From one draft straight into another…
Just 48 hours after the Expansion Draft is completed (and believe me, I have PLENTY of thoughts about that), the Seattle Kraken will join the 31 other NHL teams and participate in the 2021 Entry Draft. While a lot of the focus may be on how thin the draft class is this year compared to recent history, there can always be gems worth finding.
It’s also fair to note that this year, due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, was the most difficult to scout players from. The Ontario Hockey League was shut down for the season due to public health orders, resulting in many of the players playing professionally in Europe. The NCAA was forced into a bubble, and several universities were not able to play this season as a result of shutting down sports for the semester. It leads to a strange scouting environment, where talent has to be evaluated largely off of the eye test.
Regardless, the draft will still go as planned, headlined by two Michigan Wolverines: defenseman Owen Power and center Matt Beniers. This is especially relevant after the draft lottery favored the Kraken, as they are positioned to take the prospect Buffalo does not choose at number 1. Either way, they’ll be able to start out their NHL life with a potential franchise talent.
So how will tomorrow’s NHL draft unfold? Let’s give it a go.
1. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power, D, Michigan: After months of wondering which prospect would emerge as the top prospect in the class, Power has managed to become a near-unanimous decision. A great combination of size, skill, and hockey IQ, Power has all the makings of a top-pairing defenseman at the NHL level. Even if he does elect to stay at Michigan for another season, Buffalo likely won’t be concerned too much about it; it might be better for him to develop in college instead of sink-or-swim in Buffalo to start his career.
2. Seattle Kraken: Matt Beniers, C, Michigan: With a lack of true center depth from the expansion draft and news of likely top-line center Yanni Gourde needing shoulder surgery, the Kraken can’t miss the chance to take someone who can emerge as a top-line center for the next decade. A point-per-game player at Michigan, Beniers plays a solid two-way game and can play in multiple situations. It also helps he represented the United States at the World Hockey Championships and didn’t look out of place against NHL-level players, so add that as a bonus.
3. Anaheim Ducks: Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton (WHL): The Ducks finished dead-last in terms of offense again this past season, and that will have to change if the Ducks want to make any noise in the Pacific Division. Luckily for them, they’ll have a chance to take Guenther, an offensive dynamo who tore up the World Junior Championships and the shortened WHL season. A future top line of him, Trevor Zegras, and Maxime Comtois is a frightening thought.
4. New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes, D, U.S. NTDP: The third Hughes brother to enter the NHL, it will likely be too tempting to pass up a brother act of Luke and former first overall pick Jack. Very similar to fellow defenseman Quinn, Luke is largely considered a top prospect due to his strong two-way ability, skating, and hockey IQ. The X-factor regarding Hughes will be his size, as his 6’2″ frame could allow him to be more physical as he fills out and learns how to use his frame to his advantage. Add him to the growing stable of intriguing Devils defensive prospects.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda (SHL): Some of the centers remaining on the board could be in play, but I expect the Blue Jackets to land one of the top two defensemen remaining to replace Seth Jones quicker. A strong combination of size and mobility, Edvinsson has serious number 1 defenseman upside. There are a couple of technical issues to work out, but those tend to get exposed when you’re playing against grown men like Edvinsson is in Sweden. Expect further development to help him out before he comes to North America.
6. Detroit Red Wings: William Eklund, LW/C, Djurgardens (SHL): The pick here was once Jesper Wallstedt with a bullet, but a surprise trade for another young netminder in Alex Nedeljkovic has likely altered those plans. The good news is Detroit can stay in Sweden and draft the best player available in Eklund. A playmaker who really found his game this season in the Swedish Hockey League, Eklund’s speed and offensive ability should be perfect for Detroit to build around. He could pair nicely with a natural sniper such as Jakub Vrana or fellow number six overall pick Filip Zadina.
7. San Jose Sharks: Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL): Wallstedt’s slide only lasts one pick, and it’s to quite possibly the most goaltender-desperate team in the NHL. Despite trading for Adin Hill before Seattle could snatch him up in the Expansion Draft, the Sharks are in desperate need of a legitimate future franchise goaltender. Enter Wallstedt, who put up amazing numbers in the SHL and has been hailed as one of the top goaltender prospects in recent memory. It’s as easy a selection as it gets, at least beyond the first couple of picks.
8. Los Angeles Kings: Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie (OHL): With the Kings building up a strong group of forward prospects in recent years, the defense should be looked at in terms of adding another top prospect. Being the last of the top defensive prospects available, Clarke should be the choice here. Despite the OHL’s shutdown, Clarke turned some heads by playing professionally in the Czech Republic and putting up some impressive numbers. He’ll learn quite a bit from Drew Doughty before eventually taking his spot as the Kings’ defensive leader.
9. Vancouver Canucks: Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough (OHL): Another OHL prospect who impressed while playing in Europe, McTavish put up a near point-per-game pace in Switzerland this season. After another emergence at the World Juniors, a lot of people started to put more stock in McTavish, which would make this a dream selection for Jim Benning and the Canucks. An Elias Pettersson-McTavish-Bo Horvat trio would create an effective three-headed monster at center.
