2021 October Top 32
Updated: Oct 13
It’s October, and the 2020 NHL Draft is finally over! Now it’s time to dive into the top of the class of 2021, and all the storylines to follow over the course of the season. This draft is an interesting one, as there’s no definitive number one prospect, and it’s very defense heavy at the top. Each player brings something unique to the table, and it’s really tough to actually rank these guys. Nevertheless, I’ve put together my October Top 32 and included 18 honorable mentions. The top five is nearly impossible to discern, so don’t take the actual rankings too seriously (The guy at #5 is as good or nearly as good as the guy at #1).
1. Kent Johnson (C), University of Michigan, NCAA, Canada
With a dazzling set of hands, and a brain that processes the game faster than anyone else on the ice, Johnson’s in my number one spot to begin the year. He obliterated the BCHL with nearly 2 points per game last season, and has the type of game-breaking offensive talent typically associated with first overall picks. While some argue that he was beating up on lesser competition, I believe he’s just scratching the surface of his potential, and he’s got a great shot to silence all his doubters with an impact year at the University of Michigan. I don’t necessarily expect Johnson to go first overall, but I expect him to be heavily considered. With the right development path, he could be a perennial PPG threat in the NHL. I wrote in depth about Johnson’s game here:
2. Owen Power (LHD), University of Michigan, NCAA, Canada
Prepare yourselves for the endless Victor Hedman comparisons that Power will receive this year. I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t go first overall, as long as nothing dramatic happens this season. A 6’5, slick-skating puck rushing defenseman who can play like a fourth forward AND defend well is a rare commodity, and Owen Power is just that. There’s arguably no asset more coveted in today’s NHL than the player I just described, which is why I don’t think anybody’s going to be able to pass on him. His .89 points per game last year ranks third among D-1 defensemen in USHL history, trailing only Phil Housley and Quinn Hughes. That’s some pretty darn good company. Power’s raw tools are undeniable, the question is; will a team be able to squeeze out every last drop of that potential?
3. Brandt Clarke (RHD), Barrie Colts, OHL, Canada
Clarke is another high end, puck rushing defenseman. He’s got good size at 6’1 and 181 pounds, and fantastic skating ability. More notably, he’s the only right-shooting defenseman currently in my first round. His play in the offensive zone is the most polished of any ’21 eligible defenseman, and he’s the definition of a power play quarterback. He can walk the line exceptionally well, and is able to thread nearly any pass he wants. He’s got elite hands too, giving him the ability to maneuver through traffic with ease. Clarke’s defensive play improved drastically as last season went on, leaving nearly no holes in his game. He doesn’t have the effortless mobility of Quinn Hughes, but the rest of their games are very similar.
4. Aatu Räty (C/W), Kärpät, Liiga, Finland
Räty was once heralded as “the guy” for this draft, following some extremely impressive International showings and some elite Jr. A production as a 16 year old. This past year, he slightly cooled off. He didn’t beat up the Jr. A like I thought he would, but he was very good in the 12 Liiga games he played. Räty’s game is a combination of speed, power, elite stick-handling, and solid finishing ability. He’s a really versatile forward who can play all three positions responsibly, while also adding some dynamism to any line.
5. Carson Lambos (LHD), Winnipeg Ice, WHL, Canada
Lambos is another transition machine on the back end. While Clarke has the edge on him when it comes to offensive talent, Lambos is a defensive beast. He’s incredibly tough to beat one on one, and he’s not even a physical player. Standing at 6’1 and weighing over 200 pounds, you’d expect Lambos to defend with his body more often, but he just doesn’t need to. He’s so effective with his stick, breaking up anything that comes within his radius, and swiftly turning play the other way. He’s another fantastic skater, and I think there’s even more untapped offensive potential with him.
6. Simon Edvinsson (LHD), Frölunda HC J20, J20 Nationell, Sweden
Edvinsson is a lot like Power when it comes to physical tools. He’s 6’4, skates very well, and has the puck skills of a forward. The key difference is in their decision making. He gets beat quite a bit more than you’d want for a defenseman with his reach and skating ability, and his offensive vision is a bit lacking. While Edvinsson has some games where he flat out dominates, he also has games where he disappears. I’ve seen enough flashes of brilliance from him to be confident that he’ll put it together, the question is just how long it will take.
7. Luke Hughes (LHD), USNTDP U18, USHL, USA
The third and final Hughes sibling, Luke has the same elite skating ability as his brothers. They’ll even argue that he’s a better skater than they were at the same age. A year ago, Luke was an average sized, wiry kid. Now, he’s 6’2, and up to 176 pounds, still skating like the wind. In addition to his skating, Luke’s puck skills are great. He can be depended on to rush the puck up the ice through nearly any sort of coverage, while maintaining possession the whole way. Where Luke’s game starts to diverge from his brothers’ is in the mental department. He doesn’t have Quinn’s or Jack’s vision, and hasn’t fully figured out how to optimize his skating on defense. For someone with his mobility, he should never be caught chasing, but it still happens. He’s a really interesting one to watch, and I’ll be really curious to see how his game progresses this season. I’m definitely not saying it will happen, but we could feasibly be sitting at the draft in June with Luke as the consensus #1.
