Team Report Cards
Steve Kournianos | 7/30/2021 | Nashville |
NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — Dimming the lights on an NHL season under standard conditions can be either depressing or rewarding. The pessimist dreads the news cycle that transitions from the playoffs, the draft, and free agency to the banality of engagement photos, fishing trips, and cutest team dogs. But the optimist welcomes the tranquility of offseason, one which offers the chance to decompress before utilizing the extra time to process and analyze the benchmark events the league crams into the season’s final month. Either way you look at it, there was nothing particularly good or bad about this non-standard 2020-21 NHL season. It was just there, and it didn’t even help us take our minds off the stupid pandemic.
Take the draft for example. Unlike the NFL, which treats its draft as a three-month holiday that begins right after the Super Bowl, the NHL isn’t big on showcasing its own entry draft as a prominent stand-alone event deserving of round-the-clock coverage. Rather, it’s slammed through a 48-hour window that is sealed shut by the beginning of the free-agent signing period. Therefore, draft “coverage” is anything but. It’s all hit and run, and everything and everyone draft-related operates on short deadlines which makes detailed analysis incredibly hard to find.
Nonetheless, the 2021 NHL Draft is history, and there should be much rejoicing. One can only hope that in five years, time will heal the mental wounds, and our reflection on this ass-pain of a draft season will focus on how truly unique it was rather than relive the confusion and agony it caused. And this isn’t an overstatement, as the rumors surrounding the 2021 draft centered more on league cancellations, draft format changes, and “provincial health officials” rather than a prospect’s potential landing spot and any red flags that may have been discovered. The whole thing sucked from start to finish, but the final buzzer has sounded, and for that I am truly, deeply grateful.
This is my final post on this year’s NHL draft, and grading each team’s performance was pretty easy considering the 12-month effort that was put into analyzing farm systems, evaluating hundreds of prospects throughout the year, and observing the tendencies of individual scouting staffs. This wasn’t one of the better classes we’ve seen in the last decade, which is why this draft had more off-the-wall picks than any of those covered since 2015. As for the teams doing the picking, my general impression is that corners were cut and excuses were made, and one can only hope that these nonstandard draft processes were a byproduct of all hell breaking loose in 2020 and not the blueprint for evaluating future draft classes. It’s time to put the 2021 NHL draft to bed.
Biggest need: Right Wing, Left Wing, Goalie
Players drafted: 3. Mason McTavish, C; 34. Olen Zellweger, LHD; 66. Sasha Pastujov, RW; 76. Tyson Hinds, LHD; 98. Joshua Lopina, C; 130. Sean Tschigerl, LW; 148. Gage Alexander, GK; 162. Kyle Kukkonen, C
The Ducks should have an idea of what they have in center Trevor Zegras and defenseman Jamie Drysdale, but it isn’t fair to ask two recently-drafted kids to take on a rebuild until you give them help. Top pick Mason McTavish (3rd overall) checks all the right boxes to either ride shotgun with Zegras or drive a line of his own, with goal scoring and physicality being consistent in either role. They added another skilled defenseman in lefty Olen Zellweger, and Sasha Pastujov is a gunslinger from right wing. To help protect their prized assets, the Ducks added hard-nosed forwards like WHL’er Sean Tschigerl and big two-way center Josh Lopina, and Maple Grove center Kyle Kukkonen is a hard worker who buzzes nonstop. There’s balance in the farm system between quality forwards and defensemen, and the Ducks even drafted a goalie for the first time in three years.
Biggest need: Right Wing, Right Defense, Goalie
Players drafted: 9. Dylan Guenther, RW; 37. Josh Doan, RW; 43. Ilya Fedotov, LW; 60. Janis Moser, LHD; 107. Emil Martinsen Lilleberg, LHD; 122. Rasmus Korhonen, G; 139. Manix Landry, C; 171. Cal Thomas, LHD; 223. Samuel Lipkin, LW
The Coyotes came away with a potential star in Dylan Guenther, who carries the bulk of the responsibility to make this draft class look good and is the only reason it’s not a failing grade. Scoring goals has been a problem for the Coyotes for well over a decade. In fact, they haven’t finished better than 15th overall in goals per game in 19 years. Since Arizona’s prospect pool was thin on finishers (particularly, right wings), using its first three picks on goal scorers who line up on the flank makes it obvious the Coyotes were going for need. The issue is whom they chose in Round 2 — Josh Doan and defenseman Janis Moser are overagers who could have been drafted last season yet ended up getting over-drafted by at least two rounds in 2021. Doan is a hard worker, but I’m never a fan of nepotism pick, especially when you’re choosing your employee’s son over the likes of right-wingers Nikita Chibrikov and Samu Tuomaala, who are a full year younger, have more natural skill, and play physical to boot. I also don’t like that the Coyotes took Cal Thomas as an “upside” pick over teammate Henry Nelson, when Nelson carried Maple Grove’s blue line and logged 30 minutes a game.
Biggest need: Right Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 21. Fabian Lysell, RW; 85. Brett Harrison, C; 117. Philip Svedeback, GK; 149. Oskar Jellvik, LW; Ryan Mast, RHD; Andre Gasseau, C; Ty Gallagher, RHD
If there’s one team who can handle any perceived character concerns a prospect may have, it’s the Bruins, which is why the likelihood of first-round pick Fabian Lysell becoming a star is higher for Boston than it would have been most other places. Lysell is a stud who scores in bunches; one who also works hard and plays with passion. Wanting to be the best player on the ice is a good thing, and Lysell in the SHL showed that he can be a useful worker bee on a checking line. Brett Harrison is a solid two-way center, and they got one of the steals of the draft by nabbing hard-shooting, hard-hitting right defenseman Ty Gallagher in the seventh round. This Bruins’ class includes hard-working forwards with promising potential in Sweden’s Oskar Jellvik and big two-way center Andre Gasseau, but the Lysell pick by itself can make this draft class memorable for the right reasons.
