Way-Too-Soon 2021 1st Round NHL Mock Draft
The 2021 NHL draft will open with Round 1 on Friday, July 23, followed by Rounds 2 through 7 on Saturday, July 24. With NHL training camps underway and the Jan. 13 start to the 2020-21 season fast approaching, it's a good opportunity to take an early look at this year's top prospects and where they might end up.
During a normal year, draft-eligible players in North America and Europe would be halfway through their respective regular seasons at this point. COVID-19, however, has adversely affected their schedules. Some leagues that have started play have seen their schedule affected by the pandemic, while others have yet to begin what will be shortened seasons.
That makes it difficult for NHL scouts to get a full assessment of how this year's top prospects are developing. Nevertheless, they'll continue to make their assessments as best they can.
With that in mind, here's our way-too-soon 2020 NHL mock draft. This list is based on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list. The draft positions for each club are based on NHL.com's most recent fantasy team power rankings (Oct. 20, 2020) compiled by Rob Reese. Stats (as of Jan. 4, 2021) via HockeyDB.com and Elite Hockey Prospects with additional info via TSN and Sportsnet.
The Arizona Coyotes are not included because they forfeited their 2021 first-round pick for violating combine testing policy prior to the 2020 draft. This year's draft also features the debut of the expansion Seattle Kraken.
1. Detroit Red Wings: Owen Power
Despite having the NHL's worst record, the Detroit Red Wings dropped to fourth overall in the 2020 draft lottery. The rebuilding Wings could finish at the bottom of the standings during this shortened season. Should the lottery balls drop in their favor this time, they could select defenseman Owen Power of the University of Michigan.
On Oct. 27, NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale reported the big blueliner was among three players from the University of Michigan to earn an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list. Morreale indicated the 18-year-old Power was 6'6" and 214 pounds, giving the youngster the size coveted by NHL scouts and coaches.
Power was the United States Hockey League's top defenseman in 2019-20, leading all USHL blueliners with 40 points in 45 games. Morreale cited NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory praising the youngster's mobility and hockey sense.
The Red Wings need more skill on their blue line. They already have a promising defenseman in their system in 2019 first-round pick Moritz Seider. Adding a big, skilled rearguard such as Power could give the Wings the makings of a formidable defense pairing for years to come.
2. Anaheim Ducks: Dylan Guenther
The Anaheim Ducks struggled at both ends of the ice last season. Their 2.56 goals per game average was the NHL's third-lowest last season. Addressing that need over the long term could be a priority. Left winger Dylan Guenther of the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Oil Kings could be in their sights at this year's draft.
Guenther, 17, enjoyed a solid rookie campaign in the WHL last season. He led the Oil Kings with 26 goals and finished third with 59 points in 58 games. The youngster was also named winner of the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Rookie of the Year.
At 6'1" and 170 pounds, Guenther has the frame to develop into a solid top-six NHL winger. He's a skillful offensive forward with very good play-making abilities.
Guenther could become one of this year's top-10 prospects if he develops as projected despite a limited WHL season. His offensive talent could make him too good for the Ducks to pass up.
3. Seattle Kraken: Kent Johnson
This year's draft will be the first by the expansion Seattle Kraken. On Dec. 4, 2020, Ryan Kennedy of SI.com/The Hockey News reported the Kraken were given the third-best odds in the 2021 NHL draft lottery. Assuming they don't finish lower in the lottery, they could use the No. 3 pick to select University of Michigan center Kent Johnson.
A native of Port Moody, British Columbia, the 18-year-old Johnson could be a natural fit in Seattle. The young center enjoyed a 101-point performance last season with the British Columbia Hockey League's Trail Smoke Eaters. He's having a solid debut in the NCAA, with 10 points in as many games.
The 6'1", 163-pound Johnson earned praise from NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory. He called Johnson "an elite point producer," commending the youngster's pace and skill with the puck. "He's going to score a lot of goals," Gregory said.
Landing a potential high-scoring center such as Johnson in the 2021 draft could give the Kraken a future superstar. He could become a player to build around down the road when many of their expansion draft players have moved on.
