The World Juniors have ended and in a bit of unusual fashion. Finland ended up upsetting Canada and USA for the Gold, Russia earned a Bronze and USA walked away with a Silver medal. Of the three teams that earned medals, all of them rostered a potential top-three pick in the upcoming 2019 NHL draft. The World Juniors is the perfect scenario for the large majority who do not follow these prospects through major juniors or international play to see what they are made of. It sure did not disappoint as the Gold game consisted of the top-two 2019 prospects, Kaappo Kakko and Jack Hughes. As we know, Kakko scored the game-winner and earned gold. Coming ahead of Hughes this time around, but will Hughes be ahead of Kakko come June in Vancouver?
For months now Hughes has been and still is regard as the #1 for the upcoming draft but after a rather weak and short World Juniors, some have second guessed Hughes number one ranking. Therefore let us take a look at the top-10 prospects and where they may fall come June 2019.
- Jack Hughes: Aside from playing only four games, Hughes did have four goals in those four games. He currently has 48 points with the US National Development Team (USNTDP) and has dominated the World Junior play in previous years as well collecting 54 points in 27 games for the USTNDP in 2017-2018. All stats and numbers aside, I believe Hughes is an unbelievable skater, has great puck control, sees the game very well and anticipates plays well but my biggest fault with him is his decision making with the puck in tight areas, as well as his size at the professional level. I know we have seen players like Clayton Keller and Johnny Gaudreau be successful in the NHL but Hughes is much like a Patrick Kane but smaller and a lot lighter. He is going to be a top talent in the NHL at some point but in my opinion we may be over shooting Hughes here. What I mean by that is, yes he will be a top-two pick, yes he will be a top point scorer in the NHL but I don’t think he will be a player who comes into the league right away. It would be best for Hughes to be drafted and spend sometime in major juniors, AHL and just take a year to develop a little more.
- Kaapo Kakko: Kakko has the size at 6’2, and showed a great World Juniors performance this past week. He collected 5 points in 7 games (2G, 3A). Right now he is playing with TPS Liiga where he has 20 points in 27 games. His best year came in 2017-18 when he 55 points with TPS U20 Liiga in 38 games. Kakko is very strong on his stick, he plays very well below the goal line and is able to make plays in tight areas. He is not as a great skater/playmaker as Hughes but his intangibles like work ethic, size, puck control and board battle ability gives him some separation from the pack. He reminds me a lot of almost a Kevin Hayes, Anders Lee type player. Not flashy with his hands, not an overall great skater but plays great along boards, can score, helps teams maintain and control possession and plays all areas of the ice very well. I would not be surprised to see Kakko potentially go number one depending who is the number one pick.
- Dylan Cozens: This kid is having a great year with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, collecting 55 points in 39 games (23G, 32A). Aside from not having the physical attributes of an NHL player, Cozens does have the size at 6’3. He has been ranked anywhere from 2-5 on scouts reports but for me this type of player is a player that can come into a decent NHL team and help out. It would be best to have him play one more year at the WHL or AHL level after being drafted but Cozens won Rookie of the Year for reason. He is an explosive forward that can play either center or wing, from the report. Cozens would be the Flyers ideal pick, he plays a great 200-foot game, can kill penalties, play the power play, play below the goal line and is quick enough to keep up with the play. He is sometimes overly physical but he is in the right place always and always has his feet moving. I’d suspect this kid to be #3 in 2019 draft.
- Vasily Podkolzin: In a offensive driven league Podkolzin makes it in the top-five for sure. He is currently playing in one of Russia’s top-ranked junior leagues the MHL (SKA-1946), he played well in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this year and has played many seasons now for Russia’s international teams possessing a top-six role always. He is regarded to be a solid all around forward, who can set plays up, finish and play defensively. He has all the tools to be an NHL forward but we have seen some trouble with Russian players coming over to the NHL recently which is my only concern for this kid. Scouts have been high on this kid, he sees the play well, thinks the game well and can play the d-zone just as well as the offensive zone. Podkolzin is going to be potentially be a #3 or #4 pick depending what team ends up where. But I can see him being an Ottawa Senator or Los Angeles King next season.
- Trevor Zegras: There is not much talk around this kid due to playing in the same program with Jack Hughes, Zegras is falling way under the radar right now. He has been regarded as an “elite center”, right now he has 45 points in 31 games for the US National U18 team and 16 points in 10 games for the USHL’s USNTDP Juniors. Zegras despite his 159lb frame is going to be an expectational center at the NHL level. He is committed Boston University for the 2020 season, but Zegras is a play maker through and through. His passes are nearly always on target, he sees the play so well and is able to create plays along the walls and in open ice. He may not be regarded as a goal scorer but his ability to quickly change directions, get separation and find the scoring areas will make him value-able at the college level and eventually the NHL level. He is regarded as a top-10 pick but I think he will move up a bit come June.
On Tomorrow’s list…
- Alex Turcotte
- Matthew Boldy
- Kirby Dach
- Bowen Byram
- Raphael Lavoie
The Blues regulation loss to the New York Islanders Saturday night makes it now their 19th loss of 39 games. They currently sit 7th in the Central division and 12 points out of a wild card spot. The Blues did not anticipate a season like this and Saturday nights lost to the Islanders is a perfect example of (1) how “unlucky” this team has been (2) the lack of will, and depth scoring this team has and (3) failure to capitalize on leads. The Blues lost last night leaves them with a lot of questions to answer. With the Islanders only managing 14 shots on goal the WHOLE game the Blues still lost 4-3 in regulation. Therefore we must ask what are the Blues options right now?
