The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is almost upon us which means it’s time for our annual mock draft. As is tradition, we’ve picked the entire first round as well as Montreal’s second-round and third-round selections.
Joining me to pick the draft this past Saturday (July 24th) was HW Editor Norm Szcyrek. Picks were made on an alternating basis as follows:
1, 3, 5, etc – Norm
2, 4, 6, etc – Brian
Each writer offers up their rationale for their selections below.
#1 – Buffalo Sabres – Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (NCAA)
With the rumours flying around Buffalo that they are moving centres Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, the Sabres need to look for a top centre quickly. Although Beniers has only one season in college, he scored a point a game and has a great combination of skating, offensive, and defensive abilities. They also have Dylan Cozens at centre but he will need help to get this team past the rebuilding stage. There’s a strong argument to be made that the Sabres could draft defenceman Owen Power, but I believe this selection will be made more for need.
#2 – Seattle Kraken – Owen Power, D, Michigan (NCAA)
Franchise defencemen are hard to come by but Power has the ability to be that. If he makes it past the Sabres, the drop will end there. The Kraken have some work to do in order to build up their back end but Power would go a long way towards doing that on his own. They may have to wait a year as he had stated a desire to return to college but his game is NHL-ready now.
#3 – Anaheim Ducks – Mason McTavish, C, Olten (SL)
Mason is already a two-way power centre which is a rare combination to find in a top prospect. He has some exciting offensive tools with great hands, an NHL ready shot, and solid playmaking. His skating is average but if the Ducks give him time to develop and focus on it, that will not be an issue at the NHL level. Mason has one of the best shots in this draft and had a strong finish to his season which helped him rise in many draft lists. For the Ducks, he could eventually supplant Ryan Getzlaf.
#4 – New Jersey Devils – William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden (SHL)
New Jersey is clearly committed to Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier as their one-two punch down the middle. But the average hockey fan might be able to name two wingers in their organization. Having young, offensively-gifted pivots is one thing but if they’re not surrounded by offensive talent, they’re not going to do very well. Enter Eklund, one of the most dynamic offensive talents in this draft. He has top-line potential and could help Hughes or Hischier take that next step forward.
#5 – Columbus Blue Jackets – Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda (SHL)
With four of the Blue Jackets’ recent first round picks being forwards, I sense they will select Edvinsson, a big 6’5″ strong skating blueliner, this year. This position also is the team’s weakest in terms of depth, and with rumours about Seth Jones expressing a desire to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, and Zach Werenski only two seasons away from potentially doing the same, the team’s focus has to be on a top-four defenceman. Simon loves to rush the puck and has the skating and puck handling skills to excel at this. He needs a little more time to work on his decision making. With his size, he can easily outmuscle opponents in front of his net, and he uses his long stick well to break up rushes.
#6 – Detroit Red Wings – Luke Hughes, D, NTDP U18 (USHL)
If you look at Detroit’s back end, there isn’t much in the way of offensive talent. Filip Hronek has some and that’s about it. Moritz Seider has some upside but hasn’t yet reached the NHL. Hughes would immediately become their biggest and most dynamic threat from the back end although, unlike his brother, he shouldn’t be making the jump from the US Development Program to the NHL right away; a year or two in college would certainly help things.
#7 – San Jose Sharks – Dylan Guenther, LW/RW, Edmonton (WHL)
San Jose often drafts WHL players and could use more depth at forward. Guenther has first-line potential and the Sharks could use a sniper; Guenther can deliver that in spades. He has a professional-level shot now and during his shortened junior season was exactly two points per game which is exceptional in this draft class. Guenther’s hockey sense is very good and he did well in a penalty killing role during the U18 tournament.
#8 – Los Angeles Kings – Brandt Clarke, D, HC Nove Zamky (Tipos Extraliga)
Another offensively gifted talent, Clarke has dipped a little lower in some of the rankings due to a skating stride that isn’t as strong as others that like to jump into the rush. But I think his defensive game can be good enough to make Clarke a legitimate top-pairing defender. Los Angeles has really put together a promising group of young forwards but their depth on the back end is much more limited. Clarke would certainly give their system a significant boost.
