By Ryan Wagman, McKeen’s Hockey lead prospect writer
This is it. The Lightning are Stanley Cup champions again. Team Canada, featuring a lineup heavily represented by Ontario-based players whose season was completely wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic won the World U18 championship. All other hockey leagues around the world – including the one-time-one PBHH Tournament in Erie, Pennsylvania – are done for the year.
The next on-ice event in North America will be the World Junior Summer Showcase, which kicks off July 24, only three days after the Seattle Kraken will announce their inaugural roster. And between the NHL Expansion Draft and the first puck being dropped on the WJSS, 32 NHL teams will log in to a gigantic online conference call and take turns calling out the names of 223 hockey players born between January 1, 2001 and September 15, 2003, with allowances for players born in 2000 if they are not North American-based.
The first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft will take place on Friday, July 23, with 31 picks, notably missing Arizona’s choice (they would have chosen 11th, between Ottawa and Chicago), stripped from the club due to violations of the NHL Combine Testing Policy which occurred during the 2019-20 season.
Based on the McKeens Hockey Draft Guide – available to all subscribers at mckeenshockey.com, and now available to be bought separately, as both an online guide, and as a print guide – rankings and guide, with some additional input from NHL sources, here is our final Mock Draft for the first round. As an added bonus, I will include a name of a reasonable pick for the first choice of teams who are not currently slated to make a pick in the first round.
1. Buffalo Sabres – Owen Power, D, Michigan (NCAA/Big 10)
Even when an NHL draft has numerous players who could step right into an NHL lineup within months of being drafted, a team should truly never draft for present need. In this draft, the most likely outcome is that zero players go directly to the NHL. This is due to both the lack of a generational talent available, and the shortened season the vast majority of the players were limited to this year means that that are less prepared, as a class, than under normal circumstances. Furthermore, and being fully frank, the Sabres have needs everywhere. So the goal here should be to take the player who is most likely to be a top of the lineup player at his peak. That is Owen Power. The gigantic Michigan blueliner has been compared to the likes of Victor Hedman, Chris Pronger, Brent Burns, and Aaron Ekblad, and no one in particular. In truth, he is a unique player, combining amazing size, strong skating, a big shot, great vision, the ability (if not necessarily the proclivity) to play a dominating physical game.
Power has already stated that he intends to return to Michigan for his sophomore season, and he should. He was very good as a freshman, but has more room for growth in his game, and a full season with the Wolverines, interrupted only by a trip to the WJC, would help him find his ceiling. Buffalo might also consider his teammate, center Matthew Beniers, more on whom below, but Power has both the higher ceiling and the higher floor, and should really be a slam dunk at this spot.
2. Seattle Kraken – Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (NCAA/Big 10)
If Buffalo takes Beniers – or anyone, really – over Power, the Kraken will begin their future build with the defender instead. But in this case, the Sabres do the smart thing and select Power. So, Ron Francis takes a player after his own heart, a center who grew up in Massachusetts and modeled his game after the great Patrice Bergeron, and would have been playing at Harvard had the Ivy League not shut down completely last year.
Beniers is known for his two-way game more than his skills, but his skill set is impressive as well. When he played for the USNTDP, he was one of the team’s top scorers, even while being younger than practically the rest of his team. He also managed to score at a point-per-game clip as a freshman in the NCAA, while taking time out mid-season to represent his country at the WJC – where he worked his way up from the fourth line role, to a first line winger between the first game and their gold medal winning finale.
