The 2021 NHL Draft is shaping as much as be one of the vital complicated and chaotic drafts within the final 50 years. A number of elements have converged, making a figurative excellent storm: coronavirus outbreaks have restricted schedules in a number of leagues world wide and compelled tournaments to cancel their occasions, the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken is about to happen days earlier than, the draft class is arguably a weaker group, the OHL has but to start out their 2020-21 season, and the WHL has solely been enjoying for per week. With a lot uncertainty, NHL golf equipment had been pushing to delay the draft until 2022, though the league has acknowledged that received’t occur presently.
All of that has created an extremely troublesome job for professional scouts, and consequently, nobody can agree on who must be first total. It’s the primary time there hasn’t been a consensus first-overall choice in a number of years, and probably the primary time ever that at the least six gamers have all seen their names on the high of 1 listing or one other. For the informal observer, it may be very laborious to maintain monitor of who’s the present favorite, particularly when it’s modified a number of occasions over the previous month and will very nicely change within the coming months.
It’s undoubtedly how I’ve felt in the previous couple of weeks as I dive into writing prospect experiences for a few of the high prospects obtainable in 2021. Draft rankings have been way more risky than ever earlier than, with many gamers having a variety of 10 to fifteen attainable spots the place they may very well be chosen. So, in an effort to simplify the whole lot, I’ve gone by a few of the greatest and hottest rankings publicly obtainable and created a consolidated top-10 listing of who presently is a first-overall candidate. This isn’t a rating; Matthew Zator, Peter Baracchini, and Andrew Forbes have that aspect taken care of for The Hockey Writers. As a substitute, this can be a breakdown of the highest prospects’ abilities, weaknesses, and probabilities of ending up the primary choose in 2021.
Why he may very well be first: In a season the place totally different leagues have been wildly inconsistent, Beniers’ efficiency on the 2021 World Juniors may very well be the deciding issue for a lot of scouts. He had a strong season with the U.S. Nationwide U18 workforce, posting 18 targets and 41 factors in 44 video games and one other 16 factors in 16 video games with the USA Nationwide Improvement Workforce, however he wasn’t thought of greater than a mid-first spherical choose. That’s, not till the World Juniors, the place he emerged as a key contributor on the American workforce when different notable gamers had been unavailable. Regardless of being the youngest on the roster, he was usually on the second line and scored a purpose and three factors en path to the gold medal.
Seeing his ability to do it all on show in opposition to the world’s greatest prospects has achieved wonders for his draft rankings, and he has jumped as much as first for all three of The Hockey Writers’ scouts. He’s continued his dominance as a freshman with the College of Michigan, main his workforce with 10 targets and sitting third with 23 factors. Mixed with a really projectable 6-foot-1 body, he appears to be on monitor to be a top-line two-way heart.
Why he may fall: Scouts have been hard-pressed to seek out a capability or talent that Beniers’ isn’t outmatched in by one other 2021 prospect. He performs a wise, mature, defensively-aware recreation and is that this yr’s bodily embodiment of the saying, “A jack-of-all-trades is a grasp of none, however oftentimes higher than a grasp of 1.” The one downside is a few scouts could not agree. His offensive upside isn’t as excessive as some others on this listing, and although he might develop right into a top center like Mathew Barzal, he might simply as simply be a grinding second or third-line participant. He’ll make the NHL; of that, there’s virtually no debate. However as to his full potential, scouts proper now are divided.
Why he may very well be first: The NHL is seeing an increase in offensive-minded, extremely cell defensemen like Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, which is precisely what type of recreation Luke Hughes performs. He’s been one of many hottest risers in the 2021 Draft these days and was ranked first by FC Hockey, due to an unimaginable begin with the U.S. Nationwide U18 workforce this season. The fluid-skating defenseman has been virtually unstoppable as an offense driver, posting six targets and 32 factors in as many video games, and ranks fourth in workforce scoring. He’s additionally had an enormous season within the USHL, scoring 13 factors in 13 video games, which is an enormous improve from final season, the place he completed with 13 factors in 29 video games. It’s an identical tempo to his older brother Quinn, which is a good signal of issues to return.
