1. Jack Hughes, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 5-10, 168, Orlando, Fla.
Even before he participated in the under-18 World Championship, Hughes had already set the standard for career points with the U.S. National Team Development Program. If you’re wondering what kind of company Hughes keeps, think Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. While Hughes is not considered a “generational player” in the Sidney Crosby-Connor McDavid sense, he projects to be a dynamic, elite producer who can drive a championship team. “The upside is enormous,” a scout said. “When you’re talking potential, it’s not a landslide for Hughes, but it’s definitive. Hughes’ potential is huge. He’s an elite skater, an elite thinker and an elite skill player. He has an ability to process and execute at high speeds.” Any concern about Hughes’ 5-foot-10, 168-pound frame is negated by the fact the NHL now has a firm place for the undersized ultra-skilled player. And the fact is, while he doesn’t seek physical play, he doesn’t shy away from it either. “A lot of nights with him, he’s a smaller version of McDavid,” said another scout.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS (FIN.), 6-2, 190, Turku, Fin.
There isn’t very much separating Kakko from Jack Hughes at the top of this draft class. And there would be even less if Kakko played center. Kakko set a Finnish record for goal scoring by an under-18 player in the Liiga, beating Aleksander Barkov’s old mark of 21. Oh, and Kakko also scored the golden goal for Finland at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver. “At that age, in that league, the things he does with the puck – no one has done this,” said one scout. “The flashiness and offensive skill is the best I’ve seen so far at that age. Has the mindset of a big player.” The mild concern is that Kakko has diabetes and celiac disease, though both maladies are manageable for a pro athlete. What remains is one of the best Finnish prospects ever, and that’s saying something, given the field. “He’s NHL ready for me,” said another scout. “His top speed needs a little bit of improvement, but he has a long summer to take care of that. He has everything you want. He defends well, strong down low, has creativity and a finishing touch, and he’s strong for his age. And he has some feistiness.”
3. Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge (WHL), 6-3, 185, Whitehorse, Yukon
The sub-arctic town of Whitehorse has never had a full-time NHL player, but Cozens is about to break the mold. The only question is whether he’ll jump to the NHL at 18 or have to wait a year or two. Cozens has all the attributes NHL teams are seeking – size, skill, physicality and a tremendous work ethic. “He’s a guy you can build around, because he’s huge and competitive,” said one scout. “He has an unbelievable work ethic. He never takes a shift off. He works his butt off. And he’s not the smoothest skater, but he’s fast.” Cozens has worked hard to improve his skating, but it won’t be his forte at the NHL level. The potential lies in his strength, something that will increase as he develops physically and adds more bulk to his frame. Even though he’s slight, he’s considered a power forward in the WHL. He can shoot the puck and power his way to areas where he can get it. “He’s a big kid, and he’s powerful, but he looks like he’s 12,” said another scout. “Just by getting older, he’s going to add a dimension to his game. There’s a power dimension that isn’t there yet.”
4. Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL), 6-4, 198, St. Albert, Alta.
Some scouts would like to see a little more fire in his game and would like him to shoot the puck more, but Dach remains a coveted prospect thanks to his special combination of size, skill and hockey sense. Dach took almost 100 shots more this season than last with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, but he definitely has a pass-first mentality. “He has all the tools in the world,” said one scout. “He’s a mouthwatering blend of size, skill and skating. I think his skating is underrated. I don’t think he’s reached his potential in terms of strength, and I think he’s going to find another step.” At 6-foot-4, Dach has the size to be a No. 1 center, and his ability to make the right play with the puck will make him a coveted commodity. There are times when his game could use a little more urgency and defensive buy-in, which is not uncommon in young prospects. If that happens, he’ll become a dangerous player at both ends of the ice because of his long reach. “There are a lot of guys who have reach who don’t use it,” said another scout. “I find he uses his reach.”
5. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, St. Petersburg (RUS.2), 6-1, 190, Moscow, Rus.
