The World Juniors have arrived, and always renews interest in NHL prospects. While most of the players to watch at the under-20 championships are already affiliated with NHL teams, there are a handful of draft eligible players looking to make their mark as well.
It’s been nearly two months since I last published a consolidated list of the industry draft rankings, and with the calendar year coming to a close, it seems like a good time to check in on the prospective first round picks of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
As always, I like to start with a table of the included lists. Five list-makers have released new rankings since the October edition of this series, while two (McKeen’s and The Athletic) published their first rankings of the draft cycle.
|Service||Sportsnet||ISS Hockey||Hockey Prospect||McKeen’s Hockey||The Athletic||Dobber Prospects||Future Considerations||TSN Craig’s List||The Hockey News||The Score||TSN Industry Poll|
|Author||Sam Cosentino||Staff||Staff||Ryan Wagman||Scott Wheeler||Cam Robinson||Staff||Craig Button||Ryan Kennedy||Hannah Stuart||Bob McKenzie|
|Date||December 12||December 5||November 22||November 15||November 6||November 5||November 1||October 22||October 18||September 17||September 17|
You can click on the service/publication to check out their individual lists yourself; many have blurbs on players in addition to ordered lists, which may be of interest to you. For now, only The Athletic’s list is behind a paywall. That will change as we get closer to draft day. Typically McKeen’s, HockeyProspect.com and ISS will release their first round only, with the rest of their rankings being available for purchase. If ESPN gets around to publishing a ranking, it will likely be behind a paywall, requiring an Insider account.
Let’s just right into the main reason that you all came here: the consolidated list for December 2018.
Cream of the Crop
The top three remain unchanged. Jack Hughes is pretty much untouchable at this point, despite a first half that hasn’t appeared to significantly build on last year’s campaign. Part of Jack’s perceived issues are his numbers against USHL competition: namely, that one goal in 10 games. A shooting percentage of 2.4% in those games is a pretty obvious culprit, while the dynamic American is averaging over 4.0 shots per game against USHL squads. In Hughes’ other 15 games, he’s picked up nine goals, tallying ten in total on 114 shots.
His 48 points in 25 games is only marginally better than the 68 points he put up in 38 games with the Under-18 team, but his 1.93 points per game continues to be second only to Auston Matthews (1.95) in the history of the USNTDP Under-18 team, far ahead of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Jack Eichel, Clayton Keller, and Matthew Tkachuk. The fact is that Hughes may have a limited ceiling in the US program in terms of how many points he can realistically score on a per game basis given the abilities of teammates, deployment, and so on. It’s unlikely that he’ll have the logistical capability of catching and surpassing a player like Kaapo Kakko, who’s putting in decent points in a professional league, in terms of a league-adjusted stat like NHLe or SEAL adjusted scoring (for reference, Kakko is currently on top of my SEAL list, with Hughes sitting in eighth).
Even with that artificial ceiling on Hughes’ numbers, Kakko (a fantastic prospect in his own right) just isn’t elite enough to challenge Hughes for the number one spot, and that isn’t going to change between now and the draft. Just as Laine did in 2016, Kakko may make a late push and maybe join Finland’s world championship squad in May, but it won’t do anything besides generate some interesting storylines. This is the Jack Hughes draft, just as 2016 belonged to Auston Matthews from wire to wire.
Riddle in the Middle Redux
In a previous installment of the consolidated rankings, I had noted that this year was particularly strong on centres, and while that is still mostly true, a lot of those high-ranked pivots are beginning to lost ground (including Alex Turcotte, Raphael Lavoie, Alex Newhook, Matvei Guskov, and Valentin Nussbaumer) in favour of some high scoring wingers and puck moving defencemen.
Two centres that aren’t losing any ground: Lethbridge’s Dylan Cozens and Saskatoon’s Kirby Dach. Nestled firmly at 3 and 4 on the list above, Cozens and Dach are both tall, highly skilled, and strong skaters, and have the making of first line NHL centres.
It’s likely that some of the other centres floating around in the 5-20 region will reach those heights in the NHL as well, but each becomes a progressively greater gamble to pull that off as one proceeds down the list.
Speaking of proceeding down the list, let’s do that thing where we look at who’s been moving up and moving down in a big way since the last consolidated list.
