The Hlinka-Gretzky Cup has concluded, and the start of the draft season is getting closer and closer, which means that it’s time for the preseason edition of my 2019 NHL Draft Rankings.

The rankings are split up into two posts— this one, which counts down from #31 to #16, and then one that will follow that details #15 to #1.

There’s still an entire season to play before the draft, so it’s important to note that it’s extremely unlikely that my final ranking looks anything like this one does. The draft season is the most important one for any draft hopeful, and we’ll see a ton of movement from now to June.

The methodology behind my rankings isn’t the same as that of the average list— I use a blend of traditional (the eye test) and statistical analysis to craft my ranking, and I can not understate how heavily weighted the statistical component is. Unlike traditional rankings, where the eye test makes up the vast majority of the process, I’d say that my rankings are roughly 65% statistical, leaving just 35% for the eyes. It’s the players where the eye and the numbers agree that are typically ranked highest, while situations where they contradict each other will usually lead to the player in question dropping.

If you have any sort of thoughts that are relevant to my rankings, or if you want to argue with me about a particular player, you can leave a comment at the bottom of the page or reach out to me on Twitter (@DraftLook)

After 2018 boasted defenceman Rasmus Dahlin at the top of the class, we see the crown jewel of 2019 revert back to the superstar centre that we’re used to. Jack Hughes is far and away the best available player this time around, and unlike last year, when we had a few, like Steve Kournianos, switch things up with Andrei Svechnikov first overall, I’d put the odds of someone going for a player like Kaapo Kakko rather than Hughes at nearly 0%. Last year, Bob McKenzie declared 2018 “The Rasmus Dahlin Draft”. This year, it’s Hughes’ turn.

From here on out, the 2019 NHL Entry Draft belongs to Jack Hughes.

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1. Jack Hughes (C, USNTDP)

Jack Hughes has never found a level of hockey that he couldn’t dominate. He hasn’t dipped below 1.8 points-per-game throughout every season with recorded statistics, and tore it up for USNTDP U18 program despite being just 16 at the time. He’s the superstar centre that nearly every draft has at the top these days and has limitless potential.

The American’s game is founded on his skating and playmaking ability. Hughes is an excellent skater, with an explosive stride and elite lateral quickness. His vision is unparalleled at his level; few are gifted with the ability to see the ice that well.

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This clip displays that vision. How did he see that guy?

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This next video displays his skating and playmaking ability, as Hughes cuts through the opponent’s defence and makes a beautiful backdoor pass that somehow doesn’t end up in the back of the net.

Above are some of the best centres in the league, along with their NHLes in their D-1 seasons. Crosby and McDavid are in a league of their own, but then the three Americans have less seperation. Hughes fits between Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel, which I think is a good approximation of his overall potential.

Hughes led the entire USHL in both primary points-per-game and overall points-per-game, as well as points-per- estimated-hour and primary points-per- estimated-hour. His 3.33 shots-per-game isn’t super impressive — Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee generated more — but it was still good for 11th in the league, and Hughes, whose assists made up 60% of his total points, is more of a playmaker anyway.

The U18s controlled 71% of the goals with Hughes on the ice, versus 55% without him. They went from good without Hughes, to absolutely dominant with him.

This visual, courtesy of Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown), further displays Hughes’ dominance. He places in elite percentiles in every metric and is more than that in several of them, most notable zone entries, zone exits and scoring chance share. His actual Corsi% in Mitch’s sample was 67%, a 7.4% boost over that of his team.

There’s no doubt that Hughes is the best player in this crop. He oozes skill, has superstar-level upside, and has easily been the best player in situations where he’s considerably younger than most of his teammates and opponents.

Hughes will return to the USNTDP next year, where he is expected to challenge program records.

2. Kaapo Kakko (LW/RW, Jr. A SM-Liiga)

Kakko appears to be consensus #2 prospect as of now, and like the guy before him, Kakko has torn up various levels of competition. He spent the majority of last season in Finland’s Jr. A SM-Liiga, which is a notch below the top Swedish junior league, the SuperElit. His 1.45 points-per-game was the 2nd best mark in the league, behind only 2018 draft pick Niklas Nordgren, who is a year older.

Adjusted PPG is a wonderful tool in prospect analysis — it allows us to simulate an even playing field for prospects using league and age adjustments, making it perfect for comparing prospects across leagues. Kakko is the 5th best draft-eligible skater by this metric — 4th strongest forward.

