Jack Hughes of the Toronto Marlboros is currently the top prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft
It's never too early to start talking about the 2019 NHL Draft…alright maybe it is too early, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. These players may have just recently celebrated their 16th birthdays, but they have already been scouted for years. All of the WHL players in this class have already been drafted, many players have already committed to colleges, and the OHL and QMJHL will hold their respective drafts this spring for many of the players in the 2019 NHL Draft class. The hockey world is changing as many of the top talents in the game are recognized before they are old enough to get behind the wheel of the car. Livestreams and video scouting allow prospects from the other side of the globe to be analyzed by scouts with ease.
I picked out ten of the most intriguing players in the 2019 NHL Draft that all hockey fans should keep their eye on over the next couple of years. Now this isn’t a top 10 ranking by any means, but these are all guys who should be selected at the top when June 2019 rolls around.
F, Toronto Marlboros (GTMMHL)
Jack Hughes is a huge talent coming from the Toronto Marlboros program, many believe (including myself) that he is the best to come out of the GTHL since Connor McDavid. The best way to describe his game is elite. He has that elite hockey sense combined with fantastic speed and skill that will make him a fantastic NHLer someday. The Hockey News rated him the 47th best player under the age of 21 this fall. That is very high praise for a guy who is still playing AAA hockey. He is expected to go 1st overall to the Barrie Colts in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection Draft, but there is still an outside chance that he could opt for the US National Team Development Program like his brother, Quinton. However, the rumor is that Jack plans to go to the OHL and represent Team Canada (since he is Canadian but born in Orlando, FL he has a choice). At this point in time, Jack Hughes is the frontrunner to go 1st overall in 2019. I think he has the skill to be considered a Matthews/Laine/Eichel-level talent, he won’t be a weak 1st overall pick.
F, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Peyton Krebs was the 1st overall pick for the Kootenay Ice in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. The young forward from Okotoks, AB got a taste of WHL action this year appearing in 6 games for the Kootenay Ice and putting up 6 points. That is very impressive considering the fact that Kootenay is the worst team and has the least goals scored in the WHL. He possesses fantastic speed along with great skill that should make him a very dynamic player. He plays an up-tempo game, doing everything at high speed. In his handful of games with the Ice, he was arguably the best palyer on the ice at the young age of 15. He is a real big talent who should be headlining the very strong group coming out of the WHL for the 2019 NHL Draft.
C, Saskatoon (WHL)
Kirby Dach has great height already as he is 6’3” and turned 16 just a couple of months ago. He was the 2nd overall pick for Saskatoon in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. He is finishing off this season in the WHL and has registered 9 points in 16 games so far. He is well known for his amazing hockey IQ and he is no stranger to scoring highlight reel goals with his long reach and quick hands. He makes the impossible plays look easy. He broke the U14 scoring record in the AMBHL (Bantam) putting up 100 points in 33 games, topping Tyler Benson’s previous record of 84 points. I would compare him to Nolan Patrick as a prospect, but he certainly has the talent to possibly be better.
D, Ak Bars Kazan U18 (Russia U18)
At this point in time, Artemi Knyazev is considered the top Russian prospect in the 2019 Draft and, surprise, he’s a defenseman. His bread and butter is his offensive game. He is a fantastic skater, a very mobile defenseman, with fantastic hands. He also has all the hockey IQ to go along with his dynamic talent, which should give him the opportunity to become a very good defenseman in the NHL. In the new age of hockey, where dynamic offensive defenseman are heavily valued, Knyazev should thrive.
LW, Kelowna (WHL)
Nolan Foote is the son of long-time NHLer Adam Foote and the brother of top 2017 Draft prospect, Callan Foote. He has been playing with his brother on the Kelowna Rockets this season and has recorded an impressive 31 points in 46 games at just 16 years old. He already has great size at 6’3” and he is able to combine that with soft hands and high hockey IQ. His shot is the deadliest weapon in his arsenal, he can fire it and score from anywhere on the ice. What he has been doing in the WHL at his age is very impressive. If he continues to work on his skating, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be a 1st round pick in 2019
D, Jukurit U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
The amount of young defensemen that Finland has been producing over the past couple of years is pretty amazing and Mikko Kokkonen is another Finnish defenseman who looks like he could be a premier talent. This season he became the youngest player to play in Liiga at just 15 years and 9 months of age, but he got under 3 minutes of ice time and many called it a publicity stunt, but it was still impressive nonetheless. He is a slightly smaller defenseman at only 5’11”, but he is still young and should continue to grow. He put up 8 points in 15 Junior A SM-Liiga games on one of the worst teams in the league, outproducing guys like Olli Juolevi and Rasmus Ristolainen at the same age. He certainly has the potential to be a top 10 pick, maybe even the best defenseman in the 2019 Draft.
LW, KalPa U18 (Jr. B SM-sarja)
Many Finnish hockey fans consider Leevi Aaltonen to be the best forward prospect from Finland since Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. He is on the smaller end when compared to those two, but he’s an elite skater and has the smarts to go along with his natural ability. He is not only a fast skater, but he is very strong on his skates and has great edgework. Aaltonen may already have NHL-level skating at the age of 16. He put up 38 points in 23 games (1.65 PTS/G) in the Finnish Junior B league which is similar production to Mikael Granlund and Sebastien Aho at the same age. If Aaltonen continues to progress, he will join the very talented core of Finnish forwards already in the NHL.
C, Chicago Mission U16 (HPHL)
Alex Turcotte is a very electrifying American prospect who currently plays for the Chicago Mission U16 team. He has some NHL bloodlines as his father, Alfie, spent time with the Canadiens, Jets, and Capitals. The most recognizable part about Turcotte’s game is his stickhandling ability. Considering the fact that his grandpa, Real, runs Turcotte Stickhandling Hockey School, that’s not that surprising. For a 16 year-old, his hands are unbelievable, he is able to do some Datsyuk-like stuff out on the ice. He has phenomenal hockey IQ and is an excellent skater, so he’s more than just a player with good hands. He has already committed to University of Wisconsin, but he is also considered a top prospect for the upcoming OHL Priority Selection where he should be a top 5 pick if interested in the OHL.
D, North Jersey Avalanche U16 (T1EHL)
Marshall Warren is considered to be the top American defenseman in this draft class. Warren is just a pure athlete out on the ice, a very dynamic defenseman. He is a great skater and has a great shot which allows him to score a good number of goals for a defenseman. He is no slouch on the defensive end either as he has great positioning and IQ. If necessary, Warren is not afraid to lay a big hit on an opponent. He is a very smooth player and moves the puck with confidence and ease. With all his talent and athleticism Warren’s potential is sky high. He is currently committed to Harvard University, but the OHL is still a possibility.
F, College Esther-Blondin Phenix
Xavier Parent is a player who has been on a lot of scouts’ radars for a very long time. The one downside about him is his size as he is around 5’7” and is not expected to grow much taller. But size is never a problem if a player has enough talent and Parent is a guy who is loaded with talent. He is a fantastic skater and stickhandler, overall he’s just a really good offensive player, one of the best to come out of Quebec in recent years. I believe that he will be a stud in the QMJHL where he is expected to be a top 5 pick in the QMJHL Draft this spring. He may not be as hyped up as he was a couple of years ago, but that is really no knock against him as Parent should still be a top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.