Why he might fall: Hughes is among the youngest gamers eligible on the draft — just some days shy of being eligible for the 2022 Draft — and consequently, his recreation continues to be very uncooked. It additionally hasn’t helped that he’s taken the identical path as Quinn and Jack, each of whom regarded extra polished than Luke on the identical age. He additionally doesn’t have the strongest nor essentially the most correct shot, and when in comparison with different offensive defensemen obtainable on the high finish of the 2021 Draft, he has one of many decrease shots-on-goal percentages from low-danger areas excessive within the slot. He stands out as the greatest Hughes brother at 6-foot-2, however he nonetheless just isn’t an excessively massive participant, and he’ll want so as to add some muscle and power earlier than he makes an affect within the NHL.
Why he may very well be first: There are usually not many gamers who come alongside who’re each massive and extremely expert, but Energy is the right mix. The Michigan defender is 6-foot-6, 214 kilos, and when he will get on top of things, he’s practically unstoppable. He can transfer like few others his dimension, which is an attribute that makes him very engaging to many NHL groups. His potential is sky-high in the intervening time, and there’s an opportunity he might develop into a Chris Pronger-type of franchise defenseman for a workforce. Even when his talent set is a bit uncooked, that’s a threat most groups would take if given the prospect, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie picked him to go first again in December.
Why he may fall: There are too many gamers who’ve been drafted utterly based mostly on their dimension, and in virtually each case, the participant by no means made it within the NHL. 6-foot-4 Griffin Reinhart went fourth in 2012 however performed 37 NHL video games; 6-foot-5 Erik Gudbranson went third total in 2010 and has failed to remain on a workforce longer than 4 seasons; 6-foot-5 Jared Cowen went ninth in 2009 and has 45 factors to his identify after six seasons. And whereas there are nonetheless some old-school hockey guys who like to have massive gamers on their workforce, the league is transitioning to a sooner, offense-driven type, which leaves a variety of massive guys behind, irrespective of how good their skating is.
Additionally like Pronger, Energy tends to play on the sting of catastrophe, in response to Tony Ferrari of Dobber Prospects. His defensive consciousness and hockey IQ could be regarding typically, and he runs the chance of constructing a deadly error on a play. Altogether, it makes Energy a dangerous choose on the high finish of the draft. He might find yourself being one of the best participant from his class, however he might simply as possible be a bust.
Why he may very well be first: William Eklund stands out as the most expert prospect at this second. Not solely is the 18-year-old presently enjoying within the Swedish Hockey League in opposition to former NHL gamers, however he’s additionally doing so in a top-six function, an extremely uncommon feat for an adolescent on the planet’s third-best league. His 11 targets and 20 factors with Djurgårdens IF leads all under-19 gamers within the SHL, together with 2020 draft picks Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond.
Though he has slowed down not too long ago, Eklund was on tempo to complete his draft-eligible season in the identical ballpark as Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Peter Forsberg. He’s even drawn some comparisons to Sidney Crosby for his extremely excessive hockey IQ and willingness to grind it out within the corners. Even when his ceiling isn’t as excessive, that’s some unimaginable firm to be with and prompted Dobber Prospect’s Cam Robinson and Eliteprospects to make him his choose for first.
Why he might fall: Similar to how Energy will get additional consideration due to his body, Eklund will lose some merely because of the truth that he stands 5-foot-10. The NHL nonetheless sees dimension first, regardless of the rising variety of sub-six-foot All-Stars, and plenty of are nonetheless underrated in right this moment’s recreation. Marco Rossi was a top-five expertise till draft day when he fell to ninth, possible because of his diminutive 5-foot-9 stature. He’s additionally not the quickest skater, which has develop into a significant talent that scouts search for.