#9 – Vancouver Canucks – Kent Johnson, C/RW, Michigan (NCAA)
Vancouver needs help in all areas on their depth chart, so with Kent falling to this spot, I can easily see the Canucks selecting him. Johnson is a highly skilled forward, capable of starting an end-to-end rush or deking out a goal to score. His hockey sense and playmaking rate among the top five of this draft. He will need to work on his defensive game along with his strength and skating to flourish in the pros but if the Canucks are patient with him and let him stay in college, he should be ready to arrive in the next two seasons.
#10 – Ottawa Senators – Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL)
If you look at Ottawa’s organizational depth chart, there are several promising forwards and defencemen that are projected to one day join a core group that gave Canadian teams fits in the second half of the season. They don’t have that between the pipes, however. The Sens have taken a lot of goalies but none that really have number one potential. Wallstedt does and by the time he’s NHL ready, the Senators should be ready to make a real push in the Atlantic Division.
#11 – Arizona Coyotes – Forfeited Selection
Arizona forfeited the pick as part of their penalty for illegal pre-draft testing during the 2019-20 season.
#12 – Chicago Blackhawks – Matthew Coronato, LW, Chicago (USHL)
Chicago has had some success with undersized wingers but that alone doesn’t make Coronato a good fit. Instead, he’s someone that plays with quite an edge despite his size while being talented enough offensively to still be a key contributor in the top six. Consistency is hard to find in offensive talents but Coronato has it. There’s a lot to like and adding a quality goal scorer outside the top ten would be a nice coup for the Blackhawks.
#13 – Calgary Flames – Nikita Chibrikov, LW/RW, St. Petersburg (KHL)
The Flames have had a tendency in recent seasons to draft Russian players, and Nikita is a high-end offensive talent. He performed very well in both the Russian junior league and the KHL last season, possessing great skating, playmaking, and puck handling abilities. Chibrikov’s hockey sense is excellent as are his playmaking and skating. He has great agility and mixes up his release point to help fool goaltenders. His defensive game needs some work, but that’s coachable since he has the skating and IQ to improve in that area.
#14 – Philadelphia Flyers – Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
The Flyers have some long-term uncertainty down the middle with both Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier nearing the end of their deals and Morgan Frost struggling so far in his young career. They added Tyson Foerster a year ago but he’s more of a finesse player. Sillinger would bring them a different element, mixing in a bit of grit along with some offensive ability that should allow him to stick in the top six. There are some questions about whether or not he’ll be able to stick down the middle but even if that doesn’t happen, Sillinger should still be an impact player.
#15 – Dallas Stars – Chaz Lucius, C, NTDP U18 (USHL)
The Stars have decent depth all around and could likely go for the “best available player” at this position. Lucius missed the start of the season due to a knee injury but when he returned, he had a torrid scoring pace, scoring a hat trick in his first goals and ending up with thirteen goals in twelve games. Although Chaz has a sniper’s touch with different types of deadly shots, his passing and puck handling are also high end. His skating needs improvement which was a consideration before his knee surgery.
#16 – New York Rangers – Brennan Othmann, LW, Olten (SL)
Othmann spent the season in Switzerland’s second-tier league but impressed at the World Under-18’s which moved him up draft boards soon after. He doesn’t have quite as much offensive upside as some of the players selected after him in this mock but there is an all-encompassing element that makes him intriguing. He has a well-rounded offensive game, is capable in his own end, and even though he isn’t a typical power forward sized player, he certainly plays with a physical edge. Those players tend to go a little earlier than many expect and the Rangers are known to be coveting some more grit.
#17 – St. Louis Blues – Isak Rosen, RW, Leksands IF (SHL)
With Vladimir Tarasenko requesting a trade, the Blues should gamble on a high-end winger like Rosen to potentially take his spot. Isak has top-line offensive skills in terms of creativity, skating, and puck handling. He’s not a sniper per se, but more of a puck rusher that will generate a lot of offence on the rush. That’s not to say he won’t score goals though as he has a quick release with soft hands. He’s more of a creative forward to drive an offence and that makes him less predictable to defend against.
#18 – Winnipeg Jets – Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea (SHL)
Lysell is a well-rounded offensive talent and a very strong skater so why is he here and not higher? He has a lot of work to do to improve the rest of his game to get it to an NHL-calibre level. The good news is that Winnipeg has a pretty strong group of forwards already and can afford to show the patience needed for Lysell to develop. If he pans out, he could be a significant offensive threat.