[For more coverage of top prospects and the 2020 NHL Draft, follow @Ryan Wagman on Twitter]
3. Anaheim Ducks – Mason McTavish, C, EHC Olten (NLB) / Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Of course, if either of Beniers or Power is available, the Ducks take him. If, somehow, both are available, well, the rest of this mock draft will be awkward. The Ducks are expected to be hunting a player who will be able to fit into their top-six quickly. Not this year, but pushing for that spot for the 2022-23 season. The most likely candidates are McTavish, Edmonton Oil Kings’ winger Dylan Guenther, and Swedish winger William Eklund. So why McTavish? The offensive weapons are as high as those of the other two. Guenther might be a slightly better skater, but McTavish has the greater physical presence and the Ducks will not be forced to wait for him to finish his physical development before he’s ready. Additionally, McTavish has already proved that he can produce against men, as he showed with nine goals in 13 games in Switzerland, as the OHL season failed to launch. As for Eklund, the Swedish player actually has two seasons against men in the SHL already under his belt, and has high end puck skills of his own, but is significantly smaller than the other two. As an added bonus, McTavish can play both up the middle and on the wing. I expect him to fight for an NHL role in about 12 months.
4. New Jersey Devils – Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP (USHL)
Last year, with three first round picks, the Devils selected two wingers and a blueliner. This is a franchise that has been patiently building up a pipeline of high-end prospects at practically every position, with the exception of goalie. So, this is the first reasonable landing spot for top Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt. That said, I have a hard time seeing still new GM Tom Fitzgerald making that move just yet. I could see them trade down a few spots and try to nab Wallstedt or Sebastian Cossa as well as an extra piece or three, but if they keep the pick, I expect a position player to be the call. In that case, some of the players already discussed, including Dylan Guenther, and William Eklund, will be considered, as well as a few blueliners, including Luke Hughes, Brandt Clarke, and Simon Edvinsson. With these options, I see a lean towards Hughes, and not only because older brother Jack was the team’s No. 1 pick a few short years ago.
Committed to play at Michigan next season, Hughes is maybe the youngest player of note in this draft class, born only a few days before the Class of 2021 cutoff. He is a tremendous skater, and has very exciting puck skills. Edvinsson has some of that as well, but is not as consistent in applying his skills to the ice. As for Clarke, there is a reasonably similar type of player in Ty Smith, who made his debut this past season. Luke Hughes gives them a different look, and has the most potential of anyone on the board to develop into a top of the lineup player in his prime.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets – Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea HF (SHL)
It can’t be easy to be in Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s shoes right now. He and his scouting staff are meant to be finalizing their draft board, and their expansion protection list, but the franchise is instead rocked by tragedy, as young netminder Matīss Kivlenieks lost his life in a backyard fireworks mishap. This selection is in no way meant to be considered as a replacement for Kivlenieks, or even a replacement if – as seems likely – Seattle selects one of the Blue Jackets’ other young netminders in the expansion draft. Wallstedt is, according to many, the best draft eligible goalie since Carey Price, never mind recent first round goalies Spencer Knight or Yaroslav Askarov. Wallstedt has the requisite size, composure, technical aptitude and athleticism to be an NHL starter. His strong experience in the SHL this year is another indication that he isn’t long for the NHL. If Kekalainen doesn’t want the goalie, I would expect one of Eklund or Guenther to be the pick here, but Columbus’ other two picks in the first round are in the 20s and they are far more likely to be able to draft a top six forward there than a starting goalie.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Brandt Clarke, D, HC Nove Zamky (Slv) / Barrie Colts (OHL)
The Red Wings under Steve Yzerman have tended to go with Europeans and college-bound players over CHLers, and this draft will test that philosophy. Wallstedt would have been considered, but in this scenario, the Wings just missed out with Wallstedt going to Columbus at No. 5. Eklund is another pick that would seem to be right up Detroit’s alley, as a mature player with top flight puck skills and on-ice maturity well, well beyond his years, but I held back as his profile is too similar to the team’s top pick from 2020, Lucas Raymond. On the other hand, with Brandt Clarke, we instead see Detroit taking a player with a skills and smarts game as a blueliner. You might say, but what about Moritz Seider, their first rounder from two years ago? Isn’t he also right-handed? Very true, but adding him to the system would give Detroit two of the best young right-handed defensemen not yet in the NHL, two pairings worth of quarterbacks. Between his time in Slovakia and his time with the Canadian U18 squad, he certainly proved that he is a very worthy pick in this slot.
