Rounds 2 through 7 of the 2021 NHL draft are set to be completed Saturday, with the 33rd overall pick expected to come in around 11 a.m. ET.
The first round of the draft is the main event and where teams usually build their foundations, but players selected during the later rounds can often be the difference between a good team and a great one. The 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup with six players in the lineup the organization drafted after the first round.
If your team didn't own a first-round pick Friday or your team is in need of a lot more help, there are still a number of credible prospects left over. In no particular order, here are 10 players who are worth grabbing in the second round or later.
Aatu Raty, Center, Karpat (Liiga)
Aatu Raty is arguably the toughest evaluation of the draft. He put up monster numbers in Finland's U20 league in 2018-19, and in 2019-20 he made Finland's World Junior roster as a 16-year-old, scoring twice and adding an assist in seven games. He entered this season as the unanimous pick for first overall.
But he had a borderline disastrous season. After producing four points in 16 games at the top level in Finland last season, he tallied just six in 35 games in 2020-21. He did not make the cut for the World Junior roster.
Raty, a center, in some ways takes the position literally. He drives the middle lane of the ice with determination. He's comfortable holding the puck in the vulnerable, open parts of the ice, and he has the strength and tenacity to withstand the brunt of contact in the slot. When he has the space to load up his wrist shot, he can rifle the puck. He plays a physical style and works hard off the puck. He fights for possession, and he checks his man defensively.
Red flags began to emerge this season, though. There is so much wasted movement and energy in his skating stride, and he sometimes gets stubborn in his decision-making, trying to make plays up the middle of the ice to his own peril rather than finding alternate options.
There are radically differing opinions on why Raty struggled this season and what the future holds. Some believe, as one of the older and more physically mature players in the draft, Raty simply developed earlier than most and has plateaued, putting his NHL upside as a bottom-six checking center.
Others think he struggled under the weight of expectations during a challenging season for everyone and that with renewed confidence he can re-establish his upside as a top-six NHL center. Even if he only hits the lower bound of that NHL potential, it's well worth the investment of a second-round pick.
Logan Stankoven, Right Wing, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Logan Stankoven is a diminutive (5'8") but skilled forward. In that sense, he falls into a pretty classic archetype.
His standout quality is his shot, which is threatening from distance and doesn't take much time for him to get off. He gets good velocity behind it and disguises his release well. Complementing that is a growing playmaking ability. He will always be a shoot-first forward, but particularly at the U18 World Championship, he displayed the poise and vision to slip low-to-high passes from the goal line, as well as an ability to wait an extra split second and find a lateral pass even when holding the puck in a decent shooting position. He's not going to confuse the defense with misdirections, but if there's an open pass of moderate difficulty, he can pull it off.
That's where the small forward stereotype ends. A frequent concern of scouts for small, skilled forwards is that they will be kept to the perimeter and rendered less effective at the pro level, where it is more difficult to beat defenders in the outside lanes. To the contrary, Stankoven is comfortable attacking the middle lane of the ice and thrives in that duty. He displays a fearlessness despite the vulnerability that comes with such situations, and he makes quick enough decisions with the puck to avoid getting knocked into another dimension.
And while his physical game suffers as a result of his physique, it's not for lack of effort. Stankoven plays with a lot of energy and hounds pucks. Is he going to win board battles? No. But in open ice and on the forecheck, he is a disruptor by converging on the puck and using an active stick.
His other major deficiency is his skating. It's merely average. He can be quick to spots in small distances but lacks a separation gear in open ice. Compounded with his size, it limits his upside. That may be why he won't be a first- or even a second-liner, but scouts sometimes get so deep into thinking about projectability that they overlook the simplicity of analyzing a player for what they already are.
Stankoven has been a lethal offensive producer in the WHL the past two seasons. He has strong offensive tools and an impressive work rate to boot. Maybe his physical shortcomings do prove unconquerable, but he's worth the bet on upside.
Sean Behrens, Left Defense, USA Hockey National Development Program (USHL)
Sean Behrens is one of the top offensive defensemen in the 2021 draft class. Granted, this says as much about his peers as it does about him, but there's a lot to like about his offensive-zone play.
It would be wrong to say he pinches a lot from the point. Rather, he practically lives below the circles, supporting the puck in the corners or in the middle of the ice. When he gets the puck at his point, he loves to carry it low. He gets his share of shooting opportunities with delayed movements into the high slot on scrambles down low, but he's definitely more of a playmaker, often finding the opposite-side winger on cross-slot feeds.
He's a respectable puck-carrier in the neutral zone but, compared to others in this class, is less of a puck-mover and more of an offensive-zone weapon.
Defensively, he shatters stereotypes for his size. He's a tremendous neutral-zone defender who breaks up rushes. He battles in front of the net and in the corners and loves to throw his body around.
The big concern with Behren is his subpar skating, which stands out for him in particular given his smaller stature. The criticism is fair, at least to an extent. He doesn't necessarily have the length and power to compensate for that deficiency.
