2021 NHL Draft: Live Round 1 Grades and Analysis for Every Pick
The 2021 NHL draft is unlike any other in recent memory.
There was a level of uncertainty with this draft class from the very beginning, as the talent pool is diluted and there was no strong consensus for ranking the players. Those things tend to get sorted out over the course of the season, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that possibility for many prospects. Tournaments were canceled. Some players were forced to play in unfamiliar leagues. Some had limited seasons, and some played no more than a handful of competitive games.
It created an environment where there is more uncertainty than ever before. Teams will have to make franchise-changing decisions with limited information.
Thirty-one picks were made during Friday's first round. The Arizona Coyotes, slated to pick at 11th overall, were forced to forfeit the selection for draft combine testing violations. The draft order can be viewed here, though keep in mind that trades might happen that could change the order.
Here we will offer a scouting report of every player selected in the first round, as well as a grade for each selection, with live updates happening as each pick is announced. Enjoy the show and get excited about your favorite team's future, but keep in mind that these are teenagers under immense pressure.
1. Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power, Left Defense
Defenseman Owen Power is the type of player who will stand out to viewers during his very first shift. NHL Central Scouting lists him at 6'6" and 213 pounds, which is massive by NHL standards, let alone for an 18-year-old playing college hockey.
Supplementing that size is his impressive skating ability. The Ontario native has a lot of strength in his stride and is able to cover a lot of ice with just a few vertical steps. Other players create zone entries by misdirection. For Power, it's about pure momentum. And while nobody is going to mistake him for Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar, he is more than competent at walking the blue line laterally and beating covering wingers into lower, more dangerous areas of the offensive zone.
Power is not purely brawn. He does have a hockey brain and decent hands to match. He's not likely to quarterback the play at the NHL level, but he does typically make good decisions with the puck and has a knack for finding cross-ice passing opportunities in the offensive zone. Already highlighted was his ability to enter the offensive zone with speed, but he is also capable of finding the right outlets. He'll be useful in moving the puck up the ice and has good enough hands and vision to contribute his share in the offensive zone, but he probably lacks the finesse and shooting ability to become a major point-producer.
Defensively, Power has a lot of upside. He's a responsible player who rarely makes the mistakes typical of a young defenseman while trying to be too aggressive. In fact, it's in his interest to loosen up on the conservative mentality. For one, Buffalo will want him to become meaner in front of the net. He also tends to keep a large gap between himself and puck-carriers, knowing he has the reach to make up the space using his stick. This works well against college players, but professionals take advantage of any space offered, however small. He needs to learn how to keep tighter gaps and use his big frame to clog up space.
Power is a top prospect, but big defensemen who can skate are a classic trap for scouts. Such physical abilities were so overwhelming at lower levels that they never needed to learn the problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in the NHL. When a player figures it out, he becomes Victor Hedman or Aaron Ekblad. Otherwise, he becomes Rasmus Ristolainen or Tyler Myers: an NHL-caliber defenseman whose output underperforms expectations.
A cautious expectation for Power is that he will become a top-four NHL defenseman who heavily features on the penalty kill and maybe the second power-play unit. How much more he can achieve will come down to development and perhaps the coaching prowess in Buffalo. Power would not have been my pick at first overall, but it's definitely a reasonable selection.
2. Seattle Kraken: Matthew Beniers, Center
We did a more in-depth scouting report on Matthew Beniers here.
An American center, Beniers was the best forward on the USA Hockey National Development Program U18 team in 2019-20 despite playing a year ahead. He played college hockey last season at the University of Michigan and was arguably the top player on the team.
Beniers possesses no physical abilities that stand out in isolation. Rather, his effectiveness offensively is through the layering of multiple skills. He's a B+ skater. His straight-line speed is fine, but it's his ability to change directions that makes the difference. That, combined with his knack for anticipating the decisions of others, results in incredible puck-carrying success. He's a machine on zone exits and entries and can beat multiple layers of the opposition forecheck single-handedly.
In the offensive zone, he's more of a playmaker than a finisher. He can play keep away for ages, forcing the opposition to move with him. This creates inevitable confusion and lane openings. Beniers also has great vision and passing prowess, so he constantly exploits these breakdowns by threading passes to teammates in scoring positions.
Finally, Beniers is a diligent defensive presence. He works hard to recover pucks and is relentless in pursuing opposing puck-carriers.
A lack of scoring touch will limit his upside, but Beniers is a safe bet to become a first- or second-line center who plays in all situations and influences the game in every zone.
3. Anaheim Ducks: Mason McTavish, Center
Mason McTavish has been a tough one to figure out. His abilities aren't the type that jump out on the first or second shift. Rather, to appreciate his game requires a number of viewings.
He possesses some qualities that are already pretty close to NHL-ready. At 6'2" and 207 pounds, he's already pretty close to NHL size. It doesn't go to waste, either, as McTavish knows exactly how to leverage his strength. He has tremendous balance on his skates. He's extremely difficult to knock off the puck, especially once he widens his stance. He protects the puck well, particularly in motion. He's overpowering in board battles and at the net front. McTavish is heavy in every sense of the word.
Offensively, McTavish's skill set is varied. He can score in a number of ways. He has a weighty wrist shot, with power generated from loaded feet pre-release. But he can just as easily beat a goaltender with a more subtle wrist flick. As a passer, for all of his brawn, McTavish has a knack for soft-touch feeds. Defensemen don't anticipate it, as there's little movement in his arms. He's able to disguise his intentions with a sleight of hand. He's not necessarily one to hit a teammate's tape with a saucer from the other side of the rink, but his vision and hands mean he can slip pucks to teammates through traffic.
The appropriate term to describe McTavish's offensive game is gravity. He layers a number of positive attributes and welcomes defenders to engage physically, as he trusts his instincts and strength to hold them off and then exploit the space left behind.
McTavish has a lot of defensive acumen as well. He's not going to heroically catch a puck-carrier from behind on a transition rush or sprint across the defensive zone to bail out someone's missed assignment because he doesn't have the feet for that. But McTavish is tough to outmaneuver in confined spaces of the defensive and neutral zones. He's responsible in his assignments and is intuitive with his stick placement to cut off pass attempts. He uses his strength to push players off of pucks.
