A WHL comeback
The Western Hockey League will have a big presence in the first round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Ty Smith and Alexander Alexeyev were the only players from the WHL that were selected in the first round in 2018. There should be at least six players from the western league that will hear their name called in the first round, most of which will go very early.
At this point, Saskatoon Blades centerman, Kirby Dach, is catching up to Dylan Cozens to be best draft eligible player from the WHL. Dach is a huge center and is one of the better passers in the draft. For his size, he is a really good skater, but he’s not the fastest guy out there. He’s a dominating force on the ice on most nights for the Blades. I’d like to see him shoot more as I believe that he has a pretty underrated shot, but he has the tools and the raw talent to be a star in the NHL.
Vancouver Giants defenseman, Bowen Byram, has emerged as the best defenseman in this draft class. From a production standpoint, he’s having a terrific season as a draft eligible. Although Ivan Provorov is having a down year for the Flyers this year, he’s still a darn good defenseman and as a 2015 draft eligible, he had a similar season to Byram. Provorov had 61 points in 60 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings. As of February 13th, 2019, Bowen Byram has 53 points in 53 games, 21 of which are goals. You know who else has 21 goals? Kirby Dach, yes Byram is the real deal who has the potential to be a top pairing NHL defenseman that can play in all situations. It would be absolutely shocking if he’s not the first defenseman taken in June’s draft.
This draft has the potential to be one of the best drafts for American born players in recent memory. The 2015 and 2016 drafts were amazing years for American born players, but 2019 is probably just as good, if not better.
Right at the top, you have the consensus first overall pick in Jack Hughes. Hughes has been sidelined recently with a lower-body injury but it shouldn’t affect his draft stock whatsoever. At this point, I feel like enough has been said about Hughes and how amazing he is so I’ll spare you some time here.Besides Hughes, this NTDP squad is loaded with fantastic draft eligible prospects. Alex Turcotte, Matt Boldy, and Trevor Zegras are projected to be selected in top 10 and could be elite players at the NHL level. Turcotte has struggled with injuries this season but since returning to the lineup, he has been stellar. Turcotte is a fast, skilled, and smart centerman that in my opinion, has a chance to be a first line player at the NHL level. Turcotte and Hughes aren’t the only players on the development team that have a chance to be front line players in the NHL. Trevor Zegras and Matt Boldy are also having terrific years and have been steady risers in rankings throughout the season.P
What should Buffalo do with the picks?
With the St. Louis Blues showing great improvement recently, it’s looking more and more likely that they will have three first round picks in this year’s draft. But the question that has been brought up by many fans is, what are they going to do with the picks?
There’s no question that the Sabres still have several holes to fill in this lineup and patience is running thin in Buffalo as everyone wants to see the Sabres make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Jason Botterill has gone on record several times saying that they will not be trading those picks for rentals. And that is undoubtedly the right course of action for the Sabres.
We get questions all the time from fans that want Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel, Artemi Panarin, and Kevin Hayes. Why? Trading those picks for players who will be here for a few months makes no sense whatsoever so I’m glad Jason Botterill has his mind in the right place when it comes to rentals. A rental is okay, as long as you’re not mortgaging your future, or if you’re certain that you can get him signed.
Those picks aren’t going to move at the deadline. If they’re moved at all, it’ll be at the draft because of the fact that hockey trades simply don’t happen at the trade deadline that often. If they’re moving first rounders, it has to be for a younger player that can help them now and in the future. Like a guy like J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Mikael Granlund, or Tyler Johnson, just to name a few.
It’s not going to devastate the future of this team if they move one or two of those picks but if they can hit on the picks, it’ll help them a lot down the road when they’re a contending team. As it’s crucial that they get help on entry level contracts when they’re paying Eichel, Skinner, and Dahlin big money.
Go ahead and move a pick or two, but it has to make sense. They could use another center and winger in this lineup.
Early draft targets
For hypothetical sake, the Sabres hold onto all three first round pick. The Sabres come up short of the playoffs and finish with the 15th pick, the Blues pick is slotted in at 18, and the Sharks pick slots in at 25. I’ll highlight a few players that could be options at each pick.
