Folks, we’re just under two months away from the most fun and exciting weekend of the hockey year: the annual NHL Draft. The 2021 edition goes July 23 & 24 and it’ll be another unique remote draft, with the added wrinkle of the entire scouting year being disrupted by a global pandemic
This is the first of two planned editions of my 2021 NHL Draft rankings. The next will come in mid-July before the big event, after I have more chances to delve into scouting reports and check out even more video.
My ranking philosophy is simple: who would I draft if I was running a blank slate team and was just hoping for good, long-term assets to build around. I’ve included a snippet of a scouting report or a tweet encapsulating each prospect in my projected top 32.
Your mileage may vary. Feel free to chime in via the comments!
The projected first round
#1: C Matthew Beniers – University of Michigan, NCAA
Matthew Beniers is a very intriguing prospect. In my views, I have failed to find a fault in his game. While a lot of scouts and analysts have claimed that Beniers doesn’t have flash to his game, I would argue that he doesn’t need flash. If you are capable of mastering the fundamentals, flash is not necessary. It’s a nice to have. Plus, I would argue that mastering the fundamentals is flash.
Beniers captured gold at the World Juniors and he’s constantly progressed over the past few seasons. He’s got room to fill out physically, but overall he’s a smart, versatile, toolsy centre. (The centre aspect is why he’s slightly ahead of Power and Eklund, for me.)
#2: D Owen Power – University of Michigan, NCAA
Power is an excellent skater in all directions for a defender of any size. The fact that he’s 6-foot-5 adds additional problems to opponents trying to knock him off the puck, but the truth is that Power can be both graceful and nimble while motoring up ice at top speed.
Power’s big, smart and toolsy and is already NHL-sized. That puts him ahead of Eklund slightly.
#3: LW William Eklund – Djurgardens IF, SHL
He’s well-rounded with not a lot of flaws. He can skate well, shoot well, his vision and passing are very good. The question is if the high upside is there but with his development the last year or so, it isn’t something you could rule out.
The lack of holes in Eklund’s game puts him in this slot.
#4: D Luke Hughes – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
Hughes is most known for his skating. Almost every game that I tune in to, the first comment that I hear from the play by play and color guys is how dominant Hughes’ stride is. The young defenseman has a silky smooth stride and possesses elite edges. I know that “silky smooth” can be overused quite a bit in scouting reports, but Hughes does have a silky smooth stride.
#5: D Simon Edvinsson – Frolunda HC, U20
In a year where there is virtually no consensus first overall pick, Simon Edvinsson has turned heads for his Hedman-like size, offensive skills, and mature style of play. The Swedish defender is rawer than anything and is therefore unlikely to go first overall, but any team in the top-15 will be tempted by a 6’5” defender.
#6: D Brandt Clarke – Barrie, OHL
With Brandt Clarke, you can expect a defender that plays the rush extremely well, blocks lanes and pushes the attack to the corners. Clarke gets in your face, gives you as little room as possible and looks for the best moment to pounce on the puck.
#7: RW Fabian Lysell – Lulea HF, SHL
Dynamic is an understatement when it comes to Lysell. His combination of hands and speed are breath-taking. It is rare for even an experienced, skilled, NHL player to have the puck control, poise and confidence to make the moves Lysell does with ease in full-stride. Puck-on-a-string comes to mind. His feel make it seems like he was born with a stick in his hands, or simply that it is an extension of his body itself.
#8: C Aatu Raty – Karpat, U20
Räty is a menace in the offensive zone. He controls the cycle quite well. If there is a decent amount of traffic in front of Räty, he will opt to make tight turns/pivots to fool his opponents and give himself some more space. When Räty is completing a turn, you can expect his turn radius to be pretty tight. This allows him to dance around his opponent without error.
#9: RW Dylan Guenther – Edmonton, WHL
It goes without saying that a top-flight winger who possesses the aforementioned qualities in versatility and playmaking must think the game at a higher level, which is exactly what Guenther does on the regular. Whether opponents know his intentions or not is practically irrelevant because Guenther still manages to outfox them and beat them to a desired spot far more times than not. He makes so many smart plays in the neutral zone that result in immediate counterattacks, and what he does with the puck from that point forward is usually calculated and strategized. Some might call him opportunistic or taking advantage of what’s given to him, but a deeper analysis of Guenther’s game shows highly-intelligent play in all three zones. He is an effective player and contributor whether he’s scoring or not.
For what it’s worth, Guenther may be the best stylistic and skill-set fit for the Flames in the early-to-mid first round.
#10: C Kent Johnson – University of Michigan, NCAA
Johnson is as creative as they come. Whether it’s passing and shooting between his legs, lacrosse moves, or anything else you’d find on a highlight reel, if you can dream it, he can probably do it. Michigan coach Mel Pearson has a longstanding philosophy of allowing his skilled players freedom to exercise their creativity, and Johnson has undoubtedly benefited from that thus far. More of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, Johnson’s passing stands out on almost every shift, whether he’s sending a spin pass to a teammate wide open in the slot or finding a lane between three defenders.
