2021 NHL Draft
2021 NHL Mock Draft: March (1-32)
Steve Kournianos | 3/20/2021 | Nashville | [hupso]
NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — Don’t you just love that wonderful time in the NHL schedule when the promise of the early season gives way to harsh realities such as yes, your team truly stinks and no, your general manager is not fixing this catastrophe with a trade or waiver-wire pickup? But before you jump into the deep end while angrily clutching next year’s season ticket renewal form, just remember that in spite of draconian restrictions being imposed by our so-called “health officials”, the NHL will still conduct the NHL draft, and your team — yes, that really bad one that is ruining your life — will restart the rejuvenation process by drafting five or six kids (or 27 in Detroit’s case) you probably never heard of and who are still four of five years away from making an actual impact.
Nonetheless, the draft itself will remain one big mystery until the actual days of execution, which in the case of 2021 will be on July 23-24. Since NHL scouting staffs can be counted on to keep their lips sealed and limit the actual makeup of their internal draft boards to the free chicken they give TSN’s Bob McKenzie for his famed “scout polls”, the onus falls on people like myself (and you as well!) to take blind stabs at what your team’s scouting director is thinking, and which pick his general manager will ultimately approve of. Of course, not all GM’s are psycho micromanagers, so they actually allow their chief scouts run the draft with the benefit of complete autonomy. But I digress.
Below you’ll find my first attempt at guessing how the first round of the 2021 NHL draft will unfold. Although there is no consensus top pick (at least for now), and the draft is relatively thin at the center-ice position, the process of arranging this year’s crop into any kind of order was much easier to do in March than it was say, three or four months ago. Don’t forget that the upcoming NHL trade deadline (set for April 12 at 3:00 p.m. EDT) usually involves high draft-pick movement that can enhance or alter a team’s overall draft strategy. Lastly, before you piss and moan about this mock draft because your team ended up with a prospect you didn’t want, just remember that pissing you off is part of the process.
|Matt Beniers, C
|Inspired play in Buffalo has gone the way of the dodo bird, so it’s no surprise the emergence of hard-nosed rookie Dylan Cozens has been one of the few bright spots within yet another season of Sabres’ discontent. Beniers is cut from a similar cloth — a big, strong, rangy center with a relentless motor who would make any team tougher to play against. The idea that Beniers’ strong 200-foot game limits his ceiling to that of a second-line or support role is ridiculous, as he is the youngest of 45 NCAA Division I scorers to average at least a point per game. The Sabres may be inclined to address the defense in a draft class loaded with blueliners, but Beniers’ path towards becoming an impact player should be far shorter.
|William Eklund, LW
|There’s no denying that the dark clouds of hopelessness that have blanketed the Senators’ organization the last few seasons are starting to dissipate, due in large part to a massive overhaul of the farm system. There’s really no single position of “need” within the system, so grabbing the draft’s most electrifying player makes a ton of sense for a team who had 10 picks a season ago. With 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 38 games, the dizzying Eklund is tracking to post the highest points-per-game average by an SHL first-year draft eligible since Elias Lindholm in 2013. He’s a natural wing who has never been consistently slotted as a center.
|Owen Power, LHD
|The latest edition to the NHL family won’t be dipping into the deepest of draft classes in its inaugural season, but it’s heavy on the defensive side and general manager Ron Francis has a history of building up a franchise from the net out. Power is a big-bodied puck mover who combines an exceptional hockey brain with soft hands, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he quickly established himself as one of college hockey’s top defenseman in just one season with Michigan. The Mississauga, ON native led all freshman rearguards in assists (13) and points (16) and like Beniers is both physically and mentally prepared for NHL rigors.
|Kent Johnson, LW
|The Ducks have been led at the draft table by the Bob Murray/Martin Madden combination for over a decade, with the latter also serving as the team’s assistant general manager. They’ve loaded up on centers and defensemen the last few years and the cream of that crop — Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, Isac Lundestrom — already have made it to the parent club. Johnson’s sublime stick skills and sharp hockey mind are just two of his noticeable traits, and his aggressive approach alongside linemate Matt Beniers helped vault him to second in the nation in freshman scoring (27 points in 26 games). The British Columbia native is a joy to watch on the puck, but he also works hard and forechecks with determination.
