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2019 NHL Draft First Round Preview: What to Watch

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2019 NHL Draft - Top Prospects Clinic Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

The first round of this year’s NHL Draft is tonight, and it should be a banger for fans of American hockey. One of the best classes to ever come through the NTDP program should

Here are a few of my thoughts on what I’ll be watching in tonight’s draft.

-Jack Hughes is going first overall to New Jersey. It’s a testament to Hughes’ ability that even with a strong push this year from Kaapo Kakko, there wasn’t a whole lot of “Who’s going number one?” drama that the media tends to push. Hughes is a special player, and thankfully, he won’t be going to a Canadian market to waste away like of the league’s other superstar talents have.

-The real drama doesn’t pick up until the third overall pick. Currently, Wisconsin commit Alex Turcotte is the betting favorite to the be Chicago’s pick at third overall:

I’ve always been a huge fan of Turcotte’s skill, though I feel he can be a bit streaky at times. I also wonder how much of that is media pushing a good narrative of Chicago taking a home-grown product, which would be cool, but is something that I don’t think draft tables take into account all that much.

-Looking at various draft rankings throughout the year, picks 3-10 have felt like kind of a toss-up. It usually broke down based on the scout’s personal preference(or more accurately, where they were located and who they saw more) for the ultra-talented group of WHLers—Byram, Dach, Cozens—or the really talented group from the NTDP—Turcotte, Caufield, Boldy, Zegras. I don’t know if we’ll get a definitive answer on which group was valued more, since it will be eight independent organizations making those decisions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they viewed things differently, but that is one story to watch.

-Speaking of the NTDP guys, online gambling site Bovada set the over/under at 7.5 players from the Program being taken in the first round. This is a bet that has traditionally hit the over(not a recommendation), even when it has seemed near impossible.

With that in mind: Hughes, Turcotte, Caufield, Zegras, Boldy, and Knight are probably locks. Cam York is pretty close to a lock. That leaves just one more player in those final ten picks to hit the over(Bobby Brink playing for the US at the U18s doesn’t count).

Alex Vlasic is the most likely candidate, but by the time you get that deep into the first round, it’s crapshoot territory, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see someone like John Beecher or a different defensemen get selected. That over bet paid off a couple years ago after Boston took Trent Frederic late in the first round after nearly every projection had him as a late-second, early third round pick.

-It’s kind of a down year for defensemen in this draft. There seems to be consensus that Byram is a top-five pick, but after that, there is a whole run of projected forwards before you get to a couple defensemen in the 16-20 range. It will be interesting to see if that holds true, or if teams will get locked in on a need and reach for a couple defensemen early. The 2014 Draft springs to mind where Haydn Fleury ended up going 7th overall, many spots higher than he probably should have just because he was the second-best defenseman available after Aaron Ekblad went first overall. That’s probably a pick Carolina wants a mulligan on, especially after William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers went with the next two picks.

-My personal rooting interest here would be to see Egor Afanasyev and Ryan Johnson somehow sneak into the late-first round. They’re two very different players, but two guys I absolutely loved in their USHL Draft years even though the general consensus on them was fairly tepid. It’s been fun to see them really come on in the past year, and hopefully that continues in their careers.

-Two other Americans I really like and think are a bit underrated are Bobby Brink and Nick Robertson. I could almost put Brink in the above category, but even I didn’t see this rise coming. His hockey sense is exceptional and I think he’ll be a big scorer in years to come. Same goes for Robertson. I think he’ll put up points where ever he goes, and is worth a first round pick.