Working his way into the top ten for the first time this season is one of those aforementioned high scoring wingers: Matthew Boldy has moved from 12th in October to seventh in December. Boldy tore up the Under-17 circuit last year, but didn’t get much of a sniff with the Under-18 squad. The Boston College committee is fourth on the U18 team in points and second in goals, Boldy has a powerful, but excels in in vision and hockey IQ as well. One key thing to watch out for: he’s been spending quite a bit of time lately on Jack Hughes’ wing, and I don’t think I need to tell who’s the straw that stirs the drink on that line. That doesn’t mean Boldy’s numbers are a complete apparition; it just means a grain of salt is called for.
Kelowna Rockets winger Nolan Foote has come on strong of late, jumping up six places since we last checked in. The son on Adam Foote (and younger brother of Tampa Bay defensive prospect Cal Foote) has been a top 2019 prospect for years already, so he’s not exactly coming out of nowhere here. If anything, he’s regaining some of the ground that he’s lost in recent times. Foote is hovering near a point per game, meaning that he hasn’t shown the dynamic scoring ability some others in the WHL have, but he’s smart, a strong skater, and excellent at protecting the puck. His bloodline will guarantee him an opportunity at the next level, even if he projects to be more of a low ceiling, high floor type of player.
Popping into the first round for the first time is German-born Moritz Seider. While many German prospects head to more prominent hockey countries to get noticed at this age (see Dominik Bokk, 2018, SHL; Justin Schutz, 2018, Czech U18; Leon Gawanke, 2017, QMJHL; Manuel Wiederer, 2016, QMJHL; Frederik Tiffels, 2015, USHL/NCAA; Leon Draisaitl, 2014, WHL; Tobias Rieder, 2011, OHL), Seider is looking to become the first German-born player since Tom Kuhnhackl in 2010 to be drafted after spending in draft season playing in his home country (even then, Kuhnhackl joined the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires the following season). He also has the opportunity to be just the seventh German-born player to be taken in the first round of the draft, and the first ever German defenceman to achieve such a feat.
One cannot rise without another falling, so the above players have some people to thank. One of those is Alex Turcotte, another USNTDP centreman who’s biggest crime so far this season in being injured. Turcotte recently rejoined the Under-18 team (putting up four points in four games since his return) and will look to repair his draft stock going forward. For him, there’s no time like the present – Turcotte will get plenty of opportunity with Jack Hughes in Vancouver for the World Juniors.
Barely clinging to a spot in our imaginary first round is Czech-born speedster Maxim Cajkovic, who is appearing in the Fallers section for the second straight time. This young winger’s two calling cards are his explosive acceleration and a hammer of a slap shot, but neither has led to particularly notable production in his first season in the QMJHL after being selected first overall in the 2018 CHL Import Draft. It doesn’t help that the Quebec League team that drafted him (Saint John Sea Dogs) is terrible, wallowing with a 6-26 record and a league-worst minus-110 goal differential. Cajkovic is tied for first in points on this sad sack team, which may indicate that improvement is in the cards if he gets an opportunity to play for a better team.
One player that wasn’t able to hold on to his first round spot is Swiss forward Valentin Nussbaumer. Like Cajkovic, Nussbaumber came over to the QMJHL in the CHL import draft, and like Cajkovic, he’s struggled to produce at an impressive level. With 18 points in 30 games with Shawinigan, Nussbauber lags far behind other Quebec League draft eligibles like Raphael Lavoie, Jakob Pelletier, Samuel Poulin, and Nathan Legare, who are all above a point per game. Heck, Pelletier has already cleared 50 points. Nussbaumer is currently suiting up for the Swiss squad at the World Juniors, and that may be the best way to rebuild his draft reputation. The way things are going right now, he may be headed down the same road as Swiss teammate Nando Eggenberger, who spent 2017-18 tumbling down draft rankings before being ignored altogether on draft day.
As I often do, I’d like to finish this consolidated rankings article off with a chart plotting the pseudo first round’s tiers.
A lot of what we talked about earlier is evident here: Jack Hughes is in a tier of his own, and Kakko is pretty secure in the second spot (for the time being), while Cozens and Dach are alone now in a third tier. The next tier involves Matthew Boldy, Bowen Byram, and Vasili Podkolzin, but it doesn’t present much of an advantage over the next group, which includes Peyton Krebs, Ryan Suzuki, Alex Turcotte and Raphael Lavoie.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the final consolidated rankings of 2018, and that you’ve learned something here. We’ll revisit these lists again once new rankings pour in after the World Juniors and CHL Top Prospects game.