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A Preview Of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (Part 3)

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

And we are back again, with the third part of this ongoing series on the the top prospects in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. As a bit of recap, my rankings up until this point are as follows:

  1. Jack Hughes
  2. Kaapo Kakko
  3. Alex Turcotte
  4. Alex Newhook
  5. Bowen Byram
  6. Vasili Podkolzin
  7. Peyton Krebs
  8. Dylan Cozens

For those who haven’t checked out the first two parts of this series yet that are just tuning in, the first two parts can be found here and here. Today, I will be discussing the prospects that are ranked 9-12 on my preliminary draft rankings.

9. Trevor Zegras (C - USNTDP U18)

Outside of Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte, it’s a very interesting debate about who is the next-best US-born prospect. I am particularly fond of what I’ve seen from Cole Caufield myself, but I haven’t had enough viewings of him to fully evaluate him yet, and that’s probably the only reason I didn’t include him in this list. That being said, I have to go with Trevor Zegras at #9, because I don’t think he gets enough appreciation for how good of a player he is.

Zegras is slightly undersized and physically underdeveloped at this point, at 5’11” and only 159 lbs, and sometimes has some issues with playing around the perimeter, but that’s really where my knocks on him end. Zegras makes up for this with his high-end skating abilities and agility, superb puck skills and vision, and the intelligence and calculated decision-making he displays night-in and night-out. One of the comparisons that I’ve heard being made is to Mat Barzal. This is of course only a stylistic comparison, but I think it’s quite apt.

Zegras is one of the few players in this draft class that you can say passes the puck like they have eyes on the back of their head. He can lay the puck on the tape just as good on the backhand as he can on the forehand, and can make difficult plays through traffic with the puck look easy. His passing is consistently precise wherever he is on the ice, and Zegras possesses elite-level vision and is quick to spot teammates that are trailing behind the play or are making a cut towards the back door, and can hit a no-look pass as well as anybody not named Jack Hughes in this draft.

While more of a pass-first kind of player, Zegras also sports an impressive shooting arsenal, including a blistering wrist shot, and an excellent backhand that he can use in close quarters. He also plays a defensively responsible two-way game, and is a hound when it comes to trying to take the puck away from puck-carriers. It’s not uncommon to watch him get an inside step on the puck-carrier, and then mug the puck off of them.

A brilliant skater that has all sorts of tricks up his sleeve when maneuvering through traffic, able to fake, stutter step, and change speeds to give himself ice to maneuver through. His straight-line speed is very good, and his agility moving laterally is outstanding. Combined with the low center of gravity with which he skates, he is very well-balanced, and surprisingly difficult to knock off balance when he’s skating.

Taken all together, Zegras is a zone entry wizard. Zegras is also good in the faceoff circle, and shows a willingness to engage in physical battles along the boards, despite his smaller size. Zegras could be someone who comes out of nowhere and makes a big splash this season. But for now, it’s safe to say that he’s a lock to go in the first half of the first round.

After this season, Zegras is committed to playing for Boston University, where he will have the benefit of playing in one of the best development systems in the entire NCAA.

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

10. Philip Broberg (LHD - AIK J20/AIK)

As I said when discussing Victor Soderstrom, the Wings have already zeroed in on several players in this pool of talent that they’ve openly expressed interest in. Kris Draper, in particular, has been on record saying that he believes that Philip Broberg could be the first defenseman off the board in June. This statement came after watching what Broberg can do at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he was lights-out impressive.

I’m going to be the first to admit that I had no idea who this kid was until I watched the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last month. He wasn’t even on my radar until I watched him lead the Swedes in defensive scoring, and pull off moves like this:

Video Credit - NHL Prospects - YouTube

You can bet after watching him do that, he immediately grabbed my attention. Watching Broberg skate and carry the puck, you wouldn’t know he’s a defenseman. You wouldn’t know he’s also already 6’3” and almost 200 lbs either. Broberg is an exceptional skater, who has the speed, elusiveness, the physical tools, and superb puck skills that can dictate a game.

On the defensive side of the puck, Broberg displays excellent hockey sense. He makes good reads on when to step up on the play when he knows his partner can cover him to try to force the play the other way, and gets himself in the way of passing lanes effectively. He’s positionally sound, and fast enough that he can recover from making mistakes and keep up with forwards on the ice. He’s very good at keeping his man to the outside and closing off their space to skate with the puck by flanking them at an angle, and either using his stick and massive reach to pokecheck them and strip them of the puck, or using his body to separate opponents from the puck.

