Jack Hughes, who could become the third United States-born player in the past 13 years to be chosen No. 1 in the NHL Draft, earned an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list.
The last U.S.-born player to be selected No. 1 was center Auston Matthews by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016, and before that was Patrick Kane by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007. Hughes, a 5-foot-10, 168-pound center, has seven points (one goal, six assists) and 14 shots on goal in four games for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team this season.
The players to watch list is Central Scouting's compilation of top prospects from all the major development leagues throughout North America and Europe. The list is updated throughout the season while scouts travel to evaluate the players live.
[VIEW: NHL Central Scouting Players to Watch list (PDF)]
The players on the list with A ratings are considered potential first-round picks. Players with a B rating are considered possible second- or third-round choices, and those with C ratings are potential fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round selections.
Hughes, the 17-year-old brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman prospect Quintin Hughes, the No. 7 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, had 116 points (40 goals, 76 assists) in 60 games with the NTDP U-17 and U-18 teams last season.
"I've been through the NTDP as a player, as an assistant for three years, and am now in my third year as head coach, and the closest I've seen a player being able to take over a game like Jack Hughes is Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes)," NTDP U18 coach John Wroblewski said. "I love the way Clayton plays, but Jack's a degree higher."
Hughes is one of eight players from the NTDP to receive an A rating: forwards Matthew Boldy (6-1, 187), Alex Turcotte (5-11, 189), Cole Caufield (5-7, 155), and Trevor Zegras (6-0, 166), defensemen Alex Vlasic (6-6, 193) and Cameron York (5-11, 171), and goalie Spencer Knight (6-3, 197).
The Western Hockey League has seven A-rated players, the most from the three leagues of the Canadian Hockey League. At the top of the list might be Lethbridge center Dylan Cozens (6-3, 181), who was named WHL rookie of the year after he had 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 57 games last season. He had 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 16 WHL playoff games to help Lethbridge to the Eastern Conference final.
"He's a big body and potential power forward-type player," said John Williams of NHL Central Scouting. "He has a good nose for the net, can score and is very competitive on the puck."
Hamilton right wing Arthur Kaliyev (6-1, 190) and Barrie center Ryan Suzuki (6-0, 178) are the A-rated players from the Ontario Hockey League.
"Kaliyev has great offensive instincts to recognize and capitalize on scoring chances; he's a pure goal-scorer," Marr said.
Suzuki, the brother of Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, has four points (one goal, three assists) in two games for Barrie.
"Ryan is a little bigger than Nick (5-11, 183), but Nick might have the edge in skating and has a little more instincts offensively to shoot the puck," said Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting. "Ryan is more of a playmaking center, but we'll see as the season progresses what he'll develop into. They both can think the game well."
Halifax center Raphael Lavoie (6-3, 191) is one of three A-rated players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, along with Saint John right wing Maxim Cajovic (5-11, 185) and Sherbrooke right wing Samuel Poulin (6-1, 206). Lavoie has four points (three goals, one assist) in four games this season.
Among the A-rated players from Europe, right wing Kaapo Kakko (6-2, 185) of TPS in Finland, defenseman Philip Broberg (6-3, 198) of AIK in Allsvenskan, Sweden's second division, and right wing Vasili Podkolzin (6-1, 190) of SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's junior league have garnered much attention.
Kakko has seven points (three goals, four assists) while averaging 17:33 of ice time in eight games for TPS. He also plays on the top power-play unit.
"He finished last season as a key forward on Finland's gold medal team at the Under-18 World Championship and now, as a 17-year-old, is dominating the Finnish league," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. "He's an offensive threat on every shift and knows his defensive duties. He has an excellent understanding of the game."
Among the top goaltenders, Knight is 3-0-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in three games with the NTDP U-18 team this season. He was 7-1-0 with a 2.82 GAA and .902 save percentage in 19 games for the U-18 as a 16-year-old last season.
"He reminds me of a young Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)," said Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting. "He's very calm and poised, and just has that presence in the net like a veteran has. He's always in control; I haven't seen a goalie like this coming up in a long time."