Could we have a two-horse race developing for first overall in 2019?
Dare I say three? Four? Five?
Don’t get me wrong, Jack Hughes is still the frontrunner and may very well go wire-to-wire as No. 1, but I’m sensing some serious challengers.
A “Big Five” is emerging amongst the top forwards and that order could certainly change between now and June. The order of those five remained the same in my rankings from August to October, but the gaps do seem to be narrowing.
Kaapo Kakko is gaining ground on Hughes and may be closer to him than Patrik Laine was to Auston Matthews at this point in their 2016 draft year.
The fact Hughes didn’t up his level of competition the way Matthews did — staying at the U.S. National Team Development Program instead of going overseas to play pro if college wasn’t an option — could hinder Hughes to some degree while opening the door for Kakko and others.
The others — in the “Big Five” — being Vasili Podkolzin, Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens.
I'm at the point regarding Kakko vs. Hughes where Kakko is firmly #1 for me, and Kakko would need to have a pretty mediocre rest of the year to not be #1
It's not even up to Hughes right now, since he can't really be "better" for the USDP. Sucks for him, but that was his choice
— Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) October 7, 2018
Cannot overstate how good Kirby Dach looked tonight. There are multiple aspects of his game where he is elite. A complete talent with enormous, enormous upside.
Don't be surprised if he plays his way into the 1st overall discussion
— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) October 6, 2018
In saying that, Hughes isn’t an “older” prospect like Matthews, who was born just two days shy of the Sept. 15 cut-off for 2015, which nearly put him in the same draft class as Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Hughes is much “younger” in hockey terms as a May birthdate and thus is still ahead of the curve and ahead of his 2001-born peers.
As always, the World Junior Championship tournament looms large for the 2019 draft class. Hughes will have to outshine Kakko and Podkolzin in that showcase, as well as Dach and Cozens if either or both of them crack Canada’s roster. For the record, I had both making the cut back in August already.
There are also a few defencemen — slotted just behind that “Big Five” — who could play their way into top-five consideration, especially with standout performances at the World Juniors.
Enough with the spoilers. Now that we are almost 10 games into the Canadian Hockey League schedule, here are my updated Top 124 rankings for October:
1) Jack Hughes (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
2) Kaapo Kakko (RW, Finland, TPS Liiga)
3) Vasili Podkolzin (RW, Russia, SKA St. Petersburg MHL)
4) Kirby Dach (RC/RW, Canada, Saskatoon WHL)
5) Dylan Cozens (RC/RW, Canada, Lethbridge WHL)
6) Philip Broberg (LD, Sweden, AIK J20)
7) Anttoni Honka (RD, Finland, JYP Liiga)
8) Bowen Byram (LD, Canada, Vancouver WHL)
9) Matthew Boldy (LW, USA, NTDP U18)
10) Alex Turcotte (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
11) Raphaël Lavoie (C/RW, Canada, Halifax QMJHL)
12) Peyton Krebs (LW/LC, Canada, Kootenay WHL)
13) Alex Newhook (LC/LW, Canada, Victoria BCHL)
14) Trevor Zegras (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
15) Ryan Suzuki (LC, Canada, Barrie OHL)
16) Cam York (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
17) Pavel Dorofeyev (LW/RW, Russia, Magnitogorsk MHL)
18) Yaroslav Likhachyov (RW, Russia, Gatineau QMJHL)