#19 – Nashville Predators – Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga)
The Predators are still looking for a top-two centre to develop and Raty has that ability. Two seasons ago, he was rated as a top-five pick in this draft but has not developed as expected. He has good size and loves to drive the puck to the centre of the ice and can finish off a play with a heavy wrist shot. His defensive game is very solid which will help him adapt to the NHL game when he arrives. He’s a very hard-working player and is a good passer. There has been some inconsistency to his offensive game and if the Predators select him, they should allow him to continue to develop in Europe for the next few seasons.
#20 – Edmonton Oilers – Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton (WHL)
Sometimes, need and circumstance fit like a glove. That’s the case here for Edmonton. The Oilers badly need a starting-calibre goaltender in their system and Cossa, who projects as a starting-calibre goaltender, has played in their backyard for the past two years. This is a selection that they don’t need to overthink.
#21 – Boston Bruins – Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
The Bruins have to start looking for a top-end centre, with veteran centres Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci both 35 years old. Boston has always had a strong scouting group in the QMJHL and Bourgault is likely to be their choice. Xavier has very good passing and shooting ability but could use more time to develop his defensive game. He’s just as likely to score as set up a teammate for a goal. Bourgault is adept at tip-ins and has a quick release to surprise goaltenders.
#22 – Minnesota Wild – Jack Peart, D, Fargo (USHL)
It’s always hard to get a read on a player who splits time between the high school ranks and the USHL and Peart was no exception. He’s a bit undersized but is a high-end skater, an element that teams are coveting from their back end more now than ever before. Minnesota is a team that is trending towards a more dynamic attack and having someone that can jump in the rush and lead it would certainly be helpful. They’ll have to wait a few years to get him, however, as he needs a few years in college before making the jump.
#23 – Detroit Red Wings – Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL)
Corson is a big defender at 6’2″ and 201 pounds, yet is a great skater with decent speed. His passing, shooting, and puckhandling are solid but he could use a few seasons to develop his overall game. He appeared somewhat disinterested at times playing in the AJHL but that’s likely due to needing a new challenge. Corson is heading to college at Wisconsin in the fall which will help him develop further.
#24 – Florida Panthers – Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA (KHL)
At this stage of their careers, there are some players who flash all sorts of tools but have yet to put it all together on a consistent basis. Chayka is one of those players. He has a skill set that could make him an impactful top-four defenceman although there is also some risk. He is a capable defender in his own end which gives him a reasonable floor so while there is definitely a risk/reward element, Chayka’s floor is high enough to make him a viable first-rounder.
#25 – Columbus Blue Jackets – Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Most NHL teams with two draft picks in the first round will split those picks, one for a defenceman or a goaltender, and the other for a forward. The Blue Jackets have needed much more depth at centre since they traded Pierre-Luc Dubois to Winnipeg this past season. In Bolduc, they have an excellent skating point-producer with a solid defensive game. He has superior stick handling skills too and has played left wing to give him more versatility.
#26 – Minnesota Wild – Fedor Svechkov, C, Togliatti (VHL)
Minnesota is badly lacking for quality centres both on their current roster and in their system. Svechkov isn’t helping in the near future but he’s a safe bet to be a capable NHL contributor in a few years. He’s one of the better polished defensive forwards in the draft which makes him a viable checker at the very least. There are questions about his offensive upside, however, which is what slides him closer to the back of the first round.
#27 – Carolina Hurricanes – Samu Salminen, C, Jokerit U20 (SM-sarja)
The Hurricanes have had a lot of success with their Finnish forwards and they do not have a direct need in their depth chart. With Salminen, they have a big centre at 6’3″ who plays a good two-way game and is excellent at winning faceoffs. His character level is high and has a high hockey sense with a good work ethic. He was the captain of his U18 Finnish team which is typically a sign of good character, and he led the way with seven goals in that tournament. Samu is an underrated playmaker as he’s just as likely to set up a teammate as to try and score for himself.
#28 – Colorado Avalanche – Zach Dean, C, Gatineau (QMJHL)
Dean is one of those prospects who isn’t going to carry a line on his own but he’ll be able to fit in pretty much any role while playing up and down in the lineup. He may not be a pure top-six player but he’s someone that can be a key contributor to a winning lineup. That’s the type of player a team with long-term aspirations of contention like Colorado currently has would covet and the fact he can play both centre and the wing certainly helps.