Unfortunately, mediocre skating limits McTavish's upside, but he otherwise rates positively in virtually every other facet of the game. There are questions about whether he will stick at center or need to move to the wing as he moves up the pro ladder, but McTavish is one of the safest bets in this draft because of his mature game and ability to layer a number of physical qualities in every situation. He has upside as a second-line center and, at worst, won't fall outside the confines of a good team's top-nine forward group.
This early in the draft is all about taking the best player available, but the Ducks badly need a center to complement Trevor Zegras, and McTavish is a defendable pick in this range.
4. New Jersey Devils: Luke Hughes, Left Defense
The younger brother of NHL stars Quinn and Jack, Luke Hughes in some ways mirrors them and in other ways is a different commodity.
Let's start with the similarities. Like his brothers, Luke is a brilliant skater. His straight-line speed might be better than Quinn's, as he's bigger and has a longer stride. And although he may not have the same level of elite shiftiness, it's still a positive quality. From the back end, he can skate the puck into the offensive zone himself, using his tremendous speed to attack open areas of ice and using his edges to change direction whenever a forechecker dares to step up.
It's in the offensive zone where the differences become clear. While Luke has enough acumen to utilize his speed to transport the puck up the ice, he gets tunnel vision in the offensive zone and lacks the vision and instincts to make that final play to create a shot either for himself or a teammate. Opposing defenses have discovered the merits of funneling him to the outside, where he's limited in affecting the play once his skating has been taken out of the equation.
His passing is perfectly fine when there are clear openings, but he's not going to execute high-difficulty or even many moderate-difficulty plays to create scoring chances for his team. His shot is also average at best. Hughes relies on his physical tools to create offense, which overwhelms at the junior level but won't against professionals.
Where Luke does have more upside than Quinn is on the defensive side of play. Like Quinn, Luke uses his skating ability to extinguish plays. He will inexplicably win races to pucks despite starting a few steps behind the closest opposing forward. His gap control is excellent. He will start out by defending the middle lane, funneling the puck-carrier to the board before quickly moving over and eliminating all space and ending the rush. And unlike his brothers, Luke is 6'2". He uses his reach to disrupt rushes and, as he grows, will be able to add a physical component to his game.
There are two schools of thought regarding Hughes. The first is concerned that he is overly reliant on his skating and that he lacks the problem-solving skills to be a meaningful offensive contributor at higher levels. The other recognizes he is one of the youngest players in this draft and believes he will have a lot of time to integrate better decision-making into his arsenal.
There's mutual agreement that Hughes is raw but has a lot of upside, and a good compromise on his projection is probably a top-four defenseman who transitions the puck up the ice. Hughes could very well end up justifying this selection, but there were a few other players with similar upside but more certainty available at fourth overall.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Kent Johnson, Center
Kent Johnson entered the season in the discussion for the first overall pick after a historic 2019-20 season in the British Columbia Hockey League. He produced 41 goals and 60 assists in 52 games, giving him the highest points-per-game average (minimum 20 games) the BCHL has seen since Scott Gomez in 1996-97.
Johnson's offensive gifts were on display at Michigan in 2020-21, as he tallied nine goals and 18 assists in 26 games for the Wolverines. He is the most creative player in the draft. Like a magician, he uses sleight of hand to trick defenders, pretending he's about to move the puck one way before wrong-footing them and making a play in another direction.
He has a lot of skilled stick-handling maneuvers up his sleeve: between-the-legs dekes, banks of his own skates, toe drags and so on. If players were evaluated solely by highlight reels, it's hard to imagine anyone in the 2021 draft class outranking Johnson. In some ways, going pro will be more beneficial to him. At Michigan, there were times when he would make a great play, only for his linemates to fail to recognize what was unfolding and either get in his way or let him down by failing to be on the receiving end of plays.
Johnson's skill emerged as a double-edged sword in the NCAA, however. It almost seemed like he sometimes went out of his way to seek out the most convoluted path toward creating a scoring chance when there were far easier, more direct options available. He holds the puck for too long and practically carries it into danger. This could become an issue against pro players who won't take his bait as often and will close down his space more quickly.
Beyond that, there are concerns about the rest of his game. His skating ability is mediocre. He's not a particularly good forechecker or defensive player. It's arguable that he will remain a center in pro hockey. And while he's a tremendous offensive zone threat, he's not as efficient at moving the puck up the ice as one might anticipate given his skill.
Johnson is incredibly skilled, and if he sticks in the NHL, he'll be a point-producer who thrives on the power play—maybe even an All-Star. But he's going to have to get the rest of his game to baseline NHL level in order to make it work. The Blue Jackets are swinging for the fences with this pick, but they have a lot of draft capital and can afford the risk.
6. Detroit Red Wings: Simon Edvinsson, Left Defense
In a draft year when there are many mixed opinions about potential top picks, Simon Edvinsson is among the most divisive. There were some who thought he was within shouting distance of first overall, while others ranked him outside the top 10.
Edvinsson's stature is what immediately stands out. He turned 18 in February and is already listed at 6'4" and 198 pounds. With a little more muscle added, presumably this summer, he'll already be at NHL size.
His skating conjures mixed feelings. He has a long stride and can get up and down the ice with relative ease. He can gain on puck-carriers while backchecking with just a few strides. However, there's less certainty about his agility and lateral mobility. And when he's skating, he seemingly has only one gear, making him fairly predictable to defend against.
Offensively, much of Edvinsson's value is derived from his confidence carrying the puck. However, the skating issues come into play here. He's able to beat forecheckers in the neutral zone, but he does so primarily with his hands.
As referenced earlier, he's not really one to beat players with changes in speed or skating directions. Furthermore, he makes questionable decisions when passing the puck from the back, often forcing plays to covered teammates.
In the offensive zone, Edvinsson continues to display confidence on the puck and has no problems moving lower into the zone to participate. However, he's not a real shooting threat. He has far less velocity behind his shots than one would anticipate given his size. Nor is he particularly adept at shooting for accuracy. Edvinsson has played at various levels in Sweden and internationally, with underwhelming point production across the board.
There are fewer questions about his defensive game. He defends the blue line well, using his size and reach to eat up ice, and his north-south skating is an asset on the backcheck. He engages physically along the walls and at the net front.
