The 2019 NHL Draft gets underway Friday in Vancouver and there are a number of storylines to track as the event nears. The draft always comes with a number of interesting stories and characters, and this year will be no different.
Most of the talk leading up to the event will surround the top two prospects of this year’s class — Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko — but they’re not the only stories worth talking about. This is shaping up to be an interesting and busy year on the floor of the draft, so here are some of the storylines you should know.
The Hughes Family’s legend grows
If there’s a “First Family” of hockey, it just might be the Hughes family. The consensus top pick in this year’s draft is Jack Hughes, a hyped forward who has come up through the U.S. National Development Team. He’s also the middle child of three American boys.
His older brother, Quinn, was taken in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft and is a top prospect in the Vancouver Canucks‘ system. His younger brother, Luke, is 15-years-old and has already committed to playing college hockey at the University of Michigan, where Quinn spent a year. Luke will be eligible for the 2021 Draft.
The three boys haven’t just found success in hockey by accident. Both of their parents had strong and successful journeys through hockey as well, and they met via the sport. Ellen Hughes, the matriarch, played college hockey at the University of New Hampshire and went on to play for Team USA at the 1992 World Championships, where she won a silver medal and was named to the tournament’s all-star team. She taught all three of her boys how to skate.
Jim Hughes was a star defenseman for Providence College and captained the team before going on to establish a career as a coach, eventually working as an assistant coach for the Toronto Marlies — the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ AHL affiliate — and, later, director of player development for the Maple Leafs.
No American family has ever had three players taken in the first round of the NHL Draft, but the Hughes’ will be one step closer (and just one step away) after Friday. No pressure, Luke.
The Rangers‘ rebuild to take another big step
The New York Rangers announced that they were planning on entering a rebuilding period in February of 2018. They basically told their fans that they’d be getting rid of a lot of the team’s most notable and beloved names in order to transition into the next era of Rangers hockey. it looked like they might be years away from being relevant again.
However, general manager Jeff Gorton has done a great job of stockpiling assets — both picks and prospects — and accelerating that rebuild. This offseason, Gorton has already landed two big pieces for New York’s blue line: a top-pairing defenseman in Jacob Trouba for pennies on the dollar, and a stud prospect in Adam Fox in a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes.
On Friday, the Rangers will get another primetime pillar for that rebuild with the number two overall pick in the draft, which they managed to snag with some lottery luck this spring. (The Rangers were projected to pick sixth.) That pick is expected to land them Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko, though there’s the unlikely chance that Hughes falls to number two instead.
Either way, the Rangers will get another fantastic young player to add to the mix, one that’s very likely to become the face of the franchise soon. The future is looking unexpectedly and increasingly bright.
Will Blackhawks make a splash?
The Chicago Blackhawks hold the third pick in the draft on Friday and all eyes seem to be on general manager Stan Bowman as he looks to get his team back to being a contender while the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews window is still open. Bowman has established himself as fearless GM and he’s already been active in the days prior to the draft, picking up Olli Maatta in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This is largely considered to be a two-player draft with Kakko and Hughes holding a substantial lead over every other player on the board, so it should be very interesting to see what Bowman does with that third pick. The most sensible choice seems to be selecting Bowen Byram, who has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman at the NHL level. But Bowman can often surprise with the way he operates.
Chicago has made at least one draft-weekend trade for six straight years and they have plenty of needs heading into next season. It seems likely that Bowman makes it seven consecutive years of floor activity, but will it be the third pick that moves?
Which players will be on the move?
The NHL Draft tends to be one of the busiest times of year for the trade market and this year could be one of the busiest we’ve ever seen. There’s reportedly an “unprecedented” level of chatter between front offices in the lead-up to this year’s event and that could lead to a frenzy on the floor.
A number of notable names are being discussed as possible trade chips, including Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev, Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers and Minnesota’s Jason Zucker. Even P.K. Subban‘s name has been tossed around with possible trade options. Plenty of teams have interest in moving some significant pieces around to change the structure of their team, while others will be eager to use their draft chips to add as they look to get more competitive sooner rather than later.
It seems fairly certain that we’ll get at least a few big trades that shake up the landscape a bit either before or during the draft, but there’s potential for things to get really crazy this year.
The Yzerman Era begins (again) in Detroit
After cutting his teeth as executive in Detroit before then moving on to build a successful (and sustainable) contender in Tampa Bay, Steve Yzerman has returned to the Motor City to run the Red Wings — the team he spent his entire Hall of Fame career with as a player, and captained for an NHL record 20 seasons.
Yzerman likely wouldn’t have left such a comfortable situation with the Lightning if the Detroit job didn’t mean so much to him, and this is the beginning of what should be a very interesting (and very pivotal) rebuild under Yzerman in Detroit.
This is his first go-round at the draft as boss of the Wings, and he has a pretty nice chip at his disposal with the sixth overall pick. A lot of attention will go to Yzerman, how he approaches this draft and attempts to help the Red Wings climb out of the hole that they’ve fallen into over the past couple of years.
What will Vancouver do?
One of the more interesting teams to keep an eye on Friday will be the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks currently have several promising young pillars to build around but they’ve struggled to find relevance since general manager Jim Benning took over in 2014. The clock could be running out on Benning if his young team doesn’t have some sort of breakthrough this season, and he could be a wild card when it comes to the trade market.
The only thing more unpredictable than an unpredictable general manager is an unpredictable general manager who is also desperate.
There have been rumblings that the Canucks are willing to part ways with the 10th overall pick for the right price, and it seems like that may be the most likely top-10 pick to move on Friday. However, who knows what that price might be, especially with Benning pulling the strings.