7. San Jose Sharks – William Eklund, LW, Djurgardens IF (SHL)
Last year, the Sharks went heavy on playmakers, and with the way this mock is shaping up, the best player available is another natural playmaker – one of the best in this draft class – in Eklund. His experience in the SHL (almost two full seasons already) makes him one of the more NHL-ready players in this draft class, although the Sharks will like him to physically mature more before starting his NHL career. Down the road, when the likes of 2020 draft picks Thomas Bordeleau and Daniil Gushchin are ready, the team might need to shuffle their pieces to build a cohesive roster, but pick the talent when it gets to you and Eklund is fantastic value at No. 7 overall.
8. Los Angeles Kings – Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda HC (SHL)
The Kings have one of the deepest systems in the game, possibly the deepest. There isn’t a single position – outside of the net – at which they don’t have multiple young players who project as NHLers coming up through the system, even if some say they could use a winger, as too many of their prospects are centers. As if there is such a thing as having too many centers. Now, it is true that the NHL team needs some scoring from the wings, but the NHL team isn’t getting that with the 8th pick of the draft. So, the NHL team traded second rounders this year and next to Nashville for Viktor Arvidsson. What the team’s current pipeline does allow for is drafting a player who might need a few years to be ready, to come to the team with a subsequent wave of young talent. In this scenario, LA should be looking at the likes of Dylan Guenther, Simon Edvinsson, Kent Johnson, and Chaz Lucius. Sebastian Cossa could be a target if they try to trade down 3-6 spots. With the options available, I am pairing them with the big Swedish defender, who combines incredible skating and puck skills in a supersized frame, a talent the likes of which this team has nothing like. He is raw, and likely needs at least two more years of development, but the upside is a star.
9. Vancouver Canucks – Kent Johnson, C, Michigan (NCAA/Big 10)
The Kings have everything already. The Canucks need everything. Their system has a few high-end pieces but zero depth anywhere. That said, with the top four blueliners in this draft class already gone in this scenario, they can afford to look at the best forward they can find, which is what the draft is offering up at this stage. As recent history tells us that the Canucks prefer players who are closer to the NHL than in need of long-term development – especially in the early rounds – they would be more interested in the likes of Johnson, Guenther and Cole Sillinger than Lysell or Coronato. Chaz Lucius and Aatu Räty are also potential wildcards. But I am going to with Johnson here. His puck skills are sublime, even if he needs to simplify his game to manage his risk taking better. If he hits, he could be a stylistic second wheel to Elias Pettersson in terms of creativity and unpredictability. As it happens, Johnson is a local bonus, and the Canucks brass would have also seen plenty of him this year watching his Michigan teammate Jacob Truscott, who they had drafted last year.
10. Ottawa Senators – Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
If the draft shakes out like this (it won’t, but let’s roll with it), the Senators are giddy around now. All of the top end defensemen are off the board, but the Sens blueline cupboard is overflowing. Their NHL roster also has an abundance of elite young talents just scratching the surface of their collective potential. With a number of talented, goal-scoring, play-driving forwards available, the Sens can take one who, in the real world, could be gone within the first three picks, even if he was somewhat overshadowed on a gold medal winning Team Canada at the U18s. Of all of the players available, Guenther has the best combination of upside and floor, with relatively little still to accomplish before being NHL ready. He is well-rounded and versatile, and will find a spot on a future Ottawa playoff contender.
12. Chicago Blackhawks – Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Like the few teams before them, the Hawks are basically in a position to choose between the second of two goalies in this draft who look like probable NHL starters, or among a group of talented forwards who all profile somewhere in a top six role within a few years. If they take a forward, the best offensive drivers on the board are local talent (by junior team, not by upbringing) Matthew Coronato, USHL transplant Cole Sillinger, and USNTDP standout Chaz Lucius, as well as Swedish dynamo Fabian Lysell, who leans towards playmaking than the other three. This year’s Alex DeBrincat/Cole Caufield type, Logan Stankoven of the WHL would also be a worthwhile gamble now, but that would beg the question of whether an NHL team function with two top six players of that stature. In the end, the goalie is the choice that would appear most likely to be a difference maker for Chicago re-emerging as a competitive team.
