The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is just over a month away, but the next few weeks could still determine the top few selections. Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes are set to battle head to head at the upcoming IIHF World Championship while playing with other NHL stars and their individual performances could determine the final outcome of June’s draft. It’s unsurprising then that Hughes and Kakko continue to lead Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet’s draft rankings, but it’s not like they’re the only ones still playing important hockey.
Bowen Byram, ranked third on Cosentino’s list, is currently leading the WHL playoffs with 23 points in 18 games and has a chance to even the championship series against Prince Albert tonight. Byram recorded 71 points in 67 games this season, and is the top defenseman available in this year’s draft. His placement at third is an interesting one though, as the Chicago Blackhawks who own the selection have drafted defensemen with their first two picks in each of the past two years—Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin in 2018, and Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell in 2017. If the Blackhawks decide not to pick another blue liner they’ll have a few names to choose from, as prospects 4-10 on the list all skate up front.
- Speaking with reporters including Igor Eronko of Sport-Express while working with the Russian national team, Ilya Kovalchuk explained that he is still motivated to play for the Los Angeles Kings and has reached out to some former players who spent time under head coach Todd McLellan. Kovalchuk clearly did not find the good graces of Willie Desjardins last season and ended the year with just 34 points while seeing fewer than 16 minutes of ice time in nearly half of his 64 games. The 36-year old winger has two years remaining on his $18.75MM deal signed last summer.
- The NWHL is desperately trying to stay afloat after more than 200 of the best women hockey players in the world announced a boycott last week, but they’ll have to do it without the help of Kim Pegula, co-owner of the Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Beauts were the only team in the NWHL that shared ownership with an NHL franchise, but will now be operated by the league after Pegula announced that the relationship will be severed. As Hailey Salvian and Katie Strang of The Athletic (subscription required) write, the Beauts were the “gold standard” of the NWHL, mostly because of their relationship with the Sabres and access to resources other teams did not have.