|Detroit Red Wings
|Jesper Wallstedt, G
|No team has been busier at the draft table the last six year than the Red Wings, who since 2015 have selected a whopping 57 picks, including 12 a year ago. The competition within Detroit’s prospect pool has been cutthroat at every position, but an unsolved goaltending situation makes it all the more reasonable for GM Steve Yzerman to approve of the selection of Wallstedt, who at 18 years of age already has established himself as a No. 1 in Sweden. Big, quick, and efficient in his lateral movement, Wallstedt as Red Wings property instantly vaults to the top of the depth chart and he provides the club with its first franchise-caliber goalie prospect since Jimmy Howard nearly 20 years ago.
|New Jersey Devils
|Luke Hughes, LHD
|U.S. U18 (NTDP)
|Seeing Jack Hughes play like a franchise-carrying center less than two years since being drafted first overall is at this point the silver lining for a Devils’ club that’s about to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years. His younger brother Luke also has the potential to become a cornerstone piece, albeit from the blue line. He plays the game at a fast pace and is one of the top skaters in this draft, but Luke also has ideal size and is leaned on for tough penalty kills and late/close scenarios. Is he as dynamic as his brother Quinn, who stars for the Vancouver Canucks? The answer is a resounding yes.
|Brandt Clarke, RHD
|Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
|We all know the Predators like to keep their cupboard stocked with two-way defensemen, but Clarke is a game-changer who is closer to NHL readiness than originally thought. Not only did he shoulder minute-eating responsibilities for the OHL’s Barrie Colts a season ago, but his move to Slovakia has revealed his adaptability and instant impact for any attack. Clarke is a flashy puck distributor but his powerful shot helps keep opposing defenses honest. Eight of his 15 points have come in the last five games and he’s averaging well over 20 minutes a match.
|San Jose Sharks
|Dylan Guenther, RW
|For starters, let’s just admit that the chances of Guenther lasting this late into the first round are slim. But the draft rarely goes exactly as planned, which is why the Sharks should jump at the chance at drafting its best pure playmaker. Guenther’s measurements may scream finesse player, but the young man offers way more than just nifty setups and bar-down snipes. He’s tough on or off the puck and even has some snarl to his game, plus he’s an effective penalty killer. Through Thursday, Guenther was the WHL’s early-season leader with a ridiculous 2.50 points-per-game average.
|Cole Sillinger, LW
|Sioux Falls (USHL)
|It’s been a season of disappointment for the defending Western Conference champions, who are pacing for their third lottery draft since 2017. They do have an underrated prospect pool and the parent club has incorporated their top kids into this season’s lineup, and adding a powerful two-way winger like Sillinger simply strengthens this quasi-youth movement that isn’t too far off from developing into a full-blown rebuild. Sillinger, whose father Mike was a first-round pick of the Red Wings in 1989 and veteran of over 1000 NHL games, can just about do it all, and his assault on the USHL (36 points in 22 games) has now moved into its third month of operation.
|Don’t cheat. You will get caught.
|Carson Lambos, LHD
|Most teams tend to avoid reactionary drafting, but it’s clear that Vancouver’s leaky defense is a major problem that could plague the organization for several seasons. One way to mitigate that is by grabbing a complete two-way defender like Lambos, who starred last season for the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice before hopping across the Atlantic to play in Finland’s under-20 SM-Sarja. The kid has been a stud no matter where he plays, and his impact is immediate — JyP U20 were 6-9-1 with a -26 goal differential before his arrival and went 7-3-3 with a +14 differential with Lambos in the lineup. In his 13 games, Lambos averaged 20:23 of ice time while serving on the middle pairing and used on the top power-play and penalty-killing units. He’s back with Winnipeg for now, but his arrival onto the NHL scene shouldn’t be too far away.
