We are less than a week away from the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver. While we know that Jack Hughes will become a member of the New Jersey Devils and Kaapo Kakko will be selected by the New York Rangers, things get interesting with the third pick.
The real drama of this year’s draft will begin when Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman takes the stage to announce his selection on Friday night. There are plenty of talented options at number three, but Bowman may have the hardest decision to make of all 31 general managers.
Related – 2019 NHL Draft Guide
Who are his best options, you ask? Here are the top three choices and what they could add to the Blackhawks roster in the future.
Bowen Byram – D, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Byram is the top-rated player after Hughes and Kakko and would normally be an easy choice for the Blackhawks at number three. However, the top four prospects in the Blackhawks system are all blueliners: Nicholas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell. This may steer Bowman towards a forward, but, just like starting pitchers in baseball, you can never have too many defensemen.
The 18-year-old defender broke out offensively for the Giants this past season with 26 goals and 71 points in 67 games. His 26 goals, which included a league-record six overtime goals, not only led all WHL defensemen but were also a Giants’ franchise record.
Byram is a great skater and has the speed to be a difference-maker at the NHL level. His explosiveness and vision make him very dangerous when he is leading the rush. He could easily become one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the league over time.
Despite all the praise he has received when he has the puck, he is far from just an offensive defenseman. He is poised when the puck is in his own zone and does not shy away from physical play. He has a very high hockey IQ and is rarely caught out of position.
“I’m confident in my abilities,” Byram said at the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month. “I think I’m good on both sides of the puck. Obviously, I have things to work on just like everyone else does.”
Some feel that Saturday’s acquisition of Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins is a sign that the Blackhawks are not interested in selecting Byram, but I don’t think the two moves are related.
Alex Turcotte – C, USNDT
As we all know, championship teams usually have dominate players down the middle. We have seen it for years with Jonathan Toews and it might be time for the Blackhawks to look for his heir apparent. They will have a couple of candidates to choose from, starting with Turcotte of the United States National Development Team.
Turcotte seems to be the fans’ top choice on social media for the number three pick. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about seeing this youngster in a Blackhawks sweater for years to come.
The 18-year-old center is considered the most well-rounded, two-way player in the 2019 draft class. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame as he has a gritty style that makes him tough to play against in both zones. His skating and ability to read plays make him very attractive to NHL teams.
While many scouts rave about his defensive responsibility, he doesn’t disappoint when he has the puck either. He struggled with lower-body injuries last season but still averaged over two points per game. In fact, he averaged more points per game than Hughes, despite never being his linemate.
His shot could use some improvement, but that should get better as he gains more upper-body strength. Some feel that he passes the puck instead of shooting too much. That should change when his shot improves and he gains more confidence in it.
Turcotte is a Chicago-area native and played one season for the Chicago Mission in the High Performance Hockey League before moving on to the national team. He grew up watching Toews win three Stanley Cups for the Blackhawks and has styled his game after the captain.
“Growing up in Chicago, he is definitely an idol of mine,” the youngster said of Toews at the Scouting Combine. “I’d be lucky to be half as good as him. I bring the same qualities as he does; the complete 200-foot game.”
Turcotte has committed to play at the University of Wisconsin this fall.
Dylan Cozens – C, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
If Bowman and the Blackhawks do look to draft their “center of the future,” Cozens is another prospect who could fit the bill. While Turcotte is being touted for his two-way play, Cozens is one of the most exciting offensive talents on the board. He has the size, speed and skill to be a dynamic player in the NHL for years to come.
At 6-foot-3, Cozens has the frame that NHL teams drool over. In addition to his size, he is a very good skater which makes him a nightmare to match up against. His great shot with a quick release and above average passing skills make him a dual threat in the offensive zone.
Not only can Cozens put the puck in the net from a distance, but he is also never afraid to get into the dirty areas either. He drives the net well and is willing to stand in front of the crease and take a beating in order to get a goal on the board. His style of play can be compared to Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers or San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski.
His offensive game gets all the accolades but he isn’t exactly a slouch in the defensive zone either. He is not as well-rounded as Turcotte and there is plenty of room for improvement, but he is far from being a liability in his own end.
“I’d say my strength is just my skating,” Cozens said of his game. “That’s the biggest thing: being able to use my speed to create separation between other players and allowing time and space for myself and my teammates. I’d also say my shot. I’m more of a shoot-first guy but I can still make a play. I’d think those are the two biggest things: my speed and my shot.”
Of course, Bowman may decide to go elsewhere besides these top-three prospects. There are plenty of good options including centers Kirby Dach and Trevor Zegras or Russian winger Vasil Podkolzin.
The Blackhawks have had some pretty good luck with the third-overall pick in the past. That is where they selected all-time greats like Eddie Olczyk, Denis Savard and Toews. Dylan Strome, who they acquired last November, was also drafted third overall by the Arizona Coyotes.
While the odds are in the Blackhawks’ favor to get a difference-maker with their pick, there are no guarantees. For every Draisaitl, Savard and Toews selected third overall, there is a Cam Barker, J.P. Dumont and Alexandr Svitov.