Jack Hughes of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft.
Central Scouting revealed its midterm rankings of the top North American and International skaters and goaltenders Monday. The No. 1 International skater is right wing Kaapo Kakko (6-2, 194) of TPS in Liiga, Finland's top professional league. The 2019 draft will be held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.
Hughes, a 5-foot-10, 168-pound center, is the first skater currently playing for the NTDP to be ranked No. 1 on the North American list by Central Scouting since defenseman Erik Johnson was No. 1 in the midterm and final rankings for the 2006 NHL Draft. Johnson was chosen No. 1 by the St. Louis Blues.
[View midterm rankings: NA Skaters | NA Goalies | Int'l Skaters | Int'l Goalies]
Hughes leads the NTDP with 56 points (13 goals, 43 assists) in 28 games. The 17-year-old left-handed shot has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 11 games against college competition this season, and 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) in 16 games against college teams the past two seasons.
He had four assists and a plus-2 rating in four games to help the United States win the silver medal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. He missed three games with an undisclosed injury.
"The way he can create speed through the neutral zone and enter the (offensive) zone at top speed and make decisions at that speed is really something," U.S. National Junior Team general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said. "He has a unique ability to weave in between players and see things that others can't. He has great vision and intelligence, and he's very brave. He's one of the most courageous players I've seen take the puck in between big players and get to the front of the net. He's not afraid."
Center Kirby Dach (6-3, 199) of Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League is No. 2 on the North American skater list. A left-shot forward who turns 18 Monday, Dach leads Saskatoon with 48 points (17 goals, 31 assists) in 41 games.
"[Dach] is a high-end skill player who came out of the gate real strong," John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's very smart on both sides of the puck. He's more of a playmaker but showing he can score."
[RELATED: 2019 Draft Diary: Jack Hughes | Kakko says he has 'a lot in common' with Hughes]
Rounding out the top five North American skaters is center Dylan Cozens (6-3, 181) of Lethbridge (WHL); defenseman Bowen Byram (6-0, 194) of Vancouver (WHL); and center Alex Turcotte (5-11, 189) of the NTDP U-18 team.
Hughes and Turcotte are two of the seven NTDP players ranked in the top 31, including left wing Matthew Boldy (6-1, 187) and center Trevor Zegras (6-0, 166) among the top seven.
Kakko, the 17-year-old left-shot forward scored with 1:26 remaining in the third period to give Finland a 3-2 win against the United States in the gold-medal game at the WJC. He had five points (two goals, three assists) and averaged 15:10 of ice time in seven games at the tournament.
Kakko has 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 29 games for TPS.
"I think everyone back in Finland believes Kaapo will be the No. 1 pick in the draft," said Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju, Kakko's teammate at the WJC. "I know there's talk of Hughes all the time because they hype Jack Hughes a little bit more over here. But back in Europe everyone believes Kaapo is going first overall."
Video: Kakko impresses in World Junior Championship
Rounding out the top five International skaters are right wing Vasili Podkolzin (6-1, 190) of SKA St. Petersburg in Russia's junior league; defenseman Philip Broberg (6-3, 199) of AIK in Sweden's second division; center Ilya Nikolaev (6-0, 190) of Yaroslavl in Russia's junior league; and defenseman Victor Soderstrom (5-11, 179) of Brynas in the Swedish Hockey League.
"Kakko and Podkolzin are both excellent players but Kakko is, at present, the better player," NHL director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. "Kakko is more mature, bigger and stronger. In their local leagues Kakko is playing in Finland's top league with a big role on a strong team. I would say at present there is still a pretty good gap between the two."
The No. 1 North American goalie is Spencer Knight (6-3, 197) of the NTDP. He's followed by Hunter Jones (6-4, 196) of Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League, Mads Sogaard (6-7, 192) of Medicine Hat (WHL), and Cameron Rowe (6-2, 201) of the NTDP.
"Knight has a lot of the same qualities as Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens) in his draft year," Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's one of the best goalie prospects I've seen in years. He's calm, poised and has the size. He's smart and his instincts are very good."
The 17-year-old stopped 12 of 13 shots in 29:52 of ice time for Team Jamie Langenbrunner at the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 19. Committed to Boston College for 2019-20, he is 14-2-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 18 games this season.
The No. 1 International goalie is Pyotr Kochetkov (6-3, 205) of Ryazan in Russia's junior league. The 19-year-old went 4-1-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average and .953 save percentage in five games for Russia, which won the bronze medal at the WJC.
"Kochetkov is a late bloomer," Stubb said. "He's had an excellent fall with Ryazan in the minors and was solid for Russia at the World Junior tournament."