At some point, though, you have to respect the outputs that come in spite of his physical shortcomings. His attitude and intentions will earn him the benefit of the doubt from his coaches, and he has a real chance of becoming an overqualified depth defenseman.
Nikita Chibrikov, Right Wing, SKA (KHL)
Nikita Chibrikov oozes talent. There are few, if any, players in the draft better when one-on-one against a defender.
He can make plays while in motion and has a box full of tricks to move past a defender: between-the-legs dekes, toe drags and so on. Those moves create the space for him to form shooting opportunities out of thin air. Solely in this aspect, he shares similarities to New York Rangers prospect Vitali Kravtsov. He's a creative passer and shooter who leaves opposing goaltenders guessing with his ability to change angles of attack in a split second.
The problem is that he needs space, even if only a little, to do that kind of damage. When defensemen don't take the bait, he'll attempt to force plays anyway. He's not particularly effective off the puck in terms of supporting plays and finding openings. He's not going to lower his shoulder and bully his way into spaces. I have questions about his balance, as he seems to lose his feet when engaged physically too often.
If the defense gives Chibrikov an inch, he'll take a mile, but it's almost as if there has to be a baked-in vulnerability for him to exploit. In every game he plays, his skill jumps out, yet he also always leaves a feeling that his performance never matched his ostensible capabilities. When he's generating offense, it's usually an individual effort. He needs to become better at becoming involved offensively as a cog in a five-player unit.
His on-ice discipline is also a work in progress. He takes too many unnecessary penalties that were poor decisions in isolation rather than the result of a comprehensive forechecking or defensive effort.
Chibrikov is a talented player, but he has work to do in order to use his gifts efficiently. The upside is that he'll likely have multiple years on a top team in Russia to figure it out. If he does, he'll be a nice injection of talent into an NHL team's top six.
Stanislav Svozil, Left Defense, Brno (Czech Extraliga)
Stanislav Svozil has been on the radar of NHL teams for a while. He performed admirably as a 16-year-old in the Czech Extraliga against men in 2019-20, though his play dipped somewhat this past season.
Svozil's top asset is his skating ability. He doesn't have a separation gear in straight lines, but rather it's his four-way mobility that stands out. His east-west movements are smooth and efficient, and he gets places quickly in short bursts from a standstill. This lends well to defending the neutral zone. He's an aggressive checker who looks to jump up and intercept pucks or take away space from puck-carriers. And unlike, say, Simon Edvinsson, who relies on his size and reach to be a neutral-zone disruptor, Svozil relies on his feet and brain. At least in theory, it's a style that is more adaptable to the NHL.
With the puck from the backend, Svozil is proficient at evading F1 (the initial forechecker) with spins and sidesteps. When he's on his game, he gains the zone well with possession. He is pretty limited in the offensive zone, as demonstrated by his lack of production at any level (just one point in five U18 World Championship games). His shot is toothless, and he doesn't display the confidence on the puck one would desire out of a true offensive defenseman. He does occasionally show some passing prowess, faking the shot before finding a no-look lateral play to a triggerman at the circles.
The only Czech prospect of substance in the 2021 NHL draft, Svozil is either a borderline top-15 prospect or firmly outside the first round depending on whom you ask. As opposed to other prospects whose makeups are divisive, the differing perspectives are more an indicator of the existential crisis that he displays on the ice. Svozil needs a good coaching staff to instill confidence in him and narrow his responsibilities to one of a shutdown defenseman who moves play up the ice.
Olen Zellweger, Left Defense, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Most of Olen Zellweger's skill set is unremarkable save for one quality: skating. His mobility is impeccable in practically every way imaginable. His straight-line speed is of high quality, and he gets fantastic jumps from a stationary position. His lateral movement is sublime.
Skating can be a major multiplier of otherwise average skills, and Zellweger, who had 13 points in 11 WHL games this season, is a good example of that theory. He can lead the rush from the back simply by skating the puck out of pressure and into open areas of the ice. He can push up the ice knowing that he has the wheels to get back if he's caught a step or two behind. That quickness in smaller areas of the ice makes him tough to beat on the rush despite his lack of reach simply because he's capable of keeping such tight gaps. He's a major threat to join the rush as the third or fourth man in, creating a numbers advantage for his team.
There are reasons to have mixed feelings about his offensive upside. His aforementioned output in 2020-21 was very good, albeit a limited sample. However, his skill set doesn't scream offense at higher levels. He is an average passer with a below-average shot. His one move from the point is to frantically skate the puck away from pressure like characters in a horror movie fleeing the monster. He lacks the poise and vision to pass the puck through layers. The counterpoint is that while those aren't strengths of his, he doesn't treat the puck like a live grenade. He has an adequate baseline skill set, and it's possible to see him building an offensive game with a few years of development.
His 5'10" frame is also going to make teams nervous about his defensive-zone game. He's very good at keeping pucks out of his own end, but stronger players will create trouble in battles. Though he is a sound tactical defender.
Drafting Zellweger is a bet on upside, and his mid-September birthday offers a lot more runway to figure it out than most.
