Tier A – Best Forward on Team at Position (LW, C, RW)
1. Kaapo Kakko / RW, C / L / FEB 01 / TPS / Liiga
Kakko is an early choice for the Calder next year. Kakko not only broke Barkov’s goal record in Liiga for a draft-eligible player but was a driving force behind Finland winning multiple gold medals in junior and men’s championships.
Kakko is the only prospect guaranteed to be NHL ready in a few months. Kakko uses his skating and size to protect the puck and get to the hard areas.
He has Auston Matthews-style creativity and the way he gets to the net for scoring chances overwhelm and surprise defenders. An appealing mix of power and finesse.
Kakko even impressed under center when given some time there. His intelligence and versatility are usually overlooked because the physical tool set shines bright.
2. Jack Hughes / C, LW / L / MAY 01 / USDP / USHL
Hughes also put up historical numbers compared to some of the USPD’s best success stories. Hughes does everything through his skating, a statement that seems obvious in hockey but nevertheless.
Hughes buys time swinging around the offensive zone hoping to open up passing lanes just enough. On breakouts, Hughes gets his team out of the zone pretty effortlessly just by winding up, and any sign of trouble he can spin back the other way and keep going.
Soft hands and patient vision highlight his playmaking attacking style. There’s a lot of commonality in Jonathan Drouin’s draft year and Hughes, in my eyes.
Both prospects were highly regarded in my rankings but come with worries about moving over to the wing with how much of their production comes from their ability to prolong every possession skating circles around the zone, which isn’t normal for the NHL.