The staples of Kakko’s game are his hockey sense and puck-handling abilities. He has strong vision and can make plays, but is also excellent around the net and has elite finishing ability, making him an elite dual-threat option.

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Here, he displays his soft hands and ability to identify seams in the opposition’s defence.

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Here’s Kakko’s lone Liiga assist (in six games) on a two-on-one. The defender plays the pass, but Kakko is still able to thread the puck through to his teammate.

Kaako is ahead of some of the best young wingers in the NHL right now as well as 2018 top wingers Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina. It was said by some that Svechnikov was first overall talent — if he was, then it looks like Kakko is as well.

@manny_hockey’s draft model marks Kakko as the 2nd best draft-eligible prospect, giving him an 85% chance to make the NHL and a projected WAR of 0.5. Manny also identifies his statistical cohorts as Jesper Boqvist, Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Forsberg, and Victor Rask.

Kakko will play in the Liiga next year with TPS, where he’ll look to put up similar numbers to other top Finnish prospects.

3. Anttoni Honka (RHD, Liiga)

Since 2000, only eight junior-aged defenceman have suited up for at least 20 games in the Liiga, the top senior league in Finland. Of those seven, just four were players in their draft-minus-one seasons. Anttoni Honka is one of those four.

The other three? Urho Vaakanainen, Rasmus Ristolainen, Joni Pitkänen. Vaakanainen, a 2017 draftee, hasn’t reached the NHL yet, but both Ristolainen and Pitkänen went on to score more than 40 points in a season several times. That’s promising company for Honka, whose brother Julius plays for the Dallas Stars. Even more promising? Honka’s 0.45 points-per-game easily beats out that of the others in that group.

Furthermore, let us refer to the 51% Rule, which states that players with at least 0.09 PPG in their draft year in the SHL have a 51% chance of making the NHL, which are good odds. Now, the Liiga isn’t on the same level as the SHL, but Honka’s 0.45 Liiga PPG equates to a 0.33 rate in the SHL, and he performed the feat in his 17-year-old season rather than his 18-year campaign. The underlying message of the 51% Rule is that players with success in professional leagues in their draft year have a good chance of going on to play in the NHL, and Honka had plenty of success.

Honka’s sole cohort from Manny’s model is 2017 third overall pick Miro Heiskanen, who posted a 29.5 NHLe this season and projects to jump into Dallas’ roster this season and make a significant impact. The rest of Manny’s model, however, isn’t as kind to Honka, projecting his WAR as 0.01 and only giving him a 48.56% chance to make the NHL. I’m not sure what goes into that, because the other evidence that I’ve presented directly contradicts this, but I’m sure Manny has his reasons. Honka’s age would play a part — he’s only 20 days from being eligible for last year’s draft, somewhat diminishing his achievements, but they’re impressive nonetheless.

Honka is the second best skater by Adjusted PPG, which accounts for league and age (meaning that it removes the effect of him being older than most of his peers from play). Even more impressive is the fact that he’s the only defencemen within the top 30 — Dmitri Tyuvilin, the 2nd ranked blueliner, enters at 31st.

This rush from Honka at the recent World Junior Summer Showcase displays how comfortable he is with the puck on his stick. He can challenge the opposition, and although the rush didn’t result in much, it’s still a good representation of Honka’s poise, confidence, and comfort.

Honka is a mature two-way defencemen that makes quality decisions and can rush the puck. He’s not the most dynamic defenceman that you’ll ever see, but he’s effective in the transition game and can produce offensively.

4. Dylan Cozens (C, WHL)

Cozens was the best producing draft-eligible player in the WHL in 2017-18, a league that boasts the likes of the highly touted (and somewhat overrated) Peyton Krebs. Cozens didn’t only excel statistically on the WHL stage — he placed 4th on the list for Adjusted PPG. In an earlier piece, I identified Cozens as the top WHL forward in the draft. At 6’3”, and a right shot, he has a lot of features that are nice to have in a centre.

Cozens uses his skating, strength, and size to play an effective power game, and his above-average hands make him difficult to stop in tight. He’s good at finding seams in the defence, especially in the neutral zone, and he has plenty of breakaway goals to show for it.

He’s a little like Brady Tkachuk, minus the concerning production and very early birthdate (Cozens was born in February).

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Here he is showing off his shot.

Looking at Cozens’ cohorts, he shows well. Based on this, we can expect an average of 55 points from Cozens throughout his entire career, as well as between 60-70 points in his prime. That’s first-line centre output.