It's easy to see why many scouts are putting their weight behind Edvinsson. In a weak draft wherein half the pool played limited seasons because of COVID-19-related interruptions, Edvinsson has a lot of NHL-ready tools and has already proved himself against Swedish pros. He's a safe pick who will be ready to step into an NHL lineup by 2023.
But it's hard to believe in his upside. His physical tools paper over some of his troubles processing the game. At the NHL level, where his physical advantages will be mitigated and everything happens quicker, he could have trouble contributing offensively. He projects as a No. 4 shutdown defenseman. That's a good player to have, but the Red Wings left better prospect like William Eklund and Brandt Clarke on the board at sixth overall.
7. San Jose Sharks: William Eklund, Center/Left Wing
William Eklund diverges from most of the top 2021 prospects, a group of pragmatic two-way players, in that he is a pure offensive powerhouse.
It all begins with his skating. The straight-line speed is good enough, but his meal ticket is his agility. While holding the puck, Eklund is able to change posture in a split second without losing any momentum in order to evade defenders. He can seamlessly incorporate pivots, crossovers and spin maneuvers at any moment. That ability to adjust on the fly gets him out of trouble when he's backed into corners, and it makes him a major threat to wrong-foot a defender and cut across the slot with possession, thereby opening up dangerous shooting and passing opportunities.
Eklund's playmaking abilities are top-notch. He's always pre-scanning so that he knows exactly where he's going with the puck once he receives it. He makes a lot of quick one-touch passes, he can find teammates through layers of traffic and sometimes it's as if he has eyes in the back of his head with the passing options he inexplicably finds. As a shooter, he relies on a quick release and the plausible deniability of other options to surprise goaltenders.
The quickness of his decision-making, layered with his multifaceted talents, is chaos for the opposition to deal with. He can burn an entire team by himself in so many ways that it's hard to know what's coming next, and when a defense thinks it has him contained, he finds a way out nevertheless. Eklund's 23 points in 40 games was better than 2020 No. 4 overall pick Lucas Raymond's output this season and is in fact the highest point-per-game rate the SHL has seen from a player in his draft year since Elias Lindholm in 2012-13.
He is somewhat undersized at 5'10" and 176 pounds, and his defensive game is competent but uninspiring. He's not going to be a two-way force, but he will put in enough effort to stay in the good graces of his coaches.
Eklund has the highest offensive ceiling of any player in the draft and has a reasonably high likelihood of hitting it, thereby becoming a first-line forward for years to come. At seventh overall, this is a brilliant pick by the Sharks.
8. Los Angeles Kings: Brandt Clarke, Right Defense
Here's a take virtually everyone who has evaluated the 2021 NHL draft class will agree on: Brandt Clarke is the best offensive defenseman available, and it's not particularly close.
His puck poise is through the roof. Clarke is the type of player a team will hand the puck to by default. His distribution from the back is excellent. He has an impressive ability to scan the ice in front of him, and he does not panic even under immense pressure from forecheckers, spinning and sidestepping out of trouble and buying himself an extra second as he waits for better options to develop. He's a tremendous passer who can stretch the ice. He can float saucers from blue line to blue line that inexplicably hit a teammate's tape while in-stride. And his appetite for ambitious plays rarely comes with the consequence of bad decisions or turnovers.
In the offensive zone, it's more of the same. He commands play from the point, using his body to deceive defenders before using his sharp passing skills to quickly move the puck to teammates in positions to do damage. He loves to activate from the point and get involved in plays near the slot, either as a delayed shooting option or following up on rebounds. He's tremendous at setting up one-timers quickly, as well as patiently waiting for the cross-slot feed to open up. Clarke has a knack for knowing when a situation calls for making a play with immediacy before the defense can react or slowing it down when he's best served by waiting for better lanes to develop.
Defensively, Clarke is nothing if not competent. He's not going to blow up players in front of the net or overwhelm in the corners, but Clarke maintains good body positioning and does well to funnel puck-carriers to the outside lanes.
The big knock on Clarke is his skating. It doesn't take a skating coach to see the basic problems. He has a sort of knock-kneed stance that keeps him on his inside edges too often and doesn't allow for much power in his stride. Yet he somehow finds a way to keep up with the play. That might become more difficult at higher levels, but by the same measure, he will have time to work with professionals to make corrections.
Adam Fox was also heavily criticized predraft for subpar skating and a lack of other physical gifts. That's not to say that Clarke will win a Norris Trophy or even that the two are fully comparable, but there's something to be said for a defenseman who needs to rely on intelligence to persevere against players who are bigger or faster. It's a translatable skill that should serve him well as he moves up the pro ladder.
With some improvements in his skating and a bit more physical development, Clarke has the potential to become a true top-pairing defenseman who quarterbacks the top power play unit. He was the best player available, and Los Angele needed a defenseman with upside. Clarke fits like a glove.
9. Arizona Coyotes: Dylan Guenther, Right Wing
Dylan Guenther resembles much of what a modern team wants in a north-south winger. He's a powerful skater. He's not one to dice through layers of defenders or make exceptional lateral pivots, and in that sense he's fairly average, but when he's at his top gear in a vertical route, he's intimidating. His presence feels much greater than his 6'1", 181-pound frame would suggest.
Yet Guenther's best quality is inarguably his shot. In fact, he may top the draft in that category. He keeps the puck in the middle of his blade and maintains a strong center of gravity through his release, generating an impressive amount of velocity. He's one of the few players in this draft who can beat an unscreened goaltender from distance with a wrist shot.
He has a quick release off of pass receptions as well and is good at finding scoring positions based on where the puck is at any given moment, and most notable is his shot while in-stride. Combine the straight-line speed, and you have a lethal scorer off of transition rushes.
There are other players in this draft class with great shots but who need to hover around the faceoff circle and wait for the puck to find them. There's a difference between having a great shot and being a great scorer. Guenther's ability to find shooting positions and get off clean releases in a variety of situations will translate to the NHL level.
Guenther isn't a visionary on the ice, but he does work hard. Puck retrievers can hear footsteps when he's coming down the ice on the forecheck. He's been an effective penalty-killer at the junior level simply because of his high work rate, speed and strength. However, he doesn't make great defensive reads and lacks the puck poise to be an effective playmaker or carrier through the neutral zone.