Biggest need: Goaltending, Center
Players drafted: 1. Owen Power, LHD; 14. Isak Rosen, RW; 33. Prokhor Poltapov, LW; 53. Aleksandr Kisakov, LW; 88. Stiven Sardarian, RW; 95. Josh Bloom, LW; 97. Olivier Nadeau, RW; 159. Viljami Marjala, LW; 161. William Von Barkenov, C; 188. Nikita Novikov, LHD; 193. Tyson Kozak, C
Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams and scouting director Jerry Forton had themselves a draft with or without future franchise defenseman Owen Power, and I think we’re at the point where a hard line can be drawn between predecessor Jason Botterill’s build-from-the-net-out draft philosophy and Adams’ desire to turn the Sabres into the 1984 Oilers. This marked the second straight draft where the Sabres targeted skill over size, and the difference between Adams’ first two drafts and all three of Botterill’s is stark. Literally every one of the nine forwards Buffalo drafted after taking Owen Power first overall are playmakers in one form or another, and the likes of Isak Rosen, Prokhor Poltapov, Aleksandr Kisakov, and Stiven Sardariyan do so in highlight-reel fashion. They either create or themselves or for their linemates. It’s also clear that the Sabres are well entrenched in a fire sale, so the likelihood we see these recent draft picks in the NHL sooner than later is quite high.
Biggest need: Right Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 13. Matthew Coronato, RW; 45. William Stromgren, LW; 77. Cole Huckins, C; 89. Cameron Whynot, LHD; 141. Cole Jordan, LHD; 168. Jack Beck, RW; 173. Lucas Ciona, LW; 205. Arsenii Sergeev, GK;
Time is running out for general manager Brad Treliving to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Calgary, but he and his scouts came away with a impressive haul on both days of the draft. They grabbed an intense competitor with high-end scoring ability in Matt Coronato at 13th overall, and each of their Day 2 selections are capable of driving a line or anchoring a defense pairing. Swedish wing William Stromgren is a skilled playmaker with good size, and big Moose Jaw defenseman Cole Jordan is a unicorn who skates like the wind but also hits hard. QMJHL center Cole Huckins and defenseman Cameron Whynot were overshadowed by older prospects on their respective junior teams but are primed for dominant 2021-22 seasons. A sleeper is goalie Arsenii Sergeev, who dominated the NAHL and should have a short path to the AHL.
Biggest need: Right defense
Players drafted: 40. Scott Morrow, RHD; 44. Aleksi Heimosalmi, RHD; 51. Ville Koivunen, RW; 83. Patrik Hamrla, GK; 94. Aidan Hreschuk, LHD; 109. Jackson Blake, RW; 136. Robert Orr, RW; 147. Justin Robidas, C; 170. Bryce Montgomery, RHD; 187. Nikita Quapp, GK; 200. Yegor Naumov, GK; 209. Nikita Guslistov, C; 219. Joel Nystrom, RHD
Carolina walked into the weekend with eight picks, including a late first-rounder which many believed had as much value as a middle or late second due to the lack of depth in the 2021 class. That’s why the Canes deserve credit for trading back multiple times to accumulate additional picks in ranges where they could stick with their traditional skill-and-smarts theme yet come away with prospects who were high on their draft board. Their farm system may seem loaded but there was a shortage of right-shot defenders, and Carolina addressed that with each of their first two second-rounders — playmakers Scott Morrow and Aleksi Heimosalmi, and both have the potential to be solid two-way defenders in the NHL. The Canes also got first-round quality in cerebral two-way playmaking winger Ville Koivunen, a hard worker with serious puck skills and sharp vision. In fact, Carolina drafted six players in our top 100 while most teams usually walk away with three or four apiece. This was a balanced draft in several ways; not only by position (5 forwards, 5 defensemen, 3 goalies) but also for the skill sets and leagues drafted from. One takeaway is that 10 of the 13 picks were not from Canadian major junior, thereby affording the Canes time before deciding on entry-level contracts.
Biggest need: Center
Players drafted: 32. Nolan Allan, LHD; 62. Colton Dach, C; 91. Taige Harding, LHD; 105. Ethan Del Mastro, LHD; 108. Victor Stjernborg, C; 172. Ilya Safonov, C; 204. Connor Kelley, RHD; 216. Jalen Luypen, C
The strength of Chicago’s farm system is defense, especially the left side. Yet there were the Hawks, who traded down from 12th overall to 32nd as part of their blockbuster deal with Columbus for defenseman Seth Jones, drafting with their first pick a one-dimensional left-shot blueliner in hard-hitting Nolan Allan. Allan can skate and smash, but he is limited in just about anything on-the-puck related. Scouting director Mark Kelley seemed to admit that Allan’s seven-game sample at the under-18 world championship, plus the physicality of the NHL playoffs, played a role in considering him the best player available at No. 32. That’s all fine and dandy if the Hawks didn’t already have defense-first lefties such as Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips, Slava Demin, and Jakub Galvas already in the organization and also further along in their development. Chicago seemed to take the easy route on their second-rounder by grabbing Kirby Dach’s younger brother Colton, a big left wing who could ride shotgun alongside his talented sibling, but then they proceeded to add three more defensive defensemen, plus a physical two-way center in Ilya Safonov. Among all eight of their picks, only energetic Swedish center Victor Stjernborg can move the excitement needle, although late-round overager Jalen Lyupen plays with pep and brings enthusiasm to every shift. It’s understandable if the Blackhawks have grown impatient with rebuilding, but they could have added more skill to the forward ranks instead of log-jamming the defense corps.
