More Than Talent
Power’s smarts and confidence translate into our top spot for the 2021 draft
Steve Kournianos | 5/24/2021 | [hupso]
NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — Some say that rankings are supposed to be the critical tool necessary for the introduction of certainty rather than complexity in a given draft year. And in most years, that statement would probably be true.
But that is far from the case with the 2021 draft class — a collective which has confounded the NHL’s scouting community to the point where the league’s own Central Scouting arm has yet to release any sort of ranking in the nine months since European hockey leagues opened play.
Of course, the global pandemic had everything to do with that, as travel was severely restricted and schedules for prospect watching were either delayed, suspended, or in the case of the Ontario Hockey League, cancelled altogether. But the shutdowns and “bubbles” were only part of the greater problem surrounding this year’s group of NHL hopefuls.
The effect of not having a consensus top pick may not seem profound, but it certainly doesn’t help in the clarity department, especially if the general feeling towards a particular draft group ranges from below average to mediocre (which was the general assessment of the Class of 2021 well before the pandemic).
And if you date things back to last summer, all signs pointed to Finland’s Aatu Raty as the closest the 2021 crop had for a consensus No. 1. But Raty struggled right out the gate while playing in Finland, which in turn created this “Now what?” vacuum we found at the top of most public rankings throughout the season.
Power makes his case
By now, NHL talent evaluators, especially those working for teams locked into the June 2nd draft lottery, should have had enough time to scan the entire draft landscape and turn the aforementioned conjecture into a finalized top 10 on their respective draft boards. Nothing much should change their minds at this point, but it’s important to add our projection for the top pick of the 2021 NHL draft — University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power.
This decision was not cultivated overnight. Our first live viewing of Power was over two years ago after he had just turned 16, and we’ve never ranked him lower than No. 2 since our first list was published last September. Barring some major catastrophe at the ongoing IIHF Men’s World Championship in Latvia (where Power is the youngest player on Team Canada), Power will remain in the top spot right until the first draft pick is announced on July 23. And there are plenty of reasons why we feel more comfortable with Power at the top than any other draft eligible.
Trying to determine the best of the rest for 2021 has been a painstaking process, moreso than any previous group we’ve analyzed. Still, 24 our original top-32 from September survived this final cut. Most maintained their good standing by one of our critical benchmarks — overshadowing or dominating peers in league play — while others just give us a gut feeling that they could turn into something special. How well they performed at the recent under-18 world championship played far less of a role in determining these rankings (or any list we’ve ever produced), but those two weeks clearly weren’t ignored.
|A big, agile two-way defenseman with an incredibly high panic threshold and pro-level smarts, Power is exactly the type of cornerstone player teams look to build around and he’s passing the NHL readiness test with solid play at the ongoing IIHF Men’s World Championship. The Mississauga, ON native led all NCAA Div. I freshman rearguards in assists (13) and points (16).|
|Much like Power, Beniers had a seamless transition to the college game and quickly established himself as a consistent scoring option on a team loaded with premier talent. He’s also a puck hound with a high motor who excels in the trenches and sets the right example for his teammates to follow. Beniers was a key cog as a second-line center for the gold-medal-winning Americans’ at the under-20 world junior hockey championship and he was later added to Team USA’s roster of NHL’ers for the IIHF Men’s Worlds.|
|A brilliant dual-threat with natural offensive instincts, Eklund was one of the top scoring 18-year-old forward in SHL history and earned the league’s Rookie of the Year award. His measurements may scream finesse forward, but Eklund doesn’t get pushed around and will mix it up after the whistle.|
|Johnson may very well be the most skilled forward in the entire draft class, as he tore up the Big-10 and finished second to teammate Thomas Bordeleau in Division I freshman scoring. Although he’s gotten the most attention for his dangles, lacrosse goals, and spin-o-ramas, Johnson displays a strong effort of the puck and can do the heavy lifting during offensive-zone possessions.|
|Already owning a reputation as a premier two-way defense prospect for the 2021 draft, Lambos’ move to Europe in the wake of the WHL shutdown bore positve results, as he helped stabilize a downtrodden JyP U20 team. He’s an impressive skater with a powerful stride who also has that Western Canadian penchant for toughness and physicality. The injury bug that kept him out of the under-18 world championship should not impact his long-term development.|
