Josh
Bell
December 4, 2020

2021 NHL Draft: FCHockey’s players to watch

With FCHockey releasing our preliminary rankings for the 2021 NHL Draft, we’ve consolidated our Players to Watch series in one, convenient article.

We’ve also added in our rankings for this edition, for easy reference.

BRANDT CLARKE, D, BARRIE COLTS (OHL)

FCHockey Rank: 1

If this list was just one player to watch this season, it would be Brandt Clarke. The defender is entering his second season in the OHL, after capping off an exciting rookie season that saw him collect six goals, 32 assists, and 38 points in 57 games. His assists were the most of any rookie and his season earned him OHL First All-Rookie Team honours.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar OHL players to watch

Entering the league last season, big things were expected of Clarke after coming off a 113-point season (35 goals, 78 assists) with the Don Mills Flyers of the GTHL. He helped the team to a GTHL U16 championship title, going on to win the OHL Cup with another 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in eight games.

In that 2018-19 season, the right-shot defender also dressed for Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games, sporting an “A” on his jersey. On top of adding another two goals, six assists, and eight points, he helped lead the team to a silver medal. That performance helped pave his way to the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he played for Team Canada Black, collecting a goal and five assists in the five games played.

“What’s most impressive about him was the maturity he showed in the neutral zone,” said head Eastern Canada Scout, Dylan Galloway. “He’s responsible enough to know that he needs to not pinch too deep, when he needs to back off to provide support and coverage and he can back it up with the skill to hold his ground in the neutral zone and break up plays. His stickwork in this aspect is exceptional and he’s able to expertly poke check his opponents and generate turnovers, regaining possession.”

While the race for the first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft is wide open, Clarke is very much in that mix.

OWEN POWER, D, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN (NCAA)

FCHockey Rank: 2

The top draft player playing in the United States in 2020-21 is actually Canadian – defenseman Owen Power. The six-foot-five, 214-pound player put on a show in the USHL in his last two seasons and is now heading to the NCAA powerhouse, the University of Michigan.

In 2018-19, his rookie season, Power jumped on the Chicago Steel roster scoring 11 goals and adding 14 assists for 25 points in 58 games. His season earned him a spot on the USHL All-Rookie Second Team. He also got the invite to play for Canada White at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, playing five games, recording no points.

In 2019-20, Power broke out in a big way. He scored 12 goals, had 28 assists, and finished the campaign with 40 points in 45 games. That point total led all defenders in the league. His performance also earned him a spot on the First All-Star Team and Defenseman of the Year honours.

“Power’s game could make him a potential top-five pick which a chance to hear his name No. 1 overall,” said United States scout Ray Napientek. “A good-sized defenseman with excellent skating, an advanced defensive game and an improving slap shot the sky is the limit for him. He’s the type of defenseman that controls games in all three zones.”

Power looks to be one of a handful of players that could be the No. 1 overall pick so far. A big season in the NCAA could solidify that ranking.

CARSON LAMBOS, D, WINNIPEG ICE (WHL)

FCHockey Rank: 3

Moving back to the blue line, we’re sticking with a player who could very well be in the top-10. In fact, he’s even garnering some first-overall talk. Carson Lambos, a defender for the Winnipeg Ice, is one of those defensemen that draft analysts are talking about when they say the 2021 NHL Draft has some elite defenders. After being taken first overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, the rearguard has blossomed into one of the best defenders in the league.

After being drafted, Lambos spent the 2018-19 season with the Rink Hockey Academy Prep in the CSSHL, putting up 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 23 games. That performance earned him the league’s Top Defenseman award. On top of playing five WHL games for the then-Kootenay ice, the Winnipeg native played for his hometown province in the Canada Winter Games. Captaining the team, he collected three goals, four assists, and seven points.

In 2019-20, Lamobs made the jump full-time to the WHL, playing 57 games for the Winnipeg Ice. He collected eight goals, 24 assists, and 32 points in his freshman campaign. The six-foot-one, 201-pound defender also joined Guenther on Canada White in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, helping out his team with five assists in six games. He was named to the tournament’s All-Star Team.

“The big thing with his skating is how much power he can generate upon start-up and how good he is at maintaining it through the multiple direction changes he makes in any given shift,” said head Western Canada scout Justin Froese.

“He’s seemingly always moving his feet and plays on his toes and with the balance on his edges he was so good at hiding intent and dancing out of trouble in his own zone and on the offensive line.”

Lambos looks like he should end up closer to the No. 1 spot than the 10th, and he’ll be looking to prove that in 2020-21.

JESPER WALLSTEDT, G, LULEA HF (SHL)

FCHockey Rank: 4

Finally, we come to the one and only goaltender on this list, Jesper Wallstedt. Playing in the Lulea system, he has been making headlines for years already and is currently the undisputed No. 1 netminder of this draft. He’s in a tier with Yaroslav Askarov (2020 NHL Draft) and Spencer Knight (2019 NHL Draft) as the future wave of elite goalies in the NHL.

Wallstedt has been breaking records throughout his career, with the most impressive milestone coming in 2019-20. Playing one game in the SHL, he became the youngest goalie to even start a game in the league. Even more impressive? He won the game, recording a 1.55 goals against average (GAA) and a .944 save percentage (SV%). He spent the rest of the season with the J20 SuperElit where he went 16-11-0 with a 2.53 GAA and a .923 SV%.

The netminder has already made two Hlinka Gretzky Cup appearances, in 2018 and 2019, winning a silver and then a bronze medal. He also played two games in the World Under-18 Hockey Championship in 2019, winning both games and recording a 1.50 GAA and .936 SV%. Wallstedt played in the J20 SuperElit for the majority of this season as well, going 12-8-0, with a 2.65 GAA and a .901 SV%.

