I know it’s early but the 2019 NHL Draft looks like it’s going to be a very strong draft and I’d say that it’s just as good as any other draft in the past decade or so. This draft has many high end NHL prospects in it including Jack Hughes, who I believe will be a franchise player in the NHL. Once again, there will be a lot of players drafted in the first two rounds that play for the U.S. National Team Development program led by a potential star player in Jack Hughes. And after a very weak 2018 Draft for the Western Hockey League, it’s looking like it will be a very strong year for the WHL in 2019, led by the likes of Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, Bowen Byram, and Kirby Dach. It’s also a stronger year for goaltenders in comparison to last year. There are two goalies that could potentially be drafted in the first two rounds in Spencer Knight and Dustin Wolf, both of whom are Americans. It can’t be overstated how huge of a draft this will be for the Buffalo Sabres. They will hopefully be walking into the draft with three first round picks (PLEASE DON’T SCREW THAT UP AGAIN). The NHL seems to be getting younger year after year and the contribution of players on entry level contracts is needed for success in today’s NHL. With the core of Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, Jeff Skinner, and Sam Reinhart taking up a lot of the team’s cap room, it’s imperative that the Sabres get cheap help with these three first rounders. Buffalo should be getting three very good prospects and one of the picks will probably be in the top ten as I don’t envision the Sabres being a very good team this season. But without further ado, let’s get into the top 31…
1. Jack Hughes, C, 5’10” 168 lbs (USNTDP)
Jack Hughes has the potential to be a franchise player in the NHL, that might be a hot take but I don’t care. Hughes is a very special talent and I firmly believe that at the same stage of development, he is every bit as good as Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews. He doesn’t have the size that Matthews and Eichel have but is probably more skilled than both of them. I think he will fill out his frame in time and in today’s NHL, the high end players don’t need to be 6’3″ to succeed so I’m not worried about Hughes at all in that regard. Hughes played a part of last season with the U17s and completely dominated, so much so that he was moved up to play with the U18 team and excelled as their number one center, playing with Oliver Wahlstrom (NYI) and Joel Farabee (PHI). Like his brother Quinn, who was drafted with the 7th overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in 2018, Jack is an elite skater and is probably the best skater in this draft class. Hughes’ vision is just incredible and there’s no pass that he can’t make. His playmaking ability eerily reminds me of Connor McDavid when he played in the OHL with the Erie Otters. I know, I know, it may be extreme to compare anyone to McDavid but Hughes is just that good and his playmaking ability is just on another level. I would’ve liked to see Hughes play a year in the NCAA rather than staying with the NTDP but it is what it is. He’s going to have a phenomenal season and he might even break the record for points for the U18 team. Hughes will be the number one pick and I don’t think there’s any prospect in the draft that could even potentially catch up to him. And that’s not a knock on the draft class because there are some really good players behind Hughes but Jack is just that good. He’s the consensus first overall pick.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, 6’2″ 194 lbs (TPS, Liiga)
Not only does he have a great name, but Kaapo Kakko is among the best goal scorers in this draft class. Kakko absolutely destroyed the Jr. SM Liiga with 55 points in just 38 games. He was a man amongst boys last season and after watching a couple of his games last year it was very evident that he is just way too good to be playing in that league. Kakko has also performed very well for Finland the last couple of seasons and he was a standout at the World Junior Summer Showcase. Kakko will be one of the go to guys for team Finland at the WJC this winter. Kakko has had an impressive start to his draft year, registering 10 points in 14 games (3+7). Kakko is a lock to go in the top five this season. At this point, I’d be shocked if Kakko isn’t a top three pick.