#11: C Zachary Bolduc – Rimouski, QMJHL
Zachary Bolduc (#15 in white) is a really interesting player for the #2021NHLDraft
He stalks in open space and then attacks at just the right moment. There's something to be said about the patience and anticipation that he plays with the offensive end of the ice. #QMJHL #LHJMQ pic.twitter.com/zfsZ5GvWSr
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) June 22, 2020
#12: D Carson Lambos – Winnipeg, WHL
Lambos is a shoot-first defender who has set plays designed for him, and he can make a goalie earn his paycheck thanks to a heavy, accurate slapper (with little backswing) or an elite wrister that has beaten quality goalies across multiple leagues and levels. As good a shooter as he may be, Lambos is a highly unselfish player who is more than capable of quarterbacking the top power-play unit, which he did with distinction for both JyP U20 and Canada-White at the 2019 World under-17 Hockey Challenge.
#13: G Jesper Wallstedt – Lulea HF, SHL
Alongside his mental fortitude, the Swede possesses a technical game that most NHL starters would be jealous of. He rarely needs to make big saves, or rely on athleticism, because his skating ability and anticipation leave him in the perfect position to deal with shots simply the majority of the time. As with most modern goalies his base set is Reverse-VH when players get in close on his peripheries, and he is a master at the age of 18.
I’m habitually terrified of taking goaltenders early, but Wallstedt is only slightly less promising than Yaroslav Askarov was last year. He’s really good.
#14: C Cole Sillinger – Sioux Falls, USHL
I do not believe there are many better shooters in this draft than Cole Sillinger. He has both the velocity to throw a puck through a screen and goalie from mid-range, and the offensive IQ to show up in dangerous areas at opportune moments. Most of his shots are from the slot, and most of them are on net. That together, combined with his refined shooting mechanics and pre-shot movement, lead to a reliably strong ability to hurl pucks past hopeless netminders.
#15: LW Oskar Olausson – HV71, SHL
The four S’s of scouting are the foundations that virtually every prospect either needs, or needs to have the potential to develop, to one day become a good NHLer. Skating, speed, skill and smarts. Olausson ticks all of those boxes already. And if on a true alliterative bent his shot and strength are also abnormally well developed for his age.
#16: C Chaz Lucius – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
Lucius has soft hands and can make plays on either his forehand or backhand. Although he can go through consecutive shifts without ever touching the puck, he is more than capable of successfully attacking traffic at top speed while maintaining possession well beyond the zone entry. He does, however, lose a fair amount of 1-on-1 puck battles along the boards, which normally isn’t an issue for skilled centers with his ideal measurements. It is best of Lucius to stay within himself, work give-and-go’s, and attack the net while off the puck.
#17: LW Sasha Pastujov – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
Arguably the most impressive trait in his game, Pastujov is an excellent skater. His edge work is among the best in the 2021 Draft Class, and is very capable of changing directions on a dime, all while maintaining possession of the puck. He can generate an adequate amount of space for himself in all three zones of the ice with a simple head fake or shoulder dip. Pastujov’s agility is another quality aspect of his skating that allows him to create rushes in transition with ease.
#18: LW Matthew Coronato – Chicago, USHL
When you watch the game tape of Matthew Coronato, it’s easy to notice how he reaches the point totals he’s amassed in the past few seasons. He has zero issue going into the slot and batting home a loose puck, but he’s just as dangerous with the puck on his stick at the top of the circle. He can beat a goaltender from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone, and make it look easy more often than not. As good of a natural scorer Coronato is, he’s equally as good of a set-up man.
#19: RW Simon Robertsson – Skelleftea AIK, SHL
Robertsson is a big and heavy winger who plays with a lot of power. As a typical power forward, he is not afraid to play physical and get into dirty areas. He is also very strong along the boards and uses his strength and size to protect the puck when carrying it in both acceleration and high speed. Robertsson has powerful strides, which helps him reach his top speed. His agility really helps him to change skating directions quickly which makes him really hard to defend against when entering the offensive zone with speed.
#20: C Mason McTavish – Peterborough, OHL
“He looked good over (in Switzerland),” a scout told The Hockey News in our recent Future Watch issue. “His release is terrific. He loves to shoot the puck and he loves to get to the net. He’s a heavy body. Sort of a one-speed guy but he’s competing and working more than last year, so that’s growth.”
#21: D Corson Ceulemans – Brooks, AJHL
I’ve really liked Ceulemans in this tournament. Real nice answer to the critics of his game and showing he can play off puck @FCHockey
— Justin Froese (@froesehky) May 7, 2021
#22: LW Zachary L’Heureux – Halifax, QMJHL
Through the #QMJHL games I've watched this season, it's becoming more and more apparent to me that Zachary L'Heureux is the top prospect from the league right now.