“He is not one who will make precipitated or uncalculated moves – in fact, it’s the total opposite – as he’s more of an analytic and cerebral goalkeeper,” said goaltending scout Simon Rouillard. “He first plays with his head, then his body. The goaltender is cool as ice in the blue paint and his calming demeanour is a securing presence for his teammates.”

Wallstedt looks like he’ll spend the majority of his draft year in the SHL, an extremely impressive feat for a first-year, draft-eligible netminder. Even as the backup, he’ll look to hold on to his top goaltender ranking this season.

LUKE HUGHES, D, UNITED STATES U18 TEAM (USHL)

FCHockey Rank: 5

We start off with a player whose name you’ll recognize. Luke Hughes is the youngest brother of the Hughes family, with Vancouver Canucks’ defender Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils’ Jack Hughes already working their craft at the NHL level. Luke will look to follow their footsteps of a high draft pick in 2021.

The defenseman spent the 2018-19 season with Little Caesars 15U AAA, playing 71 games and tallying 22 goals, 61 assists, and 83 points. He then made the jump to the U.S. National U17 Team in 2019-20, where he played 48 games. Hughes scored seven times, adding 21 assists for 28 points.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar American players to watch

He played an additional 28 games in the USHL, getting another four goals, nine assists and 13 points. He also participated in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge where he added another goal and three assists in six games to help the US with the silver medal.

“An absolutely elite skater with textbook form, Hughes gets up to top speed in a hurry and possesses great elusiveness and balance on his edges,” said Eastern Canada Scout, Joseph Aleong. “He shows great jump and aggressiveness in transition, displaying great puck-rushing ability and a knack for finding open lanes for controlled zone entries.”

Hughes is committed to the University of Michigan in 2021-22, joining a couple of other prospects on this list.

AATU RATY, C, KARPAT (Liiga)

FCHockey Rank: 6

The cream of the crop for the 2021 Finnish class, Aatu Raty is a name that most hockey fans have likely already heard of. While the 2021 NHL Draft looks wide open at this point, Raty has long been in the conversation of the top prospect in this class. His resume with Karpat and internationally help to keep him in that discussion.

In 2018-19, the centerman played in the Jr. A SM-liiga for Karpat U20, scoring 17 goals, 14 assists and 31 points in 41 games. He really came into his own in the playoffs, adding another four goals, eight assists and 12 points in 10 games. On top of this, he dressed for Finland in both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the World Under-18 Hockey Championships. He had three goals en route to a silver medal in the U17 tournament and added one assist in the U18s.

Last season, Raty spent the majority of his season in the Jr. A SM-liiga with Karpat, racking up two goals, 19 assists and 21 points in 30 games. He also got his first taste of Liiga action, playing in 12 games, adding two goals and two assists to his campaign. The six-foot-one forward also played for Team Finland in the 2021 World Junior Championship, earning the title of youngest player to play in the tournament.

“I like his combination of skill and strength and size,” said Schellenberg. “How he goes to the gritty areas with the puck. I like his compete level as well. He’s a real fine puckhandler who can be a treat to watch when in puck possession. Stood out to me as a double-underager when I saw him play at the U18 level.”

With how open the 2021 class is, Raty isn’t a lock like we’ve seen with past first-overall picks. He’ll need to have a very strong season to become the first-ever first-overall pick from Finland.

DYLAN GUENTHER, LW, EDMONTON OIL KINGS (WHL)

FCHockey Rank: 7

One of the top forwards of this class, Dylan Guenther is already garnering much-deserved attention. The left winger and teammate of Cossa broke into the defensively-strong WHL and made his offensive prowess known in a big way. In his 58 games played, he racked up 26 goals, 33 assists, and 59 points. His impressive season earned him the Jim Piggot Trophy as the WHL Rookie of the Year.

The forward also dressed for Canada White in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, potting three goals in his six games played. This came after his impressive performance in 2018-19 at the Canada Winter Games, where he collected four goals, nine assists, and 13 points in six games for Team Alberta as they captured the bronze medal.

In that season, Guenther was playing for Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep in the CSSHL. He helped his team to a championship after putting up 58 points (32 goals, 26 assists) in 28 games and then another nine goals, seven assists, and 16 points in five playoff games. He won the CSSHL U18 Freshman of the Year Award for his performance.

“There are players with heavier shots but not many are as efficient as Guenther in putting the puck into the net,” said Western Canada scout Donesh Mazloum.

“He reads a goalie’s weaknesses and dissects what is presented to him so well. He makes it look easy at times and buries scoring opportunities at an impressive rate.”

Guenther enters his draft year looking like a top-10 pick and could very well challenge for the honour of top forward in this class. Building off of his rookie season, that looks achievable for the winger.

FABIAN LYSELL, LW, FROLUNDA HC (J20 Nationell)

FCHockey Rank: 8

Leading the forward group from Sweden right now is another Frolunda HC product, Fabian Lysell. The creative left winger may just be one of the most dynamic forwards in this entire class and has commanded attention early in his career. He very much looks like a top-10 prospect at this point.

He showed off that offensive prowess in 2019-20 in the J18 Elit with Frolunda’s J18 squad. In just 14 games, the forward put up 13 goals, 21 assists, and 34 points. Lysell also played in 11 games at the J20 level, adding another goal and five assists in 11 games. Building on this impressive campaign, he joined Edvinsson at the World Under-17 Hockey Championship for Team Sweden. In five games, he potted five goals and two assists for seven points.