10: Ottawa Senators: Kent Johnson, C, Michigan: Make that three Wolverines in the top 10. The Senators have been using the college ranks to build a nice farm system and, in this mock, Johnson becomes the latest addition to that pipeline. A versatile, offensively-gifted forward, Johnson could become a key piece of Ottawa’s top nine in a year or two’s time.
11. Chicago Blackhawks: Cole Sillinger, C/LW, Sioux City (USHL): A second-generation prospect, Sillinger stands out as the most likely prospect to emerge outside of the top ten as a legitimate star at the NHL level. One of the best combinations of size and skill in the class, Sillinger lit up the USHL with 24 goals in 31 games. Even with Jonathan Toews returning, the Blackhawks should look at improving their center depth in this draft. Whether his NHL future is at center or on the left wing, however, could be of interest to some teams.
12. Calgary Flames: Chaz Lucius, C, U.S. NTDP: A knee injury destroyed Lucius’s chances of breaking into the top 10, but what matters is that he didn’t seem to lose anything as a result. Lucius was still a dominant force offensively, scoring a total of 26 goals and 38 points in a combined 25 games for the U.S. NTDP and the national World Juniors team. With the Flames having precious little elite prospects and Sean Monahan on the trade block if Calgary intends to blow up their core, the decision to add Lucius will bear fruit sooner rather than later.
13. Philadelphia Flyers: Brennan Othmann, LW/RW, Flint (OHL): The Flyers have a decent array of wings to choose from at this spot and, while there is merit to the likes of Fyodor Svechkov and Matthew Coronato here, Othmann is more of a natural fit to Philadelphia’s identity as a team. A hybrid of a sniper and power forward, Othmann is not afraid to throw the body around and be a physical presence in his own end, on top of his finishing ability on offense. He’d be someone to earmark as a future Claude Giroux replacement.
14. Dallas Stars: Matthew Coronato, LW/RW, Chicago (USHL): Similar to the Ducks drafting Guenther, the offensively-challenged Stars would be smart to take a prospect who showed he could score goals in bunches. While it’s unlikely Coronato matches his blistering scoring pace at the NHL level, even finishing with half of his 48 USHL regular season goals would be a great year in the big leagues. His toughness and scoring ability are very similar to Alexander Radulov, who the Stars could be looking to find a successor to in the near future.
15. New York Rangers: Fyodor Svechkov, C, Lada Togliatti (VHL): With the Rangers loading up on talented wings like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov, it’s time for them to start looking into improving their center depth. Svechkov was one of the class’s biggest risers throughout the season, with his value reaching its peak after a 10-point performance at the World Juniors. A largely defensive-minded center with some offensive touch, Svechkov would be a nice complementary piece for the middle six.
16. St. Louis Blues: Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL): Don’t be surprised if the Blues go after a wing such as Fabian Lysell or Nikita Chibrikov, especially if news surrounding Vladimir Tarasenko confirms a trade. While Lambos doesn’t have the top-tier upside of the four defensemen taken earlier, he did have an alright stint in Finland while the WHL was delayed, and there doesn’t seem to be many holes in his overall game. We’ll call it a high-floor pick for now.
17. Winnipeg Jets: Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL): The Jets have been long-maligned for their weaknesses on defense, especially on the right side after the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers left. Ceulemans would be a pick designed to be a long-term plan on defense, with his two-way game showing a bright future in the NHL. He could pair nicely with someone such as Logan Stanley or Ville Heinola in the near future, depending on what attribute the Jets covet more.
18. Nashville Predators: Isak Rosen, LW/RW, Leksands (SHL): At this point, we’re starting to reach the prospects where the scouting reports tend to vary a bit more. While the diminutive Rosen struggled in the SHL this season, he flashed his offensive upside at the World Juniors with a goal-per-game pace. With the Predators losing a consistent offensive piece in Calle Jarnkrok to Seattle, Nashville could get his replacement right here and give him a couple seasons of development time.
19. Edmonton Oilers: Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton (WHL): With Cossa’s selection here, this draft becomes the first since 2012 to have two goaltenders drafted in the first round (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Malcolm Subban). With the Oilers being forced to re-sign Mike Smith and little help coming from the pipeline, they might be willing to trade up if it means drafting their future franchise netminder. Coming off of two straight spectacular seasons in the WHL, Cossa has NHL-caliber size and technical ability. This mock would mean getting at least three games of Cossa vs Wallstedt in the near future, which should excite any hockey fans who value great goaltending.
20. Boston Bruins: Fabian Lysell, LW, Lulea (SHL): With no first round pick last year and a thin farm system, the Bruins would be wise to go best player available here. There are serious questions surrounding Lysell’s game, especially after a rough transition to the SHL, but there’s no denying his speed and explosiveness could translate well at the NHL level. With the talent the Bruins now have in their forward group, they can afford to give Lysell two or three seasons’ worth of development. Medium risk, potentially high reward.
