What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Hughes? He’s easily the best player available this year.
The centre has elite playmaking ability, skating, and hockey IQ. Hughes can handle the puck on a string and routinely makes defenders look silly.
He was able to represent the United States this year alongside his brother, 2018 first-rounder Quinn, at the World Juniors. He missed a chunk of the tournament due to injury but was able to play in the gold-medal game, where he went head-to-head with Kaapo Kakko.
Hughes hasn’t committed to a college for next season, and there’s absolutely no reason for him to do so. He’ll be playing in the NHL in seven months time.
Hughes has been the consensus No. 1 in the 2019 class for years. However, there isn’t a single player in this draft that has garnered more hype than Kakko this season, and for good reason. He’s had one of the best years by a teenager in the history of Liiga.
On top of his domestic success, he’s also had standout performances at the international levels this year. Kakko got his showdown with Hughes in the World Junior gold medal game, where he got the last laugh, scoring the game-winning goal with just over a minute left in regulation to help the Fins capture gold.
There are eight games remaining on TPS’ schedule. Kakko is three points away from passing Patrik Laine for the third-most points by a 17-year-old in a single season in Liiga. He would have to go on an otherworldly run over that stretch to pass Aleksander Barkov’s 48-point performance during the 2012-13 campaign.
Regardless, his efforts have him as a lock to go in the top three picks of the draft.
In nearly every mock, Podkolzin has rounded out the top three. A massive performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer vaulted him into consideration as a top pick.
Podkolzin also featured on the Russian team during the World Juniors, which is an extreme accomplishment for the youngster. Head coach Valeri Bragin usually brings an overage squad to the tournament, only opting for draft eligibles when talents like Malkin or Ovechkin are available.
The winger has made appearances at all three of the main levels in Russian hockey, spending most of his time in the VHL – the Russian minor league – with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg. He’s averaging nearly a point per game in the MHL and has made three appearances with the KHL squad as well.
He’s a handful along the boards and is heavy on his stick. Podkolzin is a great talent who is another individual that has made defenders look silly on multiple occasions.
The dreaded “Russian factor” always plays into the draft, however, this young man is drawing comparisons to Nikita Kucherov and Vladimir Tarasenko already. A team looking at that can’t really ask for much more out of a top-five pick. He’ll be gone early.