|A smart puck distributor and point producer who plays with a ton of enthusiasm, Clarke is basically neck-and-neck with any defensmen in this class in terms of upside. His unconventional development path from the OHL’s Barrie Colts to Slovakia’s Tipos Extraliga eventually helped him maintain a high standing as a potential top-5 pick, as he showed he can be an elite playmaker and power-play quarterback against physically-mature competition.|
|He may look wiry, but this dual-threat from the flank is an excellent penalty killer who also plays with snarl. Guenther was leading the WHL with a gaudy 2.00 points-per-game average before helping Team Canada in their gold-medal run at the under-18 world championship.|
|8||Luke Hughes||LHD||9-Sep-03||U.S. U18||NTDP||6’2||176||L||USA|
|The answer is yes, Luke is just as dynamic a skater and playmaker as his brother Quinn, except the younger Hughes is bigger and a step or two ahead of his eldest sibling in the defense category. An unfortunate skate-cut injury ended his season prematurely, but Hughes is too driven and talented a player to consider it a long-term problem.|
|Violence and aggression are just two of several commonplaces in your typical McTavish shift, but he’s also a highly-skilled playmaker and shooter who causes all sorts of matchup problems for defenses. He too had to play in Europe after his solid 2019-20 campaign with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes; much to the chagrin of the Swiss League opposition who had to deal with his nightly assortment of hits and snipes.|
|10||Cole Sillinger||LW||16-May-03||Sioux City||USHL||6’0||194||L||CAN|
|Maybe we need to put an asterisk next to Sillinger’s draft-year league because he’s a real Western Canadian kid who was drawn to the top U.S. junior circuit by the pandemic. That turned out to be bad news for USHL opponents, as Sillinger torched the league to a tune of 1.48 points per game, whcih was good for fourth overall. But Sillinger, whose father Mike played 17 NHL seasons, didn’t have the luxury of a deep supporting case. He’s a powerful forward but also one with exceptional hands and playmaking ability.|
|Dominant league play? Check. Productive international tournaments? Check. High hockey IQ? Creativity? Strong two-way play? Check, check, and another check. There simply isn’t enough room in this space to detail how good a center Svechkov is, but don’t take our word for it. Just ask Russia’s vaunted SKA program, which paid a hefty price to acquire him from lowly Lada Togliatti.|
|Raty once was considered the closest thing we had to a lock for the No. 1 pick in this particular draft. But a depth role on a traditionally-competitive Karpat squad in Finland’s SM-Liiga kept both his minutes and his scoring opportunities to a minumim. Nevertheless, his size, shot, and two-way play improved from last year to help Raty stay in the conversation for the top 10.|
|It was fun while it lasted, but teams are beginning to buck the trend of bypassing goalies until at least the second round of the draft. Wallstedt should make it three straight years that a backstop was taken within the first 30 or so picks, and for good reason — he outgrew junior hockey several years ago and at 18 years old was one of the better backups in the SHL.|
|Speed kills, which is why Lysell continues to hover around the top 10 in spite of a rather quiet season as a depth player in Sweden. Add the fact that teenagers in European elite leagues rarely produce on par with North American junior or college prospects, and you’ll see why Lysell’s upside is a lot less hazy than the numbers may indicate.|
|15||Samu Tuomaala||RW||8-Jan-03||Karpat U20||SM-Sarja||5’10||174||R||FIN|
|A quick sniper who plays a lot heavier than his measurements may indicate, Tuomaala teamed up with fellow winger Ville Koivunento to lead Karpat U20 to within one game of the SM-Sarja championship. He also put on a show for Finland at the under-18 world championship, posting a team-best 11 points in seven games.|
|16||Chaz Lucius||C||2-May-03||U.S. U18||NTDP||6’0||172||R||USA|
|Lucius is another prospect who once was hyped as a potential top-five pick before falling to the middle of the first-round pack. Although he’s not your classic NTDP center in that he’s more of a natural goal scorer than a playmaker (13 goals and 7 assists in his injury-shortened season), Lucius also chips in at the faceoff dot and makes up for average speed with excellent balance and puck protection.|
|One of the top scorers in Sweden’s J20 Nationell, Robertsson is a physical winger with a world-class shot who probably needs another year or two in Sweden before he firmly grasps how deadly a sniper he can be. He’s strong at protecting the puck and will battle angilly for net-front positioning.|
|18||Isak Rosen||RW||15-Mar-03||Leksand J20||Nationell||5’11||159||L||SWE|
|The list of smart people telling me that Rosen is Sweden’s best forward for this draft increased multi-fold after his exciting performance at the under-18 worlds, and I’m starting to see it. He is one of the draft’s quickst skaters and owns a deadly one-timer, but Rosen also showed his versatlity by killing penalties with success.|
