The narrative surrounding the 2021 NHL Draft, lengthy earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic started, was that it might be a troublesome one to mission.
There was no participant that everybody needed to know earlier than the yr. There was not going to be a #FallinForDahlin, #LoseForHughes, or perhaps a #FailForNail tanking slogan. This was at all times going to be a draft during which there can be a year-long, thorough dialogue about who deserved to change into the 58th No. 1 choose in NHL Draft historical past.
Then your entire world got here to a halt, and issues turned even much less clear.
Seasons had been delayed, gamers started switching groups — and in some instances, international locations — to be able to get ice and recreation time. Scouts started combing via video from earlier seasons.
By the point 2021 started, a lot of the high prospects accessible had discovered someplace to play and a top-eight started to kind: the Michigan trio of Owen Energy, Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson; the Swedish trio of Jesper Wallstedt, Simon Edvinsson and Wiliam Eklund; the third Hughes brother in Luke; Barrie Colts’ starlet and HC Nove Zamky loanee Brandt Clarke.
In February, the Western Hockey League started their shortened season. Dylan Guenther added his identify after scoring 24 factors (12 targets, 12 assists) in 12 video games. On the finish of April, the 2021 IIHF World Below-18 Championship befell in Frisco, Texas. With many eligibles enjoying in numerous international locations at totally different ability ranges, the event was a way more acquainted means for scouts to guage gamers. It additionally served as the one dwell viewing NHL scouts bought of this draft class. Mason McTavish, who had spent the season on mortgage within the second division of Switzerland, impressed many en path to serving to Canada win gold.
So, a last top-10 has slowly taken kind. There have been a wide range of opinions on who might go first total on July 23 amongst FCHockey scouts, with 5 gamers receiving first total votes. Past these 5 are 5 extra with an outdoor likelihood. Listed here are ten candidates who would not shock anybody if referred to as first total on July 23.
10 candidates for No. 1 at 2021 NHL Draft
Owen Energy, D, Michigan (NCAA)
FCHockey rank: 1
The 6-6, 214-pound Energy entered the yr as one of many favourites to go first total after two glorious seasons with the Chicago Metal of america Hockey League. He sat atop many draft boards earlier than he hit the ice with the College of Michigan and all through the season proved he belonged there.
It took Energy little time to regulate to the school stage; he scored a aim and picked up two assists in his first recreation vs. Arizona State. Though he didn’t proceed to attain at that tempo, he completed the season with a formidable 16 factors (three targets, 13 assists) in 26 video games.
There are nonetheless some wrinkles he must iron out of his recreation however Energy is a horny choice at No. 1 resulting from his extremely versatile toolkit. He strikes exceptionally effectively for his measurement, can create offence in a wide range of methods and might be deployed in all conditions. His multifaceted recreation has resulted in comparisons to NHL stalwarts equivalent to Victor Hedman and Alex Pietrangelo.
Energy hasn’t essentially proven the ability stage they did of their draft season, however he displayed the power to log minutes and dictate play within the NCAA the best way they do now within the NHL. He performed a mean of twenty-two minutes an evening and had an unbelievable even-strength goals-forward proportion of 70.45, per Pick224.
The No. 2-seeded Wolverines had been faraway from the NCAA Championship resulting from COVID-19 protocol, but Energy was nonetheless capable of end the season on a excessive notice. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and performed a large position on Canada’s workforce that gained gold on the 2021 IIHF Males’s World Championship in Latvia.
The widespread critique of Energy is that his upside isn’t as excessive as a number of the gamers on this record. Although he has progressed effectively in any respect ranges to date, maybe there may be little room for him to develop.
“I’ve Energy ranked fifth on my private rankings solely as a result of I see far more potential in 4 others,” famous FCHockey scout Dylan Krill. “Regardless that he’s the higher participant proper now, that doesn’t mechanically imply he will probably be in three to 5 years, which is at all times a thought I’ve when evaluating.”
