2019 NHL Draft Rankings: Kakko-Mania is running wild

The World Junior Hockey Championships have come and gone, which means we’re into the home stretch of the season in junior hockey.

There were a select few individuals in this year’s class that were able to represent their respective countries, while others were able to keep their momentum going on their regular clubs.

Top prospects Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko went head to head in the gold-medal game at the World Juniors – something that had hockey fans extremely excited.

With just five months to go until the 2019 NHL Draft, it’s time to take another look through the top-10 draft rankings at the halfway point.

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1 (1) – Jack Hughes, Centre, USNTDP
37 GP / 13 G / 55 A / 68 P / 18 PIM (Total)

Hughes will be the No. 1 pick come June. There is no debate and there hasn’t been any for a long, long time.

The latest showcase of the generational talent was the World Juniors, where Jack joined his brother, Vancouver prospect Quinn, on the U.S. squad. He missed some action due to an injury, but he managed to put up four assists in as many games while helping the U.S. to the gold medal game.

Unfortunately, the States came out on the losing end of a 3-2 final to Finland.

The American hasn’t committed to a college yet, and he likely won’t, as he’ll be playing in the NHL in less than a year. He possesses the elite abilities that will make him an everyday NHL’er from day one.

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2 (4) – Kaapo Kakko, Right Wing, TPS (Liiga)
28 GP / 9 G / 11 A / 20 P / 2 PIM

2016 saw a Fin get drafted second overall behind an American, and if Kakko has anything to say about it, he’ll follow Hughes as the second name off the board in this draft.

Kakko has moved up to the second spot in this year’s class with his stellar play in Liiga this season.

The winger currently has 20 points in 28 games in the Finnish top flight and currently has the 18th best point total by a 17-year-old in Liiga history. He needs just eight points to tie the totals posted by Jesse Puljujarvi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in their respective 17-year-old seasons. However, Kakko would need to have a massive second half to come anywhere near the 48 points that Aleksander Barkov posted in 2012-13.

Kakko was one of the feature players on a very skilled Finland squad at the 2019 World Juniors, and as if his professional season hadn’t already gone well enough, he produced some more magic to end the tournament.

In a head-to-head matchup for gold with Hughes, Kakko would score the game-winning goal with just 1:26 left in regulation.

Kasperi Kapanen got his own stamp back home when he netted the overtime winner for gold in 2016. The 17-year-old Kakko should get similar treatment upon his arrival back in Finland.

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3 (3) – Vasili Podkolzin, Right Wing, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
19 GP / 7 G / 2 A / 9 P / 2 PIM (total)

Barring a disastrous back half of the season, Podkolzin should be a lock to go in the top five picks of this draft.

The winger has had great showings internationally for his country over the last year.

He led the World Junior A Challenge with eight points in six games, and made the World Juniors squad as a 17-year-old – Russian head coach Valeri Bragin will usually only bring draft-eligible players if they’re name is Ovechkin or Malkin.

It was a tough tournament at times for Podkolzin. He posted three assists in seven games while playing on the fourth line for Russia. He still had some flashes of offence, including some poised zone entries.

The experience gained against top competition can only help in the long run. Podkolzin has made one appearance for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL. He’ll make the jump to the Russian second tier, at the least, by next season.

The “Russian factor” always plays into these picks, but a team selecting in the top five can’t be afraid of taking a talent like him. He’s already being compared to Nikita Kucherov – high praise for such a young player.

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4 (2) – Dylan Cozens, Centre, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
43 GP / 25 G / 33 A / 58 P / 20 PIM

Cozens has gone through a slight dip on the list, but that’s simply because Kakko has been on fire over the past few months.

The centre currently sits eighth in scoring in the WHL and first among draft-eligible prospects. Cozens was taken with the 19th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. He has proven himself to be a top talent in this draft and has surpassed the top three picks from that draft in these rankings.

He’s a big body who can make plays at high speeds and rip the puck. Teams will love what he brings to the table. Cozens can dominate a game when he’s on.