Biggest need: Goalie, Physical forward
Players drafted: 28. Oskar Olausson, RW; 61. Sean Behrens, LHD; 92. Andrei Buyalsky, C; 220. Taylor Makar, C
Colorado had only four picks but were able to retain its first three selections, so that helps their grade more than it would for the average Stanley Cup contender who shows up at a draft almost empty handed. General manager Joe Sakic handed the chief scouting duties to Wade Klippenstein, who had been with the organization for several years. Their first pick of Swedish two-way winger Oskar Olausson was a home run, not only for Olausson’s size, skill, and intangibles but also for being overlooked as a potential top-15 pick since he aged out of the under-18 world championships. Puck rusher Sean Behrens was another good choice, especially since he’ll be playing his college hockey at Denver and plays a physical style despite being listed under 5-foot-10. Triple-overage center Andrei Buyalsky is a dual-threat who excelled with Dubuque as a top-six center, and he also was one of the fastest skaters available. The selection of Taylor Makar, however, raised eyebrows since Cale’s younger brother was nothing more than an AJHL depth player in each of his previous two looks but managed to get drafted the same week his brother was signing a massive contract extension (wink, wink). Yes, I’m a conspiracy theorist, so there’s no way you can tell me the Avs draft Taylor without Cale having a say in it.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Needs: Goalie, Center, Left Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 5. Kent Johnson, C; 12. Cole Sillinger, C; 25. Corson Ceulemans, RHD; 69. Stanislav Svozil, LHD; 101. Guillaume Richard, LHD; 132. Nikolai Makarov, LHD; 133. James Malatesta, LW; 165. Ben Boyd, LW; 197. Martin Rysavy, RW
The Jackets haven’t been busy at the draft the last couple of seasons, as they’ve made only 26 picks since 2016 and just 10 combined within the first three rounds. The impact on the farm system has been profound, which partly explains the justification for moving team leaders David Savard and Nick Foligno at the trade deadline and Seth Jones minutes before Round 1 of this year’s draft. The Blue Jackets’ rebuild just got going, so credit to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen for drafting high-impact/high-ceiling prospects with each of his three first-round picks. Both Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger are skilled forwards who can play center or wing, and the farm system’s lack of a difference maker on the right side of the defense was addressed when Columbus acquired Adam Boqvist in the Jones deal, then drafted shoot-first blueliner Corson Ceulemans at pick No. 25. Although they didn’t fix the need for goalie depth beyond Daniil Tarasov, Columbus bulked up on left defenders in two-way rearguard Stanislav Svozil and defensive-defensemen Guillaume Richard and Nikolai Makarov, with Makarov being a personal favorite of mine. And keep an eye on undersized left winger James Malatesta, who makes up for a lack of size with impressive upper-body strength and a physical brand of in-your-face hockey.
Needs: Right Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 23. Wyatt Johnston, C; 47. Logan Stankoven, C; 48. Artyom Grushnikov, LHD; 73. Ayrton Martino, LW; 79. Justin Ertel, LW; 111. Conner Roulette, LW; 138. Jack Bar, RHD; 143. Jacob Holmes, LHD; 175. Francesco Arcuri, C; 207. Albert Sjoberg, RW
Dallas traded down from No. 15 to No. 23 and gained a high second-rounder and No. 148 in the process; a move which on paper made sense. The jury will be out on whether the Stars were right to draft so many OHL kids who didn’t play more than two or three weeks of competitive hockey in the last 14 months. But general manager Jim Nill and scouting director Joe McDonnell were obviously content with the short sample size of the under-18 world championship or the Erie invitational prospect tournament as validation of their prospects’ long-term potential. Yes, the Stars love to draft out of the OHL, but top pick Wyatt Johnston has to prove himself as a line driver and consistent scorer now that Windsor will lean on him with more responsibility. They drafted two undersized waterbugs in WHL forwards Logan Stankoven and Conner Roulette, and dangerous Clarkson-bound left wing Ayrton Martino was ranked No. 20 in our final ranking. Although their 10 total picks was the most they’ve had in one draft since 2004, the Stars did not take a goalie for the third time in the last four drafts and selected more than twice as many forwards (7) as defensemen (3). But the real sleeper in their Class of ’21 is Hamilton-bound defenseman Artyom Grushnikov, who once was Russia’s undisputed top 2003-born defenseman but missed the whole 2020-21 season because of the OHL shutdown.
Detroit Red Wings
Needs: Right Wing, Goalie, Center
Players drafted: 6. Simon Edvinsson, LHD; 15. Sebastian Cossa, GK; 36. Shai Buium, LHD; 70. Carter Mazur, LW; 114. Redmond Savage, C; 134. Liam Dower-Nilsson, C; 155. Oscar Plandowski, RHD; 166. Pasquale Zito, LW
It was surprising after Day 2 to hear Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman say he wanted to address his farm system’s need for left-defense prospects when they already had recent draftees William Wallinder, Eemil Viro, Anton Johansson, Donovan Sebrango, and Jared McIsaac in the system and all taken in either the second or third round. Of course, none have the sky-high potential that No. 6 pick Simon Edvinsson has, and you can’t fault Yzerman for wanting to create a super defense corps led by righties Filip Hronek and Moritz Seider. Another area that was expected to be addressed was goaltending, where Yzerman shipped the first-rounder he received from Washington in the Anthony Mantha trade plus a high second-rounder to Dallas to draft mammoth netminder Sebastian Cossa at 15th overall. They were a little bullish on defenseman Shai Buium and overage winger Carer Mazur by taking them in the second and third round, respectively, but both are college-bound prospects who are expected to be difference makers as underclassmen. And although they waited until the later rounds to draft two centers — Sweden’s Liam Dower-Nilsson and NTDP’er Red Savage — both pivots were in our top 40 and we consider them to be vastly underrated for the offense they can create in addition to playing strong off the puck.
Needs: Defense, Right Wing, Goalie
Players drafted: 22. Xavier Bourgault, C; 90. Luca Munzenberger, LHD; 116. Jake Chiasson, C; 180. Matvey Petrov, LW; 186. Shane Lachance, LW; 212. Maximus Wanner, RHD
Ken Holland and Tyler Wright have been a GM-Scouting Director tandem for several years, but once again they didn’t have the full compliment of picks to bolster a top-heavy prospect pool. In the end, they seemed to make out okay, beginning with top pick Xavier Bourgault. He was a difference maker for talented Shawinigan and is pure skill personified, as he can play center or wing and also is considered one of the best stickhandlers available. The rest of Edmonton’s picks thereafter slotted into the size-and-grit category, with each of their two selections on defense — German-born lefty Luca Munzenberger and Moose Jaw righty Maximus Wanner — having length and strength to win tough battles. None of their selections from this draft can be labeled as elite skaters, but smarts and hands they have to a man. Wingers Jake Chiasson, Matvei Petrov, and Shane Lachance have on-ice presence beyond having ideal size, and they can dominate the boards and finish near the net.
