Owen Power, Matt Beniers highlight the top 32 of 2021 crop

Steve Kournianos  |  3/2/2021  |  [hupso] 

Photo: Univ. of Michigan Photography

The ambiguity surrounding the NHL’s draft class of ’21  — that is, if the kids are actually drafted in the year 2021 — is a phenomenon we haven’t seen in quite some time, and it has absolutely nothing to do with mandated shutdowns or travel restrictions. Rather, the lack of a consensus pick for first overall in 2021 is one of several factors that add complexity to the already difficult task of projecting the NHL potential of all draft-eligible teenagers.

The general feeling is that the 2021 draft will be the thinnest since 2017, which puts it in the running for one of the most top-heavy classes in over a decade. Although intensified debate for first overall doesn’t necessarily mean the draft won’t produce star talent (see 2003 and 2014, among others), it’s important to identify what is making this draft trend in the opposite direction.

The commanding draft-year presence of recent No.1 picks like forwards Connor McDavid (2015), Auston Matthews (2016), Jack Hughes (2019) and Alexis Lafreniere (2020) allowed evaluators to establish the standard for the top tier and work their way down. This also was the case in the defense-heavy draft year of 2018, with Rasmus Dahlin at the apex of a phenomenal group of young blueliners.

In 2017, however, center Nolan Patrick was considered the consensus top choice for several years until injuries opened the door for Nico Hischier to not only jump him in the rankings but end up the first pick at the draft. But even with that midseason shift in popularity, the general feeling was that either Hischier or Patrick were worthy of first overall without much competition from anyone else.

This year’s developments are somewhat similar. Much like Patrick, Finland’s Aatu Raty, a big scoring forward, eventually fell out of scouts’ favor after sitting at or near the very top of most preseason rankings. Although Raty’s detractors don’t point to any health concerns, his suboptimal season has created more uncertainty for a draft class that was already being scrutinized for not stacking up to previous editions. Therefore, not having one or two world-class neophytes to build a draft board around increases the likelihood that the shortcomings or red flags of inferior prospects will be overlooked, thus increasing the “bust factor” of picks near the very top of the draft.

Changes in Central Scouting’s annual “Watch List”

Every year, the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau creates several lists that either rank or categorize hundreds of draft prospects, most of whom are in their first year of eligibility. They kick off the draft season with a “Watch List”  — usually released in the late summer or early fall — in which players are graded A, B, or C, with an A grade reserved for what they call “first-round candidates”. None of the lists are considered industry gospel and serve more as a blueprint that is open for interpretation, but they’re usually close to the mark. For example, 18 of the 26 prospects who received an A grade in last year’s preseason list were drafted in Round 1; six more in Round 2-3, and one apiece in Rounds 4 and 7. Naturally, the number of A-rated kids listed every year is under 30, with the defense-heavy crop of 2018 only seeing 24 prospects being given the highest grade.

This year’s list, however, produced more A-rated prospects than ever before — 31 in the initial list and increased to 36 in the update. The knee-jerk reaction would be to think that there are that many quality prospects, or that 2021 needs a bigger list since this is the first year the expansion team from Seattle will participate. But the more you think about it, the more the beefed-up lists lends credence to the idea that the 2021 draft will be the biggest crapshoot we’ve seen in quite some time.

World Juniors nonparticipation

One way to gauge the strength of a draft class — either the top tier or overall depth —  is by the number of first-year eligibles who beat the odds by making their respective national under-20 squads for the world junior hockey championship. The stakes for this tournament are incredibly high, which is why coaches tend to stack their final rosters with the oldest players possible (the cutoff is 19 years old at the start of the competition). Since most first-year eligibles are between 17 and 18 years of age, the chances they outperform an older, seasoned prospect during a short training camp and even shorter tournament are slim to begin with.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a pretty big deal within the scouting community if the elite from a given draft year get to compete against or alongside one another in such a high-profile event. The best example in recent memory is the 2015 tournament that was awash with future stars like McDavid and Jack Eichel (as well as several other current NHL stars).  Nine of the first 11 picks from the 2015 draft participated in that year’s world juniors as first-year eligibles. Last year came close to matching it, as six of the first seven picks in the 2020 draft, including Lafreniere and No. 2 choice Quinton Byfield, played at that tournament.

