NHL Draft prospects 2021: Ranking the top 32 players overall on the big board

Written By Josh Bell, FCHockey
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It’s been an interesting year. Delayed starts. Cancelled seasons. Players travelling overseas for playing time. International tournaments cancelled. Many played despite the odds. 

All of this was on top of the stress of living, let alone playing hockey, in the global pandemic. 

But we’re here. The opening round of the 2021 NHL Draft is now quickly approaching and is set for June 23.

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In the scouting world, it’s been difficult at times to adjust. From losing the majority of in-person views at rinks to not being able to see some NHL Draft eligibles at all or only getting a few games in of others. Multiple other challenges forced scouts to significantly adjust through the 2020-21 season to get a grasp on this draft class.

What adds to the uncertainty of the class, is the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 prospect. There’s no Alexis Lafrenière or Jack Hughes. There isn’t even a Quinton Byfield or Kaapo Kakko right behind them. Instead, there are roughly five players with a legitimate opportunity to go first overall, fronted by Owen Power, and a realistic group of 10 skaters that could go within the top three. 

FCHockey's crew poured over the tapes this season, conversed over the takeaways, went back to the tape and discussed some more.  After intense deliberation, here is the final ranking for this unpredictable draft and how the top-32 shape up.

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NHL Draft 2021 final version: Big board, player rankings

1. Owen Power, D, University of Michigan (NCAA) 

Power is a very intelligent, well-rounded defender that excels in transition whether through a pass or his feet. His understanding of the game and size make him a top prospect, with just some minor improvements needed to be NHL ready. His Power’s performance with Canada at the IIHF Men’s World Championship helped to put doubts aside.

“A tower of ‘power’ from the backend that brings a blend of size, skill, and mobility to the ice on every shift. Effective at both ends of the rink [he] often separates attackers from the puck using his long reach combined with strong four-way mobility.” — Video scout Brandon Holmes

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2. Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (OHL) 

Clarke is a strong offensive defenseman that oozes confidence. He excels in creativity and deception with the puck, creating space and leading a transition. He’s an above-average skater, although his mechanics will need to improve. One of the most polarizing prospects, Clarke’s ceiling keeps him as a top player in this class.

“A shifty, creative and intelligent rover-style defender. He drives chances through his incredible transition skills, taking the blue line with speed and driving the puck deep into the offensive zone. Needs to improve his gap control and defensive positioning.” — Head Eastern scout Dylan Galloway

3. Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP (USHL) 

Hughes is a powerful, smooth-skating defenseman that plays with patience and poise. He has excellent vision and an average shot. He needs to improve his defensive engagement and overall assertiveness. One of the younger players in the class, Hughes’ potential is extremely intriguing.

“One of the best skaters in the entire draft class, Hughes has enormous potential as a high-end play-driving defenseman. Needs to improve his effectiveness on special teams.” — Head video scout Derek Neumeier

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4. Matthew Beniers, C, University of Michigan (NCAA) 

Beniers is an extremely competitive forward with strong skating and high intelligence. He’s strong on the puck and moves it very well, despite not being overly creative on offense. While the high-pace game works now, developing his secondary strategy will be important for the next level.

“Among the most intelligent players in this draft, Beniers is a high hockey IQ, 200-foot center that also brings a blend of mobility and skill. One of this draft’s most effective players at transitioning the puck through the neutral zone and securing zone entries.” — Holmes

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5. William Eklund, C, Djurgardens (SHL) 

Eklund is a well-rounded forward with high intelligence. He’s a fearless competitor at both ends of the ice and excels at finding dangerous ice. The Swedish forward is one of the most NHL-ready players in this class and could very well be the top forward off the board on draft day.

“One of the most interesting prospects this year. He has so many different layers on the ice and can fit into multiple roles. Eklund can be the hard-working type or be a creative player and score goals and be a focal point offensively for his team.” — Regional scout Fredrik Haak

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6. Dylan Guenther, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) 

Guenther is a complete package. He’s a strong skater and a threat as both a playmaker and a shooter. There are improvements to make in his play off the puck, but there are few weaknesses in his game that may give teams pause. 

“Guenther is a high IQ player whose malleable game allows him to adapt and excel in a variety of scenarios. Excellent at playing a hard-nosed and deceptive game when called upon and can play the game a step ahead of the opposition. Upside is there to be a consistent top-six scorer who sees all situations.” — Head Western scout Justin Froese

7. Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda (SHL)/Vasteras (Allsvenskan) 

Edvinsson is a big defenseman that boasts a fluid skating style. He excels at moving the puck in transition and staying calm under pressure. Moving forward, he’ll need to work on his defensive positioning and awareness. While heavily questioned after his performance at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, Edvinsson’s ceiling remains high and highly coveted.

