Everyone knows who will be picked first and second overall at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, even if the order is still up in the air. Will Jack Hughes, the presumptive first overall pick for years, get the honour, or will he be passed by Kaapo Kakko, the fantastic Finn that lit up the Finnish Liiga and international competition?
The New Jersey Devils, who hold the first overall pick, aren’t giving out any hints as to which player they’ll pick, but either way it won’t be much of a surprise. What would be utterly shocking is if Devils GM Ray Shero picks literally any other player.
Even after the first two picks, however, there’s a certain amount of consensus regarding the top 5-7 picks. The top defenceman in the draft is Bowen Byram, and he should go in the top five, maybe as high as third overall. Then there’s four talented forwards, all of whom could realistically be top-five picks: Alex Turcotte, Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, and Vasili Podkolzin.
I’m not planning on writing prospect profiles for these five players, simply because I’m not expecting them to even be an option for the Canucks at tenth overall. Canucks GM Jim Benning has made it pretty clear that he’s not planning on moving up in the draft, so it’s unlikely the Canucks will have the opportunity to pick one of those players.
Or maybe they will.
“You just don’t know how the draft is going to fall,” said Jim Benning to Ben Kuzma, as he explained why they won’t be trading up. “We could have a player rated in the top six falling to us at 10.”
That’s the thing: no one really knows how the draft will play out. Teams sometimes surprise everyone by going “off the board” to pick an unexpected player. Think of the Columbus Blue Jackets picking Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi in 2016, a decision that was baffling at the time, but looks remarkably prescient now.
In 2018, no one expected Quinn Hughes to slide to the Canucks at seventh overall, but higher-than-expected picks of Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Barett Hayton allowed him to fall. The Canucks couldn’t have been happier: John Weisbrod revealed in the Canucks’ recent pre-draft video that they had Hughes ranked third overall, behind the consensus top two of Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov.
Could something similar happen again? Perhaps a team adores Caufield’s goal-scoring and look past his size to draft him in the top five. Maybe some teams have Matthew Boldy or Trevor Zegras ahead of Cozens and Dach. It’s even possible that a team desperate for a big, fast defenceman takes a gamble on Philip Broberg.
So, let’s take a look at the players expected to go higher in the draft and how likely it is they tumble down to tenth.
Bowen Byram - Defence
6’0”, 193 lbs
Why he’s expected to be a top pick: There’s a reason Bowen Byram is the consensus top defenceman in the 2019 draft. He was a force at both ends of the ice for the Giants this season, using his high-end hockey sense to fuel his physical talents, which are extensive. He’s an elite skater, precision passer, and accurate shooter.
Byram dominated the WHL this season: his 26 goals led all WHL defencemen by a wide margin and his 71 points was third among WHL defencemen. In the playoffs, his 26 points in 22 games led the entire WHL, including the forwards. He did all of this at 17 years old; he doesn’t even turn 18 for another week.
Could he fall to tenth overall? Not a chance. The gap between Byram and the next best defenceman in the draft is significant and some team ahead of the Canucks will certainly take him. I’d be surprised to see him escape the top five, with one of the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, or Los Angeles Kings sure to happily snag a future top-pairing defenceman.
Alex Turcotte - Centre
US National Team Development Program
5’11”, 189 lbs
Why he’s expected to be a top pick: How would you like to draft a player that outscored Jack Hughes? Sounds pretty good, right? That’s Alex Turcotte.
In the USHL with the US National Team Development Program, Turcotte was incredible, scoring 12 goals and 34 points in just 16 games. His 2.13 points per game led the USHL, ahead of Hughes. Sure, if Turcotte had been healthy all season and played more games, maybe he wouldn’t have outscored Hughes — after all, in other games with the USNTDP, Turcotte finished a distant second behind Hughes in points per game — but that’s still very impressive.
Turcotte is a two-way centre with fantastic skating and hockey sense. He anticipates the play and uses his speed and agility to steal the puck, transition it up ice, and jump into openings to create scoring chances or finish off plays. His coaches and teammates praise his competitiveness: he’s a puck-hound that wins battles all over the ice. To go with his on-ice skills, he’s also a mature, confident, well-liked leader off the ice.
Could he fall to tenth overall? It’s a possibility, but a distant one. Some teams may watch the USNTDP and rate Trevor Zegras or Matthew Boldy ahead of him, or perhaps be scared off by his health troubles in his draft year. He did miss a lot of games with a hip injury and mono.
There are rankings that have Turcotte third overall, but then there are people like TSN’s Craig Button that rank him tenth. The Hockey News has Turcotte tenth overall in their Draft Preview, noting that they see him as more of a second-line centre than a first-line centre. Perhaps some NHL teams rank him similarly.