Nonetheless, what could find yourself being a deciding issue is that Eklund missed the 2021 World Juniors because of a constructive COVID check. Not having the ability to see him compete in opposition to the opposite high prospects from world wide could place him barely decrease than different prospects like Beniers, who had been capable of present their abilities in opposition to the world’s greatest.
Why he may very well be first: Discuss dynamic gamers. Fabian Lysell is an extremely gifted winger who might have essentially the most intense tempo in his draft class. He approaches every recreation as if the title is on the road, utilizing his blazing velocity, nice stickhandling, and aggressive assault to beat the protection and create scoring possibilities. Every thing is completed at full throttle, and at each the U18 and U20 ranges, he’s been nearly unstoppable. In 2019-20, with the Frolunda HC J18s, he had 34 factors in 13 video games. This season, he made his SHL debut after placing up 13 factors in 11 video games with the J20s. He’s presently Dobber Prospects’ Tony Ferrari’s favourite to go first total in July.
Why he might fall: Like Eklund, Lysell’s dimension might maintain him again from being the primary total choose. At 5-foot-10, he shall be seen as undersized for the NHL, and his aggressive strategy has at occasions gotten him into conditions the place he has been at a major dimension drawback. His SHL stats have additionally been underwhelming — in 25 video games, he has simply three factors — which is made barely worse by the truth that he requested a commerce from Frolunda with a view to play in Sweden’s high league. That’s brought on some to query his maturity and hockey IQ, and consequently, he’s been ranked wherever from first to 14th.
Why he may very well be first: Brandt Clarke is an offensively-minded defender and will have the very best ceiling on the 2021 Draft. Final season as a rookie with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, he had 38 factors in 57 video games, displaying a capability to crash the web not usually seen amongst defensemen. This season, he determined to go and play skilled hockey in Slovakia, becoming a member of HC Nove Zamky simply over a month in the past. Since then, he’s put up 4 targets and 6 factors in 23 video games whereas averaging over 20 minutes a recreation in opposition to gamers far older and larger than himself. It was sufficient to place him over the sting for these at Draft Prospects Hockey, who put the defender first on their winter rankings.
Why he might fall: Clarke tends to play on the road of aggressive and reckless. Within the Slovak Extraliga, he presently has 41 penalty minutes, most of which he acquired in a single recreation. He additionally laid a harmful hit to the head on Quinton Byfield early within the 2019-20 season however wasn’t suspended. Typically, he doesn’t play overly bodily however can lack self-discipline, which he might want to study to regulate, particularly because the league tries to stamp out hits to the top and different harmful performs. Clarke might simply as simply develop into a Brad Marchand-type on the blue line as he might a Raffi Torres, who nonetheless holds the report for the longest NHL suspension with 41 video games for a harmful hit on Jakub Silfverberg.
Why he may very well be first: Carson Lambos has all of the makings of a top-pairing two-way defender who’s capable of do the whole lot requested of him at a excessive stage. Final season, he led all rookie defensemen within the WHL in scoring with eight targets and 32 factors, together with 10 energy play factors in 57 video games with the Winnipeg ICE. His efficiency earned him a spot on Canada White on the U17 World Hockey Championships, the place he put up 5 assists in six video games. On the blue line, he makes use of his 6-foot-1, 201-pound body to successfully shut down attackers and his fluid skating to shut gaps and power them to the surface. Whereas he hasn’t been ranked first but, he’s the second-favourite alternative for Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino.
Why he might fall: Lambos’ mortgage to the Finnish JYP U20 workforce didn’t go as easily as hoped. He regarded outmatched and misplaced, though he nonetheless managed to attain 11 factors in 13 video games and appeared in two Liiga video games. His defensive recreation regarded stronger than it had final season, however there have been some important consistency points which have many scouts anxious. The place he finally ends up going within the 2021 Draft will largely rely on how he transitions again to the WHL. Scouts love his shot, which might make him a legit menace on the ability play, and when that dominance returns within the coming weeks, Lambos will be one to watch. In any other case, the cell defender might fall out of the top-10 altogether.
