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A Preview Of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (Part 5)

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

Welcome back once again, to another part in this series on some of the top prospects available for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. As a recap, in the previous four parts of this series, I covered prospects that I have ranked between 1-16 on my preliminary rankings, which were 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
  9. Trevor Zegras
  10. Philip Broberg
  11. Raphael Lavoie
  12. Kirby Dach
  13. Anttoni Honka
  14. Victor Soderstrom
  15. Nils Hoglander
  16. Ryan Suzuki

In the present article, I will be rounding off the top 20, starting with my 17th ranked prospect, Matthew Robertson.

17. Matthew Robertson (LHD - Edmonton Oil Kings)

The second part of the tandem of high-end defensive prospects coming out of the WHL this season, Matthew Robertson is the type of player who you will probably see all over the board right now. Currently ranked 5th by Future Considerations, and 26th by, there isn’t much certainty whether he’ll be a top 10 pick, or a top 30 pick, but there is certainty that he is not going to fall to the 2nd round unless something drastic happens this season. Robertson was dealt a difficult hand last season, playing on a team that only won 22 games, finished dead last in the entire WHL, and was one of the worst teams in the entire CHL. But Robertson managed to step in as a rookie and fill in a major defensive role on the team, and ended the season second in team defensive scoring behind overager Conner McDonald, notching 7 goals and 17 assists in his first full season.

Robertson is a very complete package of a defender. He’s got excellent size at 6’3” and 201 lbs, and he’s silky smooth in almost every facet you can think of. His skill with the puck is immense, and he displays a quiet calmness and poise when handling it. He doesn’t make rushed decisions, but processes his options very quickly, and can be counted on to make good decisions even when under pressure in his own end. His skill with the puck is complimented very nicely by a surprising finesse and agility for a player of his stature. Robertson’s balance, edgework, and agility make him surprisingly slippery in the open ice, and give him plenty of opportunities to cut through opponents’ forechecks and move the play out of danger when breaking out of his own zone.

He’s an excellent puck-rusher, using long, smooth strides to explode through the neutral zone, and helping him gain entry into the offensive zone. Robertson also possesses an excellent first pass, and can make a stretch pass out of the zone look effortless.

Without the puck, Robertson plays solid positional hockey. He maintains very good gaps when skating backwards, and can use his massive reach and active stick to take away room for opponents to skate with the puck. He makes intelligent reads and anticipates what opponents are going to do, and gets himself in position to intercept and break plays up. He’s physically strong enough that he can also manage the slot and the corners without too much trouble.

The one issue that I have heard raised about his defensive game is his decisiveness when defending against odd-man rushes, a point which was raised by Steve Kournianos. Otherwise, Robertson excels in a shutdown role, has a very high defensive zone IQ, is very effective on breakouts, and can handle difficult defensive assignments and munch major minutes shutting opponents down.

On the offensive side of the puck, Robertson loves getting himself involved in the play, and is mobile enough that he can cover a lot of ice in the offensive zone, and he’s not afraid to pursue plays on the rush deep in the zone when attacking. Robertson is a very competent puck-mover. He possesses great vision, and has great timing on his plays, including knowing when to pinch and when to make a pass.

When set up in the offensive zone, there are a lot of things you need to respect about his game when defending against him. He is very good at skating with the puck and opening up lanes using an array of fakes and dekes, and delivering the puck cleanly on his teammate’s tape. His ability to open up holes in coverage also gives him lanes to release his heavy shot, which he likes to keep low to the ice. He will likely be a staple on the Oil Kings’ powerplay for this reason, and is expected to step up into the top role this year.

He doesn’t make too many risky decisions with the puck, and typically goes for high-percentage plays. He’s also capable of making split-second decisions that could be the difference between sustaining offensive zone possession, or having to transition back to defense. He possesses excellent hand-eye coordination, and is fantastic at keeping the play in the offensive zone and preventing the puck from getting past the blue line, in some instances even batting pucks out of mid-air that were otherwise going to clear the zone.

Overall, one of the premier two-way defensemen in the draft, and someone you can rely on to play 20+ minutes a game, and play heavy minutes on special teams. In my opinion, Robertson has the smarts, physical tools, and offensive abilities that would put his ceiling as a top-pairing defenseman, while his floor would probably be as a second pairing defenseman who can quarterback the powerplay.