#29 – New Jersey Devils – Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea (SHL)
Simon has a pro-level shot already and is one of the better defensive wingers in this draft. His work ethic is really high end. Robertsson is a powerful skater and his overall offensive skill set is also very good. Some scouts think he is not a first-line talent, but I predict he will become an excellent middle-six forward for the Devils. He’s physically mature for his age, and that along with his other tools may allow him a chance to crack the Devils lineup sooner than later.
#30 – Vegas Golden Knights – Carson Lambos, D, JYP (SM-sarja)
Every year, at some point in the mock draft, I wind up taking a player simply to get him off the board as I figure he’ll have been picked by this spot. Lambos is that player this year. He had a weird year in Finland which could hurt his stock a bit but he’s a safe, reliable defender who can also move the puck well. There are questions about how much offensive upside Lambos has but at a minimum, he’s a safe fourth or fifth blueliner which would be good value at the back of the first round.
#31 – Montreal Canadiens – Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
Zachary is an uber-competitive winger who also has an excellent offensive toolset. His skating, passing, playmaking and hockey sense are all very good, and he can handle the puck well at his top speed or while maneuvering in traffic. He’s an aggressive player too, willing to forecheck with aplomb, throw a big check or drop the gloves. Unfortunately, his aggression has led to four suspensions in this pandemic-shortened season due to unsportsmanlike conduct and fighting. To me, that’s a sign of immaturity, which is the same thing two of his idols (Brad Marchand and Matthew Tkachuk) went through early in their pro careers. There is time to correct that with coaching as long as L’Heureux is willing, and it does not hurt that he grew up a Montreal fan. He could use some work on his first step quickness to make him a breakaway threat. I predict L’Heureux will develop into a big shift disturber, and the Habs could use another player that the opposition hates to play against like him.
#32 – Columbus Blue Jackets – Francesco Pinelli, C, Jesenice (AlpsHL)
Pinelli wasn’t able to see much action this past season which certainly doesn’t help his draft stock. There are some areas of concern – particularly his skating – but he’s also someone that profiles as a second liner if everything comes together. For a team like Columbus that really needs to add some centre depth and upside, they can afford to take the small gamble at a higher payoff.
#63 – Montreal Canadiens – Chase Stillman, RW/C, Esbjerg (Denmark)
Stillman is a high-compete player with some decent offensive and defensive tools. During the U18 tournament, he laid out a few opponents with huge checks and caught the eyes of several scouts. One of those players was 6’5″ Simon Edvinsson, who went fifth in our mock. He scored at exactly two points per game pace in Denmark, scoring nine goals and seven assists in eight games. While there, he also excelled on the power play and penalty killing situations. He has a quick shot and loves to shoot from anywhere. His playmaking and hockey sense are also very good. He could easily develop into a top-nine player once he’s ready for the NHL in the next two to three seasons.
#64 – Montreal Canadiens – Scott Morrow, D, Shattuck St-Mary’s (USHS)
I’ll get this out there now – the Habs will be drafting multiple long-term projects outside of the CHL. That’s what they do and in a year like this, it’s even more justifiable. Morrow is definitely a long-term project that will need three or four years before turning pro but there is top-four upside if he can put it all together. A lot of Montreal’s recent defensive picks have strong skating and transition skills and Morrow fits that bill while being right-handed, an absolute rarity in this system. Handedness isn’t why he was picked here but it’s certainly a nice bonus.
#76 – Montreal Canadiens – Olivier Nadeau, RW, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
Skating is a bit of a concern for Nadeau but he is a capable complementary player that should be able to play up and down the lineup and should be able to continue to play physically in the pros. There will be higher ceiling players on the board at this spot but we’re assuming the Habs will mix in some safer selections along with some riskier ones. Nadeau qualifies in the former category but certainly still has some NHL upside. And if he can ever fix his skating, he could be a steal down the road.
#87 – Montreal Canadiens – Red Savage, C/LW, NTDP U18 (USHL)
Savage has an excellent work ethic and at worst could become a solid bottom-six forward as a pro. He has some offensive skills and there are some signs he has inherited his father’s wrist shot (former Hab Brian Savage). He has a powerful skating stride which helps his defensive game. In penalty killing situations, he reacts well to break up plays and tries to turn them into offensive chances. He protects the puck well in those situations but does not show much creativity which also leads to most scouts to not project him as a top-six player in the pros. I like his tools and feel that a late third-round pick that develops into a homegrown penalty killing/energy guy is worth the risk.
Don’t forget to make your own predictions of who will go where by entering our Draft Pool. Can you predict more correct selections than we can?