Buffalo’s pick: LW Arthur Kaliyev, C Alex Newhook, and RW Cole Caufield, and D Cam York
The common theme between the players that I chose for the Buffalo pick is that they are dynamic players that can score. Kaliyev is one of my favorite players in the draft. He’s one of if not the best goal scorers in the draft it seems like many are split on him. There are some compete concerns with Kaliyev but so far, I haven’t noticed that when I’ve watched him play. Generally, pure goal scorers have compete issues so even if that’s the case with Kaliyev, I’m not concerned.
Alex Newhook is a really skilled player out of the BCHL and has fantastic skating ability. I’m a little weary about picking someone out of the BCHL because of the strength of competition but Newhook really doesn’t have a choice as he is a Canadian player who is going to play in the NCAA with Boston College next year. Again, he’s an insanely talented, skilled player, but the strength of competition offers a very slight concern.
Look, another pure goal scorer in Cole Caufield. I can really see Caufield being picked as high as 10 and as low as 32, he is a big wild card in this draft, mainly because of his size. For whatever reason, teams continually pass on really talented undersized players and they’re not learning their lesson after doing it year after year. Alex DeBrincat is an obvious comparison and at the same age, Caufield is just as good, possibly better than DeBrincat.
Cam York is a guy that has really grown on me as of late. He’s the type of defenseman that every team is trying to add over the last few seasons. He’s not the biggest guy, but he is a fantastic skater with good hockey IQ who really drives offense from the back end. If Buffalo were to go with a defenseman with their pic, York has to be considered.
St. Louis’ pick: C Connor McMichael, D Moritz Seider, D Victor Soderstrom, and RW Cole Caufield
If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I’ve developed an obsession with London Knights center, Connor McMichael. McMichael has been one of London’s best players all season long and is flourishing in a larger role after the departures of the likes of Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu, and Max Jones. Right now, McMichael is my favorite player in the draft class and I know that I might be one of the only guys out there that have him in the top 15 but I just see something special in this kid where I really think he can be a really good top six player in the NHL. He’s finally starting to get recognition lately, but he will be a big time riser in this draft. He’s a dynamic player that has underrated speed. He should get consideration from Hockey Canada to be at the WJC next year.
Moritz Seider and Victor Soderstrom are very similar players stylistically. Both Soderstrom and Seider are really smart puck moving defensemen that should be able to play in all situations at the NHL level. Both are right handed shot D as well so that’s always a plus.
San Jose’s pick: G Spencer Knight, LW Nick Robertson, LW Jakob Pelletier, and RW Cole Caufield
I’m usually extremely against selecting goaltenders in the first round but I think I can make an exception for Spencer Knight. The only way I’d be perfectly fine with taking Knight is if the Sabres hold onto all three of their first round picks. But Knight is a big, athletic, technically sound goalie who is said to be one of the best American goaltender prospects of all time. Just because the Sabres have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in their system, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t pick a goalie this year. Goalies are very hard to predict and although Luukkonen is having a great year, we don’t know if he’ll pan out. At this stage of the draft, Knight has the best upside most likely and he’ll add the most value to their prospect system. I like the thought of the Sabres selecting him with their latest pick in the first round.
Nick Robertson and Jakob Pelletier are pretty similar players. Both will slide because they are undersized scoring wingers but they have really good offensive upside in my opinion. I’m very much against the Sabres settling for the safe pick, like what they did when they took Mattias Samuelsson with the 32nd pick in the 2018 draft. They have to try and swing for the fences and draft a guy who could be more or less, a boom or bust player.
Check out last month’s draft ranking to see how the rankings have changed as well as some more descriptions on players in the draft.
