After months of debating and a spring of exciting playoff hockey, the draft is finally upon us!
First of all, congratulations to the St. Louis Blues on their first Stanley Cup. There were a lot of feel-good stories on that team. Patrick Maroon going to play for his hometown team to be closer to his son, scoring the series winning overtime goal in game 7 against Dallas, and winning a Stanley Cup was awesome to see! It was great to see Jaden Schwartz win a Cup after what he went through with losing his sister Mandi to cancer as well as breaking his leg and missing the 2011 WJC then captaining the 2012 edition of Team Canada at the WJC in Edmonton and Calgary (a tourney that holds a spot in my heart since I attended much of that tourney live). How about Jay Bouwmeester finally winning a Cup after 17 seasons? Or former Oiler David Perron winning in his third stint with the Blues and after losing in the Final last season? Or St. Albert’s Colton Parayko? I thought it was cool to see Alex Pietrangelo accept the Cup after getting to see him live at the Top Prospects Game here in Edmonton in 2008.
Anyway, now that the Cup has been awarded, we can move along with eyes towards next season, and more specifically towards Vancouver for the draft.
The Oilers hold the 8th pick, a position they haven’t held since 1981 when they selected Grant Fuhr.
The time has come for me to reveal my 2019 Mock Draft. I confess that I’m not a true expert on these prospects. I’m going off of what I’m Google has told me and what little bit I saw of them at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer and at the World U-18s in April. I made my selections based on each team’s organizational needs. I evaluated each team’s NHL roster now and players that are signed or that are highly likely to be signed through the 2021-22 season, and I looked at recent draft history to see which existing internal prospects seem likely to fill roster spots in the next 2 years.
I’m only going to focus on the top 10 teams since the Oilers are picking in the top 10 and I’m not as well versed on the prospects slated to go late in the first round. You can see how I did last year here. Spoiler alert: I did not do well! I got the top 3, and then missed the other 7.
The thing that makes this draft interesting is that there is no consensus outside of the top 2 picks. There really isn’t a lot to choose between players ranked from 3-12ish. There will definitely be a few surprises in this draft. I’m ready to fall flat on my face once again this year, but I’m going to pretend I’m right until I’m proven wrong!
The Devils hold the first overall selection once again this year. With the first pick in the 2019 draft, the Devils will be proud to select…
1. NJ- Jack Hughes, USNDTP
5’10”, 170 lbs
Duh. This one was pretty obvious. The Devils are getting an American star at centre to go with Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall. Easy choice here. Next!
2. NYR- Kaapo Kakko, TPS Turku (Finland)
6’2″, 190 lbs
Kakko has had a spectacular season. He was playing against men in Finland. He scored the winning goal at the WJC in January. He got 7 points in his first 4 games at the Men’s World Championships this spring. He gave Hughes a run for his money for the top pick, but in the end, Kakko will ply his trade in the Big Apple.
3. CHI- Vasili Podkolzin, SKA St. Petersburg (MHL)
6’1″, 196 lbs
I told you there would be surprises. In 2016, Columbus went off the board and took Pierre-Luc Dubois at 3. Last year, Montreal went off the board and took Jesperi Kotkaniemi at 3. In 2019, the Blackhawks will go off the board and take Podkolzin. At the beginning of the year, this wouldn’t have been an off the board pick, but it appears to be that way now.
John Shannon interviewed Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman just before the Draft Lottery took place as a part of Sportsnet.ca’s pre-lottery show. Shannon asked Bowman what he would do if the Hawks moved up in to the top 3. He suggested that they would take the best player available, but he stated that their organizational need is at forward, so they would lean towards a forward if it came down to it. I wish I could find the quote, but Sportsnet never posted it unfortunately. That leads me to believe that they will pass on Bowen Byram, who would make a great torch bearer for the aging Duncan Keith. I believe that Erik Gustafsson’s emergence this season has bought the Hawks some time on needing to draft a top LD.
We’ll see who Bowman and the Hawks think the best player available is, but Podkolzin could very well be just that at 3. Podkolzin has fallen in the rankings because he has 2 years left on his KHL contract and his production fell throughout the year, highlighted by a poor showing at the U-18s in April. However, Podkolzin has been heralded as one of the two most complete forwards in this draft (along with Turcotte). He’s a dynamic scoring winger that is responsible defensively, and he’s still only 17 years old. He is a rare example of a 17-year old Russian that got to play in the World Jrs under coach Valeri Bragin. That tells you something about this player.
