Last Tuesday, the New Jersey Devils won the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery. Yes, the lottery as they will be selecting first overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Needless to say, Devils fans and the Devils organization are very excited. How excited? The Devils’ social media team posted the following:
Yeah, they’re hyped.
As the Devils will be selecting first in the 2019 NHL Draft, they are effectively on the clock. This is kind of a dead zone of the offseason for teams like the Devils. They are obviously not in the playoffs. While they can make moves, they cannot really do much. Players tend to not re-sign or even negotiate until July 1 gets closer. Since there are only two prospects to be concerned with and one of them is the current heavy favorite to be taken first overall, there is not a whole lot of debate like there was, say, two years ago.
However, a draft is more than just one pick, the Devils certainly have more than one, and so there is plenty to discuss regarding what can happen at the draft. This is one of the biggest events of the NHL offseason. This is an event where teams can find players for their future depth charts. This is an event where teams can make some trades happen, especially as free agency follows not long after the draft. To that end, I want to help prepare you, the fan, for the 2019 NHL Draft. Call this an early preview. Call this a primer. I call it a guide. All the same, whether you know little about a draft or you’ve been following them for decades, I hope you all gain something from this.
The 2019 NHL Draft - The Basics
The Dates: June 21, 2019 and June 22, 2019
The Location: Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Can Fans Attend?: Yes, but tickets are not yet available to the public.
The Devils’ Picks: The Devils have the first overall pick! Woo! They also have nine others. Here is a breakdown by round, details come from CapFriendly:
First Round (1) - New Jersey (1st Overall!)
Second Round (3) - New Jersey (34th overall) Boston, Nashville
Third Round (2) - Anaheim (70th overall), Dallas
Fourth Round (1) - New Jersey (96th overall)
Fifth Round (1) - New Jersey (127th overall)
Sixth Round (1) - New Jersey (158th overall)
Seventh Round (1) - New Jersey (189th overall)
The Devils acquired Boston’s second round pick, Nashville’s second round pick, and Dallas’ third round pick from the trades they made earlier this year. They own Anaheim’s third overall pick as a condition from the Henrique-Vatanen trade was met. Henrique signed an extension with Anaheim back on July 16, 2018, so the Devils have this pick.
The Devils do not have their own third round pick; they traded that in 2018 to Edmonton for Patrick Maroon. Edmonton subsequently dealt that pick to Philadelphia. It is the 65th overall pick.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will determine where those other picks are. As teams are eliminated in each round, where they were eliminated and their record will determine their spot. The full details are here. Basically, if Dallas, Boston, or Nashville go to the Conference Finals or beyond, then their picks will be deeper in that round. If either wins the Stanley Cup, then it will be the last pick in that round. While it may not make much of a difference, the picks will be slightly better if they do not make a deep run.
How the NHL Draft Works
The Event Process: The 2019 NHL Draft is a two-day event. There are seven rounds for teams to make selections. Friday night, June 21, will consist of the first round. All teams with first round picks will come to the podium, announce their pick, and allow enough time for the player - if he is there - to come on down from the crowd, come on stage, receive a jersey, and take a photo with his new team. There are 31 first round picks, so the event takes a little over three hours. This will likely be aired on NBC SN and Sportsnet.
The second day is for the other six rounds. On Saturday morning (usually 10 AM EST), June 22, teams will announce their picks from their draft tables, some players may be on hand to meet the teams, but the picks come in more quickly and the selections are registered after a brief announcement. There is far less pomp and circumstance and this is usually aired on the NHL Network as opposed to NBC SN. This does not make the picks any less valuable.
There is no green room per se. As the draft is held at an arena, there is a big stage for the podium, a big board to list who has been picked in the round by team, and all 31 teams will be set up on the floor itself. Players and their families and friends are in the lower bowl. Fans can procure tickets and sit in other selections. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, usually opens the proceedings with a statement and after he is booed out of the building, the draft begins.
One more thing, trades can and do happen during the draft itself. This will also be announced at the podium.
The Order of Picks: The 2019 NHL Draft Lottery runs three lotteries to determine the top three picks in the first round. All non-playoff teams have a chance to win one of the three lotteries. The pick order is then determined by the worst record first beyond the lotteries. Since the Devils, New York’s lesser team, and Chicago won the three lotteries, the worst team picks fourth, the second worst remaining picks fifth, and so forth. In the other six rounds, the non-playoff teams are decided by record.
The Requirements for a Player to be Drafted: Players must register to be in the 2019 NHL Draft. All 18-20 year old players based out of North American leagues and 18-21 year old players based out of European leagues. All players must be 18 on or before September 15, 2019 or 19 between the days of September 16 to December 31, 2019 to meet the age requirements. Anyone older than those ages can be signed as an unrestricted free agent.