The 2021 draft is littered with players who either have raw skill but no identity or defined traits but low upside. For that reason, Guenther is a breath of fresh air. He's hardly a renaissance man on the ice, but he has a few major gifts and knows how to implement them effectively. He will need an intelligent center on his line, but he is a safe bet to turn into a top-six winger who scores 20-25 goals and provides defensive effort and forechecking output.
Arizona isn't getting a steal here or anything, but Guenther was clearly the best player available, and they Coyotes will be content to grab him.
10. Ottawa Senators: Tyler Boucher, Right Wing
Understanding and appreciating the totality of Tyler Boucher's game has to begin with focusing on his physicality.
At 6'1", Boucher is not the most visually intimidating player at the faceoff circle. He's a full 200-plus pounds already and is overwhelming shift-to-shift. He hits hard, and he's not hitting just to finish checks. The opposing player near the puck hears the footsteps coming, and Boucher will force changes in possession either through direct contact or the impending threat he poses. He plants himself in the slot and is incredibly difficult to remove. When he gets the puck on the perimeter, he shrugs off bodies and continues the cycle.
Outside of that, Boucher grades fairly average across the board. But in the context of one's expectations for a heavy north-south grinder, it's a fairly impressive skill set. He has the hands to handle the puck, good agility and crossovers, and ample hockey IQ.
The result is a physically imposing player who can actually turn his energy into productivity. He can carry the puck through the neutral zone well enough to keep the opposition honest. Once he wins the puck along the wall, he can carry it into the interior and make a play. On the forecheck, he can blow players through the glass but also has the dexterity and pragmatism to sometimes win the puck with his stick or softer body leverage. There are players whose physical nature is a facade, but Boucher has enough talent to use his physicality as a means to an end.
Boucher isn't going to be a prominent figure up the lineup, but he has the potential to become the type of bottom-six checking winger with supplemental offense that every team strives to add. That's a lovely player to have, but Boucher should have gone toward the end of the first round at the earliest.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets: Colle Sillinger, Center
Cole Sillinger is an offensive juggernaut, and the primary tool in his arsenal is his shooting ability.
He can threaten the opposition from a variety of shooting opportunities. He will pull into the slot and put one-touch flicks past goaltenders before they can react. He can elongate his release to muster a lot of velocity, and he can pick corners without sacrificing the weight of his shot. He has the poise to wait out goaltenders until they make the first move before changing the angle of his shot.
Importantly, he can get into shooting positions by different means. He has the subtlety to slip into scoring areas undetected, can juke around bodies to avoid contact and is strong enough on his feet (already 200-plus pounds at 6'0") to bear down and persevere through contact. When he has space, he can rip it, but he can also shoot through contact.
Sillinger has enough vision on the puck to be a capable passing threat as well, and he works hard to complement his sturdiness on skates to become an annoying presence in the offensive zone. He will battle for the puck, and when he gets it, he's hard to separate from it. Defensively, there's room to improve, but his high energy when he's pursuing offenses suggests a theoretical framework to become a more complete player in all three zones.
Still, there are some mild concerns about how his production in the USHL (24 goals in 31 games) might be misleading. His profile this season suggests he's one of the top offensive players in the draft. But some of the goals he scored this season were clear-sighted shots that aren't going to work against professional goaltenders.
It's not that he isn't very good, but the statistical profile might ever so slightly overstate his abilities. Broadly speaking, his skill set should carry over. He's a likely NHLer, and he holds a ton of upside as a top-six scoring forward. Columbus got a player many would argue was the best available.
13. Calgary Flames: Matthew Coronato, Right Wing
Matthew Coronato is maybe the most confounding player in the 2021 class. At first glance, the physical package is underwhelming. He's listed at 5'10" and is an average skater. Yet the tape backs him up as a good player with a multifaceted toolbox.
Although his top speed is mediocre and his agility is simply OK, he has an evasiveness about him. He scans the ice and has a good sense of where he can move to avoid the wrath of defenders, both on and off the puck. This makes him decent at carrying the puck in the neutral zone and crossing the blue line.
But Coronato's bread-and-butter is in the offensive zone. Despite the size, he makes his home in the middle lane. He doesn't shy away from contact but also has a knack for avoiding it, picking the right moments to change his angle of attack in the slot to lose his defender for just enough time to get free for a pass in a scoring area.
And while his shot isn't elite, it grades as a plus tool. There's good weight and placement behind it, but his best ability in this regard is to get off quality shots from suboptimal stance: off balance, skating against the grain, reaching for the puck, etc. He doesn't need the puck in his wheelhouse to beat a goaltender. As a playmaker, Coronato has good instincts and the touch to put pucks to where plays are developing or find teammates through layers.
The total package implies that Coronato should be a good offensive player, but his statistics are on another level. He put up a ridiculous 48 goals and 37 assists in 51 USHL games last season. His goal total is the highest a draft-year player has produced in 30 years, beating out incredible NHL scorers such as Thomas Vanek, Johnny Gaudreau and Brock Boeser. On numbers alone, Coronato is a top-10, maybe top-five player in this draft class. It doesn't pass the smell test because he likely got some puck luck and absolutely benefitted from a loaded Chicago Steel team filled with elite playmakers.
Coronato is not as good as the numbers suggest, but on the binary scale he grades as a "1." He could have a Jake Guentzel type of impact in the NHL. It was a bit early to take him, but to be clear, it's a reasonable pick. He absolutely has the upside to prove the Flames right.
14. Buffalo Sabres: Isak Rosen, Right Wing
Isak Rosen is a pure offensive winger with a number of standout traits. He's a great skater who is extremely light on his feet. He can attack open ice quickly but just the same is able to change direction when dealing with more crowded space.
Everything he does with the puck looks smooth. He has an above-average shot. In his case, the shooting ability is less about velocity and more about the fluidity and deception with which he can release the puck off his stick, giving goaltenders a tough read off his blade and little time to react. His one-timer is effortless. And he's certainly a dual threat, meaning that he can dish the puck to teammates just the same.
What's particularly exciting about Rosen is when he combines these abilities, making plays in motion. With such a diverse skill set and an ability to think extemporaneously, Rosen is a difficult player for defenders and goaltenders to predict the actions of.
