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Bob McKenzie

TSN Hockey Insider

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It is the Jack Hughes Draft.

Still.

Amid speculation that perhaps the star American’s grip on No. 1 status for the 2019 NHL draft was in question after the World Junior Championship, the 5-foot-10-1/4, 168-pound centre remains the unanimous No. 1 on TSN’s Mid-Season NHL Draft Rankings.

Just as he was on TSN’s Pre-Season Rankings in September.

Each of the 10 NHL scouts surveyed by TSN this week had Hughes at No. 1 on their list. Ten for 10.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some closing of what started this season as a considerable gap between Hughes and the rest of the 2019 draft class.

“We still have Hughes at No. 1,” one NHL scout said, “but he’s No. 1 within a group of five or six. At the start of the season, Hughes was in a group by himself. He has company now.”

Many of the scouts surveyed said the strong play of Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko, who scored the gold-medal winning goal at the WJC, and Russian forward Vasili Podkolzin, who played a prominent role in Russia’s bronze-medal performance at the WJC, represent a challenge of sorts to Hughes.

But not one of those scouts was prepared to put Hughes anywhere other than No. 1. And some of them said that while the strong play of Kakko and Podkolzin, who are Nos. 2 and 3 respectively on TSN’s mid-season list, has tightened the race somewhat, there’s no need to overthink things.

“Hughes was the clear No. 1 to start the season, he is, for me, the clear No. 1 right now and I strongly suspect he’ll be the clear No. 1 at the draft,” another scout added. “There have been times this season where [Hughes] hasn’t been as productive or dominant as we expected, but he’s still playing at a really high level and putting up points. He’s a special player. So have Kakko and Podkolzin closed the gap? Yes, they have. But does a gap still exist? I would say yes.”

In 28 games with the Under-18 U.S. National Development Team, Hughes has averaged two points per game, scoring 13 goals and 56 points. These numbers do not include the four assists he had in four WJC games for Team USA, where Hughes missed three WJC games with an upper-body injury.

Hughes’ 13 goals in 28 games is tied for third on the U-18 team, although his 56 points are tops and he’s played seven less games than most of his U-18 teammates because of the WJC.

The U.S. U-18 team plays a hybrid schedule against competition from the United States Hockey League, NCAA college teams and international tournaments.

Hughes was, not surprisingly, most productive when he was playing against same-aged competition. At the Five Nations U-18 tournament in Europe in November, Hughes tore it apart, collecting six goals and 16 points in four games. Scouts at the time said he was on another planet in that tourney.

Perhaps surprisingly, Hughes has fared better scoring goals against older and tougher NCAA competition than when he plays against USHL teams.

Hughes has scored only three goals in 13 games versus the USHL, although he also has 19 assists. In 11 games against NCAA competition — some of the best college teams in the country, many of which have players four to six years older than Hughes — he has scored four goals and 17 points.

There have only been five games all season, including the WJC (where he had a point in each of his four games), when Hughes failed to register a point.

“You can really see how he’s on another level when he’s playing against his [own age] peers,” a third scout said. “And he’s still putting up numbers against older, better competition. I don’t doubt he has another gear we haven’t seen yet.”

Hughes also has the advantage of being projected as a No. 1 NHL centre while his chief competition for No. 1 status in this draft comes from two players — Kakko and Podkolzin — who are natural wingers.

The Finn and Russian played at a high level at the WJC, reinforcing their projections as top-line NHL wingers.

Kakko is 6-foot-2-1/4, 194 pounds and has an attractive blend of size, strength, speed and skill. He’s played well against men in Finland’s top league and while he’s been mostly a winger, there are occasions when he’s played centre. He was a driving force for the gold-medal winning Finns.

Nine of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN ranked Kakko No. 2 overall. The only scout who didn’t have him No. 2 had him No. 3.

“He has all the tools you want in a big, skilled NHL winger,” one scout said. “He helped himself a lot (at the WJC).”