3. Dylan Cozens, C, 6’3″ 181 lbs (Lethbridge, WHL)
Dylan Cozens put on a show at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this summer and with that great performance, he was able to rise up on most rankings into the top three. For a 6’3″ center, Cozens can absolutely fly. His combination of size, speed, and skill makes him such a valuable asset in today’s NHL. Cozens was the WHL rookie of the year in 17-18 registering 53 points in 57 games (22+31). The Yukon native continued his success into this season starting off with 17 points in 12 games (7+10) which is very good considering that the Hurricanes aren’t having the greatest start to the season, winning three out of their first nine games. I’m curious to see if he will get a chance to play at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver, he has to be under consideration to join the team if there’s an injury. You could add projected 2020 first overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, to that list as well.
4. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, 6’1″ 190 lbs (SKA, MHL)
Like Dylan Cozens, Vasili Podkolzin dominated the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and I’d say that Podkolzin was the best player in the tournament. It was like he was a man among boys and he made everything look so easy. Podkolzin is one of my favorite players in this draft, he’s a very exciting player to watch. I don’t see any glaring weaknesses in his game at the moment, his shot, speed, hockey IQ, and skill set are elite. I would like to see him get an opportunity to get in some KHL games at some point this season.
5. Peyton Krebs, LW, 5’11” 180 lbs (Kootenay, WHL)
Krebs is another one of my favorites in this draft class. He’s a natural center but has mostly played the wing in his WHL career so far. Krebs was also the first overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft. This may be a lazy comparison but whenever I watch Krebs he reminds me of a faster and more dynamic Sam Reinhart. Both Krebs and Reinhart have fantastic hockey IQ and playmaking ability. I’m expecting a big year out of Krebs.
6. Bowen Byram, D, 6’0″ 194 lbs (Vancouver, WHL)
Overall, Bowen Byram is a really well rounded defenseman in all areas of his game. He’s very mobile which is a huge necessity in today’s NHL. He can move the puck and get up the ice to help create offense. An on top of that, Byram is a really good skater. He’s the total package on defense and he’s a guy that Sabres fans should be keeping their eye on as the draft gets closer. I think that this is probably one of the most important drafts in Sabres history and they need to try and find a defense partner to play beside Rasmus Dahlin for the next ten years and I really think that Byram can be that guy.
7. Kirby Dach, C, 6’4″ 199 lbs (Saskatoon, WHL)
Every time that I’ve watched Kirby Dach, he never disappoints. He’s a powerful skater and is a big net front presence. Last season he dominated at points in the WHL and is off to a really good start with Saskatoon. Dach has 22 points in 12 games this season (7+15). And for a player his size, Dach is a pretty good skater and his hockey sense is fantastic. He’s the total package, a can’t miss pick in this draft.
8. Ryan Suzuki, C, 6’0″ 178 lbs (Barrie, OHL)
Brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, Ryan Suzuki is off to an amazing start for the Barrie Colts with 18 points in 10 games (4+14). Suzuki was the first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection as well. At the same stage of development, I think Ryan is better than his brother Nick, a lot better. Suzuki has great hockey IQ, is a great skater, and can make great plays with his passing ability too. It’s a very weak draft year for the OHL, Suzuki is the best but Arthur Kaliyev isn’t too far behind.
9. Philip Broberg, D, 6’3″ 199 lbs (AIK, Allsvenskan)
Broberg wasn’t really getting much top ten consideration until his amazing performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Some have him in the top five but for me, I need to see more of him with AIK in the Allsvenskan before I can move him up a lot on my list. But there’s no denying his skating and his overall dynamic style of play. Like I mentioned with Bowen Byram, Broberg could be a great partner for Rasmus Dahlin someday.
10. Raphael Lavoie, RW, 6’4″ 192 lbs (Halifax, QMJHL)
The Halifax Mooseheads have been a factory when it comes to producing high end NHL Draft prospects for many years now. Nate MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Nik Ehlers, Timo Meier, and Nico Hischier have all been drafted in the top ten since 2013 and there’s a good chance that you can add Lavoie to that list come June. Lavoie has a late birthday so he was pretty close to being eligible for the 2018 draft, if that was the case I think he would still go pretty high. Lavoie has a really good shot and is a goal scorer, he scored 30 last year for the Mooseheads and in the early stages on this season, he already has ten goals. Lavoie also has a physical dimension to his game which isn’t the case for many of the players who will be picked high this season.
