Fantasy forecast for the 2019 NHL draft class

Gary Bettman reads off a lot of names during the NHL Draft, but which are the ones that will matter most for fantasy purposes? Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire

Following this year's entry draft, we have compiled for you a list of several key players and their respective fantasy potential in the near and/or distant future. Complete with brief scouting reports from ESPN.com's resident draft and prospects analyst, Chris Peters, this list is sorted by anticipated NHL debut date and order of selection.

For all draft-related content, check out ESPN.com's comprehensive coverage.

Immediate impact fantasy contributors

Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils, USA U18 (NTDP)
Selected: 1
Draft board ranking: 1

Peters: "Hughes has such great burst and an effortless glide in his skating, and he uses his edges to create separation. He sees the ice and processes play development at an elite level. Hughes is an expert at making plays in small areas, which is why his size is less of a bother. Although he definitely needs to continue adding muscle, Hughes is unafraid to go to the hard areas of the ice and protects himself well, thanks to his skating and anticipation skills."

Projected to center his own line for the Devils at October's onset -- possibly between veteran Kyle Palmieri and talented 20-year-old winger Jesper Bratt -- this year's top draft selection is poised to contribute at even-strength right away. However, we're even more enchanted with the future NHL star's potential on the power play. If he settles on a top unit with Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Palmieri, and recent arrival from Nashville P.K. Subban, Hughes could rack up some special-team assists in a hard hurry. This New Jersey squad is going to score more goals this year, partially thanks to the U.S Development Program standout. A dynasty/keeper dream pick, he should sit relatively high on target sheets across the fantasy spectrum.

Kaapo Kakko, RW, New York Rangers, TPS (Finland)
Selected: 2
Draft board ranking: 2

Peters: "Kakko has a great frame and uses it well, as he's hard to take off the puck and uses that ability to create extra time for himself. He has the vision to spot plays and make them quickly, and I think his hand skills have gotten to a fringe elite level. His shot is high-end and heavy; he can beat goalies from distance, but then he also has the skill to make plays in tight at the net front."

He's big, he's strong, he can skate, and he can score -- as demonstrated both in Finland's pro league and IIHF competition. Slated to launch his North American career as a top-six winger with an rebuilding Rangers club that's looking all the more promising every day (see the recent trade for defenseman Jacob Trouba as just one notable addition), Kakko will be offered the chance to shine alongside the team's best playmakers up front. A spot on New York's top power play should result in a 25-plus goal campaign in his first NHL turn. Of this year's draft class, Kakko is second only to Hughes in terms of raw fantasy potential, and not by much of a margin.

One year away?

Kirby Dach, C, Chicago Blackhawks, Saskatoon (OHL)
Selected: 3
Draft board ranking: 4

Peters: "Dach has size, smarts and skill. It's not often that you get a play-driving center at 6-foot-4 who makes the game look as easy as Dach does ... a shot-pass threat who can score goals in a variety of ways. He's especially successful at driving the net. He can also pick teams apart from the outside, thanks to high-end vision and elite distribution skills."

Monitor how the 6-foot-4 center manages in camp, since an NHL roster spot in 2019-20 is hardly out of the question. However, the issue of whether he wrestles the second-line gig away from Dylan Strome looms larger and, considering the former Coyote's breakout performance once he joined the Blackhawks last season, feels less than likely. That suggests Dach won't realize his full fantasy potential (70-plus points) for some time yet. Fantasy managers with more conservative leanings in redraft leagues might give this promising prospect a pass for now.

Bowen Byram, D, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver (WHL)
Selected: 4
Draft board ranking: 7

Peters: "One scout I spoke to expressed concern that the way Byram scored goals -- popping deep into zones and aggressively jumping plays -- won't translate to the NHL. I think elements of it can, but he will have to become a bit more selective. He's the best defenseman in this draft by a fairly large margin. But the threshold of a future No. 1 defenseman is pretty high, and I'm not sure Byram is there yet for me."

Despite those legitimate concerns outlined above, the left-shooting defenseman's fantasy potential is too high-end to ignore. He scored 71 points in 67 regular-season games for the Giants before lighting up the playoffs with another 26 points in 22 contests. Alongside top defensive prospect Cale Makar, Byram is determined to crack the Avalanche roster this year. We'll see. A must-draft in keeper/dynasty competition, this 18-year-old merits thought in all variety of deeper leagues, depending on his performance in camp.

Dylan Cozens, C, Buffalo Sabres, Lethbridge (WHL)
Selected: 7
Draft board ranking: 10

Peters: "A strong skater who has an explosive burst in space, Cozens has that combination of size and speed that tantalizes scouts. There have been some questions about his overall hockey sense and skill level, but it's hard to argue with how his physical tools translate."

Like Dach and Byram, Cozens remains resolute in cracking his organization's NHL roster as early as this fall. Again, we'll see. Standing 6-foot-3, the Whitehorse, Yukon native could eventually slot in as Buffalo's No. 2 center behind Jack Eichel, although Casey Mittelstadt might have something to say about that in his sophomore year. Fantasy managers in deeper leagues should keep a keen eye on how these youngsters all shuffle out in camp.

Victor Soderstrom, D, Arizona Coyotes, Brynas (Hockey East)
Selected: 11
Draft board ranking: 17

Peters: "A remarkably poised and mature defenseman, Soderstrom showcased his puck-moving talent and high-end hockey sense this season. However, I don't know that there's anything in particular that stands out about Soderstrom aside from the way he thinks about the game."