However, he’s additionally as ready-made as anybody on this draft. Energy has already proven the power to take over video games in opposition to males internationally and is definitely bodily able to enjoying within the NHL. FCHockey scout Brandon Holmes sees these components as the rationale he’s one of the best participant accessible this yr.
“Energy is the top-ranked participant on my board, and that’s as a result of potential I see in him as an entire 200-foot contributor,” stated Holmes. “His distinctive mix of measurement, mobility, and puck ability from the backend is almost unmatched on this draft class, and it’s my perception that he possesses the least difficult highway to turning into a star influence participant on the NHL stage.”
Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP (USHL)
FCHockey rank: 3
Identical to brothers Quinn and Jack earlier than him, Luke Hughes was the star of the 2021 United States Nationwide Group Improvement Program. He might not have the puck expertise of Jack, or the power to stroll the blue line like Quinn, however Luke is the most important and, some say, one of the best skater of the trio.
His edgework and straight-line velocity are each elite, making him a zone entry and exit machine. That skating potential, together with a 6-2, 184-pound body, provides him one of many highest ceilings within the draft. Hughes has produced very effectively in any respect ranges to date and might sustain with any ahead within the class; nevertheless, it’s up within the air whether or not he initiatives as a real offensive dynamo as he isn’t significantly dominant in his personal zone.
The truth that he’s such a uncooked expertise means he might be a little bit of a mission for the workforce that drafts him might see him fall out of that high spot.
“I’m a bit decrease on Hughes as a result of his basis isn’t as full as others,” Krill stated. “Though I do imagine he has one of many highest potentials on this draft, I additionally acknowledge that he may need essentially the most room to develop to get to that potential.”
On the flip facet, different scouts are of the philosophy that you need to draft the participant with the very best upside and belief your improvement system to get him there. Justin Froese, head of Western scouting at FCHockey, sees the third Hughes brother as one of the best participant accessible at No. 1.
“Out of the massive 5 defenders on this class, I believe that he’s not solely the participant with the very best ceiling but in addition the most certainly to get there and be a high of the lineup influence participant,” Froese famous. “He’s bought some high-end signature instruments with the boldness to make use of them and the pathway to easy out his flaws isn’t insurmountable from my perspective.”
It’s value noting that Hughes is likely one of the youngest gamers accessible within the draft with loads of room develop into his body. For now, it is anybody’s guess the place Hughes goes within the 2021 draft; the Devils, house of his brother Jack, choose fourth total and the Canucks, the place Quinn performs, go at No. 9.
Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
FCHockey rank: 7
One other large defenseman, Edvinsson is way much less of a positive factor than Energy, which was mirrored amongst our scouts’ rankings. He was ranked as excessive as third and as little as twelfth.
Edvinsson is inconsistent in his potential to influence video games and has areas severely in want of enchancment; nevertheless, when it comes to uncooked bodily potential, he’s unmatched on this draft. There may be quite a lot of swagger to his recreation. He tries performs nobody else on the ice is considering of. He’s cellular with and with out the puck and has nice attain and physicality in his defensive recreation.
His “Jekyll and Hyde” recreation was no higher exemplified than within the Below-18s, the place he began the event virtually unnoticeable in video games and dominated them because the event progressed to an in depth.
The Swedish defenseman has produced round a point-per-game all through his profession, besides this season which he cut up between the Swedish Hockey League, Allsvenskan and J20 Nationell. He struggled to create offense and, in consequence, fluctuated between the three ranges.
Whether or not a scout is excessive or low on Edvinsson is often decided by how a lot work they assume there may be to be finished earlier than he can attain his peak within the NHL.
“I see quite a lot of the athleticism in addition to flashes of skating and ability that trigger many to hurry to comparables however I do have reservations,” Froese stated. “He’s a prototype, however I even have issues about his thought course of and ability software. There’s rather a lot to iron out and I merely want different gamers extra close to the highest.”
Nevertheless, identical to with Hughes, some scouts simply drool over the concept of what Edvinsson might change into.