In 2018-19, Lysell was one of the most dominant players in the U16 Elit and U16 SM, putting up 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists) in 14 games and 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in seven games, respectfully. He was named the MVP of the U16 SM, helping the club to a gold medal. He also won a J18 SM gold medal after scoring seven goals and four assists for 11 points in seven games.

“Lysell has some extremely technical skills that are a weapon for him and his team every shift,” said Haak. “He controls the puck really well and often succeeds to get through tight defences with smartness and creativity.”

Starting off the 2020-21 season in the J20 Nationell for Frolunda, Lysell has picked up with his offensive abilities. If he continues with this, he may just continue to rise in rankings.

SIMON EDVINSSON, D, FROLUNDA J20 (J20 Nationell)

FCHockey Rank: 9

The defensemen at the top of this draft class are truly something and Sweden’s Simon Edvinsson is very much in the middle of that discussion. The six-foot-four, 185-pound rearguard has already been pushing for top-10 consideration – potentially even higher. The smooth-skating defender could be a player that teams covet in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar Swedish players to watch

In 2018-19, he mainly played for the Frolunda U16 club in the U16 Elite, collecting 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 16 games. Edvinsson played another eight games in the U16 SM, adding a league-leading 11 assists to two goals for 13 points. He helped the team to the league championship as well. the defender also played 15 games with the J18 group, split between the J18 Elit and J18 Allsvenskan leagues.

Last season, he stuck with the J18 club, playing nine games in the J18 Elit, scoring one goal and adding nine assists for 10 points. In the J18 Allsvenskan, he went a point-per-game with three goals and seven assists. He even saw time with the J20 club, getting six assists in eight games. He also impressed at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, getting five assists in as many games.

“Edvinsson is a big defenceman with decent agility and lateral movement,” said Swedish scout Viktor Bergman. “One thing he really has improved this season is his acceleration, during this whole game it looked like he reaches top speed much faster than he did last season… has really good vision and he reads the game well, there were plenty of times in this game where he finds openings to either make a pass or receive a pass.”

As the current season goes on, expect Edvinsson to get his first taste of SHL action and continue to rise up draft boards.

MASON MCTAVISH, C, PETERBOROUGH PETES (OHL)

FCHockey Rank: 10

Moving to the forwards, Mason McTavish could very well be leading the charge for OHL players up front. At six-foot-one, 196 pounds, the centreman already has excellent size and if his rookie season is any indication of what’s to come, we could be in store for something special. He played 57 games with the Peterborough Petes, collecting 29 goals, 13 assists, and 42 points. It’s safe to say he likes to score.

McTavish also dressed for Team Canada White in 2019-20, acting as the alternate captain and scoring two goals with one assist in six games. The year prior, he joined Clarke and Gaudreau on Team Ontario in the silver medalist performance. The centreman had two goals, two assists, and four points in six games.

The 2018-19 season also saw him tear up the HEO U18 league, where he amassed a league-leading 47 goals and 32 assists, to capture the scoring title with 79 points in 41 games. After adding another 15 points in eight playoff games, McTavish helped the team to the league championship and earned Most Valuable Player in the league, HEO Player of the Year, and the U18 Top Prospect Award.

“McTavish shows an ability to be highly effective in the offensive with the puck on his stick,” said Galloway. “He possesses quick edges, solid puck skills and an ability to utilize those in combination to find open ice for himself. He skates hard and is putting in the effort to support his teammates to advance the puck. He’s a competitive player who needs some refinement to his overall game.”

The race to be the top forward from the OHL in this class looks like a close one at this point. McTavish will be looking to separate himself from the pack when the league drops the puck.

ZACH L’HEUREUX, C/W, HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS (QMJHL)

FCHockey Rank: 11

Among the QMJHL players that are pushing top-10 consideration, Zach L’Heureux could very well be leading that race. The Halifax Mooseheads forward is extremely gifted offensively. In 2019-20, he captured the QMJHL rookie scoring title. He tallied 20 goals, 33 assists, and 53 points in that campaign for the Moncton Wildcats. His season earned him a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team.

The five-foot-11, 196-pound player also played with Team Canada Black in 2019-20, collecting three assists in five games. The call to the national stage came in the season after an impressive Canada Winter Games performance with Team Quebec, where L’Heureux scored 10 goals and added three assists in six games. Team Quebec won the championship in the tournament.

In that season, L’Heureux dressed for the QMAAA’s Chateauguay Grenadiers, racking up 21 goals, 31 assists, and 52 points. That led to him being drafted third overall in the 2019 QMJHL Entry Draft.

“He’s deceptive, creative, and has incredible control with open space or in the small areas,” said Bell. “It looks like he has the puck on a string at times. Even when he’s challenged physically, he can hold the puck and still get a play off… His vision and awareness are among the best in this class.”

In the 2020 offseason, the Wildcats traded L’Heureux to the Halifax Mooseheads. On his new team, he’ll look to build on his impressive freshman campaign.

KENT JOHNSON, C, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN (NCAA)

FCHockey Rank: 12

Alright, Kent Johnson may be a Canadian on this list, but he’s playing for the University of Michigan in the NCAA so he’ll count for this list. The centerman commanded attention in the 2019-20 season playing in the BCHL for the Trail Smoke Eaters as the alternate captain. In 52 games, he potted 41 goals, 60 assists, and 101 points.

