Alex Turcotte. Photo: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images
NHL Entry Draft 2019

COHEN: After Hughes and Kakko – who’s going third?

This year I’ve sensed a heightened interest in the upcoming 2019 NHL Entry Draft. As fans of teams are falling out of the playoff race the next logical place to look is the draft. We haven’t even had the draft lottery yet and still, fans are talking about it daily. Knowing that Jack Hughes will go first and Kaapo Kakko second, who’s going third? That’s the next logical question.

At the moment, in my estimation, there are four potentials for this spot. First up is Vasili Podkolzin. The 6-1 Russian has a lot of gifts. He was the first 2001 birthdate to play in the KHL, that’s a pretty big deal in a league against men. It didn’t last long, he only played in three games, but it made headlines. He had a decent showing in the 2019 U20 World Junior Championship.  His three points in seven games and eventual bronze medal don’t really tell the story. The Russians aren’t big on playing 17-year-old players in this tournament so that was a big step.

First off, the right winger has some jump. When you see him it’s noticeable. He does everything at top speed and it’s hard to get the puck away from him. His release on his wrist shot is fast. He doesn’t waste any motion on it. He can make the tape-to-tape pass and he battles and will lay a hit when necessary.

Then there’s Alex Turcotte, he’s a 5-11, 190-pound center. He’s played with the NTDP for the past two seasons. Last season he was more than a point-per-game with them. 63 points in 58 games. 18 goals. He was a rising star. This year he’s on another level. An impressive stat is the fact that the 18-year-old has 12 points in eight games against college teams. He tallied six goals as well. As a whole on the season, he has 43 points in his first 26 games. 19 of them are goals.

He’s fast, smart and when the puck is on the wall, he makes good decisions to get it to a teammate and set up scoring chances in the offensive zone. He’s a pass or shoot kind of player. Can do both very well. He’s terrific on the power play and he’s smart without the puck. Any team would love to have him. He will be on every team’s board and only a handful may get a crack at him.

Kirby Dach is a 6-4 center and the price for centers is very high on the open market and based on how teams drafted them last season I’d expect the same this season. This has been a breakout season for him with the Saskatoon Blades. In his first 58 games, he had 24 goals and 69 points.

This prospect has fast hands, an excellent release on his wrist shot that will translate at any level. He really doesn’t need a lot of space to get it off. He’s a very accurate passer as well. He has all the traits of a solid pivot. He’s not perfect, but there’s so much here that some teams may feel like that size and frame that will be over 200 pounds is too much to pass up.

The last prospect is Bowen Byram. He’s a very young defenseman who will turn 18 on June 13th. Teams love to get players who are young in the draft and show that early promise already. Last season he got his feet wet with the Vancouver Giants with 27 points in 60 games. That was just an appetizer to what he was going to be able to do this year. In his first 64 games in 2018-19, he had 68 points, 25 of them are goals. It’s a special season for a rearguard no matter how you break it down. Dach is ranked 28th in the league in scoring and Byram is 30th.

This BC native will be one of the most popular players at this draft for a lot of reasons. There will be a lot of talk about the fact that he’s a 6-1, offensive blueliner who can run a power play. His offensive instincts are excellent. He knows when to pinch. He’s a really good passer, has nice touch on them. He also has a pro wrist shot already. At around 192 pounds, teams will picture him in a top-four role in the future and that will be hard to pass up as well.

Only one player will be selected third. A lot can happen between now and the draft. The lottery, the NHL Combine, playoffs, and possibly trades. These are all top players in this draft, and they’ll be talked about from now through June and well into the future.

We’ll have to wait and see who goes third.

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