“Edvinsson is unquestionably a wildcard for the highest of this draft, however the upside is tantalizing. It is simply so uncommon to search out defenders who can transfer across the ice and management the puck like he can; there are such a lot of ways in which he can affect play,” stated Derek Neumeier, head of video scouting at FCHockey. “Turnovers are an issue, however that is one thing that may be coached up over time, and his unbelievable vary permits him to get better simpler than others.”
It’s almost not possible to foretell with certainty the place he will probably be taken.
It would virtually undoubtedly be within the first half of the primary spherical, however his touchdown spot will solely be based mostly on the assumption an NHL membership has in him. The Geese, at No. 3, and the Purple Wings, at sixth total, have each boasted loads of picks from Sweden prior to now. The Purple Wings additionally picked defenseman Moritz Seider sixth total in 2019 — a mission which has turned out to be effectively well worth the danger.
Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL)
FCHockey rank: 8
Three issues to know relating to Wallstedt: first, the final time a goaltender was taken within the top-10 of the draft was Carey Worth in 2006. Second, the final goalie to be picked first total was Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003. Third, 2021 might be one other yr the place a shallow expertise pool leads to one of the best participant drafted being a goaltender, a la Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012.
Scouts are inclined to err on the facet of warning relating to drafting goalies, however these three goalies had been all beginning within the semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. Varlamov, the fourth starter, was a first-round choose (No. 23 total) in 2006. And Wallstedt has as spectacular of a resume as any of them did.
Earlier than his fifteenth birthday, Wallstedt turned the youngest participant to make his debut within the Swedish J20 SuperElit League. That season, he posted a 15-8-0 file and completed with the fourth-best save proportion and goals-against common. He was additionally named to Group Sweden for the Below-18s, though he didn’t play on the event.
At age 16, he gained bronze on the World Below-17 Problem and gold on the Below-18s. Final season, he made his SHL debut for Lulea on the age of 17. This yr, he took over the beginning position and posted higher than a .950 save proportion in six of his first 12 begins. Though he cooled off within the second half of the season, his numbers are nonetheless one of the best by an 18-year-old goalie in Sweden since Jacob Markstrom.
“Wallstedt already seems like an NHL goalie along with his type and mindset, and that is fairly distinctive for an adolescent,” Neumeier stated. “He naturally takes up a ton of the online and is aware of play to his benefit, conserving power and staying sq. as a substitute of attempting to make dramatic saves. He additionally showcases unbelievable focus and psychological fortitude. He is been elite amongst his friends for years, and I count on that to proceed within the NHL.”
Those that aren’t as excessive on the goaltender have little to say in regards to the downsides of his recreation. As an alternative, they level in direction of their skepticism in direction of drafting goaltenders with a lottery choose.
“In the case of ranking Wallstedt in direction of the tail finish of my private high ten, it has extra to do with the gamers forward of him quite than the participant himself,” Holmes stated. “He’s an extremely mature and clever netminder that performs his angles effectively and makes use of his body effectively with sturdy positioning, and I imagine he’s effectively on his approach to turning into a high goaltender on the NHL stage.
“Nevertheless, I have a tendency to offer the tiebreaker to skaters in my rankings, and I see extra influence potential within the circulate of an NHL hockey [game] in only a few gamers.”
Spencer Knight was chosen thirteenth total in 2019, and Yaroslav Askarov went at No. 11 in 2020. Some see Wallstedt as one of the best of the three. The Purple Wings, Sharks, Senators and Blackhawks are all considered as potential touchdown spots, although all maintain picks exterior of the highest 5. Wallstedt does, nevertheless, have the potential to make the most important influence on his NHL workforce from this draft class.
Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)/HC Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
FCHockey rank: 2
Clarke completed the 2019-20 Ontario Hockey League season with 24 factors in his last 24 video games. A training change in Barrie noticed the defenseman obtain extra utilization total, together with on the facility play. Consequently, he was named to the OHL All-Rookie Group.