The Blackhawks do like Drew Commesso, who they had selected last year in the second round and is coming off a solid freshman campaign at Boston University. But having never played more than 37 games in any one season, maybe Commesso is more of a 1B. Cossa has also never played a full season of starter’s minutes yet, but the pandemic stood in the way of that workload. Gigantic with great athleticism and ability to read the play, he profiles as an ideal 1A.
13. Calgary Flames – Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea HF (SHL)
Now here is a team that wouldn’t have minded one of the top defenders being available. Then again, the Flames have one of the shallower systems in the league, so anything helps. I would expect the team to be looking hard at the forwards listed in the Chicago blurb (Coronato, Sillinger, Stankoven, Lucius, Lysell), noting also that Calgary has been one of the teams most willing to overlook size, as long as the player gives it his all. None of these players is a true grinder, but there is one who plays with extensive bite, and that is Lysell. He isn’t too big, but will get gritty to generate offense, and his skill set is exceptional, so he generates a lot offense. Now Lysell is a battler, although that has in the past included battling with his team, precipitating a move from Frolunda to Lulea, which was willing to play him with the senior team. While there have been reports of attitude issues regarding Lysell, NHL scouts with whom I have discussed are not very concerned.
14. Philadelphia Flyers – Cole SIllinger, RW/C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
With only one pick out of Europe in the previous two drafts, and a rich history of drafting players on the collegiate track (although not so much last year), the Flyers will likely be sorting through the same group of forwards that Chicago and Calgary were, only now with one less still available. So why pick Sillinger over Coronato, Lucius, or Stankoven? Regarding the latter, the Flyers haven’t shown the openness to taking smaller guys early, or using them as lineup centerpieces. Lucius’ draft year was delayed due to surgery, and while his numbers are great, the sample size was tiny (13 games) and his pace is a concern. Coronato put up tremendous numbers all season long, but he seems primed to make whoever drafts him wait, as he is heading to play for Harvard. That leaves Sillinger, whose father played for the Flyers over parts of two seasons before Cole was born. Cole lit up the USHL for a bottom feeding Sioux Falls team, and should continue doing the same next year as he returns to the WHL, to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He has an NHL style game, a strong frame, and a killer instinct for shooting the puck.
15. Dallas Stars – Isak Rosen, RW, Leksands IF (SHL)
The Stars have a very shallow talent pool, which until recently, was being filled with lunchpail players. The team had largely stayed away from high end skill players, focusing more on character guys who could contribute, even with first round picks, such as Ty Dellandrea, who they selected 13th overall in 2018. Last year though, they showed a different leaf, selecting skill with each selection they made. I like this new approach, as it tends to lead to more exciting hockey, and frankly, you can’t win if you don’t score. Historically, the Stars have also mined Sweden heavily at the draft, a trait which continued last year as well. So why combine those two? Lysell would have been an option if he was still on the board, which he is not in this scenario. So how about the guy who tied for the Swedish U18 team in points as the team won bronze at the recent WU18s? Isak Rosen has a full toolshed of high-end offensive elements. Being forced to play in the SHL after the Swedish junior leagues were cancelled didn’t help his stat page, but was a great learning experience, which his seven goals in seven games at the U18s illustrated. He needs to complete his physical growth and learn to simplify his game (pick his spots), but he represents an exciting future piece for Dallas. Hey, we know he can score in Texas!
16. New York Rangers – Matthew Coronato, LW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
Back to a team with a very deep prospect pool, even if some of the better players graduated last year. The Rangers are going to be really good very soon and will need a second wave of talent to follow the current wave. As mentioned in the blurb on Philadelphia’s pick, Coronato might be three years from signing, as he is going to Harvard (Harvard players rarely leave earlier than three years into their collegiate careers), but the Rangers shouldn’t be too bothered by that, given the makeup of their roster. They should be more excited by his amazing record of production, which looks sustainable given his skating, shot, puck skills, and hockey IQ. The fact that Coronato is actually from New York City, is merely a neat bonus.
