2021 NHL Draft Primer: What to know heading into a wild weekend

John Buccigross, Jeff Gorton, Kevin Weekes and Sam Cosentino discuss intriguing storylines to follow at the upcoming 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

The NHL Draft is upon us. Bringing to end a wild week that introduced the NHL’s 32nd team, the newest batch of players being picked into the NHL will be unveiled on Friday night and on Saturday.

After this weekend’s NHL Draft, attention will turn to free agency, which is set to open on Wednesday, July 28. Eyes will be on the trade market throughout, because the draft itself has become a bit of a busy time for teams shuffling pieces around.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2021 draft and some of the players within.

When is it happening and where can you watch?

Usually we’d have the entry draft at the end of June, but the unusual calendar has pushed that back a month. This year’s draft, which will be held virtually for the second year in a row, will begin with the first round airing Friday, July 23 beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET. Rounds 2-7 will follow on Saturday, July 24 beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET. You can watch all of it on Sportsnet.

Who picks when?

While last year’s draft lottery had two phases to it and was handled much different than usual, we settled back into a familiar format in 2021.

And there were no wild changes to the order this time. The Buffalo Sabres, who had the best odds of picking first, retained the selection after finishing at the bottom of the league. However, the expansion Seattle Kraken walked into the lottery with the third-best odds of winning and were able to move up a spot and will pick second overall. That’s one advantage they’ll have over Vegas, who didn’t have the same lottery luck and tumbled down to the sixth overall pick in their first draft.

But while there will be a 32nd franchise in the NHL now, there will still only be 31 first-round picks made. That’s because the Arizona Coyotes had to forfeit their first-round pick in 2021 as punishment for violating NHL Combine Testing policy during 2019-20 season.

The Big Show
Sam Cosentino breaks down the 2021 NHL Draft and prospects
July 15 2021

Here is the current order of picks in Round 1:

1. Buffalo Sabres
2. Seattle Kraken
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. San Jose Sharks
8. Los Angeles Kings
9. Arizona Coyotes
10. Ottawa Senators
11. Pick forfeited by Arizona
12. Chicago Blackhawks
13. Calgary Flames
14. Buffalo Sabres
15. Dallas Stars
16. New York Rangers
17. St. Louis Blues
18. Winnipeg Jets
19. Nashville Predators
20. Edmonton Oilers
21. Boston Bruins
22. Minnesota Wild
23. Detroit Red Wings (from Washington Capitals)
24. Florida Panthers
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
26. Minnesota Wild (from Pittsburgh Penguins)
27. Carolina Hurricanes
28. Colorado Avalanche
29. New Jersey Devils (from New York Islanders)
30. Vegas Golden Knights
31. Montreal Canadiens
32. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Tampa Bay Lightning)

Canadian teams outlook

The only Canadian team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into Friday were the Toronto Maple Leafs, who went all-in on their 2020-21 season and will barely pick at all throughout the draft, barring more trades. In the afternoon, the Canucks moved out of Round 1, dealing the ninth overall pick to Arizona as part of a bigger trade bringing Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver.

Ottawa will be the first Canadian team to pick at No. 10. But it might surprise you which Canadian team holds the most picks overall.

That honour goes to the Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens, who have 11 picks and three within the first two rounds.

Below is a breakdown of the draft picks each Canadian team holds:

• Montreal has 11 picks: 31, 63, 64, 76, 87, 113, 126, 127, 142, 191, 223

• Vancouver has eight picks: 41, 73, 137, 140, 169, 178, 201

• Calgary has seven picks: 13, 45, 77, 84, 141, 173, 205

• Ottawa has six picks: 10, 39, 42, 74, 170, 202

• Edmonton has five picks: 20, 116, 180, 186, 212

• Winnipeg has four picks: 18, 50, 82, 146

• Toronto has three picks: 57, 153, 185

Who’s going No. 1?

Sometimes when a player earns the title of best prospect in a given draft class, we get debates near the end of the season that question if someone else could actually go first overall. But, almost always, the player expected to go first ends up doing so.

