Scouting Point of View: NHL Draft Top-15 Roundtable

Tony Ferrari

2021-02-03

Graphic Courtesy of Andrew Armstrong

 

The 2021 NHL Draft is unlike any that we’ve seen recently. For a number of reasons, this year’s class is unique. From the difficulty of dealing with a global pandemic to the stop-and-starts in their playing schedule, if they’ve started playing at all, it has been a year like none other when it comes to covering the draft. There is also the fact that unlike any year in the last decade, not only do we not have a clear cut number one but we don’t even have the two-horse race that’s become custom.

 

Whether it was Taylor vs. Tyler or Matthews vs. Laine, the two-horse race is always a fun debate. In 2021, we could have as many as six-to-eight players realistically being justifiable as first overall picks. It gets even muddier from there with very little consensus on anything outside of knowing that certain players are likely top-10 prospects in this class despite not having a leader in the clubhouse.

 

To help show just how divisive, debatable, and vast the opinions on this draft class are, the DobberProspects’ Scouting Team has put together some individual top-15 rankings. Each of the scouts featured watched hours of video, engaged in seemingly endless discussion, and constructed a ranking of the top-15 players in their eyes. We had a number of different players land at number one, a wide variety of talent outside of the top-10 and various opinions on what this wild year has in store for this year’s NHL Draft.

 

Check out the 2021 Draft profiles on DobberProspects here!

 

The scouts below have all submitted their top-15 ranking and a bit of commentary of what went into their thinking. Check out each scout below and follow them on Twitter.

 

 

Matthew Beniers is one of the names on a very short list of players that have thoroughly impressed me with every viewing. He’s a dynamic centerman that you just want to have controlling the puck on every zone entry. He is a player that you really have to nitpick to find any real downfalls to his game. His creativity, elusiveness, and all-around smarts make him a dangerous player every time he steps in the offensive zone, with or without the puck. The one aspect that Beniers gets critiqued for is that he isn’t a very flashy player, but it clearly is not hindering his game in the slightest. He’s having an incredible season in the NCAA for Michigan and was really impactful for Team USA at the World Juniors, I struggle to see him not being a very good second-line center at the NHL level.

 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Owen Power is a player that I’ve really struggled to get behind. Going back to last season with the Steel, he had so much freedom to roam around the ice because of how, dare I say, powerful that team was. His faults were going unnoticed because there was not a lot of pushback coming against Chicago, this made me very nervous for his NCAA rookie season. And, well, I was rightly nervous. Positively, he has a very strong shot and he is really effective in the neutral zone because of how much ice he covers. However, he cannot handle pressure at all. He makes poor judgments when the opposition closes him down. You can’t teach size, and Owen Power is huge, but he plays so soft that it’s not even an advantage for him. Am I completely against him in the top 10? No, there are clearly tools there that can be advantageous if he takes that next leap forward and gets smarter on the ice. 

 

Luke Hughes is my top defenseman right now, but by no means is he perfect. He is super creative, an excellent skater, and, must be noted, one of the youngest players in this entire draft class. He’s a fun player, to say the least. I like players who are always attempting to make good things happen, and that’s just what Hughes does. However, he’s a player that is going to have to learn to cool down with the puck on his stick. He goes for flashy plays a bit too often and it really hinders his puck-moving ability. The reason he sits so much higher than someone like Power on my list is that Hughes has all of this skill at his young age, but is just struggling as to when to use it to its full capacity. Defensively, Hughes isn’t great, but his positioning in the defensive zone is good, he just needs to work on anticipating plays, especially on the rush, and there will be a major boost. Dylan Griffing

 

 

 

If I had the first overall pick, I’m picking the only forward at this point that I have projected to be a top-line player. I was firstly impressed with William Eklund‘s ability to hound the puck on the forecheck in the SHL but as time went on, the quickness of his decision-making and his puck movement became apparent. The puck can come on and off his stick with speed and precision like no other forward in this class. This is a hard skill to quantify and it certainly doesn’t show itself in a single highlight but the more you watch Eklund, the more you realize he has top-tier vision, awareness, precision passing, and ability to adapt. That would be good enough for me at this point. 

 

If you wanted to go another direction, you could argue upside to me, as long as you can argue the development path forward. Enter Simon Edvinsson. He is so fleet of foot and that can be his biggest asset or detriment at times. He is so mobile that he often chooses aggressive defensive approaches because he knows he can recover if it goes sour. He angles off forwards and forces them to make decisions or try and beat him wide on zone entries. This approach will have to be altered at the NHL level and most of his decision making will have to be quieted a bit, but no other defender has close to his gear in that regard. He is pure upside. I think he certainly does have the upside to be a top-pair defender but might frustrate you a lot getting there. At worst, he settles as a top-4 who can facilitate the PP with ease. 

