2020 has brought its share of volatility and surprises. This is especially true of NHL prospects for the 2021 draft. Before COVID-19 ravaged what was left of the 2019-2020 season for most draft-eligible prospects, the 2021 draft was gearing up to be one of many questions, including who would go number one overall. This is especially true today, considering how many leagues have yet to start (such as the OHL), how many leagues have chosen not to play at all (such as Ivy league NCAA teams), and how that has changed leagues that are currently playing.

Up in the air

Take the USHL, for example.  The USHL is a league that is a primary feeder league for the NCAA. However, once NCAA leagues announced postponed beginnings and others packed it in altogether, many players went back to the USHL teams they played on before playing college hockey. This means that ice time that would normally be given to draft eligibles is now taken from players already playing in the NCAA. Determining the ceiling on many players in most leagues is most certainly the most difficult of any time in my seven years of scouting.  

The Under-18 Championship was also canceled this year, meaning the first opportunity most scouts will have to see some draft-eligible players play against their peers is at the World Junior Championship. This tournament, however, is more of a 19-year-old tournament than a 17-year-old one. In addition, with the NHL yet to determine their start date, current NHL players like Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks are expected to play, likely bumping a potential younger draft-eligible player off of the roster.

In case you haven’t noticed, determining a draft list for the 2021 draft at times can seem like a rather impossible task. With that being said, and with an unfortunate amount of recency bias (because I can only watch players who are currently playing obviously), here is my first official crack at a top 32 (yes, 32 because Seattle joins the NHL fray next season) for the 2021 draft.

The Year of the Defenseman

Last year was light on defensemen, but this year is a different story. Owen Power currently leads my list and stands as my current number one (though this could change as the season progresses, there is no slam dunk number one in this draft). At 6’5, Power is exactly what his name suggests. He moves well for a man of his size and has excellent hands and skating ability. He is currently starring for Michigan in one of the few NCAA conferences to be playing currently. 

Luke Hughes, the brother of NHLers Jack and Quin, is a 6’2 defenseman who has excellent wheels and looks like a strong two-way defender. I assumed Brandt Clarke would be close to a top-five pick at the beginning of the year, but he has yet to play because of the OHL pause. He attempted to transfer to a European league but ran into issues due to his OHL obligations. Clarke has excellent offensive instincts and passes with precision. Simon Edvinsson, a massive Swedish blue-liner, and the highly-skilled Carson Lambos round out five potential defensemen in the top ten of this draft.

Forward-Lite

In comparison to the 2020 draft, 2021 is lacking true offensive superstars. Aatu Raty was considered by many to be the best of the bunch heading into this season, but he has had his struggles in Finland’s top league. Time will tell if he can regain his form and compete for the number one pick, or at least the number one forward in this draft. 

Matt Beniers, a center at Michigan, has emerged as a threat as a top-five pick. Beniers is a well-rounded player that does everything well. He has had an excellent start to the season. Wiliam Eklund is coming close to breaking records in the SWEHL and looks like a potential top-six forward. There is some concern around his size, but his production and dominance are suggesting otherwise. 

Dylan Guenther’s season hasn’t started yet, but he showed elite instincts and high-end overall skill last season in the OHL. Lastly, Kent Johnson has had a decent offensive start for Michigan (yes, lots of the University of Michigan in this draft), but has had a few players pass him on my board. He could easily move up as the season progresses.

Ranking

Player

League

1. D Owen Power NCAA/Big-10
2. D Luke Hughes USHL/USNTP
3. C M. Beniers NCAA/Big-10
4. C/W Aatu Raty FIN
5. C William Eklund SWEHL
6. D Brandt Clarke OHL
7. C Dylan Guenther WHL
8. C Kent Johnson NCAA/Big-10
9. D Simon Edvinsson SWEJR.
10. D Carson Lambos WHL
11. G Jesper Wallstedt SWEHL
12. W Fabian Lysell SWEJR.
13. D Daniil Chayka OHL/KHL
14. Zachary L’Heureux  QMJHL
15. C Cole Sillinger WHL
16. C Chaz Lucious USHL/NTDP
17. D Roman Schmidt USHL/NTDP
18. C Jack O’Brien WHL
19. D Corson Ceulemanis AJHL
20. C Ryder Korczak WHL
21. C Mason McTavish OHL
22. C Francesco Pinelli OHL
23. W Simon Robertsson SWEHL/SWEJR
24. W Nikita Chibrikov KHL
25. W Sasha Pastujov USHL/USNDTP
26. W Brennan Othman WHL
27. C Zachary Bolduc QMJHL
28. W Connar Roulette WHL
29. W Logan Stankoven WHL
30. W Matthew Samoskevich USHL
31. W Chase Stillman OHL
32. D Sean Behrens USHL/USNDTP