His puck movement is quick, decisive, and very precise. He needs little time to read the forecheck in the defensive zone and make an outlet pass, and his passes come off of his stick hard, but very crisp and easy to accept for his teammates. He’s also very dynamic offensively. He likes to play deep in the offensive zone, and is usually very active in both cycling the puck on the forecheck, or stepping up on the play to get the puck on net. Sometimes, this can land him in a bit of trouble, and he can be a bit too aggressive on pinches and throw himself out of position so he can’t get back and defend against the rush, but these instances are few and far between, and are easily outweighed by the positive decisions that he makes on the ice.

His vision is very sharp, and he’s good at finding lanes through traffic to either get the puck on net or find a teammate deeper in the offensive zone to set up the play down low. When all else fails, he’s agile enough that he can fake defending opponents out and create holes in their coverage to create his own passing or shooting lane.

When shooting, he is not shy about skating in with the puck into the high slot and firing it on net. He’s an intelligent shooter that will look create rebounds or try to find redirections, but often likes to also fire the puck through the screen, knowing that the goalie isn’t going to be able to track the puck as well.

Overall, he’s probably one of the most complete two-way defensemen in this draft. He’s got great size, great puck movement, excellent agility, high-end hockey sense. The whole shebang. He kind of reminds me of Victor Hedman when I watch him. It’s no wonder why Kris Draper has discussed him in interviews as a potential target for the Wings.

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Hockey Prospects Center - YouTube

11. Raphael Lavoie (C - Halifax Mooseheads)

In awe at the size of this lad. Absolute unit with silky smooth hands, excellent skating abilities, a lethal shot, and underrated vision.

Blessed with excellent size at 6’4”, Lavoie plays very well through traffic and can play both a finesse and power game. He possesses good speed for a player of his size, and good enough agility that he can lure defenders out of position with a fake or stutter step, and blow by them in one quick motion.

Lavoie is difficult to read when skating, and is good at keeping opponents guessing and not making predictable moves or routes to the net. Lavoie is incredibly strong on his skates, making him very difficult to knock off balance. His strength makes him invaluable when protecting the puck, as he can absorb a lot of contact from opponents on the forecheck, and is good at shielding the puck with his body and his reach.

Without the puck, Lavoie uses his massive wingspan to his advantage on both the forecheck and backcheck to disrupt puck carriers and battle for the puck, and is quick to win races to pucks on the backcheck. He’s not particularly known for his two-way acumen, but Lavoie is not a liability in his own end, and looks to be contributor to the team defense on a consistent basis. He can play both wing and center, but I would say his future in the NHL is more as a winger, rather than playing down the middle.

Offensively, his best asset is definitely his shot. Lavoie probably possesses one of the best releases of any forward in this draft class, and was second only to Alexis Lafreniere in terms of goals by a U17 player, scoring an impressive 30 goals and 33 assists in 68 games with the Mooseheads last season. But it’s not just how much he scores, it’s when he scores, and how he scores that makes him intriguing. At least one-third of all of Lavoie’s goals in his 2017-2018 campaign were game-winners, with many of those game-winners coming in overtime. The clutch factor with Lavoie is through the roof, and he is someone you can always count on to elevate his game when his team needs a goal.

He has the killer instinct to sniff out scoring opportunities, and he doesn’t passively wait for the play to come to him. He makes the play happen himself. Often, his goals are scored in spectacular fashion. He has a flair for the dramatics, often dazzling with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, working the defense, then creating an open lane to shoot by using a creative route towards the net, making a fantastic move with his hands and agility, and depositing the puck in the back of the net with either a beautiful snipe, or by walking in and making a fantastic move to undress the goalie. It’s not uncommon to see him completely dance opponents’ defenses, and then deke out the goaltender in a magnificent display of power, skill, and finesse.

Lavoie may not be the best player in this draft, but he’s definitely one of the most entertaining to watch. The kid is money in 3-on-3 situations, and should be one of the first players you go to in overtime to get you a goal. He’s also not afraid to drop the gloves either, and isn’t someone that opponents can easily physically intimidate. But on top of it all, Lavoie is a capable playmaker that makes great use of his teammates in the offensive zone, and possesses good pass accuracy in whatever situation you throw him in allows him to be more than just a finisher.