That said, a lot of NHL teams would have to have Turcotte ranked lower than expected for Turcotte to fall all the way to tenth. It’s not likely to happen.
Dylan Cozens - Centre/Right Wing
6’3”, 180 lbs
Why he’s expected to be a top pick: Dylan Cozens is a tantalizing combination of size and skill, somehow simultaneously possessing both a complete, well-rounded game and a set of raw, unrefined physical tools.
Cozens can do a little bit of everything: he has tremendous puck skills, which make it very difficult to get the puck off him when you combine them with his size. He’s a speedy skater and he’s equally adept at distributing to his teammates or finishing plays himself with the quick release on his wrist shot. His 34 goals and 84 points led all first-time draft-eligible players in the WHL.
Defensively, Cozens uses his size effectively to win puck battles or throw hits, but also has the awareness to clog passing and shooting lanes. There are few flaws in his game.
Could he fall to tenth overall? There are definitely some scouting services that aren’t as high on Cozens as most draft rankings. Future Considerations ranks him tenth overall, while Hockey Prospect has him all the way down at 14th, questioning his hockey sense and whether it will prevent him from being a top-line player.
If the teams picking ahead of the Canucks have the same concerns, maybe Cozens falls to tenth. It seems just as likely, however, that Cozens is the first CHL player off the board, getting taken ahead of Byram.
Kirby Dach - Centre
6’4”, 198 lbs
Why he’s expected to be a top pick: Kirby Dach is a sizeable two-way centre with some serious offensive upside. He’s a creative playmaker with all sorts of physical assets put to good use by his excellent hockey sense and vision. He’s a sublime passer, can beat goaltenders in a variety of ways, and is an agile and speedy skater, particularly for his size.
There are scouts that think Dach has a lot more upside than Cozens, with some comparing him to another big playmaking centre in Joe Thornton, though that comparison feels more than a little optimistic. Still, plenty of people see a future first-line centre in Dach.
Could he fall to tenth overall? Dach does have some flaws that might see him slide down at the draft. At times he can be a bit passive and inconsistent. He could stand to be a bit more selfish at times with the puck and attack the net instead of looking for a pass, and his acceleration needs a little work. His 73 points in 62 games aren’t at the level of Cozens and barely ahead of Peyton Krebs.
As a result, he’s ranked a little lower on some lists. Corey Pronman has him at tenth overall and International Scouting Services have him at 11th. It wouldn’t be a terrific shock to see other NHL teams take Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, or Peyton Krebs ahead of Dach.
That said, I’m not sure I can see nine teams passing on a 6’4” playmaking centre. But we’re starting to get into the realm of possibility.
Vasili Podkolzin - Right Wing
SKA St. Petersburg
6’1”, 196 lbs
Why he’s expected to be a top pick: Vasili Podkolzin has consistently been ranked in the topfive players of the draft and for good reason: he’s an old-school power forward with a new-school skillset, a unique combination of bulldozing speed and strength with soft hands and a scorer’s touch. He’ll drive to the net with authority, going through players to get there, but can also hold on to the puck, draw defenders to himself, then set up a teammate for a great scoring chance.
It didn’t seem to matter what league he was in — whether he was facing junior-aged players in the MHL or men in the VHL or KHL — Podkolzin played the same way. His numbers this season don’t jump off the page, but neither are they real red flags and he was utterly dominant at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, tallying 8 goals and 11 points in 5 games.
What’s most impressive about Podkolzin is he has just as much drive and competitiveness without the puck: he can be a wrecking ball defensively, knocking players off the puck and quickly turning it back up ice. He could be a dominant first-line two-way power winger if he reaches his ceiling, which is a delightful number of adjectives for one player.
And keep in mind, he doesn’t turn 18 until just before the draft. He’s already a fantastic player, and still has so much room to develop.
Could he fall to tenth overall? He really could, primarily because of that ever-present draft canard: the Russian factor.
I can think of another dominant Russian power forward that was supposedly a surefire top-six winger: Valeri Nichushkin. Things have gone seriously sideways for Nichushkin, who jumped straight to the NHL after getting drafted by the Dallas Stars. He returned to the KHL for two seasons before coming back to the NHL and somehow scored no goals in 57 games last season.
That doesn’t mean Podkolzin will struggle in a similar manner, but the Russian factor may still scare teams off. Podkolzin has two years remaining on his KHL contract and intends to honour them, though he insists he’ll come to the NHL after those two seasons. Will teams believe him?
Plenty of draft rankings still have him ranked as high as third overall, but he’s slid down several others over the course of the season. Corey Pronman has him 12th overall and Scott Wheeler dropped him all the way to 17th, noting his concerns about his hockey sense and lack of production.
Personally, I think the concerns are overblown. Podkolzin has exceptional talent and the drive to go with it. If he falls to tenth, he would be a great pick for the Canucks.