With the NHL Draft right around the corner, Jack Hughes’s rightful claim as the unanimous No. 1 overall pick has remained intact after resisting Kaapo Kakko’s eye-opening performance in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The debate persists—Hughes’s game-breaking speed and skill vs. Kakko’s strength and puck domination—but after Hughes and Kakko are off the board, what happens next?
A deep draft class comes into focus. Moving away from last year’s defense-stocked lottery, this year’s class boasts a surplus of talented centers. Three Americans will be drafted in the top 10 and as few as seven will be off the board in the first round, setting the stage for a decades-long discussion about who’s better between the Auston Matthews–led 2016 class and the Jack Hughes–led 2019 class.
The New Jersey Devils kick things off with the first selection on Friday, June 21 in Vancouver, and then the fun starts after Hughes and Kakko are off the board. Here’s a look at the best players by position in the upcoming draft:
C 5’10”, 170 lbs (5/14/2001)
2018–19: USNTDP, 50 GP, 112 points (34 goals, 78 assists)
Hughes shattered the USNTDP’s all-time points record (228) in March, broke Alex Ovechkin’s IIHF World Under-18 points record (32) in April and he’ll be the No. 1 overall pick in June. Like a bullet with hands, Hughes is a turbocharged center with skill in abundance. He plays and processes the game at top speed, going into sixth gear and back down at will. Packed with a rare combination of skill, talent, speed and awareness, Hughes’s game is built for the modern NHL. Hughes would be the smallest first overall pick since Patrick Kane, but that doesn’t detract from his potential to be a franchise-changing center.
RW 6’2”, 190 lbs (2/13/2001)
2018–19: TPS (SM-Liiga), 45 GP, 38 points (22 goals, 16 assists)
While the Finnish winger had already set Liiga’s U-18 goal record with TPS, Kakko capped his draft campaign by helping Finland claim the gold medal at the 2019 IIHF World Championship with six goals in 10 games. He staves off defenders with his strength and maintains airtight puck control with quick stickhandling in tight spaces. Kakko thrives low in the offensive zone—turning corner battles into a gauntlet—and doubles as a playmaker. With a game proven against the highest levels of competition, Kakko is set to become a team’s top six forward and produce from Game 1.
RW 6’1”, 196 lbs (6/24/2001)
2018–19: SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL), 3 GP, 0 points
Podkolzin mixes raw talent with a physical, competitive drive that manifests in all three zones. He’s a finisher first, but he also wields his playmaking ability at top speed. The draft’s top Russian can embarrass defenders with his stickhandling in the offensive zone and thieve pucks from forwards in the defensive zone. The hold up? Podkolzin didn’t produce in Russia’s lower leagues and is under contract with SKA Saint Petersburg through the 2020–21 season.
C 5’11”, 186 lbs (2/26/2001)
2018–19: USNTDP, 37 GP, 62 points (27 goals, 35 assists)
Centering the USNTDP’s second line, Turcotte returned from an early-season hip injury and lead all USHL players with 2.12 points per game. The Wisconsin commit forechecks and backchecks with tenacity and plays with strength beyond his 5’11”, 185-pound frame. Turcotte smooths the grittier areas of his game with explosive acceleration, adept playmaking and high hockey sense. He’s the draft’s most complete 200-foot prospect.
C/RW 6’3”, 183 lbs (2/9/2001)
2018–19: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL), 68 GP, 84 points (34 goals, 50 assists)
Cozens is a goal-scoring center with electric acceleration, top-end spend and a fast release on his powerful wrist shot. He drives the action toward the net and plays with a physical edge to his game. Brimming with offensive potential, Cozens completes his offensive toolkit with proficient passing and vision. However, the Yukon-native can be knocked off the puck and gets caught in the offensive zone. Cozens needs added strength and awareness, in spots, before he turns into a dynamic top-line center.
