NHL Draft: Top Five Centers

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With the draft season slowly approaching many teams will be doing their due diligence on which players they plan to take in the NHL Draft on June 21st. This article is the first of many in a series called ‘Top 5’. Every Wednesday there will be a new top 5 in a given category just to get yourself familiar with some of the names that will be called in Vancouver this year.

For the first edition of this segment, it is only appropriate that it will contain the front runner for the first overall pick. The center position is very top heavy. The five guys on this list could all be taken in the Top 10.

1. Jack Hughes

Jack Hughes is the clear cut favorite to go number one to the New Jersey Devils. This season Hughes averaged over two points per game with both the U.S National Development Program in the USHL and the U.S. National U18 team in the UNDP. He scored 37 goals and 103 assists in 67 games.

Hughes is as close to as a complete offensive package as you can get. He is an elite level skater with tremendous speed and great acceleration. Hughes uses his speed paired with his great hands in order to protect the puck in all three zones. He has as high a hockey IQ as anyone in the class. He is an excellent passer and he’s even got a pretty decent shot that is both quick and accurate.

As for his defensive game, it’s nothing spectacular but he does hold his own in the defensive zone. He is not afraid to battle on the boards and battle for pucks. He plays bigger than his size, and at 5-foot-10 he still has room to grow. While his defensive game is nowhere near his offensive game, his capabilities in the attacking zone make him the clear favorite in this draft to go first overall.

Expected Draft Range: First Overall

2. Kirby Dach

The Saskatoon Blades host the Calgary Hitmen at the Sask Tel Centre Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, December 07, 2016

After Hughes, it is up for debate whether two and three should be flipped or stay where they are at. In all honesty, it all depends on how each franchise sees each player. Kirby Dach just finished up his third season in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades. Dach scored 25 goals to go along with 48 assists in 62 games this season.

Dach is a good skater but lacks a quick first step. He stands at 6-foot-4 and could project to be a powerful center. He likes to drive the net and while he can pull a deke on a defenseman he is more likely to skate through them. Dach is also good at protecting the puck which makes him tough to contain on the cycle. The Candian forward has a decent wrist shot and release and has started to use it more this season. If he starts to trust his shot more then he could see an uptick in scoring production.

Defensively, Dach is not a physical player. He knows how to use his body and size to his advantage on the boards to win a battle, but he is not out there throwing checks left and right. He can be used in all situation including the penalty kill and going up against the opposing team’s top forward.

Expected Draft Range: 4th pick-7th pick

3. Dylan Cozens

Dylan Cozens finished his second full season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL this year. He scored 34 goals to go along with 50 assists in 68 regular season games. Cozens is a right-handed shot and plays both center and wing.

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Cozens is a typical 200-foot player. He is a good skater with very good acceleration. The best way to describe Cozens is a pure goal scorer. He has an excellent wrist shot and his snapshot and slap shots are nothing to scoff at either. Cozens is also not afraid to drive the net. His hockey IQ is among the best in the class and he uses that to set up his teammates in the attacking zone.

Standing at 6-foot-3 Cozens can still grow into his lanky frame. He is smart defensively and is a very good penalty killer. He knows how to play a physical game and is not afraid to do so. Cozens works hard in his own end and seems to find himself in the right spots on a regular basis. Cozens has the ceiling to be a 1st line center.

Expected Draft Range: 3rd pick-6th pick

4. Alex Turcotte

USA NTDP U17 vs Dubuque

Alex Turcotte plays on the same team as Jack Hughes but while playing with Hughes, Turcotte managed to put up some impressive numbers. He has tallied 87 points in 46 games with both the USNTDP and the U.S National U18 Team. Turcotte is a Wisconsin University commit.

Turcotte is very quick, he has an excellent first step and some good acceleration to pair with it. He is a great passer and he likes to control play down low. His wrist shot carries a very quick release that he uses to beat opposing goaltenders regularly. Turcotte is a relentless player. Aggressive on the forecheck to force turnovers in the offensive zone.

Turcotte is excellent in the defensive zone. He likes to use his stick to poke check the puck away and try to intercept passes. He is not a big hitter but will throw the body around if he has to. Turcotte goes to the dirty areas and will fight for pucks. While though he may not be physical in his game, he does find his way in the face of the opponent. He has the widest range in terms of draft position. He makes sense for the Blackhawks at three but could fall to the Oilers at eight.

Expected Draft Range: 3rd pick-8th pick.

5. Trevor Zegras

Zegras is yet, another member of both the USNTDP and the U.S National U18 Team. In 83 games with both teams, Zegras scored 40 goals to pair with 78 assists. Zegras also lead the National U18 team with 92 penalty minutes.

In terms of skating Zegras first step and acceleration give him a leg up. He can change speeds well which allows him to elude opposing defenseman. He makes quick cuts and can stop and change directions better than most. Zegras is very good at passing and passing on the move. He can make the tape-to-tape passes in tight areas and he is especially useful on the powerplay where he works from the half boards. The term that best describes Zegras is a playmaker.

Zegras is an above average defender. He supports the defense down low and backchecks hard. He uses an active stick and his quickness to create turnovers. Zegras is also very good in the faceoff circle. He is not a big hitter but he does get involved in board battles in the defensive end. Zegras projects to be an effective two-way forward at the next level. Zegras is a Boston University commit.

Expected Draft Range: 5th pick-9th pick

Other Notable Centers: Alex Newhook (Victoria, BCHL), Ryan Suzuki (Barrie, OHL), Raphael Lavoie (Halifax, QMJHL), Philip Tomasino (Niagara, OHL), Connor McMichael (London, OHL)

Chris Bugajsky covers the Dallas Stars and the NHL for Full Press Coverage. Follow Chris on twitter @CBugajsky14.

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