NHL Draft 2021: Grades and Analysis for All 32 TeamsAugust 5, 2021
NHL Draft 2021: Grades and Analysis for All 32 Teams
The first round of the NHL draft gets most of the attention, and understandably so. It's where the top prospects get selected, and drafting the right player can change the entire course of a franchise. We previously did live grades for each first-round selection, and after even the top 20 or so picks, the draft can become a crapshoot.
There are still six other rounds afterwards, and those picks also matter. Building team depth or uncovering a diamond in the rough can be the difference between a good and great team. It's impossible to imagine that the Tampa Bay Lightning win their back-to-back Stanley Cups had they not grabbed Nikita Kucherov (2011) and Brayden Point (2014) in the second and third rounds, respectively.
With two weeks to reflect on the 223 prospects taken, here are draft grades for all 32 NHL teams.
Boston's choices on Day 2 were pretty ordinary. Brett Harrison was fair value in the third round and has a chance to become the exact kind of checking forward the Bruins have won with in the past. Some of their later picks were underwhelming, but in five years their 2021 draft will live and die by what Fabian Lysell turns into.
On talent alone, he was arguably a top-10 player in this draft class. The way he skates with the puck borders on elite, but he needs to diversify his game and mature off the ice. If he gets it together, he'll be a steal. If not, that failure will overwhelm anything else.
I love Mackie Samoskevich's game. His combination of skating and puck skills makes him an exciting player to watch, and while there are players who get overrated because of their highlight compilations, his abilities are translatable to the NHL. He has top-six upside.
There were a few players available I'd have preferred to Evan Nause at 56th overall, but it's still nice value, and he has the puck skill to become a defenseman who transitions the puck up the ice in the NHL. The rest of the picks are a mixed bag, but the Panthers did well with their top selections.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Having traded most of their picks, the Leafs didn't have much to work with here. Nevertheless, they made lemonade out of lemons. The Matthew Knies selection is already looking like a wise choice, as the 6'3" American winger produced three goals and two assists in three games at the World Junior Summer Showcase. He won't be a superstar, but it's possible to imagine him eventually replacing Zach Hyman as Toronto's rugged winger who thrives around the net.
Tyler Voit fits the profile of players who make the NHL as late-rounders. He's a talented but raw winger with questions about whether he can overcome his 5'9" height. The Leafs did about as well as they could have in the circumstances.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay won back-to-back Cups in part because of success in collecting talent in the later rounds of the draft. Their 2021 class doesn't inspire the same hope. The one pick to celebrate was Dylan Duke. Serious concerns about his skating abound, but the winger works hard and has a knack for finding the puck in scoring positions around the net. He fell 40-50 picks later than he should have.
The rest of their choices were suspect. The defining trait for defenseman Roman Schmidt is that he is big. He struggles with the puck on his stick and the skating is poor. He was a sixth-round value at best. He was among some baffling selections by the team.
Tyler Boucher is fun to watch and, if he makes the NHL, is a lock to become a fan favorite in Ottawa. He's pound-for-pound one of the most physical prospects I've ever seen and has the skill set to make it matter. It's easy to imagine him as a third-liner who produces 35 points and gives his team a jolt. Tenth overall is way too early to draft a player like that, however.
And that was one of Ottawa's better decisions. It went all-in on low-upside grinders, and there's an argument to be made that not a single player they took after Boucher should have made the board at all. Most draft picks after Round 1 bust, but you have to at least give yourself chance.
The Habs' first-round choice of Logan Mailloux, an albeit talented prospect but one who had asked not to be drafted after a conviction in Sweden for taking and distributing a photo of a woman performing a sex act without her knowledge, was a disgrace. There was nothing the team could have done on Day 2 of the draft to make up for that decision.
Regardless, their choices in Rounds 2 through 7 were nothing special. Riley Kidney has talent but is a major project. While Oliver Kapanen fits the mold of someone drafted 64th overall, the Canadiens left a ton of better players on the board such as Simon Robertsson and Stanislav Svozil.
Had the Canadiens taken a different player at 31st overall, this draft would have graded out as a C. But some things are more important than hockey, and there is only one grade this organization deserves.
