It’s nearly December now which means that a good chunk of the season has officially been put behind us. At this point, we’re beginning to arrive upon dependable sample sizes to evaluate the 2018-19 seasons of draft-eligible prospects to date, which means we finally have enough information to craft new rankings that aren’t putting far too much weight into unsustainable starts from particular players — whether they be hot or cold — or completely redundant from the summer edition of my rankings.
In my evaluations, I put a lot of weight into statistical analysis. If a player can’t produce at the junior level, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to do so in the NHL, where points are several times more difficult to come by. Regarding the eye test, I put value into highly translatable and valuable skills like skating ability and intelligence, but most importantly, I’m looking for overall offensive ability— the extent to which a player controls the game offensively.
At this stage in development, defensive play doesn’t matter unless it’s a glaring deficiency (think Ryan Merkley), and that isn’t the case for any of the prospects listed here.
With that addressed, let’s get right into it.
1. Jack Hughes (LHC, USNTDP U18)
The USNTDP isn’t as strong of a league as you’d like to see somebody as talented as Hughes play their draft season in, which unfortunately means we won’t get to see Hughes prove that his game can stay dominant against stronger competition, but it’s unlikely that ends up being an issue for the long-term. Hughes is a dominant offensive centre that plays a skilled, east-west game founded upon skating, creativity and playmaking as well.
2. Kaapo Kakko (RW, Liiga)
Kakko got off to an insane start to his season in the Liiga — Finland’s top professional league. After beginning at a pace of over a point per game, Kakko has cooled down to 0.625 P/GP. That pace isn’t quite the level of Patrik Laine’s in his draft season in the same league, but’s it’s in the same ballpark and could easily improve to that 0.71 P/GP benchmark in the months remaining in the campaign.
Kakko is a strong player that is well-rounded offensively with exceptional command of the puck and the intelligence and awareness to find seams in the defence. He’s shifty, creative, unpredictable and overall very difficult to keep track of in the offensive zone.
3. Kirby Dach (RHC, WHL)
There’s very little not to like in Kirby Dach. He’s huge, standing 6’4″, a right shot and plays a well-rounded game. Even better, Dach is absolutely tearing up the WHL right now with the strongest statistical profile of any draft-eligible skater. Dach is an exceptional playmaker with outstanding vision, but he can also use his size, puck protection and soft hands to threaten as a goal scorer.
4. Dylan Cozens (RHC, WHL)
Dylan Cozens has been unseated as the top WHLer in the class by Dach, but he remains an excellent prospect and very high on most lists. It’s Dach’s exceptional play that caused the leapfrog, not any kind of poor play from Cozens. Cozens has been good as well this season, currently comfortably above the point-per-game mark with 23 points in 18 contests.
Like Dach, the centre is big (6’3″), has a right shot and is very strong on the puck. He’s intelligent and creative, creating skilled, tactical plays — such as give-and-go’s — that improve the offensive chances of his team by advancing the puck and creating space and lanes.
5. Mikko Kokkonen (LHD, Liiga)
This may seem extreme and a major overreaction to Kokkonen’s strong start to the season, but at this point, I believe Kokkonen is the top defensemen in the draft (I will note that it’s very close between him and Bowen Byram). Playing against men in the Finnish Liiga, Kokkonen still manages to stand out using his skating ability and intelligence to control the game from the back end. The Finn is excellent at recovering the puck — he’s capable of accelerating very quickly, allowing him to win races to pucks in his own zone.
With possession, Kokkonen prefers to connect with a forward with a breakout pass, but can skate the puck out if necessary. In all, Kokkonen is an exceptional distributor of the puck that is very good at kickstarting the breakout and loves to join the rush.
6. Bowen Byram (LHD, WHL)
Considered the top defenceman in the class by most, Byram is an intelligent, two-way defenceman playing for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. He’s mobile, an excellent passer and can really control the game from the back end. A lot of parallels exist between his game and Kokkonen’s, but the Finn’s pro resume gives him the edge for the time being.
7. Alex Turcotte (LHC, USNTDP U18)
Turcotte is a skilled centre playmaking centre that can double as a power forward. A wide stride and exceptional balance makes Turcotte difficult to knock off of the puck, allowing Turcotte to draw defenders to him — often freeing up a teammate for a pass — without being knocked off of the puck. Turcotte is an excellent playmaker with remarkable vision and awareness of the location of his teammates. Able to identify, create and exploit passing lanes.
8. Anttoni Honka (RHD, Liiga)
Honka has gotten off to a slow start this season with just four points in his first 15 Liiga games, a far cry from his pace of just under half a point per game in 20 games as a D-1 last year. However, Honka’s exceptional transitional ability remains — he’s still the most dynamic of any defensemen in the draft and can turn the play from defence to offence stunningly quickly. The slump shouldn’t last.