This year’s world juniors, unfortunately, didn’t provide scouts with a breadth of draft-eligible options. Only one skater who participated — Team USA’s Matthew Beniers — is considered a lock for the top 10 of the draft. And of the six main hockey nations who participate annually in the tournament, the 2021 games featured only seven first-year draft eligibles — a far cry from the 15 who took part in 2020.

Centers vs. Defensemen?

Strength down the middle is a key component in any major team sport, so it goes without saying that the center-ice position is an area scouting departments like to address at the draft, if not over consecutive drafts. The deepest group of draft-eligible pivots we’ve seen in recent memory came in 2019, when five of the first nine picks were centers. Conversely, in 2018 — a draft loaded with top-tier defensemen — only two of the first 12 picks were centers.

The 2021 group offers few centers but plenty of defenders, but the question is whether or not they can compare. Does Owen Power compare to Dahlin? Will Luke Hughes be as dynamic a scorer as his brother Quinn, who went seventh overall to Vancouver in 2018? Can Brandt Clarke run a power play like New Jersey’s Ty Smith (17th overall in 2018)? Does Carson Lambos have the hockey sense and strength to compare to the New York Islanders’ Noah Dobson (12th overall)? All these questions won’t be answered for several years, but the lack of multiple quality options at center ice should result in several teams trading down or out of the first round entirely.

Top-32 Rankings

1. Owen Power, LHD (Univ. of Michigan)
Nov. 22, 2002 | 6’6, 214 | Shoots Left | 22gp-3g-12a-15pts

This draft is loaded with two-way defensemen and Power is at the top of the class. He’s already been nominated for Hobey Baker consideration and should be Michigan’s undisputed No. 1 blueliner whenever 2019 first-round pick Cam York decides to join the Philadelphia Flyers. Power is an exceptional in-game manager who deals with pressure by consistently out-thinking opponents of all sizes and speeds. He’s a powerful skater who attacks openings with confidence but is agile enough to change direction or cut back and allow support to join the play.

Through March 1, Power was leading all freshman defensemen in scoring with 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 22 games. Ten of his 12 assists were primary (six at 5v5) and four were involved in goals that gave Michigan the lead. In terms of shot volume, Power has broken out of his shell the last batch of games, as 21 of his 28 shots have come in the last 11, including five outings with three shots or more. He’s seeing significant time on both special teams and it’s safe to say he’s playing close to 20 minutes a match.

2. Matthew Beniers, C (Univ. of Michigan)
Nov. 5, 2002 | 6’2, 174 | Shoots Left | 20gp-9g-10a-19pts

It’s pretty lazy to pigeonhole a premier center prospect as a checker simply because he works hard and kill penalties. But that seems to be the tag being applied to Beniers, even after his impressive performance at the under-20 world junior hockey championship where he played himself into the top six on a gold-medal-winning American squad. The truth is that Beniers has all the makings of a productive top-line center in the NHL in the mold of a Jonathan Toews or a Mark Scheifele.

Beniers is fifth among NCAA first-year players with a 0.95 points-per-game average (19 points in 20 games), but 13 of his 20 were primary points at 5v5. He’s also made significant improvements at the faceoff circle, winning 54 percent of his last 76 draws.

3. Carson Lambos, LHD (JyP U20, SM-Sarja)
Jan. 14, 2003 | 6’0, 200 | Shoots Left | 13gp-2g-9a-11pts

From a brass-tacks fantasy standpoint, Lambos at his NHL peak likely produces more along the line of a Ryan McDonagh or Ivan Provorov. There are stylistic similarities to both Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, but Lambos is such an eraser on defense that he’ll probably stay programmed well into his career to make the protection of his own end a priority. He has an excellent rookie season in 2019-20 for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice (8 goals, 24 assists, 109 shots in 57 games), and his impact on a slumping JyP U20 squad was immediate – they were 6-9-1 with a -26 goal differential before his arrival and went 6-3-2 with a +12 differential with Lambos in the lineup. Lambos also appeared in two SM-Liiga games earlier this month, averaging 7:11 of ice time.

