With the 2019 NHL Entry Draft now less than six weeks away, a more clear picture is starting to form at the top of the first round. It’s long been assumed that American center Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko would be the 1-2 punch to open the draft, but what about after that? Over the course of the season, another pivot from the U.S. National Team Development Program has moved up the board and is beginning to get close to the consensus pick at third overall. Alex Turcotte has been a hard player for many to peg this year as injuries have kept him out for large periods of time, but now that scouts have begun to look at his season in totality, they are impressed. In his latest “31 Thoughts” column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman relays an opinion formed from speaking with several teams that Turcotte and OHL defenseman Bowen Byram have separated themselves from the rest of the pack behind Hughes and Kakko. This would also seem to align with recent draft rankings from Friedman’s colleague Sam Consentino, who listed Byram third and Turcotte fourth, and The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, who ranks Turcotte third and calls him “arguably the most complete player in the draft.” Turcotte brings a balanced offensive game and an aggressive two-way style that all teams covet in a future franchise player.
So will Turcotte be the pick for the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 3? There are factors working in his favor, the greatest of which might be that Turcotte is a Chicago-area native. Born and raised in Illinois, Turcotte would be an easy player to market to the fan base as the heir apparent to Jonathan Toews, especially with the stylistic similarities between the two. The other major influence, as noted by Friedman, is that the Blackhawks have used three first-round picks and a second-round pick on defensemen in the last two years alone. Unless they are infatuated with Byram, Chicago will go with a forward at third overall. If it is indeed Turcotte, playing for his hometown team right out of the gate may be enough to make him walk back his commitment to the University of Wisconsin, that is if the Blackhawks think he is ready for the NHL right away.
- Friedman opines that this year’s draft will really begin when someone selects Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin. One of the more polarizing players in this draft class, Podkolzin’s draft stock depends not only on how teams view his ability, but also on how soon they expect him to contribute. Friedman reports that Podkolzin is locked into two more years on his current KHL contract, meaning anyone using a top pick on him will have to wait until at least 2021-22 to see any return. That guaranteed absence only boosts the “Russian factor” fear, that Podkolzin will take his time or potentially may never make the jump to the NHL. On ability alone, Podkolzin is easily a top-ten talent this year, but scouts differ on where in that range he should land. Add in the number of teams drafting in the top ten who want to improve immediately and Podkolzin’s draft slot becomes a complete mystery. Although this deep and talented class provides little consensus, even on early picks, Friedman’s take that the Podkolzin pick will truly shift the draft board is more than fair.
- Another top draft prospect seemingly not expecting to rush across the Atlantic is defenseman Philip Broberg. Once considered the surefire second-best defender in the draft class, Broberg’s stock has fallen somewhat this season as scouts have begun to realize that his elite skating masks some holes to his game. Broberg very well may still be second defenseman off the board and is a lock as a first-round pick, but he no longer has the top-five or even top-ten guarantee he may have anticipated at this time last year. As such, Broberg is clearly expecting a longer stay in his native Sweden rather than an immediate jump to the NHL. Swedish news source Norran reports that Broberg is expected to sign a contract with the Swedish Hockey League’s Skelleftea AIK. Broberg joined the AIK organization midway through last season, but had not seen any action at the highest level. That will change next season, as Broberg will stay in Sweden but venture into the top pro ranks rather than play at the junior level or in the AHL instead. The transfer agreement between the NHL and SHL means that Broberg will not be locked in to his contract the same way Podkolzin is, but it also makes it unlikely that he’ll be seen in North America next year.