Nobody wants to come out and say there is a bias against Russian players in the scouting community, but there remains a feeling among NHL talent scouts that Russians fit a certain mold of player. It’s fair to say Podkolzin breaks that mold. “He is a Russian culture-changer,” said a scout. “He invites physicality all over the ice. Other opponents are aware of him all the time, and he gets under their skin, but he does it with more control than a (Brad) Marchand does it. He seems to be much more in control of his emotions rather than a prisoner of them. All of that goes in combination with top-six skill.” That skill is not as elite as the level of the top players in the draft, but Podkolzin has the makings of an excellent second-line support player who can move up the lineup and provide energy and sandpaper. Much of his high ranking has come from his inspired and productive play in international competition. He helped Russia to a bronze in the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament with eight goals and 11 points in five games and had three goals and eight points in six games at the World Jr. A Challenge.
6. Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL), 6-1, 192, Cranbrook, B.C.
While he’s not the unanimous pick among scouts to be the first defenseman chosen this year, Byram is almost certainly going to be that guy. “He has tremendous upside,” said one scout. “He sees the ice well and has natural offensive instincts. But he needs to improve his agility and his ability to pivot when he’s on the defensive side of the puck.” One of the highest-scoring defensemen in the WHL, Byram set a Vancouver record by tallying five points in one game. He was also the top-scoring defenseman in the playoffs on a very good Giants team. Simply put, Byram has run numbers wherever he has gone this year, from the WHL to the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, where he won gold with Team Canada. “He an intelligent player who gets involved off the rush,” said a scout. “He shows good decision making with the puck, is strong and runs the power play. His skating is good in a straight line, but his agility could use improvement. Defensively, he could be more involved, but he has a good stick and transitions well to offense.” Those skating subtleties can be worked out with a skating coach.
7. Trevor Zegras, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-0, 168, Bedford, N.Y.
Tabbed as the third-line center for the U.S. National Team Development Program, Zegras spent much of his time centering the second line when teammate Alex Turcotte was injured. And scouts liked what they saw from Zegras when he took on more offensive responsibility. Zegras actually has a better shot than Hughes but is seen as more of a playmaker than a scorer. Zegras also has some edge to his game. “He has high-level potential,” said one scout. “I don’t think he’s a boom-or-bust guy, but there’s a big swath between his top potential and his bottom potential. This guy could be an A-plus or a B-minus.” Zegras has committed to Boston University, and his major junior rights are owned by the OHL Mississauga Steelheads. Either way, he’ll need time to develop, but a team willing to be patient may end up with a reward once he matures. His smarts and positioning make him potentially an effective two-way center at the NHL level. Once he takes on a more prominent role than the one he has, he may prove to be more of a primary player than a secondary one.
8. Matthew Boldy, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-2, 187, Millis. Mass.
There’s a lot to like in Boldy, but scouts have left a number of the U.S. National Team Development Program games this season confused by what they saw from him. Consistency of effort was a concern for many of those who viewed him. “I struggle with this kid, I’m not going to lie to you,” said one scout. “If you take Hughes and Kakko out of the mix, this kid has probably shown me the next best game out of a draft-eligible player this year. He’s also shown me, go about 150 players down the list, that type of game. The lack of consistency is surprising for a guy with such high-level tools.” But it’s difficult to ignore the skill package the Boston College commit and MVP of the USA Hockey top prospect game has when he’s on his game. Skating is not his strength, but it’s not going to hold him back. “He’s really good down low,” another scout said. “He wins a lot of those battles down behind the goal line and can score.” Boldy is seen as a scorer with a big shot, but as he demonstrated with three assists in USA’s first game at the under-18 World Championship, he can also set up plays.
9. Cole Caufield, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 5-7, 157, Stevens Point, Wis.
Aside from the Chicago Blackhawks, there was probably nobody in the hockey world happier to see Alex DeBrincat score 40 goals this season than Caufield. Like DeBrincat, Caufield is an elite scorer, and he’s a better skater than the 39th overall pick in 2016. Teams will not be fooled again. “If you’re going to do one thing, you’d better do it really well,” said one scout. “And he scores and he just scores and scores. His one-timer is outstanding. He is a true scorer. He can score in a number of ways, but his one-timer is elite.” The knock on DeBrincat was he had 50-goal seasons with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome as his centers, and Caufield is hearing the same things about playing with Jack Hughes. “A lot of guys play with those guys and don’t score,” said another scout. “All he did was break records of Hall of Fame players with the U.S. (NTDP). He doesn’t score garbage goals either. Yeah, Hughes sets him up a lot, but you’ve still got to get it in the net. He’s got a great shot.” Caufield had a great start at the world under-18s as well, with 11 goals in his first four games.