Bowman has shown a willingness to go after Russian players before. Last year, he drafted Philip Kurashev, who is half Russian (yes, I know he represented Switzerland internationally). He also took a Russian in the 3rd round in 2017 (Andrei Altybarmakyan), and another in the 2nd round in 2016 (Artur Kayumov). Let’s not forget about the flyer he took on signing Artemi Panarin out of the KHL either. That was a big gamble that ended up being wildly successful. I can see Bowman taking a chance on Podkolzin here.
While there is a local kid available to the Hawks that would make for a nice story, I think they will pass on Turcotte because they have Toews locked up long term at centre, and they have 22-year old RFA Dylan Strome who just broke out as a solid 2C. Their need is at RW, not LW, so I don’t see them shifting Turcotte to LW either… not while RW Podkolzin is available.
4. COL- Alex Turcotte, USNTDP
5’11”, 185 lbs
The future is shining brightly in Colorado, and it will only get better with this draft. They have two 1st round picks, the first of which is Ottawa’s pick gained in the Duchene trade. The other is their own at 16. They have two glaring organizational needs: a true top LD, and a solid 2C. There is a true top LD sitting here available to Colorado, but there are also a bunch of great centres here. The other big piece of information to consider here is that there are quite a few good defencemen available in the mid-teens. I see Colorado going after a centre here, and targeting Cam York with the 16th pick.
Turcotte is the best centre available. He is basically a Jonathan Toews clone. He’s a skilled centre that is also defensively responsible. He’s also got a lot of speed, an asset that will serve him well with Colorado’s wealth of mobile, puck moving defencemen. Colorado will solidify their centre position behind Mackinnon with Turcotte.
5. LA- Bowen Byram, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
6’0″, 194 lbs
Once again, I told you there would be surprises. Most people are bullish on Byram going 3rd in this draft, and him falling to the Kings at 5 would qualify as a surprise.
The Kings are feeling the effects of being such a good team for so long. Their stars are aging and their performance as a team is declining. The Kings are one of two teams that finished with less than 200 goals last season (ANA being the other). While they are in desperate need of goal scoring, their bigger need is at left defence. After buying out Dion Phaneuf Saturday and trading Jake Muzzin during the season, Derek Forbort is now their only LD. Kale Clague is coming, but he doesn’t project to be anywhere near the player that Byram projects to be. All reports indicate that Byram is going to be a top defenceman in the NHL, and the Kings will gladly take him to ride shotgun with Drew Doughty.
6. DET- Kirby Dach, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
6’4″, 198 lbs
The Red Wings have a ton of young talent. They have Denis Cholowski and Filip Hronek emerging on defence along side Danny DeKeyser and veteran Mike Green. They have Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Michael Rasmussen, and Filip Zadina up front. The one thing that all of those forwards have in common is that they are all lefties! Steve Yzerman drafted a CHL player with his first pick in every draft that he was the GM in Tampa Bay. I don’t see that being different here with the 2 WHL centres still available with the 6th pick. Dach is a rangy player with good speed and great skill. He is drawing comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf because of his size, skill, and occasional mean streak. I think he will mesh nicely with Detroit’s other big and skilled forwards like Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Rasmussen.
7. BUF- Trevor Zegras, USNTDP
6’0″, 174 lbs
The Sabres are going to have an interesting choice to make here. They took Rasmus Dahlin 1st overall last season, and he had a great rookie season. The Sabres don’t have much at LD after that. Perhaps Broberg will be available for the Sabres, but they could go another way here. They have Jack Eichel as their top centre, but their centre situation is questionable at best beyond Eichel right now. They have Sam Reinhart, who appears more comfortable at the NHL level now, but he can play 2C or RW. They also have centre Casey Mittlestadt, who had a disappointing rookie season. There isn’t much else to get excited about at centre ice in Buffalo. They need a skilled player that can play centre, and it would be great if he could play wing if need be as well. They just signed LW Jeff Skinner to a big deal, and they have Kyle Okposo at RW. This player should be a lefty because if he is going to play wing, then it will likely be on the left since they have Reinhart and Okposo as options on the right side already.
Enter Trevor Zegras.
Zegras is tremendously skilled. He’s got sweet hands and incredible vision and creativity. He kind of reminds me of Alexei Kovalev, but Zegras appears to be more of a playmaker than Kovalev was. Zegras was primarily the 3C with the USNTDP, but he did play wing this season as well. His skill set should fit nicely with the exciting young Sabres forwards.
The Oilers hold the 8th pick, and they will have a lot of intriguing options.