Needs: Left Wing, Right Wing
Players drafted: 24. Mackie Samoskevich, RW; 56. Evan Nause, LHD; 120. Vladislav Lukashevich, LHD; 152. Kirill Gerasimyuk, GK; 184. Jakub Kos, RW; 210. Braden Hache, LHD
The Panthers were one of the league’s busier teams and not just for draft-related moves, as they re-signed Sam Bennett, acquired Sam Reinhart from Buffalo, then sent expensive veteran defenseman Anton Stralman to Arizona for cap relief. The cost of these moves were high from a farm-system standpoint, as top goalie prospect Devon Levi and a 2022 first-round pick were sent to the Sabres, and a 2024 second-rounder and slick left-defense prospect Vladislav Kolyachonok was the cost to get the Coyotes to add Stralman’s expiring deal. But Florida already had a strong prospect pool to begin with, and they added another quality scorer from the wing in Michigan-bound Mackie Samoskevich at 24th overall. The Connecticut native is a dual threat whose highlight reel is loaded with slick individual plays but also contains examples of high-end creativity and impressive setups. Left-handed defenseman Evan Nause basically replaces Kolychonok in the prospect depth chart, at least in terms of having a lefty rearguard with a high panic threshold and multi-directional quickness and vision to beat back a tough forecheck. And helping Florida’s solid overall grade were the additions of two underrated Russian prospects — exciting goalie Kirill Gerasimyuk and smooth-skating defenseman Vladislav Lukashevich.
Los Angeles Kings
Needs: Right Defense, Left Wing
Players drafted: 8. Brandt Clarke, RHD; 42. Francesco Pinelli, C; 59. Samuel Helenius, C; 84. Kirill Kirsanov, LHD
The Kings were supposed to have seven picks total, including the No. 8 and No. 49 selections, plus two more in the third round. After taking slick puck mover Brandt Clarke on Day 1, Los Angeles traded their second-rounder plus the 136th pick in Round 5 to move up and draft multi-purpose center Francesco Pinelli, who we considered to be a top-30 talent. But general manager Rob Blake wasn’t done dealing, as he packaged his own 72nd and Calgary’s fourth-rounder at No. 109 to Carolina for No. 58, which Blake used to draft hard-hitting two-way center Samuel Helenius. With only one pick remaining, the Kings drafted defensive defenseman Kirill Kirsanov late in the third round. Much like Pinelli, we ranked Helenius in the top-30, which means Los Angeles got first-round quality in three of its four picks. The Kings already had the best farm system in the league heading into the draft, so opting for the best players rather than addressing a specific need is a strategy we fully support.
Needs: Right Defense, Right Wing
Players drafted: 20. Jesper Wallstedt, GK; 26. Carson Lambos, LHD; 54. Jack Peart, LHD; 86. Caedan Bankier, C; 118. Kyle Masters, RHD; 127. Josh Pillar, RW; 182. Nate Benoit, LHD
Having two late first-rounder and picks in every round gave the Wild plenty of flexibility to move up, which is exactly what they did to grab goalie Jesper Wallstedt at No. 20. The cost for general manager Bill Guerin to climb two slots was only a late third-rounder, which he had two of to begin with. Although we’re a ways away from knowing if Wallstedt will ever live up to the hype that has surrounded him since 14, it was a modest price to pay for the chance at a potential franchise goalie. Minnesota from that point went defense heavy, using four of their next six picks on blueliners, including lefties Carson Lambos (whom we ranked No. 5 in our final list) and Minnesota native Jack Peart, who won the annual Mr. Hockey Award given to the top high school player in the state. But Lambos is the real wild card, as he’s been given a clean bill of health by Minnesota’s medical staff after his WHL season was cut short so Lambos could undergo an ablation procedure related to heart rhythms. Lambos probably would have been a top-15 pick had he been healthy and played at the under-18 world championship. Minnesota’s remaining picks were mostly from the WHL, including mobile offensive defenseman Kyle Masters and versatile overage forward Josh Pillar, a Swiss Army Knife who provides scoring and playmaking at either center or wing.
Needs: Right Defense, Right Wing, Goalie
Players drafted: 31. Logan Mailloux, RHD; 63. Riley Kidney, C; 64. Oliver Kapanen, C; 87. Dmitri Kostenko, RHD; 113. William Trudeau, LHD; 142. Daniil Sobolev, RHD; 150. Joshua Roy, RW; 191. Xavier Simoneau, C; 214. Joe Vrbetic, GK
Before we get into general manager Marc Bergevin’s stupefying decision to use his first-round pick on defenseman Logan Mailloux just days after Mailloux requested teams not draft him due to his conviction in Sweden of a sexual-related crime, we must ask ourselves three simple and reasonable questions:
- Could the Canadiens have drafted a quality prospect with a high ceiling not named Logan Mailloux with the 31st pick?
- Could the Canadiens, armed with nearly a dozen picks in the 2021 draft, collected a strong draft class that didn’t include Mailloux?
- Is the 2021 draft class one of the weaker groups in recent memory?
The answer to all three is an unequivocal yes. And as much as I liked Logan Mailloux as a player, and how I can personally write a book on making life-changing mistakes at a young age, the simple fact remains — Mailloux did the right thing by pulling himself out of the draft and was prepared for a year-long apology tour, only to have Bergevin compound the situation by acting selfishly. Let’s be real here — Logan Mailloux as a right-shot defense prospect is not Brandt Clarke. There are big-bodied blueliners with mobility available every year. How Bergevin, scouting director Trevor Timmins, and the suits who own the Habs and the Bell Center, agreed to draft this kid is one for investigative journalists to uncover. All I know is that Bergevin’s timing was piss poor and it probably buzz-killed what was supposed to be an offseason celebrating the Canadiens’ exciting run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Nonetheless, Mailloux was the right-shot defense prospect they took, with Scott Morrow and Aleksi Heimosalmi still on the board. He’s still a raw defense prospect, however, and 19 games in Sweden’s HockeyEttan — an ECHL-caliber league that got a boost from U20 additions — shouldn’t have been enough to make him a first-round pick. The OHL/London hype train that originated north of the border had more to do with Mailloux being highly regarded than his play in Sweden, which ranged from dominant to inconsistent. He’s a hard hitter, hard shooter, and smart kid on the ice, so expect Bergevin to give this kid every chance to succeed regardless of how deserving he is.