4. New Jersey Devils: Brandt Clarke
Once renowned for their blue-line strength, the New Jersey Devils have struggled in that department in recent years. Their 3.25 goals-against per game last season was among the NHL's worst. Perhaps Brandt Clarke of the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts can help address that issue over the long term.
A right-shot defenseman, the 17-year-old Clarke enjoyed a solid rookie performance last season, tallying 38 points in 57 games with the Colts. With the OHL still shut down by COVID-19, he was loaned to Slovakia's Nove Zamky Mikron HC.
At 6'1" and 181 pounds, Clarke already has the frame of a future NHL defenseman. TSN's Bob McKenzie has Brandt at No. 5 on his early ranking of the top 2021 prospects, singling out his skill at both ends of the ice.
The Devils could be seeking long-term depth on the right side of their blue line with 31-year-old P.K. Subban's contract expiring in 2022. Brandt could have the skills to replace Subban in a few years.
5. Ottawa Senators: Matthew Beniers
The Ottawa Senators are loaded with promising young forwards and defensemen. However, they could still use additional skilled depth at center. Matthew Beniers of the University of Michigan could be on their radar.
Beniers, 18, is off to a terrific start in his freshman year of college hockey, netting six points in eight games. The 6'1", 174-pounder is also playing well for the United States at the 2021 World Junior Championship.
Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, singled out Beniers during an Oct. 27 interview with NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale. "He has the skills and the smarts, but it's his intangibles with his compete and how he gets things done and makes things happen that makes him so appealing," Marr said.
A talented two-way center with a strong work ethic. Beniers could have the makings of a future winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy. He could prove irresistible to the rebuilding Senators.
6. Los Angeles Kings: Carson Lambos
The rebuilding Los Angeles Kings are loaded with promising young talent such as Alex Turcotte, Gabriel Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari and Arthur Kaliyev. Defenseman Carson Lambos of the WHL's Winnipeg Ice could join their ranks in this year's draft.
Already 6'1" and 200 pounds, the 17-year-old Lambos has the size coveted by NHL scouts. A left-hand shot, he also brings plenty of skill, tallying 32 points in 57 games as a WHL rookie last season.
Craig Button, TSN's director of scouting, praised Lambos' skating and two-way play. While his colleague Bob McKenzie ranked the young defenseman 17th among their top 20 prospects, Elite Hockey Prospects indicates other hockey scouting sites have Lambos among the top five.
Lambos' size and hockey skills could turn into an NHL blue-line gem. With an eye on the future, the Kings could consider him a worthwhile addition to their defense corps.
7. Minnesota Wild: Aatu Raty
Lack of quality centers, especially on the first line, is an ongoing issue for the Minnesota Wild. They've already started building up their prospect center depth by selecting Marco Rossi and Marat Khusnutdinov in the 2020 NHL draft. They could continue the process by selecting Aatu Raty of Karpat in Finland.
A top-10 prospect on a number of scouting sites, Raty is struggling a bit early in this season, as TSN's Bob McKenzie pointed out. He failed to make the cut with Finland in this year's World Junior Championship following a solid outing at last year's tournament.
Nevertheless, Raty could bounce back as this season progresses. McKenzie's colleague Craig Button cited the 18-year-old's two-way play, speed and puck-handling skills among his notable assets.
McKenzie reported some scouts believe Raty has the ability to become a No. 2 NHL center. If his performance improves over the course of the season, perhaps the Wild will take a chance on him.
8. San Jose Sharks: Simon Edvinsson
The San Jose Sharks selected forwards with their nine picks in the 2020 NHL draft. They'll likely put more focus on defensemen in this year's draft. Among the best is Simon Edvinsson of Frolunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League.
Edvinsson, 17, is a big, puck-moving blueliner. The 6'4", 185-pounder has flourished at every level thus far in his young career.
TSN's Bob McKenzie ranked Edvinsson No. 2 among their top prospects of 2021. McKenzie and Craig Button praised his skills while projecting the young Swede as a potential top-pair defenseman.
With aging stars Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic patrolling their blue line, the Sharks must replenish their pipeline of defense prospects. Edvinsson could be a key piece in their eventual rebuild.
