The narrative surrounding the 2021 NHL Draft, lengthy earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic started, was that it could be a troublesome one to mission.
There was no participant that everybody needed to know earlier than the yr. There was not going to be a #FallinForDahlin, #LoseForHughes, or perhaps a #FailForNail tanking slogan. This was all the time going to be a draft by which there can be a year-long, thorough dialogue about who deserved to grow to be the 58th No. 1 decide in NHL Draft historical past.
Then the whole world got here to a halt, and issues grew to become even much less clear.
Seasons have been delayed, gamers started switching groups — and in some circumstances, nations — as a way to get ice and sport time. Scouts started combing via video from earlier seasons.
By the point 2021 started, many of the prime prospects accessible had discovered someplace to play and a top-eight started to type: the Michigan trio of Owen Energy, Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson; the Swedish trio of Jesper Wallstedt, Simon Edvinsson and Wiliam Eklund; the third Hughes brother in Luke; Barrie Colts’ starlet and HC Nove Zamky loanee Brandt Clarke.
In February, the Western Hockey League started their shortened season. Dylan Guenther added his identify after scoring 24 factors (12 objectives, 12 assists) in 12 video games. On the finish of April, the 2021 IIHF World Beneath-18 Championship came about in Frisco, Texas. With many eligibles enjoying in several nations at totally different ability ranges, the match was a way more acquainted manner for scouts to judge gamers. It additionally served as the one reside viewing NHL scouts received of this draft class. Mason McTavish, who had spent the season on mortgage within the second division of Switzerland, impressed many en path to serving to Canada win gold.
So, a closing top-10 has slowly taken type. There have been a wide range of opinions on who may go first total on July 23 amongst FCHockey scouts, with 5 gamers receiving first total votes. Past these 5 are 5 extra with an out of doors probability. Listed here are ten candidates who would not shock anybody if referred to as first total on July 23.
10 candidates for No. 1 at 2021 NHL Draft
Owen Energy, D, Michigan (NCAA)
FCHockey rank: 1
The 6-6, 214-pound Energy entered the yr as one of many favourites to go first total after two wonderful seasons with the Chicago Metal of the USA Hockey League. He sat atop many draft boards earlier than he hit the ice with the College of Michigan and all through the season proved he belonged there.
It took Energy little time to regulate to the school stage; he scored a aim and picked up two assists in his first sport vs. Arizona State. Though he didn’t proceed to attain at that tempo, he completed the season with a powerful 16 factors (three objectives, 13 assists) in 26 video games.
There are nonetheless some wrinkles he must iron out of his sport however Energy is a horny possibility at No. 1 resulting from his extremely versatile toolkit. He strikes exceptionally properly for his dimension, can create offence in a wide range of methods and could be deployed in all conditions. His multifaceted sport has resulted in comparisons to NHL stalwarts comparable to Victor Hedman and Alex Pietrangelo.
Energy hasn’t essentially proven the ability stage they did of their draft season, however he displayed the flexibility to log minutes and dictate play within the NCAA the best way they do now within the NHL. He performed a median of twenty-two minutes an evening and had an unbelievable even-strength goals-forward share of 70.45, per Pick224.
The No. 2-seeded Wolverines have been faraway from the NCAA Championship resulting from COVID-19 protocol, but Energy was nonetheless capable of end the season on a excessive notice. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and performed an enormous position on Canada’s staff that received gold on the 2021 IIHF Males’s World Championship in Latvia.
The frequent critique of Energy is that his upside isn’t as excessive as a few of the gamers on this checklist. Although he has progressed properly in any respect ranges to date, maybe there’s little room for him to develop.
“I’ve Energy ranked fifth on my private rankings solely as a result of I see rather more potential in 4 others,” famous FCHockey scout Dylan Krill. “Although he’s the higher participant proper now, that doesn’t mechanically imply he can be in three to 5 years, which is all the time a thought I’ve when evaluating.”