17. St. Louis Blues – Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Back to shallow systems again. The Blues went to the USHL twice in last year’s draft – which doesn’t count the USHL grad who was already playing NCAA hockey. There is no reason to expect them to shy away from that development course now, especially as the player we consider to be the best available is taking that route. And in this scenario, we would not be alone in considering Lucius to be the best man standing. Yes, there are some mild concerns about his skating, both before last year’s knee surgery and since. By all accounts, though, he rehabbed quicker than anticipated, and still managed to score regularly. His ability to read defenses and unlock chances for others is also underappreciated. In the real world, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lucius is selected in the top ten. In this mock world, the Blues are delighted that he wasn’t. He will spend the next few seasons (I am guessing two seasons) playing collegiately for Minnesota, before turning pro. He has top line upside.
18. Winnipeg Jets – Aatu Räty, C, Karpat (Liiga)
Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Jets have been a consistently solid drafting team, even if they haven’t used their full allotment of seven picks in any of the previous three years. With the picks they have made, more often than not, those picks have leaned towards players who have a track record of demonstrating plus hockey IQ. Skill and skating acumen are also, of course, valued, but smarts come first. Looking at the top players available, like Logan Stankoven, Oskar Olausson, Xavier Bourgault, Brendan Othmann, and Räty, all combine strong hockey IQ with projectable top six value. Räty is the choice though, because while he struggled at time this year, particularly in the first half, he was largely seen as a top five candidate coming into the year, and his second half was more along the lines of what we had hoped to see this year prior to the pandemic. Winnipeg has drafted extensively from Finland in recent years (Laine, Vesilainen, Heinola, Niku, etc) and seem to trust their Finnish scout. Assuming that the first half was the blip and the second half was the continuance of his previous development trajectory, this could end up being up one of the steals of this draft class.
19. Nashville Predators – Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
One of the teams most comfortable drafting Russian talents, Nashville might be the ceiling for the big three Russian forwards in this draft class, Chibrikov, Svechkov, and Poltapov, who we rank in that order, even if there isn’t too much daylight between them. The Predators could also be the team to open the floor to defensemen again, after what has been, in this scenario, a run of six consecutive forwards. Thew team has also had a thing for drafted really big players, although this trait is not exclusive, as some of their highly skilled picks of recent years (Tolvanen, Farrance, Tomasino, etc) demonstrate. At the end of the day, though, L’Heureux seems to tick more boxes. He has a big, goal-scoring shot, like recent picks Tolvanen and Afanasyev. He reads the game well. He plays extra greasy, long a Nashville staple. We would assume that Nashville would believe that the temper flareups that led to a pair of suspensions this year would be learning points for him, and that his high-end energy will find a way to play somewhere in the NHL before too long, with his offensive skills allowing him to slowly rise up the depth chart with time. And the run on forwards continues.
20. Edmonton Oilers – Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (WMJHL)
The Oilers would have loved for local netminder Sebastian Cossa be available here. Not only is he local and talented, but that organization lacks a sure-thing future No. 1 in its system, even if Olivier Rodrigue, Ilya Konovalov, and Stuart Skinner all have promise. The team has gone heavy on defenders and wingers in recent drafts, the former to buttress an organizational weakness, and the latter to try to find players to play with McDavid and Draisaitl. Also notable, their selection of Kailer Yamamoto as a first-round pick shows their openness to eschewing size in the draft, although last year’s selection of Dylan Holloway in the first round was the inverse of that. In any case, I like the fit of Xavier Bourgault. A plus skater who can play both up the middle and on the wing, Bourgault has a lot of tools in his game to help his team. We actually think he is the top talent out of the QMJHL this year, so getting him after L’Heureux is extra value. Whether he ends up being groomed as a third line center, or on one of McDavid/Draisaitl’s wings, he will be a good contributor.