The list of accolades he received for this past season is a long one. On top of leading the league in every offensive category, he earned the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy and the Most Valuable Player and the Bob Fenton Trophy as the Most Sportsmanlike Player. This came after his 2018-19 rookie season in the league where he had 20 goals, 26 assists and 46 points in 57 games and was named to the All-Rookie Team.

During this past season, he also played for Team Canada West in the World Junior A Challenge. In four games, he collected a goal and an assist.

“Already his game is so dynamic thanks to always playing on his toes and his quickness in each plane,” said Western Canada head scout Justin Froese. “He is deceiving and proactive in his thought processes and is never seemingly out of options thanks to the dexterity of his puck skill and his elusive skating.”

With the move to the NCAA, eyes will be on Johnson to see if he can replicate his offensive production in a much tougher league, defensively.

CHAZ LUCIUS, C, UNITED STATES U18 TEAM (USHL)

FCHockey Rank: 13

Leading the forward corps out of the USNTDP is Chaz Lucius. The centerman is a sniper that can score goals in bunches and there will be teams looking at him a the top of this draft.

Lucius spent the 2018-19 season with the Gentry Academy 15U AAA team in the NAPHL. In just 13 games, he collected a shocking 39 goals, 23 assists and 62 points. His goal and point totals led the league.

Then in 2019-20, the forward made the jump to the U.S. National U17 Team. He kept his goal-scoring ways going, potting 31 goals and adding 19 assists for 50 points. He added 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 32 USHL games. Then, he put on an excellent performance at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, leading the tournament with seven goals and 10 points en route to a silver medal.

“Lucius is an offensive catalyst who has the talent and ability to be one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the 2021 class,” said Crossover scout Brandon Holmes. “Lucius has phenomenal hands in tight, allowing him to make plays at the net mouth and beat defenders one-on-one with flashy dekes, while also having the offensive smarts and awareness to get to high-danger areas on the ice to score goals and make himself available for his linemates.”

Now on the U18 National Team, Lucius will be leading the way offensively again as he looks to impress NHL scouts.

ZACHARY BOLDUC, C, RIMOUSKI OCEANIC (QMJHL)

FCHockey Rank: 14

While it looks like Lafreniere will be working his magic with the New York Rangers in 2020-21, the Oceanic will still have a top-ranked prospect in their forward corps. Zachary Bolduc will look to fill some of that void left by FCHockey’s No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar QMJHL players to watch

In 2018-19, the six-foot-one, 174-pound forward played in the QMAAA for the Trois-Rivieres Estacades where he potted 17 goals, 37 assists, and 54 points in 42 games. He added another five points (three goals, two assists) in nine playoff games. Bolduc also dressed for Team Quebec in the Canada Winter Games, collecting three assists in six games and capturing the championship.

He then made the jump to the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in 2019-20, playing two games before deciding to head back to Quebec and join the Oceanic. It turned out to be the right choice as the forward went on to collect 30 goals, which led all rookies in the league, 22 assists, and 52 points in 55 games. He earned both Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year honours for this and was named to the All-Rookie Team.

“Bolduc is a solid two-way centreman who is being trusted in all situations by his coach and you can see why,” said head Eastern Canada scout Dylan Galloway. “(He) is effective at both ends of the ice, whether that’s winning defensive zone faceoffs, or driving the net for good high danger chances.”

Just as there’s no clear-cut No. 1 in this draft right now, there’s no clear-cut No. 1 from the QMJHL just yet. Bolduc will be looking to cement that title.

SAMU TUOMAALA, C/W, KARPAT (Liiga)

FCHockey Rank: 15

Finally, we come to Samu Tuomaala. The five-foot-10, 165-pound forward is likely the second-best Finnish prospect in this class after Raty. He’ll mainly play at the U20 level this season but he does already have his first Liiga game under his belt from this season.

In 2019-20, Tuomaala played with Raty in the Jr. A SM-liiga for Karpat U20, recording 15 goals, eight assists, and 23 points in 40 games. He also dressed for Team Finland at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, matching Salminen’s output with three goals and two assists in five games.

The season prior, he played in the U18 SM-sarja with Karpat U18, playing 41 games and tallying 24 goals, 32 assists and 56 points. His performance earned him the Heino Pulli Award as the Rookie of the Year.

“Tuomaala is strong on his skates and showed good lower body strength,” said Schellenberg. “Good top speed and mobility as well… Due to his strong leg power, he was hard to knock off the puck and was decent along the boards in battles.”

Tuomaala looks to be a first-round calibre player and he will look to cement that status in 2020-21.

CORSON CEULEMANS, D, BROOKS BANDITS (AJHL)

FCHockey Rank: 17

We start off with the one player not playing in the WHL. Corson Ceulemans plays in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) as he is committed to the NCAA’s University of Wisconsin. Due to the NCAA’s eligibility rules, Ceulemans is unable to play in the WHL, despite being drafted to the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2018. Entering his draft year, the defender looks to be the top prospect not just out of the AJHL, but the entire Canadian Junior Hockey League.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar WHL players to watch

In 2018-19, the Regina, Saskatchewan native was playing for the OHA Edmonton Prep in the CSSHL. He was nearly a point-per-game player, picking up 13 goals, 16 assists, and 29 points in 30 games. At the end of the season, he made the jump to the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits and played five games and then three playoff games, scoring twice in the playoffs. The Bandits won the AJHL championship that season.

Ceulemans also suited up for Team Alberta in the Canada Winter Games, collecting a goal and four assists in five games. Team Alberta took home the bronze medal. His performance caught the attention of Team Canada, as is 2019-20 he got the call to wear the maple leaf twice. He played in the World Junior A Challenge for Canada West U19 (as a 16-year-old) and in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Canada Black, where he had four assists in four games.