Podkolzin, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound winger, was a dominant offensive force at the Hlinka-Gretzky Under-18 tournament in August and demonstrated at the WJC that he could be a factor against older competition. On a Valeri Bragin-coached Russian team that usually relies on older players, Podkolzin played notable and significant minutes, including on the power play and in late stages, protecting a one-goal lead.

“He isn’t the biggest or fastest but he sure can play,” a scout said. “He’s smart, he wins battles and makes plays. He scores goals. He creates offence.”

All 10 scouts had Podkolzin in their Top 5. Five of 10 scouts surveyed had him at No. 3 although one placed him at No. 2, behind only Hughes. Three others had him at No. 4 and one at No. 5.

It’s fair to say, though, Hughes and Kakko, at this moment in time, seem more locked into Nos. 1 and 2 than Podkolzin is at No. 3.

The odds appear high that the first-overall selection this season will be an American, which is perhaps fitting insofar as this year’s U.S. Under-18 program is being touted by many as the best U-18 team USA Hockey has ever iced. There are eight members of the team among the top 23 ranked prospects on TSN’s mid-season list, including three in the Top 10.

In all, there are 10 Americans ranked in TSN’s Top 31, 11 if you count one prospect (Mississauga Steelhead defenceman Thomas Harley at No. 22) who has dual Canadian-American options and 12 if you include No. 27-ranked Nolan Foote, another dual citizen who was born in the U.S. but has chosen to be Canadian for international hockey purposes.

There are 13 Canadians in TSN’s Top 31 — 14 if you include Harley — including three of the Top 6 and eight of the Top 20.

It’s also a very big year for the Western Hockey League (seven in TSN’s top 31, including four of the Top 10), a good year for the Quebec League (three in the Top 31) and a sub-par year for the Ontario Hockey League (four in the Top 31, none in the Top 10).

Beyond the Hughes-Kakko-Podkolzin triangle at the top of the draft, the next three prospects on TSN’s mid-season list are Canadians who play in the WHL.

No. 4 is Kirby Dach, a 6-foot-3-1/2, 199-pound right-shot playmaking centre from the Saskatoon Blades. Dach has 18 goals and 50 points in 43 games this season. He’s capable of scoring goals, but his natural inclination is to pass. He is viewed as having elite skill level. While Dach has the size NHL scouts covet, he’s not blazing fast, though no one is suggesting his skating is a notable liability and his blend of size and skill is what separates him.

Eight of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had Dach in their Top 5.

No. 5 is Dylan Cozens, a big, strong and powerful 6-foot-3, 181-pound centre who plays for the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Cozens is a unique story, born in Whitehorse in Yukon Territory. Cozens has 25 goals and 58 points in 45 games this season. He’s the opposite of Dach in many respects. Cozens is a shoot-first centre with a tremendous shot. He is a fast and powerful skater who plays a bullish power game.

Seven of 10 scouts had Cozens in their Top 5.

No. 6 is Bowen Byram, the top-ranked defenceman in the draft. He is a 6-foot-0-1/2, 194-pound Vancouver Giant blueliner who does his best work when he has the puck on his stick, which is often. Byram has 16 goals and 43 points in 43 games. He plays a strong two-way game and has a healthy amount of grit in his game but his strength is skating and passing the puck up the ice, creating offence for others or himself with a good shot from the point. He can also quarterback a power play.

Only two scouts surveyed by TSN put Byram in their Top 5 but eight had him in their Top 10.

The rest of TSN’s Top 10 is as follows:

No. 7 is Matthew Boldy, the 6-foot-1-1/2, 187-pound goal-scoring winger from the U.S. Under-18 team who has committed to Boston College for next season. Boldy has 21 goals in 35 games; he's a natural goal scorer with the size, skill and speed to beat people one on one.

Five of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had Boldy at No. 7 or higher, including one who pegged him as high as No. 4. Eight of 10 had him in the top 10.