9. Florida Panthers: Luke Hughes
The Florida Panthers have several promising prospects within their system such as forwards Owen Tippett, Anton Lundell and Grigori Denisenko and goaltender Spencer Knight. However, they could use someone like Luke Hughes of the United States National Team Development Program to provide some defensive depth in their prospect pipeline.
If the last name is familiar, it's because Hughes' older brothers are Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes. Luke, 17, is showing potential with the USA NTDP. The 6'2", 176-pounder had 13 points in 28 games during his rookie campaign in 2019-20 and seven points in six games this season.
Already taller than his two brothers, Hughes has the potential of joining them in the NHL. David Gregory, the league's Central Scouting senior manager, praised his skills and poise. He also pointed out Luke has the same quickness as his brothers.
Hughes' size and hockey pedigree will draw plenty of attention in this year's draft. The Panthers could be among the clubs keeping tabs on his progress. He could be a terrific future addition to their defense corps.
10. Chicago Blackhawks: Jesper Wallstedt
A lack of skilled goaltending depth is among the reasons the Chicago Blackhawks could wind up with a top-10 pick in this year's draft. They might wish to give serious consideration to selecting Jesper Wallstedt of Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League.
At 6'3" and 214 pounds, the 17-year-old Wallstedt is a big-bodied goaltender. He's won six of nine starts with Lulea this season with a 2.06 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr considers Wallstedt a "difference-maker," comparing him to Yaroslav Askarov, who was selected 11th overall last year by the Nashville Predators. He praised the young Swede's skills, reflexes and athleticism.
With longtime starter Corey Crawford signing with New Jersey last fall, the Blackhawks lack a potential franchise goalie. Wallstedt isn't ready yet to have an immediate impact with the Blackhawks, but he has the abilities to become an important part of their long-term future.
11. Nashville Predators: Mason McTavish
Secondary scoring and depth at center have been an issue with the Nashville Predators in recent years. They might be able to address both needs down the road by selecting Mason McTavish of the OHL's Peterborough Petes.
At 6'1" and 196 pounds, the 17-year-old McTavish has the frame to become an NHL center. He made a good first impression with the Petes last season, finishing third with 29 goals and sixth with 42 points.
TSN's Bob McKenzie ranked McTavish ninth among his top 20 prospects for 2021. McKenzie called him a "shoot-first goal-scorer," while Craig Button considers the youngster one of the best scorers in this draft.
A high-scoring forward is something the Predators could use, especially on their popgun power play. They could give McTavish serious consideration.
12. New York Islanders: Fabian Lysell
Scoring goals was an issue for the New York Islanders over the past two seasons, especially on the right-wing position. While they have Oliver Wahlstrom in their system, adding Lulea HF right winger Fabian Lysell of the Swedish Hockey League could provide another measure of promising depth at that position.
Lysell, who turns 18 on Jan. 19, is 12th on TSN's Bob McKenzie's list of top 20 prospects. Elite Prospects, however, cites several other scouting sites listing the 5'11", 176-pounder among their top 10.
McKenzie's colleague Craig Button calls Lysell a "very gifted offensive player" with a deft touch around the net and quick-strike ability. He had 13 points in 11 games with Frolunda HC J20 this season.
The Isles must look ahead for eventual replacements for veteran right wings Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey. Lysell could be a solid addition to their ranks.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets: Chaz Lucius
Depth at the center position has plagued the Columbus Blue Jackets for some time. ESPN.com's Chris Peters' ranking of their top prospects suggests they're also lacking quality centers within their system. Adding someone such as Chaz Lucius of the US NTDP could provide a welcome boost.
Lucius, 17, tallied 31 goals and 50 points in 46 games last season with the U.S. National Under-17 team. The 6'0", 172-pound center sits 11th among TSN analyst Bob McKenzie's top 20 prospects for 2021.
TSN's Craig Button praised Lucius' offensive abilities, pointing out his ability to score in multiple ways: "Smart offensive player who takes advantage when he gets a chance."
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Max Domi and Mikko Koivu are currently among the Blue Jackets' centers this season. With trade whispers swirling about Dubois, the 37-year-old Koivu on his last legs and the Jackets ranking among last season's lowest-scoring teams, they could need a prospect such as Lucius in a few years.