Little did he know he wouldn’t return to Barrie for over a yr because the league didn’t hit the ice in 2020-21 as a result of pandemic.
The defenseman discovered a house with HC Nove Zamky, a workforce within the high division of Slovakian hockey, in December. He struggled to place up factors initially, however as soon as he settled into his new setting, the larger ice floor and the extent of competitors, the floodgates opened.
Clarke is a novel breed of participant, in playstyle and in look. He has a clumsy stance and performs a roving recreation that isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Regardless of his quirks, Clarke has thrived at each stage of hockey that he’s performed. He was the No. 1 defenseman on one of many best minor midget groups ever, the ‘03 Don Mills Flyers, and broke GTHL data for factors by a defenseman. He was the most effective gamers on the 2019 Below-17 Problem and the highest blueliner on a Canadian workforce that gained gold on the 2021 Below-18s.
Identical to each defenseman on this record, Clarke might want to study higher defensive habits and use his measurement in puck battles. However in contrast to Energy, Hughes and Edvinsson, Clarke can even have to repair his skating mechanics and athletic stance. Consequently, there’s a vital disparity amongst FCHockey scouts on the place to choose him.
Froese admits there’s a lot to love in regards to the Ottawa, Ont., product however is cautious whether or not he’ll attain the degrees he’s able to.
“I actually like what flashes I’ve seen from him, however there are crimson flags to how he can translate his recreation to an elite stage or if his skating will come together with enhancements to power and steadiness,” he stated. “He’s a bit enigmatic for me, though, I believe he nonetheless performs an offensive position. I merely want different gamers’ projections to hit their upside compared to him.”
There have been some scouts who noticed Clarke as the highest participant within the draft, nevertheless.
Dylan Galloway, head of Jap Scouting at FCHockey, defined that he thinks Clarke may find yourself one of the best of the bunch.
“With the puck on the stick, he’s dynamic, and might see the ice rather well,” Galloway stated. “He must work on his defensive recreation and his stride, however I believe he might succeed as a top-pairing offensive defenseman within the NHL.”
The variety of opinion on Clarke at FCHockey is probably going mirrored amongst NHL groups, too. One has to surprise if some questions would’ve been answered over a full slate of OHL video games for Clarke and thus permitting for a extra full-bodied quantity of labor, too. Regardless, there could also be a workforce that’s actually excessive on him and grabs him early. With the fourth total choose, New Jersey has a household reference to Clarke too — they drafted his brother, Graeme, in 2019.
Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
FCHockey rank: 6
It’s powerful to know the way Guenther would have fared this yr had issues been regular. The Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League had been comfortably one of the best workforce within the Central Division and, resulting from COVID-protocol, solely needed to play interdivisional video games. He appeared good on the Below-18s, however it wasn’t a dominating efficiency like some had anticipated pre-tournament.
That being stated, his CV continues to be nothing in need of spectacular. In bantam, he had 103 factors (56 targets, 47 assists) in simply 30 video games. In his minor midget yr, he performed within the Canadian Sports activities Faculty U18 Hockey League and gained Freshman of the 12 months. He was second solely to Matthew Savoie in workforce scoring as his workforce gained the league championship. His rookie numbers are solely matched by Nolan Patrick and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this millennium.
“Guenther is the closest to a five-tool participant within the draft and is such a well-rounded however prolific ability participant,” Froese stated. “He’s bought so many layers to his offensive recreation on and off the puck and thinks at a excessive stage already with that potential to raise his play or match into any position. He’s a long-term top-six choice for the workforce who picks him.”
Some aren’t as assured in his upside. There are doubts about whether or not he might be greater than a passenger on a line within the NHL.
“Guenther I see as one of many strongest choices on the high of this draft for a workforce trying so as to add goal-scoring punch to their workforce this offseason, however I do harbour some reservations relating to his placement within the high 5,” Holmes famous.
