Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Starting today, and for the next 40 or so days I will be bringing you features on the next wave of NHL players. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Prospects”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2018 Draft Articles Click here. We will be sure to bring similar coverage of the 2019 NHL Draft.
2019 NHL Draft Early Look
The 2018 NHL Draft has come and gone, and most teams have already held their post-draft development camp, getting an up close and personal look at the players they have selected in their new jerseys. However, scouting new talent never stops and with this, in mind we turn our attention towards the talent that will be available in the 2019 NHL Draft. It may be early and there is still a full year of hockey to be played, likely leading to a lot of movement between these rankings and where players end up at the end of next season, but still, let’s take a look and preview the 2019 NHL Draft. The 2018 class has been criticized for the lack of high-end centres available but featured an abundance of talented puck-moving defencemen. At this point, the 2019 draft class looks to be a reverse of that trend.
1.) Jack Hughes, Centre, U.S. National Team Development Program, 5’10” 161 lbs
Hughes started last season with the US NTDP Under-17 team. He was so dominant that he ended up being called up to the Under-18 team, where he became the first line centre. The dominant offensive game continued. Overall he put up 116 points in 60 games. He also had 15 points in six games at the Under-17 WHC and 12 points in seven games at the IIHF U-18.
Hughes has a complete offensive game. He is an elite-level skater, with outstanding speed, excellent acceleration, and top-notch agility and edge work. Hughes also has the soft and quick hands to handle the puck and make quick moves while skating at that top speed. He has great vision and anticipates the movements of teammates. Hughes can make a tape-to-tape pass through tight areas. He also has an accurate shot and quick release. If there is any criticism, and it is a small one, it is that Hughes could add some weight to his frame before being ready for the pro game. Expect that to start to happen this season, and for Hughes to be the clear top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
2.) Alex Newhook, Centre, Victoria Grizzlies, 5’11” 183 lbs
The St. John’s, Newfoundland native opted to go west, playing for Victoria in the BCHL rather than joining the Halifax Mooseheads after being drafted in the 2017 QMJHL Draft. Newhook is looking to maintain his NCAA eligibility as he is committed to Boston College. Newhook has game-breaking talent. His speed is amongst the best in the class, and he has the acceleration and edge work to got with it. Newhook makes skating look effortless, almost as if he’s gliding above the ice. He combines this with the hands to make plays at top speed, and the smarts to seemingly always make a smart play with the puck.
A multi-faceted offensive threat, Newhook has a great shot, strong vision and passing skills, the ability to beat defenders with his finesse, and the power game to play in the dirty areas of the ice. He has everything that a scout could want in a top centre. Newhook has also shown the effort and instincts to be strong in his own end of the ice.
3.) Kirby Dach, Centre, Saskatoon Blades, 6’4″ 185 lbs
Selected second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Dach provides hope for a Saskatoon Blades fanbase that has watched a lot of rebuilding after the team went all-in hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup. In his rookie season, Dach put up 46 points in 52 games played. He also put up seven points in five games at the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. At 6’4″ Dach has the size to be a powerful centre. His stride is long and powerful and he is very tough to knock off the puck. Dach takes the puck to the net and is more likely to go through a defender than to try and make a deke to get around him. He has good top-end speed but his first few steps can improve.
Dach has very good vision and passing skills. He finds open teammates and sets them up for scoring chances in tight. His puck protection skills allow him to extend plays down low and wait for a teammate to get open. Dach also has a strong wrist shot and a quick release. However, he needs to use that shot more often. Dach is also willing to use his body in his own end of the ice. He supports the defence with effective back pressure and works to win battles along the boards and keep the front of the net clear.
4.) Peyton Krebs, Left Wing/Centre, Kootenay Ice, 5’11” 172 lbs
The 1st overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Krebs spent most of his first season in the league playing left wing for the Kootenay Ice. However, there is some question if he will be converted to centre in his second year in the league. Krebs put up 54 points in 67 games and led all WHL rookies in scoring. An outstanding skater, Krebs can create chances in transition due to his speed. He takes defenders wide and can cut to the net. He also has the ability to change direction on a dime making him difficult to contain one-on-one. If defenders back off to respect his speed, Krebs can take advantage of the added room by letting go a powerful and accurate wrist shot, with a quick release.
Krebs is best known for his playmaking ability though. He can thread the puck through extremely tight spaces, as well as make strong saucer passes. He is also good at passing the puck on his backhand. Krebs works hard in the defensive zone, supporting his teammates down low and working to break up passing lanes. He will need to add some muscle to his frame in the coming years.