11. Alex Turcotte, C, 5’11” 194 lbs (USNTDP)
Turcotte plays a strong two way game and has great playmaking ability. His speed is right up there with the best in this draft class. He’s a dynamic two way center. From watching him, I have yet to notice any glaring weaknesses to his game. He’s committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2019-2020 season.
12. Arthur Kaliyev, LW, 6’2″ 190 lbs (Hamilton, OHL)
Kaliyev is a player that the Sabres have to be zeroing in on with one of those three first round picks, in my opinion. He’s a pure goal scorer and potted 31 goals last season and he is looking like he will easily eclipse that number in his draft year as he already has 13 goals in 13 games. The Sabres need more goal scorers in the organization and Kaliyev certainly brings that to the table.
13. Matthew Boldy, LW, 6’2″ 188 lbs (USNTDP)
Boldy had an impressive showing at the All American Prospects Game. He’s very skilled and has the ability to score goals. He’s set to go to Boston College next year.
14. Trevor Zegras, C, 6’0″ 183 lbs (USNTDP)
Zegras is a good playmaking center with good speed. He’s off to a good start with the USNTDP and is one of the more underrated players in this class. He’s committed to Boston University.
15. Alex Newhook, C, 5’11” 183 lbs (Victoria, BCHL)
It’s getting more common for high end prospects to take the Jr. A route and Alex Newhook has decided to take that pathway. Newhook is committed to Boston College for next season so that’s why he isn’t playing in the CHL. So there will be people questioning Newhook’s production because he’s playing against weaker competition. I haven’t seen a lot of Newhook yet but in the limited viewings that I’ve had of him he was pretty underwhelming but his skillset is undeniable. He’s a force offensively with his shot, skating, and playmaking ability. He could use some work on the defensive side of his game.
16. Anttoni Honka, D, 5’10” 179 lbs (JYP, Liiga)
Right shot defensemen are premier assets in today’s NHL and to have one that can skate and move the puck as well as Anttoni Honka would be a blessing to many teams. He’s a bit undersized but his skills certainly make up for that.
17. Cam York, D, 5’11” 172 lbs (USNTDP)
York is a smooth skating puck moving defenseman. He’s the type of defenseman that all 31 teams are looking to add to their blue line. I wouldn’t be surprised if York moves up the rankings consistently this season.
18. Cole Caufield, RW, 5’7″ 157 lbs (USNTDP)
Caufield is a very intriguing prospect in this draft class. He has a great amount of talent and he’s a goal scorer. He netted 54 goals last year with the NTDP and that is outstanding. But the knock on him will be his size and he absolutely needs to put on weight. In today’s NHL I think undersized players like Caufield can flourish and that’s evident by the emergence of a player that he’s already being compared to in Alex DeBrincat.
19. Matthew Robertson, D, 6’4″ 201 lbs (Edmonton, WHL)
Robertson was a player that really impressed me after watching the Hlinka Gretzky cup. He’s a big physical defenseman that can also get involved offensively. He can also play in all situations. He’s very well rounded and will eat up a lot of minutes for the Edmonton Oil Kings this season.
20. Matvei Guskov, C, 6’1″ 172 lbs (London, OHL)
Guskov looks like he’s adjusting well in his first season on North American ice after being selected by the London Knights in the CHL Import Draft. He has 9 points in 11 games (3+6) thus far. Guskov plays a good two way game and he can rip the puck.
21. Alex Vlasic, D, 6’6″ 192 lbs (USNTDP)
At 6’6″ Vlasic is the biggest prospect that is projected to be drafted in the first round. Like his cousin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Alex is more of a stay at home shutdown defenseman. He skates pretty well for his size as well.