5. Jakob Pelletier (F, QMJHL)

Jakob Pelletier seems to be seen a fringe first-rounder as of now and I can’t figure out why. He’s only 5’9″, but the forward has high-end skill and elite statistics. In his rankings, Corey Pronman said of Pelletier, “He has all the tools you want minus his size”. Despite that praise, he was ranked 24th. In today’s NHL, does size still matter so much that a player with top 5 skill will end up in the latter half of the first round?

With 61 points in 60 games, Pelletier was good for just over a point-per-game last season. As you can see, that’s a very exclusive group — containing two of the best players in the NHL, both of whom were first overall picks, Anthony Duclair and Angelo Esposito, a former first round pick whose career was derailed by knee injuries.

Furthermore, Manny’s model selects Sam Steel, Logan Brown, Matt Puempel, Travis Konecny, and Logan Couture as Pelletier’s comparables. Good company there.

Adjusted PPG places Pelletier as the 6th strongest draft-eligible skater.

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Here’s Pelletier showing off his speed, skating, and stick-handling ability, as he splits the defence and scores a beauty.

A playmaker, Pelletier’s greatest strengths are his vision, creativity and skating. He’s a game-breaking offensive talent that is conscious of his defensive play. Pelletier compares himself to Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, striving to be a player that can be depended on in all situations.

Like Pronman said, Pelletier has everything but size. In today’s NHL, can’t we disregard that and recognize him as the top ten talent that he is?

6. Bowen Byram (LHD, WHL)

The consensus top defencemen in this class, Byram can start a breakout and is good transitionally. He moves the puck up ice and pushes the pace of the play. He loves to sneak in back door, scoring several times that way last season, and can join the rush as well. He makes strong decisions with the puck and few mistakes. Byram isn’t the kind of dynamic defenceman that we’re used to after 2018, but he’s a very solid blueliner that still manages to pack an offensive punch.

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His statistics are a little underwhelming for the level of hype he’s received as the best defenceman in the class.— he’s definitely the best defencemen in the WHL by the stats, but takes a bit of a hit once other leagues are thrown into the mix. He ends up as the second best defenceman by Adjusted PPG, behind Honka.

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On this play, Byram hands the puck off and heads to the net, timing it perfectly, where he finishes off a nice passing play. Few defencemen have offensive instincts of that kind and most would be hesitant to be caught that deep in the offensive zone. Byram oozes confidence — he knows he’s really good at this hockey thing, and his play reflects that.

7. Kirby Dach (C, WHL)

Part of a trio of WHL forwards that also includes Dylan Cozens and Peyton Krebs. Dach is an intelligent playmaking pivot with strong vision and soft hands. Dach’s 0.88 points-per-game puts him as the second best Dub forward, and seventh by Adjusted PPG.

This graph shows the WHL points-per-game of several NHL players and top prospects. The black line is Kirby Dach. Not quite as good as Reinhart, Barzal and Steel, but equal to or greater than Merkley, Point, Yamamoto and Eberle.

His cohorts are Josh Ho-Sang, Kevin Fiala, and Andre Burakovsky — two effective wingers, and one who could be at a similar level if given a real chance.

Like fellow WHLer Dylan Cozens, Dach is a right-shot centre with a big frame. Standing at 6’4″, Dach is huge and can overpower with his size. He’ll likely draw plenty of attention from NHL teams for that very reason. He moves well, especially for his size, and has soft hands that make him dangerous in tight.

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On this play, Dach fights through a couple defenders on the boards and fires an excellent saucer pass to a teammate in front of the net, showcasing his ability to use his strength, as well as his playmaking.

8. Peyton Krebs (LW, WHL)

One of the more hyped draft-eligibles, I’ve seen Krebs as high as second on draft rankings. Krebs has emerged as my “overrated” player, the one that I think gets more credit than they deserve. Last year, it was Brady Tkachuk.

Krebs had just the third highest points-per-game of draft-eligibles out of the WHL, behind Cozens and Dach. While his 0.81 PPG is good — it’s roughly in line with the comparables we looked at for Kirby Dach — it’s not that of an elite prospect.

Another concerning characteristic is the frequency that intangibles are brought up in description of Krebs. The first sentence of the scouting report on his EliteProspects page, from ISS, “plays with determination and passion”. Another example from Steve Kourniano’s 2019 draft ranking: “Dynamic centre with leadership traits”. Whenever intangibles are presented as a main feature of scouting reports, rather than a bonus, I think there’s cause for concern.

Overratedness and intangibles aside, Krebs is still a skilled player capable of making plays at high speed. He’s an excellent stickhandler — just ask this poor defenceman.