This year, with so many leagues impacted with shorter schedules (or in the OHL’s case, no schedule at all), there hasn’t been the same opportunity to get eyeballs on players to spark debates. Defenceman Owen Power has been the top player all year and it doesn’t seem like he’ll be knocked off that perch. Our own Sam Cosentino was asked this very question for an article this week, and noted it was unlikely any other player will be called first on Friday.

With a Jack Eichel trade ready to go down any day, and a number of other Sabres on the block, Buffalo could at least go into the future knowing they’ll have a great start on the blue line between Power and 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin.

If there is a surprise, though, it would seem likely to be centre Matthew Beniers. A teammate of Power’s at the University of Michigan, Beniers is six-foot-two and could pair with Dylan Cozens to give Buffalo a strong 1-2 centre duo to move on with. If indeed both Eichel and Sam Reinhart are traded, the Sabres would have to start fresh trying to find leading talent at the centre position.

That would be a shocker, however. This appears to be Power’s draft.

Other players to watch

Luke Hughes, D: Brother of NHLers Quinn and Jack, there is a shot Luke could actually join Jack. Hughes is one of four defencemen who could go inside the top 10, but the order of things after the first pick is quite unclear. If Hughes is available at No. 4, the Devils could scoop him up to join his brother. There was an outside shot he could have joined Quinn in Vancouver, too, but the Canucks trading out of Round 1 put an end to that.

Chaz Lucius, C: Off-season knee surgery delayed Lucius’ start to the season all the way into February, and by then he had gone nearly 11 months between games. Still, he managed 13 goals in 12 games for the USNTDP against USHL competition and showed he’s still a high-upside offensive contributor. Had he been healthy and able to play all year, perhaps he’s be a little higher in the rankings, but he’s been moving up as his play demanded all season.

Jesper Wallstedt/Sebastian Cossa, G: We had been getting used to the idea of goalies either not going in the first round, or at least not going too high in the first round. Then in 2019 Spencer Knight went 13th overall, and in 2020, Yaroslav Askarov was taken 11th overall. Could we have three years in a row with a goalie going inside the top 15 picks? We could have two of them, in fact. Wallstedt and Cossa are both difference-making goaltenders that a team needy at the position might target that early. It’s likely Wallstedt is the first of the two to come off the board, but that choice might be closer than we think.

Aatu Raty, C: Any projection of this 2021 draft class two years ago would have had Raty right at or near the top. A good-sized centre with lots of skill, Raty was at one point on track to be the face of this class. But as he struggled to produce and get minutes in Finland’s top pro league, Raty got frustrated, lost confidence and didn’t expand on his production against his own peer group. He wasn’t chosen for Finland’s WJC team this year. Is there a team still willing to take a shot on him in the first round, and bet on him finding his upside again?

Teams that could make headlines

Buffalo Sabres: This is the big one, and not because of the first-overall pick. Will Jack Eichel get traded by, or on, Friday night? The Sabres need a haul and it would be nice if a 2021 first-rounder were included in a deal. If this draft is going to factor into the Eichel return, it’s a trade that would be more likely to happen before than afterwards, so once again we’re full steam ahead on Eichel Watch. The Sabres picked up another first-rounder on Friday afternoon, sending Rasmus Ristolainen to the Flyers.

Calgary Flames: Well. We’re waiting. The Flames have to do something significant this off-season, right? And it’s not just losing Mark Giordano for the cap space? Calgary could just look to add and run it back again, but it sure seemed like this past season was the end of the core as it stood. Giordano is in Seattle now, but will the long-rumoured trade of Johnny Gaudreau finally happen? Sean Monahan? Dare we suggest Matthew Tkachuk?

Chicago Blackhawks: Holding the 12th-overall pick, the Blackhawks will either get a good player through the draft tonight or, perhaps, through trade. As Elliotte Friedman reported overnight, Chicago is making another push to acquire Seth Jones from rebuilding Columbus, and if they don’t want to give up Alex DeBrincat or Kirby Dach in a deal, you’d think their first-rounder would have to be involved. Could a deal get done today? Stay tuned.

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