As for the rest of Montreal’s draft class, they traded away three of their later picks for 2022 selections but still came away with two quality prospects late in Round 2 in playmaker Riley Kidney and center Oliver Kapanen. Every pick thereafter was either inconsistent, one-dimensional, overage by two years, or incredibly raw. Mailloux or no Mailloux, this wasn’t a strong haul for the Canadiens.
Needs: Center, Right Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 19. Fedor Svechkov, C; 27. Zachary L’Heureux, LW; 72. Anton Olsson, LHD; 115. Ryan Ufko, RHD; 124. Jack Matier, RHD; 179. Simon Knak, LW
The Preds’ draft began with a bang after they addressed the farm system’s major hole at center ice with the selection of talented two-way pivot Fyodor Svechkov. But things got dicey, albeit temporarily, as they traded two second rounders (one being pick No. 40) to Carolina to move up and draft enigmatic winger Zachary L’Heureux, who we ranked later than two prospects eventually drafted by the Hurricanes. It’s reasonable to question the cost to draft a kid who will have a tough time outperforming the talented wingers — Phil Tomasino, Luke Evangelista, Eeli Tolvanen, Egor Afanasyev, Alexander Campbell, Grant Mismash — already in Nashville’s prospect pool. Although the Preds did not draft a goalie for the first time since 2014, they conducted their annual shopping spree for defense prospects, and they still have good taste. Anton Olsson and Ryan Ufko can carry the puck, run a power play, and also hit hard, and Jack Matier is a steady one-on-one defender with size who is effective late in games and on the penalty kill. Lastly, overage winger Simon Knak has been so good each of the last two seasons for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, and he is nimble and an expert stickhandler for a forward with a thick frame.
New Jersey Devils
Needs: Right Defense
Players drafted: 4. Luke Hughes, LHD; 29. Chase Stillman, RW; 68. Samu Salminen, C; 100. Jakub Malek, GK; 129. Topias Vilen, LHD; 164. Viktor Hurtig, RHD; 203. Zakhar Bardakov, C
This particular Devils’ draft class isn’t as eye-popping as some of its recent hauls, but it’s safe to say that Jack Hughes’ reaction to the drafting of his younger brother Luke represented the emotions of nearly ALL Devils fans. Taking the swift-skating lefty defenseman made too much sense, and it should be noted that Luke can play right defense, which is the thinner side on New Jersey’s prospect depth chart. They had a second first-rounder to add a much-needed right-shot defenseman such as Scott Morrow or Aleksi Heimosalmi, or swing for the fences for a skilled forward such as Prokhor Poltapov or Alexander Kisakov. But instead, the Devils over-drafted energy winger Chase Stillman but at least a full round, although it should be noted that most of New Jersey’s right-shot forward prospects are of the skilled variety. Finnish center Samu Salminen has a high hockey IQ and knows how to finish, and countryman Topias Vilen is yet another no-nonsense defender with size who the Devils can earmark as a legitimate bottom-four candidate.
New York Islanders
Needs: Right Defense, Right Wing, Center, Goalie
Players drafted: 52. Aatu Raty, C; 93. Tristan Lennox, GK; 125. Cameron Berg, C; 157. Eetu Liukas, LW; 189. Aleksi Malinen, LHD; 221. Tomas Machu, RHD
All things considered, this was a solid draft for a team who lacked a first-round pick and came within a game of the Stanley Cup Final. Aatu Raty once was considered a potential No. 1 pick but slipped because of performance issues, which actually is a good ting. Most highly-touted prospects who fall on draft day usually do so because of injury, scandal, poor work ethic, or character concerns. But Raty’s clean as a whistle in all four areas, as the only thing that appeared to plague him during his draft year was a slow start while playing for a tough defense-oriented and contending team in Finland. Raty didn’t lose his star potential, and he’s got good size and is an effective (and physical) player off the puck to keep his chances at becoming an NHL regular fairly high. Goalie Tristan Lennox had a similar situation in that he too was once classified as a premier prospect for his position but saw his stock drop after an up-and-down 2019-20 campaign and sitting out all of last season. After taking high-energy overager Cam Berg in Round 4, the Isles went back to Europe for each of their final three draft picks, including menacing power winger Eetu Liukas and puck rusher Aleksi Malinen, who was one of the fastest skaters among all draft-eligible defensemen
New York Rangers
Players drafted: 16. Brennan Othmann, LW; 65. Jayden Grubbe, C; 75. Ryder Korczak, C; 104. Brody Lamb, RW; 106. Kalle Vaisanen, LW; 112. Talyn Boyko, GK; 144. Jaroslav Chmelar, RW; 208. Hank Kempf, LHD
Chris Drury’s first draft as Rangers’ general manager was well balanced and forward-centric, beginning with multi-purpose winger Brennan Othmann, a heat-seeking missile whom they selected with the 16th pick. Although his hitting and shooting proclivity on Canada’s top line at the under-18 world championship was a carry-over from his play in the Swiss League, Othmann’s draft stock soared after the short tournament. He’s a finisher through and through, and his wrist shot is a weapon that goalies at several levels have a tough time picking up. So the idea that Drury went for only size or grit needs to be reevaluated. He proceeded to draft two playmaking centers — an area of need — in Ryder Korczak and Jayden Grubbe. Just because either pivot plays hard off the puck, (and in Grubbe’s case, with a significant intimidation factor) doesn’t mean they are devoid of creativity and lack the upside to slot as middle-six NHL centers. Additionally, winger Brody Lamb and Kalle Vaisanen are finishers before anything else. They too happen to be effective off the puck and also push back when challenged physically. Of course, a Rangers’ draft class wouldn’t be a Rangers’ draft class without a goalie, and this year’s netminder of choice was massive 6-foot-8 backstop Talyn Boyko, who makes exceptional reads but needs more time to fine tune his coordination. Czech winger Jaroslav Chmelar is a project two-way winger with size who couldn’t crack Jokerit U20’s lineup but was both physical and a net-front presence as a top-liner for the Czechs at the under-18 worlds. And it looked like the Rangers would go an entire draft without taking a defensemen until they grabbed left-handed overager Hank Kempf, a Cornell recruit who plays physical at his line and protects the low slot. My gut tells me history will be kind to this draft class.