He also had his first full AJHL season in 2019-20. The defender impressed, collecting five goals, 30 assists, and 35 points in 44 games.

“He’s extremely good at reading the play,” said Eastern Canada and Crossover scout Josh Bell. “Taking chances often to pinch and he didn’t get beat while doing it in this game. When he decided to hold his ground on the blue line, the puck wasn’t leaving the zone and his team kept the pressure on.

Players from the AJHL tend to drop slightly in the draft due to lesser competition compared to other leagues, but Ceulemans may just prove too talented to see drop too far in 2021.

COLE SILLINGER, C, MEDICINE HAT TIGERS (WHL)

FCHockey Rank: 18

The last player highlighted for Western Canada is Medicine Hat Tigers forward Cole Sillinger. The centreman is a dynamic, offensive threat that could be one to creep his way into the top-10 if he can pick up where he left off in 2019-20.

After being drafted 11th overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, Sillinger spent a season with the Regina Pat Canadians U18 AAA in the SMAAAHL. In 39 games, he scored 31 goals, which led the league, and added 45 assists for a league-leading 76 points. That impressive campaign earned him a spot on the First All-Star Team, Rookie of the Year, Top Forward, and Most Valuable Player in the league.

Also, he captained Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games, collecting 10 points (four goals, six assists) in six games. Entering 2019-20, Sillinger stepped into the WHL and finished his rookie season with 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 48 games. He joined Guenther and Lambos on the Canada White team at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, matching Lambos’ five assists with five goals in six games.

“His puck skill and playmaking are magical,” said Neumeier. “When he gets the puck under control with some room to breathe opposing defenses freeze a little because they know that Sillinger has multiple options running through his head and the skill to pull all of them off. ”

Sillinger is a very exciting player to watch that could very well force his way into the top-10 of this class once the season gets underway.

FRANCESCO PINELLI, C, KITCHENER RANGERS (OHL)

FCHockey Rank: 20

Last, but certainly not least, Francesco Pinelli made his mark in his rookie season with the Kitchener Rangers. The centreman came into the lineup and put up 18 goals, 23 assists, and 41 points in his 59 games played. He also dressed for Team Canada Red in the World Under-17-Hockey challenge, scoring one goal in five games.

In 2018-19, the six-foot, 176-pound forward was playing against Clarke and Othmann for the Toronto Red Wings U16 AAA team. He was the captain of the club and finished second in the GTHL in scoring with 49 goals, 65 assists, and 114 points in 59 games. In the OHL Cup, he added another 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in seven games.

Finally, Pinelli, like the others on this list, played for Team Ontario in the Canada Winter Games, scoring twice and adding an assist in the six games played.

“Pinelli’s footwork is light and smooth,” said Crossover Scout, Brandon Holmes. “He’s able to use crossovers and quick cuts while the puck is on his stick to survey and open up passing lanes with the puck on his stick. Pinelli is a patient attacker who often preferred to slow the game down while attacking on the rush and waiting for plays to develop, showing an excellent read-and-react offensive brain with or without the puck on his stick.”

Pinelli should be looked on to take a bigger role with the Rangers in 2020-21, and that should only see him rise up draft boards.

WILLIAM EKLUND, C/LW, DJURGARDENS IF (SHL)

FCHockey Rank: 21

An older player in this draft class, William Eklund already has SHL experience under his belt with Djurgardens IF and he looks like he’ll stick there in 2020-21. That should only help his draft stock as he plays in one of the best leagues in the world. At this point, he looks to be one of the best Swedish prospects in the 2021 NHL Draft.

The 2019-20 season saw the impressive forward get his first 20 games in the SHL, collecting two assists in a minimum role. He spent most of the season with the J20 club, putting up 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games. He also played five games in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup for Team Sweden, adding another goal and four assists to his stat line and winning a bronze medal.

The season prior, Eklund split his time surprisingly evenly, playing 13 games in each the J18 Elit, J18 Allsvenskan, and the J20 SuperElit. He was the alternate captain on the J18 groups, collecting 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in his time with them. He had a goal and two assists with the J20 club, but then had six points (two goals, four assists) in eight playoff games.

“Eklund is a player that handles most aspects of the game,” said Swedish scout Fredrik Haak. “Huge hockey-IQ and offensive awareness combined with a great work ethic makes him a player that every team needs in their roster.”

Eklund has the benefit of an extra year of development over some of his draft class peers, but he’s put that to good use and looks to continue that in 2020-21.

XAVIER BOURGAULT, C, SHAWINIGAN CATARACTES (QMJHL)

FCHockey Rank: 22

The lone player on this list in their third QMJHL season, Xavier Bourgault has made his presence in the league known. The Shawinigan Cataractes star forward joined the team in 2018-19, collecting seven goals, 13 assists, and 20 points in his first 62 games in the league. He also dressed for Team Canada White at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, adding another two assists in five games.

The centreman broke out last season, taking on a bigger role with the team and emerging as a top prospect for the 2021 NHL Draft. He finished the season with 33 goals, 38 assists, and 71 points in 63 games. Entering 2020-21, Bourgault is likely to lead his team in points and he is very much a player to watch for the scoring title in the league.

“The mobility he shows on his feet is excellent,” said Eastern Canada and Crossover scout Josh Bell. “He has good acceleration, utilizes good edgework, and fights for superior positioning. His hands match his feet, he showed tremendous puck movement in this game, combining his hands and feet to cut into the middle and set up his teammates.”

While he has an extra year of QMJHL experience under his belt, Bourgault is one of the top QMJHL prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft.

