger than in the OHL and QMJHL.

I first found out about Peyton Krebs long before I ever found out about Jack Hughes, because he was the first overall selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. As a result, he was the first player from this draft class that I watched.

Krebs has managed to do a lot more with a lot less than most prospects in this draft class. Being on a team as bad as the Kootenay Ice were, Krebs managed to be one of the team’s few bright spots. In his first full season with the Ice, Krebs led all U17 players in the WHL in all-situation primary points, and ended up 5th in U18 primary scoring as a draft -1 player.

Krebs is a dynamic, tenacious, highly competitive winger with outstanding hockey sense, and the positional awareness that you rarely see in a offensive-minded winger of his age. He boasts very good top-end speed, which can make him devastating on odd-man rushes, and has the close quarter quickness and lateral slipperiness that makes him difficult to contain along the boards.

He’s surprisingly difficult to knock off of the puck along the boards for a player of his 5’11” 172 lb stature, as he keeps a lower center of gravity and has good enough lower body strength and balance that he can fight through contact and then slip defenders before either making a cut for the net or finding an open teammate to make a pass.

Krebs’s offensive toolbox is wonderful. His puck movement is excellent, and he displays hawk-like vision when it comes to finding teammates through coverage, and he can make beautiful saucer passes on either his forehand or backhand look easy.

He is particularly good at finding lanes through heavy traffic, and is always a threat to make cross-ice or backdoor plays in the offensive zone. If the fanbase of the organization that lands him doesn’t nickname him “The Krebs Cycle” or “Cycle” for his ability to dish the puck, I will be incredibly disappointed.

Beyond his playmaking, he also has a good scoring touch. Last season, he led all U17 WHL players in 5v5 goals, and was second only to Dylan Cozens in all-situation goalscoring with 17 goals. He has a heavy, accurate wrist shot, and he isn’t afraid to go into the punishing, dangerous areas of the ice to create chances for himself. His shot off the pass is very good, and he has the ability to find the quiet spots on the ice in the offensive zone to receive the puck for those opportunities. He can pick his spot in the net even if there’s very little room to work with.

But perhaps what impresses me the most about Krebs is his situational awareness and his positioning without the puck. Krebs is very good at reading what his teammates are going to do with the puck. If he senses that his teammate is opting to shoot, Krebs will immediately react by springing into the area around the crease to try to either redirect it or bury a rebound that will plonk into the low slot. When he senses a pass is going to come, he likes setting up slightly below the right faceoff dot to take the pass, which can spell serious trouble for opponents if the puck gets through to him.

His intelligence and positioning affect the game beyond just creating scoring opportunities as well. On the defensive side of the puck, Krebs is very good at supporting the breakout. When Krebs senses that his defense needs help and are battling for possession in the corners or behind the net, he doesn’t shy away from engaging in the play and joining in battles to support his teammates, although he doesn’t necessarily mix it up physically in these battles, instead opting to dig for loose pucks.

But he’s also very aware of the passing options that opponents have in his zone, and he’s very effective at cutting off their options, and puts himself in great position to then accept a pass once his team regains possession to quickly transition to offense. Krebs plays the same way on the forecheck and throughout the neutral zone, and makes the job of defenders trying to break the puck out of their own end or make plays in the neutral zone to get the puck up ice more difficult.

He does all of the subtle, small things that don’t necessarily wind up showing on the scoreboard, but bring success to his team. You combine all of these attributes together, and Krebs is an extremely coachable, competitive, tenacious, and highly skilled forward with a maturity to his game that belies his age.

Like Podkolzin, Krebs is another player that I can see in a leadership role on an NHL team, and is someone I see as being genuine captain material. Time will tell what his draft season is going to look like, but at this point in time, I would probably rank him as a top 10 pick.

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

8. Dylan Cozens (C - Lethbridge Hurricanes)

Hailing from Whitehorse, Yukon, Cozens would be only the third Yukon-born player in history to play a game in the NHL (the other two players, Peter Sturgeon and Bryon Baltimore, only combined for a total of 8 games, for that matter). From what I’ve seen, I don’t think Cozens is going to have any problem doing that.

Cozens is probably one of the most complete players in this draft class. A two-way center that thinks the game out at a very high level, and has a keen understanding of how plays are going to unfold, regardless of whether he has the puck or not.

He’s an excellent skater, with a powerful first step and very good straight-line speed. He can cover a lot of ice in all three zones very quickly, and only takes a few long strides to reach top speeds. His lateral agility is also above average, and he can use that to beat defenders to the inside or outside effectively. Cozens also possesses excellent hands, and an impressive array of moves and tricks that he can do with the puck.

He has very good puck control, and makes great use of the entire blade of his stick when stickhandling. Cozens’ puck control makes him particularly effective when faking out defenders and goaltenders, and makes him difficult to read in one-on-one situations. For this reason, Cozens is very good in shootouts.

Cozens is a very dangerous shooter in general, with a blistering release on his wrist shot, and a lethally accurate shot off of the pass, making him a very effective finisher on odd-man rushes. Cozens also possesses quick hands in tight, and uses his strength and reach to his advantage to get to loose pucks and jam them in. He’s very quick to get to rebounds, and doesn’t give much time for the netminder to corral it before his on them.

Cozens is also strong along the boards, capable of using his size, strength, and reach to protect the puck from defenders, which lets him facilitate play along the boards, corners, and half boards effectively. Cozens’ is very good at getting the most out of his linemates. He always keeps his head on a swivel and his eyes open, scouring the ice for open lanes, and is very quick in making decisions of which of his open teammates are in the best position to make an immediate positive impact on the play, or is in the best position to score.

Away from the puck, Cozens has the positional awareness to know where he needs to be in any given situation, and has great anticipation of the play, never shying away from diving right into the guts of the developing play in all three zones, and is always looking to make an impact on the ice.

In the defensive zone, he makes intelligent reads, and supports his defense when initiating the breakout. He’s an outstanding penalty killer that is good at getting plugging up holes in coverage, and transitioning up ice on offense very quickly if he manages to get possession of the puck. He’s great on the powerplay, where he’s often used as a net front presence, or is positioned around the circles, where he can use his heavy, accurate shot to inflict serious damage.

Cozens also loves to mix it up physically, and projects as more of a power center at the next level. Sometimes, however, this can land him in trouble, as he can take himself out of plays by overcommitting to playing the body, but this is only a minor knock on him.

He thinks the game at a very high level, and is probably one of the smartest players in this draft class. As soon as Cozens adds some bulk to that lanky 6’3” frame of his, Cozens could find himself in a top 6 center role in the future. Having a right-hand shot is just the cherry on top of it all, as you can bet many teams are looking for a right-handed center of Cozens’ caliber.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

Anyways, that’s it for this one. In my next article, I will be discussing my prospects ranked 9-12 on my preliminary list, including Trevor Zegras, Philip Broberg, Raphael Lavoie, and Kirby Dach. Stay tuned!