Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

ESNY’s 2019 NHL Mock Draft features the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils surprising absolutely nobody in the hockey world.

The draft is a mere three weeks away. Rankings have already been released (check them out here), and now ESNY’s official mock draft is in session.

Here are projected first-15 selections:

1. New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes — C, USDP

Jack Hughes was given an unexpected run for his money by Kaapo Kakko, but I can’t see Ray Shero passing on the American superstar. Hughes has been touted as the stud of this year’s draft for so long, and he still looks like he could be a franchise player. While Kakko stole the headlines at the IIHF World Championships, Hughes impressed as well. By adding the USDP product, the New Jersey Devils would boast quite the one-two punch down the middle with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Don’t forget about Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri on the wings. New Jersey has a promising top-six.

2. New York Rangers: Kaapo Kakko — RW, TPS

The New York Rangers get their guy from the start in Kaapo Kakko. Kakko, the obvious pick here, is the sniper that this team has been missing for years. The Finnish sniper fills the void left behind by Marian Gaborik. Kakko should be an everyday NHLer and a legitimate contributor next year. Between Zibanejad, Chytil, Kreider, Kravtsov, Buchnevich and now Kakko, New York’s offense is set for the future.

3. Chicago Blackhawks: Bowen Byram — LHD, Vancouver Giants

This is when it gets interesting. The order is unclear, but we all know who the first two picks will be. Chicago has a lot of good options here, but I think they’ll go with Bowen Byram, who has the potential to be a number one defenseman. I believe Byram is the best player available here, and he truly solidifies Chicago’s defense. A Boqvist-Byram pairing could be the second-coming of Keith-Seabrook. With Kane, Toews, Strome and Debrincat up front, Chicago has enough offensive ammo to justify taking a defenseman with their top-ten pick for the second year in a row.

4. Colorado Avalanche: Alex Turcotte — C, USDP

If the draft goes as I project to this point, I’m pretty confident that Joe Sakic will go with Alex Turcotte. Turcotte fits in nicely with Colorado’s young nucleus of Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The Avs need a second line center to slot in behind Landeskog, and Turcotte can be that guy. He gets it done at both ends of the ice, and he’s a super versatile player with a great motor. What’s not to like about that? The Avalanche are already set on defense with Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, so if they can add Turcotte along with some others to anchor their second-line then they should be perennial cup-contenders going forward.

5. Los Angeles Kings: Vasili Podkolzin — RW, SKA St. Petersburg

It’s really tough to predict whom the Kings will select here. This is an aging team with a lot of needs in many areas. While a line of Anze Kopitar, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jeff Carter could have single-handedly won you a Stanley Cup five years ago, they are now in need of some help. With centers Gabe Vilardi and Rasmus Kupari already in the system, I think L.A. will take a risk and turn to Vasili Podkolzin. The enigmatic and controversial Russian winger would be a really interesting pick here. Some are really high on Podkolzin, but others including myself are not. His maddening inconsistency is reminiscent of Pavel Buchnevich. He’s got the strength and the skill, but can he put it all together? That’s the big question. With Ilya Kovalchuk there as a mentor, I could definitely see the Kings taking a chance on Podkolzin.

6. Detroit Red Wings: Cole Caufield — RW, USDP

Next off the board is Cole Caufield. The Red Wings are in a need of goal-scorer and a high-end winger. Caufield checks both of those boxes. Caufield’s small stature could scar teams, but Steve Yzerman has shown he’s not afraid of picking the little guys as evidenced by his Brayden Point selection while with the Lightning. Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou man the middle in Hockeytown, but the Wings need more than Anthony Mantha and Filip Zadina on the wing. Detroit needs plenty of help on the back-end as well, but there are no options on the blue-line at this point of the draft. Caufield would be a really nice addition for Detroit.

7. Buffalo Sabres: Dylan Cozens — C, Lethbridge Hurricanes

I think Buffalo selects Dylan Cozens here. I’m not so high on Cozens because I don’t think he has a very high ceiling, but there are definitely reasons for optimism. Cozens joins Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt to form what should be a very skilled forward group. Center isn’t necessarily a position of need for Jason Botterill, but Cozens is a low-risk pick and is arguably the best player available.

