Since we last saw one another, not much has happened in the hockey world, but also everything happened in the hockey world. The St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup title. Around 1.5 million people showed up for the parade. The Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL franchise, the Charlotte Checkers, won their first AHL title as well. I don’t think their parade was as big, but good for them too.
Both of these championships, while far removed from the draft, are apt reminders that teams need to be successful on draft day to win, both on day one and in the later rounders. The Blues Stanley Cup winning lineup included a number of players brought into the NHL by those self-same Blues as first round picks, including Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robert Thomas, and Robby Fabbri. There were also a larger number of players who were later round picks by the Blues, including star netminder Jordan Binnington, Vince Dunn, Joel Edmundson, Colton Parayko, Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais and others.
The Checkers were also built through the Carolina prospect acquisition machine. While the roster had a few players who were acquired via trade, or as unsigned free agents, there were four prominent former first rounders of Carolina’s in Hayden Fleury, Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, and Martin Necas. Day two picks included netminder Alex Nedeljkovic, Morgan Geekie, Nicolas Roy, Clark Bishop Trevor Carrick and others.
We will have to wait a few years, and we have no way of knowing who, but a number of the players mentioned below, as well as many others whose names will be called out next weekend in Vancouver, will play critical roles in helping their future teams win championships.
As always, the picks below represent my views as filtered through the McKeens Hockey scouting staff. Throughout the year, the staff has been rinkside, watching all manner of prospects, draft eligible and not, writing scouting reports on those deemed worthy of attention. Subscribers will have access to well over 100 scouting reports as well as the full McKeens Draft Guide, wherein we rank the top 217 draft eligible prospects, as well mention around 100 more as players of note who could be selected. This mock draft leans heavily on those evaluations, as well as our knowledge of drafting trends, around the league and within each franchise and the men who make the decisions at the draft table.
1. New Jersey Devils – Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Nothing has changed here since I first mocked the 2019 draft. The gap between Jack Hughes and the field – but particularly the next man up – has shrunk, but there is still daylight between the two figured. The best-case scenario here is Patrick Kane as a center. The worst-case scenario (realistic worst case – still assuming general health) is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Hughes will play in the NHL from day one, will be in the top six by mid-season and a superstar by year two of his career.
2. New York Rangers – Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS Turku (Liiga)
This is the easiest pick in the draft. There are only two plausible answers for the top two picks of the draft, and I believe that Hughes at #1 is around an 85% certainty at this point. So on the 15% chance that the Devils don’t take Hughes, the Rangers surely do. But in most reasonable scenarios, Hughes is gone and the Rangers have nothing to do but to select Finnish power winger Kaapo Kakko. Physically, Kakko may be more ready for the NHL right now than Hughes, but the upside is still a little bit lower. He could fit anywhere in the Rangers lineup from day one, and has a clear projection as a long-term first liner beginning in the near future.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP (USHL)
In a sense, this is the first pick of the draft. We know who the top two picks are going to be. There are around ten players the Blackhawks could reasonable choose at #3, and none of them are objectively wrong. I have a slight preference for Bowen Byram as the third best player in the draft class, but the difference is marginal at best. With the Blackhawks having taken defensemen with each of their top two picks in both of the last two drafts, I don’t think they will go that route again. Even more so after trading for Olli Maatta from Pittsburgh a few days ago. I think they take a forward and there have been whispers tying them to Illinois native Alex Turcotte, a player as notable for his energy as for his skill. And he has tremendous skill. Going to the University of Wisconsin next year, he will not jump right into the NHL like the first two picks will, but assuming better health next year, there is no reason why he cannot make his debut in the 2020-21 season. He has first line upside and comparable downside. Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens would also fit this objective, and while both have distinct size advantages over Turcotte, they lack his high-end scoring upside.
4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators and the Matt Duchene trade) - Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
When a team earns a top five pick, the player they ultimately select is seen as potentially the needed catalyst to a new and brighter future. When a team gains a top five pick as the result of a long-ago trade that was lopsided the minute it was made (in the drafting team’s favor), the player they acquire is essentially a bonus. The Avalanche are not top five in the draft bad, but they are also not yet a complete team, one that is expected to compete for numerous Stanley Cups. In other words, they could use anyone. The system has some good pieces on the blueline (Cale Makar, Conor Timmins), and some intriguing forwards (Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers). The team has also not extensively mined the CHL in recent years, but down not neglect it either, like Buffalo does. I could see the draw in taking the best defenseman in this draft class in Byram, but I get the sense that taking a future #2 center would be more of a draw. Between Dach and Cozens, Dach is the more likely to remain a center in the long term.