8. Matthew Beniers (C/W), University of Michigan, NCAA, USA
Beniers is a late ’02, and even though he could have technically played with the U17’s last season, He really belonged with the rest of the ’02s on the U18 roster. He wore an “A” on the U18s, and was the best forward on the team. Truth be told, they probably needed Beniers with the U18s just to add some more skill, which that team really lacked. He’s a fast, skilled, and highly intelligent forward who impacts the game in every zone. His motor is nonstop and his playmaking vision is among the best in the draft. Beniers is naturally a center, but can play on the wing as well, and might have to at Michigan with their nauseating center depth.
9. Sean Behrens (LHD), USNTDP U18, USHL, USA
Behrens is the perfect NHL defenseman in every single way except size. He’s 5’9, but I believe he’ll be a very good if not elite defenseman at the pro level. There’s almost too much to talk about with him, so here’s the link to my full report on Behrens:
10. Cole Sillinger (C), Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL, Canada
The son of Mike Sillinger, Cole is one of the top forward prospects in this draft. He’s a shoot-first, ask questions later type of player with a little bit of bite to his game as well. He’s pretty fast, deadly with the puck on his stick, and has sneaky good playmaking vision as well. Sillinger has the hands to slip through traffic with ease, and attack high danger areas. He had a stellar 2019-2020 campaign with the Tigers, and his wrist shot is up there with the best in the draft. While some forwards ranked below him might have more offensive upside, Sillinger brings steady scoring, and a complete 200 foot presence.
11. Dylan Guenther (LW), Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL, Canada
Guenther is one of the most gifted offensive players in this draft class. His overall shot package is fantastic, with a deadly wrister and one timer combination. In addition, Guenther has great straight line speed and maneuverability. His motor is nonstop, and he’s really effective at creating turnovers on the forecheck. I don’t know if he’s got superstar potential, but he seems like a high-floor and high-ceiling type of player who’s going to make some kind of NHL impact.
12. Fabian Lysell (LW/RW), Frölunda HC J20, J20 Nationell, Sweden
Fabian Lysell is electric. He’s one of the, if not the most exciting and dynamic players in this draft. Combining elite speed and agility with lethal stick-handling and finishing skill, Lysell is the dream top line winger. On talent alone he’s a surefire top 3 player in this draft, but consistency is the one big question with him. He’s also a bit prone to overcomplicating plays, but that’s just the type of player he is. Patrick Kane’s been in the NHL for 13 years and he still over handles the puck, or forces a pass that’s just a little too tough. That’s always a give and take with these highly skilled wingers, so it’s not that worrisome. The consistency is currently the only thing holding Lysell out of my top tier, he’s having a fantastic start to the season though.
13. Jesper Wallstedt (G), Luleå HF, SHL, Sweden
I’m not much of a goalie guy, but from what I’ve seen, Wallstedt is exceptionally aggressive when cutting down angles, and looks to be the real deal. I don’t like him as much as I liked Askarov so far, but he’s still got time to grow on me. People that I trust who are smarter than me have talked me into Wallstedt in the top 15. Time will tell with this one.
14. Chaz Lucius (C/W), USNTDP U18, USHL, USA
Lucius has been at the center of the 2021 draft discussion for a while now. He’s an offensive force, with a penchant for big goals. Lucius led the U17’s in scoring last season with 31 goals in 46 games, so it’s safe to say he’s a shoot-first player. What he lacks in foot speed, he makes up for in every other category. He’s averaged sized at 6’0 and around 180 pounds, but he’s a nightmare to get the puck off of. Lucius is so good at using both his body and his hands to protect the puck, and it allows him to attack high danger areas at a much higher rate than others. He’s shown some flashes of game-breaking ability in the past too, and possesses one of the better backhand shots in this draft.