He missed out on the World Juniors this time around, but he will likely be a pivotal part of next years squad. He had two goals and five points in as many games during the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

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5 (5) – Kirby Dach, Centre, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
41 GP / 17 G / 31 A / 48 P / 24 PIM

Dach has been a highly-coveted prospect for a long time. The centreman is now into the home stretch and looks poised to be a top-five draft prospect in 2019.

You won’t miss him out on the ice. Dach is 6-foot-4 and, despite his height and strength, is still a very good skater.

The second overall pick of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft wasn’t forced into a prominent role with Saskatoon right away. He entered the lineup full-time last year, ending the campaign with 46 points in 52 games. He’s already doubled his goal total this year and has 48 points in 41 contests.

“Point production has slowed, but he’s dedicated to the craft, and a right shot centre with his size is an extremely coveted asset. – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet

NHL teams will undoubtedly covet the St. Albert, Alberta native highly. With the top prospects game and the WHL playoffs on the horizon, Dach still has plenty of time to make his case for a higher spot on draft boards.

He and Cozens will be jockeying for position as the season finishes. Both offer teams a top-six centre option of the future.

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6 (6) – Bowen Byram, Defence, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
40 GP / 13 G / 26 a / 39 P / 44 PIM

Byram has made his case to be a top-five pick in this draft, but his final position will depend on what teams in that position need. With two high-end centre prospects in Dach and Cozens presumably still on the board after the top three, a team could go with either of them or opt for defence.

The defensive ability has never been in question for Byram, and now he’s starting to figure it out offensively. He finished with 27 points in 60 games last season. This year, Byram already has 33 points in 38 games. He’ll almost surely surpass his 52 penalty minutes from last year, but that isn’t surprising given his increased role on the blue line and his aggressiveness.

An explosive skater who can act as a one-man breakout. He blends his terrific acceleration and north-south speed with lateral edge work and play-creation through the neutral zone. Owns a heavy shot that is effective in all situations. Quick hands that embarrass oncoming forwards at the offensive blueline. Can get caught at times, but you take the good with the bad. An efficient power play quarterback in the making. – Cam Robinson, Dobber Prospects

Byram fired at a point per game pace in December. Standing at 6-foot-1, 192 lbs, he possesses an ideal frame for a defender in today’s NHL. He has all the tools and potential to be a top-pairing defender and is unquestionably the best name available on the back-end.

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7 (NR) – Alex Turcotte, Centre, USNTDP
14 GP / 7 G / 9 A / 16 p / 10 PIM (total)

He has missed the majority of the season due to injury. However, many draft pundits have suggested that Turcotte will be taken in the top 10 regardless.

Turcotte made his return to the lineup after Hughes left to play in the World Juniors, and he slotted into Hughes’ spot as the first-line centre. He’s managed to get to a point per game pace with the USNTDP while playing alongside fellow draft-eligible prospect Matthew Boldy.

Turcotte is unquestionably fast, hard-working and up-tempo. He’s also extremely strong on his feet, which makes him difficult to knock off the puck at full speed or win back possession from off the cycle. – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic

There will also be some line shuffling to be done now that Turcotte has returned. He’s the entire package who will only grow in skill when he heads to Wisconsin next season to play against NCAA competition.

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8 (NR) – Matthew Boldy, Left Wing, USNTDP
45 GP / 29 G / 24 A / 53 P / 26 PIM (Total)

Hughes and Turcotte got most of the headlines early on when it came to prospects from the U.S. National Development Program, but the aforementioned Boldy has pushed into the top 10 with a very strong first half with the USNTDP.

There’s a very real chance that there will be five Americans taken in the first 15 picks – with four of those being forwards.

Boldy is currently playing on the second line, with Turcotte centring him. He was able to play first-line minutes with Hughes still at the World Juniors.

Electrfying winger who can plays with controlled violence and jaw-dropping skill. Boldy treats every shift as an opportunity to strike fear into his opponents. – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst

He’s producing over a point per game pace in the USHL this season. Boldy will be attending Boston College next year. That should give him some great experience and grow his game even further. His play has cemented him as a top-10 pick this year.

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9 (NR) – Trevor Zegras
43 GP / 17 G / 46 A / 63 P / 53 PIM

Zegras is certainly going to gain a lot of hype over the next few months. He’s playing alongside Hughes and fellow draft eligible Cole Caufield on the first line for the USNTDP.

