Heading the list of a draft that appears to be chock-full of blue-chip centers is left-hander Jack Hughes of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team. He's the brother of University of Michigan defenseman Quintin Hughes, who was selected No. 7 by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Draft on Friday.
Last season as a 17-year-old, Jack Hughes (5-foot-9, 167 pounds) set a record with 116 points (40 goals, 76 assists) in a combined effort for the U-17/U-18 NTDP teams, one point of tying Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for the single season point record (117) set during his U-18 season in 2014-15. Hughes had 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games for the U-18 team.
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He broke the assist record set by Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller (70) during his U-18 season in 2015-16 and needs 74 points to pass Keller's all-time record (189). He needs 46 assists to pass Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Maple Leafs) on that all-time list.
Hughes, a left-handed shot, is still determining where he will play in 2018-19.
"There's a phrase in hockey used to describe some elite players as 'someone who makes other players around him better' and it's a phrase that is reserved for the truly elite and Jack Hughes has earned that level of recognition already as a 17-year-old," said Dan Marr, Director of NHL Central Scouting. "Jack was promoted to the NTDP under-18 team where he made an immediate impact while excelling in scoring and, more importantly, his presence elevated the play of most others on his team. It has been very impressive watching him perform."
Right wing Oliver Wahlstrom, chosen No. 11 by the New York Islanders in the 2018 draft, had 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 26 games prior to having Hughes join him on the top line for the NTDP U-18 team. He had 52 points (24 goals, 28 assists) in 28 games after his arrival.
"I don't know what to say about [Hughes] anymore," Wahlstrom said. "He's a world-class talent. I learned from him and I hope he learned from me. We were roommates and I know he's going to be a very special player and exciting to watch."
Video: Hughes brothers on their passion and future
Another skater high on the radar is center Raphael Lavoie, who scored 63 points (30 goals, 33 assists) in 68 games for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season. Lavoie (6-3, 192), a right-handed shot, scored six of his 10 game-winning goals in overtime.
There appears to be a strong group of players at the top of the Western Hockey League, including center Dylan Cozens (6-3, 179) of Lethbridge, left wing Payton Krebs (5-11, 174) of Kootenay, and left-handed defensemen Bowen Byram (6-1, 177) of Vancouver and Matthew Robertson (6-3, 196) of Edmonton.
"Cozens could be the top guy right now," John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's a big body, potential power-forward type of player. He's got a good nose for the net, can score, and is very competitive on the puck."
Cozens had 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 57 regular-season games, and 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 16 playoff games as a rookie for Lethbridge. Krebs, selected No. 1 in the 2016 WHL draft by Kootenay, had 54 points (17 goals, 37 assists) in 67 regular season games as a rookie.
"[Krebs] is a smart, creative player with the puck," Williams said. "He sees the ice well and makes plays at top speed."
Byram had 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) and 52 shots on goal in Vancouver, and Robertson had 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) and 127 shots on goal in 67 games as a rookie for Edmonton.
Right wing Kaapo Kakko (6-1, 187) of TPS in Finland is one of the elite international prospects. He took seven shots on goal and averaged 14:12 in ice time in six games for TPS in Liiga, and had 55 points (25 goals, 30 assists) in 38 games for TPS U-20 in Liiga's junior division.
Among the top goaltenders to watch, Spencer Knight (6-2, 193) of the U-17 NTDP was 17-3-0 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 25 games, and 7-1-0 with a 2.82 GAA and .902 save percentage in 19 games for the U-18 team.
"He reminds me of a young Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)," Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's very calm and poised and just has that presence in the net like a veteran has. He's going to really help that U-18 team out next year. He's always in control and I like his overall game."
Knight, who is committed to Boston College in Hockey East beginning in 2019-20, had a 2.42 GAA and .900 save percentage in five games for the silver medal-winning United States at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April.
"In my reports on him last season, I made a notation that I haven't seen a goalie like this coming up in a long time," Jensen said.