4. Kent Johnson, LW/C (Michigan, Big-10)
Oct. 18, 2002 | 6’0, 166 | Shoots Left | 22gp-7g-16a-23pts

I wouldn’t go as far as to call Johnson a prodigious offensive talent, but the kid continues to pile up points everywhere he goes. His season’s been beyond impressive and there’s nothing major to nitpick. But for added context, just keep an eye on how and when he records his points, as a good chunk have come in garbage time and most of his assists were secondary. Johnson is a shifty wing with a hard shot who averages 2.05 shots per game (45 in 22 matches). He’ll probably start shooting more once Michigan’s beefed-up lineup thins out, but the fact remains – he’s producing at an all-star clip.

5. Sasha Pastujov, RW (U.S. U18, NTDP)
July 15, 2003 | 6’0, 175 | Shoots Left | 26gp-20g-24a-30pts | NCAA: Notre Dame

There’s much to like about this kid’s approach from start to finish. There are a lot of kids who can put up points as top-liners, but those numbers shrink when you separate the timid from the physical. Pastujov is far too skilled and opportunistic a scoring winger to look to throw his weight around every shift, but he definitely has that switch.  If it stands, Pastujov’s 1.69 points-per-game average (44 points in first 26 games) is as impressive as recent NTDP alumni Alex Turcotte (1.68) and Clayton Keller (1.73).

6. Brandt Clarke, RHD (Nové Zámky, Tipos Extraliga)
Feb. 9, 2003 | 6’1, 180 | Shoots Right | 20gp-4g-2a-6pts

After a successful 2019-20 season with Barrie, everything was lining up for Clarke to continue shredding the OHL from a point production and shot generation standpoint. He took a massive leap forward by taking his talents to Slovakia late in December; a decision that made far more sense at the time than it would have a year or two ago. Nonetheless, Clarke has since been a minute eater for HC Micron Nove Zamky in the Tipos Extraliga while showing flashes of maturity (in another continent against adults, no less).

Clarke’s production in Slovakia looks nondescript (zero points in 15 of 20 games), but he did fire off over 60 shots and was used on the top power-play unit with regularity. What the lack of scoring probably tells us is the adjustment period is ongoing and that Clarke probably wasn’t going to NHL job anytime soon. But his overseas expedition has certainly exposed him to a more physical forecheck than he saw in the OHL, and more times than not he’s stood up to those challenges with smarts, resilience, and a deft touch. Make no mistake – Clarke has the potential to be a big point producer and high-volume shooter regardless of what he did or didn’t do on a losing club in Slovakia.

7. Aatu Raty, C/W (Karpat, SM-Liiga)
Nov. 14, 2002 | 6’1, 177 | Shoots Left | 22gp-3g-2a-5pts

Although it’s clear that Raty is no longer a lock for the top five of the draft, he still possesses intriguing skills related to shooting and scoring that cannot be ignored. His production in Finland’s top league (3 goals, 2 assists in 20 games) is more of a case of usage (11:30 TOI) and bad puck luck (6.4 shooting percentage) than anything else, and his 13.7 shots-per-60 minutes likely puts him in the top 30 in total shots. Pretty good for a kid who has proven to dominate shifts at every level

Raty’s ability to generate shots as a first-year eligible on a contending adult-age team means he’s living up to his end of the bargain, even if the raw stats don’t reflect that. He’s actually worked quite hard at playing responsibly in all three zones and still uses his frame to finish checks and challenge bigger defenders in puck battles.

8. Dylan Guenther, RW (Edmonton, WHL)
April 10, 2003 | 6’0, 166 | Shoots Left | 2gp-4g-4a-8pts

The WHL’s second-leading rookie scorer last season, Guenther is a talented playmaker who appeared in a handful of games for the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders after the WHL’s start to 2020-21 was delayed. In theory, however, Guenther is one of the few top-rated prospects who’s essentially been out of game action since last year’s shutdown. Therefore, his upcoming season with Edmonton – all 24 scheduled games worth – should be heavily scouted, as he was in the talk for No. 1 over the summer. The good news is that Guenther – the top pick in the 2018 WHL draft — is a tough out who as a 16-year-old rookie last season earned and kept a top-six role.

