5 NHL Prospects Set to Explode

Long overlooked due to their size, play, or exposure, be sure to keep an eye trained on these five 2019 NHL Draft prospects — they’re ready to explode in 2018-19.

The 2019 NHL Draft will be loaded with young players of elite talent and immense potential, yet the class of 2019 will also boast a number of prospects who have been wrongly overlooked for far too long.

Whether it be a lack of size, exposure, or proven play, the coming Draft will hold a number of hidden gems waiting to be unearthed.

[RELATED: Five Underrated 2019 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch]

After all, it is these overlooked prospects who typically become crucial players within Stanley Cup winning organizations. Sure, each and every NHL team needs its fair share of stars, but critical depth players who can provide a secondary scoring touch or eat major minutes are also critical components of any winning franchise.

Case in point?

Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals who, despite being selected 93rd overall in the 2008 NHL Draft, was essential to the Capitals’ Stanley Cup championship in 2017-18.

With this being said, here are five largely overlooked prospects set to explode during the upcoming 2018-19 campaign — in alphabetical order:

1. Cole Caufield

Position: Centre/ Right-Wing

2018-19 Team: USA NTDP U18

Cole Caufield is one of the 2019 NHL Draft’s most lethal snipers — he potted 54 goals in just 59 games played for USA Hockey’s NTDP last season, one off of Auston Matthews’ program record of 55 set in 2014-15.

Yet, in addition to his goal-scoring prowess, Caufield is one of the smallest players eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft — a reality which has come to unfairly affect the native of Mosinee, Wisconsin’s stock as an NHL prospect. Standing 5-foot-6 and 160-pounds, Caufield’s lack of size has long been viewed as a deficiency, however, it has never had a glaring impact on his abilities on the ice.

Throughout his young career to date, Caufield has been a remarkably lethal and consistent goal-scorer regardless of where he has played. Fuelled by an accurate shot and a willingness to drive hard to the net, Caufield has learned to score in a multitude of manners and stands as a versatile presence as a result.

2. Nolan Foote

Position: Left-Wing

2018-19 Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

The sport of hockey runs rampant in Nolan Foote’s veins — his father Adam played in 1154 career NHL games, while his older brother Cal was chosen by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

However, unlike those who share his bloodline, the youngest Foote is a forward rather than a defenceman — and an incredibly skilful one at that.

Entering into his third WHL season with the Kelowna Rockets in 2018-19, Foote stands as one of this year’s most promising and dynamic power-forwards. Tipping the scale at 190-pounds and standing 6-foot-3, Foote boasts the size of his siblings and the skill to match.

For Foote, his game is founded upon his excellent and heavy shot. Able to release the puck in a split-second and capable of pounding it on goal with remarkable accuracy, Foote’s booming shot has the ability to beat opposing goaltenders clean. Although he has missed time due to injury over the past few seasons, expect Foote to lead the perennial powerhouse Kelowna Rockets in scoring this season.

3. Anttoni Honka

Position: Defence

2018-19 Team: JYP (Liiga)

Much like his fellow countryman Miro Heiskanen did leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft, expect Anttoni Honka’s draft stock to soar as the 2018-19 season progresses.

As a fleet-footed defenceman who plays a strong two-way game, Honka is mature beyond his years both on and off of the ice. Known for his ability to play a professional-style of game while remaining poised and composed, Honka will suit up for JYP at the Liiga-level this year despite his young age of just 18 years.

What makes Honka unique, however, is the innate offensive abilities which he brings to the ice on a nightly basis. Extremely creative and confident in his puck-handling abilities, Honka will attempt highlight-reel plays without hesitation and execute them with remarkable consistency.

Although slightly undersized for a defenceman given his 5-foot-10 and 170-pound frame, Honka’s intelligence and ability to navigate throughout the ice allows him to elude his competition’s at-times physical approach.

4. Alex Newhook

Position: Centre

2018-19 Team: Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)

Alex Newhook is one of the 2019 NHL Draft’s most polarizing prospects.