5. Los Angeles Kings - Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
Unlike Colorado above, the Kings organization is currently rather bereft of high-end talent. They used their top two picks on forwards in 2017 and each of their first four picks it was on a forward. They still need more forwards to get back to contention, but they really could use a top blueliner to buttress Drew Doughty in the seasons to come. In this scenario, the Kings should be overjoyed. We believe that Byram is the third best player in the draft class – not by a ton, but third nonetheless. And he is clearly the top defenseman in the class. The Kings haven’t drafted out of the WHL much in recent years (one player in the past three drafts), but it’s not like they aren’t scouting the West Coast. Byram is a future number one and plays the fast-paced style of puck moving hockey that took over from the heavier, plodding style that allowed the Kings to win two Cups not all that long ago.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP (USHL)
There is some uncertainty about how the Red Wings will run under new GM Steve Yzerman, especially as there may not have been enough time for him to fully implement the people he brought with him from Tampa Bay, as well as how much information they were able to bring with them and what remained property of the Lightning as a form of non-compete (we’ll see this again in a couple of picks with Edmonton). On the other hand, Yzerman was reared in the Detroit front office before going to Florida and the Tampa approach of the last few years was not all that different from Detroit’s historical approach. They like players with talent and grit. When possible, they like leaders. They are not afraid of picking Russians. And they don’t rush prospects. They will play when they are ready. That said, Tampa only rarely drafted Europeans who were not about to move to North America. On the other hand, both the Wings and the Lightning have been comfortable drafting players bound for college in recent years. I could see Yzerman going for Peyton Krebs in his first draft as GM of the Red Wings, but I feel more strongly that they take the USNTDP’s incredibly inventive playmaker, Trevor Zegras instead. He plays a tough game and makes everyone around him better.
7. Buffalo Sabres – Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
There is no clearer trend in the NHL in terms of the draft than that Buffalo GM Jason Botterill does not turn to the CHL for his picks. On the one hand, I respect his use of the extra years afforded to his organization by taken European or college bound players. Whereas he would have to offer an NHL contract to a CHL-drafted player within two years, he has three or more with NCAA/European trained prospects. On the other hand, value is value and he must take the best value where he can. Especially at the top of the draft class. The top draft prospect on the McKeens board at this stage is Dylan Cozens. As a big, skilled center, he certainly fills a need in the Buffalo organization. Another stylistic fit would be Vasili Podkolzin, the Russian winger who has immense skill but has not yet brought it to the fore consistently. But not only has Botterill not yet drafted from the CHL, he has also not yet selected a Russian-based player. Thankfully, there is another player of similar value and style available here and this one is college-bound. Matthew Boldy’s game grew exponentially this year, as he showed more flashes of skill as his confidence rose. He has top line upside and is the type of player who contributes even when he is not scoring. Botterill should be happy to watch him progress for the next season or two at Boston College.
8. Edmonton Oilers – Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge (WHL)
Just as I wrote about with Detroit above, the same holds true here with Edmonton. New GM Ken Holland took over at the top very recently and the organization has a number of holdovers from the Chiarelli regime as well. Based on talent and Holland’s previous proximity in Michigan, I imagine that the Oilers would strongly consider talented goal scorer Cole Caufield here. On the other hand, they could also be somewhat dissuaded by the performance of Kailer Yamamoto, himself a small winger who was supposed to be a point producer, but has since struggled with injuries and didn’t produce at either the AHL or NHL level when healthy last season. As enticing as a pairing of Caufield and McDavid looks, I could just as easily see the team preferring to set their sights on a player who can play a wider variety of roles. The system is also very light on forwards, so the top of the second tier of blueliners is not likely to appeal just yet. Based on who is still available, I could see Holland making a pick similar to the selection of Michael Rasmussen in the first round for Detroit a couple of years ago. A big, physical specimen of a forward who can skate and has good hands and advanced hockey smarts.
9. Anaheim Ducks – Cole Caufield, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
The Ducks are fun to speculate on because they draft from everywhere. But they always draft for skill. This is a team that got old in a hurry and a number of their top forwards have had recent seasons – and in some cases, careers – disrupted by serious injuries. Talent is already on the way in the form of Troy Terry, Sam Steel and more. But the Ducks need goal scorers. They need someone who can take advantage of the passes Ryan Getzlaf can make while he is still in his drawn-out prime. Caufield is that man. Short, but stocky enough not to be too concerned about his size issues, he seemingly does nothing but score. I would say that I am not sure what he provides when he isn’t scoring, but that hasn’t happened all that much yet. He will play at Wisconsin for the next year or two, but he has superstar potential.
10. Vancouver Canucks – Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL)
Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes. F, D, F, D. I guess it’s time for another forward. They don’t generally eschew any particular development path when drafting, although they almost always pick up one or two players from the WHL. I could see them considering drafting a defenseman, most likely Sweden’s Philip Broberg. Cam York and Mortiz Seider might also enter the discussion, but the most likely courses of action involve skilled forwards who spent last year in BC, but who are both moving East next season. One is Alex Newhook, terrorizer of the BCHL and future Boston College Terrier. The other is Peyton Krebs, most recently with the Kootenay ICE of the WHL and now moving with the franchise to Winnipeg. Incidentally, the latter two candidates were tied for the lead in scoring for Canada’s WU18 entry. At this stage, I would give the edge to Krebs, as we feel he is a more dynamic skater and has more translatable skills, but the edge isn’t very large.