22. Victor Soderstrom, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Brynas IF, SuperElit)
Soderstrom has already found his way into getting a couple of games with Brynas in the SHL but it’s likely that he’ll play a majority of the season in the SuperElit league which is the top junior league in Sweden. Soderstrom is a right handed shot which is definately a plus. He’s a great skater and has an offensive mindset.
23. Maxim Cajkovic, RW, 5’11” 187 lbs (Saint John, QMJHL)
Cajkovic was the first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft to Saint John. The Sea Dogs aren’t that great of a team at the moment but Cajkovic has been one of their better players in the early stages of the season as he’s getting adjusted to the North American ice. He was a force for the Slovaks at the World U18s putting up 11 points in 5 games. Jack Hughes was the only one to outscore Cajkovic with 12 points in 7 games.
24. Nick Robertson, LW, 5’9″ 168 lbs (Peterborough, OHL)
Robertson is coming off of a wrist injury so he has only played four games so far for Peterborough. He impressed me a lot at the Hlinka Gretzky and he has an incredible shot. I’m expecting a big year out of him. He’s undersized but his skill set and shot make him absolutely worth investing a first round or early second round pick on.
25. Tobias Bjornfot, D, 6’0″ 187 lbs (Djurgardens, SuperElit)
Bjornfot isn’t really a flashy defenseman like some others on this ranking. No part of his game really stands out but he’s just really well rounded. His production in the SuperElit League has been good and he has even gotten a game in the SHL for Djurgardens.
26. Kaedan Korczak, D, 6’3″ 192 lbs (Kelowna, WHL)
The Kelowna Rockets are off to a bad start this season but Korczak has been a bright spot for the team. He has 10 points in 14 games (2+8) thus far. With Cal Foote moving up to the AHL, expect Korczak to get significant ice time for the Rockets. Kelowna consistently produces good NHL defensemen and I believe that Korczak will be no different.
27. Jakob Pelletier, LW, 5’9″ 162 lbs (Moncton, QMJHL)
Definitely undersized and he has to put on more weight but he’s a really skilled player. He’s a smart player that can pass the puck really well. One of the more underrated players in this draft class.
28. Samuel Poulin, LW, 6’1″ 207 lbs (Sherbrooke, QMJHL)
Poulin is off to a solid start this season with 11 points in 12 games (8+3). I’m not sure if there’s a whole lot of offensive upside with Poulin and I actually see him as more of a safe early second round pick when it gets closer to draft time.
29. Albin Grewe, RW, 6’0″ 176 lbs (Djurgardens IF, SuperElit)
Grewe stood out to me at the Hlinka Gretzky. He’s having a fantastic start to the season with Djurgardens in the SuperElit League putting up 19 points in 15 games. Like some other players on this list, his play in juniors has allowed himself to get some time in the SHL. Grewe is a really hard working player that can be dangerous offensively.
30. Valentin Nussbaumer, C, 6’0″ 168 lbs (Shawinigan, QMJHL)
Nussbaumer was the fourth overall pick to the Shawinigan Cataractes in the CHL Import Draft. There’s no doubt that Swiss hockey is on the rise and it looks like Nussbaumer could be a potential first round pick to go along with some of the other high drafted Swiss players recently. Nussbaumer’s skating is probably his best asset.
31. Nolan Foote, LW, 6’3″ 190 lbs (Kelowna, WHL)
Yet another brother connection in this draft, Nolan is the son of Adam Foote and his brother Cal was drafted in the first round of the 2017 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. A while back, Foote was said to be one of the better prospects in the draft but he was kind of lost in the shuffle due to injuries last year.
Players Buffalo Should Be Considering
I really like this draft class so far so here are some names who I think the Sabres should be looking at with their three first round picks…
Lots of wingers I just listed here, the Sabres NEED to score more goals. With three first rounders I think you can draft by positions of need. And they absolutely need scoring wingers in this organization. The other big need is a potential defense partner for Rasmus Dahlin.
Draft rankings will be posted every month so stay tuned for November’s rankings.
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