Brent Flahr has seen his share of draft classes in his 20 years in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers‘ assistant general manager believes the 2021 edition is going to be a fascinating one.
The draft lottery picks, for example, could prove totally unpredictable.
“It’s going to be a really interesting draft. The top eight or nine guys … teams will have them in different order, but it’s probably going to be the same names,” he said.
The rest of the draft could offer the same volatility. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many junior hockey leagues played truncated schedules or, in the case of the Ontario Hockey League, not at all. Major tournaments like the Memorial Cup were postponed. In-person scouting and player evaluation were ongoing challenges.
“What you’re going to see is [the draft] to go all over the board. I think there are a number of players that media outlets have not seen a lot of. But teams have done their homework. You have some players that didn’t even play this year. So you’re going to see variances,” Flahr said.
So, in summary, it’s all a mystery. But here’s our attempt at solving it. Our 2021 NHL mock draft includes the players we expect to be selected in all 32 opening-night slots, as well as our own picks for each team in the first round. The picks were formulated through conversations around the league, industry consensus and our own projections.
Here’s how the first round could go down on Friday night. Watch it live at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
What makes sense: Owen Power, D, Michigan (Big Ten)
Power is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. He’s 6-foot-6, skates well and can move the puck. The projection is for Power to develop into a poor man’s Victor Hedman. He might not be quite the power-play QB or elite shutdown defender the Lightning star has become, but a poor man’s Hedman is still pretty rich.
Our pick: Owen Power, D, Michigan (Big Ten)
If this is indeed the end of the Jack Eichel era in Buffalo, they need to move on to the next thing. You can do a heck of a lot worse for a “next thing” than building around Power and 21-year-old 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on the left side of your defense.
What makes sense: Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (Big Ten)
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol told ESPN that GM Ron Francis likes players who remind him of the way he played. Being that Beniers is an offensively talented center, a shifty skater and a player whose game starts with how good he is in the defensive zone, it’s hard to imagine Francis passes him up here.
Our pick: Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (Big Ten)
This isn’t Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews. This isn’t necessarily that foundational center to build a franchise around, or one whose offensive upside really rocks your world. But he’s the best two-way center in the draft and a great building block for the NHL’s newest team.
What makes sense: Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton (WHL)
Almost every mock draft forecasts the Ducks selecting this goal-scoring winger. Guenther had 12 goals in 12 games with the Oil Kings this season and then four more at the World Juniors. His shot is great, but his ability to find spaces to get that shot off is equally impressive.
Our pick: Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (Sweden Jr.)
That awesome young defense corps the Ducks once boasted is a) not as awesome anymore and b) not as young anymore. With Trevor Zegras as the focal point of the next phase of Ducks hockey, the temptation is to add to the offense. But in the spirit of the NHL draft, in which raw talents are built into foundational players, give me the 6-foot-5 Swede who might end up being the player Owen Power is projecting to become.
What makes sense: Luke Hughes, D, USA U-18 (NTDP)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a thirstier NHL prospect when it comes to the team he hopes drafts him. In stating brother Jack Hughes‘s desire to have him join the Devils, Hughes put over everything from the franchise to the rink to the fan base in pre-draft interviews. He basically did everything but recite the menu from Hobby’s Delicatessen in Newark.
Our pick: Luke Hughes, D, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Beyond uniting the Hughes brothers, Luke gives the Devils a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who has room to grow. And with the blueliner still at 17 years old, New Jersey will certainly let him percolate at Michigan for a bit. That said … it brings two of the Hughes brothers, which means there’s always outside chance Quinn Hughes will want to head to New Jersey and unite the Hockey Tri-Force.
What makes sense: Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (Sweden Jr.)
Some parts of his skill set remain raw, and Edvinsson certainly needs more of an NHL body, but the Blue Jackets don’t have anything in their pipeline among defensemen that rivals his abilities. That is especially important to note when Seth Jones has one skate out the door.
Our pick: Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough (OHL)
We love McTavish, and his draft stock has been climbing. There’s a chance he doesn’t make it past Columbus.
