With the National Hockey League entry draft right around the corner, and several other Puck77 contributors coming together to put out monthly rankings, I decided to follow up my prospect deep dive from over a week ago.
I have studied the National Hockey League prospects more and more, I have looked deeper into team needs, and I did my own individual mock draft, using team needs and their current situations to determine picks. I’ve also read into the few rumors swirling around the draft, which I will touch on within the first three picks. I even included one trade, which I will get to here in part one.
First Overall Pick, New Jersey Devils select Kappo Kaako, RW, TPS, Liiga
Ah, yes. Already I have gone against what many of you readers likely would have guessed. But I have said Kakko was going to go first overall ever since I watched the New Jersey Devils win the draft lottery.
Two years ago, when the Devils had to choose between the consensus number one pick at the time, Nolan Patrick, or the guy closing the gap for the first pick, Nico Hischier, they went with Hischier.
Hischier played in the QMJHL in his draft year and dominated, while Nolan Patrick played in the WHL and had injury concerns, so it’s a much different scenario. Jack Hughes does not have injury concerns like Patrick did, but Kakko played in a much more competitive league, against men in Liiga, unlike Hischier.
Kakko broke a record previously held by Aleksander Barkov for goals with 22 for an under-18 player in Liiga history while playing in eight less games. He has not only found success against grown men in Liiga, but he has dominated against the highest skilled players in the world, winning not one, not two, but three international gold medals with Finland, putting up a combined 37 points in 63 games. Most recently, he won gold with Finland at the IIHF World Championships, recording six goals and one assist in 10 games.
Kakko has a track record of winning, and his success against men at the club level in Finland and the international levels with Finland, it’s a no-brainer he would go number one overall in any other draft class.
But Hughes is an unreal prospect and has been highly regarded for over a year now for the first overall selection. But I think Kakko will have a higher impact immediately at the NHL level, on a line featuring Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and himself. That is just daunting. Not to mention, he is four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Hughes.
This is what Devils general manager Ray Shero had to say about the type of player they were going for in the upcoming draft, per SportsNet’s Rory Boylen. “You gotta be a self starter, competitive. You have to have grit. You have to be a team-first player.” While Hughes is a team-first player, Kakko has the size advantage by a drastic amount, and while that is not entirely important anymore, Shero did point it out, and that has to count for something.
Next Year’s Role: 1st/2nd line RW with power play time with the Devils
Second Overall Pick, New York Rangers select Jack Hughes, Center, USNTDP
Hughes at two is a steal, and Kakko at two would also be a steal. Think about it, if these two guys were in separate draft classes, chances are, they both go first overall. Hughes is the best skater in the draft, and also arguably has the highest upside as well, though there are a couple others that challenge him.
But what separates Hughes, and same goes with Kakko, is his NHL readiness. He is not going to make as big of an impact as Kakko within the first season or two, but he will certainly be in the NHL next season, barring an injury.
He absolutely dominated with the USNTDP teams, totalling 160 points in 74 games. He had an unreal Under-18 World Junior Championship with team USA with 20 points in seven games. He played really well at the U-20 World Juniors, with four assists in as many games, but obviously not as dominant. Then, at the IIHF World Championships, Hughes only put up three assists in seven games.
The concern I have is, he is less dominant against tougher competition. He dominated in the USNTDP, which is his age group, he dominated at the U-18’s and was a point per game player at the U-20’s, which is basically still in his age group. But at the IIHF World’s he struggled, while Kakko rose to the occasion and led the underdog Finn’s to the Gold medal. That’s why I have him dropping to two.
Next Year’s Role: 2nd/3rd line with 2nd Unit PP time with Rangers
Third Overall Pick: Chicago Blackhawks select Cole Caufield, Center/Right Wing, USNTDP
When I was initially planning out this mock draft, this was not my pick for Chicago. But then the rumors happened, and it seemingly appears as though the Blackhawks will select the 5’7”, Wisconsin native Caufield.