Detroit Red Wings
I caught a lot of grief from Red Wings fans after giving bad grades to both of their first-round selections. Simon Edvinsson projects more as a No. 4 shutdown defenseman in the NHL. I'm confident enough to proclaim that a huge error passing on William Eklund and Brandt Clarke. While Sebastian Cossa has upside, goaltending prospects are volatile, and his mechanics are a major work in progress. To me, Detroit whiffed on two significant selections.
Perhaps their other selections can get me back on good terms with the fanbase. Shai Buium was market value at 36th overall. Red Savage all the way at 114th is one of my favorite picks in the draft. He's a great skater, has decent puck skills and plays with energy. Everything about him screams NHL third-liner, and an NHL scout from a different Eastern Conference team told me he had Savage as a top-four prospect in this draft.
I also like Liam Dower Nilsson, picked in the fifth round. There's not much upside, but his defensive prowess lends credibility as a potential bottom-six shutdown center.
Owen Power wasn't my choice for first overall, but it's a defendable pick, and he should be a good player in Buffalo for a long time. Other scouts will think Buffalo reached for Isak Rosen at 16th overall, but I loved this swing for the fences. He's a crafty winger with a ton of offensive upside, and Buffalo needs impact players if it's going to turn around the team's dire situation.
Buffalo had a ton of picks in later rounds. Some picks were good. Some not so much. Inevitably, I wasn't going to agree with all of them. Although 33rd overall was too early for me, I love Prokhor Poltapov's game. He's a tremendous forechecker and cycle winger. Winger Olivier Nadeau was a savvy pickup in Round 4. There were some other questionable picks, but Buffalo badly needed an infusion of pillars to build around, and they got the job done.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson wouldn't have been my pick at fifth overall, but its a justifiable selection. His skill with the puck is elite, and if he hits, he'll be a perennial All-Star. Cole Sillinger was a great get at 12th overall. His combination of shooting ability and heavy playing style give him credible top-six upside. I didn't love the Corson Ceulemans pick, as he lacks the hockey IQ to make the most of his physical abilities. Other NHL scouts agree, though some also side with Columbus on the matter.
Stanislav Svozil was an easy second-rounder, and Columbus has to be thrilled he fell to 69th overall. One could nitpick other selections, but Columbus ended the draft with two potential All-Stars in Round 1 and a potential top-four defenseman in Round 3. That's great work.
The Hurricanes are the antithesis to Ottawa's draft, as they continued an annual tradition of betting on raw skill even if it comes in a small package. Scott Morrow shone at the World Junior Summer Showcase and has a lot of upside as a puck-moving defenseman. Ville Koivunen was one of the best stick-handlers in the draft and could be a creative NHL forward if he works on his skating. Aleksi Heimosalmi can make big plays from the back.
The Hurricanes' draft class is littered with skilled players. If only just a few of them can work out their quirks and maybe hit a growth spurt, they'll come away with some quality NHLers.
With an aging roster and a weak prospect pool, the Capitals badly needed to add some real talent in this draft. They didn't really succeed. Vincent Iorio is a legitimate NHL prospect with projectable physical tools, but they left superior options on the board. Brent Johnson was a solid upside pick in the third round. He's a creative defenseman who could begin rushes and collect assists in the NHL. Their remaining picks were underwhelming.
Tristan Broz was nearly a point-per-game player in USHL but was also one of the oldest draft-eligible players. With a well-rounded skill set but no standout traits, he's the kind of forward the Penguins have successfully plugged in the lineup around their superstars. He was good value at the end of the second round. After that, it's difficult to nitpick one fifth- and three seventh-round picks. The Penguins got solid value out of the one pick they needed to.
Samu Tuomaala has a lethal shot but many question marks otherwise. He's a boom-or-bust pick, but at 46th overall it was well worth the gamble. I wouldn't necessarily say goaltender Alexei Kolosov is a great third-round selection, but it's an interesting one. In limited time he played well in the KHL. The rest of their picks were low-upside defensemen.
New York Rangers
There will have been some nervous Rangers fans when ESPN's broadcast described Brennan Othmann as a physical energy guy, but Othmann has plenty of skill to go with his physical game, and he was a perfectly reasonable pick at 15th overall.
