We’re back! After a short break to reset our brains from the hectic 2020 draft class, we’re ready to tackle the wackiness that is the 2021 NHL Draft.
It’s safe to say that the scouting world has never had to cope with impact of a global pandemic of this scale, and we’re looking forward to the challenge of following a draft class that has so much extra uncertainty attached to it.
This week, we’re starting our coverage off with a two-part post that’s similar to Colin’s “Road to 2020” from last season; instead, we’ll be monitoring the top-21 players of the 2021 class using our expected range (xRange) metric and writing up rankings periodically so you’re aware as to how public sources are viewing the top players of this year’s group.
We’re breaking this into two parts — players 11-21 are analyzed below, and on Thursday we’ll be back with the top ten!
#11: Chaz Lucius
|C||U.S. National U18 Team||USDP||18.37||6'0"||172 lbs||7 - 20|
The USNTDP can be a tricky league to evaluate, but with 50 points in 46 games last season, Chaz Lucius became the fourth player to lead the program in scoring while spending the majority of the season on the U17 team, rather than the U18 team (joining J.T. Compher, Rocco Grimaldi and Phil Kessel). Maybe that speaks more to the lack of talent on last year’s U18 team, but Lucius leads the way in what’s shaping up to be a resurgent group of American prospects.
With 31 goals in 46 games, and another seven in six games at World U-17 Hockey Challenge, Lucius is one of this draft class’ premiere goal scorers. His shot doesn’t jump out at you like Alexander Holtz or Noel Gunler’s from 2019, but Lucius uses his smarts to makes plays close to the net, and then finishes with his deft hands. There’s a chance he could develop into a strong dual-threat player too, completing a high percentage of his passes last season. Now we get to see what he can do with the rest of the talented U18 team.
Read more: Contender Series: Michigan Made (Tony Ferrari, DobberProspects)
#12: Jesper Wallstedt
|G||Luleå HF||SHL||18.84||6'3"||214 lbs||7 - 23|
For the third year in a row, a goalie makes an appearance high on the draft board, with the potential to challenge for a top ten spot. It’s rare nowadays to see netminders chosen in the first round at all, but Jesper Wallstedt falls into that special group, having dominated against older competition for a long time.
I won’t get into anything relating to goalie technique, I’ll leave that to the scouting report linked below. Instead I want to marvel at just how good his track record is to date:
- 2016-17 (14 years old): Splitting even time between Sweden’s U16 and U18 leagues, called up to be the backup for Västerås’ U20 team.
- 2017-18 (15 years old): Starting goalie for Västerås, 92.1% save percentage (4th).
- 2018-19 (16 years old): Moves to Luleå, unable to repeat same the level of success (90.1% save percentage) but holds onto the starter’s job.
- 2019-20 (17 years old): Third year in the U20 league, bounces back with 92.3% save percentage (2nd).
Now 18 and in his draft year, Wallstedt is one of very few players on this list who can say that he’s solidified himself in a consistent role in a top European pro league. As of writing, he’s backstopped Luleå’s SHL team with a 92.0% save percentage over nine games — no draft-eligible goalie has even played more than 13 games in a season in the SHL. If he keeps this up, could he vault his way up the draft board even further? The possibility is certainly there.
Read more: Scouting Report: Jesper Wallstedt (Alexander Appleyard, Smaht Scouting)
#13: Cole Sillinger
|C||Medicine Hat Tigers||WHL||18.34||6'0"||187 lbs||9 - 21|
One of just three WHL players to put up a point-per-game in their pre-draft season, Medicine Hat’s Cole Sillinger even exceeded expectations last season despite being a high draft pick (#11) in the WHL Bantam Draft. To many observers, he was the most impressive 16-year-old in the WHL last year. He displayed a versatile offensive toolkit as a rookie, merged with a consistent commitment to following a defensive structure that allowed his coach to give him first-line minutes and a spot on the top powerplay unit.
As evidenced by his team-leading five goals in six games at the U17s and his goal-per-game rates in bantam and minor midget, Sillinger is a strong goal-scoring threat. What impresses me is that he’s already able to adapt to the increase in coverage he was starting to get by the end of the season, and started to patiently find his teammates with the puck if he’s not able to get off his deadly wrist shot. He’s a mobile skater, with good edgework that gives him a solid skating foundation to work off of to keep him in plays against opponents with a better top gear. He could continue to work on his two-step explosiveness and his top speed to allow him to better close on opponents when fulfilling his defensive responsibilities.
The son of journeyman NHLer Mike Sillinger, Cole’s route has already been different from his brothers Owen and Lukas — who both took the NCAA route. Expect the Senators to have watched him a ton already when viewing the performances of Mads Søgaard in Medicine Hat.