10. Alex Turcotte, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 5-11, 194, Island Lake, Ill.
Averaging almost two points per game not playing with Jack Hughes – who happens to be his roommate – Turcotte has no shortage of offensive ability. The only problem is he had very real problems staying healthy, which limited his viewings by scouts. The son of former NHLer Alfie Turcotte brings a high level of determination in his game and combines that with being a very good skater and an honest two-way player. “He chases the puck, he pursues the puck, he pressures the puck,” said one scout. “And when he loses it, he gets it back.” As has been the case with other centers who have played behind Hughes, it’s difficult to determine exactly where Turcotte projects in an NHL lineup, something that was exacerbated by his injuries this season. “As long as he can stay healthy, he looks like a really good high-functioning second-line center,” said another scout. “I don’t see him as a first-line center. I look at him as an 80-percent second-line center and a 20-percent third-line center. He does those things you want your second-line center to do.”
11. Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL), 5-11, 181, Okotoks, Atla.
Krebs has been a real soldier for the struggling Ice, who will move from B.C. to Winnipeg this summer. Taken first overall by Kootenay in the 2016 WHL bantam draft, Krebs has yet to make the playoffs but hasn’t had much of a supporting cast along the way. Only two Ice players have been drafted by NHL teams during his tenure (Cale Fleury and Brett Davis), and both were traded by Kootenay soon after. “With Krebs, you have a player who doesn’t have much to work with,” said one scout. “That’s tough, because you can’t execute the way you want to, there’s no one to give-and-go with or play off. “He works extremely hard. He has quick hands, a quick release, he’s a good passer and he’s smart. He’s a good skater but he can get better. He gets a little stiff-legged in the second half of his shift.” Despite the limitations of his WHL club, Krebs was Team Cherry’s player of the game at the CHL Top Prospects Game and put up good totals for Kootenay. “Kudos to him for persevering,” said another scout. “He came to work every night even though he wasn’t surrounded by much talent.”
12. Victor Soderstrom, D, Brynas (SWE.), 5-11, 176, Skutskar, Swe.
Soderstrom was not the biggest name on the draft radar entering the season, but his work on the ice has done the talking for him, bumping his stock into the first half of the first round. “He’s a smart, all-around defenseman who plays a supporting role in the SHL,” said one scout. “He’s getting 20 minutes a game on the second pairing and second power-play unit. He’s mobile, has puck skills and is a good skater. He plays good minutes, maybe Brynas is afraid they’ll lose another player like they did with Adam Boqvist.” Boqvist, Chicago’s 2018 first-rounder, moved from Brynas to OHL London this season. Soderstrom’s CHL rights are open right now, but the import draft is upcoming. Brynas did sign him to an extension that covers 2019-20, however. “He handled the pro level well,” said another scout. “He’s still losing battles, but that will change once he gets some muscle. He reads the play well and has good judgment. His team wasn’t very good, and this was supposed to be a transitional year for him in the pros, but he has played tougher minutes than expected. He’s going to make some team look good.”
13. Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga (OHL), 6-3, 183, Syracuse, N.Y.
Another player who gained prominence as the season went on, Harley comes from an athletic family, with his older sister and brother playing U.S. college hockey and a younger brother who’s still coming up. Born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., Harley has Alberta roots, with his dad originally moving to New York state to do a residency as an orthopedic surgeon. Harley represents Canada internationally, and don’t be surprised to see him wearing that jersey a lot in the future. “He’s just a good defenseman,” said one scout. “He’s poised, good at making plays. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t have that ‘wow’ factor, but he’s good at moving the puck, he’s subtle in that sense.” This year, Harley was OHL Mississauga’s No. 1 D-man and became indispensable after the team traded leaders Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod to Saginaw. “There’s a chance he’ll be the first player taken out of the OHL,” said another scout. “The nice thing about him is that when Mississauga traded their high-end guys, he stepped up. He plays a really good two-way defensive game, and he is just tapping into his offensive side.”