9. Ryan Suzuki (LHC, OHL)
A remarkably intelligent playmaking pivot, Suzuki has an exceptional command on the game through his hockey IQ alone. With mind-boggling vision and the ability to stay a step ahead of the play, Suzuki is an excellent distributor of the puck to his teammates in the offensive zone, always advancing the play. Add above-average speed and a deadly shot (although Suzuki could use it more often) to the mix, and you have a well-rounded offensive weapon very capable of dominance.
10. Jakob Pelletier (LHC, QMJHL)
An incredibly underrated attacker, Pelletier is the complete offensive package. Despite his size (5’9″), Pelletier is able to survive in the dirty areas because of fantastic edgework and deception. To put it simply: he’s hard to hit. Additionally, Pelletier can threaten with speed off the rush, find open teammates and act as a scoring option.
11. Arthur Kaliyev (LW, OHL)
So far, Kaliyev is averaging over 1.5 points per game in the OHL while playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs. He’s a sniper with an excellent shot and manages to find open space to get shots off. With a fantastic one-timer from the circles, he’s a threat from further out at even strength and on the power play, but Kaliyev also has the strength and balance to play in and around the crease, where his above-average finishing skills pay off.
Last year, he was the first 16 year old OHLer to score 30+ goals since Alex Galchenyuk in 2010-11 and he’s just two goals short of the goal-per-game mark so far this season. So far, his numbers aren’t far off from Andrei Svechnikov’s last season, although he’s most likely due for some regression looking ahead.
12. Pavel Dorofeyev (LW/RW, MHL)
A hugely underrated winger, Dorofeyev is still ranked outside of the first round by some, despite outproducing Vasili Podkolzin, who I’ve seen as high as 2nd overall on some lists. Dorofeyev has played 9 KHL games so far — recording no points during that time, but results like that should be expected for players his age. The fact that he’s already played in what is the second best professional league (behind only the NHL) at his age is very impressive on its own.
He’s averaging well over a point-per-game in the MHL, the top Russian junior league, which is of similar quality to the OHL. Dorofeyev is a well-rounded, hard working winger with excellent control of the puck. He’s smart and attacks the net.
13. Peyton Krebs (LW, WHL)
Krebs was a pretty hyped up prospect a couple years ago, but that’s been watered down as it has become clear that it’s very unlikely that Krebs becomes an elite NHLer. However, he could still very well be an impact player. He’s very smart, has a non-stop motor and has a well rounded offensive skillset. He skates well, he can handle the puck, he’s a very good playmaker and he has the shot and instincts to act as a more than proficient goal scorer as well.
14. Raphaël Lavoie (C/RW, QMJHL)
I’m a little lower on Lavoie than most. He’s an excellent player, but I think people get a little too caught up in his size. His production isn’t spectacular and I don’t see a top 10 pick when I watch him. He’s very skilled on the puck, he uses his teammates well and he attacks the high-danger areas, but I’m not sure about how well he blends those skills into results that project well to the next level.
15. Trevor Zegras (C, USNTDP U18)
Zegras is playing in the shadow of some higher profile USNTDP centres like Jack Hughes and Alex Turcotte and quietly excelling. He’s been absolutely dominant — only Jack Hughes is outproducing his 1.7 P/GP right now. Zegras is a shifty playmaking pivot that displays creativity and craftiness with the puck as he intelligently distributes it to teammates. He’s an accurate passer that thinks ahead of the play and is able to identify developing plays to find open teammates in prime scoring locations.
16. Cam York (LHD, USNTDP U18)
York is a mobile, offensive defensemen and the top blue-liner on the USNTDP U18 team. He’s smart, able to recognize plays as they happen, which helps him avoid pressure and find teammates to get the transition started. Very good at finding soft spots in the opponent’s neutral zone defensive system. York is also an above-average skater with good speed and lateral agility.
17. Matthew Boldy (LW, USNTDP U18)
Boldy is a high-skill winger with exceptional vision, agility and speed. Primarily a playmaker, Boldy has an excellent sense of available teammates and passing lanes. He’s very smart offensively with an excellent understanding of soft spots in the opposition’s defence and manages to find space to make things happen.
Even better, Boldy has a two-way game that is further developed than most for his age. He doesn’t have a huge amount of skill on the puck, definitely not enough to stand out in that area, but it doesn’t limit him too much.
18. Alex Newhook (LHC, BCHL)
Newhook made the decision to take the NCAA route, which means that he’s spending his draft season in the BCHL to retain his NCAA eligibility. There’s always an additional element of risk when a player isn’t facing top competition and that remains true with Newhook. He’s scoring over 1.5 P/GP in the BCHL, which isn’t quite as dominant as you’d like to see from a prospect of Newhook’s level. If he wants to retain his status as a top prospect, he’s going to need to step it up.