The catch, at least right now, is that Rosen is not yet built for pro hockey. The duality in his statistical profile indicates this, as he has been virtually unstoppable at the junior level but was invisible in the Swedish Hockey League, producing just one assist in 22 games. He needs to hit the weight room and add some semblance of a physical component to his game so he can withstand battles.
Rosen is a long-term investment because he will need a few years of physical maturity and development, but he has serious potential as a dynamic top-six NHL forward. The Sabres took him earlier than the consensus rates him, but you have to love the gamble on his talent.
15. Detroit Red Wings: Sebastian Cossa, Goaltender
At face value, there's a lot to like about Sebastian Cossa. The 6'6" goaltender posted a ridiculous 17-1-1 record with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2020-21, amassing a .941 save percentage.
He combines his large frame with quick recovery ability, something that can otherwise plague bigger goaltenders, and he has nice athleticism for his size, at least in terms of his arm reflexes.
It's the technical side of Cossa's game that casts doubt. The game has changed, and it's no longer about executing the butterfly and looking big. To be a good NHL goaltender in 2021 requires strong foot technique (post integrations, pre-shot movements, holding edges, etc.). Goaltender is a specialized position, and nuanced analysis of a player's mechanics should be left to those who are particularly informed. But as a general statement, Cossa leaves a lot to be desired.
Cossa has upside as a starting goaltender, and in a weak draft such as this one, perhaps he's worthy of a first-round pick. However, when NHL scouts start hyping up a 6'6" goaltender playing easy minutes behind a powerhouse team, alarm bells should start ringing. That kind of height is, at best, a neutral attribute and can actually sometimes inhibit a goaltender's mobility and technique. And while winning is always nice, informed goaltending evaluators often prefer a young goaltender to face tough workloads as a test of endurance and focus as well as for more muscle memory practice.
Goaltending prospects can be volatile, and Cossa was not even the best goaltending prospect available. Trading up to acquire him doesn't help, either. General manager Steve Yzerman has done a brilliant job rebuilding Detroit, but this was a misstep.
16. New York Rangers: Brennan Othmann, Left Wing
Brennan Othmann is a favorite of many because of the way he blends skill and energy.
There are other players in the draft who make their impact with tremendous poise, slowing down the game and analyzing what’s in front of them like a chess board. For Othmann, it’s the total opposite. He plays a high-octane style in practically every scenario. He rarely holds on to possession for extended lengths. Once the puck is on his stick, he’s moving it as quickly as he can and then making his next move.
This means lots of forechecking, and while he has the skill necessary to create his share of zone entries, he’s content to throw the puck behind the defense and chase it. He’s a force below the goal line, pressuring the puck and creating turnovers.
Othmann is a pure touch shooter. His scoring prowess lies almost fully in deception rather than shooting power. He’s proficient at getting open at the back door and then directing the puck on net as soon as he receives it on his blade in one seamless motion. When he holds the puck in the slot, he boasts an uncanny ability to transition from a seemingly innocuous position to suddenly flicking his wrists and sneaking the puck past an unprepared goaltender.
His playmaking is a work in progress, but it’s an area where he has made strides. The theme about quick decisions holds here. Othmann isn’t one to unlock a defense in an extended possession. He’s going to get the puck and make a quick pass whenever possible. Typically, this manifests down low after a successful forecheck.
Othmann is the type of player every team seeks. He’s a relentless physical player with the skill set that suggests top-six upside.
There were a few players available who should have been taken over Othmann, but he's a reasonable pick in this range and has the tools to justify this selection down the road.
17. St. Louis Blues: Zachary Bolduc, Center
Zachary Bolduc is a nice example of why it's important to pair statistics with context. He lit up the QMJHL in 2019-20 with 30 goals in 55 games but tallied just 10 in 27 games last season. A face-value analysis would indicate he's regressed. In actuality, Rimouski was stacked two seasons ago, with Alexis Lafreniere its most prominent player. This season, Bolduc was forced into a central role as the key figure on a rebuilding squad.
Bolduc has a fairly well-rounded toolbox. He's light on his skates and can maneuver around small pockets of space. His wrist shot is solid, as is his vision. His most prominent quality is his hand-eye coordination. There's a sense of calm in the way he can settle difficult pucks. He'll pull pucks out of the air and easily deal with rebound opportunities and ricochets. He's a clever stick-handler who can manipulate a goaltender from in close.
Despite his offensive talents, Bolduc can be incredibly passive in the offensive zone. There are players with similar talent who are constantly slamming their sticks on the ice demanding the puck. Bolduc sort of floats around and waits for the play to find him. He is smart about finding soft areas of the ice where he can receive pucks, but he doesn't show much ambition in wanting to dictate plays himself. He was forced out of his comfort zone this season with the lack of talent around him, which was a good exercise for his development.
One could chalk that up to laziness or apathy if not for the fact that Bolduc is otherwise a responsible player. He pursues the puck when defending the neutral zone and looks to create turnovers. He checks his man defensively. The reasonable upside for Bolduc is as an empty-calorie point producer who needs to be paired with linemates capable of driving play but is responsible enough off the puck to stay out of the coaching staff's dog house.
It won't be surprising if Bolduc is a top-six NHL forward five years from now, but there were other players available with equal upside but better foundations to start from. This was 10-15 picks too early.
18. Winnipeg Jets: Chaz Lucius, Center
Chaz Lucius is one of the best finishers in this draft class. He scored 13 goals in 12 USHL games this season. The puck slingshots off his blade, and he has no trouble lifting it into the upper level of the net. He has the touch to float it over a goaltender's shoulder from in tight, and he generates the torque necessary to rip it past the goaltender from farther out.
Goaltenders are deer in the headlights when the puck is on his stick in the high slot, but he is also one of the few truly gifted players who can sneak it into a small window from awkward angles.
He complements the shot itself with good handles. The wrist shot is his go-to, but he will use that threat on rush opportunities to freeze a goaltender and tuck it in with his backhand. Lucius scores a lot of goals when he has a lot of space, and it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking it's not a repeatable skill. But he's not getting into those opportunities by accident. This isn't someone floating at the faceoff dot looking for one-timers. There's something to be said about his ability to anticipate where the puck will find him in scoring positions. He's also demonstrated an ability to get off quick shots in tight spaces.