Why he may very well be first: Simon Edvinsson could also be one of the best two-way defenseman obtainable within the draft, and at 6-foot-5, he’s additionally one of many greatest. He has extremely delicate palms and might ship crisp passes proper to the tape, creating excellent scoring alternatives. He’s a robust skater, capable of shortly rise up to hurry and simply blaze by the impartial zone. Like Energy, as soon as he will get going, he’s extremely troublesome to cease. He performs a similar style to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, enjoying a wise, assured model of hockey. TSN appears to essentially like massive defensemen, as they put Edvinsson as their second alternative after Energy.
Why he might fall: Plenty of scouts will possible examine Edvinsson to fellow massive defenseman Energy, and in most regards, he simply doesn’t match up. He’s not as offensively gifted, and his weaker shot possible means he’ll by no means be a 20-goal scorer within the NHL. His protection is nice however not nice, and regardless of having a dimension benefit in opposition to most of his competitors, he isn’t as bodily as most anticipate him to be. He’s performed a lot of the 2020-21 season within the J20 and Allsvenskan leagues in Sweden, the place the competitors isn’t as sturdy because the NCAA proper now. In his 10 video games within the SHL, he has solely recorded a single help, which continues to be noteworthy when competing in opposition to a few of the greatest Swedish gamers on the planet, however not as spectacular as some others on this listing.
Why he may very well be first: Kent Johnson has the highest fantasy potential of another ahead within the 2021 class. Final season, he was a standout with the BCHL’s Path Smoke Eaters, scoring 101 factors in simply 52 video games and incomes first All-Star workforce honors. He was additionally named the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s High Ahead of the 12 months. He then joined the College of Michigan, the place he’s been simply as deadly as a freshman. In his first recreation within the NCAA, he had 4 assists in an 8-1 win, then scored some extent in his subsequent three video games. He presently sits second on the workforce in scoring with 25 factors, simply 4 behind 2020 second-round choose Thomas Bordeleau. He was even nominated for the 2021 Hobey Baker Award, together with teammate Energy. Like Lambos and Edvinsson, he hasn’t been ranked first but, however he was third on Zator’s listing.
Why he might fall: Johnson carries fairly a bit extra threat than Beniers or Eklund, largely because of his present dimension. At simply 165 kilos, it will be extremely unlikely that he might bounce proper into the NHL subsequent season. Not all first total picks make the bounce instantly — Erik Johnson spent one other season on the College of Minnesota after being chosen by the St. Louis Blues in 2006. However most of the time, the workforce that picks first wants essentially the most assist and doesn’t need to undergo by one other last-place end. he additionally picks up fairly a couple of factors as secondary assists, which some might even see as not as precious as a participant who’s recording extra main factors.
Why he may very well be first: At one time, Aatu Raty was the favourite for the first overall choose. Now, he’s virtually been pushed out of the top-10. What occurred? Plenty of it has to do with expectations. When Raty got here into the 2020-21 season, he was anticipated to dominate. He had made his U20 debut at 16 years outdated and was electrical, scoring 17 targets and 31 factors in 41 video games. He made his Liiga debut the next season, the place he put up two targets and 4 factors in 12 contests. Nonetheless, this season, he acquired off to a gradual begin, resulting in being left off the 2021 Finnish World Junior workforce regardless of enjoying on the 2020 workforce.
That demotion has lit a fireplace below Raty. After eight video games, he had seven factors and was wanting way more just like the participant that caught everybody’s consideration again in 2019. He returned to Karpat in January and has been slowly heating again up. In his final seven video games, he has three targets and 5 factors. His greatest attribute is his skating, however there are very few weaknesses in his recreation, from his shot to his playmaking to his even defensive consciousness. There’s a cause he was as soon as a powerful candidate for first, and if he continues to seek out his rhythm, he’ll be again in that dialog quickly sufficient.