9. Cole Sillinger, LW (Sioux Falls, USHL)
May 16, 2003 | 6’0, 194 | Shoots Left | 15gp-14g-11a-25pts

As if his impressive WHL production from a season ago wasn’t enough to give him a reputation, Sillinger’s move south to the USHL should cement his standing as one of the draft’s premier power-forward prospects. Not only is he fourth in points-per-game (1.67), but Sillinger’s 14 goals in 15 games puts him in the top 15 despite missing half the season. He also averages 3.80 shots a game and had a 10-shot effort in a match against Tri-City on Feb. 6.

Sillinger is a dual threat with three-zone versatility, and he can be used in all situations. He can be a net-front presence on the power play but also work the puck around with accuracy if manning the half wall. Sillinger’s an excellent penalty killer as well and should be considered a threat to score no matter the strength on the ice.

10. William Eklund, LW (Djugardens, SHL)
Oct. 12, 2002 | 5’10, 170 | Shoots Left | 30gp-10g-9a-19pts

There aren’t many prospects in a given draft year whose displays of puck wizardry and dynamism make any one of his games a must-see event. But Eklund certainly falls into that category, and the fact that he is revealing his artistry on an almost a shift-to-shift basis against adult competition in Sweden’s top league makes his high ranking easily justifiable. Even as far back as the 2019 under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament, Eklund has posterized both individual opponents or entire five-man units thanks to an assassin’s mentality, his buttery-soft hands, advanced playmaking instincts, and a relentless motor which allows him to maintain top speed throughout most of his shifts. Eklund can serve as a playmaker or finisher and knows how to finish in any conceivable manner.

Want to put his stats in perspective? Through Wednesday, Eklund’s 0.55 points-per-game average is the highest for a first-year draft eligible in the SHL since Calgary’s Elias Lindholm (0.62) did it for Brynas in 2012-13. In that span, Sweden has had at least 40 first-year eligibles drafted out of the SHL, including several first rounders. Eklund personifies clutch play, timeliness, and excitability. He’s an inside player who isn’t intimidated by bigger defenders and is more than willing to take the puck right into the teeth of neutral or grey-zone coverage. Fifteen of his 18 points are primary, and 72 percent of his production are from goals that either tied the score or gave Djugardens the lead. He’s also a disciplined player (only one minor on the season), and Eklund averages over six shots per 60 minutes.

11. Jesper Wallstedt, G (Lulea, SHL)
Nov. 14, 2003 | 6’3, 214 | Catches Left | 22gp, 12-10-0, 2 SO, 2.23 GAA, .908 Save Pct.

The requirements that drive a scouting staff to push for drafting a goalie in the first round likely vary from team to team, but the fact remains – No. 1 goalies provide stability and peace of mind for the organization (plus gaudy point totals from wins and shots against. Wallstedt is the cream of this year’s goalie crop, and for good reason – he ranks in the top 15 in the SHL in save percentage (.908) and has already posted two shutouts. And although he plays for one of the league’s top defenses that helps limit his workload to 24 shots faced a game, Wallstedt has been groomed for several years to one day replace Henrik Lundqvist as the face of Swedish goaltending. He’s in a bit of a slump the last few games but the overall body of work remains is more than impressive.

12. Chaz Lucius, C (U.S. U18, NTDP)
May 2, 2003 | 6’1, 185 | Shoots Right | 4gp-5g-0a-5pts

A dizzying dual-threat pivot who centers the under-18 NTDP’s most dangerous line, Lucius missed most of this season with a lower-body injury but returned two weeks ago, much to the dismay of opposing goalies. He’s a confident stickhandler who attacks with speed inside or out, but he also has a goal-scorer’s touch and plus shot. Last season, Lucius led the NTDP’s under-17 squad in goals (31), points (50), and shots (100) while anchoring a top line with wingers Sasha Pastujov and Dylan Duke. He’s committed to the University of Minnesota and should be considered as dangerous a goal-scoring threat as you’ll find in junior hockey.

