A look at the best defense and goaltending prospects in the 2019 NHL Draft class

Cats could go blue liner or peg goalie Knight in first round

Regarding the top defenders available in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, just perusing through the various rankings it doesn’t take long to realize that this is a very North American Forward-laden draft with a lot of the top defensive prospects being from across the pond.

Without the luxury of seeing consistent game actions it’s difficult to come up with a thorough list, however, now that I’ve seen some of the top prospects, I can project which teams with may be interested in adding a blue chip 1st rounder and perhaps offer insight on some later round picks.

Bowen Byram - Consensus top defenseman available and deservedly so. On the younger side, only turns 18 couple weeks before the draft, but already one of the strongest skaters available. Left shot, offensive instincts to spare and the tools you need to match up against top forwards. With Hughes and Kakko destined to be off the board by the time Chicago’s 3rd pick is on the clock, you can see the Hawks selecting the top defenseman available. However, with two right handed centers in Dach and Cozens available, they may choose to stock center depth instead. In this case, with the Avs (4th pick) rumored to be shopping Barrie ($5.5M, UFA in 2020) due to the emergence of Makar and Girard, you got to think that the Avs would take Byram and look to improve their forward depth via trade.

Philip Broberg - Arguably has as much upside as any player available. Turns 18 a few days after the draft, but at 6’3” 200 lbs+ already possesses NHL size and reach that only accents his dynamic skating, puck rushing ability, vision, passing, ability to get shots through traffic, compete level, stick positioning and ability to read and defend top end players. Potential to be the steal of the draft if he goes past the 10th pick. Difficult to pass on the high-end centers available but wouldn’t hesitate to take Broberg as high as 7th, if not higher.

Thomas Harley - Very comparable skating ability to Broberg, although probably won’t lug the puck up ice or drive offense as much. Only turns 18 in August but is already one of the smoothest and most natural skaters available. Like most young defenders, needs more consistency when facing quality attackers, but with his 6’3” 190 lbs frame has all the tools to be a top 4 fixture. Difficult to project where he’ll go considering how long defensemen tend to take to develop, but don’t see him getting past the 15th pick.

Beyond Byram, Broberg and Harley, the field becomes muddier and drawing conclusions by watching highlights of defenders is the definition of faulty since you’re only seeing, well, highlights. Game action would allow to see nuance like gap control, lateral movement, poise on retrievals, etc. However based on game action I have seen, I can comment on a few players that should be available in the latter half of 1st and beyond:

Moritz Seider - Promising right handed defenseman with the 6’4” 183 lbs size you can’t teach. Highly mobile with a big shot. Upped his stock with notable performance at the Worlds but would certainly benefit from North American experience. Full disclosure: haven’t seen much of him, clips were scarce but he’s clearly worth listing with top defensive prospects.

Cam York - Very sound all around d-man. Understands how to play with and against high quality competition. Doesn’t have any apparent weaknesses, but without the size and reach of other NHL d-men, will need to establish exceptional positional defensive play at NHL level to be consistently effective 5v5 while being very capable of contributing to the power play.

Victor Soderstrom - Right handed version of Heinola. Would need to carve out niche as effective puck mover given that he’s listed at a generous 5’11”. Positionally sound and could compliment a physical stay at home d-man.

Ville Heinola - Very comparable to York in potential and ceiling. All around player without obvious weakness who will benefit greatly from North American experience. Like most players, will improve in time as skating and speed improves and increases.

Lassi Thomson - Might be one of the closest to NHL ready players available. Right handed d-man who can elude forecheck with strong skating and burst. Crisp passing ability and not shy about joining the rush or maintaining tight gap while displaying quality lateral movement that closes out angles and rushes. Expect him to be late 1st or early-mid 2nd round pick depending on how highly teams think of the forward pool.

Vladislav Kolyachonok - Very high IQ defender who while on the younger side, is 6’2” and has the size and reach you want in a shutdown defender. Along with lateral movement and mobility, displays the gap control and poise necessary to match up against top 6 forwards and be a fixture on PK. Projects as mid to late 2nd round pick.

Marshall Warren - Smooth skating play making d-man that rushes the puck as effectively as he sees the ice. Only listed at 5’11 but seems to possess the reach and presence of a taller player. Adept up ice passer with excellent instincts joining the rush. Gets shots through traffic and projects as a solid 2nd pairing d-man who would be complimented well by a stay at home keep it simple partner. Will be interesting to see how he develops at BC.

Tobias Björnfot - Skilled, and composed under pressure in all situations with plus mobility allows this 6’0” 200 lbs d-man to display an efficient game. Effective down low and in open ice, doesn’t appear to have noticeable flaws, but could use a better burst off first couple strides to propel his pro game to higher level.