While many view Newhook’s game as elite based on his stellar skating and natural offensive instincts, others hold differing opinions. For the most part, these alternate views derive from the fact that Newhook plays in the BCHL as opposed to the WHL, for example.

After all, he is committed to Boston College for the 2019-20 campaign.

However, this choice should not deter NHL franchises from selecting Newhook in the 2019 NHL Draft, as the native of St. John’s, Newfoundland has long been viewed as one of this year’s top young talents.

In fact, with Victoria last season as a 16-year-old, Newhook blasted home 22 goals and 66 points in just 45 games played — an output which earned Newhook the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy as the BCHL’s Rookie of the Year.

5. Josh Williams

 Position: Right-Wing

2018-19 Team: Medicine Hat Tigers

As the fifth-overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, it goes without saying that Josh Williams is an incredibly talented player of immense potential.

However, a somewhat satisfactory rookie campaign with the Medicine Hat Tigers last season seems to have quieted the excitement surrounding Williams. In his 47 games played with the Tigers in 2017-18, Williams netted 11 goals and 20 points — a total which stood as the 25th-best output by a WHL rookie.

So, as if determined to prove himself as an elite prospect, Williams burst onto the scene for Team Canada at the recent Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Despite facing overwhelming competition in order to crack his country’s roster, Williams not only made the team but played a significant role in its success. In fact, in his five games played in the tournament, Williams collected five goals and six points — including a timely marker against Team Sweden which helped cement Team Canada’s Gold Medal.

So, although his skating could stand to improve and he would do well to achieve greater consistency, it remains abundantly clear that Williams is a prospect to watch this season. With a somewhat quiet WHL campaign in-hand alongside a Hlinka Gretzky Championship, expect Williams’ international success to fuel his WHL breakout.

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5 Underrated 2019 NHL Draft Prospects

While the annual NHL Draft showcases a great deal of elite talent, it often overshadows a number of its hidden gems in the process. Here are five of Prospect Pipeline’s most underrated NHL prospects eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft.

The annual NHL Entry Draft is an event which draws the interest and imagination of the hockey world.

With an arsenal of incredible young talent eager to make an impact at the NHL-level, one single selection can hold the power to influence both the immediate and long-term futures of a given franchise.

However, it is often the prospects chosen by an organization outside of the first-round who are the most important. Although viewed as long-term projects, these late-round gems are often far more determined to reach the NHL-level having been passed over time and time again in the Draft. Whether they were physically immature at the time or fresh off of a substantial injury, it is these young yet overlooked stars who regularly come to dominate their peers.

Now, with the 2019 NHL Draft just around the corner, Prospect Pipeline has set out to profile and analyze five of this year’s most underrated young prospects.

While you will likely have heard the names of the players listed below before, the time has come to learn why each of these prospects stand poised for immense success in their respective leagues in 2018-19.

5 Underrated Prospects to Watch

Cole Caufield

Position: Centre/Right-Wing

Height/Weight: 5-foot-6, 160-pounds

2017-18 Team: U.S. National U18 Team, NTDP

Cole Caufield scored 54 goals in 59 games played for USA Hockey’s NTDP in 2017-18 — a goal total which now stands as the storied program’s second-greatest ever, and just one tally behind Auston Matthews’ record of 55 established in 2014-15.

A lethal scorer who can pot the puck in a variety of ways, Caufield is a dangerous player every time he takes to the ice. Boasting a strong shot, Caufield can hammer the puck past opposing goaltenders from a distance or bury a loose puck laying in the goal-mouth in the blink of an eye. Always close to the puck and extremely potent with it on his stick, Caufield is a natural offensive player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

Cole Caufield
Despite his size, Caufield has consistently dominated his opponents. (Photo Credit: Rena Laverty and USA Hockey’s NTDP)

However, despite his goal-scoring exploits, many scouts and analysts remain unable to see past Caufield’s size. Standing 5-foot-6 and 160-pounds, Caufield is regularly one of the smallest players on the ice — a fact which has undoubtedly impacted his perceived value as a prospect over the years.

