There is no question, the late-2002/2003-born draft class will present the biggest challenge NHL scouts have likely ever faced. As everything else in life, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on scouting. There are so many moving parts in all of this.
First, there are several scouting staffs that aren’t filled due to the turnover in personnel. Moreover, most teams aren’t spending a lot of money on new hires. Second, teams are obviously more budget conscious without any revenue being generated, which also affects whatever travel hasn’t already been impacted. Add in the advances and further acceptance of video scouting and analytics and a slow shift is afoot. And third, you have another team to compete with as the Seattle Kraken will take part in their first ever draft next year, extending this list to 32 players.
Making matters even more challenging is the fact there are really good players in every corner of the world. The first round of the 2020 draft saw heavy activity in the CHL, with 19 of the 31 players selected coming from that league. That number won’t be as high this year, but there is still depth spread across the CHL. Typically, NCAA players aren’t on this list as they’re usually drafted out of the USNTDP, the USHL, or Tier II before moving on to the college ranks. This year, though, we will see an anomaly, where three University of Michigan players will likely go in the first round. Since 1963, no NCAA team has had three active players (not commits) selected in any single first round.
Also unlike last year, when forwards dominated the first round, this year looks like several defencemen will be in the mix to be impact players down the road. Twenty-four of the first 31 players taken in the 2020 draft were forwards and the number of defencemen taken in the first round should move up from the six taken last season. Size seems to be the common thread amongst them, when looking at 6-foot-6 Owen Power, 6-foot-4 Simon Edvinsson, and 6-foot-5 Roman Schmidt. Similar to basketball, bigger players are so much more well-rounded and multi-faceted than they’ve ever been. There’s also a bevy of high-end goal scorers available, and that is always coveted as scoring at even-strength is a rare asset.
So, with some players on the ice playing and others waiting to get started, here is our first look at the Top 32 prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft.
1. Owen Power, D, U of Michigan (NCAA): Playing big minutes in all situations in a great program as a freshman is a rarity, especially for a defenceman.
2. Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Impressive WHL point totals (32 in 57 games) last season considering he was tasked with the toughest match-ups defensively as a rookie.
3. Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Confident avoiding the first wave of the forecheck before effectively moving the puck. Gets around the ice with ease.
4. Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): The 2019-20 WHL Rookie of the Year is highly skilled and a point-producing machine.
5. Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL): Assertive defenceman who is never afraid to join and stay in the rush.
6. Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP: Already more physically mature at this age than his two older brothers, Jack and Quinn. Hockey IQ and great skating ability are hallmarks in the family. Luke has that and the added bonus of size (6-foot-2, 176 pounds).
7. Matthew Beniers, C, U of Michigan (NCAA): Honest player with a motor that never stops. Freshman who has already earned the trust of Michigan’s staff.
8. Kent Johnson, C, U of Michigan (NCAA): Patience and poise with the puck allow him time to display the elite creativity in his game.
9. William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE): Motivated competitor with dynamic offensive upside. Red hot start in the SHL with 10 points in 15 games.
10. Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL): Presents leadership qualities and has the tools to play in all areas. Asserting himself physically in the defensive zone is a work in progress.
11. Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP: Currently injured, he is on this list for his body of work with the US U-17 team from last season where he put up 31 goals to go along with a 10-point U17 Challenge tournament.
12. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Silky smooth mitts combined with excellent hand-eye coordination make him a consistent threat in the offensive zone.
13. Roman Schmidt, D, USNTDP: Another fine skating right shot defenceman who can dish it out physically.
14. Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga): Draft year blues have taken the sting out of the momentum he created last season. Limited minutes whenever he’s in the lineup.
15. Cole Sillinger, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): Another son of a former NHLer (Mike). Cole plays a hungry game and has a knack for finishing.
16. Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Plays bigger than his 5-foot-11, 196-pound size.
17. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE): Power forward type who can score goals.
18. Sasha Pastujov, RW, USNTDP: Another player who presents dual threat ability. Excellent hands and a big-time release.
19. Daniil Chayka, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): Effective defensive player with a good stick and reach, but leaves you wanting more offensively. Typical for late birthday players.
20. Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr. (FIN): Smallish (5-foot-10) right shot winger who is crafty. Can play the in-tight game and get rid of the puck in a hurry.
21. Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Great blend of skill and will. Kitchener played him on the wing as a 16-year-old last season, but he will return to his natural centre position upon resumption of play.
22. Ryder Korczak, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Centrepiece for the re-tooling Warriors. One of the older players available in this draft class as a September ’02 birthdate.
23. Jack O’Brien, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Held his own on a line with Seth Jarvis in 2019-20. Excellent vision and anticipation helps him create plays out of nothing.
24. Oskar Olausson, RW, HV71 Jr. (SWE): Deadly accurate mid-range shooter, especially on the off-side. Hands and feet work well together at high speeds.
25. Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL): NHL bloodlines with a big body who can really shoot the puck.
26. Fabian Lysell, RW, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): There are many layers to this onion, but the eye test will tell you he’s deserving of a much higher ranking.
27. Artyom Grushnikov, D, Hamilton Bulldgos (OHL): Excels as a pass first defenceman who is simple but effective in the offensive zone.
28. Conner Roulette, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds: Continued top-notch offensive output from Team Manitoba at the 2018 Canada Winter Games right into a 19-goal rookie season in the WHL.
29. Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): Coming off a fine rookie season, his shot and release are deceptive and similar to that of Connor McMichael.
30. Zachary Dean, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Comparable to Ridley Greig in that they both come from NHL bloodlines, both play a hard-nosed, old-school style of game and both have undercover skill.
31. Cole Huckins, C, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL): Big, powerful young man who is a dual threat offensively. Could stand to shoot it more.
32. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL): Would help tremendously if he could steal the starting job away from Hugo Alnefelt at the world juniors.