14. Raphael Lavoie, RW, Halifax (QMJHL), 6-4, 198, Montreal, Que.
15. Alex Newhook, C, Victoria (BCHL), 5-11, 190, St. John’s, Nfld.
You could make a pretty good team out of players snubbed for Canada’s Hlinka tournament squads over the years, so don’t read too much into Newhook’s exclusion from this year’s edition. Even with that inauspicious start to the campaign, the Boston College commit made a statement by leading the BCHL in scoring by a margin of nearly 20 points. He was also one of Canada West’s top scorers at the World Jr. A Challenge, winning bronze with the team. “He’s not the biggest, but he’s physically developed at 190 pounds,” said one scout. “He’s really smart, has great hands, good foot speed, good decision-making, and he plays in traffic.” While some may quibble about the level of competition he faced this year, the BCHL is the top Jr. A circuit in Canada. And Newhook will get a test in the NCAA’s tough Hockey East conference next season. “He’s a little inconsistent for me at times, but he can skate and he’s got skill,” said another scout. “Some will say he’s only playing in the BCHL, but he pretty much put up two points a game, which is impressive. He reminds me of (Colorado center) Tyson Jost.”
16. Cam York, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 5-11, 176, Anaheim Hills, Calif.
There was a time when York likely wouldn’t have gotten a second look from NHL scouts, but there is a place now in the league for undersized defensemen with skill and mobility. As is the case with a lot of blueliners who don’t break the six-foot mark, there is more of an offensive bent to his game. In an 11-3 rout of the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms this season, York set the NTDP record for points in a game by a defenseman with seven. His skating allows him to maintain good gap control on opposing forwards, but his lack of size sometimes causes problems when he’s defending against bigger forwards. “Saying that, he’s an ultra-safe pick,” said one scout. “He’s an excellent skater. He’s a new-era defenseman. He moves the puck with his feet, he moves the puck with his brain.” York projects as a second-pairing defenseman who can run a power play. As a Michigan commit for the NCAA, the California native will have time to grow and improve his defensive game. “He’s got good sense, he’s got good skating, he’s got good skill,” said another scout. “He could defend a little better.”
17. Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie (OHL), 6-0, 172, London, Ont.
Coming into the season, Suzuki was considered the top-rated OHL prospect for the 2019 NHL draft. Now, he may be the second or third to go in a season that doesn’t have its usual high end. “He dropped, mainly due to his second half,” said one scout. “He has all the skill in the world and great hockey sense, but I question his compete level at times.” The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, Ryan went first overall to the Barrie Colts in the 2017 OHL draft and fared well in his rookie campaign. But after losing Andrei Svechnikov, Dmitry Sokolov and Aaron Luchuk to the pros in the summer, the Colts ended up being sellers this season, further depleting the roster surrounding Suzuki. “He’s been a bit of a disappointment because of his production,” said another scout. “It’s been fine but not what was expected. Barrie rebuilding hurt. He was kind of on his own. He’s one of the better playmakers in the draft, almost too much so at times. He’s a pass-first guy that could shoot more.” The world under-18s offered Suzuki one final stage to show off his skill set.
18. Arthur Kaliyev, RW, Hamilton (OHL), 6-2, 190, Tashkent, Uzb.
With his incredible goal production, it’s fair to ask why Kaliyev hasn’t been higher on the various draft lists out there.
To put it bluntly, evaluators want to make sure he can do things other than light the lamp (although that is a good skill to have). “He can score goals, everybody can see that,” said one scout. “Does it translate to the next level? How many pure snipers keep doing that at the next level? That’s the question. It’s going to be about adding elements to his game.” Kaliyev was born in Uzbekistan but moved to Staten Island when he was two. At 13, he headed to Michigan to further his hockey career, and he plays for the U.S. on the international stage. The right winger has already seen the top of the mountain in the OHL, helping the Bulldogs win the league championship in 2018. Still very raw, Kaliyev didn’t have the same amount of talent around him this year, but it didn’t matter. He still went off on opposing goalies. “He’s maybe the purest goal-scorer in the entire draft,” said another scout. “He can finish. He just needs to round out the rest of his game.”