The winger leads the USNTDP Juniors in scoring with four goals and 16 points in 10 USHL contests.

A creative player with exciting puck skills. Zegras blends good speed with unique lines to cause separation through the neutral zone and distribute effectively to his mates. He’s been dynamite as the 2C with The Program. His time on the top power-play unit helps showcase his high-end vision. People are sleeping on him now; that won’t last long. – Cam Robinson, Dobber Prospects

He should be another lock for the top 10 when the season comes to an end. Once he and Hughes get back into sync after the hiatus, there won’t be many teams that will be able to slow them down.

Zegras will be heading to Boston University next season. He should feature in the pros after a season or two at the collegiate level.

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10 (8) – Peyton Krebs, Centre, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
40 GP / 15 G / 33 A / 48 P / 28 PIM

Krebs was named the captain of Kootenay ahead of the season. With that weight on top of the pressure to perform in his draft year, he has shown up and done a great job.

He should set a career-high in points in his sleep this season. After putting up 54 points in 67 games last year, Krebs already has 48 this season.

Unfortunately for him, Kootenay’s 8-29-7 record means he won’t get a chance to play in the postseason.

Cerebral, Jonathan Toews-type pivot who can beat you with his vision and is a tireless worker in all three zones. – Steve Kournianos, TheDraftAnalyst

He’s got world-class puck handling and passing prowess and an underrated ability to put the puck into the net. On top of wearing a letter in junior, he’s an individual that can be a captain in the NHL in the future.

Who knows what could’ve been of Krebs’ stock had his team been more competitive. He has 13 more points than the second-highest scorer on Kootenay.

In the hunt…

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Raphael Lavoie, Centre/Right Wing, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
40 GP / 19 g / 24 a / 43 p / 23 PIM

Lavoie has the size and ability to be a great prospect. There’s so much skill in this draft that he just misses being in the top 10. He’ll still be selected in the lottery, especially with his ability to play either on the wing or down the middle.

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Ryan Suzuki, Centre, Barrie Colts (OHL)
39 GP / 12 g / 29 a / 41 p / 8 PIM

Suzuki has become the main attraction in Barrie with Andrei Svechnikov in the NHL. The first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection will be looking to get bragging rights over his brother – 2017 No. 13 pick Nick – by being selected higher in the draft.

Cam York, Defence, USNTDP
44 GP / 3 g / 25 A / 28 P / 12 PIM

York is efficient in all three zones and possesses elite speed and vision. Like Bode Wilde last year, York is a high-risk, high-reward defender. He has great potential to be special on an NHL team’s blue line.

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Cole Caufield, Right Wing, USNTDP
45 GP / 38 g / 17 a / 55 p / 46 PIM (total)

Caufield instantly drew parallels to Alex Debrincat due to his size and abilities. Standing at just 5-foot-7, the winger has played alongside Hughes for the entire season. He’s posted 38 goals as a result. He’s not being propped up by the projected first overall pick, however. Caufield has proven an ability to fill the net throughout his hockey career. Expect him to do the same once he reaches the NHL.

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Philip Broberg, Defence, AIK (SHL)
29 GP / 1 g / 7 a / 8 p / 6 PIM

Had a chance to play for Sweden at the World Juniors after Maple Leafs prospect Timothy Liljegren was ruled out with a high-ankle sprain.

Finished with a single assist in the tournament, but he had the chance to play and learn from some quality defenders on Tre Kronor. He had a lot of people excited after his performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer. The hype has tailed off a bit due to his lack of consistent production in the Allsvenskan – hence the slip out of the top 10.

A 6-foot-3 defender who can skate very well. A team picking outside the top five will have themselves a good defender to develop.

Alex Newhook, Centre, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
38 GP / 24 g / 45 a / 69 p / 12 PIM

Newhook has dropped slightly, but he should find a suitable home with a team picking just outside the top 10. He has incredible skill and can dance through opposing defences. We’ll get a good picture of his abilities when he goes up against NCAA competition when he heads to Boston College next year.

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