The first round of the 2019 NHL Draft concluded Friday night in Vancouver, and aside from the two young prospects who made all the headlines leading up to the draft, the remainder of the first round played out with one trade and a few surprises to the viewing audience.
Hughes vs. Kaako
With the New Jersey Devils selecting first and their rival New York Rangers owning the number two pick in the draft, the lead-up to Friday’s first round heavily centered around the season-long question.
Publicly, the Devils organization and general manager Ray Shero did little to suggest they were leaning toward one side or the other, but the signs were all pointing toward Jack Hughes going number one overall, leaving the Finnish superstar Kaapo Kakko to be selected second by New Jersey’s rivals across the Hudson River.
Hughes, the number one North American prospect and U.S. National Team Development Program superstar, was all smiles when his name was called by New Jersey’s Hall-of-Fame goaltending legend, Martin Brodeur, who New Jersey selected 20th overall in the same city of Vancouver back in 1990.
In Finland’s Kaako, the New York Rangers are getting the teenager who many around the NHL’s scouting circles believe to be the more ready prospect to jump into the NHL between the top two draft picks. While Hughes set point-scoring records with the USNTDP, Kaako was busy playing against adults in Liiga, setting a few records of his own for under-18 players in Finland’s top flight professional league.
With Kaako going second to the New York Rangers, the Hudson River rivalry begins a new chapter, with many, including
the two teenagers themselves, believing the two will be linked together for the rest of their careers.
After the Hughes vs. Kaako debate was settled, the intrigue began for the following three selections in the draft, held by Chicago, Colorado and Los Angeles. Pre-draft rankings around the league left little to be surprised about here, with Chicago being in a position to potentially pick up the top defenseman available in the draft, Vancouver Giants (WHL) blue-liner, Bowen Byram.
Instead, the Blackhawks focused on adding more to their offensive talent pool, selecting Saskatoon Blades (WHL) center Kirby Dach. Byram was then announced by Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic as the fourth pick in the draft.
The Los Angeles Kings rounded out the top five by selecting USNTDP center Alex Turcotte, who in 1-2 years will be expected to compete for a regular spot in a Kings lineup featuring aging stars Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar down the middle.
A Draft Surprise at Six!
The first big surprise of the draft came with the sixth pick by the Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman, in his first year as GM of the same team he captained to three Stanley Cups, selected German defenseman Moritz Seider, who couldn’t believe the pick himself (see below).
(Courtesy of @NHLGIFs on Twitter)
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) June 22, 2019
Seider had been widely considered to be a mid-to-late first-round selection, with most pre-draft rankings listing Seider after Swedish defensive prospects Philip Broberg and Victor Soderstrom, and many rankings having Seider behind North American prospects Cam York and Thomas Harley as well.
Yzerman, however, is the man who built the Tampa Bay Lightning team which matched the NHL’s single-season record in points last season. Trusting “Stevie Y’s” judgement when it comes to drafting will come easy to the Detroit faithful who watched Yzerman lead their club for 20+ seasons before finding success as a general manager in Tampa Bay.
Flyers / Coyotes Swap Picks
The only trade of the first round came with the Philadelphia Flyers sending the 11th overall pick to Arizona in exchange for the 14th pick and the 45th pick (2nd round) in the draft. With that 11th pick, Arizona selected the aforementioned Soderstrom, while Philadelphia chose the USNTDP defenseman, Cam York, with the 14th pick.
The trade would be the only movement on the day, but if you were paying attention to the draft, the big trades would eventually come on day two.
Injury sees Top Prospect Fall
For almost the entire season, Kootenay Ice (WHL) center Peyton Krebs had been an expected top 10 selection in the draft. Unfortunately for the young playmaker — who tallied 68 points in 64 games this past season in the WHL and added another 10 points in seven games at the U-18 World Junior Championship — his fall out of the top 10 was the result of a torn achilles injury suffered only a couple of weeks ago after being cut with a skate blade.
Not many thought Krebs would fall as far down the draft order as he did, but a torn achilles can be a serious injury to a player considered to have excellent skating ability. Still, the Vegas Golden Knights saw an opportunity to select a top 10 talent by choosing Krebs with the 17th pick.
— USA Hockey’s NTDP (@USAHockeyNTDP) June 23, 2019
U.S. National Team Development Program (selections above via @USAHockeyNTDP on Twitter)
Another story worth following on Friday would involve the selection of nine American-born players in the first round. In fact, the U.S. National Team Development Program had the first eight of those nine players, with American John Beecher of the U.S. National U-18 team selected 30th overall by the Boston Bruins.
The best goaltender available was the American Spencer Knight, chosen by the Florida Panthers with the 13th overall selection. Most pre-draft rankings across the league may have had Knight lower on the board, but as the best available and only goaltender deemed worthy of a first-round pick, there was no telling where Knight was going to go.
Florida, rumored to be in the mix for pending unrestricted free agent goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky when the free agency window opens, makes a smart pick here either way, as the current goaltending situation features two underperforming netminders in the 40-year old soon-to-be Hall of Fame candidate Roberto Luongo and the expensive contract of backup goalie James Reimer, who’s best days are behind him as well.
Cole Caulfield, the linemate of Jack Hughes with the USNTDP, was one of the other side stories to track on the day. Caulfield’s 72 goals this past season broke the single-season scoring record held previously by Auston Matthews, who had 55, and turned out to be a pretty damn good NHL player. Caulfield also broke Phil Kessel’s all-time USNTDP goals record this past season.
Still, with scouts and rankings listing Caulfield as a potential top 10 pick, it was a surprise to many when he dropped as far as he did, when the 5’7″ right winger was selected 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens.
The 31 players drafted in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (via @NHL on Twitter)
— NHL (@NHL) June 22, 2019