“He’s a speedy and clever ahead who drives excessive hazard areas to attain targets, however I’ve questioned his potential to drive his personal line and create offence for the gamers round him presently.”
It’s onerous to mission the place the Edmonton, Alta., native will find yourself. It’s conceivable seeing him virtually wherever within the top-10. He’s a participant each workforce might use but when the groups selecting on the high view his ceiling as decrease than the others on this record he might slip.
Kent Johnson, C, Michigan (NCAA)
FCHockey rank: 9
After shredding up the British Columbia Hockey League, scoring 101 factors (41 targets, 60 assists) in simply 52 video games and being named one of the best ahead within the Canadian Junior Hockey League, Kent Johnson discovered success simply on the collegiate stage this yr.
Some had been skeptical if the middle was too small to compete in opposition to males within the NCAA, however the 165-pound freshman proved it doesn’t matter how heavy you’re if they’ll’t catch you. He continued to make highlight-reel performs and completed second with 27 factors (9 targets, 18 assists) in 26 video games for the Wolverines. A Hobey Baker nominee alongside Energy, he equally burst onto the scene in Michigan’s first recreation in opposition to Arizona State, organising 4 targets within the 8-1 opener.
The Canadian ahead’s recreation is predicated round his elite puckhandling and ingenuity. He has been capable of create offense regardless of being undersized as a result of he simply thinks the sport quicker than his opponents.
“Johnson is shifty and inventive with the puck. He is likely one of the finest puck handlers on this draft.,” Galloway stated. “His creativity and ingenuity with the puck on his stick ought to assist him adapt to the NHL the place area is far more restricted. He might present some nice offence to a workforce’s middle-six.”
It’s much more troublesome to drag off high-level performs within the NHL and a few doubt whether or not his recreation will translate on the subsequent stage if he doesn’t change into extra well-rounded.
“Johnson might be too fancy and get blinders on at occasions,” stated Josh Bell, a video scout with FCHockey. “He does want so as to add power and energy to his recreation so as to add explosiveness and physicality to his arsenal.”
The centreman arguably owns the very best ceiling out of the trio of Michigan draft eligibles. He can do issues with the puck that Matthew Beniers and Energy won’t ever be able to. However drafting him yields a considerably larger danger. With so many defensemen on the high of the draft, Johnson might get picked sooner than the 5-10 vary. It is usually necessary to think about whether or not he’s considered as a real middle by the lottery groups.
Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)/EHC Olten (SL)
FCHockey rank: 10
If essentially the most promising 2021 draft-eligible from the OHL isn’t Clarke, it’s McTavish. He completed second to Shane Wright in rookie scoring in 2019-20 by posting an unbelievable 20 targets in 57 video games.
Identical to Clarke, McTavish went on mortgage to Europe resulting from COVID restrictions in Ontario. After his 18th birthday in January, the burly pivot joined EHC Olten in Switzerland’s second-tier and performed in 17 video games. He picked up a formidable 18 factors (11 targets, seven assists) and didn’t look misplaced amongst males.
His sturdy displaying in Switzerland drew the eye of many scouts, however McTavish’s draft inventory skyrocketed after his dominance on the Below-18s. He was named a high three participant for Canada after scoring 11 factors (5 targets, six assists) in seven video games.
“McTavish has a superb all-around skillset. His potential to get into the high-danger areas and use his shot to generate offense is amongst one of the best on this class,” FCHockey video scout Auston Broad famous. “I believe he has a excessive ground and a excessive ceiling, and in just a few years we might look again and see him as one of the best ahead from this draft.”
The principle query surrounding McTavish’s projection is whether or not or not he’ll have the ability to make area for himself in a wide range of methods within the NHL. He has pro-level measurement however some are skeptical about his skating and puck expertise.
“There are quite a lot of various things to love about McTavish. He is a well-rounded participant, a tough competitor and a pure chief. He actually owned the U18 event. I do want he was a little bit faster and a little bit extra expert with the puck, nevertheless,” Neumeier stated. “He won’t be a middle or a top-line participant within the NHL, which places him a little bit bit decrease on my order.”
