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Blueshirt Banter 2019 NHL Draft Rankings


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Despite being a center, Jack Hughes mimics his brother, Quinn, who plays defense for the Vancouver Canucks. Though he is undersized, Jack Hughes uses that to his advantage, as he?s an extremely quick, agile skater who weaves through the neutral zone with the puck like a hot knife through butter. He?s incredibly adept at avoiding contact, moving laterally to avoid open-ice contact and spinning away from pressure behind the net. He can?t power his way to the net, but he doesn?t need to. Instead, he slips past defenders into the slot and makes plays.


Because of his speed and ability to carry the puck with ease, defenders get scared and essentially gift Hughes the blue line for fear of otherwise getting burned and therefore allow rush opportunities for his team as well as controlled possessions in the offensive zone. Like his brother, the younger Hughes is effectively a one-man forecheck destroyer. He feasts on turnovers and turns them into transition chances with his speed.


The 18-year-old is an elite passer as the 36 assists in just 24 games show. He seems to always know where his teammates are on the ice. He?ll often pass from what appears to be a natural shooting position, a lethal strategy if a player has the vision and poise that creates high-percentage shots for teammates when the defense and goaltender are not expecting it. What?s so impressive about Hughes is that he plays ?fast.? He can be moving a million miles per hour and still have the presence of mind to make plays that others would need to be at a standstill for. What?s more, he has the hands to pull off some creative moves and change the angles of his shots and passes in a flash. The ability to make quick decisions in small spaces and in-stride is what separates the great players from the mere good ones.


There are two knocks on Hughes? game, and they?re both relative. First, his size comes into question. In an ideal world, sure, he?d be 6?2, 200 pounds. He isn?t, and as such he suffers in contact situations. However, it doesn?t matter what kind of size advantage opposing players have on him if they can?t actually initiate contact. Hughes? elusiveness is at a level that even few NHLers can match. By the time defenders get positioning on him, the puck has already left Hughes? stick.


Hughes? defensive game is also still a work in progress. It?s not that this is actively a red flag, but rather that this part of the game needs to play catch-up to the rest of his skillset. He?s a thoughtful player with all the tools necessary to play defense at a high level. He?ll get there.




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Kaapo Kakko is a dynamic offensive prospect capable of playing either wing or center who blends size, smarts, and high-end puck skills for all-round impact.


Standing 6?2? and weighing 190 lbs., 18-year-old Kakko is already able to physically dominate shifts against veteran opposition. He?s big, strong on his skates, and extremely persistent. Kakko uses his frame and reach well to protect the puck in all areas and shield possession during offensive-zone battles. He forechecks and harries relentlessly, reigniting dead plays and often turning nothing into something with a steal and quick set-up.


Kakko?s strength, smooth stick-handling, and excellent balance make him tough to handle in transition. Kakko is able to separate himself from opponents thanks to his powerful stride a good first step, and he?s difficult to knock off the puck easily. Kakko usually always has options and he?s able to navigate traffic with great edge work and retain possession to buy himself time when those options aren?t there.


One thing that really sticks out with Kakko is that innate ability top players have, no matter what they are doing, to seemingly slow things down and draw the next step up. Kakko processes and passes to teammates but seldom looks as though he?s had time to think that far ahead while fighting off stick checks or battling hard in the corner for possession. He knows what he wants to do well ahead of schedule.


Kakko?s awareness and vision are elite. He can thread a puck through any lane and knows exactly where he needs to be in order to execute. Kakko has a good release, too, which makes him a hard problem to pin down. Committing him to either the pass or shot is difficult, and he?s capable of tearing up the script at any point even when managed down a particular route.


While his bread and butter are in the offensive zone, Kakko?s work rate and smarts extend to the defensive zone as well. He?s responsible, reads developing situations well, and knows when to drop deep and fill in. Kakko is always active with his stick and battles hard to win pucks and release pressure in his own end, generally carrying possession through the neutral zone rather than just chipping it away.


It?s hard to find a fault in Kakko?s game and the skills he possesses. He?s a big guy who actually makes it count, with high-end hands, great feet, and the intelligence to position himself where he can best impact the game.



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Without a doubt, Byram?s offensive abilities are what separate him from the rest of the pack. He is always looking to spring forward. For defensemen, this typically means joining rushes as a trailing player but Byram frequently takes it a step further by becoming a pseudo-winger on transition plays, joining the rush as the third or even second man in.


Within the offensive zone, he is constantly moving to a low position, even behind the net some times. Not one for traditional defensive positioning, Byram roams to wherever he thinks he can best impact the play.


He is able to get away with this because he possesses the physical gifts to put out fires. His footwork is tremendous and his straight-line speed is high-end. As such, he is able to quickly get back into defensive positioning if possession switches.


Both at even strength and on the power play, Byram demands the puck. He is patient in possession and his crossovers are fluid. Thus, he is very good at changing angles of attack and exploiting vulnerabilities as they open up within the defensive structure.


He likes to activate in the offensive zone and push towards the circles. He?s constantly a threat when the puck is the below the goal-line because he capitalizes on receiving low-to-high passes and putting them on net.


His passing is strong, but more than anything, Byram is a goal scorer. The numbers prove this quite strikingly. He led all WHL defensemen in goals this year by a wide margin, scoring 7 more than the next highest. In fact, Byram?s offensive numbers are as good as the WHL has seen for some time.


Only three defensemen in the last 30 WHL seasons have scored more goals in a draft season than Byram did. All three were top-pairing defensemen in their primes. Sydor was a two-time all-star, while Niedermayer is, of course, a Hall-of-Famer.



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Zegras is an intelligent player who can help a team in a multitude of ways. Jack Hughes aside, Zegras may be the most creative playmaker in his draft class. His vision is exceptional, as is his acute awareness of where everyone is on the ice and where they?re headed. As such, he has the ability to make incredible passes to players in his periphery or even completely out of sight.


It?s not just that he is a gifted passer, but that he also can make plays from anywhere on the ice. He dominates the half-wall on the power play, can force turnovers behind the net and immediately send that lethal low-to-high pass to the slot. He?ll carry the puck past the blueline before finding a teammate streaking towards the net. He?s a difficult player to contain or coach against because he?s comfortable in any type of offensive scenario.


Zegras? intuitive understanding of the game extends beyond the moments he?s controlling the puck. He is a proficient forechecker simply because of his spatial awareness. He always seems to make the right reads on the forecheck, cutting off the correct lanes to suffocate breakouts and create turnovers. While he lacks strength, he makes up for that deficiency with tenacity along the boards and behind the net, winning pucks through sheer will rather than force. This extends to the defensive zone as well. He?s a quality defensive center who gets his stick in passing lanes across the slot at the right times. The instant Zegras? team loses the puck, he immediately goes into damage control and figures out the best way to pursue to it and create a second possession. That?s an ability that doesn?t particularly show well in a highlight reel, but one that will heavily tilt the ice in his team?s favor over 82 games.


Though he is more playmaker than scorer, Zegras will keep goaltenders honest. His wrist shot is good enough to beat goaltenders from within the circles and he is an inventive stickhandler, meaning that he can create good shooting opportunities for himself and make goalies commit at the wrong times.


If there was one word that best describes Zegras? game, it is ?anticipation.? In every aspect he seems to be out-thinking everyone else on the ice. He knows what passing lanes are about to open up, where his teammates are going, where the other team?s breakout is headed, and so on. His physical tools ? skating, stickhandling, shot, etc. ? are strong, but it?s that chess-like ability to anticipate the unfolding play that makes him a top player in this draft. In some ways, he reminds me of a more skilled and athletic version of Derek Stepan.



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