The Rights: While it is common to say that a player is picked, the reality is that the team is drafting the rights to that player. The team has a window of time to be the only team to secure the player to a contract. Because only rights are picked, the player is eligible to play in the NCAA, go to or stay with their junior team, and even remain with their European professional or youth team.
These rights do not last forever. Teams have up until two years to sign the player to an Entry Level Contract. NCAA players, which have to maintain eligibility, have an exception - their rights are held until 30 days after they leave college. Players that do not sign a contract can re-enter the draft on more time if they are still of age. If they are too old, then they are unrestricted free agents. This happens to unsigned junior players moreso than European-based players or college players. In effect, drafting a player is only a step before actually bringing them into the organization. The “recruiting,” if you will, continues after the selection to get the player to sign that contract.
What to Expect for the Devils in the 2019 NHL Draft
The first overall pick is very likely going to be USNTDP center Jack Hughes. Hughes is an offensive machine that moves and plays very fast. As Gare Joyce wrote in Sportsnet, there is a case he’s the best ever player to come out of the USNTDP. That is a program that counts among its alumni Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, Dylan Larkin, Ryan Kesler, Montvale’s Pride and Joy, Ryan Suter, Seth Jones, Erik Johnson, and Charlie McAvoy among others. Throw in the minor fact that Ray Shero was an agent for Jack’s father, Jim Hughes, and the connection is set. Barring a scandal or an impressive amount of prospect fatigue, expect Hughes.
The only prospect that has a case to jump Hughes is Kakko. Kakko has been playing against men. He has commanded significant ice time on TPS. He has set the Finnish under-18 record for goals, surpassing Aleksander Barkov. He may not be as amazingly quick and in control of his skating like Hughes, but he has all of the offensive talents to make one drool. That he’s going to try out for Finland’s national team for the 2019 World Championships instead of going to the World U-18 Championships speaks to his talent and ambition. I do not think anyone can go wrong with taking Kakko, but Hughes is the total package at the moment.
Now what about those other nine picks?
This will be the fourth draft for Paul Castron, the Devils’ Director of Amateur Scouting. So far, his returns have been promising. Since 2016, the Devils have already found two NHL players in Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. The 2016 class saw Joey Anderson, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Brandon Gignac make their NHL debuts in 2018-19. From the same class, Jeremy Davies was just signed. While no longer a Devil, Yegor Rykov was valuable enough to be used in a trade for Michael Grabner. In the 2017 class, there have been enough gains from the likes of Jesper Boqvist and Reilly Walsh to hope the Devils sign them soon. Marian Studenic made the jump to pro hockey last season; and Aarne Talvitie was having a very promising freshman year with Penn State prior to injury. As for the 2018 class, Ty Smith had a long look at camp last season and his WHL dominance may compel the Devils to keep him for 2019-20. While it is only three years of drafts, there are no duds like, say, the 2014 class.
It is a challenge to identify trends but what I have noticed out of these three years has been an emphasis on good skaters. A lot of these prospects have been praised for how they skate, how they control their speed, and how they utilize their quickness at the time of their draft. It is consistent with an earlier desire to be fast, attacking, and supportive - at least the first part. I expect that to continue. The Devils have also been supportive of the European system as they have taken various players from guys breaking into European pro hockey to European juniors who may or may not be college-bound to overagers ready to jump into the AHL to European-trained players that play in North America. I do not know who they have scouting Sweden, Finland, and so forth but given Bratt, Boqvist, Zetterlund, Talvitie, and others, I say keep it up. The Devils have been consistent about drafting a goalie every year too, but usually late - Mackenzie Blackwood in the second round in 2015 excepted. I do not know if the Devils need a goalie in the system but given that they seem to be such hit-or-miss prospects, I can respect an attempt to get one later in the draft.
What do the Devils need? Since the players that will be picked are 17-20 years old, it necessary to look to the future of what the Devils need. The Devils have picked 27 players over the last three drafts and already have a few early successes. With a completely re-done prospect pipeline, the biggest goal is to maintain the talent level. There are reasons to be excited for Smith, Boqvist, Davies, and possibly Walsh for next season. There are a few prospects who have grown in respect. It is more important that the Devils keep it up more than needing to address a position. If they have an abundance of, say, NHL wingers in a few years, then it is a good problem to have with some interesting solutions. Having picks pan out is generally better than targeting a type.
