The draft prediction business is going to be extremely exciting to keep an eye on as we move towards the 2021 NHL draft.
Many prognosticators, myself included, have experienced the same challenges NHL teams have in terms of seeing players live and in-person. As a result, and with the number of games played varying widely across leagues, this draft should be the most random I’ve ever been a part of -- and randomness is entertaining.
Add a flat salary cap expected to be the norm of the next couple of years, and you put more randomness in the pot. Changes to the draft lottery this year, and moving forward, take some fun out of the possibility of your team getting lucky and picking earlier than expected. Having said that, is tanking really still a thing in this time of financial uncertainty?
Anyway, as of Wednesday night’s lottery results, here’s how I anticipate the top half of the first round of the draft to go.
1. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power, D: You can never have enough defencemen, and there has to be an added level of confidence after watching him play for Canada at the worlds.
2. Seattle Kraken: Brandt Clarke, D: All good teams are built from the back out. An underrated defensive player with the ability to run a PP1 thanks to poise and patience.
3. Anaheim Ducks: Simon Edvinsson, D: Still raw, but possesses the size (6-foot-5, 207 pounds) and skill required for the grind in the Western Conference. Would look great next to Jamie Drysdale for years to come.
4. New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes, D: An excellent skater who has a ton of confidence with the puck on his stick. The brother act will add intrigue and interest for the fan base.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Matt Beniers, C: Mentorship from playing for the USA in the worlds will be valuable for a player expected to wear a letter when he becomes an established NHLer. Work ethic, attention to detail and reliability make him a sure bet.
6. Detroit Red Wings: William Eklund, LW: The Wings have taken an abundance of D the past couple years, and have a great connection to Sweden. Why not go to the most improved draft eligible player in all of Europe?
7. San Jose Sharks: Kent Johnson, C: The Sharks could use an influx of speed and skill, and Johnson has plenty of both.
8. Los Angeles Kings: Dylan Guenther, RW: Took a slight dip in rankings after a good but not great U18. Having said that, he could emerge from this draft as its top goal scorer.
9. Vancouver Canucks: Mason McTavish, C: Talk of the town in Texas at the U18. Showed he’s more than a one-trick pony and did so with some bite.
10. Ottawa Senators: Chaz Lucius, C: There’s no organizational positional need, so best player available suits this pick. Due to injury, and unavailability at the U18, Lucius was limited to just 12 games, so there is a bit of risk, which Ottawa can absorb thanks to its depth of prospect riches.
11. Chicago Blackhawks: Fabian Lysell, RW: This pick comes with some risk as well, but at his best, Lysell is the most dynamic, game-changing player in the draft. The youth movement fuelled by some inexpensive surprises (Kurashev, Suter, Hagel), allows Stan Bowman to swing for the fences here.
12. Calgary Flames: Carson Lambos, D: The perfect intersection for the GM -- in terms of a two-way defenceman with offensive upside -- and the coach, who will appreciate Lambos' ability to play in all situations with some jam.
13. Philadelphia Flyers: Cole Sillinger, C: Goal scoring is always a coveted asset and Sillinger scored 24 times in 31 games for USHL Sioux Falls this season. He brings some heaviness to the game and the marriage between skill and grit fits perfectly with the Flyers' M.O.
14. Dallas Stars: Aatu Raty, C: Once thought to be the class of this year’s group, Raty failed to make Finland’s WJC team as a returnee, and struggled to find his way in the Liiga. Having said that, if he can regain his form, this would be a big win for the Stars.
15. New York Rangers, Fedor Svechkov: Does Chris Drury at the helm affect whether or not the Rangers go back to the Russian well? If so, Svechkov has size, plays hard and is supremely responsible at both ends of the rink.