15. Mackie Samoskevich (C/W), Chicago Steel, USHL, USA
Last year, Samoskevich played on one of the best U20 teams in the world, if not the best in the Chicago Steel. He blew me out of the water in every single one of my viewings, and I couldn’t believe how he wasn’t being talked about more. He’s unbelievably skilled, super quick, and I haven’t noticed a flaw in his game yet. I’m nearly ready to put Samoskevich in my top 10, every part of my brain is screaming that he belongs there, but I think I just need to see him this year to confirm. He certainly didn’t look like the benefactor of better players, but I have to be sure. The Steel are losing a bunch of key players, so Samoskevich will be primed to take on a top scoring role. I wrote in depth about Samoskevich’s game here:
16. Jimi Suomi (LHD), Jokerit U20, U20 SM-sarja, Finland
Jimi Suomi is one of my personal favorites for this draft. He’s a defenseman, but he grew up playing forward, and boy can you tell. His skating ability is sick, he can take the puck end to end in the blink of an eye, and his edge work and escapability are elite. To go along with that, his puck skills are high-end, and his vision is elite. Suomi is a dominant power play quarterback, and a dominant offensive presence at 5 on 5. Incredibly, he’s a steady and solid defender as well. If the borders ever open up, we’ll see him teaming up with Samoskevich on the Steel. I wrote in depth about his game here:
17. Nikita Chibrikov (LW), SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, MHL, Russia
Chibrikov is all about speed. He’s one of the best puck carriers in this draft, with the ability to go coast to coast with ease. His agility and maneuverability through cover are extremely impressive, and his hands are fantastic. Chibrikov is definitely more parts playmaker than shooter, but with his speed, he often finds himself in the position to finish. He’s also great at using his speed to create chances for his linemates. Similarly to Lysell, Chibrikov has the tendency to overcomplicate things, but his offensive upside is undeniable.
18. Zachary L’Heureux (C/W), Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada
L’Heureux is probably going to climb up my list quite a bit this season. With Elliott Desnoyers and Philippe Daoust being the only two draft eligibles on Moncton last season, (and not very exciting ones at that), I rarely watched Moncton games for the Wildcats, it was always for their opponent. I paid a lot less attention to L’Heureux because of this, and I’ve already started my deep dive to make up for it. From what I’ve gathered, L’Heureux does everything well. He’s a strong skater with a wide base and a low center of gravity. He’s committed to forechecking and backchecking on nearly every play, and he’s also highly skilled. L’Heureux can dangle through traffic, create chances for teammates, and finish plays by himself. He’s got some bite to his game too, and I’m not sure whether I like him better at center or on the wing. He’ll figure out his position with time.
19. Dylan Duke (C/W), USNTDP U18, USHL, USA
Dylan Duke is one of the more complete forward prospects in this draft. He can play both center and wing (I like him better at center), and impacts the game in all zones. His best tool is his shot, which he uses often, as he finished 2nd in goal scoring on the NTDP U17s last season. I wrote in depth about Duke’s game here:
20. Xavier Bourgault (C/W), Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL, Canada
Playing alongside Mavrik Bourque, Xavier Bourgault helped form one of the most dynamic lines in the entire CHL this past season. Bourgault is a wizard with the puck, and has crazy vision in the offensive zone. His puck skills are phenomenal, and his shot is too. He can pick corners with ease, and hit teammates in stride with long distance passes. My main concern with Bourgault’s game is his speed. He isn’t fast at all, and I think it’s something that will hurt him in his transition to pro hockey. When it comes to the little details of the game though, he gets it done. He forces lots of turnovers on the forecheck by simply outsmarting his opponent, and manages tons of breakouts and entries using shifty moves and head fakes. He definitely knows he isn’t a fast player and has fine tuned the other aspects of his game to compensate for that. However, I can still see him being an impact player even if he never does gain that next step. His offensive IQ is too high, and his tools are too refined for him not to be at least a contributor in the NHL.
21. Logan Stankoven (LW), Kamloops Blazers, WHL, Canada
Stankoven is yet another shoot-first player out of the WHL. He’s undersized at 5’8, but has the shot and skill to make up for it. While his top speed isn’t mind-boggling, his feet are quick enough to allow him to change directions and make moves on the fly. The selling point of Stankoven’s game is, and will always be his shot. His wrist shot release is nasty, and he showed it often, notching 29 goals this past season. For someone who’s 5’8, his shot is a rocket. He doesn’t quite have the accuracy of a Cole Caufield, but Caufield’s easily one of the best comparisons for Stankoven in terms of play style. Stankoven’s hands are a little better than Caufield’s too. If he can get faster, he’ll be a serious goal scorer in the pros.
22. Sasha Pastujov (LW), USNTDP U18, USHL, USA
Pastujov is an exceptional skater, and one of the most skilled NTDP players this year. His stride is so smooth, and he gains speed very subtly. It doesn’t look like he’s accelerating, but all of a sudden he’s gone. He’s so good at moving East/West too, and combining all that with his great puck skills, it makes for a deadly transition threat and an entry machine. Pastujov sees the ice pretty well, but I wouldn’t call him a high-end playmaker, he’s much more of a shooter. While his overall game isn’t super exciting, the one thing he does better than anyone else in this draft is change the angle on his shot. It’s pretty much impossible to block his wrist shot, as he can toe drag the puck 4-5 feet in a heartbeat. He could be another big riser this season.