5.) Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing, TPS Turku, 6’1″ 181 lbs
Kakko had 55 points in 38 games in the Finnish Under-20 league. He got a cup of coffee up in the men’s league, with one assist in six games. However, it was his work at the IIHF Under 18s that really impressed. Kakko put up 10 points in seven games, helping Finland to a gold medal.
Kakko is a highly skilled winger who can create in a variety of ways. He has the soft hands to stickhandle in a phone booth and can protect the puck and extend plays. His wrist shot is extremely powerful and features a very quick release. When an opportunity presents itself, he can set up a teammate for a scoring chance. Kakko is a strong skater who can use his power to fight through checks or quick changes in direction or speed to beat defenders one-on-one.
6.) Bowen Byram, Left Defence, Vancouver Giants, 6’0″ 179 lbs
The third overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Byram had a strong rookie season with the Vancouver Giants. He put up six goals and 27 points in the regular season but took his game to another level in the WHL playoffs with three goals and seven points in seven games. It was enough to earn Byram a spot with Team Canada at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships despite being an underage player.
Byram is an excellent skater in both directions and this becomes the basis of a strong two-way game. He is able to join the rush, or pinch in at the blue line and still get back to his defensive position. His strong backwards skating allows him to maintain strong gap control and makes him tough to beat on the rush. Byram is willing to play a physical game and forwards have to be aware of coming down his side of the ice with their heads down. He has a good point shot. Byram can skate the puck out of danger and makes a strong first pass to start the transition game.
7.) Alex Turcotte, Centre, U.S. National Team Development Program, 5’11” 194 lbs
When Jack Hughes was called up to the Under-18 team, Alex Turcotte took over as the top centre on the US NTDP U-18 team. He would also get called up to the Under 18 team later in the season. Turcotte scored 63 points over 58 games. He also added six points in six games at the Under-17 and five points in seven games at the Under-18.
Turcotte is another outstanding skater. He has a long and powerful stride that makes it very difficult to knock him off the puck. He controls the play down low, extending the possession and waiting for teammates to get open. When there is an opportunity, he can make a tough pass through tight spaces. Turcotte also has an excellent shot and a quick release. He is relentless in his play, forechecking hard and causing turnovers in the offensive zone and backchecking and playing solid defensively in his own end. His non-stop motor and high-end offensive skills make him a prospect who can play in any situation and fill any role.
8.) Raphael Lavoie, Right Wing/Centre, Halifax Mooseheads, 6’4″ 192 lbs
Lavoie had a strong second season in the QMJHL, putting up 30 goals and 63 points in 68 games with the Halifax Mooseheads. He was also impressive at the under-18 with five goals in five games for Team Canada. Lavoie has the size to be a power winger. Lavoie is a natural sniper. He has an excellent shot and quick release. Lavoie is also good at getting to the front of the net where he has the soft hands and good hand-eye coordination to finish in close to the net with rebounds and tip-ins. He has good stickhandling ability and protects the puck well.
Lavoie is a strong skater for his size. He has a good first step and acceleration, as well as the top end speed to pull away from defenders and create breakaways and odd-man rushes. He also has very good agility and edgework. Lavoie is tough to knock off the puck. His stride is powerful and he can fight through checks and get to the net. The main criticism of Lavoie at this point is his defensive game. He will need to work on improving that going forward.
9.) Dylan Cozens, Right Wing, Lethbridge Hurricanes, 6’3″ 176 lbs
Cozens put up 22 goals and 53 points in 57 games last season and earned WHL Rookie of the year honours. He has an excellent shot and a quick release as well as the soft hands to finish in close. Cozens is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice, establishing position at the top of the slot, where he can fire in one-timers or provide the “high-screen” that many teams are using to great effect in recent years. Cozens also sees the ice very well. He controls the puck in the cycle game before dishing to an open teammate.
Cozens has good speed and agility, especially given his size. His first step is above average as is his acceleration. However, Cozens will need to add muscle to what is currently a lanky frame. This will help him to be more physical on the forecheck, as well as to better support his defence down low. He works hard in his own end, and he tends to be in the right position and make the right reads. However, added strength would make him a two-way force at the junior level.
