With the draft just around the corner, it was time for a refreshed set of rankings.
More work has been put in on a number of fronts to try and have at least a little certainty in what should be as random a draft as I’ve seen in my time covering it. Having said that, we do know a few things.
First, Seattle GM Ron Francis holds the keys and should be able to impact this draft. He may not be able to work the same magic that George McPhee was able to exact in 2017 with Vegas, but plenty of options and cap space should give Francis ample room to maneuver. The idea might be to acquire as many draft picks as possible and not just for 2021, but beyond that as well. Vegas was able to pick up two additional first round picks in the 2017 draft and ended up with 12 picks total.
Next, we know this draft is top-heavy with defencemen. University of Michigan product Owen Power leads the way, in a group that includes Swede Simon Edvinsson, American Luke Hughes and Canadian Brandt Clarke. In terms of the strength of this class, we may have to extend our window of judgement by an additional year based on the fact that, at best, some players in this class have missed out on at least a half season, some playoffs and some international play. Despite extended off-season training, game and practice play has been limited and that typically provides the best developmental path.
Finally, just as we see every year, players will unexpectedly emerge from this draft class to become NHL stars, regardless of where they are selected. Look no further than the 2021 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who featured the likes of Nikita Kucherov (58th overall in 2011), Brayden Point (79th overall in 2014), Anthony Cirelli (72nd overall in 2015), Ondrej Palat (208th overall in 2011) and an undrafted Tyler Johnson.
Here’s our final draft rankings. Expect a mock draft immediately following the expansion draft on July 21st.
1. Owen Power, D, University of Michigan (NCAA): His place at the top of the rankings was cemented after his performance at the IIHF Men’s World Championship.
2. Matthew Beniers, C, University of Michigan (NCAA): He is the safest pick in the class. A Dylan Larkin-type that a team will want to keep forever.
3. Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Should be able to handle top-pairing workload in the NHL and has some offensive upside, too.
4. Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): An average showing at the U18 notwithstanding, Guenther is still a scorer with a big league shot who is often on the right side of the puck.
5. William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden (SWE): He scored 11 goals and 23 points in 40 games playing with Djurgarden in Sweden’s top professional league – those numbers for a first-year draft eligible player in the SHL are good for fifth all-time.
6. Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP: Injury issues are well behind him. He displays the confidence, skating and puck-handling talents of his brothers Jack and Quinn.
7. Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL): Should be able to run a power play at the next level. As smart, poised and patient as he is, he could still stand to play more consistently with pace.
8. Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL): Between his stint playing in Switzerland and a nice sampling at the U18, showed a complete game and the ability to play effectively at centre.
9. Kent Johnson, C, University of Michigan (NCAA): Has the confidence, the willingness and the skill to do anything out there. Will need to add weight and strength to his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame.
10. Cole Sillinger, LW, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL): Has been groomed by NHL people at home (his dad is former NHLer Mike Sillinger), in the WHL (where he played 52 games in Medicine Hat) right on through to his time with Marty Murray in the USHL this season.
11. Matthew Coronato, RW, Chicago Steel (USHL): An absolute bulldog who hunts pucks and knows exactly what to do with them afterwards. Scored 48 goals in 51 games with the Steel this season, and added nine more in eight playoff games.
12. Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP: There is precedence for players who missed significant time during their draft year to still be taken high (see Alex Galchenyuk, Morgan Rielly). Lucius played just 25 games this season.
13. Fabian Lysell, RW, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Most polarizing player in the draft. Played 26 games in Sweden’s top league this season and registered just three points, but dominated against his own age group.
14. Brennan Othman, LW, Flint Firebirds (OHL): A mini growth spurt along with an improvement in skating, led to a great U18. Scored 16 points in 34 games on loan to EHC Olten in Switzerland this season.
15. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL): Technically sound goalie with a nice dose of athleticism. Character of an NHL veteran.
16. Isak Rosen, LW, Leksand (SHL): Hands and feet work quickly and effectively, especially off the rush. Possesses a powerful stride.
17. Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): Plenty of personal adversity has not affected his on-ice performance. He’s got size, too, standing 6-foot-6, 211 pounds.
18. Fedor Svechkov, C, Togliatti (RUS): Solid, steady, two-way player whose game may get overlooked because it lacks a dynamic element.
19. Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Had plenty of looks in his 16-year-old season and then got a little taste of the pro life in Finland with JYP this season. Looks to have fully recovered from an ablation procedure.
20. Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr (FIN): Shifty, speedy shooter with a penchant for striking from anywhere.
21. Nikita Chibrikov, RW, St. Petersburg (KHL): Shifty playmaker who can also score. Competes hard and plays with pace.
22. Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): An excellent finisher whose brain works best in the offensive zone. As good a shooter as he is, he’s an underrated playmaker, too.
23. Daniil Chayka, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): Has been a winner at every level for a variety of teams internationally and domestically. Spent this season playing back in Russia on loan, with stints in the KHL, VHL and MHL.
24. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Tried to replace Alexis Lafreniere with Rimouski before coming to the realization he could carve out his own niche. Led the Oceanic with 29 points in 27 games.
25. Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL): Hockey has been the foundation for a player whose family has moved frequently in his youth. Committed to University of Wisconsin for next season.
26. Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga): Production has never been equal to his work rate, and despite being a young phenom before his draft year, he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Managed three points in 35 games this season playing in Finland’s top pro league.
27. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea (SWE): Plays a prototypical north-south game. NHL bloodlines always an asset (father Bert played with Canucks, Oilers and Rangers) even more in uncertain times.
28. Zachary Dean, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Old school traits in that he has great outside speed and a bulldog determination to get to and stay in front of the net.
29. Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL): There’s plenty to like in this versatile forward whose best-suited to play centre.
30. Wyatt Johnston, C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): Might be the sleeper pick of Round 1. He didn’t play for more than 14 months and then was able to do everything Canada asked of him at the U18s.
31. Zachary L'Heureux, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): A lack of discipline resulted in multiple suspensions, and that posed questions about an unpredictable character. Needs structure and a solid leadership sidecar.
32. Sasha Pastujov, RW, USNTDP: Circus references aside (his parents used to work for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey), he showed remarkable consistency against a variety of competition all season.