No. 8 is Philip Broberg, the 6-foot-2-3/4, 199-pound offensive defenceman from Sweden who plays for AIK in Sweden’s second-level professional league. Broberg appears to be the only legitimate threat to Bowen Byram as the top defenceman in the draft. Broberg is considered an excellent skater who, as one scout put it, is a “one-man breakout” who exhibits strong offensive tendencies.

Broberg, at No. 8, is the prospect and the point in the rankings where consensus becomes more difficult to achieve. Five of 10 scouts surveyed had Broberg in their Top 10, including one who ranked him as high as No. 5. Four of the five scouts who had Broberg outside the Top 10 ranked him No. 12 and one as low as No. 23.

No. 9 is Peyton Krebs, the sub-6 foot, two-way centre from the Kootenay Ice, the fourth and final Canadian WHLer in the Top 10. Krebs, at 5-foot-11-1/4 and 180 pounds, is an energetic and industrious playmaking pivot who has a high hockey IQ. He has 16 goals and 37 assists for 53 points in 44 games, which reinforces his reputation as playmaker more than a scorer but some questions about size and offensive upside will be raised.

Six of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had Krebs in their Top 10.

No. 10 is Trevor Zegras, the third member of the U.S. Under-18 team in TSN’s Top 10. Zegras is a 6-foot, 166-pound playmaking centre who at times has played on the wing, sometimes with Hughes. Zegras has 13 goals and 49 points in 34 games, second in points to Hughes on the U-18 team. He’s committed to Boston University for next season.

Six of 10 scouts had Zegras in their Top 10, including one who ranked him No. 4 overall.

If, as expected, Hughes goes first overall - and even if he doesn’t and one of Kakko or Podkolzin does - it will be an unprecedented fourth consecutive year a non-Canadian has gone No. 1 overall. 

The first three are: American Auston Matthews in 2016, Switzerland’s Nico Hischier in 2017 and Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin in 2018.

Suzuki brothers push each other toward international dreams

Nick Suzuki has been named the most sportsmanlike player in the OHL two years running and his younger brother can only laugh. Ryan Suzuki says Nick rarely took it easy on him when they played while growing up in London, Ont. The siblings are now rivals in the OHL, but are united by a desire to wear the Maple Leaf. Nick is in Kamloops at the World Junior Summer Showcase while Ryan is in Calgary looking to crack Canada's roster for the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup.

Whatever happens, there’s likely to be a lot of American flag-waving at this year’s draft in Vancouver, June 21-22.

Beyond Hughes at No. 1, Boldy at No. 7 and Zegras at No. 10, other notables from the U.S. U-18 team include:

- Centre Alex Turcotte, the son of former NHLer Alfie Turcotte, is No. 11 and a legit threat to break into the Top 10 despite playing only 13 games this season because of injury.

- Defenceman Cam York is No. 15 and emerging as a strong two-way blueliner who can quarterback a power play and recently had a seven-point game in the USHL.

- No. 18-ranked right winger Cole Caufield, all 5–foot-6-3/4 of him, is arguably the pre-eminent natural goal-scorer in the draft. He has 31 goals in 35 games to lead, by far, the U.S. U-18 team in goals. Yes, the prospect who is viewed as the second coming of Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat often lines up alongside Jack Hughes but Caufield continued to score goals while Hughes was away at the WJC. In fact, in six games against NCAA competition while Hughes was at the World Junior Championship, Caufield scored seven goals.

Staios: Kaliyev's game really rounding into form heading into draft

President and general manager of the Hamilton Bulldogs Steve Staios joins TSN 1150's Tatti and Louie B to discuss top prospect Arthur Kaliyev taking part in the CHL Top Prospects game, his thoughts on his club after the deadline and more.

- Goaltender Spencer Knight is No. 19 and the clear choice as the top stopper in this draft, a potential franchise player at his position. There are those associated with USA Hockey who believe the 6-foot-3, 197-pound elite athlete is on a trajectory to become one of the best American goalies ever. All 10 scouts surveyed by TSN ranked Knight a first rounder; half of them had him in their Top 15 and one as high as No. 7.

