NHL Draft 2019: Get to know Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko and the other top prospects
Here are 10 of the most hyped prospects heading into this week's NHL Draft
The NHL Draft will be held this weekend in Vancouver and Friday's first round will bring a new wave of top talent into a league that already has tons of young star power.
This year's draft class has been defined by many as "a two-player draft" due to American forward Jack Hughes and Finnish phenom Kaapo Kakko steadily leading the pack. But while Hughes and Kaapo certainly head up the class, there are a number of other young players who have the potential to be major difference-makers in the league for years to come.
Let's take a look at 10 guys you should know heading into Friday's first round.
Jack Hughes, F
Hughes is the consensus top prospect in this year's class and has been for quite some time. It'd be quite a surprise if the New Jersey Devils didn't select him with the top overall pick on Friday.
The 18-year-old forward has a dynamic and electrifying set of skills to pair with strong vision/IQ, and the total package makes him an extremely dangerous playmaker with the puck. But Hughes' greatest asset is his skating ability. Not only does he have explosive acceleration and speed, but he's also incredibly gifted in his ability to control himself and the puck at high rates of speed. His edge work is great.
Hughes has spent the last two years with the USA National Development program, where he's torn up the circuit and become the program's all-time leading scorer -- topping names like Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews.
This past year alone, Hughes scored 34 goals and racked up 112 points in 50 games for the USDP. He also captained the team. He was also a member of Team USA at the World Junior Championships last winter, picking up four assists in four games as he battled injury during the tournament.
Hughes also has strong hockey pedigree behind him, as both of his parents have had success in the sport. His mother, Ellen Hughes, played college hockey at the University of New Hampshire and was a member of the Team USA squad at the 1992 World Championships, where she won a silver medal and was named to the tournament's all-star team. His father, Jim Hughes, played college hockey for Providence and has worked in hockey ever since, including as an assistant for the Toronto Marlies and director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kaapo Kakko, F
The Finnish winger is believed to be the other "can't miss" talent in this draft, enough so that some are wondering whether he could upset Hughes as the top overall pick. It's more likely he goes to the Rangers at No. 2 but he's an elite young player that will be a major prize to whichever team drafts him.
Kakko is a tremendous offensive talent. Though not incredibly fast, he's very strong on the puck and has great hands and vision. He thinks the game very well and adapts quickly on the fly, making him a dangerous playmaker.
Kakko also has decent size (6-foot-2, 190 lbs.) and has already seen success playing against adults. In 45 Liiga games last year, Kakko scored 22 goals and had 38 points. He also led Finland to a gold medal at the 2019 World Juniors, scoring the game-winning goal in the gold medal game against the United States. He had five points in seven games for the champs.
Bowen Byram, D
In a draft that is somewhat thin on lottery-caliber defensemen, Byram is widely considered to be the best blue line prospect of the class. The Canadian prospect should be a high-tier possession defenseman, as he's a great skater with the ability to handle and move the puck very well, and is also strong facilitator and has enough offensive ability to finish himself.
He's the type of defenseman that the NHL has seemed to cater more heavily to over the last few years, working to close gaps and utilize his creativity to push play towards the offensive end of the ice.
Byram played 67 regular season games for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL last season, tallying 26 goals and 71 points, and then added eight goals and 22 points during the Giants' 22 playoff games.
Alex Turcotte, F
Turcotte is a solid all-around player with a great sense for the game. He's a strong skater with a dynamic offensive skill set that can beat you in a number of ways. His footwork, good hands, great vision and high IQ make him a dangerous and creative playmaker down the middle.
But one of Turcotte's biggest strengths is his ability to contribute on both ends of the ice. He's a competitive two-way guy with a complete 200-foot game that mixes skill with grit, making him an incredibly versatile and valuable player to have on a roster.
He's somewhat undersized for a center at 5-foot-11 but his drive and willingness to player bigger than his height helps him win battles in which he should be overmatched.
Turcotte played 37 games for the United States Development Program this past year, racking up 27 goals and 62 points. He's committed to playing college hockey at the University of Wisconsin next season.
Cole Caufield, F
Caufield is another American forward that is expected to be a lottery pick in this year's draft. Though he's notably undersized at 5-foot-7, Caufield is a prolific goal scorer with an outstanding shot and quick release. He's got a finishing touch that many teams would love to have in the lineup.
Caufield is capable of creating time and space for that great shot thanks to his quickness, great vision and puck-handling abilities.
Caufield scored 72 goals (yes, seventy-two) and had 100 points while playing 64 games with the United States Development Program last season. Like Turcotte, he's planning on playing college hockey at the University of Wisconsin next season.
Trevor Zegras, F
Yes, another American forward. Zegras is a dynamic and versatile guy up front that can play multiple positions and fill multiple roles. He's a two-way presence with an ability to disrupt and drive. Zegras has a really solid toolbox at his disposal, as he can beat you with his high-end offensive abilities, but he also has the ability to win physical battles and score in the dirty areas.
Zegras scored 26 goals and had 81 points in 60 games for the United States Development Program this season. He'll play his college hockey at Boston University.
Dylan Cozens, F
Cozens is a Canadian forward with a very solid two-way game highlighted by his great speed and skating work. That speed becomes even more dangerous and intimidating when you consider the fact that Cozens has a pretty big frame at 6-foot-3. Trying to slow him down is a tough task.
He's described as a highly competitive, high-motor player that also brings a strong hockey IQ to the table.
In 68 games for the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes last season, Cozens scored 34 goals and had 84 points. He also added four goals and four assists in seven playoff games for the Hurricanes.
Kirby Dach, F
Dach is an intimidating presence that has the ability to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenders. The Canadian center brings a rare mix of size, skill and speed that could make him a fixture at the top of the lineup for an NHL team down the road.
The 6-foot-4 Dach has soft hands and high-end playmaking abilities as a passer, but he's also capable of driving to the net and finishing with defenders hanging off of him.
Dach had 25 goals and 73 points in 62 games for the WHL's Saskatoon Blades this past season, adding eight points (five goals and three assists) in 10 playoff games.
Vasili Podkolzin, F
The top Russian prospect in this year's draft, Podkolzin is a dangerous offensive threat on the wing. He's got impressive skills with the puck and a knack for finishing with emphasis, making him a valuable scoring piece. His speed isn't otherworldly but it's enough to get the job done.
He's also a player that has been heralded for his competitiveness. He's described as a fierce gamer and admirable leader who will do whatever it takes to beat you on the ice.
Podkolzin spent last year with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL and says he intends to stay with the club for the next two seasons, so it could be a bit before we see him at the NHL level.
Matthew Boldy, F
Boldy isn't quite as complete as some of the other American forwards in this class but he's shown that he's capable of dropping jaws with his high-end skill. The 18-year-old has fantastic hands and is great with the puck. His ability to use his creativity to generate scoring opportunities is top notch.
Boldy is regarded as one of the best passers in the draft, and while his shot is not prolific, he is dangerous enough to respect and draw attention.
In 64 games for the United States National Development Program last year, Boldy scored 33 goals and had 81 points. He's committed to Boston College next season.
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