Thanks to last season’s Matt Duchene trade, this season is a unique one for fans of the Colorado Avalanche. They are able to spend the winter cheering for a team that is pushing towards the playoffs while simultaneously keeping an eye on the top of the 2019 draft rankings.
The Avalanche currently hold two first round picks - their own as well as a pick from the Ottawa Senators that is destined to be in the top-5. Normally fans are able to lock in on one section of the first round, but for the Avalanche, they can get excited about kids projected anywhere in the top-31.
It’s often forgotten that the Avalanche don’t only own Ottawa’s first round pick, they also own their third. That means that as things stand now, Colorado will be selecting four times in the first 65 picks of the draft. A huge haul for a team that is still trying to dig their way out of some very sparse draft years.
As we get closer to June, we’ll be running some more in depth analysis on the draft and the players that might end up as Avalanche prospects. For now, here is a quick look at our first rankings of the top-10 prospects for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft:
1. Jack Hughes - C - USNTDP U18
Nearly two years ago, an OHL scout that is not prone to hyperbole told me; “aside from Connor McDavid, Jack is the most talented kid to come through the GTHL in more than a decade”. That is some pretty high praise when you consider that timeline includes players like Mitch Marner, Mark Scheifele, Tyler Seguin, MaxDomi among others.
Hughes is electrifying on the ice. He is fast, creative and has an on-ice intelligence that allows him to always be a step ahead. He plays with high-end speed and pushes the pace of play in a way that is a nightmare for opponents. The biggest determent to his game is that he’ll sometimes try to do too much. Once he settles down within an NHL system, he’ll be the kind of elite possession driver that a team can rely on to carry the offense.
The gap between Hughes and number two has become a lot smaller, but given the up side of both players, Hughes is still the clear cut top prospect in the draft. Plus he grew up as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs so you know he’s got a good head on his shoulders.
Jack Hughes does a good job to disrupt the zone entry and Team USA gains control and breaks it out.— Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (@StarsStripesHKY) January 3, 2019
Jack makes the zone entry and dances thru traffic to create a quality chance, leaving a pair of fallen Czech defenders in his wake. #WJC2019 #USAWJC pic.twitter.com/2h6VXRdMSB
2. Kaapo Kakko - RW - TPS (Liiga)
Thanks to his size and style of play, Kaapo Kakko is more NHL ready today than Jack Hughes. He is fast, strong on the puck and has the ability to create space for his linemates.
Playing professionally in Finland, Kakko is producing at a level higher than Patrik Laine at the same age - while playing a more well rounded game. Over the past 20 years, Kakko’s point per game average trails only Sasha Barkov and Mikael Granlund for all U18 players. He has similar size, plays the same position, but is further along in his development than Mikko Rantanen was at the same age.
He is a lock to go number two - despite the “he could go No. 1 narrative” that is going to get louder and louder as analysts try to create intrigue at the top of the draft.
Strong play down low from Kaapo Kakko. pic.twitter.com/lw5CRgz1Ch— let’s go rangres (@DraftLook) January 2, 2019
3. Kirby Dach - C - Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Dach is a big-bodied playmaker with fantastic vision and passing skills. He was dominant playing against the best in his age group at the Ivan Hlinka last year and has continued that offensive dominance into the WHL season. A kid with his size has no business having hands as soft as Dach does.
He will be an elite power play quarterback at the NHL level as his vision and passing ability makes him lethal off the half-wall.
The knock on his game is that he doesn’t play with the explosiveness that we’re used to seeing from high-end NHLers these day. His style of play is a throwback to Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf.
Kirby Dach's vision and puckhandling gets lots of talk (deservedly so), but I've also been impressed with his defence. He's so active on the backcheck, preventing entries and forcing dump ins.— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) October 12, 2018
A few clips from Oct 5. He led his team in failed entries against (6).#2019NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/wrWqEVh7vA
4. Trevor Zegras - C - USNTDP U18
Hiding in the shadows of Jack Hughes is another elite center. Trevor Zegras has spent most of the season playing the 2C role behind Hughes and it’s causing a lot of people to overlook him. USA Hockey Associate coach Dan Hinote described his game as “very skilled, very smart, always dangerous and (he) has a chip on his shoulder. His playmaking ability rivals (Jack) Hughes’. He sees the ice very well and has the skill to get it there. His deception is fantastic, and even if you know exactly where he’s passing it, he still finds a way to get it there.”