“A two-way defenseman with great offensive instincts. He is also a great skater with good mobility. His decision-making is a question mark, and he can be inconsistent at times.” — Regional scout Viktor Bergman

8. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SHL) 

Wallstedt is a technically advanced, well-positioned goaltender. His awareness of where his net is at all times is remarkable. He’s consistently calm and collected when under pressure. The Swede could improve his athleticism and reflexes but he could be the first goalie since Carey Price to be drafted within the top-10.

“He’s a goalie with all the tools in his box. Great body size, well-positioned in the crease, excellent puck tracking, and overall good technique. Besides that, he is so calm and confident. A top goalie in a few years.” — Haak

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9. Kent Johnson, LW, University of Michigan (NCAA) 

Johnson is arguably the strongest puck handler in this class and an intriguing offensive threat. He’s extremely creative, light on his feet, and has great vision. Adding strength to his game will push him to another level. If a team is looking for a highly-skilled winger, Johnson is the answer.

“Overshadowed a bit by Power and Beniers at Michigan, Johnson is very strong at carrying the puck through all three zones and is at his best when he’s dictating the pace of the game with the puck on his stick. The puck skills he has in combination with his agility make Johnson an offensive threat every time he is on the ice.” — Video scout Curtis Schwartzkopf

10. Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Peters (OHL) 

McTavish is a mature player that is well-rounded with a high-end shot. He’s an above-average skater and already boasts NHL size and strength. He will need to build on his explosiveness and consistency but is one of the more ready prospects in this class. Watching his game improve in Switzerland and the Under-18s has pushed him into the top-10 discussion.

“Solid and competitive, yet a highly-skilled power forward. He owns an accurate and powerful shot, and is capable of creating space for himself in the dangerous areas to be able to use it. Can combine size and creativity with the puck to create space for himself and teammates to be an effective playmaker as well.” — Galloway

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11. Fabian Lysell, LW, Lulea (SHL) 

Lysell is an offensively dynamic threat with his excellent vision and awareness. His feet and his hands are extremely quick, leading to a highly creative player. However, his shot does need some improvement and he’ll need to add strength. Another polarizing prospect, Lysell has a high ceiling but will need to improve his game on the cycle to find success in the NHL.

“He’s a winger with great hockey IQ and skating. Lysell has impressive puck skills and is consistently creating quality opportunities for himself and his teammates. A constant threat, both with and without the puck.” — Bergman

12. Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL) 

Ceulemans is an extremely creative player with deceptive skating and impressive puckhandling skill. He can create opportunities for himself and his teammates, but he does need to work on his effort and decision-making off the puck. The size and mobility that Ceulemans brings remain attractive commodities to NHL scouts.

“Ceulemans is a bit polarizing to some but there’s no denying the toolkit and IQ. A highly effective transitional defender because of his deceptive skating ability and expressive skill set. His upside is potentially one of the higher in the draft if he can become a trusted and accountable defender.” — Froese 

13. Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) 

Sillinger’s creativity is elite. His understanding of the game, combined with his vision, allows him to be a dynamic offensive weapon. He’s a sneaky player that can attack at any time. With improvements to his skating mechanics and pace of play, he should be a top player from this class. Making the decision to transfer from the WHL to the USHL this season paid off huge for Sillinger as he adapted and excelled quickly to the new league.

“He possesses one of the best shots in the draft, being able to pick his spot and beat a goalie clean. There aren’t many places in the offensive zone where he is not a scoring threat.” — Regional scout Dylan Krill

14. Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP (USHL) 

Lucius is one of the best pure goalscorers in the draft, if not the best. But his playmaking has significantly improved as well this season, too. He will need to improve his off-puck play and power in his stride. While he missed a large part of the season due to injury, he impressed with the time he did have both on and off the ice.

“A knee injury derailed the first half of his season and affected his skating at first, but his elite shot, puck skills, and offensive instincts allowed him to step in without missing a beat and scored at a goal-per-game rate the rest of the way.” — Regional scout Joseph Aleong

15. Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) 

Cossa is a tower in the net and has the technical and athletic ability to be a star at the next level. He’s quick with strong rebound control, and great tracking. Cossa’s dominance over the WHL has been delightful to watch, and teams needing to fill the goaltending pipeline should be ecstatic for this year’s class.

“A huge netminder who doesn’t just rely on his size, as he also displays excellent mobility, reflexes and athleticism. Has all the tools needed to become one of the best starters in the NHL one day.” — Neumeier

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16. Isak Rosen, RW, Leksnads (SHL) 

Rosen is an offensive weapon with explosion in his first steps and high competitiveness. He’s not afraid to get into the dirty areas despite his smaller frame. He’ll need to work on his decision-making and build some strength. Rosen has been a riser all season and his performance for Sweden at the Under-18s showed how far he has come this season.