|Columbus Blue Jackets
|Simon Edvinsson, LHD
|Expect the unexpected when it comes to the Jackets and their draft picks, although most feel the rangy Edvinsson would be a steal here at No. 12. Truthfully, I’m not as bullish on this young man as those who have him earmarked as a candidate for the No. 1 pick, but the overall skill set is nonetheless tantalizing. Edvinsson is big, graceful, and physical, and he plays with a ton of confidence. Knowing his God-given talents can turn him into a difference maker is what usually gets him marching in a parade of unforced errors, but Columbus needs to find help for Zack Werenski and Seth Jones ASAP.
|Fyodor Svechkov, C
|Lada Togliatti (VHL)
|Whether they’ve simply made the wrong call or avoided the position altogether, the Rangers are in desperate need of a legitimate franchise center, or at least someone with the potential to develop into one. Svechkov is a kid who is starting to gain mainstream attention, but he’s been one of the top forward prospects from Russia’s 2003 year group to those who have covered their junior circuits the last two seasons. Svechkov’s combination of flash and elite defensive play are incredibly rare in a first-year draft eligible. He’s a real leader and would add punch to the Blueshirts’ center depth.
|Aatu Raty, C
|There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of humble pie, meaning it’s time for yours truly to admit that there was some overexcitement that helped drive Raty to the top of our preseason rankings for 2021. Since then, the young man’s draft season has been both nondescript and uninspiring; at least within the context of a prospect who many thought would be the closest thing to a lock for first overall. Each of Calgary’s last three first-round picks who were forwards — Matt Tkachuk, Jakob Pelletier, and Connor Zary — play an abrasive, physical style similar to Raty, whose underlying numbers with Karpat aren’t that bad — he averages 9.83 shots per 60 minutes, which would equal about four a game if he was given a regular shift.
|Los Angeles Kings
|Fabian Lysell, RW
|The Kings’ decision to inject youth into their roster is starting to pay dividends, but most of their goal scoring comes from veteran types. Of course, the organization is full of blue-chip forwards, most of whom can play both center and wing, so it’s just a matter of time until they take over for the cap-gobbling graybeards who have been with Los Angeles for what seems like forever. Lysell seems to be the perfect fit for a club that already owns the Western Conference’s deepest prospect pool, as he is a high-volume shooter with excellent speed who has taken to his depth role as Lulea’s youngest forward.
|Mason McTavish, W/C
|Olten (Swiss League)
|After coming within a game of the conference final a season ago, the Flyers are having a tougher time challenging for the Cup in a loaded East Division. If they miss the playoffs it won’t be by much, and both the parent club and farm system have several youngsters they can earmark as future cornerstone pieces. McTavish is an interesting prospect because he can offer the kind of toughness they like in Philly, but he also boasts one of the best shot-release combinations in the draft. He’d normally be suiting up for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes but his decision to play abroad in Switzerland has proven to be a wise one.
|Francesco Pinelli, C
|Acroni Jesenice (Alps)
|The injury-riddled Hawks have been one of the league’s surprise clubs in 2021, but the jury is still out on whether or not they’re a legitimate playoff team. Regardless of what happens, Chicago fans have to accept the fact that picking in this slot would mark consecutive seasons where their “rebuild” has not produced a lottery pick. Nonetheless, Pinelli is an excellent two-way center with top-end speed, a deadly wrist shot, and enough energy to pour all his effort from the start of his shift to the very end. He too had his OHL season delayed by Ontario’s health authorities, but the young man smartly switched over to Europe, where he has been a difference maker for his adult-age club in Slovenia.
|St. Louis Blues
|Chaz Lucius, C
|U.S. U18 (NTDP)
|A preseason knee injury may have knocked this sniping center out of action for several months, but Lucius has returned with a vengeance scoring six goals in his first seven games back. Although the Blues like their players to have a physical edge, Lucius is too sure-handed a finisher for them to pass up, especially when he once was considered a potential top-five pick before the injury. Lucius probably is a month or two away from knocking the rust off completely, but look for him to put on a show as Team USA’s lop-line center at the upcoming under-18 world championships.