10.) Ryan Suzuki, Centre, Barrie Colts, 6’0″ 172 lbs
The first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Draft is the brother of Vegas Golden Knights prospect, Nick Suzuki. He put up 14 goals and 44 points in 64 games. Suzuki uses outstanding skating ability to create space and generate chances. He can beat defenders wide and accelerate to the front of the net with his speed. He can also change directions, or change speeds to open up passing and shooting lanes. Suzuki sees the ice very well and processes the game quickly. He understands where teammates are headed and can make a tape-to-tape pass through tight areas.
Suzuki also has a good release on his shot but needs to add some upper body strength in order to generate more power. He is a tenacious player who battles hard along the boards in all three zones. This is another area of his game that would improve with added upper body strength.
11.) Blake Murray, Centre, Sudbury Wolves, 6’2″ 179 lbs
Murray put up 21 goals and 44 points in 57 games for the Sudbury Wolves last season. Murray is a natural sniper, with a strong wrist shot and excellent release. He is willing to shoot the puck if given the slightest opportunity. He creates space with a quick first step and excellent acceleration. Murray has the size to take the puck to the front of the net and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and causes turnovers.
Murray has very good hands and stickhandling ability. He is able to make quick moves on defenders in order to open up passing and shooting lanes. He is also stong at protecting the puck and extending plays. Murray handles the puck while moving at top speed. He needs to improve his upper body strength, as well as improve his work away from the puck.
12.) Matthew Robertson, Left Defence, Edmonton Oil Kings, 6’3″ 196 lbs
Robertson had seven goals and 24 points in 67 games as a WHL rookie last season. While the stats might not show it, his mature two-way game has caught the eyes of scouts and earned him a spot on Team Canada for the Under 18s. Robertson has great size at 6-foot-3 and pairs this with excellent mobility. He skates well in both directions and has the pivots to transition from offence to defence quickly and vice versa. The skating ability has become the foundation of his two-way game. He could work on his agility to keep up with particularly shifty forwards.
Generally, Robertson has good gap control and keeps attackers to the outside on the rush. If they have their head down, he is not afraid to throw a big hit. However, he does not get caught out of position looking for one. He has a strong physical game in the corners and in front of the net. Robertson is a very good passer. This shows up in the transition game where he can start the rush from his own end. It also helps him at the point on the power play. Robertson has a good slap shot and a knack for getting it on the net.
13.) Nolan Foote, Left Wing, Kelowna Rockets 6’3″ 187 lbs
Unlike his brother and his father, Nolan Foote is a forward. He has very good size and plays a game that is a blend of skill and power. Foote has good stickhandling and puck protection ability. He scored 13 goals and 40 points in 50 games last season. Foote has an excellent wrist shot and a very quick release. When teammates have the puck, he finds open areas to get that shot off. When the other team has the puck, he is quick to get in on the forecheck, causing pressure and creating turnovers. Foote also is a good playmaker with puck protection and passing skills.
Foote is willing to work in the dirty areas of the ice. He gets to the front of the net and uses his size to create havoc. He also battles well on the forecheck, as well as in his own end of the ice. He could stand to improve his skating over the next several years, however. He particularly needs work on his first step and early strides.
14.) Valentin Nussbaumer, Centre, EHC Biel-Bienne, 5’11” 159 lbs
Nussbaumer is a Swiss player who has shone on the international stage. He was very good at the Ivan Hlinka tournament as well as at last year’s World Juniors. Nussbaumer shows excellent stickhandling ability and a good wrist shot. While Nussbaumer is not an elite speedster, he is still a very good skater with above-average speed and acceleration. However, it is his edgework and agility that really makes him dangerous. Nussbaumer can get around defenders and create chances. He is another smart player with a strong two-way game for his age but really needs to add muscle to his frame.
15.) Arthur Kaliyev, Left Wing, Hamilton Bulldogs, 6’2″ 190 lbs
A second-round pick in the 2017 OHL Draft, Kaliyev made an immediate impact for the Hamilton Bulldogs and helped the team to the OHL Championship. He put up 31 goals and 48 points in 68 games last season. Kaliyev also had 11 points in 21 playoff games. The Staten Island native has a tremendous shot. He picks corners with ease, and his quick release often fools goaltenders. Kaliyev is solid on his skates and not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice. He establishes a position in front of the net and is tough to move out.
Kaliyev is also a skilled stick handler who can beat defenders in one-on-one situations. He could stand to work on his skating, as Kaliyev could improve his first few steps and overall top-end speed. He also needs to show more commitment in his own end of the ice. With a couple of small improvements, he could climb even higher on draft boards.
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