Making it even more difficult is the fact that there are very good players all over the world. The first round of the 2020 Draft was marked by heavy activity in the CHL, with 19 of the 31 selected players coming from that league. That number won’t be that high this year, but the depth is still spread across the CHL. Typically, NCAA players are not on this list as they are typically drafted out of the USNTDP, USHL, or Level II before advancing to the college ranks. This year, however, we’ll see an anomaly, where three University of Michigan players will likely go in the first round. Since 1963, no NCAA team has had three active (unengaged) players selected in a single first round.
Unlike last year when forwards dominated the first round, this year it looks like several defenders will be in the mix to be impact players later on. Twenty-four of the first 31 players selected in the 2020 draft were forwards and the number of defenders recruited in the first round is expected to increase from the six selected last season. Height seems to be the common thread among them, when you look at 6ft 6in Owen Power, 6ft 4in Simon Edvinsson and 6ft 5in Roman Schmidt. Similar to basketball, the bigger players are so much more complete and versatile than they’ve ever been. There is also a plethora of top-of-the-line scorers available, and this is always coveted as even scoring is a rare asset.
So, with some players on the ice playing and others waiting to start, here’s our first look at the top 32 prospects in the 2021 NHL Draft.
1. Owen Power, D, U du Michigan (NCAA): Playing big minutes in all situations in a good program as a rookie is a rarity, especially for a defender.
2. Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): An impressive WHL total (32 in 57 games) last season given he was in charge of the toughest games defensively as a rookie.
3. Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Confident in avoiding the first wave of forward failure before effectively moving the puck. Moves easily on ice.
4. Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): The 2019-2020 WHL Rookie of the Year is a highly skilled, point-producing machine.
5. Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL): Assertive defender who is never afraid to join in and stay the course.
6. Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP: Already more mature physically at this age than his two older brothers, Jack and Quinn. Hockey IQ and a great skating ability are hallmarks of the family. Luke has that and the added bonus of height (6ft 2in, 176lb).
7. Matthew Beniers, C, U du Michigan (NCAA): Honest player with an engine that never stops. Freshman who has already won the trust of Michigan staff.
8. Kent Johnson, C, Michigan U (NCAA): Patience and poise with the puck allow him to display elite creativity in his game.
9. William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE): Motivated competitor with dynamic offensive potential. Red hot start in the SHL with 10 points in 15 games.
10. Corson Ceulemans, D, Okotoks (AJHL): Demonstrates leadership qualities and has the tools to perform in all areas. Being physically assertive in the defensive zone is a work in progress.
11. Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP: Currently injured, he is on this list for his work with the United States U-17 team last season where he scored 31 goals to accompany a 10-point U17 Challenge tournament.
12. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Oceanic (LHJMQ): Silky mittens combined with excellent hand-eye coordination make them a constant threat in the offensive zone.
13. Roman Schmidt, D, USNTDP: Another excellent right shooter defender who can be physically successful.
14. Aatu Raty, C, Carpathians (League): The draft-year blues took a bite out of the momentum he created last season. Limited minutes whenever he’s in the lineup.
15. Cole Sillinger, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): Another son of a former NHL player (Mike). Cole is playing a hungry game and has a knack for finishing.
16. Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Plays taller than his height of 5 feet 11 inches and 196 pounds.
17. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE): Type of advance that can score goals.
18. Sasha Pastujov, RW, USNTDP: Another player who exhibits a dual threat ability. Excellent hands and a great release.
19. Daniil Chayka, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): Efficient defensive player with a good stick and good reach, but leaves you wanting more offensively. Typical for late birthday players.
20. Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr. (FIN): Smallish’s right winger (5’10) who is cunning. Can play the game tight and get rid of the puck in a hurry.
21. Francesco Pinelli, C, Rangers de Kitchener (OHL): Great mix of skill and will. Kitchener played him on the wing at the age of 16 last season, but he will return to his natural center position when play resumes.
22. Ryder Korczak, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Centerpiece for retooling warriors. One of the oldest players available in this draft class as a date of birth in September 2002.
23. Jack O’Brien, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Held his on a line with Seth Jarvis in 2019-20. Excellent vision and anticipation help him create plays from scratch.
24. Oskar Olausson, RW, HV71 Jr. (SWE): Extremely accurate midrange shooter, especially on the offside. Hands and feet work well together at high speed.
25. Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL): NHL bloodlines with a big body that can really shoot the puck.
26. Fabian Lysell, RW, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): There are many layers to this onion, but the eye test will tell you that it deserves a much higher rating.
27. Artyom Grushnikov, D, Hamilton Bulldgos (OHL): Excels as a first pass defender who is simple but effective in the attacking zone.
28. Conner Roulette, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds: Continued Team Manitoba’s first-rate offensive production at the 2018 Canada Winter Games through to a 19-goal WHL rookie season.
29. Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): After a great rookie season, his shooting and release is misleading and similar to Connor McMichael’s.
30. Zachary Dean, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Similar to Ridley Greig in that they both hail from NHL lineage, both play a tough, old-school style of play and both have undercover skills.
31. Cole Huckins, C, Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL): A tall and powerful young man who poses a double offensive threat. Could bear to pull more.
32. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL): It would help immensely if he could steal the starting position from Hugo Alnefelt at the world junior championships.