Why he might fall: Not everyone seems to be offered on Raty. He’s been on scouts’ radars for fairly a while already, and a few are a bit cautious of his growth, particularly the idea was he’d be a full-time Liiga participant this season. Consistency stays an enormous query for the middle, and with him being one of many older gamers obtainable, some query his NHL potential. Whereas most scouts see his upside as a quantity two heart, some see him as a future third-line center. That’s hardly first-overall choose materials.
Bonus – Jesper Wallstedt
Why he may very well be first: Sweden has produced a few of the greatest goalies within the NHL, headlined by Henrik Lundqvist, however there’s discuss that Wallstedt may very well be the best goalie ever from the hockey-crazed nation. The 6-foot-3 netminder has been enjoying in Sweden’s U20 league since 2017-18, when he was simply 15 years outdated, and has excelled at each stage of competitors, from native to worldwide, hardly ever posting a save share (SV%) decrease than .920 in league play. This season, he’s been a starter for Luleå HF within the Swedish Hockey League, the place he’s received 12 video games in 21 begins and has a .913 SV%. No different under-19 goalie has even performed a recreation in 2020-21. And he’s solely going to get higher.
Why he might fall: Merely put, he’s a goalie. Drafting goalies has at all times carried a threat, as they develop at totally different paces than forwards or protection. However in recent times, groups have been much more hesitant to take a netminder with a excessive choose. The final goalie to go first total was Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003, and solely three others have gone throughout the high 5 since 2000: Rick DiPietro (2000), Kari Lehtonen (2002), and Carey Value (2005). That’s a variety of expertise, regardless of being such high-profile picks. It’s the rationale Yaroslav Askarov, thought of one of the best goalie since Value and nearly a lock for the highest 10 in 2020, fell to eleventh. Because the outdated adage goes, goalies are voodoo, which suggests Wallstedt is unlikely to go first total, regardless of the apparent expertise.
A Draft Like No Different
The 1974 NHL Draft was arguably one of the vital chaotic entry drafts of any skilled sport. That season, the league welcomed two new franchises within the Washington Capitals and Kansas Metropolis Scouts, the third growth class of the last decade, and like these earlier than them, they got the highest picks on the upcoming draft. The Capitals received the correct to choose first, however the participant that they had initially deliberate on taking, Pat Value, a robust defenseman with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, as a substitute determined to signal with the World Hockey Affiliation’s Vancouver Blazers. So, they went with their second alternative, which was one other defensemen who was barely additional down most workforce’s lists, Greg Joly, who turned probably the worst first overall pick of all time.
Issues solely went downhill from there. The draft may very well be extended for so long as somebody wished to pick out a participant, and the Capitals prolonged it to an incredible 25 rounds, the longest in NHL historical past. However not like right this moment, it didn’t happen in a flowery area; the draft was held totally over the cellphone, in secret, and a number of other days sooner than scheduled with a view to stop additional picks being stolen by the WHA. The Buffalo Sabres, annoyed with how issues had been being dealt with, determined to have some enjoyable with the format and made up a Japanese participant, Taro Tsujimoto, that they then chosen within the eleventh spherical.
Might we see a draft that compares to that? A lot has modified for the reason that early days of the draft that stops an occasion like 1974 from ever taking place once more, however there have already got been a number of unprecedented occasions within the months main as much as the 2021 Draft. There are additionally a number of prospects who might make late pushes into the top-10 and even top-five. Dylan Guenther is a reputation to keep watch over because the WHL season progresses, and if the OHL ever resumes, Mason McTavish is somebody who might bounce up. In the long run, this shall be an extremely thrilling time for a lot of younger hockey gamers as they take the following step of their careers and get a bit bit nearer to realizing their childhood goals of enjoying within the NHL.
An elementary instructor by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and presently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.