Chris Peters is ESPN’s NHL draft and prospects analyst. The Chicago native previously covered the NHL for CBSSports.com and founded the popular independent blog UnitedStatesofHockey.com where he covered the game at all levels since 2010.
There’s a bit more drama atop the 2019 NHL draft rankings today than when the season began, with Jack Hughes starting to get a little pressure from Finnish sensation Kaapo Kakko for the No. 1 spot. Beyond those top two picks, what happens next is anyone’s guess with a class like this.
Plenty will change between now and the names being called on June 21 in Vancouver, British Columbia, but the top 20 of this draft is particularly strong. The top five could even rival last year’s crop. It’s a good year to have a first-rounder, and the teams that have multiple should be able to come away with a substantial haul to fill in their prospect systems.
Here’s a look at my top 50 players for the 2019 NHL draft at the midseason mark.
Height: 5-foot-10 | Weight: 168 pounds
Everything I’ve seen from Hughes over the past two years suggests he can be a franchise-altering player. It starts with his high-end skating and ability to make plays at high speeds. His style is one of constant motion, which means he almost always is around the puck; and when he’s not, the puck seems to find him. His speed is not so much explosive as it is deceptive, with edge work that might be as close to Connor McDavid‘s as we’ve seen. Hughes processes the game while in fifth gear, be it spotting his wingers for a quick pass or making a defender miss with a clever move. Yes, his size often comes up, but his frame is similar to that of Patrick Kane when Kane went first overall, and the size never became an issue for Kane. It shouldn’t for Hughes, either.
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 194
In this week’s prospect report, we look at some of the top players in the 2019 Beanpot final, check in on a few NHL pipelines and more.
If you’re trying to look for a weakness in Kakko’s game, you’re probably going to be searching for a long time. Only Mikael Granlund and Aleksander Barkov had better per-game scoring rates in Finland’s top pro league than Kakko has enjoyed this season. It helps that he has a bigger frame and is more physically filled out than many of his peers, but Kakko’s ability to process the game at pro speeds at 17 years old is why he continues to excel in a league that certainly doesn’t make it easy on younger players. He also played a starring role for Finland as it won gold at the U18 World Championship in 2018, and everyone saw the maturity in his game while skating for the golden Finnish team at the World Juniors.
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 190