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Prospect Runway: 2019 Draft Countdown

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An early look at who the Ducks might be looking at leading up to the 2019 NHL entry draft.

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United States v Slovakia - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Hi! No I am not high. I do realise the draft is another five and a bit months away, but I figured now is a better time than any to attempt to ignore the expletive-laden mess that is the current Ducks state of affairs on the ice and start to look toward the future.

This will not be a super in-depth round by round analysis like Benny and I did last year. This is just a precursor, a prologue if you will. Essentially I am just going to throw some names out that have intrigued me and for which I feel their style fits perfectly with how the Ducks’ recent drafts have been trending.

The upcoming 2019 draft has been described as Center heavy which is great because as noted in my recent mid-year grades article - the Ducks have plenty of Center depth but no real franchise defining help on the way to eventually replace Getzlaf.

I wasn't going to initially include the obvious consensus first and second overall picks, but given how vocal the “Lose for Hughes” movement has grown of late I decided to include them after all....

United States v Slovakia - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Jack Hughes - C - USNTDP, USHL

Still rated the likely first overall pick, Hughes contains a dangerous combination of speed, skill, vision and hockey smarts. His elite level skating makes him a force when moving, and he is dynamic with the puck both from a stand-still or while on the rush. He has 56 points in 28 games for the USNTDP while playing as their first line center and captain; he also had four assists in four games for Team USA at the World Juniors. Potentially his one and only knock right now is size, which - with the ever changing nature of the new NHL- is not as much an issue as it used to be. Pronman does comment that where similar diminutive forwards like Gaudreau and Datsyuk made a living out of avoiding being hit, Hughes gets hit a little more than he’d like. The Ducks do need a new franchise defining first line center and if they are lucky enough to lose their way to the clubs’ first ever number one selection, then Hughes is it.

Finland v United States: Gold Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Kaapo Kakko - LW - TPS, Liiga

From an American with heart to an American heart breaker- Kakko scored the game winning goal to give Finland the gold medal over Team USA at this year’s World Juniors. He has a size advantage over Hughes and has many observers starting to look his way as their choice for a first overall selection. His biggest strength is his vision, reading the play while it is still developing, and using his hockey smarts to create while using his size to shield the puck. If he was a center he would be the Ducks’ absolute wet dream selection but, alas, he is not. Playing with men in the highest division in Finland, he has 23 points in 30 games and scouts have commented on just how confident and willing he is to attempt things that players of his age would not normally fathom doing in that league. He had five points in seven games at the World Juniors including that gold medal winning goal.

Lethbridge Hurricanes v Calgary Hitmen Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Dylan Cozens - C/RW - Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL

Described as a high-octane power forward, Cozens was named rookie of the year last season and has followed that up with fifty-six points in forty games thus far for Lethbridge. His skating is perhaps his greatest asset, combining speed, acceleration and balance to power a game that forces opposing teams defenders to back up . He likes to dictate the play and can stick handle at speed to create plays, but is also just as adept at receiving passes on the rush or give and go’s. Potential misgivings about him is an overly physical game that can sometimes take him out of the play, which makes him a textbox Bob Murray pick. He is also a perfect all-rounder, providing good results on both the Power Play and the Penalty Kill, using his excellent skating and pivots to pressure opposing teams’ man-advantage units. He is currently slated as the fifth selection so the Ducks will either have to finish near the lottery this year (not impossible the way things have gone lately) or hope that he drops off the back of some teams doubting his offensive upside.

Russia v Canada - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Brett Leason - C/LW - Prince Albert Raiders, WHL

Currently in the top five in scoring in the WHL with sixty-six points in thirty-four games, Leason is an overeager that has been passed over in two straight drafts but is in the midst of a breakout season after a trade from Tri-City to Prince Albert. With the impressive year he has had, he was selected to play on Team Canada at the World Juniors and did not disappoint, getting five points in five games to finish fourth on the team in scoring. He is big (6”5’, 198lbs), excels in winning puck battles, and has improved his skating to strengthen his overall offensive game. Given the Ducks’ recent late grabs for players that were expected to go higher (see Comtois, Max and McLaughlin, Blake) as well as his playing style matching your atypical Bob Murray forward, I could see them targeting him with their second round pick depending on where they finish. Early pre-draft rankings have him hovering around the late first round mark but the conundrum is - he is putting up these numbers as a player who is years older than his peers; this might be an indication of the limit to his ceiling.