14. Calgary Flames: William Eklund
The Calgary Flames suffered a surprising decline in goal production last season, finishing 20th with a 2.91 goals-for per-game average. This could be a one-season aberration or perhaps a more troubling sign. A promising young left winger such as Djurgardens IF's William Eklund of the Swedish Hockey League could provide a long-term solution.
A skillful offensive forward who can skate at center or left wing, the 18-year-old Eklund is enjoying a solid performance in his second season with Djurgardens IF. After managing just two points in 20 games last campaign, he has seven goals and 14 points in 22 contests this season.
TSN's Bob McKenzie has the 5'10", 172-pound Eklund listed at No. 6 on his early rankings of the top 2021 prospects. Craig Button praised the young Swede's skills, competitive nature and hockey smarts.
The Flames have considerable depth at left wing in Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane. Gaudreau, however, is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022, and the Flames could need an eventual replacement for Johnny Hockey.
Eklund has the potential to become an NHL scoring star.
15. Buffalo Sabres: Zachary Bolduc
The Buffalo Sabres possess a genuine superstar at center in Jack Eichel. Beyond him, however, their long-term depth at the position appears thin. It could prove useful to select a center such as Zachary Bolduc of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Rimouski Oceanic.
Bolduc, who turns 18 on Feb. 24, enjoyed a fine rookie debut in the QMJHL last season. He finished third on the Oceanic with 30 goals, just five behind teammate Alexis Lafreniere, who was selected first overall in the 2020 draft by the New York Rangers. Bolduc has three goals and four points in seven games this season.
On Oct. 27, NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale included the 6'1", 174-pound Bolduc among the top prospects to watch this season. TSN's Bob McKenzie ranked him 15th on his early rating of this year's top prospects, and colleague Craig Button singled out his offensive skills, speed and hockey smarts.
The Sabres have promising Dylan Cozens hoping to crack their roster this season. Nevertheless, it could be worthwhile to further boost their offensive potential at the center position with someone such as Bolduc.
16. Philadelphia Flyers: Zachary L'Heureux
The Philadelphia Flyers have two respected veteran left wingers in Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk on their roster. However, the club will reach a point within the next several years at which it'll have to replace them. Zachary L'Heureux of the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads could be a good option.
L'Heureuex enjoyed a promising QMJHL debut in 2019-20. As a 16-year-old rookie, he tallied 20 goals and 53 points in 55 games with the Moncton Wildcats, finishing fifth in team scoring. He got off to a good start with his new club in Halifax, netting seven goals and 13 points in 12 contests.
Ranked 18th on TSN's Bob McKenzie's early listing of 2021's top prospects, L'Heureux's style of play drew praise from analyst Craig Button. The 5'11", 196-pounder plays with an edge and is a tough competitor.
With Giroux and van Riemsdyk in their early 30s, the Flyers must keep an eye out for potential successors. Joel Farabee, their first-round pick in 2018, has already cracked the lineup with his speed and two-way play. L'Heureux could bring a good mix of offense and muscle.
17. Carolina Hurricanes: Xavier Bourgault
The Hurricanes' need for reliable depth at center saw them acquire Vincent Trocheck from the Florida Panthers last season. They also have promising Seth Jarvis waiting in the wings. Nevertheless, they could be tempted to select Xavier Bourgault of the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes.
As a sophomore in 2019-20, Bourgeault tied with Dallas Stars prospect Mavrick Bourque as the Cataractes' leading scorer with 71 points in 63 games. The 18-year-old center is their scoring leader this season with seven goals and 12 points in 10 contests.
Bourgeault drew praise in October from Dan Marr, the NHL's director of central scouting. He considers the young center a dynamic offensive player.
"Every time he's on the ice, he's a scoring threat when the puck is on his stick," Marr said.
The Hurricanes have a first-line superstar in center Sebastian Aho, but it remains to be seen if Trocheck can regain his scoring touch after two injury-filled seasons. Third-line center Jordan Staal is now 32 and becomes a free agent in 2023.