|A dual-threat who packs a punch, Chibrikov delivered a memorable performance as Russia’s captain at the under-18 worlds, but his season in Russia’s adult-age VHL was even better. He’s tough and abrasive but also owns a pro-level shot and executes precision plays in open ice.|
|Martino is a coach’s dream for his work ethic and versatility, but he’s also a deadly breakaway threat who excels in open ice. His high intelligence is evident early into his shifts and he quickly processes multiple options before striking.|
|Forgettable under-18 worlds notwithstanding, Olsson is a hard-hitting and hard-shooting defender with a powerful stride who put together an impressive draft season. He basically played himself into a regular shift during lowly Malmo’s impressive second-half run in the SHL.|
|There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Edvinsson is available outside the top 15, but the warning signs are well documented. Still, his issues with decision making and consistency can be dwarfed by ideal size, an incredible set of hands, and impressive multi-directional escapability. Edvinsson’s breakouts can be a thing of beauty, but the points and scoring chances created were few and far between.|
|Nicknamed “The Bison” by Steel announcer extraordinaire Mark Citron, Coronato is one of the hardest workers at getting the puck, keeping the puck, and shooting the puck. Always moving in a zillion directions, the Long Island native and Harvard recruit scored a USHL-best 48 goals but is versatile and creative enough to dominate as a center or wing.|
|Almost a forgotten prospect since he served as a role player for Sweden at the under-20 world junior hockey championship last winter, Olausson’s ridiculous season in the J20 Nationell (27 points in 16 games) is just one of several examples why he is considered a first-round candidate. He’s an excellent penalty killer and inside player who spent the second half of the season playing adults in the both the Allsvenskan and SHL, where his dangerous speed and lethal wrist shot earned him respect.|
|Take away the injuries he suffered this year, and you’d probably see more people talk about Bolduc — a gifted center and deft stickhandler with ideal size and a deadly shot. Whether it’s a track meet or a slogging match, Bolduc can tailor his game to meet any demand. He also likes to play physical and will stick up for his teammates.|
|26||Prokhor Poltapov||LW||1-Feb-03||Krasnaya Armiya||MHL||5’10||161||R||RUS|
|Just call Poltapov Russia’s latest versions of the Human Highlight Reel, and he also wears No. 13 to boot. His dazzles, dangles, and dipsy-doodles are quite Datsyukian, and Poltapov’s penchant for sneak-attack takeaways on the backcheck are commonplace no matter the opponent.|
|A nasty in-your-face competitor with a plus-plus shot, Othmann may not have the measurements to be called a “power forward”, but don’t tell that to the growing list of victims who he’s plastered to the ice. He too opted for European hockey after the OHL shutdown before playing a massive role in Canada’s triumph at the under-18 world championship.|
|Big, mean two-way centers with a nasty shot don’t grow on trees, and they’re even hard to find in Europe. But Helenius is exactly the type of hard-nosed pivot teams always seem obsessed with developing. He spent his entire draft year in the adult-age SM-Liiga and was a strong penalty killer in both league and international play.|
|A jack-of-all trades, master-of-none kind of player, Pinelli is a versatile center who succeeded no matter where he played, including a 13-game sample in Slovenia with Jesenice in the Alps Hockey League. Kitchener will continue to lean on Pinelli for his smart and effective 200-foot play and scoring abilities from close ranges.|
|30||Aidan Hreschuk||LHD||19-Feb-03||U.S. U18||NTDP||5’11||187||L||USA|
|Luke Hughes deserves the nomination for NTDP defenseman with the highest ceiling, but don’t sleep on this Boston College-bound Californian. Hreschuk, who was Hughes’ partner before the latter’s skate-cut injury, is both physical and mobile, but he also has a sneaky creative side to make him an all-purpose threat. He ranked fourth on the NTDP in scoring with 37 points in 50 games.|
|31||Ville Koivunen||RW||13-Jun-03||Karpat U20||SM-Sarja||6’0||165||L||FIN|
|Koivunen may not be as flashy as his hard-shooting Karpat linemate Samu Tuomaala, but the kid is a major possession driver who also plays solid in his own end. He was one of the leading scorers in Finland’s U20 SM-Sarja and delivered an impressive performance at the under-18 world championship.|
|32||Redmond Savage||C||15-May-03||U.S. U18||NTDP||5’11||181||L||USA|
|There’s always one prospect who never gets enough credit for outworking everyone else on the ice, so consider this an acknowledgement of Savage’s commitment to team-centric play and do-or-die attitude. His dad Brian was an underrated goal scorer for the Canadiens during the Dead Puck Era, but “Red” is known more for playmaking and being an expert penalty killer. He’s following his dad’s career path by heading to Miami University.|