Yet, in spite of his size, Caufield has continued to produce with remarkable consistency — a fact which should shatter common misconceptions and establish the native of Mosinee, Wisconsin as a prospect of first-round calibre in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Anttoni Honka

Position: Defence

Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 170-pounds

2017-18 Team: JYP U20, Jr. A SM-liiga

Speed, skill, and confidence have come to define Anttoni Honka’s game, and are a major reason why the nimble Finnish defenceman will be a first-round choice in the 2019 NHL Draft.

However, Honka should — realistically — be able to crack the top-15 in the coming Draft, as the younger brother of Dallas Stars prospect Julius Honka is a dynamic offensive-defenceman who can also play a sturdy defensive game.

In 2017-18, Honka skated primarily for JYP U20 of the Jr. A SM-liiga where he recorded an impressive 17 points in 28 games played. What’s more is that Honka played well enough to appear in 20 games for JYP at the Liiga-level, where the native of Jyväskylä, Finland potted two goals and nine points while competing against a much tougher and developed form of competition.

Honka is a smart player who compensates for his lack of size with his skating and offensive instincts; he has an excellent understanding of the game. – Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting

Known for his offensive flair, Honka is a shifty and mobile skater who uses his mobility to his advantage. Capable of burning opposing players as he darts up the ice, Honka can lead the rush or join it in progress in order to provide a secondary outlet during odd-man rushes — he loves to unleash his wicked one-timer whenever possible.

Ultimately, Honka boasts the ability and poise of a terrific two-way defender. If able to add greater strength to his frame, Honka could work his way into the top-10 in the 2019 NHL Draft rather than simply the first-round.

Blake Murray

Position: Centre

Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 180-pounds

2017-18 Team: Sudbury Wolves, OHL

Despite yet another dreadful season for the Sudbury Wolves in 2017-18, the franchise’s first-round choice from the 2017 OHL Priority Selection presented the organization with a glimmer of hope for their future.

In his rookie campaign with the Wolves, Blake Murray established himself as a dynamic offensive player and prospect of immense value ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft. Although his skating will need to improve in order to attain success at the next level, Murray’s hockey I.Q. and ability to process the game at a high-pace allowed the native of Uxbridge, Ontario to pot 21 goals and 44 points in his inaugural OHL campaign.

Blake Murray of the Sudbury Wolves. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Murray is one of the most intelligent and calculative players in the OHL today. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Now, with greater offensive help on the way to begin the team’s 2018-19 season in the form of Quinton Byfield — the first overall selection in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection — Murray will have a much stronger supporting cast to skate alongside this coming campaign. Given his impressive size, understanding of the game, and a strong shot defined by its unique release, Murray owns all of the tool necessary to inflate his draft stock this coming season.

If able to earn his place amongst the OHL’s scoring leaders this season, Murray could come to be viewed as a potential top-15 selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Jamieson Rees

Position: Centre

Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 175-pounds

2017-18 Team: Sarnia Sting, OHL

If you’re searching for a driven competitor with a workhorse mentality, look no further than Jamieson Rees of the Sarnia Sting.

Nabbed by the Sting with the ninth-overall choice in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, Rees collected five goals and 20 points in 46 regular season games played with Sarnia in his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, Rees fell victim to a pair of ankle injuries during the 2017-18 season which not only limited his on-ice effectiveness but also impaired his confidence as he transitioned to the OHL-level.

Jamieson Rees, Sarnia Sting
Although slowed by injuries as a rookie, Rees is an energetic competitor with plenty to prove in Sarnia. (Photo Credit: Metcalfe Photography)

Now, with injuries behind him and a Gold Medal in-hand from his recent play with Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Rees enters the 2018-19 OHL season as a reinvigorated player with plenty to prove. As a terrific skater who is relentless in his pursuit of the puck, Rees should develop into a dependable offensive force for the Sting this coming campaign and one capable of producing on a nightly basis.

Although he stands as a potential second-round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft as the 2018-19 season approaches, Rees could ascend high into the first-round if able to piece together a healthy and strong offensive season for Sarnia.