Adding Bourgeault with Jarvis could give the Hurricanes a solid future at the center position.
18. Winnipeg Jets: Corson Ceulemans
The Winnipeg Jets still need to restock their depleted defense corps. While they have some promising prospects in Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg, Corson Ceulemans of the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Brooks Bandits could be an intriguing fit.
Only 17, Ceulemans is already 6'2" and tips the scales at a solid 196 pounds. The big-bodied blueliner possesses considerable offensive skill, netting 35 points over 44 games in 2019-20 and five points in two games this season.
Ceulemans has committed to playing for the University of Wisconsin next season. On Nov. 7, TSN's Craig Button listed the big right-shot rearguard No. 4 on his ranking of the 2021 draft class, citing his skills, poise and understanding of the game in all situations.
The Jets need more size and skill on the right side of their blue line. Ceulemans won't provide immediate help but could become a promising part of their defense corps in a few years.
19. Montreal Canadiens: Roman Schmidt
The Montreal Canadiens have spent the past several years retooling their lineup with young talent. They have a promising Russian defenseman in Alexander Romanov who's poised to crack the roster this season and 2020 first-round pick Kaiden Guhle among their top prospects. If they wish to add more size and grit to their blue line, they could check out Roman Schmidt of the USA NTDP.
At 17 years old, Schmidt already stands a towering 6'5" and weighs 205 pounds. He had 11 points in 29 games last season and has two points over five games in 2020-21.
In his Oct. 22 NHL draft watch list, Ryan Kennedy of SI.com included Schmidt among his top USA NTDP prospects. He's also among the 31 A-rating candidates on the NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list of players to watch.
On Nov. 27, Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino had Schmidt at No. 13 on his early ranking of this year's top prospects. He singled out the big blueliner's skating ability and willingness to engage in physical play. Those attributes could provide the Canadiens with a big defensive presence in a few years' time.
20. Vancouver Canucks: Daniil Chayka
Led by Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat, the Vancouver Canucks have a considerable number of talented young stars. However, their defense corps remains an area of concern. That could put them on the lookout for a quality blue-line prospect such as Daniil Chayka of the OHL's Guelph Storm.
A Russian defenseman, Chayka opted to play his junior hockey in Canada. The 6'3", 185-pounder had 34 points in 56 games as a sophomore with the Storm last season. With the OHL yet to begin its season, he was loaned to the KHL's CSKA Moscow, where he saw action in seven games against professional players. He also played for Russia at the 2021 World Junior Championship.
The 18-year-old Chayka is among the A-rated skaters on NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale's list of Central Scouting's players to watch. TSN's Bob McKenzie ranked him 13th on his early list of this year's top prospects, and Craig Button praised the big Russian's skating, skill and confidence.
With veteran Alexander Edler nearing the end of his career and oft-injured Olli Juolevi struggling to make his NHL debut, the Canucks need more long-term depth on the left side of their blue line. Chayka could help address that issue.
21. Minnesota Wild (via Pittsburgh Penguins): Cole Sillinger
The Pittsburgh Penguins are ranked 11th in the NHL.com's Oct. 20 fantasy team power rankings. However, their first-round pick in this year's draft belongs to the Minnesota Wild. Forward Cole Sillinger of the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers could be a worthwhile addition to a Wild club in need of long-term scoring punch.
Son of former NHL center Mike Sillinger, Cole enjoyed a promising debut with the Tigers in 2019-20. Only 16 years old last season, he finished fourth among their leading scorers with 22 goals and 53 points in 48 games.
Elite Prospects indicates Sillinger, 17, is ranked between 12th and 20th by various scouting sites. They've also listed him as a center, but NHL Central Scouting has him skating at left wing.
TSN's Craig Button took note of Sillinger's hockey smarts, substance and skill. The youngster would make a second good addition in this year's draft for the Wild if they attempt to build up their long-term forward depth.
22. Edmonton Oilers: Simon Robertsson
The Edmonton Oilers have sought a scoring right winger for some time. Jesse Puljujarvi was selected in 2016's opening round to address that issue, but he's struggled to establish himself in the NHL. That could push the Oilers toward Skelleftea AIK winger Simon Robertsson of the Swedish Hockey League.
