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World Juniors

Hughes, Kakko among top 2019 NHL Draft prospects to watch at WJC

United States center, Finland forward among 13 in tournament who could be selected in first two rounds

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship is going to be a hockey haven for NHL scouts because of the anticipated number of 2019 NHL Draft eligible players expected to have an impact for their respective countries.

The tournament could have as many as 14 players, spread across eight teams, selected in the top two rounds of the 2019 draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.

Topping the list is Jack Hughes of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team. Hughes (5-foot-10, 168 pounds) received an A rating in NHL Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list and is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. He could be the No. 1 center for the United States as a 17-year-old. Hughes has 48 points (10 goals, 38 assists) and 114 shots on goal in 25 games this season.

"Obviously this is the biggest stage I'm playing to this point, so it should be great," he said. "I'm not concerned about solidifying my spot (as a high draft pick). I think I just have to play my game and help my team win. I'm pretty confident where I'm at right now so it's not about that, it's about Team USA and winning gold."

The 2019 WJC will be held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Canada, which won the 2018 WJC, is in Group A along with Czech Republic, Denmark, Russia and Switzerland. Group B consists of Finland, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States.

Here are 13 other top prospects who could join Hughes at the 2019 WJC and be chosen in the first or second round of the 2019 NHL Draft (players listed alphabetically):

Philip Broberg, D, Sweden: An offensive-minded two-way defenseman with an excellent skill set, Broberg (6-3, 199) controls all situations with his vision and understanding of the game. The left-shot defenseman received an A rating in Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list. He has seven assists in 27 games for AIK in Allsvenskan, Sweden's second division.

Martin Has, D, Czech Republic: The 6-4, 192-pound right-handed shot is in his second season with Tappara in Finland's junior league. He's a good skater and playmaker, likes to join the rush, and makes minimal mistakes, according to Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting. The B-rated player has nine points (six goals, three assists) and a plus-5 rating in 23 games.

Ville Heinola, D, Finland: Heinola (5-11, 178) is one of the most improved prospects in Finland, according to Stubb. The B-rated left-shot defenseman began the season with Lukko's team in Finland's junior league but after he had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in nine games, he was promoted to its Liiga team. In 23 games at Finland's highest level, he has six points (one goal, five assists). He's used in all situations, plays with confidence and has good hockey sense.

Nils Hoglander, LW, Sweden: Hoglander (5-9, 185), who received a B rating, has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 25 games for Rogle of the Swedish Hockey League. Stubb said he's an excellent skater with quick hands and good offensive instincts.

Anttoni Honka, D, Finland: The B-rated right-shot defenseman started the season with JYP in Liiga and had four points (one goal, three assists) in 15 games. He was loaned to KeuPa in Finland's minor league and has six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 games. Honka (5-10, 179) is getting more ice time with KeuPa and is regaining his confidence, allowing him to showcase his quick feet and outstanding vision. It's likely he'll return to JYP after the World Juniors. He is the younger brother of Dallas Stars defenseman Julius Honka.

Kaapo Kakko, RW, Finland: The 6-2, 194-pound left-shot forward has high-end skill and a feel for the game that enables him to play center or on the wing, and in all situations. Kakko, who received an A rating, has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 27 games for TPS in Liiga.

Spencer Knight, G, U.S.: Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting compared Knight (6-3, 197) to Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens because of Knight's size, poise and instincts in goal. Knight, an A-rated goaltender, is 12-2-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 16 games for the NTDP U-18 team. He could earn the starter's role for the U.S. as a 17-year-old.

Mikko Kokkonen, D, Finland: Kokkonen (5-11, 198), a B-rated left-shot defenseman, has 11 points (one goal, 10 assists) in 28 games with Jukurit of Liiga. Stubb said Kokkonen is tough to beat 1-on-1 because of his timing and ability to read the game so well. He's been solid at both ends of the ice and has a strong work ethic.

Brett Leason, C, Canada: The 6-4, 200-pound right-shot forward, passed over at the previous two NHL drafts, could play a top-six role for Canada. When Leason left for Canada's selection camp, he was tied for the Western Hockey League scoring lead with 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists) in 31 games with Prince Albert. The B-rated prospect has improved his skating from past seasons, according to John Williams of Central Scouting.

Valentin Nussbaumer, C, Switzerland: Nussbaumer (5-10, 167), who received a B rating, has good vision and can make plays in traffic. He has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 30 games in his first season with Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Vasili Podkolzin, RW, Russia: The 6-1, 190-pound left-hand shot had seven points (three goals, four assists) in six games for Russia in the World Junior A Challenge in Alberta, Canada, before joining his country for selection camp in Kamloops, British Columbia. The A rated skater, who plays for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League, possesses breakaway speed, good hands, quick shot, and can score in many ways, according to Stubb.

Mads Sogaard, G, Denmark: Sogaard (6-7, 192), chosen by Medicine Hat of the WHL in the first round (No. 32) of the 2018 Canadian Hockey League import draft. Jensen said Sogaard moves well for his size and has excellent leg extension in the butterfly when covering the lower corners and sealing his five-hole. The B-rated goalie is 10-4-3 with a 2.39 GAA, one shutout and .931 save percentage in 19 WHL games.

Lassi Thomson, D, Finland: The B-rated right-shot defenseman is having an impressive rookie season for Kelowna in the WHL with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 34 games. Thomson (6-0, 188) is a dynamic offensive player with high-end skill and skating, has a strong shot and is very good on the power play, according to Williams.

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