What makes sense: Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough (OHL)
It’s difficult to picture how GM Steve Yzerman would pass up the chance to draft a two-way center with tremendous hockey sense who loves to dig in around the crease to pop in pucks. He even played a few of games of pro hockey in the Swiss League last season.
Our pick: Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (Sweden)
Back in 2012, Yzerman gazed upon his depth chart as general manager of the Lightning and didn’t see the goalie of the future. So he drafted Andrei Vasilevskiy at 19th overall, based on a couple of seasons in Russian juniors. There’s more proof of concept here with Wallstedt in international play and in one season in the Swedish Hockey League. As for Yzerman, with Keith Petruzzelli opting not to sign with the Red Wings, his pipeline doesn’t contain that goalie of the future at the moment.
What makes sense: William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden (Sweden)
Frankly, it makes too much sense for the Sharks to select a goaltender here, given their organizational needs and Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa likely being available. But Eklund is a high-end offensive talent with upside, and the Sharks don’t have enough of that either.
Our pick: Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton (WHL)
There’s every chance that with the Red Wings and Sharks picking we could see back-to-back goalie selections, which would be wild. Consider we haven’t had two goalies go in the first round since 2012, with Vasilevskiy and Malcolm Subban. Since we have Wallstedt off the board, we’ll go Cossa here. Hey, the Sharks have to be ready when Martin Jones comes off the books in [checks watch] three more years.
What makes sense: Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie (OHL)
The Kings have an enviable collection of prospects, including last season’s No. 2 overall pick Quinton Byfield. But they don’t have a lot of defensemen among their blue-chippers. That’s expected to change in this draft, and among the defensemen available, it’s Clarke who is the most likely pick.
Our pick: Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie (OHL)
Given his hockey sense and offensive awareness, there have already been comparisons for Clarke to the kind of impact Adam Fox has had early in his NHL career. And that guy just won the Norris Trophy.
What makes sense: Kent Johnson, C, Michigan (Big Ten)
The Canucks get an incredible skater and playmaker who very well could end up as the best of this Michigan draft class. He’s also a North Vancouver native who left the British Columbia Hockey League for Michigan.
Our pick: Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton (WHL)
In our draft, Guenther is still on the board. It’s entirely possible he doesn’t take this tumble down the draft board, which we suspect is due to our expectation that some teams will draft for organizational need. But if he’s here, it has to be Guenther.
What makes sense: Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (Sweden)
Wallstedt and Cossa are the top two goalies in the draft. I’d lean Wallstedt, although it has been said that Cossa could have more upside. The Senators have actually taken a goalie in five of the past six drafts, including Mads Sogaard in the second round in 2019. But none are this kind of prospect.
Our pick: William Eklund, LW, Djurgarden (Sweden)
It would be a surprise if he drops this far, but there is a perception that Eklund could fall a bit if the top 10 plays out a certain way. Their loss is Ottawa’s gain.
What makes sense: To not violate the NHL’s combine testing policy and lose your 2021 first-round draft pick, which is what happened to the Coyotes here. Moving on …
What makes sense: Chaz Lucius, C, USA U-18 (NTDP)
There have been some reports that his stock had dropped, although TSN draft guru Bob McKenzie still has him in his top 10 prospects. Lucius is a goal scorer, a playmaker and a USA Hockey product, which is like catnip to GM Stan Bowman.
Our pick: Kent Johnson, C, Michigan (Big Ten)
There’s no passing up a player with this amount of offensive upside if you’re Chicago.
What makes sense: Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton (WHL)
There are a few interesting options here, but none are more interesting than the possibility of selecting a franchise goalie. Cossa stands 6-foot-6 and has good agility in the crease.
Our pick: Chaz Lucius, C, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Assuming both goalies are off the board by the 13th pick, we’ll go Lucius. He has great vision on the ice and playmaking ability, and the Flames would add a true center here.
What makes sense: Matthew Coronato, RW, Chicago (USHL)
He’s Harvard bound, so the Flyers wouldn’t get him immediately. But when they did, they’d be getting a gritty forward who had 48 goals in 51 games in the USHL last season. And if there’s anything they love in Philly, it’s Gritty.