- Push ahead, say whatever, we wash this season away and get back after it next season. Realistically the Blues have no chance of making the playoffs right now and in the off-season they signed Patrick Maroon, David Perron, Tyler Bozak and still have Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn on longer-term contracts as well. The Blues can just continue to play, be competitive and try to win the most games they can because losing out is never something a team wants to do. Especially a team with as much talent and success as the Blues have had in the past. The Blues traded away their 1st round pick this summer for Ryan O’Reilly therefore their picks this year if they do not have this 2019 1st rounder (explain later) would be a 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th round.
- Tank, try to finish within a top-10 2019 first round draft pick spot. This would be the Blues best option realistically, the conditions on the trade for O’Reilly earlier this summer was “if the Blues finish within a top-10 draft pick spot they have the option to keep the pick and give the Sabres their 2020 first round pick.” Therefore, Blues lose, who cares you are already 29 of 31 right now, it makes no sense to win.
- Trade Vladimir Tarasenko, get two first round picks for this 2019 draft year (assuming they keep their 2019 this year), I will say the term rebuild loosely but “rebuild” on the fly and get a good return for Tarasenko. The Blues end up doing this, they will definitely get a first rounder from a desperate playoff team, a mid-level prospect and potential bottom-9/top-6 forward. This seems like the second best option.
- Get Jake Allen out of net, and out of St. Louis and try to find a #1 goaltender. The Blues have been to the playoffs numerous times now in the last ten years and each time they have failed to convert. Partially, not the only reason but some of it is because they lack goaltending. I would say get rid of Allen and try to find someone like a Petr Mrazek that could potentially be a solid goaltender but really anything is better than Allen right now. The Blues have two prospect goalies, Ville Husso and Evan Fitzpatrick. Husso who is not playing well in the AHL right now but has put up decent numbers in his pervious two AHL season and International play. Fitzpatrick who has not put up great numbers in the ECHL this season nor the QMJHL his previous season but is a 2016 second rounder.
The Blues in my opinion, I may not watch the Blues a ton but still watching them enough to realize they do not have the goaltending to get the job done, their scoring depth is too inconsistent and Tarasenko is playing on the third line. It seems the Blues should just turn the page to 2019-2020 already and start looking at what they can do to be the best team for the start of next season.
As reported by Sports Net the 2019 NHL draft prospects are being scouted heavily as the year goes on. This years draft again seems to be a heavy forward draft in the first round. The top-10 are very interchangeable like many drafts before this. Example was last years draft when the Montreal Canadiens took Jesperi Kotkaniemi before many other highly sought out prospects the draft was shocked but it seems like the first twenty or so picks can be anywhere from 1-20, meaning the 20th ranked guy can be a potential one and one can be a potential twenty.
Either way looking at the top-10 for this 2019 upcoming draft seem to look like…
- Jack Hughes: The brother of Vancouver’s 2018 draft pick Quinn Hughes. Jack though play defense compared to his defenseman brother. At 17-years-old Hughes is already being seen as the sure number one the draft. He really emerged on the scene when he scored 159 points, 101 assists and 58 goals with the Toronto Marlboro Midget AAA, before heading over to the U.S. Developmental program which has been the hot bed for developmental and the home for many former USA draft picks. Hughes played 27 games with the USNTDP Juniors team scoring 54 points in that span, he recently played in the World Juniors U18 were he scored 7 goals and 12 points in 7 games. Hughes has 13 points in 8 games for the USNTDP this season. Seemingly like a favorite for the #1 pick this year.
- Vasili Podkolzin: Has been ranked within the 4-7 range by many other hockey scouts. Due to the talent in the draft he can easily be a #2 draft pick. Vasili emerged during the international play of the World Juniors U18 where he scored 15 points in 8 games. At every major international tournament Vasili has been an impactful player. Playing for the SKA St. Petersburg team will be a solid developmental time for the 17-year-old forward, the only concern is in years we have seen the many Russian superstars get drafted and not come into the league for a years due to the KHL.
- Kirby Dach: There was definitely some concern on this kids ability to stay consistent and score. He has the whole package of a great forward, great hockey IQ, great skating ability, plays both sides well and can score. While he only scored 7 goals for the Saskatoon Blades in 2017-18 he is off to a 13 goal performance through 25 games with 39 points thus far. Dach emerged on the scene in Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. Right now his NHL potential is unsure, eh could be a top six forward if consistent but will fall in the top-five range for sure in the 2019 draft.
- Dylan Cozens: This kid has fallen in the top four range and even the #2 ranked prospect by McKeen’s hockey. Cozens has spent his time in the WHL for the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Before coming to the WHL he spent one year with the Yale Hockey Academy Prep where he scored 27 goals and 57 point sin 30 games. This year already Cozens has 31 point sin 24 games in the WHL right now, he has good size for the forward position at 6’3 he does not need to worry about being questioned on his size. He can sure bury the puck, his potential falls in the top-six forward role depending on the team.
- Kaapo Kakko: Another Finland prospect, Kakko has been another big thing developing in Finland. He is playing in the Liiga right now where he is off to a hot start, he has been ranked in the number two to three range. Has a desire for the puck, plays in the offensive end extremely well, protects the puck well, skates well and is not afraid to get physical. Kakko has 13 points in 20 games right now. For a younger forward in the Liiga he uses his hockey IQ and smarts to be ahead of the play, playing at the international level this upcoming year for the Finland U20 teamwill be the final test to Kakko’s NHL potential.