Needs: Right Wing
Players drafted: 10. Tyler Boucher, RW; 39. Zack Ostapchuk, C; 49. Ben Roger, RHD; 74. Oliver Johansson, LW; 123. Carson Latimer, RW; 202. Chandler Romeo, LHD
Nobody knows his team as well as the general manager, so if Pierre Dorion thinks his Senators need muscle to stay competitive as they build into a contender, then chances are his team could use more muscle. Still, this was the second straight draft where the Senators got overly cute with their Day 2 picks, but it was their reach on power winger Tyler Boucher at 10th overall that set the tone for a puzzling series of draft picks that relied too much on small sample sizes and not enough on rewarding a 24-36 month body of work. Boucher can be a difference maker when healthy, but he missed most of his draft season with knee problems and a bout with COVID. The issue is that the Sens made one of the bigger post-lockout deviations from the Central Scouting and public rankings on a top-10 pick. The good news for Ottawa fans is that previous off-the-board risers like Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner, and Mark Scheifele turned out to be strong top-line NHL players. The key for Boucher is staying healthy, and he’s going to need to outwork and outproduce wingers in Ottawa’s system who already are three and four years along in their development. Every one of Ottawa’s picks on Day 2 focused on size, although Sweden’s Oliver Johansson, whom they drafted in Round 3, easily is the most skilled of this Senators’ draft class. Looking to add size to the left and right sides of the defense, Ottawa opted for smart, mobile shutdown types in righty Ben Roger and lefty Chandler Romeo, and their two picks from the WHL — soft-mitted center Zach Ostapchuk and energy winger Carson Latimer — both play hard whistle to whistle and can wear down defense pairings. Every kid picked by the Sens is a player, but Dorrion and Mann used each of Ottawa’s three high-round picks on reaches. They left a ton of skill on the board in every round.
Needs: Right Defense, Center, Goaltending
Players drafted: 46. Samu Tuomaala, RW; 78. Aleksei Kolosov, GK; 110. Brian Zanetti, LHD; 158. Ty Murchison, LHD; 174. Ethan Samson, RHD; 206. Owen McLaughlin, C
Without getting too deep into the frenetic pace of general manager Chuck Fletcher’s offseason moves, one must consider the depth of Philadelphia’s talented prospect pool and the underachievement of the NHL roster. The defensive efforts by the Flyers this season were nothing short of pathetic, which is why Fletcher dangled the 14th overall selection to begin with. But trading that pick to Buffalo for Rasmus Ristolainen (speaking of poor defense) after Fletcher had already acquired Ryan Ellis was incredibly unpopular and nonsensical. Did the Flyers “need” another premier prospect? Not necessarily, but it wouldn’t have killed them to add a top-rated center or goalie, which is exactly what each team did on every pick between 15 and 20. Ristolainen turning into a dud is one thing; seeing either or both of Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt becoming franchise goalies would link Fletcher to the wrong side of NHL draft history. Nonetheless, the Flyers walked away with two talented players with their first two picks on Day 2; speedy sniper Samu Tuomaala was ranked in our top 20 because he’s a goal scorer who hustles and plays bigger than his listed measurements, and Belorussian goalie Aleksei Kolosov has No. 1 potential, albeit to as lesser degree than Wallstedt or Cossa. Philadelphia then took three defensemen with mobility. While Switzerland’s Brian Zanetti is more of a pure puck mover, both Ty Murchison and Ethan Samson can skate but also play physical. Each of the Flyers’ first three selections were European but their last pick had local flavor, as playmaking center Owen McLaughlin is a Chester County native who’s committed to Penn State,
Needs: Center, Right Defense, Left Defense
Players drafted: 58. Tristan Broz, C; 154. Isaac Belliveau, LHD; 194. Ryan McCleary, LHD; 215. Daniel Laatsch, LHD; 218. Kirill Tankov, C
The Penguins never have high picks but they got great value in slick dual-threat winger Tristan Broz, who was one of the USHL’s most dangerous forwards and plays a similar game to Winnipeg Jets scorer Kyle Conner. Each of their next four selections were outside the first 150 picks, and the Pens used three consecutive choices on bigger defensemen with different skill sets. Isaac Belliveau is a high-IQ puck mover who had an excellent draft-1 season with Rimouski in the QMJHL but is an average skater who never found his footing this season. Portland’s Ryan McCleary has NHL bloodlines, and size and athleticism, and Wisconsin-bound defender Daniel Laatsch is a former NTDP’er who is more of a defensive defenseman but keeps a tight gap and blankets the neutral zone. Their last pick is personal to me, as I rated Tankov in my top-75 for 2020 but he went undrafted. Tankov was SKA-Varyagi’s top-line center for nearly two seasons and SKA-1946 opted to keep him there, but he’s got good size and is capable of slick moves. Tankov is highly skilled and an effective penalty killer.
San Jose Sharks
Needs: Right Defense, Left Defense, Goalie
Players drafted: 7. William Eklund, LW; 81. Benjamin Gaudreau, GK; 103. Gannon Laroque, RHD; 121. Ethan Cardwell, RW; 135. Artem Guryev, LHD; 156. Max Mccue, C; 167. Liam Gilmartin, LW; 177. Theo Jacobsson, C; 199. Evgenii Kashnikov, LHD;
San Jose, faced with the reality of the continued regression of their better (and most expensive) players, delivered to their impatient fans another strong draft class, albeit one with more balance than their forward-heavy group of 2020. Although their prospect pool had significant holes on defense and in goal, the Sharks opened their draft by taking dangerous dual-threat winger William Eklund with the seventh overall pick. Eklund may not have ideal size (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), but he by himself can transform how an opponent approaches the Sharks’ attack, and Eklund’s energy can be contagious. Their approach on Day 2 appeared to address those aforementioned needs, with goalie Benjamin Gaudreau highlighting a group that included four more forwards and three defensemen. Cerebral righty defender Gannon Laroque wasn’t highly rated heading into the draft but his play in the WHL for a downtrodden Victoria squad was beyond promising, and mobile Russian defenseman Artem Guryev is one of the better skaters among blueliners listed at 6-foot-4 or taller. The Sharks grabbed two major sleepers in hard-hitting NTDP winger Liam Gilmartin, who is headed to the OHL’s London Knights, and also in high-energy center/wing Theo Jacobsson, who was one of the better middle-six scorers in Sweden’s J20 Norra Division and is headed to Hockey East to play for New Hampshire. There are some gambles in this group, but San Jose’s scouting staff seemed to get creative with their picks. Getting Eklund outside the top five highlights a strong top-to-bottom draft class.