 

As far as the WHL players are concerned, I’ve had the privilege of watching these players for quite some time. Dylan Guenther is the ultimate small ice player. The same encouragement I have of Eklund can almost be said about Guenther. His strength and ability to pull the puck laterally allows him to maneuver in tight and keep possession. He is one of the safer bets in this class to be a middle-six quality player. I’ve described Cole Sillinger as a lightswitch because when you turn that sucker on, he can make you pay quickly. If you believe Sillinger can be a weapon on an NHL powerplay and his speed won’t hinder his line at 5on5, then you rate him top-10. If not, then it is Kaliyev territory. The curious case of Carson Lambos is indeed curious. For five months now, I’ve been the voice in the room saying whoa whoa whoa about everyone’s Lambos rankings. His vision and elusiveness on the ice is a wonderful asset but as you peel the layers of the defensive onion there are worries. I’ve looked around and as of yet I haven’t found anyone to put at 15 ahead of Lambos, but I’m sure I will after all is said and done. 

 

No offense to the rest of this class but my motto for the top-15 has been “Gimme the Swedes and you can have the rest.” Each of the Swedish players on this list I would be thrilled to add to my personal prospect pool. Joel Henderson

 

 

In a year with so much uncertainty and inconsistency with draft-eligible prospects, it is tough to imagine what the lottery winning team is going to do on draft day. At this point, there is no consensus number one player in this class, so I tasked myself to rank my top selection based on what qualities I would want in a top draft pick. For me, that means a player that brings a combination of strong puck skills and skating ability, with an emphasis on high-end projectability. Based on the players that I have watched so far, Kent Johnson fits that exact criteria. 

 

While watching Kent Johnson and Matt Beniers tear it up together at the University of Michigan, I have come to realize that these two may be the best players to come out of this draft class. Johnson brings a level of puck skills and agility while skating that is not matched by many, giving him the ability to create scoring chances for himself and teammates in tight situations. Johnson’s game has more of a playmaking style to it for the time being, but he is more than capable of putting the puck in the back of the net when asked. Not to mention, his creative mindset makes him so much fun to watch on the puck. Like everyone in the top end of this draft, however, there are reasons to be highly critical of his game. His top-end speed needs to be worked on and there are times where he tries to make a flashy play instead of a smart/safe play. With that being said, it is important to keep in mind that Johnson took a significant step up in terms of league strength, coming directly from the BCHL into a top 6 role for an NCAA team. A natural adjustment period is required for him to figure out how to play at a quicker pace with less room to cut corners. Although he has progressed well so far in his freshmen season, finishing this year plus another year in the NCAA will give him plenty of time to clean up the sloppy parts of his play and continue to develop his game processing ability. Considering that Johnson still has plenty of room to grow in his game and yet still manages to create plays and produce offensively for the Wolverines, he stands out as someone upside to be the best player in this draft. And until his development seems to stagnate, I simply cannot ignore that upside if I am first on the clock come draft day. 

 

The one characteristic of this draft class that seems to be significantly stronger than the previous class is the number of high-end defencemen that are available. There is a legitimate argument for any of them being the best of the group, so for me, I resorted to my criteria before: puck skills, skating ability, high-end projectability. With that in mind, the three defencemen that fit the criteria are Luke Hughes, Owen Power, and Brandt Clarke. Each player presents a strong skating ability, with Hughes having the strongest stride and agility out of the three of them. Clarke needs to round his game out but possesses an offensive upside that slightly edges out the other two defensemen. Power brings strong puck skills and a surprisingly quick top speed and agility to his game, which combined with his frame makes him a unique talent in this draft class. Despite each of these talented defencemen having high-end qualities, Luke Hughes’ game processing ability projects him just a little bit higher than the other two for me. 

 

One player that I feel is being forgotten simply based on lack of playtime is Mason McTavish. In the past OHL season, McTavish showcased a level of versatility in his game that NHL teams dream of. With a strong Petes team, he was able to play on the wing or up the middle on any of the top three lines. He also possesses an offensive toolbox highlighted by his rocket of a shot that allows him to not just create plays for others, but produce himself in a variety of situations. While his top speed is not fantastic and he needs to clean up his decision making in transition, McTavish possesses a mature game that is sure to impress scouts at the next level.  Jacob Barker

 

 

 

Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve subscribed heavily to the concept of risk assessment and risk management as it relates to the NHL draft. As a strategy that’s applied to decision making in many of the worlds’ top-performing businesses, it seems only logical that owners and managers of the most prominent hockey organizations would subscribe to a similar theory of decision making. In its simplest form, risk assessment is done by combining factors for impact and likelihood of an event, while risk management is accomplished by balancing those factors with a proportionally valued action. In the case of the draft, the basic goal is to balance the