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