A dynamically skilled offensive player, Zegras has been described as a “one and a half way” center - meaning that he’s working his way towards being a two-way guy. He has played on the wing with Hughes at times, but Zegras is a natural center that could very well be the 1C for Team USA at the World Juniors next winter.
Zegras is going to be the kid that is ranked around No. 10 going into the draft and then is a “surprise” when he’s selected in the top-5.
5. Alex Turcotte - C - USNTDP U18
Speaking of being overshadowed, Alex Turcotte is a kid that is often underrated thanks to a season plagued by injuries as well as the depth of the USNTDP U18 team.
Turcotte plays at a high-tempo and while he is not as dynamic as his teammates, he has a more well-rounded game. He’s very strong on his skates and has the ability to win one-on-one battles. He’s not overly big, but an incredibly strong lower body that allows for a powerful, yet agile stride.
Turcotte has top line potential but could fit in as an elite 2C on a good team. He is what a lot of Avalanche fans expected Tyson Jost to be.
6. Bowen Byram - LD - Vancouver Giants (WHL)
An explosive skater who is the best in the class at leading the breakout. He has terrific north-south speed as well the vision and lateral movement to be able to make opponents miss through the neutral zone.
He has a big shot that will allow him to be the trigger-man on a power play.
He likes to stand up at his own blue line; either to strip the puck or deliver a hard check. When opponents do gain the zone on him, he maintains tight gap control and does well to hold proper position.
Byram can be guilty of thinking transition a little too early - a trade off that goes along with his high-end puck moving skills - but that is something that defenders with his skill set often learn to grow out of as they enter the NHL.
7. Dylan Cozens - RW - Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
A right-shooting power forward, Cozens will likely settle in as a winger at the next level - but he’ll bring along the ability to help out in the faceoff circle.
He has great speed, a tremendous shot and plays a physical brand of hockey that will make him a fan favourite wherever he plays. Unfortunately, he lacks the type of natural on-ice awareness that would make him a top-3 prospect in the draft class.
He has a great first step and the high-end speed to pull away from defenders, but it’s his hard an accurate shot that will make him an effective scoring forward in the NHL.
8. Mikko Kokkonen - LD - Jukurit (Liiga)
Miro Heiskanen’s 10 points (5G, 5A) two years ago were the most by a draft eligible defenseman in the Finnish league in 30 years. Kokkonen already has two more than that. A lot like Rasmus Sandin last year, Kokkonen is a guy that is under six feet but plays a game that will make him a solid shut down guy in the NHL. Like Sandin, he’s not going to blow anyone away with flashy play, but he’s a guy that does everything well.
He’s not as skilled as Heiskanen, but Kokkonen is an incredibly smart player that has a great ability to read the play as it’s developing around him.
He skates well, makes a tremendous outlet pass and is very strong in puck battles. He is what a two-way defender looks like in today’s NHL.
9. Matthew Boldy - LW - USNTDP U18
Yes, he plays on the wing with Jack Hughes, and yes, that’s going to inflate a kid’s production numbers, but Matthew Boldy isn’t relying on his elite teammates to make him look good. He plays with good speed and has a shot that will make him a very good goal scorer in the NHL.
He skates well and forechecks with an energy level that defenders hate to play against. Boldy has strong vision of the ice and can read plays to open himself up in quiet areas. Boldy projects to be a good two-way top-6 winger in the NHL.
He doesn’t have the puck skills of his elite teammates, but Boldy is the kind of guy you want on the wing of your scoring line. He’s the Gabriel Landeskog to Hughes’ Nathan MacKinnon.
10. Philip Broberg - LD - AIK (SWE-2)
Broberg was by far the best defender at the Hlinka Memorial tournament last year. He is a tremendous skater - not just for his size - and has the ability to use his speed in both the transition game and as a defender. He has the skating ability to be an elite puck mover, now he has to work on the puck handling to go along with it.
He’s a late bloomer that shows flashes of elite potential.
He is one of the youngest defenders in the draft class so there is a lot of time for development. Broberg is a longer-term prospect than a guy like Byram. He is a kid that will likely spend another two years playing professionally in Sweden before making the transition to the NHL.
Honorable Mentions: Alex Newhook, Peyton Krebs, Ryan Suzuki, Vasili Podkolzin, Raphael Lavoie