And it's not particularly close. #2021NHLDraft
— Josh Bell (@JoshuaBell31) October 22, 2020
#23: D Daniil Chayka – CKSA Moskva, KHL
One of the most impressive attributes about Chayka’s play is his reach. But, his reach isn’t just good without the puck, it is good with the puck as well. With Chayka’s long frame, he uses his reach to his advantage. His reach allows him to take up more space, which gives him more room when possessing the puck. When Chayka does not have the puck and is playing in his own zone, his reach allows him to stand tall and intercept passes that are not coming to his immediate vicinity. If you have quality reach, you do not always have to hover around an attacker to shut down the play. Tight man to man defense isn’t always needed.
#24: RW Nikita Chibrikov – SKA St. Petersburg, KHL
Nikita Chibrikov is a very talented prospect, but he goes full camouflage way too much for my liking
— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) May 6, 2021
#25: C Xavier Bourgault – Shawinigan, QMJHL
When I watch Bourgault pass, I immediately think of Mavrik Bourque and how much I truly enjoyed watching him find tight lanes to pass through when I was evaluating him last year. If you thought that the Shawinigan front office wants to have a full lineup of Mavrik Bourque(s), well you are on the money. Bourgault passes like Bourque. Full stop.
#26: LW Isak Rosen – Leksands IF, SHL
— Josh Bell (@JoshuaBell31) May 6, 2021
#27: D Stanislav Svozil – HC Kometa Brno, Czech
Svozil (who has a younger brother named David playing for Prerov’s under-17 team) is in his second year with Brno and though he had yet to register a point in 10 games this year, his talents are obvious from watching him. As with many teens playing against men in Europe, Svozil doesn’t take too many risks in the Extraliga, but it’s clear he has the instincts and the skating ability to make things happen in the offensive end.
#28: C Ryder Korczak – Moose Jaw, WHL
Korczak is known for his positional awareness, vision, and efficient skating. He likes to play in the middle of the ice in order to either protect the puck or to pass it on the wing. Korczak can read his team’s play and make accurate passes, and his 49-assist season can attest to that. He is an accurate shooter who can fool opposition goaltenders, using his hand movement and agility to create scoring chances.
#29: RW Samu Tuomaala – Karpat, SM-Liiga
Tuomaala is so deadly on the man-advantage. He's best-known for his lethal shot, but he's also an excellent playmaker
— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) May 4, 2021
#30: LW Brennan Othmann – Flint, OHL
When he does take the opportunity to unleash the puck, Othmann’s shot is deadly. The release on his snapshot is deceptively quick and powerful, and Othmann can get one-timed shots off instantaneously with pin-point accuracy. Combined with his excellent offensive zone positioning, Othmann knows where to go to open himself up for passes, and can get the puck off before goalies have the chance to set up for the shot.
#31: C Francesco Pinelli – Kitchener, OHL
If you like fun and flashy hockey players, you will appreciate Francesco Pinelli. Pinelli has shown throughout his time with the Kitchener Rangers and HDD Jesenice that he can be a dominant force in all three zones. He is a defensively responsible forward with a quality shot in medium danger.
#32: C Logan Stankoven – Kamloops, WHL
Logan Stankoven is so darn good. Not only is he lightning quick and dangerous with the puck, his competitiveness is off the charts
— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) April 29, 2021
The rest of the top 50
#33: C Brett Harrison – Oshawa, OHL
#34: C Dylan Duke – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
#35: LW Alexander Kisakov – MHK Dynamo Moskva, MHL
#36: LW Connor Roulette – Seattle, WHL
#37: RW Mackie Samoskevich – Chicago, USHL
#38: C Zach Dean – Gatineau, QMJHL
#39: D Aidan Hreschuk – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
#40: LW Ayrton Martino – Omaha, USHL
#41: G Sebastian Cossa – Edmonton, WHL
#42: D Daniil Sobolev – Windsor, OHL
#43: LW William Stromgren – MODO Hockey, HockeyAllsvenskan
#44: C Peter Reynolds – Saint John, QMJHL
#45: D Scott Morrow – Shattuck St. Mary’s, USHS
#46: C Fyodor Svechkov – Lada Togliatti, VHL
#47: G Benjamin Gaudreau – Sarnia, OHL
#48: D Roman Schmidt – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
#49: C Samu Salminen – Jokerit, U20 SM-Liiga
#50: C Hunter Strand – Tri-City, USHL
10 honourable mentions
- D Sean Behrens – U.S. National Development Program, USHL
- D Artyom Grushnikov – Hamilton, OHL
- C Samuel Helenius – JYP, SM-Liiga
- D Vincent Iorio – Brandon, WHL
- LW Matthew Knies – Tri-City, USHL
- RW Prokhor Poltapov – Krasniya Armiya Moskva, MHL
- C Joshua Roy – Sherbrooke, QMJHL
- RW Chase Stillman – Sudbury, OHL
- D Ryan Ufko – Chicago, USHL
- D Olen Zellweger – Everett, WHL