2019 NHL draft primer: Answering the 25 biggest last-minute questions

ByESPN.com ESPN logo
Thursday, June 20, 2019

Perhaps you were caught up in the St. Louis Blues' run to a Stanley Cup championship and haven't had a chance to study up on the 2019 NHL draft class. Or maybe you've been right here all along, scouring all of the prospect breakdowns and mock drafts. Either way, we have you covered as the New Jersey Devils go on the clock with the first pick.

Our NHL team -- Chris Peters, Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan -- answers 25 of the biggest final questions. And be sure to check out the rest of our pre-draft content to be as prepared as the 31 NHL teams when the draft begins on Friday night (8 p.m. ET).

Mock draft | Top 100 rankings

Top goalies | Late-rounders

Best by skill | Scouttakes | Draft order

What defines this draft class?

Chris Peters, NHL draft and prospects writer: The lack of consensus after No. 2 is really a standout feature. Anything can happen after Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are drafted with those first two picks. That's going to lead to disparate draft boards, picks that could look like surprises in the first round and a general lack of predictability. It's just so wide open after the second pick.

Is there any chance the New Jersey Devils take Kakko over Hughes at No. 1 overall?

Peters: There's always a chance, but it seems wildly unlikely. Hughes is a better fit for where the NHL is going than Kakko, with his speed in transition and ability to create off the rush. Kakko might be the safest pick in the draft, though. He has already proved he's ready for a bigger challenge. I expect him to be a better rookie than Hughes, but Hughes has the higher ceiling. The Devils will take that super high ceiling of Hughes, while the Rangers get a dynamic player who is already ready to make an NHL impact.

How can Hughes help the Devils rebound?

Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Hughes and Nico Hischier up the gut for the next decade is a really nice start when attempting to build a winner. Winning the Hughes lottery also gave the Devils a puncher's chance of retaining Taylor Hall, who becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, because they now have some semblance of a direction.

What will Kakko do for the New York Rangers' rebuild?

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Kakko can have a Patrik Laine-esque impact right away. He'd be my preseason pick for the Calder Trophy. The Rangers' rebuild has gone even better than planned and is the template a lot of aging teams should follow.

How many prospects have a chance to make an NHL roster right away?

Peters: The only two players I feel could comfortably jump into an NHL lineup next season are Hughes and Kakko. But I could also see Bowen Byram, Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens among the players who at least give teams something to think about in training camp. Byram will be the first defenseman off the board, potentially at No. 3 to the Blackhawks, and likely no later than No. 6 to Detroit. A lot of what happens with him this fall depends on where he ends up. Brett Leason, a third-year eligible player, is a dark-horse candidate to make the immediate NHL jump, too.

So what do the Chicago Blackhawks do at No. 3?

Kaplan: A lot of the first round hinges on what Chicago does at No. 3. Despite having a surplus of defensive prospects, Byram might be too talented to pass up. But might a team that lucked into a top-three pick take a risk here? Probably not, but wouldn't it be fun to watch Cole Caufield -- who scored 72 goals this season -- and Alex DeBrincat in the Hawks' top six?

What is your favorite prospect-to-player comp in the class?

Peters: Caufield to DeBrincat really does fit. Caufield is essentially the same size DeBrincat was in his draft year and is a ridiculous goal scorer. I actually think Caufield may be a little better than DeBrincat was at the same age, but they both have an elite sense of timing and shooting ability.

OK, what about the best prospect-to-team fit?

Peters: I think the one that probably lines up best is Alex Turcotte with Chicago. He's a local kid who competes and plays the game fast. Chicago has a ton of good options, and no one is quite sure what it is going to do, but Turcotte seems like a natural fit as a strong two-way center with excellent speed and versatility.

Which team needs to ace the draft?

Wyshynski: The Los Angeles Kings need to get younger, faster and better as they take a little step back from contention. That starts with their 10 picks in this draft, including the No. 5 and No. 22 overall picks. It could be argued that the Kings haven't had a hit since Adrian Kempe at No. 29 in 2014. If Kirby Dach is available at No. 5, that's one logical play. If he's not, then the Kings can't screw this one up. Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti and general manager Rob Blake need to nail this one.

Kaplan: The Edmonton Oilers have a new GM in Ken Holland, and this draft will set the tone for their new era. While it won't single-handedly change their trajectory, getting an impact player at No. 8 and hitting on a few late-round picks would do wonders.

What are the hottest names in the class right now?

Peters: Turcotte and Caufield seem to be getting a lot more attention. Moritz Seider, the big German defenseman, is another surefire first-round pick who raised his stock toward the end of the season. And I've also heard from teams that view Cam York as the prototype for what modern defensemen look like: Average-sized, but smart and excellent offensively. He could go higher than many expect.

Who will be overdrafted based on what you've seen?

Peters: Samuel Poulin has a lot of the tools that teams crave in a first-round talent, including a good solid frame and some enticing puck skills. My concern is with his hockey sense and consistency. I believe he will go in the first round, but there are quite a few players likely to go after him who would afford teams more value than what I think Poulin ultimately will bring.

Which prospect will fall farther than he should?

Peters: He's a little more under the radar, but Patrik Puistola has some first-round abilities. I just don't know if that was showcased enough for NHL teams to take a chance on him. If he drops out of the first round, a team would be getting big-time value in the second.

Is there a team you think might trade up or down in Round 1?

