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2019 NHL Draft: Jack Hughes and beyond

We don’t know where the Kings are picking yet, but we know it should be a good one.

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

With the Kings officially eliminated from playoff contention, Kings fans now turn their attention towards the upcoming draft. They could pick first, if the lottery balls go their way. And if they do, Rob Blake’s going to have a pretty easy decision to make.

It’s what happens if the Kings slip in the draft — they could conceivably pick fourth or fifth, or lower still if they somehow manage to string together some wins over the next 10 games — that makes things interesting.

While you’re toying with your draft simulator of choice over the next few weeks, we’ll help you out a little bit. Today’s our first in a series of posts profiling some of the top prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft. Don’t know your Kaapo Kakko from your Kirby Dach? We’ve got you covered.

We’ll be back on Friday with more player profiles. Until then, let us know in the comments if you’ve got a favorite prospect who you’d like to learn more about? We’ll make sure they’re on our list for future profiles.

Jack Hughes

Position: Forward (Center)
Age: 17 (May 14, 2001)
2018-19 Team: U.S. National Team Development Program (USHL)
2018-19 Statistics: USHL: 20 games played, 10 goals, 30 assists, 40 points. U18 National Team: 37 games played, 21 goals, 57 assists, 78 points

What are people saying?

If you somehow haven’t heard of Jack Hughes, well, hello! Welcome! While there’s some debate as to whether Hughes will go first or second in the draft, he’s undoubtedly a player who’s captured attention for the past few seasons. Hughes has dominated players older than him, bigger than him, more experienced than him. He’s a dynamic center best thought of as a “high risk, high reward” type player. He’ll attempt moves on the ice that few players would think of, and fewer still would be able to pull off. In just two seasons with the USNDTP, Hughes has set a new record for career points; he’s got 192 total points in his time with the program, beating a record previously held by Clayton Keller.

Learning to defend at the NHL level make take Hughes some time to adapt to, but so far he’s been dazzling observers with his speed, hockey IQ, and creativity with the puck. And hey, learning the defensive side of the game from someone like Anze Kopitar couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, right? While he’s on the smaller side for a center — he’s listed as 5’10”, 168 pounds — he’s already skilled at evading unnecessary contact. Much like similarly sized players like Johnny Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat, Hughes shows the adaptability to be able to keep himself out of situations where he’s absorbing too many hits. He’s also well-known for his work ethic, both on and off the ice.

Kaapo Kakko

Position: Forward (Center/Wing)
Age: 18 (February 13, 2001)
2018-19 Team: TPS (Liiga)
2018-19 Statistics: 45 games played, 22 goals, 16 assists, 38 points

What are people saying?

Watch out, Jack Hughes. Kaapo Kakko might be coming for you.

While Hughes has generally been the consensus number one pick for quite some time, more recent evaluations have put Kakko ahead of him, largely because Kakko is already playing in, and making an impact in, a league of men, while Hughes’ play is largely against players roughly the same age as him.

In the Finnish Liiga, Kakko recently broke the record for goals from a first-time draft eligible player, surpassing the previous record held by Aleksander Barkov. He’s putting up better numbers than Patrik Laine and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Montreal Canadiens rookie who’s already drawing attention for his two-way play. That’s not exactly bad company to keep.

As a winger, Kakko is developing a reputation as someone with good hands who still defends well. He’s got excellent on-ice vision and excels as a playmaker. And while he’s said he’s more comfortable on the wing, particularly as it suits his offensive skills, he’s played center as well, so he’s quite versatile. He’s even got some familiarity with Kings prospect Rasmus Kupari, as they’ve played together at World Juniors.

Vasili Podkolzin

Position: Forward (Wing)
Age: 17 (June 24, 2001)
2018-19 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (VHL/MHL)
2018-19 Statistics: VHL: 14 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points; MHL: 12 games played, 6 goals, 2 assists, 8 points

What are people saying?

Looking for a 200-foot player? Look no further. Podkolzin is known for being strong on the puck, and away from the puck, he’ll use his big frame to clear opponents off of the puck and claim it back. If the Kings weren’t so tantalizingly close to picking first overall, someone like Podkolzin may be even more on fans’ radar, as his physicality combined with his skill with the puck puts him in the mold of someone like a much more fleet-of-foot Dustin Brown (in the seasons where Brown was actually encouraged to be an offensive-minded player).

Podkolzin’s numbers aren’t much to look at this year, as he adjusts to playing in the KHL’s developmental league. He’s excelled in international play, however. It’s possible he could need some more time to develop before making his NHL debut, but he has all the tools — speed, size, skill — to succeed in the modern NHL.

Dylan Cozens

Position: Forward (Center/Wing)
Age: 18 (February 9, 2001)
2018-19 Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
2018-19 Statistics: 68 games played, 34 goals, 50 assists, 84 points

The Kings spend a fair amount of time scouting the WHL, so they’ve undoubtedly seen Cozens play. He was named Rookie of the Year thanks to his 2017-18 campaign, where he amassed 53 points in 57 games, and things have only gone up from there. This season, he’s second on his team in points — and first if you take out leader Nick Henry, who put up 40 of his 94 points while with the Regina Pats.

Cozens can play center or wing, though most likely will slot into a power winger role in the NHL. Like nearly all of this year’s top prospects, Cozens has a combination of speed, agility, and physicality that makes him attractive for teams looking to up their speed and skill. He’s a strong puckhandler and is equally comfortable setting his teammates up at the net as he is taking his own shot. Cozens doesn’t have quite the same on-ice awareness as prospects like Hughes or Kakko, which is why he’s not often mentioned alongside them as a top prospect.