Although most general managers and scouting directors have long regarded the later stages of the NHL Draft as a latent source of future players, the overwhelming majority of the league’s best and brightest stars were selected in the first round. And in spite of significant advances in the ability to scout and evaluate prospects from hockey’s traditional locales, most cornerstone figures for every successful franchise throughout recent NHL history were first-round picks.
How important is keeping a first-round pick? Well, consider that 20 of the 23 scoring champions since the undrafted Wayne Gretzky won his last Art Ross in 1993-94 were selected in the first round. Of those 20, only one was drafted after sixth overall, and that was Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, whom Dallas selected 11th overall in 1995.
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Winning league MVP also seems to require a first-round pedigree, as the last 13 Hart Trophy winners not only were top-30 picks, but 12 were chosen in the top five. Dominant play in the postseason is another category reserved for high picks, as seven of the last eight Conn Smythe winners were forwards chosen on the draft’s first day, and six were top-three selections.
This year’s crop of prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft offers GMs a handful of elite teenagers, some of whom are destined for stardom at the highest level. How long it may take for them to reach their potential is anyone’s guess at this point. What we do know is that the immediate impact made by recently-drafted neophytes (Auston Matthews, Elias Pettersson and Nico Hischier, to name a few) means that teams want more out of their top picks than just promise and upside.
Another league-wide trend to watch is the size reduction of the average player, which has had a trickle-down effect on the types of prospects teams are drafting.
Furthermore, the decrease in the number of players 30 years or older — down nearly 10 percent from 2005-06 — is a sign that GMs are attracted to the financial flexibility in a youngster’s entry-level contract. Getting smaller, younger and cheaper appears to be a recognizable necessity for front office types, and the way they’ve recently built rosters via the draft, trades and free agency seems to validate it.
NHL player age/height demographic trends
|Season||Total players||Under 21||Over 30||Drafted 5’11” or smaller|
This year’s draft provides teams with a deep pool of center prospects that extends will into the lower stages of the first round. They come in various sizes, backgrounds and skill sets, so questions remain on what exactly teams will be looking for.
Traditionally, a center-heavy draft gets everyone excited at the prospect of choosing the franchise-carrying pivot most teams covet, while organizations well stocked down the middle may use their pick as a trade chip for additional assets.
The most talked-about prospect for 2019 is Jack Hughes, an explosive center on the smaller side. Listed at 5-11, 168 pounds, Hughes would be the lightest center chosen first overall since 1964, when Detroit took Claude Gauthier (5-10, 150 pounds). Hughes, however, isn’t the only high-ranking pivot who is listed under 6 feet tall. Teammate Alex Turcotte (5-11), Kootenay’s Peyton Krebs (5-11) and the BCHL’s Alex Newhook (5-10) all are expected to be picked in the upper portions of the draft’s opening round.
Nonetheless, the draft in Vancouver still is several months away, with critical benchmark events like the NHL’s trade deadline (Feb. 25) and lottery drawing (TBA) expected to have a profound impact on draft strategies and player movement. Before then, let’s take our first stab at guessing how things on June 21 will play out.
(Draft order is reflective of the NHL standings as of Jan. 11, 2019)
NHL mock draft 2019, version 1.0
1. Colorado Avalanche (via Ottawa): Jack Hughes, C, U.S. NTDP
Unfathomable as it seems, the Avalanche actually need this superior playmaker more than one would think. Hughes and Nathan MacKinnon should give them the elite 1-2 punch required to challenge for multiple Stanley Cups.
2. Los Angeles Kings: Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS Turku (SM-Liiga)
Kakko’s mix of finesse with power will one day make fans in Los Angeles look back on this dreadful season as the end of the beginning. He’s NHL ready as we speak.
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3. Philadelphia Flyers: Vasili Podkolzin, LW, SKA-Neva (VHL)
A tough-as-nails throwback with the confidence of a veteran, Podkolzin’s ability to change the outcome of a game comes in many forms.
4. Detroit Red Wings: Alex Turcotte, C, U.S. NTDP
The draft’s best two-way center plays like a candidate for first overall. The Red Wings like speed and 200-foot play from their centers, and few teens do it better than Turcotte in 2019.
5. Chicago Blackhawks: Matt Boldy, LW, U.S. NTDP
Boldy’s clean, no-nonsense style and selfless puck distribution will make everyone around him better.
6. New Jersey Devils: Dylan Cozens, C/W, Lethbridge (WHL)
Big, strong and skilled with an infectious team-first attitude? Kids like Cozens don’t come around every draft.
7. Arizona Coyotes: Trevor Zegras, C, U.S. NTDP
The trade of Dylan Strome was a tough pill to swallow for Yotes fans. Zegras is just as good a playmaker but several steps quicker.
8. St. Louis Blues: Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
The Blues need some passion and intensity infused into their lineup. Byram has No. 1 potential and will be an instant fan favorite.
9. New York Rangers: Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
An elite playmaker and power-play wizard, Dach is the pure set-up man the Rangers haven’t developed since Marc Savard over 20 years ago.