VLADISLAV LUKASHEVICH, D, LOKO YAROSLAVL (MHL)

FCHockey Rank: 23

Finally, we come to another defenseman in Vladislav Lukashevich. If you’re noticing a trend in the defenders on this list, this is yet another one that hasn’t racked up the points in Russia. However, he does have some very intriguing two-way abilities that could see him get more points than Chayka and Kirsanov in the long run.

After spending 12 games in the Russia U17 league in 2018-19, collecting eight assists, Lukashevich skipped the U18 level altogether and went into the MHL in 2019-20. He played 36 games with Loko Yaroslavl, playing 36 games. In that time, he scored two goals and had four assists for six points. He also dressed for Russia in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, tacking on four points (one goal, three assists) and a gold medal to his draft-1 season.

“Lukashevich is a uniquely advanced and mature defenseman for his age,” said head Crossover scout Derek Neumeier. “His understanding of the defense position is incredible. He isn’t a rover, per se, but he does a fantastic job of moving his feet and getting himself into positions that benefit his team.”

This season, the defender has taken a big role with Loko, playing big minutes and starting to put up more points. If this continues, he could very well be selected in the first round come June.

DANIIL CHAYKA, D, KRASNAYA ARMIYA (MHL)

FCHockey Rank: 24

Daniil Chayka may be a name that you already recognize, especially if you’re in Ontario. That’s because the Russian defender spent the last two seasons in the OHL with the Guelph Storm before heading over to Russia for the 2020-21 season.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar Russian players to watch

Chayka spent a year in the GTHL with the Toronto Jr. Canadians U16 AAA before making the jump to the OHL in 2018-19. Once there, he chipped in five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 56 games. He then played 20 games in the Storm’s run to the OHL championship and played another four games in the Memorial Cup, not recording any points. He was named to the OHL’s Second All-Star Team.

Then in 2019-20, Chayka started the season on Team Russia in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. As an alternate captain, he helped lead the team to a gold medal with two assists in five games. His OHL season saw his point totals jump, with 11 goals, 23 assists, and 34 points in 56 games.

“Chayka has an active stick in the d-zone and is a fairly fluid skater for a player his size,” said head Eastern Canada scout Dylan Galloway. ” On the offensive side of the puck, Chayka likes to jump up on the rush and contribute offensively through good puck transitioning and smart passing.”

More of a defensive defenseman, Chayka won’t be lighting the lamp often, but he is very much a player to keep an eye on in 2020-21.

NIKITA CHIBRIKOV, RW, SKA-1946 ST. PETERSBURG (KHL)

FCHockey Rank: 25

Right-winger Nikita Chibrikov isn’t exactly well-known by the widespread hockeyverse, but he is very much on the radar of draft enthusiasts and scouts. The forward has already cracked the KHL lineup in 2020-21, an impressive feat for a draft-eligible player.

He’s been well on his way for years though. In 2018-19, Chibrikov played at the U16, U17, and U18 levels in Russia for the Dynamo Moskva system, putting up 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) at the U16 level and moving up to being an alternate captain with the U18s, adding another 15 points (eight goals, seven assists).

Then in 2019-20, the forward spent the majority of the season in the MHL, playing 32 games and recording three goals, 13 assists, and 16 points in 32 games. In the middle of the year, he impressed at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Team Russia, collecting eight points (three goals, five assists) in six games en route to a gold medal

Chibrikov is a fantastic skater who often displays very good top speed while carrying the puck on his stick,” said Crossover scout Brandon Holmes. “Using fluid crossovers to generate speed through the neutral zone and find space in the offensive zone.”

With Chibrikov now getting time in the KHL in the 2020-21 season, he should be top of mind when thinking of Russian prospects in the 2021 NHL Draft.

SAMU SALMINEN, LW, JOKERIT U20 (U20 SM-sarja)

FCHockey Rank: 28

Arguably the least known name on this list, Samu Salminen will be making himself known in the months leading up to the draft. Other than the last person on this list, Salminen might just be the most offensively-dynamic player coming out of Finland in this draft.

He put that on display last season in the U18 SM-sarja with Jokerit U18, scoring eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in just seven games. That earned him a bump to the Jr. A SM-liiga with the U20 group, where he had another seven goals, 13 assists, and 20 points in 23 games. Along with Miettinen, he played for Finland at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, going a point-per-game with three goals and two assists in the tournament.

The year prior, Salminen dominated at every level he played at, collecting 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 15 U16 SM-sarja Q games, 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in five U16 SM-sarja games, and 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 33 games.

“A big center with good skating, high hockey IQ and good two-way game is often a sought-after combination, and Salminen shouldn’t make an exception,” said Arponen. “The Jokerit forward has started the season very well in the U20s and has started to cement his spot in the first round already.”

Salminen might be one of the more underrated players, let alone Finnish players, in this draft class. He is already having a strong performance as the alternate captain of Jokerit U20 in the U20 SM-sarja this season and should be on your radar.

ISAK ROSEN, LW, LEKSANDS IF (J20 Nationell)

FCHockey Rank: 29

While he doesn’t seem to get the attention of the other players on this list, Isak Rosen is very much one of the top players to watch in Swedish hockey for the 2021 NHL Draft. He’ll be getting it this season though, as he’s already seeing some time in the SHL.

Back in 2018-19, Rosen split his time with the U16 and J18 groups. In 14 games in the U16 Elit, he potted 14 goals, adding 11 assists for 25 points. He shined in the J18 Allsvenskan though, getting league-leading 15 goals, seven assists, and 22 points in 16 games. His point totals also led the league. HE added another seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 J18 Elit games.