Our pick: Matthew Coronato, RW, Chicago (USHL)
Coronato is the kind of player who seems to fit the world view of both the Flyers as an organization and of GM Chuck Fletcher as a talent evaluator.
What makes sense: Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
As the son of Mike Sillinger, we assume the Stars will be his first of many, many NHL teams. Kidding aside, the 18-year-old has a terrific shot and plays an aggressive brand of offense.
Our pick: Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
He might not necessarily end up on the middle in the NHL, but his shot and tenacity are going to transfer to the wing, too.
What makes sense: Fyodor Svechkov, C, Togliatti (Russia 2)
Svechkov posted some flashy offensive numbers in international play for Russia, including 10 points in seven games at the World Juniors. He has good ice vision and great offensive timing. One factor to keep in mind here is “The Russian Thing,” aka being under contract in the KHL. But the Rangers can wait.
Our pick: Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea (Sweden)
A Swedish Hockey League forward with terrific speed, great puckhandling skills and just enough questions about his maturity that he could slip down the first round? Don’t let the Lias Andersson ordeal deter you, Rangers! Draft skill!
What makes sense: Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint (OHL)
Othmann plays with speed, loves to get on the forecheck and was an impressive member of the Canadian World Junior team this season. He played professionally in the Swiss League, too. At 18 years old, he could be a bit closer to the NHL than most picks in this neighborhood, which is good news for a win-now team like the Blues.
Our pick: Fyodor Svechkov, C, Togliatti (Russia 2)
He is a little less immediately available than Othmann but arguably the more talented player. The Blues don’t exactly have a robust collection of centers in their pipeline and should probably remedy that.
What makes sense: Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL)
Sure, there’s some injury concern here, as the smooth-skating and puck-possessing player was limited to two games this season with the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice after suffering a leg injury. But he has gotten some Alex Pietrangelo comps, and that’s significant. Just as significant: the need for the Jets to amass as many blueline prospects as possible.
Our pick: Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL)
Good defensive prospect. Better Migos lyric.
What makes sense: Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea (Sweden)
GM David Poile has never shied away from players whose reputations have muddied the waters for others. Lysell has an elite shot — as good as those of 2020 high draft picks Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz — but there have been some attitudinal concerns about Lysell that seem to stem from immaturity.
Our pick: Isak Rosen, RW, Leksand (Sweden)
Rosen has great hockey sense born from a multigenerational hockey family in Sweden. His ability to shoot the puck at full stride has earned him Nikolaj Ehlers comparisons, and that’s lofty praise indeed.
What makes sense: Isak Rosen, RW, Leksand (Sweden)
The ability of Rosen to create offense in stride could eventually come in handy if he’s skating with perhaps the greatest player in the modern NHL at creating offense at full velocity in Connor McDavid.
Our pick: Nikita Chibrikov, RW, St. Petersburg (Russia)
In typical NHL draft fashion, you’re only as good as your last World Championship game against Canada. At the under-18s, Chibrikov was invisible in the gold-medal game with zero points and two shots on goal after posting 13 points in six games. That sent his draft stock plunging, but the Oilers would be smart to snag him.
What makes sense: Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL)
In five of his six drafts with the Bruins, GM Don Sweeney — a former NHL defenseman — has selected a blueliner with his first pick. That has led to a farm system lacking players with any offensive sizzle, but it’s a tradition we see continuing here with Ceulemans, a 6-foot-2 University of Wisconsin commit who plays strong in his own end.
Our pick: Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Again, we fully expect the Bruins will go defense here, as there aren’t a ton of impact offensive skill guys this far down in the first round. But Bolduc does fit that bill. TSN has him as a top-20 prospect and the seventh-best center.
What makes sense: Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Finland)
It’s difficult to remember this, but ’twas a time when Raty was in consideration for the first overall pick. Then he had a measly six points in 35 games while playing in Liiga, and his stock dropped like a stone in Lake Saimaa.
Our pick: Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Finland)
The Wild need more high-end offensive talents in their system, especially at center. It’s worth a shot here to see if they can build Raty back up.
What makes sense: Oskar Olausson, RW, HV71 (Sweden)
Yzerman and the Red Wings can select a Swede, which is very much their aesthetic. Their top three picks from last season, along with eight total picks over the past two Yzerman draft classes, were from Sweden. Here, they get a player with a big shot and solid puck control skills.