Lucius also is a good enough passer to qualify as a dual threat in the offensive zone. In the same way that a football team might run the ball to establish the pass, it's the threat of his shot that sometimes opens up passing lanes.
He is an average skater, and his lack of physicality is concerning. Not every player needs to be a proficient forechecker, but he sometimes puts in half-hearted efforts when battling for position in the slot in both offensive and defensive positions. As such, his future might be on the wing.
But Lucius has an obvious baseline level of offensive skill, and there's room for him to become a more complete player. If he can round out his game, Lucius has top-six upside and could play the T.J. Oshie role as a bumper (middle player) in a 1-3-1 power play. There are a lot of questions about the totality of his game, but if Lucius can stick the landing he will be tremendous value for Winnipeg at 18th overall.
19. Nashville Predators: Fyodor Svechkov, Center
Fyodor Svechkov has one of the most mature games in this draft class. He gives Matthew Beniers a run for his money for the title of best defensive center.
His spatial awareness in the defensive zone is impressive. He's always supporting the puck down low during board battles and on breakouts. He's like glue on his man in the defensive zone. He constantly disrupts passes and carries with his stick. Save for a series of bad sequences in one overtime at this year's U18 World Championship, he manages to play a heavy game without getting penalty-happy.
Differing opinions on where Svechkov ranks in the 2021 draft class are mostly borne from how one rates his offensive ceiling. Most people should be in the cautiously optimistic camp. He's not going to light your hair on fire with stickhandling, snipes and gaudy passes. Nor will he be a major threat in transition. But Svechkov can be an effective contributor on controlled offensive zone possessions.
When holding the puck, he loves to turn his back to defenders to maintain leverage before carrying or spinning into a new opening. He's strong along the walls and can carry from the perimeter into more dangerous territories. He has low-key evasiveness with the agility to sidestep checks and has good enough hands to get his share of goals. He will be a factor in cycle offense.
Svechkov is not a sexy pick in this draft because he's never going to be the star on a team or anywhere near its most exciting player. But he already plays a mature game and is a reasonably safe bet to become an overqualified third-line center of the shutdown variety. It's not often a player as polished as Svechkov is available this late in the draft. He's a nice prospect for Nashville to grab here.
20. Minnesota Wild: Jesper Wallstedt, Goaltender
Raw save percentage is not typically a good measure of a goaltender's performance, as it is heavily influenced by team dynamics. In Jesper Wallstedt's case, it's telling enough. That the 18-year-old managed a .908 save percentage in 22 Swedish Hockey League games is respectable. It's reinforced by tremendous performances in junior leagues in previous seasons.
In the 2019-20 campaign, he posted a .923 save percentage in Sweden's U20 league despite being multiple years younger than some of the top players. Two seasons before, as a 15-year-old in the U20 league, he stood tall at .921.
The overarching narrative here is that Wallstedt is a well-established goaltending prospect who has excelled repeatedly despite playing well beyond his age group. There is an evident maturity in his playing style. His technical skills are refined. One of the defining shortcomings for a young goaltender is a tendency to move too much in the crease and overshoot angles. On the contrary, Wallstedt plays fairly deep in his crease and is measured in his movements. His footwork is phenomenal, and he tracks the puck well laterally without over-rotating.
There are still basic areas that need improvement. First, he needs to develop more power in his movements off the post. This is particularly important on low-to-high passing plays where he needs to move to the top of his crease to cut off angles. Second, he drops to the butterfly too often before the shot release. NHL players will wait him out and shoot over his shoulders without an adjustment there. He needs to learn to stay on his skates more often.
But by all indications, Wallstedt is a top goaltending prospect. Perhaps not on the level of generational talent Spencer Knight, but definitely the next tier. His technical ability is exceptional, and there is a clear foundation to build upon. At 20th overall, Wallstedt was the best player available by a wide margin, and Minnesota needs a goaltender in the system badly. Trading up in the draft is statistically not always a great idea, but this is one example where it's justified.
21. Boston Bruins: Fabian Lysell, Wing
On pure offensive skill alone, Fabian Lysell ranks among the best in the draft class. He displays immense confidence with the puck on his stick and loves to take on defenders. His three-step acceleration is tremendous, as he's able to reach top speed with little effort. He will implement hip feints to wrong-foot a defender and dart past him in the neutral zone. He's very capable of making zone entries using his edges to move around forecheckers.
The caveat here is that Lysell typically relies on carrying the puck down the right wing. At higher levels, where blueliners keep better gaps and are more purposeful in their defending, an ability to keep Lysell contained to the outside lanes will limit his effectiveness. When he does carry in the middle of the ice, he's prone to turnovers, which kill the effort and leave his team prone to transition chances.
In the offensive zone, Lysell is more of a passer than shooter. He can beat goaltenders with his hands in the home-plate area, but his shot by itself isn't going to make any goaltenders nervous. Instead, Lysell looks to slip pucks to teammates upon zone entries and is also quite capable of finding teammates on dangerous cross-slot feeds. While he's not necessarily going to be a coach's first choice for the penalty kill and key defensive shifts, he's not one to display horrible defensive habits, either. He pursues the puck on forechecks and shows reasonable defensive dependability.
On talent alone, Lysell challenges as a top-10 player in this draft class. He's a great skater who is creative with the puck and has ambition to make plays. Concerns about how much he'll score as well as whether he'll be able to become a middle-lane playmaker could hurt his stock.
22. Edmonton Oilers: Xavier Bourgault, Center
Xavier Bourgault's numbers jump off the screen. After producing more than a point per game on average in 2019-20, Bourgault registered 20 goals and 20 assists in just 29 regular-season games this past season. Those numbers are somewhat inflated, though. Bourgault benefitted from playing on a very good line centered by 2020 first-round pick Mavrik Bourque. More on that relationship in a minute.
Even if the point totals overstate his abilities, Bourgault is still an intriguing offensive presence. His shot is such a fabulous tool. Really, it's his release. There's little pre-shot tell from his body language regarding where and when he's shooting. He's also great at getting his shot through traffic. Bourgault actively looks to use defenders as screens and shoots around them. The collective package means goaltenders have a difficult time reading his blade. As such, his shot finds the net even without tremendous velocity.