|Sasha Pastujov, RW
|U.S. U18 (NTDP)
|One of the hardest shooters available in this draft, Pastujov is a no-nonsense sniper who proved that he didn’t need help generating looks at the net after center Chaz Lucius missed a chunk of the season with a knee injury. He’s leading the NTDP 18’s in scoring (20 goals and 27 assists in 28 games) and is pacing to match the draft-year production of recent NTDP alums Alex Turcotte and Clayton Keller, each of whom was drafted in the top 10 in their respective draft years.
|Simon Robertsson, RW
|The Oilers’ lineup isn’t necessarily devoid of size and strength, but they do seem to get pushed around quite a bit when the games matter more. Robertsson is a few seasons from solving that problem, but his combination of high-volume shooting and physicality would make him the perfect wing option for 2020 first-round pick Dylan Holloway. Robertsson led the J20 Nationell’s North Division in scoring before he was summoned for SHL duty, and although his stats there are far from gaudy (1 goal, 1 assist in 22 games), his speed, tenacity, and anger were on display during his time on the fourth line. His wrister is beyond nasty.
|Minnesota Wild (PIT)
|Samu Tuomaala, RW
|Karpat U20 (SM-Sarja)
|This is the pick the Wild acquired from Pittsburgh in the Jason Zucker deal, so having a pair of first rounders allows scouting director Judd Bracket to get a little creative. It’s not often you find an electrifying scoring winger out of Finland who also likes to mash opponents, but Tuomaala can tailor his game to meet its critical requirements no matter the intensity or pace being played. He’s starred on Karpat U20’s top line for the entire season and the energy he brings is consistent from whistle to whistle. Tuomaala has some set of hands on him, and he can posterize a goalie with a series of moves or fakes as he inches closer to his release point.
|Anton Olsson, LHD
|A polished three-zone vacuum cleaner who earned a steady increase in ice time for a streaking Malmo squad, Olsson is one of the top sleepers in this year’s draft. He packs a hard punch and can be a massive pain to play against, but his powerful skating, clean first pass, and hard, accurate shot increase the likelihood that he can produce points at higher levels. The Jets have selected at least one Swedish prospect in each of their last five drafts, so it’s a safe bet their scouts are more than aware of Olsson’s impressive ascension up Malmo’s depth chart.
|Ayrton Martino, LW
|Ding the Bruins and their recent drafts all you want, but the truth is they remain an elite team in the Eastern Conference who continue to summon seasoned kids from their AHL affiliate in Providence to help keep their ship on course. Don Sweeney and his staff definitely have a type, with hard working (to nobody’s surprise) being a critical requirement. Martino offers that and then some, and after the Clarkson recruit arrived in Omaha, he immediately began turning heads with his work ethic, versatility, and dual-threat capabilities.
|Scott Morrow, RHD
|It’s been over a decade since the Wild used a first-round pick on a local favorite (Eden Prairie defender Nick Leddy in 2009, to be exact), but Morrow, a Connecticut native, has revealed a ton of promise while anchoring Shattuck’s back line. He’s an excellent skater in multiple areas and unloads a howitzer from the point, but Morrow also has the smarts, hands, and poise to handle a forecheck if a direct escape route isn’t available. There’s the urge to knock him down into the second round because he hasn’t played against tough junior-age competition, but Morrow checks a lot of blocks for teams looking for a mobile modern-day defenseman.
|Zachary Bolduc, C/W
|It’s been six years since the Islanders addressed the center-ice position with their first-round pick, which in 2015 just so happened to be Mathew Barzal. Although stacking up on wingers hasn’t hurt the organization, you have to wonder how much longer they can go without addressing a major weakness at the prospect level. Bolduc is the perfect fit for several reasons. Not only is he versatile enough to play both center and the wing, but he’s got the size and strength the Isles like in their forwards. Bolduc can be near unstoppable when all aspects of his game are clicking.