21. Minnesota Wild: Nikita Chibrikov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL): The Wild have started their Russian invasion with Kirill Kaprizov, and it could continue with another KHL product in Chibrikov. His size is on the smaller side and there are questions about his play off the puck, but he has shown skill and the ability to produce points. The Wild would certainly be hoping that he can earn some trust in the KHL, a league notorious for limiting the minutes of younger, non-superstar players.
22. Detroit Red Wings (from Washington): Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga): With the Red Wings having already made a selection in the first round and needing a center to take Joe Veleno’s spot in their farm system, the Red Wings could decide to take the plunge on Raty. Once seen as a potential number 1 selection, a rough rookie season in Finland’s top league caused his stock to plummet. Scouts already know what his ceiling could be, and Steve Yzerman knows a thing or two about what makes a great center. If Raty can improve his game and emerge into anything at least close to the player he was presume to be at the start of the season, this is a slam dunk selection.
23. Florida Panthers: Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL): The Panthers sure love their two-way centermen; with Aleksander Barkov shedding the underrated label and Anton Lundell a top-six center in the making, Florida would be smart to create a three-headed monster and draft Bourgault. One of the more well-rounded forwards in the class, Bourgault showcased his ability to drive offensive play and the intelligence needed to make plays in all three zones. He’d become an immediate favorite of Joel Quenneville’s when he arrives in Sunrise.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Toronto): Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener (OHL): With the Jackets opting for a defenseman in round one, center has to be the selection here. While Pinelli is more of a jack-of-all-trades type of player, that’s not a bad thing to be at this stage of the draft. A playmaker who put up points in the OHL, professionally in Slovenia, and the World Juniors, Pinelli should develop into a solid middle-six center at the NHL level.
25. Minnesota Wild (from Pittsburgh): Daniil Chayka, D, Guelph (OHL): With Ryan Suter bought out and Carson Soucy now part of the Kraken, the Wild will need to get a few more bodies into their defensive corps. Chayka showed a lot of promise as a two-way defenseman in the OHL, but his time in Russia brought up some questions about his game. If he’s learned from playing against stronger competition and develops consistency, this pick could be one of the best ones in the draft.
26. Carolina Hurricanes: Jack Peart, D, Fargo (USHL): While the Hurricanes have a strong defense at the NHL level, Jake Bean’s graduation leaves their prospect system without a top defensive option for the future. The reigning Mr. Hockey as the best player in Minnesota’s high school ranks, Peart was able to transition seamlessly from there to the USHL. A St. Cloud State commit, the Hurricanes can monitor Peart’s progress and let him develop his two-way game. A good spot for one of the draft’s top sleepers.
27. Colorado Avalanche: Sasha Pastujov, LW/RW, U.S. NTDP: Regardless of Gabriel Landeskog’s status, the Avalanche’s lack of true impact prospects out on the wing should make that a point of emphasis with this pick. A Notre Dame commit, Pastujov led the U.S. NTDP in scoring with 30 goals and 65 points, showing great offensive skill to pair with his size and hockey IQ. His dynamic offense would give the Avalanche a nice helping of secondary scoring in the future, which could be the key to making good on their Cup window.
28. New Jersey Devils (from New York Islanders): Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea (SHL): The Devils have high-end talent at virtually every position, but they could use a grinding power forward to help tie it all together. Robertsson has the potential to be that for them, as he’s shown solid forechecking ability and has the size to play the role well. His scoring ability does have to improve against more mature competition, but he could be a fan favorite in New Jersey if he develops properly.
29. Vegas Golden Knights: Logan Stankoven, C/RW, Kamloops (WHL): A team in need of center depth and that can afford to add toughness on top of their skill. Sounds like a perfect fit for Stankoven, a small forward who’s not afraid to combine his speed and skill with physicality and ability to play in the rough areas. He’d be a good replacement for Jonathan Marchessault if he chooses not to re-sign after his contract expires in a couple years, and a good complement if he does.
30. Montreal Canadiens: Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL): With Phillip Danault likely on his way out of Montreal and the Canadiens running surprisingly thin on homegrown talent, they can land some good value with Bolduc. A strong two-way center, Bolduc has based his value on his impressive playmaking ability to go with plus speed and hockey IQ. While the center position is still safe with the emergence of Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, adding Bolduc into the middle six would be helpful.
31. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Tampa Bay): Zach Dean, C, Gatineau (QMJHL): The Blue Jackets elect to double down on centers by selecting Dean for more depth up the middle. Injuries plagued Dean’s draft year, but he’s already gaining a reputation as a pest and consistent net-front presence, both of which Columbus doesn’t really have at the moment. With skill in place, the Blue Jackets would certainly be hoping Dean’s physical style translates to some hard-fought victories.