Our pick: Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL)
This would be a solid addition to the defense corps of prospects the Red Wings are amassing.
What makes sense: Nikita Chibrikov, RW, St. Petersburg (Russia)
It’s entirely possible Chibrikov doesn’t drop this far in the first round. But if he does, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers passing up his offensive skill set.
Our pick: Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint (OHL)
Othmann would offer another scoring option on the left side for the Panthers here if they’re not sold on Chibrikov.
What makes sense: Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)
We’ll assume the Jackets follow a defenseman taken in the lottery (Simon Edvinsson) with offense later in the round, if that’s how it shakes out. Whether he ends up at center or on the wing in the NHL, Bolduc has a solid wrist shot in his offensive repertoire. His skating is a concern, however.
Our pick: Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener (OHL)
Pinelli is a smart two-way center, and this is a team that needs more of them in the pipeline. Hence, any of the pivots available are wise picks here.
What makes sense: Logan Stankoven, C, Kamloops (WHL)
Stankoven fits well with the kind of player the Wild like, as he skates hard while attacking the offensive zone but also takes care of business in his own end. He projects as a center, but at 5-foot-8, he could eventually slide to the wing.
Our pick: Jack Peart, D, Grand Rapids (High MN)
Peart was the winner of the 2021 Mr. Hockey Award, given to the outstanding senior high school boys’ hockey player in the state of Minnesota. Hey, if Nick Bjugstad can go from the Mr. Hockey to the Wild, so can Peart.
What makes sense: Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr. (Finland Jr.)
The Hurricanes have selected a forward with their first pick in four straight drafts, and it’s hard to imagine that trend ends here, given the defensemen available at the tail end of the first round. Tuomaala, though, is a solid goal-scorer who might not make it this far.
Our pick: Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr. (Finland Jr.)
Simply put, Tuomaala is a purely talented goal-scorer who had 11 points in seven games at the under-18 World Championship tournament.
What makes sense: Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
GM Joe Sakic would appreciate the throwback skills of a guy who pops the puck in the net and drops the gloves. His discipline will likely come with age, and he can locate the line to toe in the NHL. But L’Heureux has a Matthew Tkachuk-esque ability to create both offense and chaos.
Our pick: Logan Stankoven, C, Kamloops (WHL)
There’s nothing wrong with adding a player with elite forechecking ability.
What makes sense: Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA (Russia)
The Devils get defensive again with this 18-year-old Russian, who skates well and uses his stick expertly to defend. Hey, a Chayka finally makes it to the Devils.
Our pick: Tyler Boucher, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Boucher is a New Jersey native who blends offense with absolute physicality and agitation on every shift. So, in summary, a New Jersey native.
What makes sense: Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener (OHL)
As our own Emily Kaplan noted in a story on the prospect, Pinelli traveled to Slovenia after the OHL canceled its season. He had 11 points in 13 games overseas, putting his playmaking skills to good use.
Our pick: Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
Bourgault is another option at center if Pinelli is gone. Alas, Vincent Iorio from the Brandon Wheat Kings isn’t projected to go until the third round, much to the chagrin of former Wheat Kings owner Kelly McCrimmon, now the Knights’ GM.
What makes sense: Sasha Pastujov, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)
The Florida native from Notre Dame is right on the bubble of the first round. He protects the puck and makes smart passes.
Our pick: Sasha Pastujov, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)
GM Marc Bergevin has taken his share of American-born players in the draft, including a diminutive forward named Cole Caufield in 2019. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
What makes sense: Tyler Boucher, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Boucher is the kind of blue-collar, hard-nosed, bludgeoning player that the Blue Jackets like to have on their roster. It’s just too bad that former coach John Tortorella won’t be there to appreciate his particular brand of whimsy.
Our pick: Samu Salminen, C, Jokerit Jr. (Finland Jr.)
GM Jarmo Kekalainen has never taken a Finnish-born player in the first round while running the board for the Blue Jackets. That could end here with Salminen, a goal-scorer with excellent hockey sense.