Finland v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Nils Höglander - LW - Rogle BK, SHL

Another prototypical Bob Murray pick.

  • Swedish: Check
  • Defensively responsible: Check
  • Does everything good but does not excel particularly at any one skill: Check

Hoglander is currently in the midst of his rookie season in the SHL playing as a teenager against men. Consequently, his numbers don’t look that great - five goals and three assists in thirty games thus far - but he had a very respectable World Juniors, netting an even split three goals and three assists through six games to finish tied for second on the team in scoring. Various draft write ups give him the thumbs up on a wide ranging skill set: aggressive forecheck, non-stop hustle, plays bigger than his size, fearless in the corners, very good skater with quick acceleration - and so it continues, but what you don’t see is “above average” with regard to any of that, except for maybe his vision. Scott Wheeler of the Athletic likes that he has earned the trust of his coaches enough to be playing SHL minutes despite his size (5’9”) but also thinks he would get on the scoresheet more if he became less of a perimeter player and went to the net more.

Tri-City Americans v Kelowna Rockets Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images

Nolan Foote - LW/C - Kelowna Rockets, WHL

The youngest of Adam Foote’s two sons, Nolan became the black sheep and took the offensive route. He is in his third year in the WHL playing for the Kelowna Rockets where he has so far contributed thirty-eight points in forty games. Coincidentally the senior Foote was named Coach of the team just prior to the season starting. He has his father’s size as well as feisty approach to game play and our friends at MileHighHockey compare him to Evander Kane while also emphasizing his deadly shot that is best utilized with the man advantage. The main concern is his development- he hasn't put up dizzying increases in numbers year on year, and not being over a point per game in the WHL in his draft year is sure to drop him down a few slots. That said, he is considered a safe pick by the experts so it’s for that reason I have him on the radar of a potential Duck selection.

Finland v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Victor Soderstrom - RHD - Brynas, SHL

As much as I have harped on about the Ducks needing to dip back into the defensive pool, I sure haven't included many on this list! Soderstrom would be the next Hampus Lindholm clone to come out of Kamino. Described as physical for his size, always making the right decision with the puck whether it be pushing the pace as the puck carrier, making the outlet pass or knowing when to commit or back off from a pinch, his game is mature beyond his seventeen years. He has four points in twenty-four games in the SHL and eight points in fourteen games for his club’s farm team. Current rankings have him going at the very end of the first round or early second round, so if the Ducks manage to acquire another late first rounder or early second rounder I can see them picking him up to further supplement the pipeline.

Finland v Sweden - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Ville Heinola - LHD - Lukko, Liiga

Seeing action on both the Finnish U18 and World Junior squad this last year, this seventeen-year-old is considered a sleeper-come-riser with a new-age NHL skillset. Playing against men as a teenager at the highest level in Finland, he has put up six points in twenty-three games this season while contributing nine points in eight games for their junior team in the U20 league. He had two points in five games for the gold medal winning Finns at the World Juniors and had the same scoreline in the under eighteens. His skating and puck handling are described as above his peers while his numbers in the Liiga this season have been growing steadily better. He started the season with twelve to sixteen minutes a night and was seeing twenty-one minutes by November, while staying a plus eleven on a team that has a dreadful goal deferential. He was injured during the World Juniors and was recently announced as being out six to eight weeks by his Liiga club Lukko; perhaps that hurts his draft ranking to the benefit of the Ducks although Craig Button has him ranked twenty third overall in his most recent rankings.

