A good way to gauge just how important NHL general managers consider the center ice position is to look at past draft results, and how centers generally dominate the top half of the first round of every draft. And although only two centers were taken within the first 10 picks of last year’s draft, it is all but guaranteed that there will be far more selected in the first round this coming June.
Headlining the list of top draft-eligible pivots is Team USA’s Jack Hughes, the younger brother of 2018 first rounder Quinn Hughes and the best American-born prospect since Auston Matthews was picked first overall in 2016. Hughes, like Matthews, is an exceptional talent who should serve as the centerpiece of any team’s rebuild. The gap, however, between Hughes and the rest of his center peers is not as wide as one might think. Alex Newhook, who plays for the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, is a prized NCAA recruit committed to played for Boston College. Both he and Alex Turcotte are three-zone centers have the potential to impact a franchise’s fortunes no less than what Hughes is expected to do.
Out west, the WHL should rebound from not being represented by a single first-round pick in 2018 to having centers Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach as legitimate possibilities to crack the top five. In Europe, Russian-born center Yegor Spiridonov is one of several two-way pivots expected to be leaned on by their respective nations at most prominent international events; possibly even for the under-20 world junior championships.
- Jack Hughes (U.S. U18, NTDP — 5’10/166): An early-season favorite for first overall in the 2019 draft, Hughes is the most dynamic and explosive of all the draft-eligible centers and likely will be Team USA’s top-line pivot at the world juniors in December. Keep an eye on how he performs against a murderous NCAA schedule.
- Alex Newhook (Victoria, BCHL — 5’11/190): Newhook is a Boston College-bound center who was the BCHL’s top rookie as a 16 year old last season. He is an excellent stickhandler and set-up man, but he also owns a hard shot with pinpoint accuracy. Being a late cut from Canada’s under-18 Hlinka should have no bearing on how dominant a player he projects to be.
- Alex Turcotte (U.S. U18, NTDP — 5’11/194): A creative yet powerful 200-foot center who skates effortlessly, Turcotte has distinguished himself as an elite draft prospect despite playing in Hughes’ shadow since last season. He’s never met a one-on-one situation he didn’t like, and Turcotte plays with a ton of confidence while doing anything asked of him.
- Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge, WHL — 6’3/185): The spearhead behind Canada’s win at the Hlinka, Cozens is an athletic multi-tool weapon with quickness and acceleration. He plays with a controlled intensity and will uses his large frame to his advantage. Cozens also plays wing.
- Peyton Krebs (Kootenay, WHL — 5’11/180): Krebs is a heady center who like Cozens played a critical role for Team Canada over the summer. A tough competitor with a high hockey IQ and impressive puck skills, Krebs contributes in all areas and can either adjust his game or dictate the tempo. There’s a lot to like about his approach to every shift, and his team-first attitude and work ethic on the ice reveal the makings of a future leader.
- Trevor Zegras (U.S. U18, NTDP — 5’11/160): It’s not often you see three centers from the same team clumped together at the top of any prospect ranking. But Zegras most certainly has top-line potential thanks to a fast-paced attack style and turn-on-a-dime agility. He effectively