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

18. Arthur Kaliyev (RW - Hamilton Bulldogs)

Russian by ancestry, but American by citizenship, you’re looking at the premier goalscoring winger to come out of the OHL this season. Kaliyev is one of the youngest players in this draft class, and his talent for scoring goals is probably top 3 in the entire draft.

If you just look at his advanced stats, they tell a very interesting story. He led all U17 players in goals, xG, G/60, xG/60, shots, and shots/60 by a massive margin last season. Kaliyev loves to shoot, and he will shoot from just about anywhere. And his shot is downright terrifying. It has that OMG-I-wouldn’t-want-to-be-the-defender-that-has-to-block-that kind of release that makes your mouth gape wide open the first time you see it. The best part is that he doesn’t need to telegraph it.

The puck is on his stick, then it’s in the back of the net.

There’s seemingly no in-between. There’s little windup or telegraph on it, and yet he gets laser-like velocity on it effortlessly, with pinpoint accuracy. In the slot, Kaliyev is a surgeon with the puck.

The downside is that he’s not much of a playmaker. That’s not to say that he’s a bad passer, as he does have good vision and can set up his teammates on some nifty passing plays, but my impression of him is that he’s more of a shoot first, ask questions later type of player, and is best treated as a complimentary player that can finish plays, rather than create them himself.

Beyond that, Kaliyev has fantastic skating abilities, with very fluid mechanics and excellent balance. He’s agile moving laterally, which gives him that extra room he needs to wire his shot off. His puck skills are among the best I’ve seen in the draft class. He has superb one-on-one moves, with a wide array of jukes, dekes, and dangles, and at times, looks like he has the puck on a string.

Kaliyev is great at finding open ice, and has a great sense of where he needs to be in the offensive zone to get himself open for a pass. He has also already shown a lot of physical development at 6’2” and 190 lbs, and isn’t afraid to mix it up physically and use his body and strength to win puck battles. He’s great at protecting the puck, using his finesse, power, and excellent stickhandling abilities to weave around the ice, and is difficult to knock off balance.

With that being said, Kaliyev isn’t as good away from the puck as he is with it. There are times where he supports his team below the faceoff dots, and gets his stick in the way of passes, but at other times, his effort in his own zone looks to me like it could improve. He could show more assertiveness in hounding puck carriers, and more effort in winning races to the puck in the boards and corners in his own end. But these issues are easily coachable.

How much Kaliyev will score at the NHL level, I can’t quite tell yet, but the type of shot that he has is the type that you see with goalscorers like Stamkos or Kucherov, and unlike players like Teemu Pulkkinen, for example, he can get his shot off quick enough that I think his scoring touch will translate better at the NHL level. I’d say he projects as a power forward at the NHL level, with a ceiling of 30-40 goals per season. But he’s very boom or bust from what I’ve watched so far.

That opinion might change a bit more with further viewings, however, as I’ve only watched him play twice. In many ways, he reminds me of Owen Tippett from the 2017 draft.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

19. Blake Murray (C - Sudbury Wolves)

Blake Murray is someone that I sense will often get horribly underrated by a lot of people amidst the myriad of flashy offensive forwards that you’re going to see this season, and it’s a shame. Murray isn’t that sexy pick that flashes and dashes around the ice with the puck, and dazzles you out of your seat with amazing displays of skill and creativity with the puck. But he is probably one of the most cerebral and versatile two-way centers available.

He possesses all of the tools that you look for in a great pivot. He has spectacular hockey sense, and his positioning and sense of timing on plays is among the best in the entire draft class. Murray always seems to know where to be on the ice to have an effect on the play before the play develops, be that in the right spot to shovel home an ugly rebound around the mouth of the goal, intercepting a pass or stripping the puck off a player in his own zone or the neutral zone, or being in just the right spot at the right time to block a shot on the PK.

Murray is the everyman, and one of the best five tool players in the draft. He does it all. He’s a beast in the faceoff circle, an outstanding penalty killer, a fantastic goalscorer with a deceptively heavy wrist shot and very soft hands to finish plays around the mouth of the goal, he’s very good at getting the most out of his teammates and is good at creating scoring chances with his vision, and he has all of the physical tools that make him very successful when it comes to winning battles for the puck, and protecting the puck once he has possession of it.