Solely time will inform how far the 6-1, 207-pound middle rises up the draft boards. In October, NTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson went from a fringe first-rounder to No. 5. McTavish might be the one to do it this yr.
Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (NCAA)
FCHockey rank: 4
The American-born Beniers is the participant with essentially the most consensus in rating from FCHockey scouts. Seven had him ranked third total, with votes for first, second and fifth as effectively.
The explanation there may be little deviance in opinion on Beniers is due to how simple it’s to see him succeeding within the NHL. He has produced constantly in any respect ranges in his profession and supplied a gentle defensive presence and work fee. Put merely: he performs essentially the most professional recreation out of anybody within the draft.
Beniers slot in flawlessly with Michigan this season and made the B1G division All-Rookie workforce. And if there was uncertainty about Beniers, it was eradicated on the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Because the youngest participant on Group USA, he excelled because the workforce’s second-line middle as they introduced house gold.
The principle knock on Beniers, in addition to gamers of his ilk, is that the unbelievable effort stage he shows doesn’t at all times translate to success within the NHL. Simply because he by no means stops working, doesn’t imply he’ll have the ability to shut down one of the best gamers on the planet.
“He has quite a lot of qualities on and off the puck that groups will covet,” Froese began. “That being stated, I really like the power he brings however assume that he makes use of quite a lot of placeholder expertise that he may have points translating. I believe he’s a protected swing on the high however merely assume others have extra room to develop into larger footwear.”
That critique isn’t consultant of the widespread opinion on Beniers, nevertheless. Those that see him as a top-three choose assume he possesses each the hustle and the hockey sense to play a shutdown position on the web stage.
“I am unable to keep in mind the final time I’ve seen a ahead prospect be nearly as good defensively as Beniers is,” Neumeier stated. “He thinks the sport shortly and might transfer across the ice shortly, and he has an elite competitiveness and need to win.
“He isn’t flashy offensively proper now, however he exhibits glimpses that he might add extra of that, and on the very least he is a man who will contribute offense along with his sense and work fee.”
It’s simple to see Beniers being the primary choice within the historical past of the Seattle Kraken. He’s a pure middle and might be the most secure choose with arguably the very best ground within the draft.
William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden (SHL)
FCHockey rank: 5
Eklund entered the season as one of many names to know from Sweden and now would be the Swede with one of the best likelihood of being drafted first total. The hype round him had by no means reached the peak of the hype surrounding his compatriots till this season. Centering a line with Alexander Holtz on Djurgarden, the 18-year-old had the most effective draft-eligible seasons within the SHL in latest historical past.
Though he was enjoying barely greater than NHL draft-eligibles sometimes do within the SHL, Eklund’s totals of 23 factors (11 targets, 12 assists) in 40 video games could be very spectacular. It was additionally essentially the most by any U20 participant within the league — together with Holtz and fellow 2020 NHL draftee Lucas Raymond. He beat each out to be named Junior Participant of the 12 months.
His stellar draft yr and pro-ready recreation made him a close to consensus top-five choose at FCHockey the place scouts raved about his potential to make performs with restricted time and area.
“I’ve Eklund as my No. 1 total on my private rankings as a result of, for my part, he brings essentially the most high-end instruments and basis, together with nice hockey sense and resolution making, particularly underneath strain,” Krill stated. “He’s extremely artistic and in addition very accountable, making him a protected choose with a high-floor, with additionally high-upside.”
Fellow scout Joel Henderson additionally expressed his admiration for the Swede, commenting on his seamless transition to the SHL.
“Eklund brings a variety of high-end talents that make him tremendous adaptable,” Henderson stated. “He has elite velocity and puck management on zone entries, fast resolution making and the arms to facilitate, and the power to one-time a shot backdoor. A particularly artistic and competent participant.”
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Kyle Watson is a author and producer at FCHockey.