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2019 NHL Draft- November Rankings and Reports
With the CHL season nearly two months old, a month or so of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the US National Team Development Program, the Gretzky-Hlinka Tournament, an international break in Europe, and the Canada-Russia Series all being played since we last updated our draft rankings, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the 2018 NHL draft are doing this year.
That said, as a staff, we haven’t seen every player yet—it’s quite simply not possible this early in the season. If there is an obvious name left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before the February rankings; as well as before our final rankings that go from April through June.
The group we haven’t seen a lot of our European prospects who, for whatever reason, haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, Five Nations, and the Under-18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most of those players.
1.) Jack Hughes, Centre, U.S. National Team Development Program, 5’10” 168 lbs
With 36 points in 18 games this season, Hughes is delivering on his pre-draft hype. 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. With the way the NHL continues to emphasize speed and skill, Hughes is the perfect player to take advantage of those conditions.
Hughes is an outstanding playmaker. He has great vision and anticipates the movements of teammates. His hockey IQ is extremely high. Hughes can make a tape-to-tape pass through tight areas. He also has an accurate shot and quick release. Hughes quick hands allow him to change the angle of his release and fool goaltenders. 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. He is already starting to add some weight, and there is little reason at this point to expect anyone other than Hughes to be the top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
2.) Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing, TPS Turku, 6’1″ 181 lbs
Last season, 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. This year, Kakko has picked up where he left off and is impressing in the men’s league with three goals and 10 points in 17 games.
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. He also uses his soft hands to finish plays in tight. All of this makes him a pure sniper. However, he can also be an effective playmaker. 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.
3.) Kirby Dach, Centre, Saskatoon Blades, 6’4″ 198 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. After a strong rookie season, Dach has emerged as a dominant player this year. Dach has 12 goals and 35 points in 22 games. Dach’s strong play has led the Blades to second place in the WHL East Division. 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 and his agility can use some improvement.
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 decent wrist shot and release. He is using that shot more and it is leading to goals and opening up defences, making his playmaking skill even more deadly. 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.) Dylan Cozens, Centre/Right Wing, Lethbridge Hurricanes, 6’3″ 185 lbs
Cozens put up 22 goals and 53 points in 57 games last season and earned WHL Rookie of the year honours. He’s followed that up with a strong start this season, with nine goals and 23 points in 18 games. 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.
5.) Bowen Byram, Left Defence, Vancouver Giants, 6’1″ 192 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. Bryram 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 has continued that play this season, and its helped the Giants to be a top contender in the WHL. He has five goals and 14 points in 19 games.
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.
Byram can skate the puck out of danger and makes a strong first pass to start the transition game. He is a strong puck-mover, willing to make plays through the neutral zone and to push forward to create offence as well. Byram has a good shot from the blueline and the vision and passing skills to quarterback the power play.
PLYMOUTH, MI – FEBRUARY 16: Jack Hughes #43 of the USA Nationals turns up ice with the puck against the Russian Nationals during the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament game at USA Hockey Arena on February 16, 2018 in Plymouth, Michigan. USA defeated Russia 5-4. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)