13. Luke Hughes, LHD (U.S. U18, NTDP)
Sep. 9, 2003 | 6’2, 182 | Shoots Left | 36gp-6g-26-32pts

This is a case where the last name is all you need to hear to understand this prospect’s skill set and in-game approach. Hughes is the younger brother of NHL phenoms Jack and Quinn Hughes, with Luke being the bigger-bodied version of Quinn but can look just as graceful. This year’s NTDP is quite deep at both the forward and defense positions, so it isn’t like Hughes is asked to carry his squad. Yet even with shared responsibilities, this graceful end-to-end puck rusher still manages to represent his famous surname with distinction.

Luke loves to not only push the pace to his liking but also maintain it throughout his entire shift. Saying he acts like a fourth forward, however, could imply that he always thinks offense, but Hughes neither forgets nor downplays his duties once possession changes hand. His speed is an obvious help, and Hughes also makes critical snap decisions during bang-bang scenarios that allow him to stay involved in any play. One thing to consider is Hughes’ consistent production against different leagues – he’s averaging 1.07 points per game (16 points in 15 games) against the NCAA and 1.08 (13 in 12) versus USHL competition.

14. Simon Robertsson, LW (Djugardens, SHL)
May 2, 2003 | 6’1, 185 | Shoots Right | 2gp-3g-0a-3pts

It’s always a good sign when a promising neophyte in a limited role is rewarded with ice time after he shows up to the rink with max effort every shift. That’s the situation Robertsson found himself in the last several weeks for a competitive Skelleftea squad, as his usage nearly doubled during an 11-game winning streak. Overall, his SHL numbers look pedestrian (1 goal, 1 assist, 13 shots in 22 games), but keep in mind that he played five minutes or less in 10 of those matches.

Robertsson is a multi-use winger with good size and impressive speed who can blister the puck from just about anywhere. He was the leading scorer (9 goals, 11 assists in 15 games) and fifth in shots (52) in the J20 Nationell’s North Division, which is the more defense-oriented bracket in Sweden’s top junior league. Robertsson also plays a physical, in-your-face game but his discipline has been far better in the SHL than it was in junior.

15. Fabian Lysell, RW (Lulea, SHL)
Jan. 19, 2003 | 5’11, 172 | Shoots Right | 21gp-2g-1a-3pts

A midseason trade from the Frolunda program gave this speedy attacker the chance to showcase his speed and motor for one of the SHL’s top teams. The outcome for the vast majority of kids put in these Euro league situations usually is scripted – anywhere from two to six minutes a game with occasional time of the power play and mostly benched for third periods. Lysell isn’t necessarily bucking that trend with Lulea – he plays about 10 minutes a night on the fourth line and had a couple of games with only a few shifts. But the kid is a gamer and keeps his engine running throughout the duration of his shifts both on and off the puck.

It’s easy to label Lysell as a shoot-first winger based on his J20 numbers with Frolunda the last two seasons (78 shots in 22 games). But he’s been far more team-oriented playing amongst adults in the SHL, and he pressures the puck enough to take advantage of opposing miscues and motor up ice at top speed.

16. Fyodor Svechkov, C (Lada Togliatti, VHL)
April 5, 2003 | 6’0, 187 | Shoots Left | 38p-5g-10a-15pts

A top two-way forward who is becoming problematic for adult-age competition in Russia’s VHL, Svechkov is the kind of multi-tool forward who can be plugged into any situation and still find a way to produce. His 1.85 points-per-60 average is among the highest on his team, and it can potentially explain a recent spike in ice time and boom in production (3 goals, 4 assists in last 5 games). Flash and finesse are noticeable aspects of Svechkov’s game in addition to his smothering coverage off the puck. He can create his own shot and is more than willing to attack into the teeth of zone coverage.

