The first round of the 2021 NHL Draft will take place on July 23. Following the results of the draft lottery, the Flames hold the 12th overall selection and will have a chance to add a high-end prospect to their organization.
Traditionally, the first round player mixture in each year’s NHL Draft is primarily comprised of Canadian and American major junior stars, occasional college stars, and young European pros. But there are usually one or two outliers, typically players from one of Canada’s junior-A leagues. This year’s potential junior-A first round pick is Corson Ceulemans from the Brooks Bandits.
Originally from Regina but growing up primarily in the Edmonton area, Ceulemans came up through the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He’s played parts of three seasons with Brooks, but only one full season; all-told, he’s played 57 games in the AJHL due to the pandemic’s impact on hockey in Alberta.
On paper, there’s a lot to like about Ceulemans. He’s listed as 6’2″ and 201 pounds, so he’s solidly built and has a frame that can likely withstand the pro game (and its’ physical playing style). He’s a right shot defenseman, which is tantamount to being a unicorn in the modern game.
But the AJHL is a tough league to draw comparisons from fully, as Smaht Hockey’s Sam McGillian explains:
The AJHL is a challenging league to scout sometimes as its relatively low pace and routinely suffers from a lack of structure. It’s not very often players from the AJHL go on to have successful careers in the NHL. Those who do eventually make it to high level pro hockey typically dominate the AJHL while showing they’re very, very clearly above the rest of the league. At times, Ceulemans shows he can be that player but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he currently is that player.
Our pals over at The Win Column described Ceulemans more alluring on-ice qualities:
Of all the defencemen in this year’s draft, Ceulemans is one of the best skaters. Not only is he very fast, his acceleration is very good, allowing him to reach top speed quite quickly. His backwards skating is also very smooth and quick, allowing him to defend the rush effectively. On top of that, he is good in the corners, and rarely loses his balance when battling down low.
Ceuelmans is an incredible offensive quarterback, with impressive vision and crisp passes. Using his strong skating, he is able to avoid players and walk the line very effectively. His shot is strong, and he has the ability to keep it low to create tips and deflections in front. While it can always get stronger, this is something that will come from him growing and developing through his college years.
Smaht’s McGilligan went in on some reasons why Ceulemans is a challenging prospect to evaluate:
I don’t know how else to say this: Corson Ceulemans both perplexes and fascinates me. My opinion on him has changed repeatedly with my viewings. There are a lot of tools that he possesses that an NHL development staff would work with. He’s going to be playing in Wisconsin next year who are more than capable of starting the refinement process his game desperately needs. He’s a great skater, exhibits great passing, can defend the transition using his length and skating ability, owns a strong first pass, possesses the ability to carry the puck up ice, can facilitate the puck throughout the offensive zone and has the capacity to quarterback a power-play. My biggest concern more than anything is the fact that, despite having these abilities, he shows such inconsistency in using them on a regular basis in the AJHL. This isn’t the WHL, this is a league that is very clearly a league below that. I can’t help but walk away with the impression that if he was playing in the WHL we’d be seeing these issues exposed on a much more regular basis and his ability to impact the game would be heavily impeded.
In other words: Ceulemans can be really good. But his sample size in the AJHL is tiny, and within that sample size his performance from game-to-game has varied pretty significantly. He could be a good prospect, and has been in fits and starts, but hasn’t been that consistently. He’s super raw, and probably a project pick for whichever team nabs him.
Ceulemans had 11 points in seven games in the AJHL this past season, with his season limited by the AJHL’s limited amount of games – Brooks only played 20 games – and him playing for Canada at the Under-18 Worlds. Ceulemans was ninth overall in AJHL defenseman scoring, but when you adjust to points-per-game he was the league’s leader among blueliners that played more than five games.
The obvious comparison for Ceulemans is former Brooks standout Cale Makar. Ceulemans doesn’t come away from this comparison looking amazing, though.
|Draft-1||35 PTS in 44 GP (0.795 PTS/GP)||55 PTS IN 54 GP (1.019 PTS/GP)|
|Draft||11 PTS IN 8 GP (1.375 PTS/GP)||75 PTS IN 54 GP (1.389 PTS/GP)|
Of note: Ceulemans is a May birthday and Makar is an October birthday, so Makar was about seven or eight months older than Ceulemans in each season. That said, Makar played more in each season and was arguably more offensively consistent in each season. Makar was a no-doubt first rounder, while opinions are more complex and varied about Ceuelmans’ placement in the 2021 class.
Availability and fit
On one hand, Ceulemans is a right shot defender and the Flames can always use that. On the other hand, the Flames have tended to shy away from junior-A players in recent years. The last junior-A first round pick for Flames was Kris Chucko in 2004. Their last junior-A pick In any round was Brandon Hickey in 2014.
As mentioned, opinions on Ceulemans vary pretty significantly. Here’s a snapshot of where the major draft evaluators have Ceulemans relative to the rest of the 2021 class:
McKeen’s Hockey — 27th
Future Considerations — 11th
Sportsnet (Sam Cosentino) — 26th
The Athletic (Corey Pronman) — 13th
Dobber Prospects — 42nd
TSN (Bob McKenzie) — 18th
Draft Prospects Hockey — 18th
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters) — 14th
Recruit Scouting — 22nd
EliteProspects.com — 60th
Smaht Scouting — 51st
Some scouting services really like him, but some (Dobber, Elite Prospects and Smaht) have questions about his consistency and ceiling. He seems likely to be available at 12th overall, but there may be players with higher ceilings available that better suit the Flames’ needs.