Players drafted: 2. Matthew Beniers, C; 35. Ryker Evans, LHD; 67. Ryan Winterton, C; 99. Ville Ottavainen, RHD; 131. Jacob Melanson, RW; 163. Semyon Vyazovoi, GK; 195. Justin Janicke, LW
Seattle is an expansion franchise which conducted its first draft, and did so without the benefit of an established prospect pool. Therefore, there were no trends, tendencies, or strategies to use a backdrop or add to context to general manager Ron Francis’ initial draft class. On the surface, the selection of powerful two-way center Matt Beniers was an excellent start, albeit one that was buoyed by a guaranteed top-three pick that the draft lottery improved to second overall. But with Beniers as the centerpiece of its fledgling farm system, Seattle can use his hard work, nonstop motor, and maturity as the standard for most, if not all of its future prospects. Things got weird on Day 2, however, as Seattle took overage defender Ryker Evans with the 35th pick while leaving younger (and simply more accomplished) prospects on the board. Ryan Winterton at 67th overall plays an energetic two-way game that is similar to Beniers, but Finnish overage defenseman Ville Ottavainen is mostly just size at this point and lacks the consistent defensive-zone play provided by available righty blueliners like Jack Matier, Oscar Plandowski, and Jonathan Myrenburg. They did nice work in the later rounds by taking two high-energy wingers with skill — Acadie-Bathurst’s Jacob Melanson and NTDP’er Justin Janicke — and Tolpar goalie Semyon Vyazovoi was the top 2003-born goalie in Russia’s MHL. In total, the final roll-up reads two centers, two wings, two defensemen, and a goalie. It’s not jaw dropping, but Seattle has a farm system, which at this point is all that matters.
St. Louis Blues
Needs: Everywhere except goalie
Players drafted: 17. Zachary Bolduc, C; 71. Simon Robertsson, RW; 145. Tyson Galloway, LHD; 198. Ivan Vorobyov, RW;
The Blues had only four picks but each of their first two selections — skilled center Zachary Bolduc and power winger Simon Robertsson — were ranked in our top 20. Bolduc’s draft stock never took a hit this season because he was Romouski’s best player while playing hurt and also for consistently producing as a center or wing. Robertsson had a dominant J20 season but was quiet at the under-18 world championship; a seven-game tournament which apparently drove draft-pick decisions for all 32 teams. As ridiculous as that sounds, Robertsson’s fall to the third round made him the ideal choice for a Blues organization with a thinned-out farm system. Although they didn’t have enough picks to address needs at every skater position, the Blues added another mid-level prospect to the left side of the defense by taking physical WHL’er Tyson Galloway. High-energy winger Ivan Vorobyov was Mamonty Yugry’s bus driver this season, although it was a surprise it was he who was drafted instead of notable center Vasily Atanasov. Nice work by the Blues, and don’t be surprised if Robertsson becomes the top NHL goal scorer among all 2021 draftees taken outside the first two rounds
Tampa Bay Lightning
Needs: Left Defense, Left Wing
Players drafted: 96. Roman Schmidt, RHD; 126. Dylan Duke, LW; 160. Cameron MacDonald, C; 192. Alex Gagne, LHD; 196. Daniil Pylenkov, LHD; 211. Robert Flinton, LW; 224. Niko Huuhtanen, RW
The Bolts were without a pick in each of the first two rounds for the first time in franchise history, but their reputation for turning run-of-the-mill middle and late rounders into NHL quality (Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat) affords them the luxury of dealing away draft assets without long-term repercussions. Each of their first two picks were products of the NTDP, with big-bodied right defenseman Roman Schmidt and hard-charging winger Dylan Duke both serving prominent roles on what essentially is an all-star team. Every pick in Tampa’s Class of ’21 outside of the 5-foot-10 Duke were big boys listed at 6-foot-1 or taller. Schmidt (6-foot-5), lefty Alex Gagne (6-foot-3), and overage lefty Daniil Pylenkov (6-foot-1) represented the defensemen chosen by the Bolts last weekend, and the Lightning stuck with the size theme with the rest of their forwards as well. Saint John center Cam MacDonald plays physical, whereas Dartmouth-bound winger Robert Flinton is more of a playmaker who uses his size for puck protection, and Tappara right wing Niko Huuhtanen is a pure goal scorer with a plus-shot and release. Overall, Tampa’s class has more untapped potential than proven skill, but there’s reason to believe that all their college-bound picks can assume critical jobs early into their respective NCAA careers.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Players drafted: 57. Matthew Knies, LW; 153. Ty Voit, LW; 185. Vyacheslav Peska, GK
Owning only three picks all but guaranteed that maligned general manager Kyle Dubas would have more time to deal with the expansion draft and free agency, but his scouts deserve credit for making something out of nothing with their three Day 2 picks. Minnesota-bound winger Matthew Knies was a preseason first-round pick of mine but slipped because of inconsistent play, although few can deny how dangerous a player he can be with the puck. He’s got some maturing to do, but critical to Knies’ development path has been his ability to help drive possession with different sets of linemates in each of his two USHL seasons. Undersized winger Ty Voit from the OHL’s Sarnia Sting is another kid we had our eyes on for the 2020-21 campaign, but his game action was limited to the Erie showcase following the cancellation of the entire OHL season. Voit is very skilled with the puck and makes up for a lack of size with legit hockey sense, keen vision, and connecting on difficult passes. Their last pick was a bit lazy, however, as Irbis goalie Vyacheslav Peska had as nondescript a season an MHL netminder can have, but he just happened to be the backup to 2020 Maple Leafs’ draftee Artur Akhtyamov. A better gamble would have been on Dynamo MSK’s Maxim Motorygin, as Peska played less, had inferior numbers, and only has an inch on him.