21. Boston Bruins – Brennan Othmann, LW, HC Olten (NLB)/Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Since drafting Charlie McAvoy, Trent Frederic, and Ryan Lindgren early in 2016, the Bruins drafting tendencies have admittedly confused me. Mind you, their 2015 class (Zboril/DeBrusk/Senyshyn >>> Barzal/Connor/Chabot) was extremely confusing as well. The trend has seemed to grit all the way. We have to remember that McAvoy is very gritty, in addition to being exceptionally skilled. I think Boston would have been interested in L’Heureux if Nashville hadn’t selected him two picks prior. Looking at the grittier plays on the board in this scenario, I could see the Bruins kicking the tires on AJHL blueliner Corson Ceulemans, who is also an accomplished puck mover, Finnish winger Ville Koivunen, Swedish winger Oskar Olausson, and a pair of forwards from Ontario who both took their respective talents to Europe while the OHL failed to launch, before returning to represent their homeland in the WU18, in Francesco Pinelli and Othmann. Either would be solid picks in this region of the draft, but I like Othmann as a better fit for the Bruins as his physical game is more consistent and he doesn’t really fall short offensively, either.
22. Minnesota Wild – Nikita Chibrikov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Bill Guerin’s Wild are shaping up to be much different from the organization of his predecessors, if the previous draft and other events are anything to go by. Now, instead of the Kirill Kaprizov’s of the prospect world being late round fliers, they are high-end picks, thinking to their selection in the first round of Marco Rossi last fall. In short, we have no reason to think that the mandate isn’t skill. Also, the organization has been very comfortable drafting out of Russia, a trait that started well before Guerin was joined, and continued last year, with the selection of Marat Khusnutdinov in the second round. Considering that the big three Russian forwards are, at this stage, expecting to begin hearing their respective names called, might as well take the one they prefer. I could also see Minnesota going after a skilled defenseman, but are as likely to get their choice of blueliner with their second first rounder (No. 25), so it is easier to focus on the forward first. Chibrikov and Poltapov both edge out Svechkov in the puck skills department (albeit not by much). Chibrikov gets the edge on Poltapov in terms of level of experience, having spent much of his draft year playing against men in the KHL and VHL, while Poltapov has yet to rise past Russian junior hockey. All are talented, potential play drivers, but Chibrikov is the pick here.
23. Detroit Red Wings (from Capitals, as part of the Mantha/Vrana trade) – Logan Stankoven, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
When people think of smaller players who were drafted too low for their skill sets and projections, the two most common names to come out these days are Cole Caufield and Alex DeBrincat. While some teams are still hesitant to draft anyone under 5-foot-10, Montreal and Chicago are not the only ones to give the smaller players a chance. Now Detroit doesn’t have a big history of drafting these vertically-challenged prospects, Yzerman has a history of doing so back to his Tampa Bay days, most notably the drafting of Brayden Point from the WHL in 2014. Stankoven is actually shorter than Point, but he is built solidly, somewhat mitigating the risk of his stature. He is a very quick skater with a lightning shot. And like Point, he has an illustrious track record of offensive production. This pick has a big chance of being looked back at as a steal within a few short years. Note that Stankoven played up the middle for his WHL squad, but was used mostly on the wing while with Team Canada at the WU18s.