17. Samu Tuomaala, RW (Karpat U20, SM-Sarja)
Jan. 8, 2003 | 5’10, 174 | Shoots Right | 22gp-10g-11a-21pts

A fiery sniper who excels at using a defenseman against his own goalie, Tuomaala has been one of the SM-Sarja’s top scorers among first-year eligibles. He has been ensconced in Karpat U20’s top line for most of this season and even earned a few promotions to the A-Team (0 points in 5 games; 8:40 TOI). Where Tuomaala has made the most scratch, however, has been during the SM-Sarja’s Group 4 stage, where he, Arttu Tuomaala (no relation) and fellow draft-eligible winger Ville Koivunen have smoked the competition for a combined 17 goals in 10 games, with Samu scoring seven of his own. Samu is a prolific scorer who can pile up points in bunches – he’s already notched nine multi-point efforts in 25 games. Tuomaala’s aggressive, physical style can lead to a fair number of penalties, and they usually come after he’s been warned several times or was victimized by a missed call.

18. Anton Olsson, LHD (Malmo, SHL)
Jan. 26, 2003 | 6’1, 183 | Shoots Left | 32gp-0g-2a-2pts

Olsson continued to impress as Malmo’s season grew more relevant and his increase in ice time and deployment is a testament to that. He is as close to NHL as any defender in his draft class, at least from the standpoint of actual defending and using both mobility and physicality as weapons. Olsson is an impressive skater who plays a highly-calculated game and his intensity and effort are exemplary. The RedHawks were one of the SHL’s worst defensive teams through December but they’ve clamped things down since and are now in a playoff position after a horrific 5-15-1 start. Olsson has certainly had a hand in that, as Malmo is a respectable 10-8-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average in games where he’s played 10 minutes or more. Conversely, the RedHawks are 3-10-1 with a 3.86 goal-against mark in matches where Olsson sees less than five minutes or doesn’t dress. Any lengthy evaluation of Olsson’s performance has to consider the spike in ice time and the good things he did on and off the puck to earn it. It may take a coach or two to tap more offense out of him but Olsson’s potential for developing into a lockd0wn No. 1 or No. 2 is legitimate.

19. Nikita Chibrikov, RW (SKA-Neva, VHL)
Feb. 16, 2003 | 5’10, 161 | Shoots Left | 20gp-3g-5a-8pts

Much like Svechkov, Chibrikov had an early graduation into the VHL and quickly established himself as a regular, albeit for SKA-Neva. He plays a physical style, so his 49 penalty minutes shouldn’t come as a shock. But Chibrikov is far from just a physical brute, as he’s displayed a soft touch and playmaking off the rush in addition to dominating battles along the boards. Chibrikov’s numbers (3 goals, 5 assists, 55 shots in 20 games) are more than acceptable considering his rookie status and the fact that he plays under 16 minutes a game.

20. Isak Rosen, LW (Leksand J20, Nationell)
March 15, 2003 | 5’11, 156 | Shoots Left | 12gp-7g-5a-12pts

A shifty winger with a quick-strike mentality, Rosen was one of several scoring options featured in Leksands J20’s lethal attack. He is a power-play specialist and can serve as either playmaker or primary shooter, but Rosen was not on the top line, unlike most top Swedish forwards in the J20. That had more to do with Leksands’ depth than anything else, but to Rosen’s credit, he still delivered 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 12 games and fired off a team-best 45 shots.

Rosen later moved to the A-Team for 18 SHL games and picked up one assist and seven shots while averaging 6:46 of ice time. Rosen has been a fixture on several of Sweden’s teenage national teams and should have a prominent role for the under-18 squad that is scheduled to play at the world championship in Texas in May.

21. Mason McTavish, LW/C (Olten, Swiss League)
Jan. 30, 2003 | 6’0, 195 | Shoots Left | 9gp-5g-2a-7pts

McTavish’s brief stint in Switzerland (alongside fellow OHL’er Brennan Othmann) that began in January hasn’t revealed enough to get overly excited about, so projections on his potential should center on last season with the Petes (29 goals, 177 shots in 57 games) and this year’s abbreviated OHL schedule that has yet to be announced. He is a pure goal scorer with soft hands and a world-class shot-release combination, but there’s definitely more to his game than shooting. McTavish can serve as a playmaker and is an effective puck battler.

