The 2019 NHL Draft kicked off Friday, June 21st in Vancouver. The night was full of surprises, bold moves, and new beginnings for elite prospects and their teams. The draft is an opportunity for teams to build their foundation, make moves, and forge their path for the future. Though it is an opportunity for fans and teams, it is also a chance to examine how hockey is changing. These young players are the future, and as such reflect the constant evolution that the game of hockey experiences. When one examines the 2019 NHL Draft first-round class, you can see that it served as a showcase for diversity. Not just a diversity in styles of play, but also where the players come from and the paths they took to get to this moment.
Americans Dominate the 2019 NHL Draft
USA Hockey had a banner night at the NHL draft. In total, nine teams drafted American players in the first round. The US National Development Team set a record with eight players being taken in the first round. This list of players includes Jack Hughes (1st overall, New Jersey Devils), Alex Turcotte (5th overall, Los Angeles Kings), Trevor Zegras (9th overall, Anaheim Ducks), Matthew Boldy (12th overall, Minnesota Wild), Spencer Knight (13th overall, Florida Panthers), Cam York (14th overall, Philadelphia Flyers), Cole Caufield (15th, Montreal Canadiens), and John Beecher (30th overall, Boston Bruins).
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) June 22, 2019
The development team produced the lone goalie taken in the first round, Spencer Knight. The Florida Panthers drafted Knight with the 13th pick, the highest for a goaltender since 2010 (11th overall, Jack Campbell). Campbell was also a product of the US NTDP, but Knight will hope that comparisons to Campbell end there. Knight will have every opportunity to succeed in Florida, a team that faces a tumultuous situation in net. Roberto Luongo faces an uncertain future, and the pipeline is not filled with goaltenders ready to take over. The Panthers expect to be a major player for the services of Sergei Bobrovsky. Even if that pans out, Knight still figures to be an important part of Florida’s plans in net moving forward. Like most young goalies, he will not be NHL ready for a few years.
Canadian Junior Systems
The Canadian prospects did not take center stage at the draft this year as they normally do. The first round, however, still featured a crop of talented prospects from the CHL.
Western Hockey League
The Western Hockey League had a disappointing 2018 NHL draft when only two players were taken in the first round. This was rectified this year as the WHL saw more players taken in the first round than other CHL leagues. This included Kirby Dach (3rd overall, Chicago Blackhawks), Bowen Byram (4th overall, Colorado Avalanche), Dylan Cozens (7th overall, Buffalo Sabres), Peyton Krebs (17th overall, Vegas Golden Knights), Lassi Thomson (19th overall, Ottawa Senators), Nolan Foote (27th overall, Tampa Bay Lightning), and Brayden Tracey (29th overall, Anaheim Ducks).
One particular WHL draftee shows that even in a traditionally powerful junior system, one still finds evidence of the growth of the game. Dylan Cozens grew up in Whitehorse, a small town in the Yukon Territories. This makes him the only first round pick from the Yukon Territories in history. If Cozens lives up to his potential, he will score the first NHL goal from a player born and raised in the Yukon.
Ontario Hockey League
The OHL did not produce the high-end talent that it normally does in the 2019 NHL Draft, falling out of the top 15 completely (an event that hasn’t occurred this century). Despite this, the league still produced a respectable crop of first rounders that includes Thomas Harley (18th overall, Dallas Stars), Philip Tomasino (24th overall, Nashville Predators), Connor McMichael (25th overall, Washington Capitals), and Ryan Suzuki (28th overall, Carolina Hurricanes).
One interesting note is that there is not a large presence of the OHL blue bloods. The only first-round pick from an OHL team that has won a championship in the last 10 seasons is Connor McMichael of the London Knights. The Knights are a regular presence in the first round, and even this selection is lower than normal. The Knights have not had a player taken this late in the draft since 2014 when the Arizona Coyotes drafted Christian Dvorak in the second round.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
The QMJHL had a draft similar to that last year’s WHL showing. Only two first-round selections play in the Quebec League. The lone draftees were Samuel Poulin (21st overall, Pittsburgh Penguins) and Jakob Pelletier (26th overall, Calgary Flames). Perhaps more notable than those taken were high-end Quebec league players that saw themselves fall out of the first round.
Raphael Lavoie was a lock for the first round, or so most people thought. The Halifax Mooseheads product, ranked #14 in our Top Prospects ranking, waited in the stands for a call that did not come. Lavoie has every attribute to succeed and will be a steal for a team in the second round.
International Talent Makes Its Mark on NHL Draft
As always, the first round of the NHL draft was filled with international talent. the draft featured talents from four different countries outside of North America (Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany). The top 10 featured three such players.
When people think of traditional international hockey markets, they may think of Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, or Slovakia. A country that may not come to mind is Germany. Make no mistake, Germany is an emerging hockey nation and that momentum continued this year. The Detroit Red Wings drafted defenceman Moritz Seider with the 6th overall pick, the second highest a German has ever gone in the draft. Germany’s continued improvement in developing NHL prospects is another example of the growth the game of hockey has made in recent years.
Growing the Game
Prior to the 2019 NHL Draft, commissioner Gary Bettman often speaks of his mission to “grow the game”. Though Bettman is oft-maligned, the latest crop of elite NHL prospects serves as an example of growth. The game of hockey will only get more healthy as it continues to grow. Whether it be a player from a country not known for its high-end talent, like Seider or Dylan Cozens becoming the first Yukon born player to be selected in the first round, the 2019 NHL Draft has provided a showcase for the successful growth of the game.
Main Photo: PLYMOUTH, MI – FEBRUARY 16: Jack Hughes #43 of the USA Nationals turns up ice with the puck against the Russian Nationals during the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament game at USA Hockey Arena on February 16, 2018, in Plymouth, Michigan. USA defeated Russia 5-4. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)