8. Edmonton Oilers: Trevor Zegras — C, USDP

I love Trevor Zegras and I think he’d be a great pick for the Oilers here. There are no defensemen that will realistically be picked here, and I believe Zegras is the best player available. Zegras spent the majority of his time at center, but he has plenty of experience on the wing. This would give new head coach Dave Tippett plenty of options with four ultra-skilled players in Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Trevor Zegras, all of whom can play center and wing. Assuming there aren’t any pure goal-scorers on the table at this point in the draft, Zegras would mark a great start to the Ken Holland era in Edmonton

9. Anaheim Ducks: Kirby Dach — C, Saskatoon Blades

Kirby Dach is a big, physical, and skilled center. Who better to learn from than Ryan Getzlaf? Anaheim is in need of skilled forwards regardless of their position, and Kirby Dach fits that bill. I’m a big believer in Dach, and I think he truly could be Getzlaf’s replacement. Anaheim should be thrilled if they can nab Dach with the ninth pick in the draft.

10. Vancouver Canucks: Matthew Boldy — LW/RW, USDP

Matthew Boldy makes a lot of sense for the Canucks here. With Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat at center, there is no reason for Vancouver to target any of the remaining centers. Boldy is the top winger available at this point, and could be a steal at pick ten. The American can do a little bit of everything on offense and will be a nice complement to the Canucks’ pre-existing group of youngsters. Don’t sleep on this team. Brock Boeser, Pettersson, Bo Horvat and now Boldy … there is a lot to be excited about in Vancouver.

11. Philadelphia Flyers: Peyton Krebs — C, Kootenay Ice

Similar to the Avalanche, the Flyers are a team that probably shouldn’t be on this list and should have been in the playoffs. They have plenty of talent up front with Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny and James Van Riemsdyk. They’ve got a top-notch first-pair in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. And they’ve got a future star between the pipes in Carter Hart. They even have some top prospects in Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost. The Flyers will probably just take the highest player on their draft board and it will likely be Peyton Krebs. Krebs is a center with a high floor. He would be a solid selection for the Flyers here.

12. Minnesota Wild: Alex Newhook — C, Victoria Grizzlies

This could end up being the steal of the draft. Alex Newhook is a guy who could be a bust. But if he is able to put it all together, he could be a dynamic player. He is a perfect pick for the Wild. Minnesota has plenty of good forwards, and they are stacked on the blue-line. Minnesota needs a game-changer, an elite player. Newhook has a legitimate shot at becoming that guy. I’m a big fan of Alex Newhook, and I believe he has a good shot of reaching his potential. At this point in the draft, the electric Canadian is worth the risk.

13. Florida Panthers: Spencer Knight — G, USDP

I went a little bit off the board with this one. I predict that Spencer Knight, a goalie, will be Dale Tallon’s pick. Goalies don’t often get picked in the first round. However, some netminders drafted in the opening round include Carey Price, Marc Andre-Fleury, and Andrei Vasilievsky. Those are three of the NHL’s best goaltenders. Knight is a legitimate talent, and he could be an invaluable stalwart between the pipes. Florida desperately needs a netminder, and Spencer Knight is as highly-touted a goalie prospect we’ve seen in recent years. The Panthers boast a strong group of skaters, and a franchise netminder may be the missing piece. Sergei Bobvrosky is already 30-years-old, so I believe that the Cats would be better off investing in Knight.

14. Arizona Coyotes: Arthur Kaliyev — LW, Hamilton Bulldogs

Everything I said about Alex Newhook also applies to Arthur Kaliyev. The Coyotes are in need of more star-power up front. They already have a strong group of defensemen. They’ve got their goaltender. This represents the perfect opportunity for Arizona to take a chance on a guy that has the potential to be an elite sniper. Kaliyev’s goal-scoring ability is undeniable. The questions revolve around the other aspects of his game. I believe in Kaliyev, and I think he’ll become the player he’s capable of being. This could be a steal for the Coyotes.

15. Montreal Canadiens: Cam York — LHD, USDP

Montreal has put together an impressive group of forwards. They need to shore up their defense. They could go a lot of different directions with this pick, as they’ll likely take the top defenseman on their draft board. Keep in mind, whichever d-man that the Habs select would become only the second blue-liner drafted in the top 15. My best guess for this pick would be Cam York. York is just a steady, smart player. He doesn’t excel in any one area, but he’s just a solid defenseman. This would be a nice low-risk pick for the Canadiens.

Follow Brian on TWITTER

Brian Paget has been a diehard New York Rangers and New York Jets fan since 2007. He is an aspiring young journalist, who is thrilled to be writing for Elite Sports New York. Brian will be covering the Blueshirts and the Jets for ESNY. He is currently a member of the NHL's Youth Advisory Board, and previously served as a Staff Writer for a Rangers website entitled BlueshirtsNation. You can reach Brian via E-Mail at brianhockey10@gmail.com, and find him on Twitter at @BrianPaget17.