The 2019-20 season saw him mainly in the J20 SuperElit, playing 38 games. He recorded 21 goals, 14 assists, and 35 points. More impressively though the young prospect played his first career SHL game in his draft-1 season. While he didn’t record any points, it’s a remarkable feat.

“Rosen is a fantastic offensive player with great hands,” said Haak. “He sees the ice really well and can create scoring opportunities on his own. Extremely high potential.”

Rosen may spend most of the 2020-21 season in the J20 Nationell league, but he’ll get some looks at the SHL level. He’s a very intriguing prospect ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft.

BRENNAN OTHMANN, LW, FLINT FIREBIRDS (OHL)

FCHockey Rank: 30

The second forward highlighted by FCHockey scouts is Brennan Othmann. The Flint Firebirds left winger came into the OHL last season with large expectations after leading the GTHL in scoring in 2018-19. Playing with Clarke on the Don Mills Flyers U16 AAA team, Othmann racked up a whopping 66 goals, 80 assists, and 146 points in 72 games.

He extended this into the OHL Cup, scoring eight goals, six assists, and 14 points in seven games en route to the championship and being named to the All-Star Team. He also played with Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games with 10 goals, six assists, and 16 points in six games.

Entering the OHL, Othmann played 55 games and scored 17 goals, 16 assists, and 33 points. He was added to the OHL First All-Rookie Team for his efforts. Finally, he also played with Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, adding three goals, three assists, and six points in five games to his resume.

“Othmann boasts an absolute laser beam of a shot,” started Galloway. “His ability to find space utilizing some solid agility and smarts is going to make him a very dangerous goalscorer throughout his career. He does break the zone a touch early and is often thinking strictly offensively, but with his ability to put the puck in the net, it’s hard to blame him.”

Othmann took some time to get used to the OHL but entering his sophomore season he should be ready to drive his draft stock up.

BEN GAUDREAU, G, SARNIA STING

FCHockey Rank: 31

It’s not often we see a goaltender drafted in the first round. It’s even less often that we see more than one. In the 2021 NHL Draft, Ben Gaudreau may force his way into the first round. The Sarnia Sting netminder played in 28 games as a rookie, collecting a 10-13-2 record to go along with a 4.34 goals against average (GAA) and a .890 save percentage (SV%).

In 2018-19, the six-foot-two, 165-pound goaltender played for the North Bay Trappers in the GNML. He helped lead his team to a league championship, sporting a 1.13 GAA (the best in the league) in the process. He also dressed for Team Ontario in the Canada Winter Games with Clarke, winning the silver medal with a 3.48 GAA and a .911 SV%.

“Gaudreau seems to have good fundamentals and is able to hold the top of his crease well, even with traffic crowding the slot,” said Galloway. “The other thing I like about Gaudreau’s game is his quick lateral movements. He reads the play really well for such a young goalie and uses that ability to anticipate puck movement and get into position and squared up before the shot is even taken.”

Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt looks to have the top netminder rank locked heading into the 2020-21 campaign, but Gaudreau is making a strong case for No. 2 on that list.

ZACH DEAN, C, GATINEAU OLYMPIQUES (QMJHL)

FCHockey Rank: 32

Zach Dean came into the league with big expectations after being drafted fourth overall, and he hasn’t disappointed. The centerman impressed in his QMJHL rookie season, scoring 18 goals and adding 28 assists for 48 points in 57 games. His season earned him a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team.

On top of this, he also made time to dress for Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, collecting seven points (three goals, four assists) in the five games played.

In 2018-19, Dean played for the Toronto Nationals U16 AAA team, racking up and impressing 47 points (24 goals, 23 assists) in 32 GTHL games and another 89 points (36 goals, 53 assists) in 64 U16 AAA games. He then captained Team Newfoundland in the Canada Winter Games, adding 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) to his impressive season.

“Dean is a skilled offense-oriented center who uses his high hockey IQ and great creativity to generate scoring chances,” said Eastern Canada scout Andy Lehoux. “The 176 pounds forward already possesses some of the silkiest hands in the Q, being able to dazzle through defenders and pull out highlight-reel dekes effortlessly.”

Now in his draft year, Dean started the season on injured reserve with a wrist injury. But you can bet he’ll be commanding attention for the rest of the season.

VERNER MIETTINEN, C, Kiekko-Espoo U20 (U20 SM-sarja)

FCHockey Rank: 35

Another promising two-way center, Verner Miettinen might just bring a bit more offensive potential to his game than Helenius. The Kiekko-Espoo U20 forward hasn’t cracked the Liiga yet but could see some action in the top league before the season is out.

The five-foot-11 forward spent 2019-20 playing in the Jr. A SM-liiga with Kiekko-Espoo U20, playing 49 games with the squared. He scored 14 goals, adding 22 assists for 36 points. He also dressed for Team Finland in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, collecting three goals and an assist in five games. That came after spending the 2018-19 season with the Blues U18 in the U18 SM-sarja, potting 13 goals to go along with 19 assists for 32 points in 41 games.

“Miettinen’s start for the season has been disappointing compared to expectations,” said Finnish scout Miika Arponen. “He hasn’t been able to create offence and his two-way game – which he is known for – hasn’t been nearly as good as it was last year.

“He looks to be lacking self-confidence and probably needs some kind of a shake-up to get his game back on track.”

Miettinen looks like a second-round option at this point, but a strong season could help to put him into first-round consideration.

