Surprise, surprise. Jack Hughes is still atop the rankings just two months ahead of the draft, and he’s officially the most productive forward in the history of the U.S. National Development Program.
The dynamic centre has torn it up all year. He officially broke Clayton Keller’s record for carer points with the USNTDP with 190. He reached the feat by having a five-point performance against the Green Bay Gamblers on Mar. 15.
"“Hughes brings dynamic acceleration, top-end speed, edgework, puck skills… I can keep going but you get the idea. He’s been at his best when his USNTDP team has played high-end NCAA squads. Despite an injury slowing him down at the WJC, he still displayed his impressive skills against players two years his senior.” – Cam Robinson, Dobber Prospects"
When he’s drafted, Hughes will bring immediate help to the team that wins the lottery. Just going through the fantasy lineups of teams in the bottom five of the league is a treat.
His older brother, Quinn, just made his NHL debut – he finished with an assist – and Jack isn’t far off from making waves of his own in the show.
Kakko has been making his case to be the first overall pick all season. But, unless a team decides to make a surprise choice at No. 1, Kakko will be one of the best consolation prizes in the draft over the past half decade.
"“It’s been Kakko’s adult-level production as a teenager in the Finnish SM-Liiga that is reinforcing just how special a talent he already is. Big, strong, deceptively quick and blessed with exceptional vision and stickhandling.” – Steve Kournianos, Sporting News"
The winger posted an incredible season, setting the goals record by a 17-year-old in Liiga with 22. He finished the year with 38 points in 45 games, giving him the third-highest total by a teenager in the Finnish top tier.
With his strong campaign, Kakko is more than likely to come over to North America right away. He’s a gamechanging talent for a rebuilding team.
Podkolzin has more than enough skill to be a top-three pick in this draft. However, the dreaded Russian factor seems to have reared its head with the winger.
There’s been a growing concern as of late that Podkolzin has little interest in playing in the NHL, preferring to stay in Russia for as long as possible.
"“He’s involved in every part of the game in all situations. Skilled, smart, driven and has the ability to take his game to a level above that required.” – Bob McKenzie, TSN"
If a team can take him and convince him to come over – even if it’s in a few years – Podkolzin wouldn’t be a bad pickup. He’s an incredible talent who has the ability to be elite. But that shred of doubt will hurt his draft stock.
There have been just two players from the Yukon Territories to play in the NHL. Those two men were Peter Sturgeon and Bryon Baltimore, according to Quant Hockey. They played a combined eight games in the 1950s.
Scouts have Cozens and Kirby Dach ranked very close, but the former has gained the edge in most people’s rankings due to his elite speed.
"“Point production has tailed off considerably over the past month, but the most important hockey of his career lies ahead with a loaded Lethbridge team all-in for a WHL title.” – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet"
Cozens also has a good shot and very good playmaking and hockey sense. Standing at 6-foot-3, he’s a player that teams will covet as a centre.
Unfortunately, his season has come to an end, as Lethbridge was bounced in the first round by the Calgary Hitmen.
Byram has been on fire all year, and his strong play has carried into the postseason.
He had well over a point per game during the regular season and has posted five points in four games in the playoffs. The offensive game has really come around for Byram, who had a rough first season in the WHL when it came to production.
"“His skating, size and puck skills really stand out, while his enthusiasm for jumping into the rush makes him the type of player that opponents need to game-plan for every night.” – Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News"
He’ll likely be the only blueliner taken in the top 10 of this draft. That could boost his value heading into June. Most teams in need of a defender will be happy to take Byram somewhere around the fifth pick. He’s got a style that will get fans excited and he has legitimate top pairing potential.
Byram and the Giants have advanced to the second round of the WHL playoffs. They’ll go head to head with the Victoria Royals for a chance to head to the conference finals.