It's the rest of the draft where things went downhill. Raw but offensively gifted high schooler Brody Lamb was a fun pick in Round 4, and third-rounder Ryder Korczak has some playmaking ability. Those guys aside, the Rangers lived up to their transition to "grit" in the worst way. Jayden Grubbe peaks as a bottom-six defensive center and was drafted at least two rounds too early. Kalle Vaisanen and Talyn Boyko shouldn't have been drafted at all, let alone in the fourth round.
New York Islanders
The Islanders did not have a first-round pick in 2021, but by getting Aatu Raty with the 52nd, they may as well have. Raty entered the year as the favorite to go first overall. He had a rough season but just last week dominated the World Junior Summer Showcase with a tournament-leading 14 points in six games.
He alone earns the Islanders a good grade. I like goaltender Tristan Lennox in Round 3, while Cameron Berg was an OK choice in the fourth. But this is all about Raty. One has to imagine a lot of the teams that passed on him would like a do-over.
New Jersey Devils
Luke Hughes has a ton of upside with his skating ability and size, but I felt he belonged toward the end of the top 10 rather than all the way up at fourth overall.
Less defendable was selecting Chase Stillman at 29th overall. He peaks as a depth forward in the NHL and would have been better served being selected later in the second round. Samu Salminen at 68th overall was good value. The Devils ended up with projectable NHL players, and maybe even good ones. They just maybe didn't maximize the value of their picks given the players available in certain moments.
Minnesota badly needed to add a younger goaltender to their system, and Jesper Wallstedt, easily a top-15 talent on paper, fits the need at 20th overall. Carson Lambos at 26th was also a good pick. He has easy top-four upside in the NHL. Jack Peart, drafted in late in the second round, is also a legitimate NHL prospect, while I liked a couple of their later-round bets from the WHL such as Caeden Bankier, a creative offensive player who was taken in the third round.
It's the two first-round picks carrying the most weight here, though.
Nolan Allan, drafted 32nd overall, is one of the most polished defenders in this draft, but the tradeoff is a lack of upside. He taps out as a third-pairing shutdown defenseman, which is a good player to go after three rounds later.
After him, Chicago's draft is underwhelming. Some picks were slot value (Ethan Del Mastro in the fourth round), but there are also a number of bad selections. There's nothing in later rounds to come close to overcoming a poor first-round pick.
The Jets had only four picks but made the most of them. There's no guarantee that 18th overall pick Chaz Lucius makes the NHL, but he has tremendous shooting and passing ability. Nikita Chibrikov, taken in Round 2, also has immense offensive upside and should have gone 15-20 picks earlier. Defenseman Dmitry Kuzmin, drafted in Round 3, also has plenty of upside. Multiple teams had lots more picks than Winnipeg but came away with less talent.
Fyodor Svechkov was in the discussion for best defensive forward in the draft. He won't be a star, but he has a good chance at turning into a foundational second- or third-line NHL center. Zachary L'Heureux, taken at 27th overall, could become Brendan Gallagher-lite if he learns to stay disciplined. I didn't love Anton Olsson—a turnover machine—in the third round, but they made up for that with defenseman Ryan Ufko in Round 4.
Dylan Guenther was great value at ninth overall. He's a bet to become a top-six goal-scoring forward. The rest of their picks left a lot to be desired. Josh Doan at 37th overall was a massive reach, and, with his father, Shane, in the Coyotes front office, it's hard to believe family ties played no role in this selection. Even armed with two other second-round picks, the Coyotes didn't leave the draft with meaningful prospects. Aside from Guenther, that is. They did nail the one pick they needed to.
St. Louis Blues
Zachary Bolduc was a slight reach at 17th overall, but there's no denying he's a creative offensive forward. It's not a horrendous pick, and the Blues did mitigate the damage with the selection of Simon Robertsson at 71st overall. Robertsson works hard off the puck and has a strong wrist shot. He has upside as a middle-six winger, which is more than can be said about dozens of players taken ahead of him.
Despite the lack of picks, Colorado crushed the draft. I loved the Oskar Olausson pick at 28th overall. The winger oozes confidence, his wrist shot is already very good and there are a few fairly easy tweaks that would make him an even better shooter. At 28th overall, all players available will have some issues, so why not swing for a home run? Olausson has top-six upside.
