Sportsnet’s 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Rankings: April Edition

NHL teams are gathered on the floor of the Bell Centre for day two of the 2009 NHL entry draft. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Scouting has become marginally easier since our last 10 players to watch list came out during Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey about a month ago. The scouting landscape looks significantly different from our last written rankings back in December. The QMJHL continues to find ways to play. The WHL has had some issues in B.C., but for the most part, has been able to get back on the ice and settle into a limited schedule. The OHL has yet to get going, but, despite rising case numbers in the province, there is still optimism for an early May start. The USHL and many European leagues have also found a way, especially in countries where the COVID-19 vaccination rollout has been efficient and effective.

Hope also springs in the fact that it looks like the World U18 Championship will move forward as planned in Plano and Frisco, Texas beginning April 26. This event should allow scouts a pretty good one stop shop on evaluation of the world’s best first year draft eligible players. It doesn’t come without caveats as players born in late 2002 are not eligible to participate and the QMJHL has placed league and team priorities over international competition, so those players will remain at home and play for a league championship. Typically, CHL players are not released for play in this event unless their teams are not in the playoffs, or have been eliminated in the first two rounds. Canada’s entry should be strong.

With the draft remaining scheduled for July 23-24, it has helped teams establish deadlines and meeting dates. Essentially all teams are at the same disadvantage when it comes to this year’s draft. There’s still no word on an NHL Combine, but that looks increasingly unlikely considering the amount of travel it would require to make happen.

Some figured the debate on video scouting would be quelled by the pandemic. In fact, when we look back at this time in history, video scouting will have had its most fierce debate. As a necessity, video scouting works, but it does have drawbacks. Evaluating skating can be tricky, getting good quality video can still be challenging, and putting players in context is also difficult. Further, scouts can’t see warm-ups, can’t see the bench, and can’t see the player away from the puck. How can I evaluate a 17-year-old Brandt Clarke in a men’s pro league in Slovakia based solely on video?

Having said all that, the show must go on. Here’s our April rankings.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

1. Owen Power, D, U of Michigan (NCAA): An abrupt end to an otherwise brilliant freshman season where ice-time and special teams play was earned and deserved.

2. Matthew Beniers, C, U of Michigan (NCAA): Work ethic, smarts and a Mercedes Benz engine all but guarantee he will play. It’s simply a matter of how high in the lineup can he go?

3. Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP: Similar path taken to the top five by Jake Sanderson last year. Size, skating and smarts were complemented by a season full of production, that saw nearly point per game numbers.

4. Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): Came out of the gates hot and has not cooled. Likely to challenge the goal a game mark, but has impressed more this season with his playmaking.

5. Kent Johnson, C, U of Michigan (NCAA): Highlight reel waiting to happen. Dynamic offensive player whose confidence allows him to maximize his creativity.

6. Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Plays the game with ease, defends well with good reach and active stick. Projects as a massive minute eater in an NHL top pairing.

7. Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL): After a slow start in Slovakia — where he’s playing until the OHL starts — Clarke was able to apply himself against pros as he did against OHL competition a year ago.

8. Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP: His 1.5 points per game over 12 games (due to injury) was just an appetizer for a player likely to be one of the most scrutinized at the U18s.

9. William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE): Might be the most improved European player from the start of this crazy season until now.

10. Cole Sillinger, LW, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL): A move to the USHL has proven that he can handle bigger, older competition and still maintain the same level and style of play.

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11. Fabian Lysell, RW, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Can burn wide or through the middle to get to the goal. Uses the whole net with great accuracy. Deceptive transitioning from stickhandle to pass or shot.

12. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Was rounding into form before season-ending injury. Possesses great hands and lateral movement.

13. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE): Great at hunting pucks and keeping them once turned over. Plays a power game that extends to all borders of the rink.

14. Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga): Is this the second coming of Jesse Puljujarvi?

15. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL): Has put together a solid first pro season. Size, athletic ability and a late birthday are all key attributes of the vaunted first-round goalie.

16. Fedor Svechkov, C, Togliatti (RUS): Plays with his head up and on a swivel. Can process the play at speed and presents both shooting and playmaking options.

17. Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): A complicated player who at his best is a pest and a producer. Plays with some jam, sometimes too much of it.

18. Sasha Pastujov, RW, USNTDP: Strong skater with good glide. He’s agile, can work in tight spaces, and uses patience to open up more ice for himself, or create passing lanes.

19. Daniil Chayka, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): The instability of not playing in Guelph this season, combined with the rise of several high-end defencemen, have forced him down the list as he’s spent the year in Russia.

20. Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Would’ve been nice to see how he could’ve applied lessons learned in Finland to his game in Winnipeg. Most likely will miss the U18s due to injury.

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21. Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL): Fascinating study and his skating has improved. The U18’s will be big for him, despite being one of a handful of high-end OHLers who made the move to play overseas. McTavish has spent the season in Switzerland.

22. Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL): Decision-making comes into question. Is it a lack of hockey sense, or is it fatigue from logging heavy minutes?

23. Oskar Olausson, RW, HV71 Jr (SWE): Size and speed are key assets. Shoots it well, and can handle it both at speed and in tight spaces. Is not a defensive liability.

24. Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr (FIN): Accuracy and a quick release combined with the ability to score from all over make him a consistent threat. Plays with great energy.

25. Isak Rosen, RW, Leksand (SHL): Prefers playing with flow as opposed to stopping on pucks. Has great awareness of where the puck is and where it’s going.

26. Matthew Coronato, RW, Chicago (USHL): Despite being a little smallish, not the most fleet of foot, and not the greatest shooter etc., Coronato is highly competitive and drives play. He’s sniping at a pace rarely seen in the USHL with 41 goals in 45 games.

27. Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Going on a solo mission to Slovenia during a global pandemic to play the game you love is admirable. His desire and passion to play a complete game improved while playing pro against older competition.

28. Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): Anticipates the play well, especially in the offensive zone, which is why he often finds quiet ice near the net. Once there, he rarely misses.

29. Zachary Dean, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Grit, determination and skill may vault him higher by season’s end.

30. Nikita Chibrikov, RW, St. Petersburg (KHL): Has climbed the ladder steadily and is an excitable player who shows confidently with the puck, but needs to work on his play without it.

31. William Stromgren, LW, MODO (SWE): Inconsistencies in play and in effort are perplexing, but the upside may be too good to let him get by the first round.

32. Stanislav Svozil, D, Brno (CZE): Must say my good pal @fan960lou was all over this guy months ago. There are some questions regarding his offensive upside, but without that, he can play an effective puck moving, transitional style of game.

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