“A creative winger with elite puck skills, great vision and really good skating. Rosen can create breakaway opportunities or odd-man rushes on his own. He owns a good shot too.” — Bergman

17. Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga) 

Raty is a boom-or-bust prospect. His vision, playmaking and maneuverability with the puck stand out as strengths, but his consistency and hockey sense give pause. Coming into the year as the projected No. 1 Raty has had quite the fall; if he can get back on his development path, he could be an excellent value pick down the line.

“A very hard competitor who is good at everything but lacks game-breaking talent. Raty has a high motor, fast hands and a hard accurate wrist shot of which he can get off deceptively. His fall down the draft boards this year warrants caution, which will make watching his future development very interesting.” — Video scout Sebastian Death

18. Fyodor Svechkov, C, Ladia Togliatti (MHL)/Lada Togliatti (VHL) 

Svechkov is one of the best two-way, well-rounded forwards in this class. He’s an incredibly intelligent player with excellent competitiveness and vision. There’s not a lot of flash to his game and his lower-body strength can improve, but he’s extremely consistent. While there were some questions about his offensive upside, the Under-18s silenced those critics.

“A natural center who plays a very advanced 200-foot game. Might not show up often in highlight reels, but is effective and reliable on every shift and in all situations.” — Neumeier

19. Logan Stankoven, RW, Kamloops Blazers (WHL) 

Stankoven’s a high-motor player that anticipates play extremely well. He’s a force on the ice with the ability to get into dangerous areas. Gaining confidence with the puck will be key for him moving forward. Smaller forwards tend to drop on draft day, but seeing how successful they can be in today’s NHL, Stankoven fits the mold of a smaller player that can not only make it but succeed.

“He’s an exciting player to watch both with and without the puck. Plays the game with a lot of intensity regardless of his small stature, and has perfected how to leverage his body against larger opponents. Can score goals in many different ways and has the agility to create room for himself when possessing the puck.” — Schwartzkopf

20. Matthew Coronato, LW, Chicago Steel (USHL) 

Coronato is an offensive threat every time he steps onto the ice. He’s an all-situations player that shows strong puck skill and great transition. He needs to improve his explosiveness and decision-making at times. Arguably the talk of the scouting world this season, Coronato forced everyone to take notice this season and may just be a big riser on draft day.

“He’s one of, if not the most competitive player in this draft. Never taking his foot off the gas on any shift, he plays the game with great energy. Contributing on both sides of the puck consistently, he will be a reliable and effective player that many teams would love to have.” — Krill

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21. Nikita Chibrikov, RW, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL) 

Chibrikov is an impressive skater that excels in the transition game with his calm demeanor. He’s a skilled playmaker that has fearlessness in his game. He needs to improve the consistency of his effort and support in his own end. Spending some significant time in the KHL this season helped to show his transferability to the NHL.

“One of the draft’s more purely skilled players, he is incredibly dangerous on the rush and can pull off some highlight-reel plays with the puck. If he can find a way to improve his pace, intensity and consistency, watch out.” — Neumeier

22. Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint Firebirds (OHL) 

Othmann is a goalscoring winger with one of the best shots in the class, yet he also has the ability to set up his teammates. He’s a strong skater with a bit of an edge to his game. Leaning into his physicality and putting in a consistent effort defensively will be the next steps for him. Playing in Switzerland this season helped to prove that he’s a top OHL player in this class.

“A very skilled agitator, Othmann plays a game that every coach loves. He is hard on the puck and competes in all three zones. An underrated playmaker with soft hands and a very quick, hard release, Othmann is a danger to score everytime he touches the puck.” — Death

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23. Zach Dean, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) 

Dean is an extremely creative, playmaking center that displays excellent vision. He’s one of the best passers in the class and can hold his own defensively as well. Showing consistency in his own end and driving the middle of the ice are areas of improvement. Like Lucius, Dean missed lengthy portions of the season due to injury but looked tremendous after getting settled in. 

“An incredibly fun, flashy and talented attacker, Dean showcased amazing creativity, slick puck skills and high-end playmaking abilities. By constantly gravitating around the disc, he bets on having more puck touches to empower his quick hands and feet to create for others through traffic.” — Regional scout Andy Lehoux

24. Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL) 

Bourgault is a highly-dynamic offensive player with impressive intelligence. He’s an above-average skater with excellent positioning and awareness. Adapting to every situation and improving his defensive engagement will be important moving forward. The top of the QMJHL class is tight, but Bourgault has remained in the conversation all season.