While Caufield is not a bad selection, the rumors suggest a Jesperi Kotkaniemi-esque selection, where the player has an intriguing skillset and great upside, but ranked either at the end of the top 10, or just outside. That selection has turned out to be less of a reach, and more of a great selection, in hindsight.
For the Blackhawks, they have a player by the name of Alex DeBrincat, who is also undersized, but very talented, and coming off a 41-goal campaign. Caufield brings that goal scoring touch, as he is the best pure sniper in the draft, scoring 29 goals, along with 12 assists (41 points) in 28 games. He added another 72 goals and 28 assists (100 points) in 64 games with US National U-18 team, which is absolutely insane. But he played with the USNTDP Juniors, rather than the USNTDP club with Hughes, and that tells me he still has a few years before being in the NHL.
He also played internationally, but for only the U-18 World Juniors, where he put up 14 goals and four assists (18 points) in seven games played. It’s very clear to see he is a goal scorer, as in total (counting international games) he scored 115 goals in just 99 games. He has committed to the University of Wisconsin for the following season, where he will look to add to his resumé of being the third overall selection.
If he can score at a goal per game pace in the NCAA, he will prove exactly why the Hawks took him so early. If he even comes close, it will be super impressive, because the NCAA is a tough league to score in at the pace he has, so next season will be very telling.
Next Year’s Role: NCAA time with Wisconsin, maybe joins NHL late in season, like Charlie McAvoy for Boston in 2016.
Fourth Overall Pick: Colorado Avalanche select Alex Turcotte, Center, USNTDP
Turcotte was my initial third overall pick, but again, rumors changed that. Turcotte is my favorite prospect, and I think he has the most upside in the entire draft.
Split between the USNTDP juniors and the USNTDP club, Turcotte combined for 96 points in 53 games, with 39 of the 96 points being goals. He added another four goals and five assists (nine points) in seven international games in the U-18 World Junior Championships.
He is a well-balanced, 200-foot player, with the skill-set to put up big numbers at all levels of hockey. He immediately helps the Avalanche’s lack of scoring depth, but unfortunately he has already committed to the University of Wisconsin to join Caufield for next season. To me, he could absolutely step into the NHL on a third line role, but he will not be there, as noted.
Next Year’s Role: NCAA time with Wisconsin, high chance he joins the Avalanche late in the season.
Fifth Overall Pick: Los Angeles Kings select Bowen Byram, Defenseman, Vancouver Giants, WHL
Something that could potentially hurt the 6’0″, 194-pound, left-shot defenseman is the fact that he did not play any level of international hockey with Team Canada. But, he is still far and away the best defenseman in this draft.
He has great size, and is also incredible offensively. He put up 26 goals and 45 assists (71 points) in 67 games played. For a defenseman, that is great. He is a complete defenseman, excelling in the transitional game with his elite skating and puck-handling abilities.
Anticipated to be the fourth overall pick (and maybe even third overall by some draft analysts), he falls to fifth thanks to the Blackhawks taking Caufield.
The Kings could absolutely use Byram, as they have Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez all 29 years of age and up, and top end defensive prospect Sean Durzi, who is right handed. The defensive prospect in general is bare, but seeing that Byram does fill a need, this pick is a no-brainer. It’s also entirely possible he makes the team out of camp, but he’d need a strong camp to get a good look, and beat out Durzi, who has a higher chance due to being older, as well as Derek Forbort and Paul LaDue, both seasoned veterans. Odds are certainly stacked against him, but the talent is there, and it would not surprise me that much.
Next Year’s Role: Potential bottom pair minutes with power play time in Los Angeles, but likely will stay with Vancouver in the WHL until that season ends, and then join the Kings late in the season if needed. Most likely will get time with the Ontario Reign of the AHL after the WHL season concludes.
All stats via eliteprospects
Rankings inspired by the Puck77 crew