Halifax Mooseheads v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Raphaël Lavoie - C/W - Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

Anaheim cannot do without their minimum one or two Quebecois selections, and I am betting this year’s draft will be no different. Dating back to 2016, the Ducks have selected a total of five players out of the QMJHL. Lavoie is ticketed to go in the early-to-mid first round. Pronman’s assessment is that he has the high end tools to become a difference maker but scouts are not so happy with his decision making and offensive numbers this season (53 points in 48 games for 1.1 PPG) aren't exactly the stand out results of a first rounder. By comparison Comtois has 15 points in 9 games (1.67 PPG), Morand has 54 in 48 games (1.125 PPG) and Groulx has 52 in 47 games (1.106 PPG) so Lavoie’s numbers- although still decent - are closer to Morand and Groulx’s than say - Comtois’. He is described as a puck-possession machine with speed and can dangle defenses or create Grade A chances with dazzling skill, so the potential is there, it just needs to be more consistent.

Cam York, Team USA
Hickling Images via USHL.com

Cam York - LD - USNTDP, USHL

The Ducks also love their homegrown heroes and York has the possibility of being the highest ever drafted. Born and raised in Anaheim Hills, York has been climbing the draft rankings while putting up impressive numbers (30 points in 37 games) for the USNTDP. He is lauded for quaterbacking a powerplay while also being mobile enough to both lead the rush, exit the zone and come back to clean up any mistakes in a hurry. He is a fantastic skater who makes smart offensive plays and most importantly, plays the way that the NHL is currently trending. Knocks on him are his shot and defensive game, which are eerily similar to the same concerns of a certain other Cam that the Ducks drafted just 9 years ago. It would be some sanguine irony were the Ducks to move Fowler for a first round pick and then use that pick to select a player in much the same mold - like York.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Nathan Légaré - F - Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL

Legare is a small-to-average sized forward that is lighting up the Q (68 points in 50 games) and whose profile reads like a cross between Max Comtois and Daniel Sprong. Legare is described as having one of the best shots in the draft and can score from anywhere - a legit sniper. The other things to like about his game are his big body and the difficulty opposing defenses have to separate him from the puck, particularly along the boards. He has good speed and is very creative with the puck. Possible knocks on his game are that he is not a play driving power forward despite having the relative build of one, but with today’s NHL trending toward speed that may not be as important. He is looking like a late first rounder and could fall to the Ducks as a potential early second round pick at this point.

Kazakhstan v Slovakia - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Jonathan Hayward-Pool/Getty Images

Artur Gatiyatov - LW - Snezhnye Barsy Astana, MHL

You won’t see Gatiyanov’s name mentioned among top sixty rankings but he deserves to be at least considered for a sleeper - later rounds pick. He was third overall in scoring at the most recent World Junior Championships and first among undrafted players with eight points in six games of tournament play - all while playing on the second to worst team. Described as a speedy winger and an outstanding playmaker, adept at avoiding defenders. Knocks on his game would be his size - listed at 5’7” and just 130lbs, which makes it even more impressive that he put up the numbers he did in Victoria last month. He would be an overager with a 1999 birth year, but again given he is second on his team in scoring and fifth in the MHL overall (forty-three points in forty games), he is an intriguing option to take a flyer on. No, I am not forgetting the Ducks don’t draft Russians, but he isn't Russian. I get that their misplaced xenophobia likely extends to the former soviet nation (and likely makes it worse) but I am picking at least someone will grab this kid this year, and it will be interesting to see who and when.

Honorable Mention:

Moritz Seider - D - Alder Mannheim, DEL

Seider has been getting a lot of attention as a great all-around defenseman. His profile reads like Marcus Pettersson but with potentially more offensive upside. He skates and moves the puck well with great poise and instincts, but does not stand out as a powerplay quaterback or play driver. He does have a good first touch and can make plays, but the rest of his skill-set projects as a shutdown minute-eating defenseman.

Who would you most want the Ducks to select in this years upcoming draft? What do you think they need? Let me know in the comments.