Every NHL Draft Season, a few unknown prospects always burst onto the scene before the holidays roll around which leads into the new year. This season, there are plenty of prospects who have drastically improved their draft stock through the first three months of the regular season. For my first article with The Puck Authority, I highlighted five prospects who have caught my eye and have proven themselves to be true early season risers for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Bio: C – USNTDP U18 – 6’0 – 168 – 03/20/2001
Stats: 21GP – 12G – 22A – 34P
By now, everyone has heard of Jack Hughes, the prized prospect from the USA National Development team, who will most likely go 1st overall in this year’s edition of the NHL Entry Draft. However, not everyone is familiar with Trevor Zegras, another gifted playmaking center from the development team who will hear his name called early in June of 2019. Zegras came out of the gate flying this season and has not slowed down, scoring 34 points in just 21 games.
What sticks out in Zegras’s game is his brilliant playmaking ability and elite hockey sense. Almost every time he gets the puck in the offensive zone, he is a threat to create a scoring opportunity. Right now, based on his recent performance and skill set, Zegras is a definite top 15 prospect. If he keeps up this level of play for the rest of the season, don’t be surprised to see him in the discussion as a potential top 5 pick.
Bio: RW – Prince Albert – WHL – 6’4 – 205 – 04/30/1999
Stats: 27GP – 27 G – 33A – 60P
Brett Leason did not get picked in the 2017 or 2018 NHL Draft, despite being eligible both times. So why is Leason a riser for the 2019 draft? The 19-year-old currently leads the entire Canadian Hockey League in scoring with 60 points, which he has racked up in only 27 games. What makes his dominance even more impressive and surprising is the fact that he had only 33 points in 66 games last season.
Brett Leason can be described as a big, intelligent winger who can set up and finish plays with ease. Yet, the main aspect of Leason’s game that has allowed him to excel this year is his skating ability, which has been revolutionized. He now possesses excellent top speed, an element he did not have as early as last season. Combine his skating ability with the intelligence and size and you get a prospect who is showing he deserves to be selected in the first round, despite being a double overeager in past years.
Bio: LD – Jukurit – Liiga – 5’11 – 190 – 01/18/2001
Stats: 24GP – 1G – 9A – 10P
Once a very highly regarded Finnish prospect who made his Liiga debut in his D-2 season, Kokkonen watched as his stock tumbled over the course of his 2017-18 campaign. However, his performance in the Liiga this season has done anything but cause his stock to tumble, since it has started shooting up in recent weeks. Growing more confident every game, Kokkonen has thrived in the Liiga.
Even as a 17-year-old player, he has not looked out of place and has been trusted with important minutes. In fact, he is actually on a higher points per game pace than Miro Heiskanen was in his draft season. Kokkonen is emerging as a top prospect thanks to his intelligent offensive zone decision making, mobility and ability to continuously break out of his own zone with success.
Kokkonen has already showed scouts that he is very capable of playing professional hockey. When it comes to the draft, the success at the pro level will help his stock immensely and could lead to him being one of the the first defensemen taken in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Bio: LW – Moncton – QMJHL – 5’9 – 160 – 03/07/2001
Stats: 28GP – 17G – 24A – 41P
Jakob Pelletier wasn’t the focus of much attention heading into the 2018-19 season despite leading all CHL D-1 players with 1.02 P/GP in 2017-18. Finally, thanks to another successful season, Pelletier is making himself impossible to ignore, showing the hockey world that he belongs in the 1st round. Pelletier is a dynamic offensive player who doesn’t excel in any particular attribute put possesses good skills in multiple areas; skating, IQ and puck skills.
He combines these skills in a manner that allows him to thrive against QMJHL competition, where he has tallied 17 goals and 24 assists in 28 games so far this season. Going forward, Pelletier should continue to assert himself as a top prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft.
Bio: RW – Sioux City – USHL – 5’8 – 159 – 07/08/2001
Stats: 19GP – 15G – 18A – 33P
Completely unknown to many (including me) before he began to torch the USHL this season, Bobby Brink may be the biggest riser of them all. Through 19 games, Brink has totaled 33 points for a P/GP average of 1.74. It’s this eye-popping pace that has started catching the attention of the draft community.
Brink isn’t quite as good a player as his absurd numbers would suggest, but he is still a very enticing prospect. While undersized at 5’8, Brink is an extremely agile skater who finds way to put the puck in the back of the net. Although his game is lacking in some aspects like puck control, he still projects as a 2nd round prospect who is on the rise. If he continues to play well for Sioux City, expect him to get strong first round consideration in the months to come ahead.