July 2, 2019
The Western Hockey League fared best of the big three Canadian Hockey League major junior organizations in this year’s NHL Entry Level draft.
Seven WHL players were selected in the 31 first slots available, compared to just four from the larger Ontario Hockey League, and just two from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Leading the way for the WHL was third overall pick, Kirby Dach, of the Saskatoon Blades, followed by Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants at #4 and Dylan Cozens of the Kootenay Ice at #7.
Here’s a look at the group, with notes courtesy of NHL.com.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 3 (North American skaters)
Dach, who considers himself more of a pass-first than shoot-first forward, was third for Saskatoon with 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists), second with 23 power-play assists and first with 1.18 points per game in 62 games. The right-handed shot is smart on both sides of the puck, deceptively fast, has good vision, and can beat opponents wide. Dach (6-4, 198) played center in Saskatoon but won a Hlinka Gretzky Cup championship with Canada in August playing right wing and had seven points (two goals, five assists) in five games.
NHL.com analysis: The center skates well for a player his size. He might need one more season of junior hockey, but his size and skill could make him a solid second-line center behind Jonathan Toews as soon as next season.
4. Colorado Avalanche – Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 2 (North American skaters)
Byram (6-1, 195) led Western Hockey League defenseman in goals (26) and game-winning goals (nine), and he was third with 71 points in 67 regular-season games. He also set a single-season league record with six overtime goals and led the WHL playoffs with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 22 games. He has good awareness, plays with an edge, and likes to get up in the rush. He’s a high-end, two-way defenseman considered the best at his position in the draft and a threat in all three zones who is capable of making plays under duress and in traffic.
NHL.com analysis: The Avalanche got the unquestioned best defenseman in the draft. With Cale Makar, 20, making an impact during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Tyson Barrie an established top-pair defenseman, the Avalanche have the potential for a high-end group of defensemen to go with their elite forwards.
7. Buffalo Sabres – Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 5 (North American skaters)
Cozens (6-3, 183), a right-handed shot, is hoping to become the third player from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, to play in the NHL, joining forward Peter Sturgeon (Colorado Rockies, six games, 1979-80) and defenseman Bryon Baltimore (Edmonton Oilers, two games, 1979-80). He is an elite skater with speed, size and a powerful shot. He was second on Lethbridge with 84 points (34 goals, 50 assists) in 68 games and dad nine points (four goals, five assists) for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World U-18 Championship.
19. Ottawa Senators – Lassi Thomson, D, Kelowna (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 15 (North American skaters)
Thomson (6-0, 186) was the highest-scoring rookie defenseman in the Western Hockey League with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 63 games and was third among WHL rookies with seven power-play goals. He was named WHL Western Conference Rookie of the Year and a Western Conference Second Team All-Star. He sustained a concussion and missed the final four games of the regular season but passed his medical exam and participated in the testing during the NHL Scouting Combine.
NHL.com analysis: Thomson didn’t need much of an adjustment period coming to North America from Finland, and scouts believe he’s the kind of player who will do better on the smaller ice. With Thomson joining a group of young defensemen that includes Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom, the Senators are setting themselves up nicely in that position for a long time.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning – Nolan Foote, LW, Kelowna (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 37 (North American skaters)
Foote is the son of two-time Stanley Cup champion and Kelowna coach Adam Foote. His brother, defenseman Callan Foote, was selected by the Lightning with the No. 14 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Nolan (6-3, 195) is a two-way forward with a good combination of size, reach and good hands around the net. He led Kelowna in goals (36), power-play goals (17) and shorthanded goals (three), and was tied for second in points with 63 in 66 games. He played all season with a broken left wrist.
NHL.com analysis: The Lightning have plenty of top-end offensive-minded forward prospects; Foote brings a strong two-way game. And playing all season with a broken wrist shows he is physically and mentally tough.
29. Anaheim Ducks – Brayden Tracey, LW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 21 (North American skaters)
Tracey (6-0, 170) made one of the biggest jumps in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, to No. 21 from No. 73 on the midterm list. He was named the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year after he led first-year WHL players with 81 points (36 goals, 45 assists) and 12 power-play goals in 66 regular-season games. He also tied for first in the WHL with 11 game-winning goals. Tracey sees the ice, anticipates well, and is quick to get to openings for scoring opportunities. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
NHL.com analysis: The Ducks added to a position of strength with Tracey. What makes him stand out is his ability to produce in clutch moments, and scouts also like his shot and quick release.