Kaedan Korczak - Haven’t seen him play in a game, only in clips. But stumbled onto his profile while researching and was impressed with his mobility and physical presence. Big body, right handed shot, seems comfortable carrying the puck but understands concept of keeping it simple. Projected as 2nd or high 3rd round pick.

Samuel Bolduc - At 6’4” 212 lbs is quite the physical presence while also displaying above average mobility for his size. Although still raw and needing to work on consistently, should develop to be an effective defender making simple plays with the puck while being a PK stalwart and using his body to play a sound positional shutdown game. Could go as high as late 2nd round pick but most likely available till top half of 3rd.

Jake Lee - While on the younger side has the 6’2” frame you want to go with an imposing 210 lbs+. Still raw, but is a high quality skater who doesn’t shy away from contact and can compliment an offensively oriented partner and contribute to PK. Could be a steal in 3rd or 4th round.

Nikita Okhotyuk - Although not as tall, is in the mold of Bolduc and Lee. Physical presence with size and mobility. Ideally paired with puck mover, can be effective stay at home, keep it simple defender with PK role. Projects as quality 3rd-4th round pick.

William Constantinou - Quick right handed puck mover who keeps his feet moving and displays confidence with the puck. Not an imposing physical presence and currently doesn’t have high top end speed, but is effective on retrievals and could compliment a bigger physical d-man. Should be available in round 3 and maybe 4.

Overall, the landing spots for most of these defensemen will depend on how organizations rank the substantial forward depth available. Having two high end right handed centers - Dach and Cozens - available right after Hughes and Kakko certainly gives teams pause when considering an elite prospect like Byram, who may actually be NHL ready before either center.

Then further down in the 1st round, similar considerations need to be made with someone like D-man Lassi Thomson - who may be in the NHL almost as quickly as Byram - as compared to forward Pavel Dorofeyev - who long term, has legit high-end top 6 upside but will need seasoning and North American ice experience.

The Keepers

Seems like Spencer Knight is only goaltender projected to go in the 1st round. Can see why, being listed at 6’3” 198 lbs means he has the height you want, factor in his lateral quickness and compete level, and you can see why teams will give him strong consideration. Especially those teams with multiple 1st round picks - those teams being the Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres

With limited video available I was able to come up with a few conclusions regarding the top goalie prospects that should be selected as the 2nd round kicks off:

Pyotr Kochetkov (#1 Euro ranking) - Arguably as accomplished as Knight, but being a year old at 19 perhaps slides him down in the draft. A closer look shows that he already has KHL experience while being productive at all levels. Prototypical size at 6’3”, and from the limited clips available you can see sound technique with plus athleticism and quality play reading ability. Can see him drafted as high as mid 2nd round.

Mads Sogaard (#2 NA) - Anyone 6’7” with his quickness and lateral movement deserves a look. Split time in net on his Medicine Hat squad but was the established #1 in his rookie campaign with a 2.64 GAA (8th in WHL) and .921 SV% (4th). Probably viewed in similar light as Kochetkov, mid to late 2nd round pick.

Hugo Alnefelt (#2 Euro) - At 6’3” and only turning 18 in June qualifies as a prospect worth keeping an eye on. Factor in his resume, and one must be intrigued. 10th in his J20 league with 2.59 GAA with 24 game workload that compares with the league leaders, and 13th with a .905 SV%. Full disclosure: didn’t find any clips or highlights to review, feel free to provide. But based on Swedish pedigree and stats could be a steal late in 2nd or 3rd.

Trent Miner (#6 NA) - Perhaps the prospect with the best technique out of the group. Compact, quick laterally, quality glove, 6’1” height may not be ideal, but has good blend of top of crease aggressive positioning and reflex save capability deeper in crease. His height has to be only reason his ranking isn’t higher, clearly knows how to play big given his 1.98 GAA and .924 SV% (4th in WHL in both catagories). Split time with a Arizona 6th round keeper one year his elder, but only played six less games (32), gave up .50 goals less per game and flashed a SV% that was .013 higher. Any team willing to swing for the fences will seriously consider taking Miner off the board sooner than the early 3rd round.

Taylor Gauthier (#7 NA) - Right handed catching keeper who plays bigger than his 6’1 frame, has very impressive blend of technique and athleticism. 3.25 GAA clearly a ballooned result of being on a last place Prince George team. Worthy of late 2nd-3rd round pick.

It might not be the deepest draft for keepers but organizational depth can be established and a home run or 2 can be achieved.

If the Florida Panthers chose to go with a defenseman in the first round, there should be plenty of quality options available, even if Broberg sneaks into the top ten like a few of the draft prognosticators out there are predicting. It could be one  of Harley, Soderstrom, York or Seider that Dale Tallon hands a Panthers sweater to at the podium. Picking a goalie in the first round has become a rare occurrence as of late, but Knight has the kind of ability that might tempt the Cats at 13. We’ll find out come Friday night.