22. Francesco Pinelli, C (Acroni Jesenice, Slovenia)
April 11, 2003 | 6’0, 185 | Shoots Left | 7gp-1g-4a-5pts

Pinelli as an OHL rookie was a critical piece on a veteran Kitchener squad in 2019-20, recording 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 59 games. He played both center and wing last season but will likely secure a top-six pivot role now that Riley Damiani and Greg Meirless have moved on. Pinelli has a lot of quickness and can be a stubborn competitor who doesn’t appear to have any noticeable weaknesses in any area on or off the puck. His 122 shots tied him with Brandt Clarke for fourth among OHL rookies, and 34 of his 41 points came at even strength. He’s currently playing in Europe for Acroni Jesenice in the Alps Hockey League

23. Zachary Bolduc, C/W (Rimouski, QMJHL)
Feb. 24, 2003 | 6’1, 175 | Shoots Left | 20gp-7g-10a-17pts

The QMJHL’s 2021 draft class is one of the more confusing to assess, probably because they’re apart of the lone circuit from Canadian major junior who’s actually playing. But Bolduc is an easy choice to label as the Q’s premier forward prospect because of the pro feel to anything he does. Although his production — 17 points in 20 games – makes it seem otherwise, Bolduc’s got good size for a center (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) but his strong puck control, vision, and shot release allow him to switch over to wing and still succeed.

24. Oskar Olausson, RW (Sodertalje, Allsvenskan)
Nov. 10, 2003 | 6’1, 177 | Shoots Left | 9gp-1g-3a-4pts

Two straight seasons of owning the J20 was enough for this hard-shooting open-ice threat to graduate to the SHL, where he appeared in 16 games for HV71 and scored his first career goal with three assists. Olausson also made the Swedish under-20 squad at the world junior hockey championship, where he served in a depth role without many opportunities to shine. Even in limited minutes, however, Olausson at that tournament (and his time in the SHL for that matter) found ways to impact shifts both on and off the puck. He’s currently on loan to Sodertalje in the adult-age Allsvenskan, registering a power-play goal, three assists, and nine shots in nine games.

25. Prokhor Poltapov, LW (Krasnaya Armiya, MHL)
Feb. 1, 2003 | 5’11, 165 | Shoots Right | 57gp-24g-23a-47pts

A puck-swiping menace who is one of the most aggressive forwards eligible for this draft, Poltapov is the leading figure in a pretty deep Krasnaya Armiya attack. He is tops on his squad in multiple categories including assists (23) and points (45), and his 46 hits through Feb. 20 is the most among forwards. Poltapov also is an expert stickhandler who uses smarts and agility to throw zone coverages into disarray. For real, this kid can play.

26. Simon Edvinsson, LHD (Vasteras, Allsvenskan)
Feb. 5, 2003 | 6’4, 198 | Shoots Left | 10gp-0g-4a-4pts

There’s always one draft prospect a year who the consensus goes bananas over with the praise centered on “upside” more than anything else. Edvinsson has (almost) everything you would want in a defenseman — size, mobility, poise, aggressiveness, and creativity. He’s been an on-ice leader for every one of Sweden’s teenage national teams, and his dominant showing at the 2019 world under-17 hockey challenge (almost 17 months ago!) is at this point his most impressive performance when nearly every facet of his game was clicking. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag at all three levels of Swedish hockey — the J20 Nationell, the adult-age Allsvenskan, and the elite SHL. The one thing that continues to plague Edvinsson is his decision making, which mostly comes off the puck. Thus, comparisons to Victor Hedman are incredibly premature — Hedman was a No. 1 minute eater for a powerhouse MODO squad in his 2009 draft year; Edvinsson averaged 5:48 over 10 games as a No. 7 with mediocre Frolunda before being sent down to Vasteras. To his credit, however, Edvinsson seems to have found some consistency as a No. 4 in the Allsvenskan.