10. Vancouver Canucks: Alex Newhook, C, Victoria (BCHL)
The BCHL’s leading scorer as a 17-year-old, Newhook is a scoring machine who can marinate for a few years at Boston College until it’s time to groom him as a top-six candidate.
11. Florida Panthers: Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL)
A true warrior who hates losing and gives it his all every shift, Krebs’ set-up abilities and clutch scoring get overlooked. An NHL captain in the making.
12. Edmonton Oilers: Victor Soderstrom, D, Brynas (SHL)
Fast and smart are two terms rarely associated with recent Edmonton defensemen. Soderstrom would be a nice compliment to Evan Bouchard’s offense-first mentality.
13. Anaheim Ducks: Raphael Lavoie, RW, Halifax (QMJHL)
An all-around player who brings a lot to the table, Lavoie can score from anywhere and provide the Ducks with yet another big-bodied winger who can wear down opponents with strength and close-quarter quickness.
14. Carolina Hurricanes: Pavel Dorofeyev, LW, Stalnye Lisy (MHL)
Few teenage wingers make opponents pay for their on-ice transgressions as this soft-mitted Russian, whose sturdy balance and natural scoring ability will mesh well with the likes of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.
15. Montreal Canadiens: Moritz Seider, D, Adler Mannheim (DEL)
Some might view choosing a big, mobile defenseman like Seider as the Habs going off the board while leaving some flashier names on the table. Just watch him play, please.
16. Colorado Avalanche: Cam York, D, U.S. NTDP
A graceful puck rusher with a wicked shot, York has mastered the art of understanding the nuances of sharing the puck with Jack Hughes.
17. Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie (OHL)
A playmaker similar in style to his older brother Nick, Ryan is the go-to option for a rebuilding Barrie squad. It may not a banner draft year for the OHL, but Suzuki clearly is the best the league has to offer.
18. Dallas Stars: Robert Mastrosimone, RW, Chicago (USHL)
A bulldog on the puck with a love for letting it rip, Mastrosimone is one of the draft’s best pure goal scorers. He also throws his weight around and can score from the circles with regularity.
19. Buffalo Sabres: Arthur Kaliyev, LW, Hamilton (OHL)
A sniper with a blistering shot, Kaliyev is a big-bodied winger who has a creative side to his game.
20. Boston Bruins: Cole Caulfield, RW, U.S. NTDP
Caulfield may not look intimidating on skates. But there aren’t many 5-6 wingers who scare the daylights out of opposing defenses. He makes finishing around the net look easy.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets: Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton (WHL)
Robertson doesn’t grab as many headlines as a fellow WHL rearguard like Byram, but he can look just as poised and confident. He has ideal size, but it’s his brain that separates him from most draft-eligible rearguards.
22. Vegas Golden Knights: Philip Broberg, D, AIK (Allsvenskan)
It’s never a question of when an aggressive puck mover like Broberg will attack deep into opposing territory. The issue will be telling him to slow down.
23. New York Islanders: Ryder Donovan, C/W, Duluth-East (HS-Minn.)
Lou loves big Americans, so why not take a towering forward who can play both center and the wing? Donovan oozes big-time potential and can fill a variety of roles.
24. Pittsburgh Penguins: Connor McMichael, C, London (OHL)
The Penguins keep finding ways to keep their steamroller running, but the prospect pool needs a legit game-breaker up front. McMichael has top-six upside and can score big goals when he isn’t setting up his linemates.
25. Nashville Predators: Michal Teply, LW, Liberec (Extraliga)
Teply’s advanced puck skills, high compete level and willingness to battle for the puck in every corner of the rink will quickly endear him to Nashville’s die-hard fanbase.
26. Buffalo Sabres (via San Jose): Spencer Knight, G, U.S. NTDP
Although this is a draft deep in goalies, a team like the Sabres with an extra pick early would be wise in using it on a netminder who can compete with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonnen for the starting job in the future.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jakob Pelletier, LW, Moncton (QMJHL)
It’s not difficult for a prospect of any size or age to light up an offense-friendly circuit like the QMJHL. But Pelletier’s drive to outwork and outthink his opponents makes him anything but ordinary.
28. Winnipeg Jets: Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga (OHL)
Harley makes everything look easy when he’s controlling the puck, and that description wasn’t meant to sound cliche. He makes everything look easy and his pass accuracy is outstanding.
29. Washington Capitals: Nils Hoglander, RW, Rogle (SHL)
Right, wrong or indifferent, the Caps have not drafted a forward in the first round since Jakub Vrana in 2014. Hoglander is a high-energy pest with quick reaction timing and excellent set-up skills.
30. Calgary Flames: John Beecher, C, U.S. NTDP
Beecher can be an unstoppable freight train when in full flight, but he’s also an exceptional penalty killer with tenacity and consistent effort.
31. Tampa Bay Lightning: Anttoni Honka, D, JyP (SM-Liiga)
One of the candidates earmarked for a draft-day fall, Honka still owns elite vision and playmaking skills that proved to be too advanced for Finland’s top junior league.