- Defenceman Alex Vlasic, at No. 23, is a huge 6-foot-5-3/4, strong skating puck-mover and defender who is the eighth member of the U-18 team ranked in the first round.

Two Americans who don’t play on the U-18 team - Hamilton Bulldog scoring winger Arthur Kaliyev at No. 13 and mobile blueliner Ryan Johnson of Sioux Falls in the USHL at No. 30 - round out the American contingent ranked in the Top 31.

In spite of Kaliyev’s presence at No. 13, and Barrie Colt centre Ryan Suzuki (younger brother of Montreal prospect and NHL first-round Nick Suzuki) at No. 12, it’s a lean year for the OHL, which has been a standard-bearer for Canadian prospects in recent drafts. Mississauga defenceman Harley, at No. 22, and London Knight forward Connor McMichael at No. 26, fill out the OHL’s four-man group in the Top 31.

While four OHLers is considered low output for Ontario, having three Quebec League players in the Top 31 is cause for celebration in La Belle Province. It’s notable because all three prospects are francophones from Quebec — Halifax Mooseheads scoring winger Raphael Lavoie of at No. 14; Sherbrooke Phoenix forward Samuel Poulin (son of former NHL forward Patrick Poulin) at No. 28; and Moncton Wildcats left winger Jakob Pelletier at No. 31.

There is one player in TSN’s Top 31 representing Canadian Junior A hockey. Centre Alex Newhook of the Victoria Grizzlies may be No. 20 on the TSN list, but he's No. 1 in British Columbia Hockey League scoring, earning 70 points in 41 games. He’s a native of Newfoundland who played some minor hockey in the Greater Toronto Area and now plays on the west coast, which is to suggest Newhook has literally gone coast to coast. 

One other significant player earning a first-round ranking is Prince Albert Raider forward Brett Leason at No. 25. Leason, who played for Team Canada at the WJC, has 31 goals and 73 points in 39 WHL games. In his final year of junior eligibility, Leason was not taken in each of the last two NHL drafts. He’ll try to duplicate what Tanner Pearson did in 2012; Pearson was picked 30th overall in the first round by the Los Angeles Kings after being bypassed twice in the draft.

Leason is something of a wild card with a wide variance of ratings. He was ranked as high as No. 17 by one scout and as low as No. 65 by another.

 