Robertsson, 17, has decent size at 6'0" and 181 pounds. He's tallied nine goals and 20 points in 15 games this season with the Skelleftea AIK J20 team and appeared in 11 games with the parent club.
Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino has Robertsson sitting 17th among his ranking of this year's top 32 prospects, calling the young Swede a power forward who can score. Dobber Prospects lists him 15th in their rankings, praising his shot and offensive power.
It could take Robertsson at least a couple of seasons until he's ready for a shot at the NHL. Nevertheless, he has skills that could see him blossom into that elusive right-wing scorer the Oilers have been seeking.
23. St. Louis Blues: Sasha Pastujov
The retirement of Alexander Steen and the ongoing shoulder injuries plaguing sniper Vladimir Tarasenko leave the St. Louis Blues looking a little thin on the wings. While they'll get short-term help this season by adding veteran Mike Hoffman, they might want to consider selecting right winger Sasha Pastujov of the USA NTDP as a long-term option.
Another winger with a projectable frame at 6'0" and 174 pounds, Pastujov tallied 26 points over 29 games in 2019-20 with the U.S. National Under-17 Team. In his first season with the National Development Team, he's tallied six goals and eight points in just four contests.
Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino has the 17-year-old Pastujov listed 18th on his early ranking of this year's top 32 prospects. He praised the youngster's "dual threat ability," referring to his playmaking abilities and big shot.
Given Steen's departure and the uncertainty over Tarasenko's future, the Blues could need a big-time scorer in a few years. They have promising youngsters in Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou already in the lineup. Adding Pastujov could provide an additional measure of scoring punch down the road.
24. Dallas Stars: Francesco Pinelli
With the production of veteran forwards Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Joe Pavelski in decline, the Dallas Stars must transition toward younger talent. They've started the process with Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. Center Francesco Pinelli of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers could also be a good fit.
Pinelli had a promising OHL debut last season, tallying 41 points in 59 games to finish eighth among the Rangers' leading scorers. The 6'0, 176-pounder is a versatile left-shot forward who can play center or on the wing.
Ranked 21st in Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino's early listing of this year's top prospects, the 17-year-old Pinelli is considered to have a "great blend of skill and will." He has the ability to become an effective top-six NHL forward.
It'll be a few years before Pinelli could be NHL-ready. By that point, Dallas will need full-time replacements for its aging stars. Pinelli's versatility and abilities could make him a good fit.
25. Washington Capitals: Samu Tuomaala
After several seasons among the NHL's elite clubs, the Washington Capitals have an aging core. With superstars such as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in their mid-30s, the Caps are building their prospect depth. Right winger Samu Tuomaala of Karpat in Finland could be a worthwhile addition.
A smallish forward by NHL standards at 5'10" and 165 pounds, Tuomaala has shown potential at every level with Karpat's development teams. He has 13 points in 15 games with their under-20 club this season as well as four games with the parent club.
Various scouting sites have Tuomaala ranked between 15th and 33rd among this year's top prospects. Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino put him 20th on his list, praising his ability to work well in limited space and his quick release.
Washington has a couple of promising young forwards in its system in Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre. Tuomaala could join them to form perhaps the next wave of Capitals stars.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs: Artyom Grushnikov
Defense remains the Achilles heel of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They've attempted to address the issue in recent years with trades and free-agent signings, but their prospect pipeline hasn't produced a blue-chip rearguard since Morgan Rielly in the 2012 draft. One option this year could be Artyom Grushnikov of the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.
A Russian who is expected to debut with the Bulldogs this season, the 17-year-old Grushnikov performed well for CSKA Moscow's development teams. He's 6'2" and 174 pounds but should fill out his frame over the next couple of years.
Several scouting sites list Grushnikov as a second-round prospect. NHL Central Scouting, however, counts him among its A-rating prospects in the preliminary index of players to watch this season. Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino lists him 27th in his early ranking of the top prospects, noting he "excels as a pass-first defenceman who is simple but effective in the offensive zone."
Should the Leafs finish among the top teams in the league, they'll find the pickings slim for A-rating defensemen. They should consider Grushnikov if he's still available.