None of the players in this range will likely be NHL ready for a couple of seasons, so as Mark Spector pointed out, it is probably smart to think about what the roster will look like a couple of years down the road instead of what it looks like today.
The Oilers only have 4 skaters that are signed through the 2021-22 season: McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic, and Klefbom. Evan Bouchard will definitely be on the team at that time as well. If Dmitri Samorukov’s development continues upwards like it did this season, then Samorukov could be there too since his ELC extends through 2021-22. Ryan McLeod could be on the team then as well in a 3C role. Kirill Maksimov and Ostap Safin also have ELC’s that extend through 2021-22, but they are not guarantees to be NHLers just yet (although I am excited and curious about Maksimov). The roster could look something like this:
Draisaitl – McDavid – ?
? – ? – ?
? – McLeod – ?
Lucic – ? – ?
Klefbom – Bouchard
Samorukov – ?
? – ?
Now, those are just the players that are signed through 2021-22 that are contributors or that I fully expect to become contributors. I love Nugent-Hopkins, and I expect him to re-sign here, but we have to start thinking about the possibility that he might leave. I feel the same way about Nurse, but he could be trade bait because the Oilers are so deep at LD.
The RW situation is interesting. Puljujarvi is under team control, but he apparently wants out, so we have no guarantee that he will be here. Yamamoto seems to have taken a step backwards with his development, so we don’t know exactly where he projects as an NHLer yet, or if he will be one at all. As I alluded to earlier, I like Maksimov, but he is an unknown commodity at this point. It’s tough to assume that he will make it. Marody and Currie are no guarantees either, especially not as top 6 options. The Oilers could go with RW super sniper Cole Caufield with the 8th pick, or they could go with right-handed centre Dylan Cozens with eyes on him playing wing or as a contingency plan if Nuge leaves.
At LW, Tyler Benson sure appears to be trending upwards; but his ELC is up in 2 more years, and we don’t know what will happen there. He’s the only one on the left side that appears to be trending towards a top 6 LW position, which might be ok if Draisaitl plays LW and a couple of those RW prospects work out. The Oilers could also choose to go with LW Matthew Boldy here, which I know would make BLH happy.
They could also go a little off the board and take one of the left-handed Canadian centres with the 8th pick: Peyton Krebs or Alex Newhook. Krebs is a good all-around player. He’s got speed, skill, and a solid defensive game. He also has great leadership skills. Personally, I’m more of a fan of Newhook though. Newhook has blazing speed, and he is simply dynamic. He can play centre, and he demonstrated that he can play wing at the U-18s, where I thought he was the best player on a line that also featured Krebs and Cozens.
The defence pipeline is the strength of the Oilers organization right now, but as I said earlier, Bouchard and Samorukov are the only two that are signed through 2021-22. The left side looks strong with Samorukov, Jones, and Lagesson developing behind the current group of Klefbom, Nurse, and Sekera. Bob Stauffer and some others have been tooting Philip Broberg’s horn as someone the Oilers are very interested in with the 8th pick. That would seem to be a curious move given the Oilers’ organizational strength at LD, but Broberg’s ceiling might be higher than any current LD prospect that the Oilers have. The plan in that scenario would be to trade from a position of strength (LD) for an established player that fills an obvious hole (scoring winger). I think the Oilers are already in a position to do this without drafting Broberg, but there is a chance that the Oilers believe that he will be better than any of the forwards available. I don’t feel that way, but they might.
As for the RD position, the Oilers are also looking decent here with Bouchard trending to be a franchise RD in my opinion. They do also have Ethan Bear and Joel Persson waiting in the wings, but both are only signed for one more year. There is no RD prospect in this draft that I would take at 8 over any of the names that I’ve gone over already, although Victor Soderstrom and Moritz Seider should both become very good NHL defencemen.
The last option would be a bit crazier, but there is a potential star goaltender available in this draft by the name of Spencer Knight. His puck handling skills are out of control! He’s a modern version of Marty Brodeur or Marty Turco, or the next Mike Smith. Knight isn’t slated to go until the mid-teens or later, but Montreal made a similar move taking Carey Price with the 5th pick in 2005 when he was ranked in the mid-teens as well. The Oilers are high on Stuart Skinner and Olivier Rodrigue, so I seriously doubt this will happen; but I wanted to discuss it as an option anyway.