|Sebastian Cossa, G
|The Avs threw a curveball last October when they drafted stay-at-home defenseman Justin Barron with their first pick, thus making it three blueliners chosen in Round 1 since 2017. Now that they’re loaded at both the forward and defense positions, the Avs can roll the dice on an athletic netminder who represents the cream of this year’s North American goalie crop. Cossa is highly regarded in the scouting community for several reasons and he’s off to a red-hot start with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, posting a 4-0-0 mark with a sparkling .939 save percentage.
|Corson Cuelemans, RHD
|The same program that produced an aggressive puck rusher like Cale Makar back in 2017 is now in the hands of a similar defenseman in Cuelemans, who last week resumed his AJHL season with the Brooks Bandits after a four-month stoppage. Cuelemans is an excitable defenseman who rarely passes up the chance to take the puck for a skate or let a shot fly. Since the puck-possession aspects of his game are solid and Cuelemans can act like a fourth forward in the offensive zone, the Canes can afford to gamble on him and let him fine-tune his tactics on the defensive side while playing at the University of Wisconsin.
|Stanislav Svozil, LHD
|The Panthers in recent years have shown a propensity to draft for need, which for now is along their blue line. Although Svozil doesn’t have a similar ceiling to the last defenseman Florida took in Round 1 (Aaron Ekblad in 2014), his poised and mature play have not gone unnoticed. Svozil was strong for the Czechs at the last under-20 world junior hockey championship and is tasting intense playoff hockey for Brno in the Extraliga.
|Toronto Maples Leafs
|Isak Rosen, RW
|How Toronto decides on any first-round pick likely begins with how it fares in the postseason (if applicable), but for now, one must assume that GM Kyle Dubas will once again drive a draft strategy centered on skill and smarts. Rosen may be slight of frame, but he’s a lot of fun to watch, and he is as pure a playmaker as you’ll find among draft-age wingers. It’s been a bumpy ride for him during SHL duty (1 assist in 20 games), but his J20 play seems to be the bigger indicator of what his ceiling is.
|Mackie Samoskevich, C/W
|Make it three staright years that the Capitals should draft for high-end puck skills from the forward position, and few in this draft class can score with as much flair and pizzazz as Samoskevich. Yes, he plays on a loaded Chicago roster that features finishers and playmakers up and down the lineup, but Samoskevich has proven to create his own chances regardless of what his linemates are or aren’t doing. He can hammer it from the circles or dipsy-doodle his way into a toe-drag and snipe, but goalies have to be cognizant of his frequent use of the backhand.
|Vegas Golden Knights
|Nikita Chibrikov, RW
|Vegas has a history of dipping into Russia’s talent pool, which is why it’s a forgone conclusion that they at least know of Chibrikov’s physical game that accents his superior play on the puck. He was given a quick promotion to the adult-age VHL before returning to SKA-1946 for a job on their top line — no small accomplishment when you consider how deep and talented a squad they assemble. Chibrikov has been used in every situation no matter the strength on the ice, and his intentions are tough for opponents to detect when he’s on the puck, especially in odd-man rushes.
|Tampa Bay Lightning
|Prokhor Poltapov, LW
|Krasnaya Armiya (MHL)
|The best way to describe Poltapov is by calling him a tough out. He is a relentless puck pursuer and uses Pavel Datsyukian stick work to loot unsuspecting opponents, but he’s also filled the scoresheet with distinction. Poltapov led a strong Krasnaya Armiya squad in scoring (25 goals and 27 assists in 61 games), and he can score goals in every conceivable fashion. It’s a bit surprising that Poltapov’s strong reputation at the start of the season wasn’t reflected in NHL Central Scouting’s lists of player ratings, because this kid’s a stud and it’s doubtful the Bolts don’t think the same.
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