However, he’s additionally as ready-made as anybody on this draft. Energy has already proven the flexibility to take over video games towards males internationally and is actually bodily able to enjoying within the NHL. FCHockey scout Brandon Holmes sees these elements as the rationale he’s the most effective participant accessible this yr.
“Energy is the top-ranked participant on my board, and that’s because of the means I see in him as a whole 200-foot contributor,” mentioned Holmes. “His distinctive mix of dimension, mobility, and puck ability from the backend is almost unmatched on this draft class, and it’s my perception that he possesses the least difficult highway to changing into a star impression participant on the NHL stage.”
Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP (USHL)
FCHockey rank: 3
Similar to brothers Quinn and Jack earlier than him, Luke Hughes was the star of the 2021 United States Nationwide Crew Growth Program. He could not have the puck abilities of Jack, or the flexibility to stroll the blue line like Quinn, however Luke is the most important and, some say, the most effective skater of the trio.
His edgework and straight-line velocity are each elite, making him a zone entry and exit machine. That skating means, together with a 6-2, 184-pound body, provides him one of many highest ceilings within the draft. Hughes has produced very properly in any respect ranges to date and may sustain with any ahead within the class; nevertheless, it’s up within the air whether or not he tasks as a real offensive dynamo as he isn’t significantly dominant in his personal zone.
The truth that he’s such a uncooked expertise means he could possibly be a little bit of a mission for the staff that drafts him may see him fall out of that prime spot.
“I’m a bit decrease on Hughes as a result of his basis isn’t as full as others,” Krill mentioned. “Though I do imagine he has one of many highest potentials on this draft, I additionally acknowledge that he might need essentially the most room to develop to get to that potential.”
On the flip aspect, different scouts are of the philosophy that you need to draft the participant with the very best upside and belief your improvement system to get him there. Justin Froese, head of Western scouting at FCHockey, sees the third Hughes brother as the most effective participant accessible at No. 1.
“Out of the large 5 defenders on this class, I feel that he’s not solely the participant with the very best ceiling but additionally the most probably to get there and be a prime of the lineup impression participant,” Froese famous. “He’s received some high-end signature instruments with the arrogance to make use of them and the pathway to clean out his flaws isn’t insurmountable from my perspective.”
It’s price noting that Hughes is likely one of the youngest gamers accessible within the draft with loads of room develop into his body. For now, it is anybody’s guess the place Hughes goes within the 2021 draft; the Devils, dwelling of his brother Jack, decide fourth total and the Canucks, the place Quinn performs, go at No. 9.
MOCK DRAFT, FINAL EDITION: Sabres add Energy, Kraken make first decide and Hughes brothers unite
Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
FCHockey rank: 7
One other large defenseman, Edvinsson is far much less of a certain factor than Energy, which was mirrored amongst our scouts’ rankings. He was ranked as excessive as third and as little as twelfth.
Edvinsson is inconsistent in his means to impression video games and has areas severely in want of enchancment; nevertheless, by way of uncooked bodily means, he’s unmatched on this draft. There may be quite a lot of swagger to his sport. He tries performs nobody else on the ice is considering of. He’s cellular with and with out the puck and has nice attain and physicality in his defensive sport.
His “Jekyll and Hyde” sport was no higher exemplified than within the Beneath-18s, the place he began the match virtually unnoticeable in video games and dominated them because the match progressed to a detailed.
The Swedish defenseman has produced round a point-per-game all through his profession, besides this season which he break up between the Swedish Hockey League, Allsvenskan and J20 Nationell. He struggled to create offense and, consequently, fluctuated between the three ranges.
Whether or not a scout is excessive or low on Edvinsson is often decided by how a lot work they assume there’s to be carried out earlier than he can attain his peak within the NHL.
“I see quite a lot of the athleticism in addition to flashes of skating and ability that trigger many to hurry to comparables however I do have reservations,” Froese mentioned. “He’s a prototype, however I even have issues about his thought course of and ability software. There’s rather a lot to iron out and I merely choose different gamers extra close to the highest.”
Nevertheless, identical to with Hughes, some scouts simply drool over the thought of what Edvinsson may grow to be.