24. Florida Panthers – Jack Peart, D, Fargo Force (USHL)/ Grand Rapids HS (USHS-MN)
While tracking the draft last year, I was pleasantly surprised by how often the Panthers, under new GM Bill Zito, selected players who were almost always right near the top of the McKeens list of available talents. It was almost uncanny. So, who are the top four players on our board right now? Simon Robertsson, a Swedish winger with speed and a bigtime shot; Oskar Olausson, another Swedish winger, who plays a mature game that is currently better off the puck than on, but should improve the latter with additional time in the SHL; Mackie Samoskevich, a playmaking speedster from the USHL who will be joining the three from Michigan next year in Ann Arbor; Peart, the top player from the Minnesota high school ranks last year, who also impressed with his half-season with Fargo of the USHL with his incredibly mature overall game. I will also throw in Corson Ceulemans to that list of potential picks, as the second highest ranked defender on the board, and the Panthers drafted a defender from the AJHL last year as well in Michael Benning. From the above group, the best fit in my eyes is Peart. Based on Zito’s acquisitions, hockey IQ seems to be paramount and Peart is on his own level in that regard. He will spend the next two or three years with St. Cloud State, but looks like a good No. 3 fit within short order.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Maple Leafs, as part of Foligno trade) – Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
With the goalie of the future already locked up in Jesper Wallstedt, the Jarmo-show continues. When tying them to Wallstedt earlier, I noted that they should be able to find a potential top six forward with their later picks. Columbus has been known for picking from a much different set of rankings than both other NHL teams as well as the publicly available lists, such as the McKeens list. So obviously, they could really go in any direction at this point, but we at least know that they favor European talent in the early rounds. In fact, since drafting Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall in 2016, they have selected only one North American based player in the first four rounds of any draft. I looked at other Europeans beyond those listed above for the Florida pick, namely a trio of Russians in Fyodor Svechkov, Prokhor Poltapov, and Daniil Chayka, but think they could all (or at least two of the three) be available with the Blue Jacket’s third first rounder, at No. 31.
Considering their slant towards raw tools that need development over polished players (see Texier, Chinakhov, Foudy), I think the right pick here should be Robertsson. The young winger flashes high end abilities with his feet, hands, and finishing abilities, but still lacks consistency. Being forced to play in the SHL before he was ready didn’t help his offensive production, but will pay off down the road as he integrates his skills into the flow of the game at higher levels. Robertsson might carry a bit more risk than others, but the potential upside is greater.
26. Minnesota Wild (from Penguins as part of Zucker trade) – Francesco Pinelli, C, HDD Jesenice (AlpsHL) / Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
When picking for the Wild at No. 21, I noted that they would be most likely to pick a forward first as their top choice of defender at that time would be likely to be available at this pick. I was thinking of Peart, with Ceulemans as the backup plan. Little did they know (and little did I know at the time), that Peart would be nabbed right between their two picks, going off the board at No. 23 to Florida. So now Minnesota will have to decide between Ceulemans, another defender like Daniil Chayka, Stanislav Svozil, or Corson Lambos, or taking a second forward, such as Mackie Samoskevich, Oskar Olausson, Francesco Pinelli, Ville Koivunen, or Samu Tuomaala. Choices, choices, choices. Well, last year, they went with two forwards, before drafting two defenders, so I think I’ll continue that pattern. I also sense that, all else being equal, the Wild would prefer a player with some muscle to him than a smaller guy, as a lot of their top prospects are on the smaller side, including Chibrikov, in this scenario. In terms of projected value, there isn’t much to separate the five forwards listed above, but Pinelli has the most solid build. The fact that he used the OHL shutdown to excel in Slovenia in the AlpsHL adds to the intrigue. He could be a quick riser.
27. Carolina Hurricanes – Fyodor Svechkov, C, Lada Togliatti (VHL)
On the one hand, Carolina owner Tom Dundon noted that his previous edict not to draft defensemen in the first round is over, opening the way for Carolina to consider the likes of Ceulemans and Lambos here. On the other hand, why mess with a good thing? The Hurricanes have drafted very well over the last few years, injecting a ton of talent into the system. So, the easiest, and probably correct, thing to do here is simply find the player with the best collection of offensive tools on the board and pair him with Carolina. While Mackie Samoskevich is close, his inconsistency in the second half would drop him below Fyodor Svechkov and Samu Tuomaala, if only slightly. Both Svechkov and Tuomaala were tremendous at the U18s. While it is almost a cliché to connect Finnish players to Carolina, they haven’t been shy about drafting Russians either. Svechkov has had far more experience – and success – in men’s league’s than Tuomaala, so he is the pick now. A great skater with lateral agility as well as speed, he brings a puck moving element with rare upside.
