Hughes tops 2019 NHL Draft final ranking of North American skaters

Central Scouting on Monday revealed its final list of the top North American skaters and goalies, and top International skaters and goalies. Right wing Kaapo Kakko of TPS in Finland is No. 1 in the final list of International skaters.

The New Jersey Devils hold the No. 1 pick in the draft after winning the NHL Draft Lottery on April 9. The New York Rangers have the No. 2 pick, and the Chicago Blackhawks are at No. 3.

 

[RELATED: Kakko No. 1 in Central Scouting final ranking of International skaters]

[RANKINGS: North American Skaters | North American Goalies | International Skaters | International Goalies | Full NHL Draft coverage]

 

Hughes (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is the first NTDP player to be ranked No. 1 on Central Scouting’s final North American list since defenseman Erik Johnson in 2006. Johnson was chosen No. 1 by the St. Louis Blues at the 2006 NHL Draft, which also was the last time the draft was in Vancouver.

Hughes hopes to become the eighth United States-born player chosen No. 1 in the NHL draft, joining forwards Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2016), Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks, 2007), Mike Modano (Minnesota North Stars, 1988) and Brian Lawton (Minnesota North Stars, 1983); defensemen Johnson and Bryan Berard (Ottawa Senators, 1995); and goalie Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders, 2000).

The 17-year-old forward leads the NTDP with 86 points (23 goals, 63 assists) in 41 games. Hughes also has set NTDP records for assists (139) and points (202) in 101 games in his two seasons with the program. He will serve as captain for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Sweden, which starts Thursday and runs through April 28.

“Jack is an elite skater who plays the game at top speed both with and without the puck, he sees the ice tremendously well and finds open space to create scoring chances,” Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “He has a complete package of skills that suggest he will be a franchise NHL player and game-changer.”

Hughes, the brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, opened eyes last season when he was third on the U-18 team last season as a 16-year-old with 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games.

“[Hughes] was a well-known player entering this season, and at the midterm meeting we had him as the best prospect in North America and he’s done nothing but advance his game even though there are a lot of players in that mix behind him,” Central Scouting’s David Gregory said. “Jack has continued to prove what an elite talent he is, and he’s deserving of No. 1 on our list.”

 

[RANKINGS PDFs: North American Skaters | North American Goalies | International Skaters | International Goalies | Full NHL Draft coverage]

 

Hughes is one of seven players from the NTDP projected as first-round candidates on the final list: center Alex Turcotte (5-11, 185) is No. 4; center Trevor Zegras (6-0, 169) is No. 6; right wing Cole Caufield (5-7, 162) is No. 8; left wing Matthew Boldy (6-1, 192) is No. 9; defenseman Cameron York (5-11, 175) is No. 12; and goalie Spencer Knight (6-3, 192) is No. 1 among North American goalies.

Turcotte, 18, has 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 30 games this season, including 51 points (22 goals, 29 assists) in 27 games since returning to the lineup Dec. 15 from a lower-body injury that cost him 22 games.

“Alex has a combination of important assets in today’s game, like skating ability, being able to play above the pace of what the game is, reading the play, hockey sense and compete,” Gregory said. “That’s not even mentioning puck skills, but his skating, hockey sense and compete are at a very high level and very important when translating to what the pro game is today.”

Joining Hughes and Turcotte in the top five are defenseman Bowen Byram (6-0, 193) of Vancouver in the Western Hockey League, who moved to No. 2 from No. 4 at the midterm; center Kirby Dach (6-3, 197) of Saskatoon of the WHL at No. 3; and center Dylan Cozens (6-3, 180) of Lethbridge of the WHL at No. 5.

Byram, 17, was third among WHL defenseman in points (71) and first in goals (26) and game-winning goals (nine) in 67 regular-season games. He set a Vancouver record for most goals by a defenseman in a season and a WHL record with six overtime goals.

“[Byram] was Vancouver’s best player, and if he wasn’t their best player he was their second-best player, because he impacted play every night,” Central Scouting’s John Williams said. “He’s a physically strong player, thinks the game so well and has a little bit of that nasty stick and push back in his game.”

Dach, 18, is a high-skill playmaker. He had 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) in 62 games for the Blades this season. He has 129 points (38 goals, 91 assists) in 133 WHL games.

Cozens, 18, was second on Lethbridge with 84 points (34 goals, 50 points) in 68 regular-season games, and third with eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven WHL playoff games.

He will try to become the third player from Whitehorse, Yukon, to play in the NHL, joining forward Peter Sturgeon, chosen in the second round (No. 36) of the 1974 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins before playing six games with the Colorado Rockies in 1979-80 and 1980-81, and defenseman Bryon Baltimore, who wasn’t drafted but played two games with the Edmonton Oilers in 1979-80.

Cozens and Dach each have great skill but their own style.

“They are big forwards who can dominate,” Gregory said. “Cozens does it with pure speed and putting pressure on defensemen, and Dach does it by reading the play and creating and reacting to the pressure put on him. They are elite players who will go high in this draft. It’s two different styles of games that suit the game very well.”

Left wing Brayden Tracey (6-0, 177) of Moose Jaw in the WHL made one of the biggest jumps in the final ranking, to No. 21 after being No. 73 in the midterm ranking. The 17-year-old was named the WHL Eastern Conference rookie of the year after he led all first-year players with 81 points (36 goals, 45 assists) and 12 power-play goals in 66 regular-season games.

Knight, No. 1 among North American goalies, is 27-3-0 with a 2.50 goals-against average, one shutout and .906 save percentage in 32 games this season. He holds the NTDP record with 54 wins.

Mads Sogaard (6-7, 196) of Medicine Hat in the WHL, is No. 2 after being No. 3 among North American goalies in the midterm ranking. The 18-year-old native of Aalborg, Denmark, was 19-8-4 with a 2.64 GAA, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 37 regular-season games.

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