19. Spencer Knight, G, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-3, 198, Darien, Conn.
The consensus No. 1 goalie in the draft played behind a powerhouse team with the U.S. National Team Development program but will have more work next season when he joins Boston College in the middle of a rebuild. One scout went as far as to say that Knight is the best goalie the NTDP has ever produced. The two attributes that impress scouts the most about Knight are his presence and his poise in the net. “He’s as calm as I’ve ever seen a goalie,” said one scout. “You know with some goalies how they’re always scrambling and making acrobatic saves? Then in the NHL they can’t stop a beach ball because guys can score from anywhere. This guy just moves so easy. He reads the play really well. He doesn’t overreact. He doesn’t waste his energy.” With his poise and confidence, it should come as no surprise that Knight is a superior puckhandler, sometimes acting almost as a third defenseman. But he also has a high compete level that you don’t often see in goalies who are so calm. “I don’t know what tools goaltenders need that this guy doesn’t have,” said another scout.
20. Ville Heinola, D, Lukko (FIN.), 5-11, 176, Honkajoki, Fin.
You don’t need to overthink the comparable when talking about Heinola. Scouts in Europe are pretty much unanimous in thinking that he resembles a Finnish rookie with the Dallas Stars. “He’s a poor man’s Miro Heiskanen,” said one scout. “His skating isn’t there yet, but his hockey sense is top-notch, and he has the offense. You can’t buy that kind of hockey sense.” Heinola’s output with Lukko was actually better than Heiskanen’s totals with HIFK in his draft year, but numbers aren’t everything, of course. Heinola did get a chance to shine on the international stage with gold-medal Finland at the WJC in Vancouver, playing on a pairing with Chicago rookie Henri Jokiharju. Unfortunately, Heinola’s tournament was cut short by an injury in the quarterfinal against Canada. But his skill set is projectable and he’ll be a key member of next year’s squad, just like Heiskanen was. “He’s a pure player,” said another scout. “His great hockey sense and mindset allows him to execute well. He’s like Heiskanen the way they feel everything and can be cool in the tough moments.”
21. Philip Broberg, D, AIK (SWE.2), 6-3, 203, Orebro, Swe.
The best of times for Broberg came at the beginning. Starring for Sweden at the Hlinka-Gretzky under-18 tournament in August, Broberg collected points and accolades, making him an early favorite in the 2019 draft class. But success was harder to find after that. Broberg made Sweden’s WJC team as an injury replacement for Toronto prospect Timothy Liljegren, only to be felled in Victoria by a flu that ran through the Swedish room. “The size and the skating is such an advantage from the get-go,” said one scout. “He has hockey sense and he’s got good hands. His skating allows him to join the offensive rush and also get back in time on defense. The world juniors was tough for him. Usually, players get more confidence, but the (AIK) coaches showed less in him afterwards.” Broberg had a chance to make amends at the world under-18s, but his lofty perch in the draft rankings had already taken a hit. “He started well but has gone down as the season went on,” said another scout. “He’s big and can skate, but his puck-moving has been questioned. Most guys I know have Victor Soderstrom ahead of him.”
22. Moritz Seider, D, Mannheim (GER.), 6-4, 198, Zell, Ger.
The German League is not the best league in Europe, but anyone who can take a regular shift on defense in the DEL as an 18-year-old is someone who has potential to play in the NHL down the road – and Seider did just that. Although he didn’t command the game because of his rookie status, he did manage to have an increased impact as the season progressed. He was rewarded for his play by being named the DEL’s rookie of the year. “The first game I saw him, he looked good, and he looked like a rookie,” a scout said. “A month later, he looked good, and he didn’t look like a rookie. That’s a pretty good transformation at that level. He looks like a solid two-way guy. He looks like an excellent defender who can really move the puck.” With his size and the fact he’s a right shot, Seider is an intriguing but raw prospect. He’s sure to add another 20 pounds to his tall frame in the coming years. He was a force in the Div. 1A World Junior Championship, leading Germany to the gold medal and a return to the top grouping, where he’ll undoubtedly anchor the blueline in 2020.
23. Samuel Poulin, LW, Sherbrooke (QMJHL), Laval, Que.
Patrick Poulin was drafted ninth overall in 1991 and played 634 NHL games on the basis of his size and impeccable work ethic. Twenty-eight years later, the same thing could be said about his son, Samuel. “The term power forward gets thrown around too cavalierly,” said a scout, “but this guy looks like he has some of those attributes.” Another scout said the difference in Poulin was noticeable from the start of the season when he helped Canada win gold at the Hlinka-Gretzky under-18 tournament. He’s also added a speed element to his game, which has made him more dangerous offensively. Suddenly, a player who was pegged as a third-liner by many scouts is beginning to show intriguing potential, in part because he increased his compete level. “All you see when you watch this kid play is he makes things happen,” said another scout. “I don’t know if he’s gotten in better shape, but his skating got better throughout the year. It looks like a strength now.” Poulin’s rate of production will determine whether he makes it as a second-, third- or fourth-liner in the NHL.