27. Mackie Samoskevich, C (Chicago Steel, USHL)
Nov. 15, 2002 | 6’0, 189 | Shoots Right | 17gp-7g-15a-22pts

Samoskevich is a prolific scorer who produces highlight-reel chances while serving on the top six for the USHL’s leading offense. He’s always willing to take the puck into the tough areas to improve a shot angle, so Samoskevich should be considered an inside player capable of teeing one up or setting up chances through the tightest of openings. There are areas off the puck that Samoskevich needs to work on (consistent effort, backchecking), and you have to wonder if he’s the product of a loaded attack or is capable of producing scoring chances in bunches regardless of the team he’s on. Still, he’s so dangerous in 1-on-1 situations and the puck continues to find him — even when static away from the play. This development is related more to his sharp IQ than just plain old puck luck, and his chemistry with his wingers reveal Globetrotter-like cycles with nonstop acceleration that quickly tires out defenders. Committed to Michigan, Samoskevich was out with an injury since early January but returned to score the OT winner against the NTDP 17’s on Feb 21.

28. Matthew Coronato, RW (Chicago, USHL)
Nov. 14, 2002 | 5’11, 180 | Shoots Right | 33gp-21g-28-49pts

A competitive shoot-first winger who has taken the USHL by storm, Coronato leads the entire league with 31 goals, 13 power-play goals, and 129 shots in his first 33 games. He’s a Long Island kid committed to Harvard, so drafting him probably will require a little more patience until he’s ready for a pro gig. He does have the luxury of playing for a deep attack that averages nearly five goals a game, and flanking a superior playmaker like Montreal Canadiens’ draftee Sean Farrell doesn’t hurt either. But Coronato is a self-starter who knows exactly where to position himself near the goal when he isn’t stickhandling his way into an open shooting lane.

29. Dylan Duke, LW (U.S. U18, NTDP)
March 4, 2003 | 5’10, 181 | Shoots Left | 35gp-23g-16a-39pts

A determined and rugged scoring winger who won’t back down from a challenge, Duke and his linemate Sasha Pastujov produced impressive numbers with top center Chaz Lucius out for most of this season. He currently leads the 18’s with 23 goals and 108 shots in only 35 games and is used as a primary option on the power play and also kills penalties. Duke is an Ohio native who later moved to Michigan, and he is expected to play for the Wolverines in Ann Arbor next season.

30. Liam Dower-Nillson, C (Frolunda J20, Nationell)
April 14, 2003 | 6’0, 172 | Shoots Left | 16gp-5g-12a-17pts

A gifted set-up man with strong playmaking instincts, Dower-Nilsson was Frolunda J20’s second-line center behind Detroit prospect Theodor Niederbach yet still produced an impressive 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 16 games. Although Dower-Nilsson has the reputation of an offense-first type, he’s good on faceoffs (50.0%) and shows a willingness to take the puck strong to the net.

31. Ryder Korczak, C (Moose Jaw, WHL)
Sep. 23, 2002 | 5’10, 164 | Shoots Right | 62gp-18g-49a-67pts

Last season’s leading scorer among 2021 first-year eligibles in the WHL, Korczak is in a similar situation as Guenther in that he hasn’t played in league action in nearly a year but remains a top prospect helped by last year’s production. He’s a pass-first playmaker but not the type who consistently gives away shot opportunities if a quality chance is presented to him. Korczak’s 67 points (18 goals, 49 assists in 62 games) topped the Warriors’ next-best scorer by 24, which partly explains why the team struggled in the standings. Korczak clearly did his part, however, and did so without much veteran support or scoring threats on either flank.

32. Scott Morrow, RHD (Shattuck, HS-MN)
Nov. 1, 2002 | 6’2, 198 | Shoots Right | 22gp-6g-25a-31pts

A cerebral puck rusher whose poise and delay tactics under pressure consistently fool opposing forecheckers, Morrow is a big kid who commands the blue line for one of the better prep programs in the country. He’s a Connecticut native who’s committed to North Dakota, and Morrow registered impressive numbers a season ago (67 points in 46 games) while serving as the No. 1 and primary power-play quarterback. He also owns a booming shot and won’t hesitate to use it. Although high school stats need to be taken with a grain of salt due to quality of competition, Morrow’s point-producing upside and shot generation are both legitimate.

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