“A skilled, intelligent and creative attacker, Bourgault owns a remarkable set of offensive tools and dual threat capabilities. He enjoys expressing his imagination with brilliant dekes and flashy moves, yet his play flows in harmony with the offence through his simplicity.” — Lehoux

25. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) 

Bolduc looks to be one of the better two-way forwards in this class, showing that he knows how to contribute offensively while being reliable in his own end. Further development in his offensive game and overall consistency will help him to the next level. Right there in the conversation for the top QMJHL player, he looks like he will be the first off the board. There are some questions, however, around just what he’ll be at the next level.

“A center that makes his teammates around him better. A strong skater who uses his edges well to protect the puck. Has some of the best poise in the draft and will consistently make the right play. Has top-six NHL upside if he can further develop his speed and shot.” — Death

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26. Olen Zellweger, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL) 

Zellweger is an offensive defender that is an exceptional skater. He dishes the puck out extremely well, through transition or in the offensive zone. He’ll need to add some strength to his frame to succeed at the next level, but his growth season-over-season and showcase on the world stage at the Under-18s has him proving his value.

“A deceptive skater, his spatial awareness sets him apart as he is able to leverage the ice and his opponents to dictate the terms of play. Everything is methodical and on angles with him and he counteracts a lot of stature questions with his ability to step up and kill plays before they can really begin.” — Froese

27. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea J20 (J20 Nationell)/Pitea HC (HockeyEttan)

Robertsson is a highly competitive forward with good size and strength. His fearlessness in puck pursuit and high intelligence make him a dangerous player on the ice. He’s well-rounded, without being elite in one specific area. Robertsson can be a player to take over a play, but he can also disappear at times so getting that consistency in his game will be crucial.

“A dangerous power forward, Robertsson works hard, reads the game well, has great hands and a really good wrist shot. Decent skater too, and loves to play the game at a high pace.” — Bergman

28. Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA Moskva (KHL) 

Chayka is a defensive zone specialist with a long reach that allows him to excel in breaking up plays. While his defense is a strength, his offensive game is an area of focus from his playmaking to his overall effort. Chayka has been a bit underwhelming this season compared to 2019-20, but the potential is still there and the rangy defender has intriguing traits.

“A big, rangy defenseman who can close gaps effortlessly. He's a little unpolished and passive right now, but has the potential to become an all-situations top-four defender one day.” — Neumeier

29. Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL) 

Lambos is a skilled, mobile defender that can be used in all situations. He can play a very calm and collected game but does tend to blend into the action at times. There’s a solid skill base; however, in Finland this season, he didn’t continue that development curve seen in 2019-20. Playing just two games in the WHL, Lambos is a bit of a wildcard in this class.

“Lambos is a smart kid and layered player that can play in big moments or make the simple play. Was a go-to guy in Winnipeg, but didn’t see steps forward in his game and fear is he’s peaked physically.” -— Froese

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30. Matthew Samoskevich, RW, Chicago Steel (USHL) 

Samoskevich is a well-rounded prospect that excels with the puck on his stick. He’s a very poised player with quick feet and hands that plays with fearlessness. Improving his defensive consistency and adding strength will be the next steps. Samoskevich had a very strong season for the Steel and has proven to be an extremely exciting player.

“Very skilled forward who has great vision and a very accurate shot that he is very effective with. He is able to deke and control the puck in very tight spaces and does not need much room to create plays.” — Krill

31. Francesco Pinelli, Kitchener Rangers (OHL) 

Pinelli is a creative and dynamic offensive player. His use of deceptive maneuvers and his vision allow him to constantly apply pressure to the opponent. He’ll need to develop his processing and defensive reliability. Pinelli came out of the gate strong this season in Slovenia but then showed issues with his consistency. There’s potential here but some flags have sprouted up in his game.

“Pinelli has the opportunity to be a stealthy player, and he shows it often. He is always ready to engage in the play and make his mark.” — Regional scout Olivia McArter

32. Benjamin Gaudreau, G, Sarnia Sting (OHL) 

Gaudreau is a strong balance of athleticism and technical skill. He’s extremely fluid in his net, moving around smoothly and efficiently. His rebound control isn’t a weakness, but could use an upgrade and he needs to improve sealing the post. After not playing all season, Gaudreau used the Under-18s as his 2021 draft platform and didn’t disappoint, leading Canada to a gold medal and was named the tournament's best goaltender.

“Gaudreau has always shown to be a strong, dependable goalie. He has very precise positioning and stays square to the play, tracking the puck to the best of his abilities.” — McArter  

Sporting News readers can get 25% off FCHockey's 2021 NHL Draft Guide with promo code SPORTINGNEWS. Unlock your savings at checkout!

Josh Bell is a scout and the director of content for FCHockey.

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