19. Cole Caufield (RW, USNTDP U18)
At just 5’7″, Caufield is tiny, but he makes up for his deficiencies in the size department many times over with his skill. Players like Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Debrincat in past years should be more than enough to show that size doesn’t matter, but Caufield still remains spectacularly underrated. He has an exceptional scoring touch, he’s able to find space and seams in the defence and he has the tools to be an excellent complimentary player at the NHL level in the future. He’s the type of player that brings out the best in an elite playmaker.
20. Victor Söderström (RHD, SHL)
Söderström is a mobile, puckmoving defenceman that looks like he’ll stick in the SHL moving forward. Has a lot of skill on the puck, makes hard, accurate passes and can rush the puck. He’s very intelligent, consistently making strong reads and is able to use those smarts in the transition play as he can recognize breakout options as they become available. Söderström plays a well rounded, two-way game. His production in the SuperElit doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but it don’t think it’s an issue that’ll follow him.
21. Matthew Robertson (LHD, WHL)
Responsible two-way defenceman that can be leaned on in a variety of situations. Robertson plays behind his years in his own zone with a long reach and the strength to outmuscle opponents. Excellent at standing players up at the defensive blueline, denying controlled zone entries against. He’s not going to be a huge offensive contributor at the NHL level, but he won’t be a one-dimensional shutdown defender either.
22. Vasili Podkolzin (RW, MHL)
Podkolzin has looked elite at international tournaments like the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, but has been the complete opposite in league play. Based on his MHL play alone, he probably shouldn’t even be in the 1st round. Small-sample international tournaments are carrying his status as a top prospect and that’s a dangerous thing. It’s very unlikely that what he actually becomes is equal to what his upside appears to be based on international tournaments.
23. Tobias Bjornfot (LHD, SuperElit)
Mobile, well-rounded two-way defenceman that stood out at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. Not a flashy player, but consistently makes good decisions and smart plays with the puck. No stand-out strengths to his game, but no glaring deficiencies either. Hasn’t been quite as good in league play this season as I’d like to see, so he’s slid a bit.
24. Albin Grewe (C/RW, SHL)
Grewe started his season off very well in the SuperElit with 22 points in 17 games, earning himself a promotion to the SHL. The Swede has excellent hands, a dangerous shot and a rare dynamic element to his game. However, Grewe’s low hockey IQ can be painfully obvious at times. He fails to recognize areas of traffic and runs into trouble when by taking the puck into highly dense areas.
25. Philip Broberg (LHD, Allsvenskan)
Broberg is an exceptional skater, a trait that he made known at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup this summer. That alone offers tremendous upside, but beyond that, there really isn’t much to like about Broberg. He doesn’t have much skill on the puck and he isn’t overly intelligent. A project for sure, but one that could potentially pay off big time if those other skills can develop.
26. Simon Holmström (RW, SuperElit)
Holmström hasn’t played too much this year because of an injury with only 7 SuperElit games to date and has struggled to regain his footing after an excellent D-1 season last year. 2017-18 saw Holmström surpass a point-per-game in the SuperElit; this season, he has just 6 points through 7 contests. That’s not a large enough sample to make a true judgement, so I remain high on Holmström– although he’s started to slide on my board, he’ll be very quick to rise again once he heats up. He’s a great skater, very agile, with excellent hands and finishing ability. A puck hound, Holmström is a terrifying forechecker and is always around the puck.
27. Nathan Légaré (RW, QMJHL)
Légaré is an excellent goal-scorer. He has a nose for the net, he finds open space and he puts himself in a shooting position. Playing on a line with Ivan Chekhovich and Gabriel Fortier, Légaré is excelling as a first time draft-eligible in the QMJHL with 36 points through 26 games. He’s not going to be the type of guy that will drive a line, but Légaré style of game makes him the perfect compliment to an elite playmaker. Légaré projects as a complimentary player that could fit into a top 6 at the NHL level.
28. Nils Höglander (LW, SHL)
Höglander has spent nearly all of his season in the SHL, already an impressive feat for a player his age and has been solid, recording 6 points over the course of 20 games played. An aggressive, energetic winger, Höglander competes hard for the puck all over the ice. He’s a quick, agile skater with good vision and a quick release. Höglander could easily be a big riser as the year progresses.
29. Lassi Thomson (RHD, WHL)
Thomson came over from Finland to play in the WHL this season and has experienced no problems settling in. He’s been outstanding for the Kelowna Rockets, racking up 19 points in 24 games while showing off his mobile, puckmoving game. He skates well, is strong in the transition game and can threaten with his shot offensively.
30. Maxim Shabanov (F, MHL)
Standing at just 5’8″, Shabanov is tiny. Fortunately for him, that means absolutely nothing in today’s NHL. Currently producing at a pace of a point-per-game in the Russian MHL, Shabanov packs a huge offensive punch in his small frame.
31. Dmitri Sheshin (F, MHL)
Sheshin makes up part of a dominant MHL trio with Pavel Dorofeyev and Yegor Spiridonov, using his speed and control of the puck to move the puck through the neutral zone and into high-danger areas. He can finish from in tight and is an impressive passer as well.