Needs: Center, Left Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 41. Danila Klimovich, RW; 137. Aku Koskenvuo, GK; 140. Jonathan Myrenberg, RHD; 169. Hugo Gabrielsson, LHD; 178. Connor Lockhart, RW; 201. Lucas Forsell, RW
The Canucks were coming off a disastrous season and have a general manager on borrowed time, so it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Jim Benning was willing to include the No. 9 pick in the package to Arizona for winger Conor Garland and veteran defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. But Vancouver already has a solidified core that is not only young but also productive, and with the anticipated arrival of winger Vasily Podkolzin and the strong rookie season from Nils Hoglander, one could make the argument that the Canucks’ top-10 pick was always in play. As for the prospects Vancouver grabbed on Day 2, each one had a significant role on their respective teams, whether it was this year or last. Sniper Danila Klimovich’s name skyrocketed up draft lists because of his play at the under-18 world championship, which is ironic since he was a hot-dogging showboat in the short tournament but a well-rounded and team-centric player during league play in Belarus. Klimovich is a pure finisher with a shoot-first mindset, which means he won’t have to simplify his game once he gets to North America to play for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda or in the AHL. Goalie Aku Koskenvuo would have been drafted much higher than fifth round had he been evaluated for his impressive league play and not the U18 worlds, and Swedish defensemen Jonathan Myrenberg and Hugo Gabrielsson can move the puck but quickly shift to a defense-first mindset when necessary. Hard-working and speedy winger Connor Lockhart was a bright spot as an underager for Erie in 2019-20, although it remains to be seen if he’ll ever produce gaudy numbers, and Farjestad’s Lucas Forsell is a similar high-energy winger who buzzes around and causes problems off the forecheck. Aside from Klimovich’s bullish landing spot, there’s not much to question or criticize about Todd Harvey’s first draft as scouting director.
Vegas Golden Knights
Needs: Left Wing, Right Defense
Players drafted: 30. Zach Dean, C; 38. Daniil Chayka, LHD; 102. Jakub Brabenec, C; 128. Jakub Demek, C; 190. Artur Cholach, LHD; 222. Carl Lindbom, GK
For a team that has dominated the regular season since joining the league in 2017-18, Vegas has done an excellent job at keeping their farm system stocked with valuable assets. This year’s draft will make it even stronger, as they drafted three of our top-60 prospects, with two being centers. Although I wasn’t as bullish on Gatineau center Zach Dean as everybody else, he gives you plenty of reasons to consider him a premier talent, and Dean’s speed and compete level should quickly endear himself to the Golden Knights’ demanding fan base. Defenseman Daniil Chayka is an interesting study because it seemed like a campaign of misinformation tried to marginalize how good he was later in the season, specifically in the MHL playoffs. Chayka’s already produced two promising OHL seasons for Guelph, but he has the size, mobility, and adaptability to graduate from junior hockey and play in the AHL. Vegas grabbed one of my favorites in Czech center Jakub Brabanec, who barely missed the age cutoff for the 2022 draft but played most of his year in the Extraliga. He also was a consistent dual-threat at the under-18 world championship. They took another center in Slovakia’s Jakub Demek, who’s more of a meat-and-potatoes pivot who plays a two-way game and has good size, and offensive defenseman Artur Cholach, a Ukrainian, is a decent gamble on a kid from a non-traditional hockey market. Both will play in the CHL this year after being selected in the Import Draft. Swedish goalie Carl Lindbom is neither big nor visibly athletic but he played for a good program in Djugardens and should spend all of next season as the No. 1 in the J20 Nationell.
Needs: Right Defense, Goalie, Left Wing
Players drafted: 55. Vincent Iorio, RHD; 80. Brent Johnson, RHD; 119. Joaquim Lemay, LHD; 151. Haakon Hanelt, C; 176. Dru Krebs, LHD; 183. Chase Clark, GK
The Capitals didn’t own a first rounder but have a farm system desperately lacking on the right side of the defense, so it came as no surprise when they grabbed two righties with each of their first two picks — big-bodied Vincent Iorio and playmaker Brent Johnson. Iorio is an interesting prospect in that the hype surrounding him skyrocketed early into the WHL season despite his support role on a loaded team, and his 5-on-5 production was nearly nonexistent. Johnson, on the other hand, is one heck of a puck distributor and can create chances for any member on his five-man unit. Washington balanced out its draft class with two left-handed defensemen in puck rushers Joaquim Lemay and Dru Krebs, and German two-way center Haakan Hanelt battled through injuries but is an effective 200-foot player with nice hands. Righty overage goalie Chase Clark had a strong season for the NCDC’s New Jersey Hitmen, and is one of the more athletic 6-foot-6 netminders in his age group. This may look like a boring class since only Johnson can be considered a go-to guy against premier junior-league competition, but each one of Washington’s other picks have the potential to succeed in their expanded roles for the 2021-22 season.
Needs: Right Wing, Left Wing
Players drafted: 18. Chaz Lucius, C; 50. Nikita Chibrikov, RW; 82. Dmitry Kuzmin, LHD; 146. Dmitry Rashevsky, RW
Make it two straight drafts where the Jets selected only four players but managed squeeze as much elite skill as possible into their total prospect haul. Goal-scoring center Chaz Lucius is highly intelligent around the net and also good on faceoffs, and sniping winger Nikita Chibrikov brings an impressive work rate and physicality to every shift. Both prospects were ranked in my top 20, so to get Chibrikov later in Round 2 is a huge addition to a prospect pool that was thin at right wing. Winnipeg continued with its skill-and-finesse theme by grabbing undersized puck mover Dmitry Kuzmin in the third round, although Kuzmin’s strength and solid defensive play tends to get overlooked because of all those lacrosse goals he scored in Belarus. Their final pick, Russian winger Dmitry Rashevsky, has been one of the top scorers in Russia’s MHL for several years and is both a power-play specialist and short-handed threat. Although he’s a triple overager, Rashevsky had a strong season in the adult-age VHL and was nearly unstoppable during Dynamo MSK’s run to the MHL championship.