Now without further ado, here is my top 31 for the month of February…
- Jack Hughes, C, 5’10” 168 lbs (USNTDP)
January Rank: 1
Stats: 28GP 13G 42A 56PTS
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, 6’2″ 190 lbs (TPS, Liiga)
January Rank: 2
Stats: 32GP 12G 11A 23PTS
3. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, 6’1″ 190 lbs (SKA, MHL)
January Rank: 3
Stats: 12GP 6G 2A 8PTS
4. Dylan Cozens, C, 6’3″ 185 lbs (Lethbridge, WHL)
January Rank: 4
Stats: 53GP 27G 35A 62PTS
5. Kirby Dach, C, 6’4″ 198 lbs (Saskatoon, WHL)
January Rank: 5
Stats: 50GP 21G 36A 57PTS
6. Bowen Byram, D, 6’1″ 192 lbs (Vancouver, WHL)
January Rank: 6
Stats: 53GP 21G 32A 53PTS
7. Alex Turcotte, C, 5’11” 194 lbs (USNTDP)
Stats: 20GP 15G 13A 28PTS
8. Trevor Zegras, C, 6’0″ 168 lbs (USNTDP)
January Rank: 14
Stats: 41GP 18G 42A 60PTS
9. Matthew Boldy, LW, 6’2″ 187 lbs (USNTDP)
January Rank: 8
Stats: 42GP 21G 26A 47PTS
10. Peyton Krebs, C, 5’11” 181 lbs (Kootenay, WHL)
January Rank: 9
Stats: 50GP 18G 42A 60PTS
11. Arthur Kaliyev, LW, 6’2″ 190 lbs (Hamilton, OHL)
January Rank: 11
Stats: 53GP 42G 41A 83PTS
12. Philip Broberg, D, 6’3″ 203 lbs (AIK, Allsvenskan)
January Rank: 10
Stats: 35GP 1G 7A 8PTS
13. Cam York, D, 5’11” 172 lbs (USNTDP)
January Rank: 17
Stats: 41GP 6G 27A 33PTS
14. Connor McMichael, C, 6’0″ 170 lbs (London, OHL)
January Rank: 19
Stats: 51GP 32G 29A 61PTS
15. Raphael Lavoie, RW, 6’4″ 198 lbs (Halifax, QMJHL)
January Rank: 12
Stats: 52GP 25G 34A 59PTS
16. Ryan Suzuki, C, 6’0″ 172 lbs (Barrie, OHL)
January Rank: 13
Stats: 49GP 18G 34A 52PTS
17. Cole Caufield, RW, 5’7″ 157 lbs (USNTDP)
January Rank: 15
Stats: 42GP 36G 19A 55PTS
18. Alex Newhook, C, 5’11” 183 lbs (Victoria, BCHL)
January Rank: 16
Stats: 49GP 34G 56A 90PTS
19. Victor Soderstrom, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Brynas, SHL)
January Rank: 18
Stats: 32GP 3G 3A 6PTS
20. Jakob Pelletier, LW, 5’9″ 161 lbs (Moncton, QMJHL)
January Rank: 22
Stats: 51GP 30G 42A 72PTS
21. Moritz Seider, D, 6’4″ 198 lbs (Mannheim, DEL)
January Rank: 20
Stats: 4 PTS2
22. Thomas Harley, D, 6’3″ 183 lbs (Mississauga, OHL)
January Rank: 21
Stats: 53GP 10G 35A 45PTS
23. Matthew Robertson, D, 6’4″ 201 lbs (Edmonton, WHL)
January Rank: 23
Stats: 38GP 6G 16A 22PTS
24. Brett Leason, C, 6’5″ 198 lbs (Prince Albert, WHL)
January Rank: 24
Stats: 45GP 33G 45A 78PTS
25. Nick Robertson, LW, 5’9″ 158 lbs (Peterborough, OHL)
January Rank: 29
Stats: 38GP 20G 22A 42PTS
26. Spencer Knight, G, 6’3″ 198 lbs (USNTDP)
January Rank: 28
Stats: .913 SVS% 2.61 GAA
27. Anttoni Honka, D, 5’10” 176 lbs (JYP, Liiga)
January Rank: 25
Stats: 16GP 1G 3A 4PTS
28. Nils Hoglander, LW, 5’9″ 185 lbs (Rogle BK, SHL)
January Rank: Second Round
Stats: 38GP 7G 7A 14PTS
29. Bobby Brink, RW, 5’10” 178 lbs (Sioux City, USHL)
January Rank: Second Round
Stats: 23GP 17G 22A 39PTS
30. Ville Heinola, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Lukko, Liiga)
January Rank: Second Round
Stats: 24GP 1G 6A 7PTS
31. Albin Grewe, RW, 6’0″ 176 lbs (Djurgardens IF, SuperElit)
January Rank: 27
Stats: 21GP 11G 19A 30PTS
Big thanks to @Schwartzkopf1 for creating a spreadsheet of 2019 draft eligible players. You can check it out at the link below.
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