C 6’0”, 173 lbs (3/20/2001)
2018–19: USNTDP, 60 GP, 87 points (16 goals, 61 assists)
Between the legs, no-look, cross-ice or through traffic—Trevor Zegras can make any pass within the confines of a 200-by-85-foot rink. He’s the best pure playmaker in the draft and can play either center or wing. The Bedford, NY-native never disengages from the play and fills his offensive game with superb vision, nifty stickhandling and pesky forechecking. Zegras hold his own in the defensive zone and shouldn’t fall outside the top 10.
C 6’4”, 198 lbs (1/21/2001)
2018–19: Saskatoon Blades (WHL), 62 GP, 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists)
Styling his game off Ryan Getzlaf, Dach plays smoother than his size suggests. He’s a pass-first, playmaking center who controls the puck with ease in tight spaces. With great offensive awareness, Dach excels in the offensive zone—particularly on the power play—where he can use his reach and frame to ward off defenders down low and distribute to his teammates. He’s not a bruiser. He isn’t an explosive skater, either, but Dach’s blend of size and skill set him apart from other prospects.
D 6’0”, 195 lbs (6/13/2001)
2018–19: Vancouver Giants (WHL), 67 GP, 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists)
As a 17-year-old defenseman, Byram collected the CHL Top Prospect award and brought the Vancouver Giants to the WHL Championship. Byram is an agile skater, using slick edgework to loop around the offensive zone, create shooting lanes and find passing angles. He compliments his offensive production with disciplined, steady play in the defensive zone. With the WHL record for single-season overtime goals, Byram slots well into all situations and has the makeup of a top-pairing defenseman.
D 6’0”, 182 lbs (2/26/2001)
2018–19: Byrnas (SHL), 44 GP, 7 points (4 goals 3 assists)
Söderström’s ceiling isn’t as high as some of his cohorts, but his two-way game has elements that are in short supply in the NHL. He’s a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman who initiates quick transitions and uses his top-tier vision to attack open areas of ice. The Swede forces forwards away from the slot and to the boards, eliminates passing lanes and doesn’t shirk from physical play. Logging more minutes in the SHL than any other U20 skater, Söderström is responsible in all three zones and finds ways to make his team better without off-the-charts offensive talent.
D 6’3”, 200 lbs (6/25/2001)
2018–19: AIK (TK), 41 GP, 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists)
The 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup showcased Broberg’s enticing combination of size, speed and raw talent. With strong, north-south strides, Broberg can skate off an opponent’s dump in, wheel out of the zone and forcefully burst into the offensive zone at top speed. However, Broberg’s dominance waned against older competition in HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden’s second-highest professional league, and his subpar defensive awareness and penchant for high-risk plays started to crack through. There’s time for the 17-year-old defenseman to add polish to his game and and live up to the lofty projections.
D 5’11”, 172 lbs (1/5/2001)
2018–19: USNTDP, 63 GP, 65 points (14 goals, 51 assists)
Quarterbacking the USNTDP’s power play, York finished the 2019 WJC with the fifth-most points by a defenseman in the tournament’s history. He’s a puck moving defenseman who’s effective—not flashy—and can shoot, pass and generate opportunities through his skating. The offensive toolkit is there, but York is undersized and doesn’t significantly impact play in the defensive zone. There’s room for improvement there and the University of Michigan commit should round out his game at the collegiate level.
G 6’3”, 193 lbs (4/19/2001)
2018–19: USNTDP, 39 GP, 32-4-1, 2.36 GAA, .913 SV%
Slated to become the third goalie taken in the first round since 2015, Knight is an athletic butterfly goalie who thwarts shooters with a blend of great positioning, lateral quickness and unshakable poise. Or, as USNTDP coach John Wroblewski told NHL.com, Knight is “world class and kind of a freak with his athleticism.” The Boston College commit’s intelligence in net extends to his puck-handling, which allows him to make tape-to-tape passes and clear the puck without inducing too many heart attacks on the bench. He understands how to use his size and smarts and makes jaw-dropping saves look routine.