24. Connor McMichael, C, London (OHL), 6-0, 170, Ajax, Ont.
It would have been understandable if young McMichael had faded into the woodwork as the season went on, but that didn’t happen. Despite London getting Alex Formenton back from the Ottawa Senators in November, getting Vegas pick Paul Cotter from Western Michigan two weeks later and adding overager Kevin Hancock at the deadline, the Knights still received solid production from McMichael. “He’s the kind of guy who kills you quietly,” said one scout. “You won’t notice him for most of the game, then you look up and he’s got two points. He’s not a dynamic player, but he’s quietly efficient. He’s quick, smart and skilled. He finds holes and makes himself available for chances.” Playing for the Knights doesn’t hurt, either. “The London factor kicks in, kinda like Liam Foudy last year,” said another scout. “He may go a bit higher because of how well they develop players. He needs to get stronger, though.” McMichael actually out-pointed Foudy, the Columbus first-rounder, this season. Once some of the older Knights graduate, expect the kid to take on a larger role.
25. Jakob Pelletier, LW, Moncton (QMJHL), 5-9, 161, Quebec, Que.
After breaking his wrist in the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in the summer, Pelletier roared out of the gate in the QMJHL and never looked back, earning recognition as the league’s top prospect for the 2019 draft. Size has always been an issue with Pelletier, but scouts have been unable to ignore his sublime level of hockey sense. He’s also a three-zone player who competes at a very high level. “What the kid does is he puts up numbers at every level he’s ever played at,” said one scout. “He didn’t just put up numbers his draft year. He’s put up numbers everywhere he’s ever been. Those guys don’t do that by accident.” Pelletier posted an 89-point season in 2018-19, using his speed and smarts to get to pucks quickly and knowing what to do once he got them on his stick. Durability is an issue. His touch around the net is not. “His shot is good, but it’s more deceptive than it is hard,” said another scout. “Goalies seem to have a hard time reading his shot. He gets it off really quickly and on awkward angles and in stride.” His compete level is elite, and he excels at the possession game.
26. Brett Leason, C, Prince Albert (WHL), 6-5, 198, Calgary, Alta.
If Leason ends up having a productive career, you can count on scouts from all 31 teams having sleepless nights over it. Anyone in the league could have had Leason last year in the seventh round, but 217 names were called and his wasn’t. And he wasn’t on anyone’s radar to get selected in 2017, either. This year, there’s a good chance the 20-year-old won’t even get through the first round without hearing his name. Stuck on the fourth line with the Tri-City Americans, Leason was dealt to the Prince Albert Raiders early in 2017-18 and responded with 121 points in 109 games with the Raiders over two seasons and represented Canada in the WJC. “The biggest question with Leason is has he figured it out and grown into himself as a player, or is he an older player taking advantage of being an older player?” asked one scout. “I would say it’s both.” Even though Leason has made enormous strides this season, there are some scouts who wonder whether his game has room to grow. “He’s come a million miles in a short period of time,” said another scout. “How much further is he going to go?”
27. Bobby Brink, RW, Sioux City (USHL), 5-10, 165, Excelsior, Minn.
Talk about ending the season on a high note: Brink was the USHL’s forward of the week three times in a row before the playoffs began. His 1.58 points per game was tops in the league among regular players, and had he not missed a big chunk of time due to injury, he would’ve won the scoring title. He was also the MVP at the World Jr. A Challenge, winning gold with Team USA. “I love Bobby Brink,” said one scout. “He’s close to top-10 good – underrated. He’s not a pretty skater, but his hockey sense is special. His determination is excellent – you can toss out names like Joe Pavelski and Jake Guentzel in comparison. He’s always the best player on the ice.” A couple other comparative names to toss out there? Brock Boeser and Kyle Connor, two other USHLers with similar goal-scoring totals in their draft years. Brink is smaller than those two, but he gets the job done. “The puck follows him,” said another scout. “He makes other players better, and he is a legit playmaker. He’s not the prettiest skater, but he gets from A to B. An excellent skill set.” Brink is off to NCAA Denver.