“Edvinsson is unquestionably a wildcard for the highest of this draft, however the upside is tantalizing. It is simply so uncommon to seek out defenders who can transfer across the ice and management the puck like he can; there are such a lot of ways in which he can affect play,” mentioned Derek Neumeier, head of video scouting at FCHockey. “Turnovers are an issue, however that is one thing that may be coached up over time, and his unbelievable vary permits him to get well simpler than others.”
It’s almost unattainable to foretell with certainty the place he can be taken.
It should virtually undoubtedly be within the first half of the primary spherical, however his touchdown spot will solely be primarily based on the assumption an NHL membership has in him. The Geese, at No. 3, and the Crimson Wings, at sixth total, have each boasted loads of picks from Sweden up to now. The Crimson Wings additionally picked defenseman Moritz Seider sixth total in 2019 — a mission which has turned out to be properly definitely worth the danger.
Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL)
FCHockey rank: 8
Three issues to know relating to Wallstedt: first, the final time a goaltender was taken within the top-10 of the draft was Carey Worth in 2006. Second, the final goalie to be picked first total was Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003. Third, 2021 could possibly be one other yr the place a shallow expertise pool ends in the most effective participant drafted being a goaltender, a la Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012.
Scouts are inclined to err on the aspect of warning with regards to drafting goalies, however these three goalies have been all beginning within the semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. Varlamov, the fourth starter, was a first-round decide (No. 23 total) in 2006. And Wallstedt has as spectacular of a resume as any of them did.
Earlier than his fifteenth birthday, Wallstedt grew to become the youngest participant to make his debut within the Swedish J20 SuperElit League. That season, he posted a 15-8-0 document and completed with the fourth-best save share and goals-against common. He was additionally named to Crew Sweden for the Beneath-18s, though he didn’t play on the match.
At age 16, he received bronze on the World Beneath-17 Problem and gold on the Beneath-18s. Final season, he made his SHL debut for Lulea on the age of 17. This yr, he took over the beginning position and posted higher than a .950 save share in six of his first 12 begins. Though he cooled off within the second half of the season, his numbers are nonetheless the most effective by an 18-year-old goalie in Sweden since Jacob Markstrom.
“Wallstedt already seems to be like an NHL goalie along with his model and mindset, and that is fairly distinctive for a youngster,” Neumeier mentioned. “He naturally takes up a ton of the online and is aware of find out how to play to his benefit, conserving power and staying sq. as a substitute of making an attempt to make dramatic saves. He additionally showcases unbelievable focus and psychological fortitude. He is been elite amongst his friends for years, and I anticipate that to proceed within the NHL.”
Those that aren’t as excessive on the goaltender have little to say concerning the downsides of his sport. As a substitute, they level in the direction of their skepticism in the direction of drafting goaltenders with a lottery decide.
“Relating to ranking Wallstedt in the direction of the tail finish of my private prime ten, it has extra to do with the gamers forward of him fairly than the participant himself,” Holmes mentioned. “He’s an extremely mature and clever netminder that performs his angles properly and makes use of his body properly with robust positioning, and I imagine he’s properly on his technique to changing into a prime goaltender on the NHL stage.
“Nevertheless, I have a tendency to offer the tiebreaker to skaters in my rankings, and I see extra impression means within the movement of an NHL hockey [game] in only a few gamers.”
Spencer Knight was chosen thirteenth total in 2019, and Yaroslav Askarov went at No. 11 in 2020. Some see Wallstedt as the most effective of the three. The Crimson Wings, Sharks, Senators and Blackhawks are all considered as potential touchdown spots, although all maintain picks outdoors of the highest 5. Wallstedt does, nevertheless, have the potential to make the most important impression on his NHL staff from this draft class.
NHL DRAFT ORDER: Full checklist of all 224 picks for Rounds 1-7
Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL)/HC Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
FCHockey rank: 2
Clarke completed the 2019-20 Ontario Hockey League season with 24 factors in his closing 24 video games. A training change in Barrie noticed the defenseman obtain extra utilization total, together with on the facility play. Because of this, he was named to the OHL All-Rookie Crew.
