The first installment of the newly-rechristened Hlinka Gretzky Cup has been completed, with Canada hosting the championship trophy. As such, the hockey world has stopped swooning over the 2018 NHL Draft class and turned its gaze upon the fresh-faced 16 and 17-year-olds that will be selected (eventually) in the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver.
We hope everyone enjoyed their summer, because the end of the Hlinka tournament traditionally is followed by major junior camps opening a few weeks later. The 2018-19 hockey calendar is almost upon us. The 2019 class is highlighted by U.S. National Development Team standout Jack Hughes – a few lottery teams will attempt to Play Whack for Jack – but there are several players that could become very strong NHLers in their own rights.
This is the first edition of my annual NHL Draft rankings here at The Hockey Writers. Starting with these preliminary rankings and updating them roughly every other month, I will attempt to rank the top players in this year’s draft class as if I were drafting a team from scratch. My main proviso? I want the players that will help my team win consistently – when in doubt, I err on the side of players who have a larger sample size of excellence.
The usual disclaimers apply: I live in Western Canada so I see Western Hockey League players the most often, followed by the remainder of Canada’s prospects – especially those affiliated with Hockey Canada. I have to rely on video for players in the United States and Europe for the most part. I’m also hesitant to draft goalies early due to the sheer number of weird things that can go wrong and derail their development.
As has become tradition, your mileage may vary.
The Preliminary Top 50
|No.||Player||Pos.||2017-18 Primary Team
|1||Jack Hughes||C||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|2||Kakko Kaapo||RW||TPS Turku U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)|
|3||Alex Turcotte||C||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|4||Ryan Suzuki||C||Barrie Colts (OHL)|
|5||Dylan Cozens||C||Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)|
|6||Matthew Robertson||D||Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)|
|7||Kirby Dach||C||Saskatoon Blades (WHL)|
|8||Bowen Byram||D||Vancouver Giants (WHL)|
|9||Peyton Krebs||LW||Kootenay ICE (WHL)|
|10||Nolan Foote||LW||Kelowna Rockets (WHL)|
|11||Arthur Kaliyev||LW||Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)|
|12||Victor Soderstrom||D||Brynas U20 (SuperElit)|
|13||Blake Murray||C||Sudbury Wolves (OHL)|
|14||Raphael Lavoie||C||Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)|
|15||Jakob Pelletier||C||Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)|
|16||Alex Newhook||C||Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)|
|17||Cole Caufield||D||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|18||Tobias Bjornfot||D||Djurgardens U20 (SuperElit)|
|19||Anttoni Honka||D||JYP U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)|
|20||Albin Grewe||RW||Djurgardens U20 (SuperElit)|
|21||Trevor Zegras||C||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|22||Artemi Knyazev||D||Irbis Kazan (MHL)|
|23||Nils Hoglander||LW||AIK (Allsvenskan)|
|24||Samuel Poulin||LW||Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)|
|25||Mikko Kokkonen||D||Kettera (Mestis)|
|26||Sasha Mutala||RW||Tri-City Americans (WHL)|
|27||Matthew Boldy||C||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|28||Marshall Warren||D||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|29||Tag Bertuzzi||C||Guelph Storm (OHL)|
|30||Danil Antropov||RW||Oshawa Generals (OHL)|
|31||Case McCarthy||D||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|32||Cam York||D||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|33||Alex Vlasic||D||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|34||Luke Toporowski||LW||Spokane Chiefs (WHL)|
|35||Valentin Nussbaumer||C||EHC Biel-Bienne (NLA)|
|36||Moritz Seider||D||Adler Mannheim (DEL)|
|37||Michael Vukojevic||D||Kitchener Rangers (OHL)|
|38||Lev Starikov||D||Windsor Spitfires (OHL)|
|39||Henri Nikkanen||RW||JYP U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)|
|40||Vasili Podkolzin||F||Vityaz Podolsk U17 (Russia)|
|41||Philip Broberg||D||AIK U20 (SuperElit)|
|42||Matias Maccelli||LW||Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)|
|43||Xavier Parent||RW||Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)|
|44||Graeme Clarke||RW||Ottawa 67’s (OHL)|
|45||Maxim Cajkovic||RW||Malmo Redhawks U20 (SuperElit)|
|46||Grant Silianoff||C||Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep (USHS)|
|47||Simon Holmstrom||RW||HV71 U20 (SuperElit)|
|48||Josh Williams||RW||Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)|
|49||John Beecher||C||U.S. National Development Team (USHL)|
|50||Ville Heinola||D||Assat U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)|
The top end of the 2018 NHL Draft class was filled with skilled defensemen, but the 2019 class is far more balanced. There’s a little of everything: skilled forwards, dynamic defensemen, and even 200-foot stalwarts.
After a disappointing year for the Western Hockey League in 2018, the projected top 31 right now includes seven WHLers (after just two last year). The U.S. National Development Team also projects well, with seven potential first rounders (after three last year). Last year’s crop had a strong European flavour at the high end. There are still high end Europeans throughout the first round (and much of the season), but the resurgence of the WHL and USNDP crop pushes them down a little bit – it’s not a commentary on the quality of the group.
Podkolzin and Broberg impressed in the latter stages of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup after having promising 2017-18 seasons; both could jump up the rankings with a strong start to this season.
The Next Dozen: Honourable Mentions
These 12 players have had strong 2017-18 campaigns (and/or good performances at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup) and could find their way into the top 50, but as of yet we haven’t seen enough from them at high levels to force their way in. For now, they are honourable mentions.
- F Marcel Barinka – RB Hockey Acadamie U18 (Czech Republic)
- F Arseni Gritsyuk – Avangard Omsk U17 (Russia)
- D Kaedan Korczak – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
- F Yaroslav Likhachyov – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl U17 (Russia)
- G Nolan Maier – Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
- F Robert Mastrosimone – Chicago Steel (USHL)
- F Michal Mrazik – HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas U20 (Slovakia)
- F Ilya Nikolayev – Lokomotiv Yaroslavl U17 (Russia)
- F Massimo Rizzo – Penticton Vees (BCHL)
- F Nicholas Robertson – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
- G Dustin Wolf – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
- C Oleg Zaitsev – MHK Dynamo Moskva (MHL)
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.