Kaplan: Since the consensus is you can get a great player from No. 3 through No. 12, perhaps someone right on the outside (Montreal Canadiens at No. 15) sneaks in. The Dallas Stars don't have second- or third-round picks in each of the next two years, which makes them a trade-down candidate for me.

Wyshynski: The Philadelphia Flyers hold the No. 11 pick, which could net them a nice prospect like defenseman Philip Broberg or center Peyton Krebs. But with GM Chuck Fletcher being aggressive in words and actions, I wonder if that'll continue with the Flyers' pick being in play.

Which Day 1 prospect has the biggest range of where he could be picked?

Peters: I could see Arthur Kaliyev going in the top 15, and I could just as well see him tumbling into the second round. NHL teams must decide how to balance an elite scoring ability (51 goals this season) with a perceived lack of work ethic and defensive effort. His skating is also suspect. I've seen good and bad games for Kaliyev, so I understand the concern. But there just aren't many players in this, or any, draft who have that goal-scoring talent, size and legitimate puck skills. Kaliyev is going to need a team that's patient but also holds him accountable in his development.

Vasily Podkolzin also seems to be all over the place on draft boards. Why?

Peters: His contract with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, along with the fact that it's with a top club, puts him at least two years away from coming to North America. He also had underwhelming production both in club play back home in Russia and at the U18 World Championships. But he has high-end skill and plays with power. When he's at his best, there aren't many players in the class better.

What is one player-specific skill that will make that player very valuable in today's NHL?

Peters: Trevor Zegras' overall creativity, especially when it comes to gaining the zone and being able to make plays on the rush, is hugely valuable. He's one of the best playmakers in this draft.

Which lottery team will be most improved in 2019?

Wyshynski: The New York Rangers aren't stopping with Kakko. I think they start cycling back up after two years of rebuilding. They made a savvy move for Jacob Trouba and could still add Artemi Panarin. They have more than $19 million in cap space.

Kaplan: The Florida Panthers should have been a playoff team this season. They hired a legendary coach in Joel Quenneville, and they have the cap space (and audacity) to spend this summer. They're favorites to land Sergei Bobrovsky and/or Panarin. How will they not be better?

How do the Colorado Avalanche, with their two first-rounders, walk away happy on Friday night?

Wyshynski: The No. 4 pick is still the No. 4 pick. That's where Seth Jones and Alex Pietrangelo were taken in 2013 and 2008, respectively, and that's why someone like Byram could be more than just a consolation prize for the Avs. Besides, let's face it, they are playing with found money with that Senators pick anyway, and they will be able to add a potential future contributor in the middle of the first to complement that top-four selection.

What are the chances a goaltender goes on opening night of the draft?

Peters: I think it's pretty much a lock at this point. Spencer Knight is the consensus No. 1 goalie by a wide margin, and many teams I've talked to expect him to be picked in the first round. The only question is how early. This is a fairly deep year for goaltenders in particular, and it could be a position for teams to find options on Day 2, as well.

An NHL player you're watching to potentially be dealt on draft day?

Kaplan: Since it appears Phil Kessel may remain in Pittsburgh after all, I'll go with the guy he was supposed to be traded for: Minnesota's Jason Zucker. The winger has now been involved in advanced talks for two separate trades that fell through -- the other being with Calgary at the trade deadline -- so I have a hard time imagining him in Minnesota for much longer.

Which prospect team will dominate the draft?

Peters: The U.S. national team development program is often a big supplier to the draft, but this year is going to be exceptional even by its standards. That team could have as many as seven players go in the top 15 of the draft and as many as eight first-rounders, including Knight. Nineteen players from that team were ranked by NHL Central Scouting, and I have 15 in my top 100.

Which team lacking a first-rounder will miss it the most?

Kaplan: The Columbus Blue Jackets. They have only two picks in total, in the third and seventh rounds. GM Jarmo Kekalainen can have a nice weekend in Vancouver lounging on a patio.

Wyshynski: The San Jose Sharks. The window is still open for them to compete for the Stanley Cup, but stockpiling some future assets wouldn't hurt at this point, especially considering next season's first-rounder already belongs to Ottawa.

Any interesting teams regarding how they approach this year's draft?

Wyshynski: The Vegas Golden Knights have nine (!) picks in the first five rounds and an owner with an insatiable lust for the Stanley Cup. It's hard to believe that they won't be aggressive. The Anaheim Ducks also need to make some smart picks, including their pair of first-rounders. They have eight players on their current roster who are 27 years old or older.

Who is your favorite Day 2 sleeper?

Peters: This is probably a deep sleeper, but I'm a big fan of the way Spokane Chiefs center Luke Toporowski plays. He's a max-effort-at-all-times player. There's physicality, grit and work ethic all packed into an average-sized frame. I think he could be had especially late in this draft, too, maximizing his value.

To close, how about a bold prediction for the 2019 draft?

Peters: This is one I'd rather not see come true, but I have a feeling Caufield slips to the late stages of the lottery, or perhaps even to the second half of the first round. I still believe he's a top-10 caliber talent and one of the best natural goal scorers I've seen, but I wonder if the NHL overcorrects after the Blues won a Stanley Cup with a premium on size.

Wyshynski: The Panthers acquire at least one player Joel Quenneville has previously coached in Chicago, perhaps even from the current Blackhawks roster.

Kaplan: Despite the buzz and hoopla, there aren't any big NHL names traded on draft weekend. It was all a tease!