Little did he know he wouldn’t return to Barrie for over a yr because the league didn’t hit the ice in 2020-21 because of the pandemic.
The defenseman discovered a house with HC Nove Zamky, a staff within the prime division of Slovakian hockey, in December. He struggled to place up factors initially, however as soon as he settled into his new surroundings, the larger ice floor and the extent of competitors, the floodgates opened.
Clarke is a singular breed of participant, in playstyle and in look. He has an ungainly stance and performs a roving sport that isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Regardless of his quirks, Clarke has thrived at each stage of hockey that he’s performed. He was the No. 1 defenseman on one of many best minor midget groups ever, the ‘03 Don Mills Flyers, and broke GTHL information for factors by a defenseman. He was probably the greatest gamers on the 2019 Beneath-17 Problem and the highest blueliner on a Canadian staff that received gold on the 2021 Beneath-18s.
Similar to each defenseman on this checklist, Clarke might want to study higher defensive habits and find out how to use his dimension in puck battles. However in contrast to Energy, Hughes and Edvinsson, Clarke may even have to repair his skating mechanics and athletic stance. Because of this, there’s a important disparity amongst FCHockey scouts on the place to select him.
Froese admits there’s a lot to love concerning the Ottawa, Ont., product however is cautious whether or not he’ll attain the degrees he’s able to.
“I actually like what flashes I’ve seen from him, however there are purple flags to how he can translate his sport to an elite stage or if his skating will come together with enhancements to power and stability,” he mentioned. “He’s a bit enigmatic for me, though, I feel he nonetheless performs an offensive position. I merely choose different gamers’ projections to hit their upside compared to him.”
There have been some scouts who noticed Clarke as the highest participant within the draft, nevertheless.
Dylan Galloway, head of Japanese Scouting at FCHockey, defined that he thinks Clarke may find yourself the most effective of the bunch.
“With the puck on the stick, he’s dynamic, and may see the ice very well,” Galloway mentioned. “He must work on his defensive sport and his stride, however I feel he may succeed as a top-pairing offensive defenseman within the NHL.”
The range of opinion on Clarke at FCHockey is probably going mirrored amongst NHL groups, too. One has to surprise if some questions would’ve been answered over a full slate of OHL video games for Clarke and thus permitting for a extra full-bodied quantity of labor, too. Regardless, there could also be a staff that’s actually excessive on him and grabs him early. With the fourth total decide, New Jersey has a household reference to Clarke too — they drafted his brother, Graeme, in 2019.
Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
FCHockey rank: 6
It’s robust to understand how Guenther would have fared this yr had issues been regular. The Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League have been comfortably the most effective staff within the Central Division and, resulting from COVID-protocol, solely needed to play interdivisional video games. He regarded good on the Beneath-18s, but it surely wasn’t a dominating efficiency like some had anticipated pre-tournament.
That being mentioned, his CV remains to be nothing in need of spectacular. In bantam, he had 103 factors (56 objectives, 47 assists) in simply 30 video games. In his minor midget yr, he performed within the Canadian Sports activities Faculty U18 Hockey League and received Freshman of the Yr. He was second solely to Matthew Savoie in staff scoring as his staff received the league championship. His rookie numbers are solely matched by Nolan Patrick and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this millennium.
“Guenther is the closest to a five-tool participant within the draft and is such a well-rounded however prolific ability participant,” Froese mentioned. “He’s received so many layers to his offensive sport on and off the puck and thinks at a excessive stage already with that means to raise his play or match into any position. He’s a long-term top-six possibility for the staff who picks him.”
Some aren’t as assured in his upside. There are doubts about whether or not he could be greater than a passenger on a line within the NHL.
“Guenther I see as one of many strongest choices on the prime of this draft for a staff wanting so as to add goal-scoring punch to their staff this offseason, however I do harbour some reservations with regards to his placement within the prime 5,” Holmes famous.