28. Nils Hoglander, LW, Rogle (SWE.), 5-9, 185, Bocktrask, Swe.
Hoglander has been on the scene for awhile, getting into his first pro games against men back in 2016-17 when he was with AIK. This season, he played almost exclusively at the top level for Rogle and showed a lot of growth in doing so. “He’s a creative player, and he earned the trust of his coaches early on this season,” said one scout. “He got more and more ice time, going from seven minutes to 14 minutes a night. He does good things out there. He’s agile with good hands. He’s smaller, so that will be his challenge.” As a late 2000 birthday, he was not eligible for the world under-18s this spring, but his play with the under-20 team all season was successful. The key for evaluators will be to forecast where he can play in their future lineup. “He has lots of energy, lots of creativity,” said another scout. “He’s always 100 percent with his work ethic. He always starts something when he’s on the ice and is hard to play against. He’s not smart enough to be the go-to offensive guy, but he can pop up from the second or third line and contribute.”
29. Ryan Johnson, D, Sioux Falls (USHL), 6-0, 161, Irvine, Calif.
Based on the schematics, Johnson appears to be the perfect defenseman for today’s NHL game. “He’s a really good prospect,” said one scout. “He has elite feet. He’s a one-man breakout. I don’t think he’s a high-end offensive guy, but he defends well for his size. His transition game is excellent, and he has NHL bloodlines.” Ryan is the son of former NHLer Craig Johnson, a long-time member of the Los Angeles Kings who is now a development coach with the organization. Craig also coached Ryan on the powerhouse Santa Margarita high school team in California while Ryan was also playing for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks. Now in Sioux Falls, Ryan is making a name for himself. “Elite skater, excellent feet,” said another scout. “His ceiling is very high, and he plays at a high tempo with very good pace. I don’t know if his teammates were fast enough for the way he plays. Once he gets to the higher levels, he’ll look even better. He checks a lot of boxes.” Committed to NCAA Minnesota, Johnson was also a standout for Team USA at the World Jr. A Challenge, where he won gold while matching against top lines.
30. Vladislav Kolyachonok, D, Flint (OHL), 6-2, 181, Minsk, Blr.
It’s been quite the journey for Kolyachonok, who came to North America from Belarus, then lost a numbers game in London when the Knights procured the services of Chicago first-rounder Adam Boqvist and 2019 draft prospect Matvei Guskov, giving them one import too many. Kolyachonok then had to wait for papers to play for Flint, which picked him up on waivers. But the Firebirds are glad they did. “I like him a lot – he’s really competitive,” said one scout. “He’s an amazing kid with lots of character. He’s going to impress a lot of teams at the draft combine. He plays it all ways: power play, penalty kill, blocks shots and makes a good first pass. He’s still raw, but there’s a lot of upside.” Once again, the Firebirds struggled in the standings, but they were better once Kolyachonok came into the fold. “He’s very efficient and effective,” said another scout. “He can make the safe, easy play – that good first pass – and he’ll join the rush. He’s smart. Hockey sense is pretty good. He played pretty well on a struggling team, and he was a big part of a couple modest streaks.”
31. Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton (WHL), 6-4, 201, Edmonton, Alta.
One of the safest picks in the draft, Robertson is a player who will almost certainly take a few years to develop as an NHL defenseman. But the team that takes him and shows patience might end up being richly rewarded. If he continues to develop, he may turn out to be one of the better skating big men in the game. “He’s got good skating any way you want to rate it,” said one scout. “Do you want to rate it in terms of speed? It’s good. Do you want to rate it in terms of agility? It’s good. You want to rate it in terms of pivoting and fluidity? It’s good.” The wild card for Robertson will be his ability to create offense at the next level. Even though he scored two goals and four points at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, offense is not his hallmark. “He’s got an absolute rocket of a shot, which he doesn’t use enough, plain and simple,” said another scout. “So here you’ve got a guy with a rocket shot, and it’s not a weapon. That doesn’t mean it can’t be.” Robertson’s mobility, strength and long reach make him an imposing figure to beat defensively.