19) Nils Hoglander (LW, Sweden, Rogle SHL)
20) Victor Söderström (RD, Sweden, Brynas J20)
21) Mikko Kokkonen (LD, Finland, Jukurit Liiga)
22) Matthew Robertson (LD, Canada, Edmonton WHL)
23) Kaedan Korczak (RD, Canada, Kelowna WHL)
24) Blake Murray (LC, Canada, Sudbury OHL)
25) Jakob Pelletier (LW/RW, Canada, Moncton QMJHL)
26) Cole Caufield (RW, USA, NTDP U18)
27) Nick Robertson (LC/LW, USA, Peterborough OHL)
28) Josh Williams (RW, Canada, Medicine Hat WHL)
29) Nolan Foote (LC/LW, Canada/USA, Kelowna WHL)
30) Tobias Bjornfot (LD, Sweden, Djurgardens J20)
31) Moritz Seider (RD, Germany, Adler Mannheim DEL)
32) Alex Vlasic (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
33) Lassi Thomson (RD, Finland, Kelowna WHL)
34) Ville Heinola (LD, Finland, Lukko U20)
35) Albin Grewe (LC, Sweden, Djurgardens J20)
36) Simon Holmstrom (RW/LW, Sweden, HV71 J20)
37) Maxim Cajkovic (RW/LW, Slovakia, Saint John QMJHL)
38) Valentin Nussbaumer (LC/LW, Switzerland, Shawinigan QMJHL)
39) Samuel Poulin (LW, Canada, Sherbrooke QMJHL)
40) Matvei Guskov (LC, Russia, London OHL)
41) Vladimir Alistrov (LW, Belarus, Edmonton WHL)
42) Daniil Gutik (LW, Russia, Loko Yaroslavl MHL)
43) Ilya Nikolayev (F, Russia, Loko Yaroslavl MHL)
44) Yegor Spiridonov (LW, Russia, Magnitogorsk MHL)
45) Michal Teply (RW, Czech Republic, Bili Tygri Liberec)
46) Henri Nikkanen (LC, Finland, Jukurit Liiga)
47) John Beecher (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
48) John Farinacci (RC, USA, Dexter U.S. High School)
49) Tag Bertuzzi (LC, Canada, Guelph OHL)
50) Arthur Kaliyev (LW, USA, Hamilton OHL)
51) Sasha Mutala (RW, Canada, Tri-City WHL)
52) Spencer Knight (G, USA, NTDP U18)
53) Dustin Wolf (G, USA, Everett WHL)
54) Xavier Parent (LW, Canada, Halifax QMJHL)
55) Anthony Romano (RW, Canada, Sioux Falls USHL)
56) Artemi Knyazev (LD, Russia, Chicoutimi QMJHL)
57) Martin Has (RD, Czech Republic, Tappara Liiga)
58) Ben Brinkman (LD, USA, Minnesota NCAA)
59) Drew Helleson (RD, USA, NTDP U18)
60) Michael Vukojevic (LD, Canada, Kitchener OHL)
61) Luke Toporowski (LW, USA, Spokane WHL)
62) Oleg Zaitsev (LC, Russia, Red Deer WHL)
63) Hugo Alnefelt (G, Sweden, HV71 J20)
64) Nolan Maier (G, Canada, Saskatoon WHL)
65) Taylor Gauthier (G, Canada, Prince George WHL)
66) Colten Ellis (G, Canada, Rimouski QMJHL)
67) Ilya Mironov (LD, Russia, Loko Yaroslavl MHL)
68) Kim Nousiainen (LD, Finland, KalPa Liiga)
69) Case McCarthy (RD, USA, NTDP U18)
70) Henry Thrun (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
71) Lev Starikov (LD, Russia, Windsor OHL)
72) Patrik Puistola (LW, Finland, Tappara U20)
73) Robert Mastrosimone (LC, USA, Chicago USHL)
74) Connor McMichael (LC, Canada, London OHL)
75) Phillip Tomasino (RC, Canada, Niagara OHL)
76) Logan Barlage (LW/LC, Canada, Lethbridge WHL)
77) Nathan Légaré (RW, Canada, Baie-Comeau QMJHL)
78) Dmitri Sheshin (RW, Russia, Magnitogorsk MHL)
79) Nikita Alexandrov (LC, Germany/Russia, Charlottetown QMJHL)
80) Martin Lang (LW, Czech Republic, Kamloops WHL)
81) Marcel Barinka (F, Czech Republic, Halifax QMJHL)
82) Karl Henriksson (LC/LW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
83) Nikola Pasic (LC, Sweden, Linkoping J20)
84) Marshall Warren (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
85) Mike Koster (LD, USA, Tri-City USHL)
86) Nikita Okhotyuk (LD, Russia, Ottawa OHL)
87) Jamieson Rees (LC, Canada, Sarnia OHL)
88) Graeme Clarke (RW, Canada, Ottawa OHL)
89) David Kope (RW, Canada, Edmonton WHL)
90) Massimo Rizzo (LC/LW, Canada, Penticton BCHL)
91) Josh Nodler (RC, USA, Fargo USHL)