Bourgault does have other dimensions to his offensive game. He is a creative stick-handler who can beat defenders both wide and inside. He's balanced on his skates, and though he's not going to withstand direct blows, he can keep plays alive even when he's nudged off-balance. At times he will show vision with the puck with one-touch passes, but it's an area for improvement. Defensively, he's nothing to write home about.
There's no doubt that Bourgault was put in an ideal situation next to Bourque, who is an incredible two-way center who does all the little things to push possession forward for his team. He did a lot of the hard work to give Bourgault opportunities to show off his bag of tricks. It's not necessarily a red flag, but it's something for the Oilers to keep in mind.
Bourgault projects as a winger at the pro level, and he will need help on his line to drive possession, but there's middle-six forward potential here.
23. Dallas Stars: Wyatt Johnston, Center
Wyatt Johnston is the type of player who can do a lot of things at a pretty good level but is not particularly elevated in any one area. He's active on the ice and plays at a fast pace, pushing a north-south style. He doesn't possess blazing speed, but he can get up the ice well at an above-average pace. Defensemen love dumping the puck into his side of the ice because he's going to get on his horse and get to it first.
He's not going to create his own shooting opportunities, but he will head toward the net and put himself in scoring positions. As a passer, the theme about his talent generally holds. He's not going to sauce a puck across the zone perfectly on to a teammate's blade, but when passing lanes of moderate difficulty open up, he will find and execute. He works hard on the backcheck and in the defensive zone.
Johnston is going to make more of an impact when the puck is off his stick. He is more of a second-round talent, but this is starting to get to the point in the draft where the bounds of what qualifies as a reach are a lot less rigid. Johnston did not play at the club level this season because of the OHL season's cancellation, and Dallas is betting he has developed in a way that wasn't necessarily observable in competitive games. He has upside as a third-liner.
24. Florida Panthers: Mackie Samoskevich, Right Wing
Mackie Samoskevich is an offensive weapon from the wing who demands the puck on his stick and embraces the challenge of unlocking defenses.
He's one of the top players in this draft when it comes to handling the puck. He starts possessions for his team, carrying through the neutral zone and creating a number of controlled entries. He's a fluid skater who is unafraid to take on defenders and weave through the offensive zone with the puck. He can beat a defenseman down the wing with a deke or a sidestep, or he can carry laterally across the high slot and wait out the defense until someone makes a mistake.
Samoskevich is more of a playmaker than a sniper. He has the hands to find teammates following his own creation of passing lanes through his interruptions of the defense with his carries. And while his shot itself grades as relatively average, he succeeds in creating his own shot on both macro and micro levels, meaning he can both carry the puck into bigger spaces where he has a legitimate scoring chance or he can make a quick move inside a phone booth—a toe drag, for instance—to change the angle of his shot away from the defenseman's stick.
The physical part of the game is a challenge for Samoskevich. When under pressure from a defender, his go-to course of action is to attempt to slip by or skate out of danger. That's all well and good, but there are times when that isn't possible. He struggles in protecting the puck and holding off defenders on his backside. Defensively, he will use his speed to pressure on the backcheck and holds his assignment in the defensive zone, but he lacks the tools to be a meaningful force in shutting down plays and forcing turnovers.
Samoskevich isn't a complete player, which is why he's gone late in the first round. However, his ability to make plays with the puck in motion and all over the offensive zone lends credibility to his prospects as a legitimate offensive winger in the NHL.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets: Corson Ceulemans, Right Defense
Physically, there's a lot to like here. At 6'2" and 201 pounds, Corson Ceulemans is already NHL size. He leverages it fairly well at the junior level, frequently knocking players off the puck in the defensive zone and boxing players out of threatening positions around the net.
It's hard to recall a more aggressive defender. Rarely does he concede the blue line. Instead, he defends tight gaps and dares opposing forwards to carry past him. He has a lot of endurance and persistence when it comes to following and harassing puck-carriers.
That all-gas, no-brakes style comes with consequences. When he mistimes his puck pressures, it leaves him exposed. He's left to either let the puck-carrier beat him clean, causing a team-level defensive breakdown, or he's forced to clutch and grab and risk being called for penalties.
Furthermore, sometimes in defensive zone situations he overcommits to a man-on-man defense and follows the puck-carrier well beyond the limits of his defensive assignment. This, again, forces his teammates to adjust on the fly to cover his spots. Sometimes it's best to rotate the pressure to a teammate and live to see another day.
Offensively, there are tools. He has a strong shot from the point and can also roof it from the inside the circles when he activates. His ability to get up the ice makes him an option as the trailer on transition rushes. His passing acumen is underwhelming, he's prone to senseless, consequential turnovers in all three zones and his general decision-making leaves a lot to be desired.
Ultimately, Ceulemans is a golden retriever on skates. There are undeniable physical tools coupled with a reckless demeanor and a lack of foresight when making decisions. One NHL scout doesn't believe he has the processing ability to ever become more than a third-pairing defenseman, though there are many scouts who disagree. But Ceulemans is a second-round talent, and more toward the latter half of that round.
26. Minnesota Wild: Carson Lambos, Left Defense
Carson Lambos is an athletic defenseman who projects his talent in a number of ways.
On offense, Lambos is ambitious. He likes to join the rush and activate down low when his teammates have the puck. When he's holding possession at the point, he proactively looks to beat the first forward and carry down low to make a play closer to the net.
His shot is his best asset. Rather than wildly winding up a slap shot and hoping for the best, Lambos employs a weighty wrist shot that he keeps low. It's the kind of shot that is emphasized in the modern game as teams look to utilize traffic and screens. He can get over-reliant on his shot, however.
Defensively, Lambos shows the same head-on approach, looking to kill plays early. In controlled defensive-zone situations, he can get tunnel vision on the puck and lose his checks. At 6'1" and close to 200 pounds, he has a good frame for defending at the pro level. There's work to be done, but he's not a catastrophic defender.
No player in the 2021 NHL draft better encapsulates the difficulty of evaluating this year's crop. His eight goals and 24 assists in 57 WHL games the season prior demonstrated tremendous upside, but his performances fluctuated wildly. In normal circumstances, this season would have been telling for his development, yet the pandemic and injuries limited him to just two WHL games and a handful more in an unfamiliar setting in Finland.