23. Aidan Hreschuk (LHD), USNTDP U18, USHL, USA
Hreschuk is another highly mobile rearguard poised to go in the first round of the 2021 draft. Arguably one of the better skaters in the entire draft, Hreschuk is so good at both rushing the puck up the ice, and maneuvering it around the offensive zone. While he maintains a good gap one on one, Hreschuk can sometimes have trouble dealing with odd man situations, and checking to make sure his backdoor is covered. He’s not a very physical player either, but he is a fantastic passer and has an accurate shot from the point. The defensive and physical drawbacks might make him slip a bit, but he’s highly talented.
24. Isaac Belliveau (LHD), Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL, Canada
Belliveau is one of the best passers to come through the draft in recent memory. In his 2019-2020 QMJHL campaign in which he recorded 53 points in 62 games, he posted a sickening 87% passing percentage over the course of the season. That’s a top pairing defenseman completing 87% of ALL his passes. His point totals may have been slightly inflated this past season, but Belliveau’s talent as a distributor and PP quarterback is evident.
25. Justin Robidas (C), Val-d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL, Canada
Though he’s just 5’7, Robidas is electric. His feet are unbelievably fast, and his top speed is elite. Robidas only needs a few steps to get going, and then he can blow past anyone in his way. In addition to having lightning quick feet, his brain works just as fast. It’s always a bummer when a player’s elite speed isn’t matched by their brain, and luckily, Robidas doesn’t fall into that category. He’s able to make plays at top speed without issue, and is equal parts playmaker/shooter. His size will probably push him to the wing eventually, but one day I think he can be a really good energy player who can add some secondary scoring as well.
26. Samu Tuomaala (C/W), Kärpät U20, U20 SM-sarja, Finland
Samu Tuomaala’s shot is elite. I don’t think I’ve seen a prospect get more torque on their wrist shot than Tuomaala does, and his accuracy matches the power. When he’s on his game, he’s a threat to net a hat trick every night. His puck skills are great, he’s fast enough to break cover, and he doesn’t shy away from contact. The one drawback with his game is his consistency. He didn’t have the D-1 season I envisioned, so it’s hard to put him too high up on this list. All the tools are there for him to be a serious goal scorer at the next level though.
27. Evan Nause (LHD), Québec Remparts, QMJHL, Canada
I love Evan Nause’s game. He just does everything, and does it well. He’s extremely hard to beat one on one, he rarely makes the wrong read whether on offense or defense. He’s a smooth skater, solid puck mover, and plays with an edge too. I wrote in depth about Nause’s game here:
28. Anton Olsson (LHD), Malmö Redhawks J20, J20 Nationell, Sweden
Anton Olsson is very similar to Nause. He’s a steady presence in all three zones, particularly his own end. Olsson isn’t as talented a skater as Nause is, but he’s a much more advanced defender. He’s smart, and not flashy, but always effective.
29. Samu Salminen (C/LW), Jokerit U20, U20 SM-sarja, Finland
Samu Salminen is a beast. Standing at 6’2 and weighing nearly 190 pounds, he’s not just a physical force, he’s a highly productive offensive force too. Salminen is fast and agile for a player his size, with great puck handling skills and an even better shot. Salminen can do a little bit of everything, one rush he’ll be the distributor, the next time down the ice he’ll be the shooter, he’s always mixing it up. He’s been decimating the U20 league to start this season, so I imagine it’s not long before some Liiga team nabs him on loan, as Jokerit U20 isn’t tied to the KHL club in any way.
30. Ryder Korczak (C), Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL, Canada
Ryder Korczak was the only bright spot on a pretty dismal Moose Jaw team last season. He led the team in scoring by a massive margin, scoring 18 goals and 49 assists for 67 points in 62 games. He’s highly skilled in nearly every offensive sense, but he’s a 100 foot player at this point, which is keeping him all the way at the bottom of my first round. His offensive upside is undeniable though.
31. Daniil Chayka (LHD), CSKA Moskva, KHL, Russia
Chayka really impressed me with his performance in the OHL last season, and I hoped he’d stick around for another year. Due to the pandemic though, he signed a one year (thankfully) deal with CSKA in the KHL and will presumably split his draft year between the KHL, VHL, and MHL. That’s going to make it quite a bit tougher to fully assess his game, as watching the MHL isn’t exactly…….easy on the eyes. Regardless, Chayka’s a smooth skating puck rusher with a big shot and PP quarterback potential.
32. Mason McTavish (C), Peterborough Petes, OHL, Canada
McTavish is the only other OHLer in my first round, aside from Brandt Clarke. He’s a high-volume shooter who loves to attack the middle of the ice, and score goals. He’s got good size at 6’1, but I’d like to see him use his body to gain space more often. While he’s not the most polished of players, I think McTavish has a ton of great raw tools to work with, and has the potential to put them together quite nicely.