The 2018-19 NHL season came to an end Wednesday when the St. Louis Blues recorded a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Preparations for next season are now moving at full speed, beginning Friday night with the annual draft.
This year's event features a pair of brilliant players in center Jack Hughes of the U.S. National Development Team and Finnish right wing Kaapo Kakko. Both are likely to be impact players right away and are set to be selected with the first two picks by the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, respectively.
Here's how the first round of the draft could play out as well as a further look at three of the most gifted players.
2019 NHL Mock Draft, 1st Round
1. New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes, C, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
2. New York Rangers: Kaapo Kakko, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga)
3. Chicago Blackhawks: Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
4. Colorado Avalanche (via Ottawa Senators): Vasili Podkolzin, RW, SKA (MHL)
5. Los Angeles Kings: Dylan Cozens, C/W, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
6. Detroit Red Wings: Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
7. Buffalo Sabres: Victor Soderstrom, D, Brynas (SHL)
8. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie Colts (OHL)
9. Anaheim Ducks: Alex Turcotte, C, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
10. Vancouver Canucks: Raphael Lavoie, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
11. Philadelphia Flyers: Arthur Kaliyev, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
12. Minnesota Wild: Cole Caufield, RW, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
13. Florida Panthers: Trevor Zegras, C/W, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
14. Arizona Coyotes: Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
15. Montreal Canadiens: Matthew Boldy, LW, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
16. Colorado Avalanche: Moritz Seider, D, Mannheim (DEL)
17. Vegas Golden Knights: Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
18. Dallas Stars: Spencer Knight, G, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
19. Ottawa Senators (via Columbus Blue Jackets): Alex Newhook, C, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
20. New York Rangers (via Winnipeg Jets): Samuel Poulin, RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
21. Pittsburgh Penguins: Philip Tomasino, C, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
22. Los Angeles Kings (via Toronto Maple Leafs): Nils Hoglander, LW, Rogle (SHL)
23. New York Islanders: Brett Leason, C, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
24. Nashville Predators: Philip Broberg, D, AIK (Allsvenskan)
25. Washington Capitals: Nolan Foote, LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
26. Calgary Flames: Connor McMichael, C, London Knights (OHL)
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Alex Vlasic, D, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
28. Carolina Hurricanes: Cam York, D, U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
29. Anaheim Ducks (via San Jose Sharks): Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
30. Boston Bruins: Nicholas Robertson, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
31. Buffalo Sabres (from St. Louis Blues): Anttoni Honka, D, JYP (Liiga)
While not as celebrated as Connor McDavid was in the 2015 draft, Hughes appears to be a star of the next order.
He is small in stature at slightly over 5'10" and 171 pounds, but he is a fine skater and playmaker. Hughes has the skill, moxie and elusiveness to hold the puck until he sees something open up. The 18-year-old has a brilliant wrist shot that he uses to create his own scoring opportunities.
Like many of the great players who have preceded him in previous drafts, Hughes can think two or three moves ahead, and he senses where the opening will be even before it happens.
The Florida native scored 34 goals and 112 points for the United States under-18 team, and he would seem to have the potential to become a top scorer in the NHL and the kind of player who can lead his team to a winning record shortly after arriving.
Kakko is a big man at 6'2" and 190 pounds who plays a big man's game. He is not a player who is going to look to initiate with the body check, but he is not afraid to go into the corner and battle for the puck.
Once he has the puck in the offensive zone, the 18-year-old has a heavy shot that can handcuff goaltenders, and he is also a strong skater and passer.
One of the big advantages Kakko has in the offensive zone is his ability to change the angle of his shots by adjusting his hands prior to shooting. This makes it tough on goaltenders who anticipate his shot from one angle and receive it from another. This is something Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs does regularly, and that practice allows him to score a number of goals.
Kakko scored 22 goals while playing in the Finnish Elite League, which will put him in good stead to make the adjustment to the NHL.
The Blackhawks figure to select Bowen Byram with the No. 3 pick because he is the best defenseman in the draft, but they could select Dach if they decide to go in a different direction.
If they went after the 18-year-old, it would give them a 6'4" center who can give them a physical presence and change the team's profile. While Chicago has talented offensive players, it doesn't have a lot of bigger players who can dominate.
Dach has excellent skating ability and, like Hughes and Kakko, he sees the ice well. He is not afraid to hold on to the puck for an extra split second to allow himself to set up some picture-perfect plays.