Each summer, a wave of young talent enters the NHL via the draft. And while this year's event isn't set to commence until July 23, it's not too early to start thinking about when top prospects could be coming off the board.
That's especially the case for the teams that won't be heading to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Seattle Kraken, who will be entering the league as an expansion franchise for the 2021-22 season.
While some prospects take years to develop enough to make an impact in the NHL, some quickly become contributors. For example, Alexis Lafreniere, last year's No. 1 overall pick, played all 56 games for the New York Rangers this season, tallying 12 goals and nine assists. There will be both types of prospects in this year's draft class.
Here's a look at how the first round of the draft could unfold. The order shown is courtesy of Tankathon's projections and will change following the draft lottery.
1st-Round Mock Draft
1. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power, D, Michigan
2. Anaheim Ducks: Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan
3. Seattle Kraken: Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda (SHL)
4. New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes, D, USA Hockey NTDP
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton (WHL)
6. Detroit Red Wings: Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea HF (SHL)
7. Vancouver Canucks: William Eklund, C/LW, Djurgardens (SHL)
8. San Jose Sharks: Kent Johnson, C, Michigan
9. Los Angeles Kings: Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie (OHL)
10. Ottawa Senators: Fabian Lysell, LW/RW, Frolunda J20 (SuperElit)
11. Calgary Flames: Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (SM-Liiga)
12. Arizona Coyotes: n/a (pick forfeited because of combine testing violations)
13. Chicago Blackhawks: Chaz Lucius, C, USA Hockey NTDP
14. Philadelphia Flyers: Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL)
15. Dallas Stars: Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough (OHL)
16. New York Rangers: Cole Sillinger, C/LW, Medicine Hat (WHL)
17. Montreal Canadiens: Zachary L'Heureux, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
18. Winnipeg Jets: Stanislav Svozil, D, HC Kometa Brno (CZE)
19. St. Louis Blues: Matt Coronato, LW/RW, Chicago (USHL)
20. Nashville Predators: Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
21. New Jersey Devils (via New York Islanders): Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea J20 (SuperElit)
22. Boston Bruins: Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint (OHL)
23. Edmonton Oilers: Oskar Olausson, LW/RW, HV71 (SHL)
24. Minnesota Wild: Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (via Tampa Bay Lightning): Daniil Chayka, D, Moskva (KHL)
26. Detroit Red Wings (via Washington Capitals): Sasha Pastujov, LW, USA Hockey NTDP
27. Florida Panthers: Isak Rosen, LW, Leksands IF J20 (SuperElit)
28. Vegas Golden Knights: Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL)
29. Minnesota Wild (via Pittsburgh Penguins): Nikita Chibrikov, RW, SKA St. Petersburgh (MHL)
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (via Toronto Maple Leafs): Samu Tuomaala, C/LW, Karpat (SM-Liiga)
31. Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton (WHL)
32. Colorado Avalanche: Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
Could a pair of Michigan players go back-to-back with the first two picks of the NHL draft? That will depend on which teams end up with those selections. But it's a strong possibility. Owen Power and Matthew Beniers are both exciting players who have the potential to excel at the professional level.
Power has spent only one season with the Wolverines, and he's already showcased what makes him the No. 1 prospect in many draft rankings at this point. The 18-year-old is 6'5" and 214 pounds and has the talent to dominate games on the defensive end.
In 26 games in his debut season at Michigan, Power had three goals and 13 assists while posting a plus/minus rating of plus-20. He was named to the All-Big Ten second team and the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
"Power is a viable number one in this draft class—a physical behemoth with a diverse and mature game," Ryan Wagman of McKeen's Hockey recently wrote.
If the Sabres end up with the No. 1 overall pick, it's hard to imagine they would pass up Power in favor of another prospect. He could become a defensive leader for them on the ice, and he's likely the player with the highest potential in this class.
But Beniers is another strong Michigan player who could be in consideration at the top spot. And if he doesn't go No. 1 overall, he will likely come off the board shortly thereafter.
Like Power, Beniers was a freshman for the Wolverines this season, and he quickly flashed his potential. The 18-year-old center had 10 goals and 14 assists in 24 games, and he had a plus/minus rating of plus-21. Two of his goals were game-winners for Michigan.
There are several other strong offensive players at the top of this class, but numerous defensemen could be drafted before any of them come off the board. In addition to Power, Simon Edvinsson, Luke Hughes and Brandt Clarke are all potential top-five picks.
As the coronavirus pandemic has affected much of the sports world since March 2020, teams have had to adjust to how they could scout these prospects without being able to travel and attend as many games.
However, TSN's Craig Button believes teams still possess plenty of knowledge regarding the top prospects in this year's class.
"It was a very different process for players to show their abilities and potential and for scouts to assess those skills and attributes," Button said, per TSN. "But players have taken advantage of their opportunities, and scouts have been able to gain a very strong sense of confidence in what the players offer."
Soon enough, some of these prospects could be among the top players in the NHL. It won't happen immediately, but be ready to see several of the aforementioned youngsters on the ice and making an impact in the near future. It's just not clear where they will be heading to start their careers quite yet.