Nathan Staios

Position: Defence

Height/Weight: 5-foot-9, 170-pounds

2017-18 Team: Windsor Spitfires, OHL

It’s hard to believe that the Windsor Spitfires were able to select Nathan Staios with the 17th overall choice in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection.

In captaining the GTHL’s Vaughan Kings in his minor midget season, Staios had proven himself to be a dynamic two-way defender capable of making an impact at both ends of the ice. As a strong and agile skater, Staios’ ability to move the puck to his teammates before joining the rush allowed him to secure his own zone before providing an added dimension to his team’s attacking game.

He (Staios) is a real good kid. He moves the puck, he keeps his head up, and he has a hard shot. – Warren Rychel, Windsor Spitfires General Manager

In his rookie season with the Spitfires, Staios netted three goals and 12 points in 54 games played — a relatively meagre total which was not accurately reflective of his lethal abilities on the ice. Heading into the 2018-19 OHL season and his first year of NHL Draft eligibility, expect Staios to significantly increase his offensive totals from one campaign ago.

Boasting great wheels, excellent vision, and a booming shot, Staios’ skill set is simply too powerful to be contained. Long a quality defensive player, if Staios can improve his attacking game, the native of Oakville, Ontario will surely creep into the middle of the first round come the 2019 NHL Draft.

NHL Prospect Profile: Cole Caufield

Cole Caufield is the little engine who could, and that engine never wears down. Caufield potted 54 goals in 59 goals for the NTDP in ’17-18, and should be a unanimous top-20 pick at the 2019 NHL Draft.

– Cole Caufield –

USA Hockey’s NTDP | Right Wing/Center | 2019 NHL Draft Eligible

Mosinee, Wisconsin, USA | January 2, 2001 | 5-foot-6, 154-pounds

Yes, Cole Caufield stands at just 5-foot-6, but he plays the game without any fear and rarely ever lets his size be a disadvantage to his exemplary talents. The Wisconsin native played a large portion of the 2017-18 season alongside Jack Hughes and Matthew Boldy, en route to scoring 54 goals in just 59 games between the U17 and U18 teams. That mark sits just one goal shy of the record set by Auston Matthews in 2014-15.

Caufield sports a natural goal-scoring instinct, incapsulating a wicked release, creative hands, and the knack to be in the right place at the right time. He doesn’t shy away from the physical game despite his size, even throwing a couple of notable hits himself. Caufield plays each shift with a determination to help his team win, and often does so by filling the back of the net.

Strengths:

  • Shot
  • Competitiveness
  • Puck Skills

Cole Caufield greatest strength is undoubtedly his ability to pinch the twine. He boasts an electric release and pin-point accuracy, allowing him to beat goaltenders one-on-one with general ease. He also has the vision to read where the soft spots on the ice are going to be and the ability to quietly slip in behind defencemen to find himself time and space.

Cole Caufield has adapted some elite level celebrations as well, a result of finding the back of the net 54 times last season. Photo Credit – Rena Laverty and USA Hockey’s NTDP.

Caufield plays each shift like it’s his last, showcasing a passion and effort level that is second-to-none, often broadcasted through his exuberant celebrations. He has very quick and creative hands which allow him to make defenders and goalies alike look silly. Caufield is simply an elite goal-scorer who can turn a game on its head with a flick of his wrists.

Weaknesses:

  • Defensive Awareness

Away from the flashy offensive abilities, Caufield has room to improve in the defensive zone. He sometimes gets lost or chases the puck a little too far in his own zone, and can be caught visibly thinking about transitioning to offence before his team has secured possession of the puck.

Spending the majority of his time as a winger, this aspect has less of an impact than it would if he played center. With that said, it remains an area in which Caufield could improve his all-around, 200-foot game in order to convince NHL scouts to have full confidence in his talents at both ends of the rink.