Now that we know the options and what the Oilers might be thinking, I can reveal the pick. With the 8th pick, the Oilers will be proud to select:
8. EDM- Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
6’3″, 183 lbs
I definitely struggled making this pick. Ken Holland said that he has watched a lot of the USNTDP kids because he was living so close to their facility in Michigan, so I was inclined to believe that the Oilers would go with one of those kids (Boldy or Caufield). In The Panel’s mock draft video (Stauffer, Jack Michaels, and Tony Brar), Stauffer mentioned that the Oilers took two players to dinner at the combine in Buffalo: Cozens and Broberg. That is usually a good indication that a team is high on that player, as we saw with Montreal taking Jesperi Kotkaniemi out for dinner at last year’s combine.
Stauffer and Michaels both suggested that the Oilers will take Broberg, which is merely speculative on their part. Mark Spector hinted at a Broberg pick as well, but he suggested that there would be discussion at the Oilers table if Cozens is still available. I’m a fan of Broberg’s. I think he was Sweden’s best player at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and he was great at the U-18s as well. However, I think he is a project. He has only been playing defence for a few seasons after spending the majority of his youth playing forward. He’s got good puck skills, but his decision making does need some work. I like him, but I wouldn’t take him over Cozens. However, there is a lot of smoke coming from Edmonton media types suggesting that the Oilers are going to go with Broberg. If Cozens is gone, I can see it happening, and it might even happen if Cozens is available.
Cozens was expected to be closer to the top of this draft after the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, but his stock has fallen a bit this season. Cozens has great speed, and he is the most complete forward available based on my mock draft. I watched a fair amount of him at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and I saw a very reliable player. He has a good defensive conscience, and he can score big goals for your team. If he’s still on the board at 8, then I believe that he would be the best player available.
I really like the idea of the Oilers having a contingency plan in place just in case Nugent-Hopkins does decide to leave. Cozens would definitely be that. He can also play RW. The Oilers have drafted RWs Puljujarvi and Yamamoto in recent drafts, but they haven’t panned out yet and neither is a guarantee. No matter what happens, the Oilers will be able to find a place for Cozens to succeed.
9. ANA- Alex Newhook, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
5’10”, 190 lbs
The Ducks are trying to get younger and faster with their forwards. They have Rickard Rakell and Jakub Silfverberg signed through 2021-22 on the wings. They are also likely to add Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie to that group. In the middle, they have Adam Henrique Signed long-term, and although aging C Ryan Getzlaf only has 2 years left on his deal, I don’t see the Ducks moving on from him. Henrique’s name has been in the rumour mill, and I do think he will get moved in the next couple of years to make room for Sam Steel or this pick.
Newhook is an explosive skater, and he is a lot of fun to watch. He should probably be ranked higher, but he opted to go the BCHL route instead of playing in the QMJHL so that he can go to college. I’m predicting that he will go before Krebs in this draft, and I believe that Newhook will go in the top 10. He can play either centre or wing, and he will go a long way towards making the Ducks younger and faster.
10. VAN- Matthew Boldy, USNTDP
6’2″, 192 lbs
The Canucks are a young team on the rise. Their strength is definitely up the middle with the likes of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Adam Gaudette set to stabilize the centre position on the West coast for years to come. They’ve got RFA sniper Brock Boeser on the right side, whom I imagine will be a Canuck for years to come as well. Their two organizational needs are at LD and LW.
Their situation at LD is desperate in the immediate future as it appears that Alex Edler will be leaving via free agency. They have rookie Quinn Hughes and largely unproven commodity Ashton Sautner on LD right now. It sounds like the Canucks are being aggressive in trying to find LD help this summer, and they also have Olli Juolevi in the system.
That’s why I think they go with a LW here. Boldy was touted as a sniper, but when I watched him at the U-18s, he was showing off his tremendous play making ability. He’s the total package offensively, and he’s reliable on the other side of the puck too. He has pro size, which will likely mean that he will be NHL ready sooner than some of his peers. Boldy will be a nice addition to the Canucks’ growing collection of young American stars.
There you have it folks, my top 10. I told you there would be surprises. Podkolzin at 3, Byram falling to 5, and only 4 USNDTP players in the top 10 instead of 5 are my surprises. That number could fall to 3 if Broberg finds his way in to the top 10 as well.
As for the Oilers, if it’s Cozens then I’ll be excited! I’d honestly be excited about Newhook, Boldy, or Caufield with that pick. If it’s Broberg, then I’ll be very curious and intrigued about what Holland has up his sleeve going forward.
The most likely scenario is that I’m the one that is surprised when I’m totally wrong on all of these picks! Have fun watching the draft, and watch out for my draft wrap-up next week.