The Top 80

 
RK Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
1 Jack Hughes USA NTDP (USHL) C 5'10 ¼ 168 28 13 56
2 Kaapo Kakko Turku (SM Liiga) RW 6'2 ¼ 194 29 11 22
3 Vasili Podkolzin St. Petersburg (MHL) RW 6'1 190 11 6 8
4 Kirby Dach Saskatoon (WHL) C 6'3 ½ 199 43 18 50
5 Dylan Cozens Lethbridge (WHL) C 6'3 181 45 25 58
6 Bowen Byram Vancouver (WHL) D 6'0 ½ 194 43 16 43
7 Matthew Boldy USA NTDP (USHL) LW 6'1 ½ 187 35 21 39
8 Philip Broberg AIK (SWE-Als) D 6'2 ¾ 199 30 1 8
9 Peyton Krebs Kootenay (WHL) C 5'11 ¼ 180 44 16 53
10 Trevor Zegras USA NTDP (USHL) C 6'0 166 34 13 49
11 Alex Turcotte USA NTDP (USHL) C 5'11 189 13 9 18
12 Ryan Suzuki Barrie (OHL) C 6'0 ¼ 178 41 15 44
13 Arthur Kaliyev Hamilton (OHL) RW 6'1 ¼ 190 46 35 68
14 Raphael Lavoie Halifax (QMJHL) C 6'3 ½ 191 43 21 45
15 Cam York USA NTDP (USHL) D 5'11 ¼ 171 34 6 28
16 Matthew Robertson Edmonton (WHL) D 6'3 201 34 6 22
17 Victor Soderstrom Brynas (SWE J20) D 5'11 179 26 2 4
18 Cole Caufield USA NTDP (USHL) RW 5'6 ¾ 155 35 31 46
19 Spencer Knight USA NTDP (USHL) G 6'3 197 15 2.42 .920
20 Alex Newhook Victoria (BCHL) C 5'10 ¼ 195 40 25 70
21 Moritz Seider Mannheim (DEL) D 6'3 ½ 183 25 1 4
22 Thomas Harley Mississauga (OHL) D 6'3 188 45 8 38
23 Alex Vlasic USA NTDP (USHL) D 6'5 ¾ 193 33 3 14
24 Ville Heinola Lukko (SM Liiga) D 5'11 ¼ 178 23 1 6
25 Brett Leason Prince Albert (WHL) C 6'3 ¾ 200 39 31 73
26 Connor McMichael London (OHL) C 5'10 ¾ 172 43 27 51
27 Nolan Foote Kelowna (WHL) LW 6'3 ¼ 190 43 22 42
28 Samuel Poulin Sherbrooke (QMJHL) RW 6'1 ¼ 206 45 19 47
29 Nils Hoglander Rögle (SHL) LW 5'9 185 32 5 8
30 Ryan Johnson Sioux Falls (USHL) D 6'0 173 28 4 14
31 Jakob Pelletier Moncton (QMJHL) LW 5'9 161 44 25 60
                 
32 Anttoni Honka JYP (SM Liiga) D 5'11 ¼ 179 16 1 4
33 Bobby Brink Sioux City (USHL) RW 5'8 ¼ 159 19 15 33
34 Phillip Tomasino Niagara (OHL) C 5'11 ¾ 178 44 22 47
35 Lassi Thomson Kelowna (WHL) D 6'0 188 44 10 29
36 Hunter Jones Peterborough (OHL) G 6'4 196 39 3.18 .910
37 Kaedan Korczak Kelowna (WHL) D 6'2 ¾ 192 45 3 19
38 Nicholas Robertson Peterborough (OHL) LW 5'8 ¾ 162 31 17 33
39 Vladislav Kolyachonok Flint (OHL) D 6'0 ¼ 176 34 3 23
40 Ilya Nikolaev Yaroslavl (MHL) C 6'0 190 33 8 18
41 John Beecher USA NTDP (USHL) C 6'2 ¾ 204 34 5 20
42 Egor Afanasyev Muskegon (USHL) LW 6'3 ½ 201 33 18 40
43 Jamieson Rees Sarnia (OHL) C 5'10 173 28 8 23
44 Albin Grewe Djurgardens (SWE J20) RW 5'10 ½ 187 19 11 28
45 Tobias Bjornfot Djurgardens (SWE J20) D 6'0 202 27 9 16
46 Vladislav Firstov Waterloo (USHL) LW 6'0 ¾ 181 36 18 38
47 John Farinacci Dexter (USHS) C 5'11 ¼ 185      
48 Matvei Guskov London (OHL) C 6'1 ¼ 177 35 7 21
49 Nathan Legare Baie Comeau (QMJHL) RW 6'0 205 45 34 64
50 Simon Holmstrom HV71 (SWE J20) RW 6'1 183 12 6 9
51 Colten Ellis Rimouski (QMJHL) G 6'0 ¾ 185 33 2.37 .914
52 Michal Teply Liberec (CZE) LW 6'3 187 15 0 2
53 Shane Pinto Lincoln (USHL) C 6'2 192 30 17 32
54 Henry Thrun USA NTDP (USHL) D 6'2 190 35 7 23
55 Mikko Kokkonen Jukurit (SM Liiga) D 5'11 198 38 1 14
56 Jackson LaCombe S. St. Mary's (USHS) D 6'1 ¼ 171 33 13 49
57 Nikita Okhotyuk Ottawa (OHL) D 6'0 ¾ 191 33 1 8
58 Artemi Kniazev Chicoutimi (QMJHL) D 5'10 ¾ 176 35 9 21
59 Josh Williams Edmonton (WHL) RW 6'1 194 41 9 21
60 Drew Helleson USA NTDP (USHL) D 6'2 ¼ 181 35 5 15
61 Graeme Clarke Ottawa (OHL) RW 5'11 ½ 175 32 15 22
62 Robert Mastrosimone Chicago (USHL) LW 5'9 ¾ 158 27 14 26
                 