The draft is inherently an exercise in making decisions with incomplete information, but by picking Lambos in particular, Minnesota is making an investment in talent dressed with a whole lot of uncertainty.
27. Nashville Predators: Zachary L'Heureux, Left Wing
For better or worse, Zachary L'Heureux makes his presence felt in every game. The Quebecois is just 5'11" and 196 pounds, yet he's one of the most physical players available in this draft class. When holding the puck, he welcomes contact and will power toward the net. When the other team has the puck, he's a ferocious forechecker who looks to engage in battles. Once he plants in front of the crease, he's hard to move. He throws a lot of hits.
To complement that sandpaper is a pretty solid skill set. He can beat a defender with his hands just as often as he does with power. He's a decent stick-handler and will surprise defenders with a passing acumen that seems beyond what one would expect. Because of his rugged style, he will draw in defenders and then find teammates in space.
But L'Heureux is a work in progress, to put it mildly. His skating is subpar. He lacks a separation gear, and while he can somewhat compensate for that with his ability to stave off contact, it will hinder his ability to create offense at higher levels. This is an issue, but it's one that can be worked on with a skating coach.
The bigger red flag is his temperament. L'Heureux takes a lot of bad penalties, such as for unnecessary checks from behind, and has been suspended numerous times for various transgressions. There's a fine line between being a pest and being a liability. L'Heureux has the toolbox to become the type of third-liner teammates love and opponents hate to play against, but he needs a major attitude shift or else Nashville will decide he's not worth the trouble.
The Predators paid a steep price to move up in the draft, and L'Heureux wasn't necessarily the one to throw everything at to pick up, but 27th overall is the right spot for him to go.
28. Colorado Avalanche: Oskar Olausson, Right Wing
Oskar Olausson oozes offensive tools. He's 6'2" and provides the best of both worlds in terms of utilizing that size.
He generates a ton of power in his stride, making him a major threat to get up the ice and beat defenders vertically, and he aggressively attacks with the puck. But he also has the ability of a smaller player to keep the puck in tight and dice through defenses with directional changes. His wrist shot has impressive velocity behind it, and he can still hit his targets even when he's shooting while his feet are in motion.
Olausson does have this bad habit where he cradles the puck backhand-to-forehand right before he's going to shoot, often upon receiving a pass. It gives the goaltender time to get square and also serves as a tell for when he's about to shoot, but it's a small quirk that can be worked out with a decent skills coach.
Olausson needs to become a more complete player away from the puck and integrate his linemates into plays more often rather than trying to be a hero every time, but he's a convincing prospect. It speaks volumes that he's succeeded in multiple settings while playing against older players (the SHL, Allsvenskan and U20 World Juniors), and with some refinements he has second-line potential.
While not making any promises about him even making the NHL, let alone realizing his potential, the Avalanche are lucky that a prospect of his caliber was available at No. 28.
29. New Jersey Devils: Chase Stillman, Right Wing
The son of former NHLer Cory Stillman, Chase is another tough evaluation this season through no fault of his own. With the OHL season canceled, Stillman played at the junior level in Denmark. It was probably good for him to keep his legs fresh, but there's no baseline by which to analyze his play in that league, an unconventional one for anyone with realistic NHL draft hopes.
Stillman plays with a lot of energy and tempo. He's an effective forechecker who wins races to pucks. As a defender, he's on high-alert when it comes to checking his man and closing gaps. He's fairly average with the puck on his stick but can receive passes in scoring areas and quickly fire them on net. He's definitely a play-finisher more than a play-creator.
The right wing needs to more consistently trust his offensive tools, but in the big picture he knows his role on the ice. He was a big part of Canada's checking line at the U18 World Junior Championship, and he's likely to play a similar role at the pro level. He's a legitimate NHL prospect, but the Devils left talent on the board here. Still, the lack of a meaningful club season grants the Devils plausible deniability, and he may show next season growth that makes the pick more understandable.
30. Vegas Golden Knights: Zach Dean, Center
Zach Dean is one of the most creative offensive players in the draft. He's an impressive stick-handler who will use a lot of deceptive maneuvers to create separation from defenders, particularly in tight areas.
When he gets the puck in the middle of the offensive zone, defending players tend to look like deer in headlights, as the many directional options he could take to create a scoring chance put him at a massive advantage given his deception skills. He has agile feet as well, which he uses in combination with his hands to fool defending players. This leads to success in maneuvering the puck from the perimeter into the more dangerous areas of the ice, and his ability to deceive defenders leads to a lot of drawn penalties.
Dean is a threat to score, though it's about his hands fooling goaltenders more than it is about the shot itself. He will delay on the release, feign a shot before changing the angle with a stick-handle, make a quick maneuver to his backhand and so on. The same holds true as a passer. He will look set to shoot before suddenly fooling the defense with a pass across a flat-footed defense. Dean can find a teammate by moving to an open spot and making a quick stick-handle to open up a passing lane through or around a defender.
It's all about creating through uncertainty. He will leave defenses swinging at fastballs when he's throwing changeups. Unfortunately, his production hasn't lived up to expectations, with a lukewarm 20 points in 23 QMJHL games in 2021. A mediocre Gatineau team with few offensive weapons to speak of likely diluted his numbers.
He will need to hit the gym, but his effort can't be faulted, as he makes second efforts at retrieving pucks he's lost and isn't afraid to attack the slot. Dean is a bet on raw offensive upside. He was the best payer available, and at the end of the first round, he is well worth the gamble.
31: Montreal Canadiens: Logan Mailloux, Right Defense
32. Chicago Blackhawks: Nolan Allan, Left Defense
There is a simplicity to Nolan Allan's game. He's 6'2" and skates very well. Utilizing those assets, he's extremely effective at defending the rush. He swallows up space in the neutral zone. He can handle bigger players and keep up with faster ones. He is legitimately elite in that facet of the game.
After he wins back possession, he is capable of quickly transitioning the puck the other way with a quick outlet pass. The major problem is that this is the extent to which he can contribute offensively. Most shutdown defensemen in the NHL were able to put up points at lower levels. Allan, had just two points in 16 WHL games last season and 11 in 81 career WHL games. He lacks any meaningful offensive acumen beyond the basics.
Allan has upside as a third-pairing shutdown defenseman. If you squint, that's worth a third-round evaluation. The Blackhawks reached with this pick.