28. Colorado Avalanche – Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
While Colorado has focused an outsized percentage of their recent picks on Russians and players taking the college route, they have also not hesitated to select from the CHL in the first round, such as the recent picks of Bowen Byram and Justin Barron. Their system isn’t terribly deep, but its high end is still exceptional. They generally take the player with the highest perceived upside, even if said player’s stick is down due to an injury-filled draft year. They may be hesitant to draft a defenseman in the first as the system is incredibly deep, from the NHL to the amateur ranks, in quality defenders. With that being that case, I would think the Avalanche would be looking at the same group of players that Carolina would have been right in front of them. That means Colorado is picking between Samoskevich and Tuomaala. Using the same logic explained with that Hurricanes pick, that means that Tuomaala, a fantastic skater with a balanced offensive attack, becomes a Colorado draft pick.
29. New Jersey Devils (from Islanders as part of the Palmieri/Zajac trade) – Prokhor Poltapov, LW, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
With a very deep system, the Devils don’t have any specific organizational needs to worry about and can just take the best player on their board. The gap in talent among players at this point is getting marginal and selection can be more a matter of taste. We know they are comfortable turning to Russia in Round 1, as they used their third of three first round picks on blueliner Shakir Mukhamadullin. They have also been known to draft heavily out of the USHL. I see them looking at Mackie Samoskevich and Prokhor Poltapov at this point. Both wingers are incredibly talented with hands and feet both remarkably quick. I lean towards Poltapov as he left the more notable last impression, with an at-times electrifying performance at the WU18s.
30. Vegas Golden Knights – Carson Lambos, D, JYP U20 (U20 SM-sarja) / Winnipeg ICE (WHL)
By dint of expansion, the Golden Knights have a naturally shallow system. By dint of constantly trading away their top prospects for the previous year’s model, the system is also artificially shallow. Things are especially dire on the blueline, as forwards can at least lay claim to the top six spots on Vegas’ prospect list, and seven spots in the top ten. There are a few defenders who are easy value in this range, including AJHL two-way threat Corson Ceulemans, WHL puck mover Carson Lambos, mature Czech defender Stanislav Svozil and well-rounded Russian prospect Daniil Chayka. Vegas has drafted heavily from both the WHL and Russia in recent years, and they would have been especially familiar with Lambos, who was a prominent blueline contributor as a 16-year-old for the Winnipeg ICE while Vegas was tracking Peyton Krebs, who was their 2019 first round pick. And Lambos might be the best pick at this point anyway, someone how, if it were not for the pandemic pushing him to play in Finland for much of the year, and the reportedly routine medical issue that ended his season after only two games after returning to the WHL, would have been considered a reasonable top ten pick.
31. Montreal Canadiens – Mackie Samoskevich, RW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
The first round playing out like this puts Montreal a position to make a very comfortable pick, while also betting on tremendous offensive upside in Samoskevich, the fast skating, silky puck handling playmaker from the Chicago Steel. Having spent the year tracking teammate Sean Farrell, a previous Montreal draft pick, they would have clearly seen how Samoskevich’s speed allowed him to put defenses on their collective heels, while his great playmaking resulted in scoring chance after scoring chance. Looking at previous collegiate route first rounders in recent Montreal history, including Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield, we know that the Canadiens are comfortable trusting their US-based scouts. Samoskevich will be given plenty of time at Michigan to help him get his offensive game churning on a more consistent basis.
32. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Tampa Bay Lightning as part of the David Savard trade) – Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
In this scenario, the Blue Jackets used their first two of three first round picks on a goalie (Jesper Wallstedt) and a winger (Simon Robertsson). It is only natural to complete the triad and finish Day One with a blueliner. That would have the consideration set consisting of Canadian Corson Ceulemans, Russian Daniil Chayka, and Czech Stanislav Svozil. The European would be the chalk answer, seeing as how GM Jarmo Kekalainen has been restocking the system in recent years, but with him, past is never exactly prologue. He could really go in any direction and this pick will end Day One as a real wild card as long as Columbus holds onto it. Shrugging my shoulders, I’m going with Ceulemans here, betting that his offensive quarterbacking, and physically aggressive game will flourish with the Wisconsin Badgers and be ready for the pros within two years.
If you’re looking for more prospect or fantasy hockey information, NBC Sports Edge is a great resource.