Read more: Prospect Report: Cole Sillinger (Alexander Taxman, Future Scope Hockey); 21 Days of 2021 NHL Draft Prospects: #5 — Cole Sillinger (Lauren Kelly, Raw Charge); Prospect Profile: Cole Sillinger (DraftGeek)
#14: William Eklund
|C/LW||Djurgårdens IF||SHL||18.93||5'10"||172 lbs||9 - 22|
The only draft-minus-one eligible player to spend more than 10 games in the SHL last season, William Eklund’s performance this season is showcasing his growth and maturity as he plays alongside New Jersey’s Alexander Holtz and ex-NHLer Jacob Josefson in Djurgårdens. While he’s only 5-foot-8, Eklund features many traits that we both love to see in smaller players: he’s confident with the puck, and is fearless when attacking the middle of the ice or battling along the boards. His father, long-time Djurgårdens forward Christian Eklund, played a similar style of hockey.
Eklund’s best trait is his decision-making. He shows the type of strong three-zone awareness you’d expect from a player who’s getting top-six minutes against men, and he’s adept at utilizing a variety of passes to find his teammates with the puck. At last year’s Ivan Hlinka, Eklund co-led Sweden to a bronze medal finish with a five point performance, and scouts raved about his tenacity when pursuing the puck and his evasiveness when he has the biscuit — where he utilizes quick edges in transition. The question marks around his game — other than his small frame — center around whether his skillset is “high-end” enough to justify a top-10 pick, and uncertainty about his long-term position, as he’s played both left-wing and centre. He’s primarily suited up on the wing at the SHL level.
Before testing positive for COVID-19, Eklund had suited up for 18 games, scoring nine points while averaging nearly 14 minutes of ice-time per game. Of the 108 U20 skaters who have played at least one SHL game this season, Eklund’s points-per-60-minutes ranks fourth — the highest draft-eligible skater by a mile. While we won’t see him at the World Juniors because of his positive test, it’ll be interesting to see if his hot start continues; Djurgårdens isn’t a strong squad this season and Eklund has a good opportunity to continue to get regular minutes.
Watch more: Highlight pack of his points this season
#15: Zachary L’Heureux
|C||Halifax Mooseheads||QMJHL||18.34||5'11"||196 lbs||11 - 23|
Zachary L’Heureux would like nothing more than to follow the recent track record of Mooseheads legends to have their name called in the top-10 of the NHL Entry Draft. While he’s not Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin, there’s plenty of intrigue in the feisty L’Heureux’s game.
The third overall pick at the 2019 QMJHL Draft by the Moncton Wildcats, the March-born L’Heureux was a finalist for the QMJHL Rookie of the Year award after recording 53 points in 55 games (20G, 33A) — more than eventual winner (and fellow Zachary) Bolduc. The left-shot winger plays an aggressive, enticing style of hockey despite his 5-foot-10 frame, as he has the power of his 196-pound body and isn’t scared to get rough with his opponents (70 PIM). Unlike Bolduc, who featured alongside Lafrenière’s Oceanic, L’Heureux’s 34 points at even-strength ranked second in the league among Draft-1 players, and he featured an impressive 71.43% GF% at even-strength.
He possesses a robust, slot-focused offensive toolkit, with a heavy shot (forehand and backhand), quick hands in tight, and strong off-puck movement in the offensive zone. He knows he’s a threat, and isn’t afraid to draw in defenders before dropping his shoulder for the more dangerous chance. Last season, scouts questioned his consistency — wanting him to impose his rough style of play on every game. Traded from Moncton to Halifax in the offseason, L’Heureux has been more consistent this season.
Read more: 21 Days of 2021 NHL Draft Prospects: #10 — Zachary L’Heureux (Lauren Kelly, Raw Charge); Contender Series: Fascinating Forwards (DobberProspects)
#16: Zachary Bolduc
|C||Rimouski Océanic||QMJHL||18.56||6'1"||174 lbs||15 - 23|
The reigning QMJHL rookie of the year, Bolduc made the quick switch from the collegiate route back to Canadian major junior, and with a roster spot on the same team as Alexis Lafrenière, and his decision paid off in spades.
His 52 points in 55 games last season was probably inflated playing with a strong group of players, especially on the power play. But he’s still a fantastic offensive player who likes to play at a quick pace, possessing a quick shot which netted him 30 goals last year. Rimouski has been off to a cold start sans Lafrenière and Bolduc’s production has taken a hit alongside it, with four points in seven games before the QMJHL went on pause. We’ll be watching closely to see whether he can move his trajectory upwards.
Watch more: Scouting Note: Zachary Bolduc Game Report - October 2nd 2020 (Andy Lehoux, NHL Draft Central on YouTube)
#17: Mason McTavish
|C||Peterborough Petes||OHL||18.63||6'1"||196 lbs||15 - 25|
The best draft-eligible forward in the OHL last season, Mason McTavish is a goal-scoring centre with Ottawa-area connections. Ding ding ding!
Before being selected fifth overall by the Peterborough Petes in the 2019 OHL Draft, McTavish racked up 47 (!) goals in 41 (!!!) games for the Pembroke Lumber Kings, a mark that was 13 higher than the next skater en route to a league-leading 79 points. Hence, it didn’t come as too big of a surprise with he flirted with 30 goals in his 16-year-old rookie season, and most impressively, he scored 24 of his eventual 29 at even-strength. McTavish isn’t scared to unleash his shot from anywhere on the ice, and protects the puck extremely well with his pro-ready 6-foot-1, 196-pound frame.