A subtle, highly intelligent player that plays a style of hockey that is incredibly adaptable to both a checking role and an offensive role, and I see so many assets that will translate to him becoming a regular in the NHL one day. Plays like a veteran well beyond his years, even as a rookie last season.

The one knock on him is his skating. Murray possesses above average straight-line speed, and has shown a lot of improvement in his first step and his skating mechanics, but one area where he needs to improve is in his lateral movement, which is admittedly not the best. But he’s so intelligent and his positioning is so good that it hasn’t been a serious disadvantage for him, and he has done a fantastic job at adapting his style of play to adjust for any issues that he has.

Murray is currently ranked as high as 9th by Future Considerations, while other sources rank him in the late teens or the early 20s. While he’s not somebody that I would entertain using a top 15 pick on if I fall into that area in June, if I’m picking in the late first round, Murray is probably one of my top options. If Murray falls into the second round, you’re getting a great bargain on him.

Video Credit: Joseph Pizzimenti - YouTube

Video Credit: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

20. Maxim Cajkovic (RW - Saint John Sea Dogs)

The final member of this list is Slovakian product Maxim Cajkovic. Cajkovic played for the Malmo Redhawks last season at both the J18 Elit level and the SuperElit, where he scored 24 goals and 14 assists in 38 games between these two leagues. Perhaps most notable was his performance at the U18s back in April, which was something of a coming out party for him.

Cajkovic finished the U18s second in tournament scoring only to Jack Hughes, scoring 4 goals and 7 assists in a 5 game span, and ended the tournament with only 1 point less than Hughes, despite playing two fewer games.

Cajkovic will be taking his talents to the QMJHL this season after being selected 1st overall at the 2018 CHL Import Draft. If Cajkovic’s season looks anything like his preseason with Saint John, where he scored 6 goals and 3 assists in a 5 game span, this is going to be a very fun year for Q prospects.

What you have in Cajkovic is a flashy, offensive-minded winger with high-end vision and offensive creativity, elite-level stickhandling abilities, exceptional hockey sense, and a fantastic shooting arsenal. His quickness in tight spaces and ability to make sharp changes in direction make him difficult to contain for defenders, whether it’s along the boards or in the corners, or when he’s knifing his way through traffic in open ice. Cajkovic is very quick on his skates, using short, but powerful strides to maneuver around the ice, although he isn’t particularly explosive in the open ice, relying more on quick bursts and sharp changes in direction to outmaneuver defenders.

Cajkovic is not particularly dynamic in terms of his two-way play, but when the puck is on his stick, he’s likely a top 10 talent in this pool of prospects. It seems like every time that Cajkovic steps on the ice and has the puck on his stick, he’s either creating a scoring chance by laying the puck on the tape of an open teammate in a scoring position, or he’s in a position to score himself. After making a pass, or without the puck, Cajkovic is very good at stealthily slinking his way into open ice to get open for passes, and usually has his feet moving to adjust his positioning to find these soft spots on the ice as he gauges opponents’ coverage.

Cajkovic has a deadly accurate wrist shot which is particularly effective from in the slot, and his shot off the pass is excellent. In close, Cajkovic has a particularly good backhand which he likes to use to in close, and his hands in tight around the mouth of the goal are excellent, displaying amazing patience in outwaiting the goalie, and the presence of mind to make that extra move needed to beat the goalie once they bite.

Just as impressive is his vision and his ability to generate chances for his teammates. Whether it be on the forehand or backhand, Cajkovic can saucer the puck onto his teammate’s tape over long distances on the ice, making him dangerous on cross-ice feeds or backdoor plays. He makes plays with the puck on a regular basis that most players his age wouldn’t be bold enough to try in a game, and he makes it look easy. His vision and ability to make plays around the crease is also very impressive, and he has a knack for creating plays from behind the net by finding teammates in the low slot.

With that being said, Cajkovic could probably use a bit of work on the defensive side of the puck, and as with most prospects, he will need to add some bulk to his frame to enable him to transition to the NHL game effectively. He’s not a physical or strong player, is not effective in board battles, and is often guilty of trying to orchestrate the play too much from the perimeter. But if you’re willing to look past that, Cajkovic is one of the most gifted offensive wingers in this draft class.