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He’s a strong playmaker that likes to work from behind the net, where he excels at feathering passes by defenders into the slot. He’s not a big scoring threat, — 31% of his points were goals — and he’s not really one to take defenders on one-on-one.

There’s undoubtably a lot of skill accompanying Krebs, but he lacks high-end production, signaling that he may be struggling to turn that into results. If he can begin to produce at a level that matches his talent level in his draft year, he’ll shed his “overrated” tag and explode up my rankings.

9. Alex Newhook (F, BCHL)

Purely looking at points-per-game, Newhook would be top three in this draft class. If only it were that simple — Newhook plays in the BCHL, a junior league a tier below the CHL, which is significantly easier to score in than a league like the WHL.

First of all, let’s clear up any potential confusion — Newhook plays in the BCHL not because he isn’t good enough for a better league, but to retain his NCAA eligibility that would be lost by suiting up in the CHL (Newhook is committed to Boston College for 2019-20).

Referencing @manny_hockey’s league translation factors, one point in the BCHL equates to about 0.42 OHL points. This means that Newhook’s PPG of 1.47 in Jr. A is equal to just 0.62 in the Ontario Hockey League. The stat line doesn’t look quite as impressive now, does it Alex?

Moving away from statistics, Newhook shows excellently. He owns top-end speed to accompany very good vision and overall playmaking ability. He definitely has high-end skill and was far and away the best player every time he stepped on the ice.

Newhook was left off the Canadian team for the Ivan Hlinka tournament, which was a pretty blatant and undeserved omission. It’s unfortunate because the tournament could have served as an opportunity to observe his play against stronger competition.

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10. Cole Caufield (RW, USNTDP)

Those who are familiar with my work know that I love small, skilled players, and that’s exactly what Caufield is. At just 5’6, 156 lbs, Caufield is tiny, but he possesses game breaking skill. If teams don’t act on that skill in the first round, I wholeheartedly believe that we’ll have a Johnny Gaudreau situation on our hands.

Not only has Caufield outscored all three of these players, but he also holds the second highest PPG of players with more than 20 games played all time for the USNTDP U17 team, behind only Jack Hughes.

Despite this accomplishment, Caufield’s consensus first round prospect status is shaky — Corey Pronman placed him 17th, but he didn’t crack Steve Kourniano’s top 31. If he were six feet, he would almost certainly be a fixture in top 15s, at the very least.

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This is an example of Caufield’s hands. Notice how Caufield has his head up and his stick in a shooting position. This freezes the defender and the goalie, because he’s a very legitimate shooting option. This is a very big reason why it’s such an easy finish once he transitions to the backhand.

One thing to note about Caufield: he’s very much a goal scorer — 70% (!) of his points were goals — and while he does an excellent job of putting himself in good spots to score, he definitely needs a quality playmaker to get him the puck. He’s not the type to drive a line, but put him with a quality centre, and he can light it up. Ultimately, that’s what dragged Caufield down, despite his impressive statistical resume, because all of the players ahead of them can consistently create for themselves. Most definitely a complimentary player, but one that can play with a star and finish off the chances created for him at an exceptional rate.

11. Matthew Boldy (RW, USNTDP)

Boldy broke the USNTDP U17 point record with 76 rallies over 61 games. He played significantly more games than the others behind him, but it’s a good achievement nevertheless. Sorted by points-per-game, Boldy drops to 9th all time, where he’s a tier behind Hughes and Caufield, as well as Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, and Auston Matthews, but ahead of Jason Zucker and J.T Miller.

He ranks 10th by Adjusted PPG.

The winger has an excellent first-step, which allows him to win races to the puck and retain possession for his team. He plays an energetic game, rarely standing still, and seems to be around the puck quite frequently.

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On this play, Boldy (#49, starts near the blueline) takes off, wins the race to the puck, and nearly ends up with a goal because of it.

That speed is his greatest asset, but Boldy also possesses a quality shot and a fairly developed two-way game.

12. Alex Turcotte (C, USNTDP)

Steve Kournianos had glowing words to say about Turcotte in his rankings:

“The opinions may lean toward Jack Hughes as being the NTDP’s top center, but this talented pivot is strikingly close to matching his skill for skill. Turcotte’s blazing speed, high hockey IQ and vision are good enough to at least place him in the conversation with his more-heralded teammate.”

Clearly, Steve is a fan of Turcotte’s game, praising his feet and mind. I’m not as big on Turcotte as Steve is, but he’s undeniably skilled. His speed makes him dangerous on it’s own, but he can also threaten with his shot and playmaking ability.