“He’s a speedy and clever ahead who drives excessive hazard areas to attain objectives, however I’ve questioned his means to drive his personal line and create offence for the gamers round him presently.”
It’s laborious to mission the place the Edmonton, Alta., native will find yourself. It’s conceivable seeing him virtually anyplace within the top-10. He’s a participant each staff may use but when the groups selecting on the prime view his ceiling as decrease than the others on this checklist he could slip.
Kent Johnson, C, Michigan (NCAA)
FCHockey rank: 9
After shredding up the British Columbia Hockey League, scoring 101 factors (41 objectives, 60 assists) in simply 52 video games and being named the most effective ahead within the Canadian Junior Hockey League, Kent Johnson discovered success simply on the collegiate stage this yr.
Some have been skeptical if the middle was too small to compete towards males within the NCAA, however the 165-pound freshman proved it doesn’t matter how heavy you’re if they will’t catch you. He continued to make highlight-reel performs and completed second with 27 factors (9 objectives, 18 assists) in 26 video games for the Wolverines. A Hobey Baker nominee alongside Energy, he equally burst onto the scene in Michigan’s first sport towards Arizona State, establishing 4 objectives within the 8-1 opener.
The Canadian ahead’s sport is predicated round his elite puckhandling and ingenuity. He has been capable of create offense regardless of being undersized as a result of he simply thinks the sport quicker than his opponents.
“Johnson is shifty and artistic with the puck. He is likely one of the greatest puck handlers on this draft.,” Galloway mentioned. “His creativity and ingenuity with the puck on his stick ought to assist him adapt to the NHL the place house is rather more restricted. He may present some nice offence to a staff’s middle-six.”
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It’s much more troublesome to tug off high-level performs within the NHL and a few doubt whether or not his sport will translate on the subsequent stage if he doesn’t grow to be extra well-rounded.
“Johnson could be too fancy and get blinders on at occasions,” mentioned Josh Bell, a video scout with FCHockey. “He does want so as to add power and energy to his sport so as to add explosiveness and physicality to his arsenal.”
The centreman arguably owns the very best ceiling out of the trio of Michigan draft eligibles. He can do issues with the puck that Matthew Beniers and Energy won’t ever be able to. However drafting him yields a considerably larger danger. With so many defensemen on the prime of the draft, Johnson could get picked sooner than the 5-10 vary. Additionally it is vital to think about whether or not he’s considered as a real heart by the lottery groups.
Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)/EHC Olten (SL)
FCHockey rank: 10
If essentially the most promising 2021 draft-eligible from the OHL isn’t Clarke, it’s McTavish. He completed second to Shane Wright in rookie scoring in 2019-20 by posting an unbelievable 20 objectives in 57 video games.
Similar to Clarke, McTavish went on mortgage to Europe resulting from COVID restrictions in Ontario. After his 18th birthday in January, the burly pivot joined EHC Olten in Switzerland’s second-tier and performed in 17 video games. He picked up a powerful 18 factors (11 objectives, seven assists) and didn’t look misplaced amongst males.
His robust exhibiting in Switzerland drew the eye of many scouts, however McTavish’s draft inventory skyrocketed after his dominance on the Beneath-18s. He was named a prime three participant for Canada after scoring 11 factors (5 objectives, six assists) in seven video games.
“McTavish has a superb all-around skillset. His means to get into the high-danger areas and use his shot to generate offense is amongst the most effective on this class,” FCHockey video scout Auston Broad famous. “I feel he has a excessive ground and a excessive ceiling, and in just a few years we may look again and see him as the most effective ahead from this draft.”
The principle query surrounding McTavish’s projection is whether or not or not he’ll have the ability to make house for himself in a wide range of methods within the NHL. He has pro-level dimension however some are skeptical about his skating and puck abilities.
“There are quite a lot of various things to love about McTavish. He is a well-rounded participant, a tough competitor and a pure chief. He actually owned the U18 match. I do want he was a bit faster and a bit extra expert with the puck, nevertheless,” Neumeier mentioned. “He won’t be a middle or a top-line participant within the NHL, which places him a bit bit decrease on my order.”