Some initial names to consider: Yegor Afanasyev, Vladislav Firstov, Philip Tomasino (if he falls to #34), Conor McMichael (ditto), Nathan Legare, and Tuuka Tieksola. They may be profiled here. They may not be. But it is a start. The point is that there is more work to do than just taking Hughes on June 21 and mailing it in on June 22.
Since the Devils have a pipeline of prospects that is not going to end in the immediate future, the Devils may be in a good position to swing one of those extra second and third round picks in a deal. Moving #34 or Boston’s or Nashville’s second rounder is not going to leave the Devils short in the system. This gives the Devils options. Maybe to move up and take someone they want. Maybe to get a NHL player a team cannot afford. Maybe to move down and pick up later picks. The Devils are not short on young players so they can afford to a deal a pick or two if the price is right. The only pick that should be and will be not available is that first overall selection.
So expect the Devils to pick Hughes at #1 and then other picks likely from very different places that can all skate at least pretty well and have some kind of offensive upside - plus a goaltender. (Possibly Mads Sogaard? Ilya Konovalov?) Also expect the Devils to maintain some kind of roster spot for Hughes. Given how much he has accomplished, there is little reason for him to go to college (he has not committed to one) or juniors.
What to Expect for the 2019 NHL Draft In General
The USNTDP was put together to bring in some of the best American talent in hockey and get them prepared to succeed in international play from the youth levels and, ultimately, the men’s levels. The USNTDP has given the hockey world some great prospects. The 2018-19 U-18 program may hit a peak with respect to NHL prospects. The top ten will almost definitely include Hughes, Alex Turcotte, and Trevor Zegras. Cole Caufield and Matt Boldy could crack it. All are forwards and all have incredible potential. Later in the first round, there could be two to three more in defenseman Cam York, goaltender Spencer Knight, and center John Beecher. That is an outstanding return from one team whose goal is to keep getting medals in IIHF competitions.
Likewise, the lottery teams’ WHL scouts are likely excited because there could be at least four players from that league go within the first 15 picks: the top defenseman Bowen Byram, center Kirby Dach, center Peyton Krebs, and center Dylan Cozens. The OHL and QMJHL will still contribute plenty of players as usual, but the WHL definitely has the top end talent coming out of Canada in this year.
Speaking of, expect the first round to be a forward-heavy one. It is not so much that there are no good defensemen, but the early projections could yield only Byram and maybe one or two other defenders within the first fifteen picks. There are interesting names like Adler Mannehim’s Moritz Seider and Rogle’s Nils Hoglander that could go in the first, but unless someone really likes them, they may be suitable for the middle of the first. While there are many goalies that carry some interest, only Knight is getting any buzz for the first round. Teams that are lacking among their forward prospects will be happy towards the beginning of the 2019 class. I think teams have recognized that scoring has gone up, the success of smaller forwards like Alex DeBrincat, and the reality that some offensive talent is only available at a premium, they may prefer the high-end forwards to go first. This year’s class apparently has it, we’ll see in about five years whether it worked out.
Significant Pre-Draft Events for Prospects
Teams are picking prospective players, or prospects, in the NHL Draft. Teams spend a lot of resources and have their own departments devoted to scouting young players from the many different leagues and countries. As it is April, most of these leagues are done for their seasons. However, there are a few events left before June 21 for prospects to make an impression on whoever is viewing them. If nothing else, it is something to follow.
The World Under-18 Championships: April 18-28, 2019 - The International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championships is the last major international tournament for players in this year’s draft class. While it does not have the popularity of the World Junior Championships, this is where several players in the draft class can make that lasting impression to show that they have improved over the year, that they are better than their peers, or even to make scouts want to take another look at them. While no one tourney alone should make player be picked, it is a part of their body of work.
This year’s tournament, based in Sweden, should feature one of the strongest United States teams, led by one of the best players ever in the history of the United States Men’s National Developmental Program, Jack Hughes. He’s the heavy favorite to go first overall and this tournament should provide another reason why he is. And with several projected first rounds picks, the US should be standout squad.
This tournament is not readily broadcast, but some of the United States’ games will be on the NHL Network. So if you want to see Hughes plays against among the best of his peers, then tune in. But do not sleep on the other teams as this tourney could feature potential second, third, and later round picks of the Devils.
The World Championships: May 10-26, 2019 - The men’s IIHF world championships is mostly for, well, men. It is filled with professionals from all over the world. However, there may be a handful of prospects in this year’s tournament in Slovakia. With sixteen countries and not all of them being significant hockey powers, opportunities abound for young players with potential plus talent. However, one prospect may make the roster of one of the traditional hockey powers: Finland’s Kaapo Kakko. Kakko is probably the closest and only prospect to unseat Hughes at first overall. Earlier this month, NHL.com’s Varpu Sivhonen reported that Kakko is trying out to play in the men’s WCs and not the U-18s, as shared by Mike Morreale. If he makes it and performs well, then there may be an actual debate for first overall.