Turcotte’s statistics are good, but not great. He’s the 14th skater by Adjusted PPG, and Manny’s model puts him at 29th.

He plays an energetic game and always seems to be around the puck, but he doesn’t make a whole lot happen, which is reflected in his statistics.

13. Pavel Dorofeyev (LW/RW, MHL)

Dorofeyev is a player that I’ve identified as underrated going into the season. Still haven’t caught him in anybody’s first round, despite obvious high-end skill. The Russian has excellent hands and an accurate, powerful wrister. He skates well with good lateral movement and edge work and can act as a playmaker. He’s a little like Grigori Denisenko, except Dorofeyev has the production to match his skill level.

Dorofeyev’s 0.813 points-per-game in the MHL equate to 0.845 in the OHL and are good for 8th by Adjusted PPG. His #1 cohort from Manny’s model is Nikita Kucherov. His D-1 production beats out that of Klim Kostin, Vitali Abramov, Alexander Khokhlachev, and Kirill Kaprizov.

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Here’s a display of his edge work and shot.

14. Ryan Suzuki (C, OHL)

The younger brother of Golden Knights’ 2017 first rounder Nick Suzuki, Ryan plays a game founded upon his elite hockey sense, just like his sibling. Complimenting that IQ is speed, great hands and playmaking ability.

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“The first thing I noticed about Ryan is that he’s a much better skater than his brother Nick. Both are extremely talented playmakers, but they operate differently, with Nick preferring to slow the game down and Ryan preferring to speed it up and operate off the rush.” – Brock Otten, ohlprospects.blogspot.com

Otten also identified one of Ryan’s weaknesses, citing his shot and shot generation as an area with room for improvement.

The statistics confirm what Otten said about Suzuki’s shot generation — it could improve. Suzuki only took shots at a rate of 1.33 per game last year, 11th among OHL players eligible in 2019.

Otten makes it clear that Suzuki is very much a playmaker. This is confirmed by his statistics — Suzuki’s assist count was just over double his goals. In total, Suzuki put up 44 points in 66 games, 34 of which were assists. He produced primary points at a rate of 0.53 a game, which is less than Blake Murray did, but more than Kaliyev. However, Suzuki came out as the top 2019 eligible in the OHL when estimated TOI is taken into account, ranking first in both points-per-estimated-hour and primary-points-per-estimated-hour.

This is why I have Suzuki ranked ahead of both Blake Murray and Arthur Kaliyev, despite consensus placing him as the third best among that player. Not only has he outproduced both Murray and Kaliyev at 5v5, but he also has the two things I value most — speed and hockey sense — in spades.

I don’t think it’s too optimistic to say that he could be better than his brother.

15. Raphael Lavoie (C, QMJHL)

At 6’4, Lavoie is physically gifted, but he has a ton of skill to accompany his stature. At 0.93 PPG, he wasn’t far off from the heralded point-per-game mark that Pelletier managed to achieve, but that number is still pretty good for a D-1, even if you factor in Lavoie’s birthdate (he was just 11 days from being eligible in 2018). Lavoie is yet another top prospect from the Halifax Mooseheads, who appear to have a direct pipeline to elite talent.

His greatest strengths are his shot, hands, and puck protection abilities. Steve Kournianos described him as a “towering power forward with a rocket of a shot who can control the puck with bodies draped all over him,” which I think sums things up pretty well. Lavoie can fight through checks, making him a difficult force to stop. Unlike some players, who can be stopped by close checking, Lavoie needs a lot more attention than that. He uses his size to create space for himself, allowing him to get his dangerous shot off.

This is a nice display of his hands.

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And here’s his shot.

Lavoie’s age drags him down a bit in Adjusted PPG — he ranks just 20th. However, his comparables are good: Joe Veleno and Jonathan Drouin both had similar D-1 outputs, and Lavoie’s PPG is better than both of theirs.

This viz, from Mitch Brown, does a good job of explaining what Lavoie’s offensive strengths are: individual shot and opportunity generation, overall scoring chance generation, zone entries, and shot shares. His weakness seems to be control exit generation, although he has an excellent success rate when he does exit the zone.

A peek at the raw data from Mitch’s CHL Tracking Project yields more positive results — Lavoie’s shot attempts against per hour rate was 4.44 shots less than the average of the rest of his team, which is very good.

This is part one of my 2019 rankings. Picks #16-31 coming soon!

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