COVID-19 has impacted whether scouts will be able to answer the question of whether McTavish will be able to command an offence this season, as the Petes had seven different skaters pass the 40-point mark last year. As his father played over 10 years of pro hockey in Switzerland, there were rumours that McTavish would play pro in the NLA or NLB this season, but that hasn’t amounted to anything tangible.
Read and watch more: OHL Prospect Profile: Mason McTavish (Prospect Pipeline); 21 Days of 2021 NHL Draft Prospects: #9 — Mason McTavish (Lauren Kelly, Raw Charge); 2019-20 Highlight Reel (Ontario Hockey League YouTube channel)
#18: Samu Tuomaala
|RW||Kärpät U20||U20 SM-sarja||18.69||5'10"||165 lbs||16 - 26|
The first Finn to appear on our countdown, Samu Tuomaala is an undersized forward who packs plenty of speed, and the necessary skills to compliment. He’s bounced between Kärpät’s U20 and professional roster this season, although a full year in the minors may be more likely given his average 8:57 of ice time in the Liiga. Lots of his attention has been garnered at international tournaments, where he has yet to have a showing where he scores under a point-per-game.
Where Tuomaala particularly stands out is his shot generation — his rates don’t quite match Veeti Miettinen from last season, but he likes to shoot a lot, and from everywhere. That doesn’t limit him as an all-around offensive player, though, which could see him climb higher in the draft than some of his fellow Finns from 2019.
Read more: Twitter thread on Tuomaala’s shot generation (Josh Bell)
#19: Daniil Chayka
|LD||CSKA Moskva||KHL||18.90||6'3"||185 lbs||17 - 27|
Daniil Chayka’s junior hockey career has been complicated to say the least. After coming over to North America at age 15 (!) to play in the GTHL, the October-born Chayka was selected seventh overall in the same OHL draft that contained top picks Quinton Byfield and Cole Perfetti, and has played two full seasons of OHL hockey already. After a solid 11-goal, 23-assist performance last season, Chayka has found himself back in his hometown of Moscow, navigating between the junior-level MHL, the second-tier VHL, and the KHL this season due to COVID-19.
A smooth skating left-shot defender, Chayka’s played a lot of minutes for the Guelph Storm and the Russian U16, U17, and U18 teams over the last three seasons. Last season with Guelph, Chayka led all draft-eligible defencemen (including Clarke!) in even-strength primary points, and had a positive impact on his team in terms of GF%.
He’s willing to jump into the rush with consistency, shoots with intent after he has a lane to the net, and utilizes both his four-way mobility and his two-step acceleration in all three zones. He’s grown a fair bit over the last couple of years, and needs some time to learn how to effectively utilize his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame in one-on-one defensive situations. As an OHL import with solid international experience, expect Chayka to potentially turn pro earlier than usual depending on the results of this season; a team that’s patient with him might be able to unlock all of his gifts both offensively and defensively.
Read more: Winning follows Storm’s Chayka (Josh Sweetland, OHL.com)
#20: Simon Robertsson
|RW||Skellefteå AIK J20||J20 Nationell||18.61||6'0"||181 lbs||18 - 28|
Similar to a couple other players on this list, Simon Robertsson has long excelled while playing up an age group or two. His 15/16-year-old season saw him score an incredible 28 goals in 27 games between the J18 Elit and J18 Allsvenskan. And this season, before the J20 Nationell went on pause due to COVID-19 concerns, he was second among draft-eligible players with 20 points in 15 games.
The season’s pause has led to Robertsson seeing time in the SHL, where his best traits start to shine despite not hitting the scoresheet. He’s a refined player offensively, with power in his stride to work his way through opponents and get himself in position for dangerous chances. He’s only averaged 6:25 in SHL ice time to date, but look to see that go up as the season rolls along and he earns more trust from his coaches.
Read more: Prospect Spotlight: Simon Robertsson (Lauren Kelly)
#21: Corson Ceulemans
|RD||Brooks Bandits||AJHL||18.37||6'2"||196 lbs||17 - 51|
What better way to end off the first half of our list than with another defenceman. Corson Ceulemans is following in the footsteps of Cale Makar, playing for the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits in his draft year before heading off to the NCAA. There are some key differences — Ceulemans already measures in at 6’2” — but his game is similarly molded by strong offensive instincts. His skating stride is also up there with the top defenders in this class, and with some added refinement, there’s a chance he could even join those players in the same discussion.
Read more: 21 Days of 2021 NHL Draft Prospects: #21 — Corson Ceulemans (Lauren Kelly, Raw Charge)
Honourable mentions: Sasha Pastujov (LW), Xavier Bourgault (C), Oskar Olausson (LW/RW), Nikita Chibrikov (LW), Aidan Hreschuk (LD), Brennan Othmann (LW), Logan Stankoven (RW), Matthew Samoskevich (RW), Sean Behrens (LD), Isak Rosén (LW/RW), Prokhor Poltapov (RW)
Come back on Thursday where we’ll reveal the top ten!