Trading up to snag their guy, the Coyotes appear super-charged to have Soderstrom onboard their back-end. That suggests the one-year pro will be afforded rich opportunities to strut his stuff at the NHL level soon enough. However, with power-play performers Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun signed in Arizona for the longterm, we're not confident Soderstrom has as much to offer from a fantasy point of view. Watch where he eventually slots.

Raphael Lavoie, C, Edmonton Oilers, Halifax (QMJHL)
Selected: 38
Draft board ranking: 18

Peters: "Fluctuating draft stock has been the norm for Lavoie this season, but I think he did himself a lot of favors with his postseason performance. With 20 goals in 23 games for Halifax on the way to the QMJHL finals, Lavoie showed a good mix of skill and power. He's a big kid who moves well and can outmuscle opponents."

Despite his second-round selection, Lavoie merits mentioning as possible future linemate to Edmonton supernova Connor McDavid. It probably won't be this coming season, but possibly the following. That should suffice in capturing the interest of any fantasy manager. Monitor his progress.

Brett Leason, RW, Washington Capitals, Prince Albert (WHL)
Selected: 56
Draft board ranking: 23

Peters: "Leason is a big body who now has higher-end skating in the mix. His ability to drive the net up the middle or beat defenders wide is notable. Leason was a top performer all season in the WHL and made Canada's World Junior team, where I thought he more than fit in with elite prospects from across the country. Leason has turned himself into a potential power forward who could be plugged into NHL lineups in a lot of different ways."

The Capitals loosely hope to slot the 20-year-old winger into their top-six after one just one year's warm-up in Hershey, which may eventually entail skating aside center Evgeny Kuznetsov. That's promising stuff. After a ho-hummish start to his WHL career, Leason erupted for 89 points in 55 games with Prince Albert in 2018-19.

Future assets

Alex Turcotte, C, Los Angeles Kings, USA U18 (NTDP)
Selected: 5
Draft board ranking: 3

Peters: "He is not always flashy and doesn't always make the eye-popping play, but he makes the right plays. Turcotte goes hard to the net and into the corners, and he has the touch and plus-level vision to make plays under duress and find better options in tougher situations with the puck on his stick."

While this versatile two-way forward likely remains a couple of years off from making a significantly productive splash at the NHL level, he presents as a foundational piece in Los Angeles moving forward. Appreciated for his presence at both ends of the ice (akin to current top center Anze Kopitar) this speedy skater can score. A deep dynasty league consideration at present, Turcotte should remain on the radar for all other fantasy managers.

Trevor Zegras, C, Anaheim Ducks, USA U18 (NTDP)
Selected: 9
Draft board ranking: 5

Peters: "With elite vision and passing skills, Zegras is excellent in dictating play from the half wall or making plays on the rush ... His ability to gain the zone is rivaled only by Hughes in the draft class, as Zegras has creativity and a good sense of how to find the soft areas to give him the best chance to make plays. He has a quick release and can score goals but is viewed more as a pass-first player."

As Peters says, he's an "exceptional playmaker" -- which means tangible value in fantasy leagues that reward assists. Zegras presents as a key piece at center for the Ducks in years to come, but managers must be patient here. This gifted kid's development will take some time.

Vasily Podkolzin, RW, Vancouver Canucks, Neva St. Petersburg (Russia 2)
Selected: 10
Draft board ranking: 9

Peters: "Podkolzin is an exceptional talent, with high-end skill and power in his game. He has a mean streak, gets on pucks quickly and can finish. Podkolzin wasn't dominating in the same way at the end of the season, and his club play was underwhelming, but I've maintained all year that he was never put in a great position to succeed this season because he played at three different levels in Russia. When Podkolzin is at his best, few in this class are better."

First of all, he under contract to compete in the KHL over the next two years. However, assuming Podkolzin joins the ever-improving Canucks following that commitment, he could be a top-six difference-maker in Vancouver. Fantasy managers who appreciate ultra-auspicious "wild cards" will want to keep tabs on this just-turned 18-year-old.

Spencer Knight, G, Florida Panthers, USA U18 (NTDP)
Selected: 13
Draft board ranking: 31

Peters: "Knight has really grown a lot in his confidence and poise in the net. There's such little flash in Knight's game, and that's a good thing. He's just always in the right spot because he tracks and anticipates as well as any goalie prospect I've seen in the past few years."

The future of Florida's crease is as treasured for his skilled play as his cool and confident demeanor. If all unfolds as planned, this year's top-ranked netminding prospect will be ready to take over for a further-improved Panthers squad under new (as-of-now) coach Joel Quenneville. However, that takeover may be two or three years down the road. Invested fantasy managers of all stripes might want to track this young talent's progress.

Cole Caufield, RW, Montreal Canadiens, USA U18 (NTDP)
Selected: 15
Draft board ranking: 6

Peters: "Yes, Caufield is slight, but he has elite offensive sense. I haven't seen a prospect who has as keen a sense of time and space, and opponents have a hard time tracking Caufield on the ice. He's always moving, finding openings before anyone knows they're there. Combine that skill with an elite shot that isn't as heavy as it is ridiculously quick and accurate."

We get it. He's small. He can also score with the best in the on-ice business -- which he'll do. No, not next season. Perhaps not even in the season that follows. Eventually, though, he will. For that, this future top-six forward should be a dynasty consideration today.