92) Brady Meyer (LC, USA, Des Moines USHL)
93) Ryder Donovan (RC, USA, Duluth U.S. High School)
94) Trevor Janicke (RW, USA, NTDP U18)
95) Patrick Moynihan (RW, USA, NTDP U18)
96) Victor Ostman (G, Sweden, HV71 J20)
97) Roope Taponen (G, Finland, HIFK U20)
98) Mads Sogaard (G, Denmark, Medicine Hat WHL)
99) Sergei Alkhimov (F, Russia, Regina WHL)
100) Mikhail Abramov (RW, Russia, Victoriaville QMJHL)
101) Elmer Soderblom (LW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
102) Antti Saarela (LC/LW, Finland, Lukko Liiga)
103) Leevi Aaltonen (LW, Finland, KalPa Liiga)
104) Valtteri Ojantakanen (F, Finland, Jokerit U20)
105) Konsta Hirvonen (LC/LW, Finland, HIFK U20)
106) Jacob Grönhagen (LC, Sweden, HV71 J20)
107) Filip Prikryl (LC, Czech Republic, HC Plzen)
108) Alexei Protas (LC, Belarus, Prince Albert WHL)
109) Matias Maccelli (LW, Finland, Dubuque USHL)
110) Billy Constantinou (RD, Canada, Niagara OHL)
111) Emil Malysjev (LD, Sweden/Russia, Saskatoon WHL)
112) Nikita Sedov (LD, Russia, Regina WHL)
113) Joonas Sillanpaa (LD, Finland, Kamloops WHL)
114) Iivari Rasanen (LD, Finland, Tappara U20)
115) Simon Lundmark (RD, Sweden, Linkoping J20)
116) Oliver Turan (RD, Slovakia, Drummondville QMJHL)
117) Brett Budgell (LC, Canada, Charlottetown QMJHL)
118) Dillon Hamaliuk (LW, Canada, Seattle WHL)
119) Harrison Blaisdell (LW, Canada, Chilliwack BCHL)
120) Yegor Chinakhov (F, Russia, Omskie Yastreby MHL)
121) Ilya Ovechkin (F, Russia, Kapitan Stupino MHL)
122) Arseni Gritsyuk (F, Russia, Omskie Yastreby MHL)
123) Brooklyn Kalmikov (LW, Canada, Cape Breton QMJHL)
124) Michal Mrazik (LW, Slovakia, Rögle BK J20)
I plan to provide monthly updates this season, with my November rankings to follow the annual CHL-Russia Series. My December and January rankings will essentially be pre- and post-WJC, with my February rankings to follow the CHL Top Prospects Game, taking place Jan. 23 in Red Deer.
My March rankings will be released around the end of the CHL’s regular season — prior to the start of the QMJHL, OHL and WHL playoffs — with my April rankings publishing shortly after NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
My May rankings will publish just before the Memorial Cup begins in Halifax, with my June rankings — my final rankings — to follow the NHL Draft Combine, along with my eighth annual seven-round mock draft. That’s the plan!
Time permitting, I’m also planning to publish 10 risers and 10 fallers each month — highlighting some of the prospects that are trending up and down in my rankings. I did that for the second half of last season and it worked well as a three-part series.
For November, I may change the format from a straight list to a chart or table that includes columns for the prospects Original Ranking from August and Previous Ranking from October. That is in the works and should make my rankings easier to track over the course of the draft year.
Worth noting, there are no overagers in these rankings, even though a handful could easily crack the top 124 in 2019. For now, I am keeping a separate list of overagers, but I may incorporate them into future monthly rankings — perhaps as early as November, if and when I expand from 124 to 155, from four rounds to five in working my way up to a full seven.
For October, I stuck with 124 — a number that I felt comfortable with, though I have approximately 20 honourable mentions that I’m confident will be on the draft radar for NHL teams. I just wasn’t quite ready to stretch it to 155 — to five rounds — for this month’s rankings. That time will come soon enough. Stay tuned!