63 Ryder Donovan Duluth East (USHS) C 6'3 ¼ 184 18 9 27
64 Pyotr Kochetkov Ryazan (RUS-2) G 6'3 205 13 1.91 .937
65 Pavel Dorofeyev Magnitogorsk (MHL) LW 6'1 167 16 13 25
66 Maxim Cajkovic Saint John (QMJHL) RW 5'10 ¾ 185 39 13 32
67 Valentin Nussbaumer Shawinigan (QMJHL) C 5'10 ½ 167 36 10 23
68 Daniil Gutik Yaroslavl (MHL) LW 6'3 179 24 3 9
69 Dillon Hamaliuk Seattle (WHL) LW 6'2 ¾ 190 31 11 26
70 Case McCarthy USA NTDP (USHL) D 6'0 ½ 194 31 4 14
71 Oleg Zaytsev Red Deer (WHL) C 6'0 ¾ 186 42 8 29
72 Judd Caulfield USA NTDP (USHL) RW 6'3 204 35 6 23
73 Michael Vukojevic Kitchener (OHL) D 6'3 205 44 2 13
74 Samuel Fagemo Frolunda (SHL) LW 6'0 194 26 7 14
75 Nikita Alexandrov Charlottetown (QMJHL) C 6'0 179 37 18 36
76 Marcus Kallionkieli Sioux City (USHL) LW 6'1 ½ 192 25 15 25
77 Billy Constantinou Kingston (OHL) D 5'11 ¾ 185 22 4 15
78 Massimo Rizzo Penticton (BCHL) C 5'9 ¾ 175 24 8 26
79 Michael Koster Chaska (USHS) D 5'9 ¼ 171 16 9 33
80 Matias Maccelli Dubuque (USHL) LW 5'11 165 36 18 43
 

 

Honourable Mentions

 
Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
Leevi Aaltonen Kalpa (SM Liiga Jr) RW 5'8 ¾ 177 22 7 24
Mikhail Abramov Victoriaville (QMJHL) C 5'10 ½ 154 41 6 34
Layton Ahac Prince George (BCHL) D 6'1 ¾ 188 40 0 20
Roman Bychkov Yaroslavl (MHL) D 5'11 161 32 2 14
Jake Lee Seattle (WHL) D 6'1 ¾ 216 42 2 19
Simon Lundmark Linkoping (SWE J20) D 6'2 201 25 2 17
Ilya Mironov Yaroslavl (MHL) D 6'3 201 22 1 6
Ethan Phillips Sioux Falls (USHL) C 5'9 ¼ 148 22 8 24
Patrik Puistola Tappara (SM Liiga Jr) RW 6'0 174 17 9 16
Mads Sogaard Medicine Hat (WHL) G 6'6 ¾ 192 21 2.40 .931
Jordan Spence Moncton (QMJHL) D 5'9 ½ 164 47 3 36
Jayden Struble St. Sebastian's (USHS) D 6'0 194      
Antti Tuomisto Assat (SM Liiga Jr) D 6'4 190 36 7 26
Marshall Warren USA NTDP (USHL) D 5'10 ½ 169 26 4 14
Cade Webber Rivers Academy (USHS) D 6'5 ¾ 194      
Dustin Wolf Everett (WHL) G 5'11 ½ 156 42 1.88 .927