Canadian Hockey League Playoffs & the 2019 Memorial Cup: Ongoing - The three major junior leagues, the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League, are all deep into their league playoffs right now. Their championships should be decided by early May. The winners of each tourney plus Halifax of the QMJHL will take part in the Memorial Cup from May 16-26, 2019. This is a round robin tourney of four teams to determine which team is the best in all of major junior hockey. As with all playoffs, these games are chances at lasting impressions for the prospects who are still in their respective playoffs. More games and more games of importance is more opportunity to shine..
European League Playoffs: Ongoing - The Finnish Liiga is currently in its third round of their playoffs. Their final possible date for the last game of their finals is May 5, 2019, so get into it now. Similarly, the Swedish Hockey League is also in their third round of their playoffs. Their last possible date of their finals is May 4, 2019, so jump right on in there too. In the Kontinental Hockey League, which is mostly Russia, the Gagarin Cup Finals are currently happening between CSKA Moscow and Avangard Omsk. There may not be many prospects playing in these playoffs. These are professional leagues and so younger players tend to have their use limited at best. But anyone involved is getting some on-ice action that could be of notice.
The NHL Combine: June 1, 2019 - In Buffalo, New York, the top 109 prospects from North America and Europe will gather for a series of physical fitness tests, medical assessments, and interviews with team personnel. These are usually prospects expected to be taken at the higher end of the draft. Since the activities are all off-ice, it could be argued that the combine is not that meaningful. However, establishing a player as healthy and seeing whether they impress in a certain test may help the argument to justify a pick. The interview is likely the most crucial, especially for players expected to go in the first round. As with any job interview, a face-to-face meeting can have an impact to how they are seen with respect to the organization that is trying to be built.
Resources or How to Learn More
Prospects come from multiple leagues, teams, and situations. It is not easy to figure out whether someone is highly regarded or not outside of the top guys. To that end, there are many free and paid resources available.
NHL’s Central Scouting ranks all North American and European based skaters and goalies. Their final rankings for 2018-19 will come out on Monday, April 15. Some of the paid services will publicly release their top 31 rankings for the first round. Rankings are a good way to get a feel for how a player is regarded, it is not meant to be a set-in-stone statement about who is good or not. Teams have their own draft boards anyway.
Elite Prospects is an essential repository of all players playing the game of hockey. Some of their pages for a prospect will include brief scouting reports and link to their rankings as well.
Steve Kournianos and his site, The Draft Analyst, is always a must-read. He’s never shy about an opinion, he’ll explain his reasoning behind how he rates a player, and he’s willing to rate more players than there are potential draft picks. He has become a contributor to The Sporting News and he just did an interview at MSG breaking down the top two picks. He’s moving on up in the world and it is well deserved.
Dobber Prospects is part of the Dobber Hockey family, one of the premier fantasy hockey resources. Their Prospects group is definitely one to watch with updates on the various leagues, deep dives into particular players, and more.
While he is not a service, Corey Pronman at The Athletic ($) is worth the money for anyone interested in prospects. He writes about them year-round. He has incorporated video clips to back up what he writes about. He is always mindful to explain why he places a player over another and why.
That brings me to paid resources. Scouting and reviewing prospective players is a cottage industry of sorts outside of the teams that actually draft them. Various groups providing actual, detailed, first-hand scouting reports for their own publications that you can buy. McKeen’s, Future Considerations, Hockey Prospect, International Scouting Services, and Red Line Report are the main resources. To get full access to their reports and rankings, you will need to subscribe to their site or even buy an issue of their work. But for the money, you will get detailed viewpoints on a lot of players that you would normally not get anywhere else. And with so many parties in the field, some have upped their game through providing interviews, public snippets to share, and reaching out to be part of the larger hockey community. If you’re willing to spend, you may appreciate what you get.
As far as what will be here, as is tradition, we will put our own profiles together based on what we can learn about a player and offer an opinion based on that. Expect those to begin later in this month, right near the end of the World U-18 Championships.
Who Has the Coolest Name?
My current pick is Tappara U-20 defenseman Martin Hugo Has. He is also known as just Hugo Has, which still counts. Coolest name is subject to change.
Have you learned much from this guide to the 2019 NHL Draft? Is there anyone you are interested in seeing the Devils take other than Hughes or Kakko this year? What do you think the team should do with their additional picks? What do you expect outside of the first round? Please leave your answers and other draft thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.