Sean Behrens was also incredible value at 61st overall. He's short and not a great skater, but he has the puck skills and physical game to overcome those problems. He has top-four upside and should have gone 30 picks earlier. Colorado knows a thing or two about developing defensemen.
Forward Wyatt Johnston was a reach at 23rd overall, though he didn't play last year because the OHL season was canceled. It's possible there is growth in his game yet to be shown.
Regardless, Dallas made up for that choice with its later selections. Logan Stankoven at 47th overall was the steal of the draft. He has incredible, dynamic skill and could become a scoring second line forward in the NHL. He could have gone as high as 15th overall. There's also a lot to like about Ayrton Martino and Conner Roulette, both wingers with NHL upside, in the middle rounds.
Seattle nailed the Beniers pick at second overall. He was my pick for the top prospect in the draft. Defenseman Ryker Evans at 35th overall was a huge reach whose statistical profile likely benefited from playing on the same team as generational prospect Connor Bedard. The rest of its picks were uninspiring. It got the most important pick right, but it was also the chalk pick.
Some mock drafts had Matthew Coronato going lower than 13th overall, but I'm a huge fan of this selection. With his combination of energetic style, hockey IQ and puck skills, he comfortably grades as a potential top-six forward who will slot in as a depth player even if he doesn't reach his peak.
In the later rounds, the Flames picked some players with upside but also major question marks. William Stromgren, a second-round pick, is 6'3" and has some puck-handling skills, but he has a lot of work to do to turn his tools into something productive. Cole Huckins and Cameron Whynot were slot value in the third rounds but come with injury concerns.
Vegas Golden Knights
Zachary Dean was an exceptional pick at 30th overall. He's someone who will need good linemates because he doesn't love taking the initiative offensively, but he has some of the best hands in this draft class and has top-six and power-play upside.
Defenseman Daniil Chayka went too early at 38th overall. He's tall and can skate, but he handles the puck like a live grenade and projects more as a shutdown bottom-pairing defenseman. There were better players available.
Mason McTavish was a respectable pick at third overall. He would not have been my choice, but there was no clear pick there, and McTavish is a safe pick. He has the upside to become a two-way, second-line center and could reach his peak earlier than most in this draft thanks to his mature game and pro-ready size.
There were some good picks in the other rounds as well. Defenseman Olen Zellweger is a phenomenal skater and was one of the youngest draft-eligible players. He produced at a point-per-game clip in a brief WHL showing last season, and it won't be a surprise if he grades as a top-20 player in this class a year from now. I also liked forward Sean Tschigerl in Round 5.
Winger Danila Klimovich was a bold pick at 41st overall. He was a largely unknown commodity until April's U18 World Championship, where he was impossible to miss with a number of highlight-reel plays for Belarus. Vancouver is betting on pure skill with that pick.
Its other picks were uninspiring, but it's possible Klimovich proves a steal who was hidden in Belarus' junior leagues, which is a rarity in this age.
San Jose Sharks
William Eklund has the highest upside of any player in this draft. If he hits, he'll be a perennial All-Star and San Jose's top point producer.
After him, Benjamin Gaudreau is a legitimate goaltending prospect. Ethan Cardwell, taken in Round 4, should have been drafted last summer and comes with a rare amount of certainty for an NHL project in Round 4. I don't love other picks, but San Jose got enough value with later picks that, with Eklund as the headliner, the Sharks come away as big winners of this draft.
Los Angeles Kings
Some could argue that Brandt Clarke—not Owen Power—was the best defenseman in this draft. Undoubtedly, he was the best offensive defenseman available and has upside as an All-Star and power-play QB.
Francesco Pinelli, drafted at 42nd overall, is a highly skilled center who has some issues in decision-making but should have gone higher. An NHL scout I spoke with called him an "easy first-rounder" prior to the draft. Samuel Helenius (59th overall) and Kirill Kirsanov (82nd) were slight reaches but are viable NHL projects. The team that entered the draft with the best prospect pool somehow got even richer.
With their first-round selection, Edmonton took Xavier Bourgault, who will either be a big producer on a line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl or he won't be in the NHL at all. It's hard to see any in-between outcome. Despite his ability to create goals, it was a fine but not great pick.
That's the best of it for Edmonton. Their other selections failed to produce a relevant NHL prospect.