Every year, draft aficionados convince the public that there is a general consensus for where each player will go on day one. Yet every year we have a selection that elicits gasps from the crowd, media and even a few scouting tables. If someone would have told you Barrett Hayton was going fifth overall ahead of Filip Zadina and Quinn Hughes, I think you would have laughed. I sure would have. But that’s exactly what happened. In 2017 it was Lias Andersson going seventh overall. 2016 had two. Pierre-Luc Dubois going ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi, and Florida selecting overager, Henrik Borgström with the 23rd selection – a player many deemed likely available towards the end of round two.
Don’t even get me started with the middle of round one in 2015.
And so, I’m here to provide you with five bold predictions for the 2019 draft. I won’t be laying any cash on these happening, but they’re within the realms of possibility. And they’re fun to write!
1. Chicago trades the third overall pick
Almost every draft has a point where the mystery really begins. Some crops that comes at second overall. Others at pick seven. Third overall was supposed to be that spot in 2019. However, with Bowen Byram and Alex Turcotte seemingly solidifying their positions as the third and fourth best talents in the group, that means we begin at pick five. Now, that doesn’t mean third overall is without intrigue. Many people would simply step up and take the best player available. Perhaps that’s Byram. For the Hawks, they boast one of the deepest prospect pools on the blueline. Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin are all recent first-round selections. Chicago hasn’t selected a forward before 40th overall since taking Alex DeBrincat 39th in 2015.
In this universe, the Hawks see an opportunity to prey on a weak crop of defenders and an abundance of teams who want to get their claws on Byram. Sure they could select the local kid in Turcotte thus allowing Byram to land in Colorado or LA. Or they move the pick, slide back four or seven spots and select the best remaining forward (they’ll be a few good ones sitting there still) and reap the booty that accompanies the slide back.
With the Blackhawks basically playing with house money after winning a lottery spot, they’ll be more inclined to get creative with this pick. They’re an organization looking to quickly retool and give their ageing stars one more crack at glory. That takes guts, and moving the third overall pick is a gutsy, but potentially lucrative, chess move.
Oooh, I’ve got your attention now. We’re talking about the two purest shooters in the draft. Caufield has gained a great deal of traction and notoriety with his 72 goal campaign with the NTDP. Meanwhile, all Kaliyev has done is join a short list of draft-eligible OHLers to record 50 or more goals in the last 20 years. That list consists of John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, DeBrincat, and now, Kaliyev.
Not a bad group to be associated with.
Now, I’m not saying Kaliyev should be taken ahead of Caufield, but he provides teams with a slightly different set of risk factors. Caufield’s 5-6 frame and lack of separation speed isn’t an issue now. And it likely won’t be an issue in the NCAA next fall. But that combination may be prohibitive for him becoming a high-end finisher in the NHL. Meanwhile, Kaliyev has the size (6-2, 190lbs) and the skating ability to project easier success rates moving forward. He also managed to torch the OHL without playing with a first-overall talent in all-situations as Caufield had with Jack Hughes. He led his team in points by 23, and his 20 PPGs was tops for first-time d-eligibles in the CHL
Kaliyev’s issues appear to be more mental. Taking shifts off. Not forcing the issue. Lackadaisical play away from the puck. If a team believes they can light a fire in his belly, the upside warrants a top-10 pick.
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3. Vancouver will trade for another first-round pick and select Spencer Knight
Many teams are high on Spencer Knight. And why shouldn’t they be? He’s a premier goaltending prospect who boasts the size, athleticism, and mental fortitude that all teams look for in a franchise netminder.
But Vancouver has Thatcher Demko who just recently pushed himself into the NHL. And Mikey DiPietro turning pro next fall. True, they do. But I remain unconvinced that they believe either one is the locked-in, next guy, to lead their burgeoning core. Is Knight that guy? Well, he’s going to be at least three years out, but he has the makings of a star.
Vancouver doesn’t have a ton of extra assets, but they’re hosting the draft this year and will want to make a splash. Jim Benning has spoken about the possibility of moving the 10th overall selection, but I think the darkhorse move would be to package up pick #40 with a few other picks or mid-range prospects(s) and get themselves back into the latter third of the first-round.
4. We’ll see a run of five defensemen selected in sequence from 12-16
The top end of this class is the near opposite of 2018. Last June we saw five defenders selected by the 12th pick. Ty Smith wasn’t far behind at 17th overall, and if he were in this class, he would be the consensus second-best blueliner available. 2019 will test the mettle of scouts and GMs. Does your team want to improve its backend depth? Well, you’ll have to take a swing on a handful of players pegged in the 15-25 range. Once one goes, the run will begin.
Starting with Minnesota and running through Florida, Arizona, Montreal and Colorado we will see five consecutive defenders taken. Those defenders will be some mix of Victor Soderstrom, Cam York, Ville Heinola, Moritz Seider and Thomas Harley.
This theory hinges on the Avalanche selecting a forward with their first pick (fourth overall) – which is highly likely unless Byram is sitting there. Each one of those squads will be looking to add a defender to their pipeline and with the dip in talent at the forward position at that portion of the draft, a D-run is looking plausible.
5. The Penguins will steal the show
The Devils may make the early play for the move of the draft if they step up and select Kaapo Kakko, but it’ll be the Penguins who have the last word. And no, it won’t be the long speculated Phil Kessel trade. It’ll be the big man, Evgeni Malkin who finds himself in a new organization by the time draft weekend concludes.
With a prospect pool that is void of literally any high-end talent and a roster in need of some youthful infusion, the Penguins will deal Malkin in exchange for a bevy of young players, picks and prospects.
Geno will go out and score 90-plus on his new team too. That’s just an extra claim – not so bold.
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