An already fascinating offseason for the Blackhawks got an extra jolt of energy this week with the team’s move up to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
The Hawks had just an 8.1 percent chance of earning a top-three pick after their failed playoff charge, yet the ping pong balls bounced in their favor on a night when GM Stan Bowman couldn’t hide his delight at the good fortune.
No team stands in a more interesting place entering this year’s draft, which takes place June 21-22 in Vancouver, than the Blackhawks now. The first two picks will almost assuredly be used on forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, who are the consensus top two prospects in this year’s class. Whichever order they go, the Devils and Rangers will be happy to have them.
So the real intrigue starts with the No. 3 pick, which puts the Hawks under the spotlight as everyone awaits to see what they do. Here’s a projection of how the first 15 picks might go with the draft order locked in.
2019 NHL Mock Draft
1. Devils – C Jack Hughes, U.S. National U-18. With the Devils’ second No. 1 pick in three years, they land a player who should become one of the NHL’s best. Hughes shattered records in the U.S. development program and projects to be an all-around talent with speed, skill and hockey I.Q.
2. Rangers – RW Kaapo Kakko, TPS (Finland). If there’s any debate for these top two picks, it’s whether Kakko should go ahead of Hughes. Otherwise, he’s the clear No. 2 prospect in the class after breaking Aleksander Barkov’s record for U-18 scoring in Finland’s top league.
3. BLACKHAWKS – C Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge (WHL). There’s an argument for winger Vasili Podkolzin as best player available, but the Hawks won’t want to exercise patience while his KHL contract runs out given their mandate to compete again soon. Instead, they go for Cozens, a big, speedy two-way talent who could be their No. 1 center in the future.
4. Avalanche (via Senators) – RW Vasili Podkolzin, SKA (MHL). The Avalanche already have an impressive core with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, so they’ll be willing to wait while Podkolzin finishes out his time with SKA. There’s a good chance he’ll be worth it.
5. Kings – D Bowen Byram, Vancouver (WHL). Dropping from No. 2 to No. 5 stings for the Kings, but they get the draft’s highest-rated defenseman in Byram, who just had a monster pre-draft year in the WHL. It’s been over a decade since L.A. had a blue line prospect of this caliber.
6. Red Wings – C Trevor Zegras, U.S. National U-18. Another dazzling talent from the U.S. development program, Zegras gives the Red Wings a potent playmaker for the future. It’s not hard to imagine Zegras and Filip Zadina – the Flyin’ Zs! – shredding up defenses together soon.
7. Sabres – C Kirby Dach, Saskatoon (WHL). Dach’s package of raw tools is tantalizing given he’s 6-foot-4 with the skating to keep up in the modern NHL. The forward could be a stellar counterpoint to Jack Eichel, either as a winger beside him or as the No. 2 center.
8. Oilers – C Alex Turcotte, U.S. National U-18. Turcotte battled some injuries early on this season that stifled his momentum, but he’s shown an impressive combination of speed and motor when healthy.
9. Ducks – C Peyton Krebs, Kootenay (WHL). The Ducks need to rebuild up the middle with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler no longer what they were, and Krebs should be able to help there. He stood out in a big way on an otherwise weak Kootenay team this year.
10. Canucks – LW Matthew Boldy, U.S. National U-18. Boldy would give the Canucks a strong winger who could potentially play with Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat in the near future.
11. Flyers – RW Arthur Kaliyev, Hamilton (OHL). The Flyers’ strong base of young talent lets them take a risk on Kaliyev, who torched the OHL for 51 goals in 67 games this season.
12. Wild – D Thomas Harley, Mississauga (OHL). The Wild could use a high-level defenseman in their organization, and Harley fits the bill with an impressive set of tools.
13. Panthers – D Victor Soderstrom, Brynas (Sweden). The next in a line of skilled, undersized Swedish defensemen, Soderstrom projects as a strong two-way talent.
14. Coyotes – RW Cole Caufield, U.S. National U-18. Even smaller than Alex DeBrincat, but NHL teams have realized that doesn’t matter when you can score all the time.
15. Canadiens – C Ryan Suzuki, Barrie (OHL). Montreal adds the younger brother of top prospect Nick Suzuki, who was acquired in the Max Pacioretty trade, reuniting the siblings in the same organization.