As I see it, a few years in junior will probably do him some good as he works on improving some of these weaknesses in his game. Afterwards, he has top 6 winger written all over him if he pans out, and there are great expectations for him as he enters his rookie season in the QMJHL.

Video Credits: NHL Prospects - YouTube

Video Credit: Burgundy Rainbow Draft Shift By Shifts - YouTube

Other Ranked Prospects

Originally, I was planning on covering only 20 prospects in this series. However, depending on whether it would interest the readers here at WIIM, I would be open to discussing some of the other prospects that I have ranked on my list, with the stipulation, of course, being that there are some prospects that I am unable to currently rank due to not having tape on them, and I refuse to base my rankings on just highlights of them.

I have covered enough prospects that I can realistically cover prospects up to at least my top 50. Afterwards, there may be a much larger gap in my current rankings and how I’d assess prospects in later rankings, simply because I still need to cover more prospects, or I need to watch the prospects ranked between 51-75 more (e.g., I have Lev Starikov at 81 and Wiljami Myllyla at 82, when realistically, I could see them being ranked lower; the only reason they’re at that spot is because I haven’t had the chance to cover many of the prospects that would rank ahead of them; I have Sasha Mutala ranked at 56, when I’ve watched him only once, and there’s some debate he should go higher).

In short, the rankings of many of the prospects I have ranked in the top 50 may change over the course of this season, but the change will be far less drastic than for prospects I have ranked between 51-75, whether they rise in the rankings, or fall. So far, my list looks like the following:

  1. Jack Hughes
  2. Kaapo Kakko
  3. Alex Turcotte
  4. Alex Newhook
  5. Bowen Byram
  6. Vasili Podkolzin
  7. Peyton Krebs
  8. Dylan Cozens
  9. Trevor Zegras
  10. Philip Broberg
  11. Raphael Lavoie
  12. Kirby Dach
  13. Anttoni Honka
  14. Victor Soderstrom
  15. Nils Hoglander
  16. Ryan Suzuki
  17. Matthew Robertson
  18. Arthur Kaliyev
  19. Blake Murray
  20. Maxim Cajkovic
  21. Pavel Dorofeyev
  22. Yegor Spiridonov
  23. Jakob Pelletier
  24. Yaroslav Likhachyov
  25. Matthew Boldy
  26. Albin Grewe
  27. Artemi Knyazev
  28. Vojtech Strondala
  29. Simon Holmstrom
  30. Cam York
  31. Samuel Poulin
  32. Oleg Zaitsev
  33. Nikita Alexandrov
  34. Nolan Foote
  35. Henri Nikkanen
  36. Marshall Warren
  37. Michal Teply
  38. Filip Prikryl
  39. Daniil Gutik
  40. Nick Robertson
  41. Alex Vlasic
  42. Tobias Bjornfot
  43. Moritz Seider
  44. Ben Brinkman
  45. Leevi Aaltonen
  46. Michael Vukojevic
  47. Josh Williams
  48. Mikko Kokkonen
  49. Kaedan Korczak
  50. John Beecher
  51. Vladimir Alistrov
  52. Lassi Thomson
  53. Ilya Mironov
  54. Oliver Turan
  55. John Farinacci
  56. Sasha Mutala
  57. Nikita Okhotyuk
  58. Graeme Clarke
  59. Maxim Denezhkin
  60. Billy Constantinou
  61. Simon Lundmark
  62. Hugo Alnefelt
  63. Yannick Valenti
  64. Dmitri Sheshin
  65. Daniil Misyul
  66. Matias Maccelli
  67. Ilya Nikolayev
  68. Iivari Rasanen
  69. Danil Antropov
  70. Spencer Knight
  71. Dustin Wolf
  72. Danil Bashkirov
  73. Brady Meyer
  74. Colten Ellis
  75. Isiah Saville
  76. Patrik Puistola
  77. Mikhail Isayev
  78. Elmer Soderblom
  79. Antti Saarela
  80. Lev Starikov
  81. Wiljami Myllyla
  82. Matteus Ward

Anyways, thank you all for taking the time to read through this series. I hope it has provided invaluable information for all of you, and you at least left knowing more about the 2019 talent pool than you did coming into these articles.