Future Potential:

Cole Caufield projects to be a top-six winger at the NHL level. He is an elite goal-scorer who has the potential to put up 40 goals in his prime. Caufield has an engine that never stops and a passion for the game that shines bright every shift. Caufield plays a very comparable game to Alex DeBrincat of the Chicago Blackhawks. Heading into the ’18-19 season, Caufield should be a Top-20 pick for the 2019 NHL Draft, so long as GMs don’t make the mistake of passing him over for his size.

Cole Caufield: The American Sniper

Cole Caufield of the U.S. National Team Development Program is a lethal sniper who scored 54 goals last season. Although diminutive, the 2019 NHL Draft prospect packs quite the punch.

Cole Caufield is a goal-scoring machine, and arguably the most lethal sniper eligible for selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.

As a star member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in 2017-18, Caufield netted a jaw-dropping 54 goals in 59 games played — a total which stood high above that of 2019 top prospect Jack Hughes’. In fact, Caufield’s 54-goal total was the highest mark achieved by a NTDP player since Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews set the current record of 55 in 2014-15.

The major difference between Caufield and Matthews, however?

Size.

Smashing Stereotypes

When Matthews blasted home 55 goals as a member of the NTDP, the native of San Ramon, California and eventual first overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft already stood well above 6-feet and weighed in close to 200-pounds.

This distinct physical advantage allowed Matthews to dominate his competition in North America at a young age as well as play a year of professional hockey in Switzerland before ascending to the NHL-level. Described as boasting the perfect combination of size, speed, and skill, the Leafs’ selection of Matthews first overall truly came as little surprise.

However, in the case of Caufield, the native of Mosinee, Winsconsin’s value ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft is anything but certain. In fact, the young sniper’s stock has been impeded dramatically by a factor completely out of his control: size.

Cole Caufield
Caufield is an elite sniper, as evidenced by his 54-goal season as a member of the NTDP in 2017-18. (Photo Credit: Rena Laverty and USA Hockey’s NTDP)

Standing 5-foot-6 and tipping the scales at 160-pounds, Caufield is a diminutive player who is regularly the smallest player on the ice. As a result, Caufield has long been forced to analyze, adapt, and overcome the unique challenges placed upon him by his opponents of considerably greater size and strength.

Fortunately, Caufield has been able to accomplish exactly such with startling regularity, as the youngster has come to dominate his opposition on a nightly basis owing to his soft hands, excellent shot, innate hockey sense, and tireless determination to overcome any obstacle in his path to the NHL.

Caufield’s Road to the Show

Although Caufield’s road to the show will undoubtedly be a long and winding one, it is a path which will surely prove prosperous.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, a number of early 2019 NHL Draft Rankings have already failed to afford Caufield the respect which his on-ice exploits have come to deserve. Projected to be selected late in the first round, Caufield’s inaccurate outlook is as inaccurate as it is prejudiced.

Yes, he is of a smaller stature, but so too was former Erie Otters star and current Chicago Blackhawks sniper Alex DeBrincat. Also projected to be selected late in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, DeBrincat wound up falling to 39th overall despite recording 51 goals and 101 points as a rookie in the campaign preceding his selection.

The common trait which both Caufield and DeBrincat share? A lack of size — DeBrincat stands just 5-foot-7 and 170-pounds, yet still scored 28 goals for the Blackhawks in his rookie season.

So, if there is one reality which NHL franchises and their respective General Managers must learn from cases such as DeBrincat — as well as Brayden Point and Johnny Gaudreau — it is that highly skilled players of smaller stature are becoming increasingly effective in the NHL due to their ability to adapt to more sizeable competition.

And, such must exactly be the case when Caufield heads to Vancouver for the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, British Columbia next June. If passed over and not selected until late in the first-round or early into the second, the NHL franchise which selects Caufield will have stolen a premier goal-scorer and one capable supplementing his team’s offence at the NHL-level.

In hindsight, should the likes of DeBrincat, Point, and Gaudreau have been selected in the first-round of their respective NHL Draft’s?

Absolutely.

In 2019, let’s hope that NHL franchises finally cast aside their misconceptions surrounding size. Caufield is a legitimate first-round talent and elite sniper, and deserves to be recognized as such.