27. Boston Bruins: Ryder Korczak
The Boston Bruins still see themselves as a Stanley Cup contender, but they need to start looking toward the future and finding suitable replacements for their aging core. A good place to start could be with center Ryder Korczak of the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors.
Korczak netted just 15 points in 50 games as a WHL rookie in 2018-19 with the Calgary Hitmen. Traded to the Warriors, he blossomed in his sophomore season, tallying a team-leading 67 points in 62 games.
The 18-year-old Korczak has a small frame by NHL standards at 5'10" and 167 pounds. He's a talented playmaking center with good hockey smarts, however. He's ranked 22nd in Sportsnet's first edition of its prospect rankings for 2021.
With longtime centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in their mid-30s, the Bruins must waste no time seeking suitable long-term replacements. If they finish among the league's top 10 clubs this season, Korczak could be among the few A-rating centers available to them.
28. New York Rangers: Fyodor Svechkov
The New York Rangers hit the jackpot last year by winning the 2020 draft lottery and selecting top prospect Alexis Lafreniere with the first pick. Unless they tumble in the standings this season, they're unlikely to land a top-10 pick. Nevertheless, they could find a quality prospect in Fyodor Svechkov of Russia's Ladia Togliatti.
Svechkov, 17, has decent size at 6'0" and 179 pounds. He has put up good numbers with Lada Togliatti's development teams and has shown offensive instincts and moves the puck well.
Several scouting sites show Svechkov as a potential second-round prospect. However, he's among NHL Central Scouting's A-rating players on the preliminary list.
The Rangers are loaded with promising talent at every position on their roster except center. ESPN.com's Chris Peters indicated they have several center prospects in their pipeline, but it wouldn't hurt to bring in another one.
29. Tampa Bay Lightning: Conner Roulette
ESPN.com's Chris Peters indicated the Tampa Bay Lightning need to replenish their prospect cupboard after trading some prospects to build their championship roster. With their first-round pick in this year's draft, they could consider a winger such as Conner Roulette of the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds.
Roulette enjoyed a respectable WHL debut with Seattle last season. As a 16-year-old, he tallied 19 goals and 39 points in 54 games, finishing third among the Thunderbirds' goal scorers and tied for third in points.
The Lightning must restock their prospect depth at every position. Considering how few A-rating prospects could be available to them in the draft, Roulette could be a worthwhile choice if he's still available.
30. Vegas Golden Knights: Matthew Samoskevich
A potential Stanley Cup contender this season, the Vegas Golden Knights are in win-now mode. Still, they must keep an eye on their long-term future as they continue to transition from their expansion roster toward more homegrown talent. Their options could include right winger Matthew Samoskevich of the Chicago Steel in the United States Hockey League.
Samoskevich enjoyed a solid rookie campaign in 2019-20. He netted 13 goals and 34 points in 47 games, finishing among the team's top 10 scorers. The 18-year-old is off to a good start, sitting fourth in team scoring with 21 points in 15 contests.
At 5'11" and 189 pounds, Samoskevich has a sturdy frame. He possesses good speed and excellent playmaking skills.
The Golden Knights have shown a willingness to wheel and deal and spend near the salary cap to ice a contender. At some point, however, they'll have to introduce more affordable young talent. A prospect such as Samoskevich could be among them.
31. Colorado Avalanche: Vladimir Sychyov
The Colorado Avalanche have done a fine job in recent years building a Stanley Cup contender through shrewd trades and quality draft picks. Success, however, means they'll be selecting toward the bottom of the opening round in this year's draft. There will still be some quality prospects available, such as left winger Vladimir Sychyov of Russia's SKA-Varyagi.
Sychyov is a small forward at 5'10" and 154 pounds, but he's shown potential as a goal scorer at every level.
The 17-year-old Sychyov isn't listed among the top 50 players on prospect lists. NHL Central Scouting, however, was impressed enough with his skills to include him among its A-rating prospects.
With their Stanley Cup window open and their deep roster, the Avalanche don't have to select a prospect who can make an immediate impact. They can instead find talents such as Sychyov and take their time preparing them for the NHL.