I’m pretty confident a lot of teams are going to consider the size, skill, and scoring touch he has when they’re picking in the top 15 in June.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

12. Kirby Dach (C - Saskatoon Blades)

Yup, another WHL prospect. Much like Krebs, Dach was someone I zeroed in on well before many of the other top prospects in this draft, by virtue of being drafted into the CHL at a younger age, and getting to play in major juniors at a younger age than any of the other leagues.

A natural center, Dach is yet another lanky center with high-end upside. Already standing at 6’4” and 185 lbs, Dach has an excellent combination of size, strength, skill, and finesse. While he could probably stand to gain a bit more explosiveness in his first step, Dach possesses very good top speed once he hits it, and his movement laterally is very smooth.

Once Dach has the puck, he’s very difficult to take off of it. Not only is he very mobile for a player of his stature, but he possesses superb stickhandling abilities, and can use his size, strength, and his wingspan to cut opponents off of the puck when protecting it. Dach has a very impressive range of control with his stickhandling, and displays so much confidence and poise when he has the puck, and he tracks it really well even if he’s getting harassed by opponents or doesn’t have the best control of it. He sticks with the puck and is incredibly difficult to muscle off of it.

These traits make him particularly strong and board battles, and his speed and agility mean that he’s going to often win races along the boards and corners, and be able to maneuver around in those close quarters before making a play.

Dach’s goalscoring numbers don’t jump out at you when you see them, having scored only a paltry 7 goals all last season, but his lack of goals belie the actual skill that Dach possesses. Dach is an outstanding playmaker, and probably possesses the best vision in the entire crop of talent playing in the CHL. Dach keeps his head up and his eyes open at all times, paying close attention to the positioning of not only his teammates, but his opponents’. Doing so keeps Dach one step ahead of the play that’s developing at all times.

Dach can hit a cross-ice pass or create a backdoor play better than anybody I’ve watched not named Jack Hughes, and he’s very good at entering the zone, recognizing that he has a man back that is going to streak into the slot, and peeling back to dish the puck to them for an open lane at the net. He stretches out the ice in the offensive zone very quickly with his sublime vision and ability to find seams in the coverage to open teammates.

His timing on his passes, and his ability to either find existing seams in the ice to pass the puck, or create lanes for himself with his agility and excellent stickhandling abilities is something that other teams need to respect, as he’s a constant threat even without needing to shoot the puck himself. At this point in time, Dach has been mostly a pure playmaker. But make no mistake, the kid can score goals. His moves in close around the net are fantastic, and his release on his shot is far heavier and more accurate than one would expect for someone who scored as few goals as he did last season.

The issue is that he doesn’t use his shot enough, more often looking to defer to the pass, and in some viewings of him, I notice that he doesn’t opt to position himself in the most dangerous shooting areas, instead looking for spots on the ice where he has a vantage point to facilitate passing plays. Dach could probably stand to be a bit more selfish sometimes in that respect.

Regardless, Dach is fantastic on special teams. As a natural center, Dach is a very good penalty killer. He has a very good sense of timing and positioning, and uses his active stick to strip the puck. He’s often in the right place at the right time to prevent puck carriers from finding an open man, and is quick to transition to offense once opponents relinquish possession of the puck.

On the powerplay, Dach is often utilized by his coach along the half boards or at the point, where he has the best vantage point to spot lanes in the ice and find open teammates that are in position to score, as well as generally facilitate the cycle of the puck along the boards. Dach, in fact, led all rookies in the WHL in powerplay points and powerplay assists, suggesting that perhaps this is the best way to utilize him on the man advantage.

There are a few knocks on him, outside of simply not shooting the puck enough. One is that he could improve in the faceoff dot, and another is that Dach is not a particularly physical player, and will often avoid physical play in battles, opting to dig for the puck instead.

Overall, Dach may not project as someone who can score 30 goals in a season, but he could end up being a fantastic playmaking center in the NHL one day. If Dach can find the goalscoring touch this upcoming season to compliment his already lethal passing abilities, I would consider moving Dach up higher on this list next June. My closest comparison for him would be to Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Video Credit: Edmonton Future Watch - YouTube

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Up next, I will be discussing the prospects that I have ranked 13-16 on my preliminary rankings, including Anttoni Honka, Victor Soderstrom, Nils Hoglander, and Ryan Suzuki. Stay tuned!