Solely time will inform how far the 6-1, 207-pound heart rises up the draft boards. In October, NTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson went from a fringe first-rounder to No. 5. McTavish could possibly be the one to do it this yr.
Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (NCAA)
FCHockey rank: 4
The American-born Beniers is the participant with essentially the most consensus in rating from FCHockey scouts. Seven had him ranked third total, with votes for first, second and fifth as properly.
The rationale there’s little deviance in opinion on Beniers is due to how straightforward it’s to see him succeeding within the NHL. He has produced persistently in any respect ranges in his profession and offered a gentle defensive presence and work fee. Put merely: he performs essentially the most professional sport out of anybody within the draft.
Beniers slot in flawlessly with Michigan this season and made the B1G division All-Rookie staff. And if there was uncertainty about Beniers, it was eradicated on the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Because the youngest participant on Crew USA, he excelled because the staff’s second-line heart as they introduced dwelling gold.
The principle knock on Beniers, in addition to gamers of his ilk, is that the unbelievable effort stage he shows doesn’t all the time translate to success within the NHL. Simply because he by no means stops working, doesn’t imply he’ll have the ability to shut down the most effective gamers on the planet.
“He has quite a lot of qualities on and off the puck that groups will covet,” Froese began. “That being mentioned, I really like the power he brings however assume that he makes use of quite a lot of placeholder abilities that he can have points translating. I feel he’s a secure swing on the prime however merely assume others have extra room to develop into larger sneakers.”
That critique isn’t consultant of the widespread opinion on Beniers, nevertheless. Those that see him as a top-three decide assume he possesses each the hustle and the hockey sense to play a shutdown position on the web stage.
“I am unable to keep in mind the final time I’ve seen a ahead prospect be nearly as good defensively as Beniers is,” Neumeier mentioned. “He thinks the sport rapidly and may transfer across the ice rapidly, and he has an elite competitiveness and need to win.
“He isn’t flashy offensively proper now, however he exhibits glimpses that he may add extra of that, and on the very least he is a man who will contribute offense along with his sense and work fee.”
It’s straightforward to see Beniers being the primary choice within the historical past of the Seattle Kraken. He’s a pure heart and could possibly be the most secure decide with arguably the very best ground within the draft.
William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden (SHL)
FCHockey rank: 5
Eklund entered the season as one of many names to know from Sweden and now would be the Swede with the most effective probability of being drafted first total. The hype round him had by no means reached the peak of the hype surrounding his compatriots till this season. Centering a line with Alexander Holtz on Djurgarden, the 18-year-old had probably the greatest draft-eligible seasons within the SHL in latest historical past.
Though he was enjoying barely greater than NHL draft-eligibles usually do within the SHL, Eklund’s totals of 23 factors (11 objectives, 12 assists) in 40 video games may be very spectacular. It was additionally essentially the most by any U20 participant within the league — together with Holtz and fellow 2020 NHL draftee Lucas Raymond. He beat each out to be named Junior Participant of the Yr.
His stellar draft yr and pro-ready sport made him a close to consensus top-five decide at FCHockey the place scouts raved about his means to make performs with restricted time and house.
“I’ve Eklund as my No. 1 total on my private rankings as a result of, in my view, he brings essentially the most high-end instruments and basis, together with nice hockey sense and determination making, particularly underneath stress,” Krill mentioned. “He’s extremely artistic and likewise very accountable, making him a secure decide with a high-floor, with additionally high-upside.”
Fellow scout Joel Henderson additionally expressed his admiration for the Swede, commenting on his seamless transition to the SHL.
“Eklund brings plenty of high-end talents that make him tremendous adaptable,” Henderson mentioned. “He has elite velocity and puck management on zone entries, fast determination making and the fingers to facilitate, and the flexibility to one-time a shot backdoor. A particularly artistic and competent participant.”
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Kyle Watson is a author and producer at FCHockey.