Francesco Pinelli, Center, Jesenice (AlpsHL)
Francesco Pinelli is one of the most difficult players to analyze in this draft class. He entered the season as a potential top-10 pick following a strong OHL season in which he produced 41 points in 59 games as a 16-year-old. However, the 2020-21 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consequently, he had a 13-game stint in the AlpsHL, a relatively new, low-ranking league in central Europe that has never produced an NHLer. So it's hard to contextualize his performance.
He played at the U18 World Championship for Canada but had a roller-coaster showing. At times, he was benched for poor performance. He was buried on the depth chart thanks to generational talents Shane Wright and Connor Bedard. Yet he still managed 11 points in seven games.
Pinelli is one of the more well-rounded players in the draft. He possesses deft hands that he uses creatively. He scores off of quick releases rather than from generating torque. He's an inventive passer who has a habit of finding his teammates on lateral passing plays. He's manipulative on the puck, able to change his angle of attacks based on how the play is developing in front of him. Sometimes he will force plays that aren't there, leading to too many turnovers.
His skating is average. There are mixed reviews on his effort. Some get frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of resolve. Others disagree. Whatever the case may be, he does a good job supporting the puck. He doesn't fly by the net and instead stays in front to battle for second- and third-chance opportunities. An NHL scout based in Ontario described him as “the best all-around forward from the [OHL]" and an “easy first-round pick."
Simon Robertsson, Wing, Skelleftea (SHL)
Simon Robertsson is a winger with a high motor. He's one of the most persistent, dedicated defensive players in the draft.
He's a diligent puck-hunter on the forecheck. He will pressure the opposition in the offensive zone but even more so in the neutral zone, clogging up lanes to either force dump-ins or retreats. He rarely puck-watches and stays with the play even after he initially neuters a threat or the puck is moved elsewhere. It speaks volumes that, despite his age and inexperience, Robertsson's coaches trusted him.
He is limited offensively, at least relative to the talent available in the first couple rounds of the draft. His shot is a plus quality, though. He has a long pre-shot windup on his wrister, but when he has the space to get it off, he fools goaltenders even without traffic. When teammates have the puck, he anticipates the pass and opens up his body so that he's in position to receive it and shoot. He is a decent stick-handler in that he'll keep one-on-one defenders honest. There's enough there for him to create his one shooting lane if one doesn't already exist.
But Robertsson lacks the touch and vision to be a playmaker or, really, an offensive creator. Make no mistake, there is a foundation of skill here that should be enough to get into the NHL, and his work ethic will make him a contributor in the cycle, but every offensive tool grades as a 5 or a 6 out of 10.
He's also already 190 pounds, putting him at about the weight his frame can handle. As a loose comparison, Robertsson shares some similarities with Carolina Hurricanes winger Jesper Fast. Robertsson is a relatively safe bet to eventually factor in as a third-line winger who contributes in a lot of areas of the game but lacks the dynamic puck skills to offer anything more than depth offense. That kind of certainty isn't too common this late in the draft.
Ville Koivunen, Wing, Karpat (Liiga)
Ville Koivunen has some of the best hands in the draft, and he loves holding the puck.
He can deceive defenders one-on-one with changes in direction and puck manipulation. He's one of the best players in this draft when it comes to making plays in tight spaces, particularly around the net front. He controls the puck close to his body and finds windows for passes and shots. He has the vision to make plays as well, so he's not merely stick-handling to nowhere, as is the case for other ostensibly skilled prospects.
As good as his stick-handling is, Koivunen is a project in other areas of the game. His skating is average at best, which isn't a ringing endorsement for an undersized (5'11", 165 pounds) forward. His defensive efforts can be fleeting. He's underweight and doesn't even pretend to attempt adding a physical component to his game.
Koivunen needs a lot of work, but with a mid-June birthday, he's one of the younger players in this draft and has time to bulk up, work on his skating and become more active off the puck. He will need multiple years in Finland before he comes over to North America, but if Koivunen can supplement his puck-handling ability with a more complete game, he could become an exciting offensive winger.
Prokhor Poltapov, Wing, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
Prokhor Poltapov wasn't a player many people were actively looking for at the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship, but he forced himself into the picture.
He holds a low center of gravity and uses it exceptionally well. He's a relentless forechecker. While not necessarily looking to smash players into the glass, he instead pins them to the boards and wins endurance contests. He also wins a lopsided number of puck battles and refuses to be knocked off the puck or even out-leveraged for position. He's dangerous in front of the net, and he works hard every shift.
His finesse skills aren't high-end, and his skating is below-average. He lacks explosiveness in his first few strides and a separation gear when in motion. He can make passes of easy and moderate difficulties, and he can handle the puck all right, but he's not going to lift people out of their seats with individual moments of brilliance.
However, Poltapov can capitalize well enough in conjunction with the heavy game he plays. He could develop into the kind of third-line winger who kills penalties and does the dirty work as a forechecker and net-front presence to make life easier for more skilled linemates.