SEBASTIAN COSSA, G, EDMONTON OIL KINGS (WHL)

FCHockey Rank: 36

The 2021 NHL Draft has been lauded for its high-end defenders. Well, in the long run it might be more known for its star goaltenders. From the WHL, Edmonton Oil Kings’ Sebastian Cossa will be pushing to be a first-round talent. This draft could see anywhere from one to three goaltenders taken in the first round.

Cossa is a massive netminder, standing six-foot-six, 212 pounds. He stepped into the WHL and impressed in 2019-20, stealing the starting role. He played 33 games, going 21-6-3 and maintaining a 2.23 goals against average (GAA) and a .921 save percentage (SV%). The goalie also collected four shutouts in his rookie season.

This impressive season came after spending 2018-19 in the AMHL for the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers U18 team. He played 13 games with the team, going 6-5-2 and recording a .919 SV%. This past offseason, Cossa was invited to the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence. He dressed for Canada White in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2018-19, splitting his two games played.

“He is a goaltender with a tremendous toolkit,” said head Crossover scout Derek Neumeier. “With a big frame, long limbs and good athleticism. Not only does he naturally cover a lot of net, he can efficiently move around in his crease and make reflexive saves with his appendages.”

Entering 2020-21, Cossa should be the No. 1 man in net and be ready to take over the league. Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt looks to be the top netminder of the class, but Cossa could secure that No. 2 spot with a solid year.

DANIIL LAZUTIN, C, SKA-VARYAGI (MHL)

FCHockey Rank: 37

If there was one player on this list coming into the season with the most hype, it’s Daniil Lazutin. The Russian centreman hasn’t had the best start in 2020-21 but if he can live up to his resume, he will be very much an intriguing player in this draft. He could even be worthy of a top-20 selection.

In 2018-19, Lazutin was already putting himself on the map for the 2021 NHL Draft. At just 15-years old, he put up 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 23 games t the U16 level. He got bumped up to the U18 level, captaining the team. In his eight games, he continued to impress with five goals, seven assists, and 12 points.

In 2019-20, he made the jump to the MHL, collecting four goals, seven assists, and 11 points in 32 games. HE also stole the show at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Team Russia, tallying four goals to go along with five assists and nine points in six games. He was named to the tournament All-Star Team and helped Russia win the gold medal.

With the puck, Lazutin is an extremely evasive player,” said Bell. “His creativity allows him to get around defenders and he protects the puck well. He’s not afraid to try and make plays… He’s a very active defender, closing the gap between him and his man, getting his stick in passing lanes, and making it difficult on his opponents.”

He’s been off to a slow start in 2020-21, but if he can regain his past year’s form he should be a first-round pick in this draft class.

JOSHUA ROY, C/W, SAINT JOHN SEA DOGS (QMJHL)

FCHockey Rank: 46

Our final QMJHL player to watch ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft is Joshua Roy of the Saint John Sea Dogs. The forward came into the league heavily hyped. He led the QMAAA league in points, with 88 (38 goals, 50 assists) in 42 games for the Levis Chevaliers. At the end of the campaign, Roy earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award and was drafted first overall in the 2019 QMJHL Entry Draft.

The Quebec native played alongside Bolduc and L’Heureux for Team Quebec in the Canada Winter Games, acting as the alternate captain. He scored four goals and nine assists for 13 points en route to the championship title. This helped to earn him a spot in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he played against Dean and L’Heureux, dressing for Team Canada Red. He had two goals and two assists in the five games played.

“Roy seems like a competent if not still a bit raw two-way playmaking center who could really see his draft stock rise through the season as he fine-tunes his game,” said Galloway. “His excellent habits make for a coach’s dream on both sides of the puck, so if he can maintain that consistency then he should see a lot of ice this season and get a lot of opportunities to improve his skills.”

In his rookie season in the QMJHL, Roy kept the offense coming with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points. He will look to build on that in 2020-21 with the NHL Draft in sight. After going first overall in the QMJHL Draft, Roy knows what it takes to be a top prospect.

KIRILL KIRSANOV, D, SKA-1946 ST. PETERSBURG (KHL)

FCHockey Rank: 60

The second defensive defender on this list, Kirill Kirsanov has been excellent to start the 2020-21 season and should be trending up on draft boards if he continues this way. Along with Chibrikov, Kirsanov impressed enough at the MHL level to get the call up to the KHL squad. Again, that’s impressive for an 18-year-old.

Much like Chayka, Kirsanov won’t be racking up the points at this level or the next. He’s more of a pillar of defense which has been working for him. In 2018-19, for both the U17 and U18 squad, mainly with the U17s. There, he collected three goals, seven assists, and 10 points in 20 games. He also dressed for the gold-medal winning national team at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, adding two assists in six games.

Kirsanov started off 2019-20 winning again, this time at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, picking up another two assists in five games. He then spent the season in the MHL, scoring four goals and nine assists for 13 points in 40 games. The defender did briefly stop to play in the World Junior A Challenge, getting another goal and four assists in six games.

The Russian defender’s defensive awareness is extremely high-end,” said Eastern Canada and Crossover scout Josh Bell. “He reads plays very well, knowing when to apply pressure on the attacker and break up a play… He’s always working to be in the best position whether that’s in order to defend or receive a pass and support his teammates.”

Kirsanov’s proven that he can play at the top levels early on in this season, and is very much one to keep tabs on ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft.

MATTHEW SAMOSKEVICH, C, CHICAGO STEEL (USHL)

FCHockey Rank: 68

Finally, looking at the USHL, Power’s former teammate on the Steel looks to be one of, if not the top draft-eligible prospect in the league this season. Matthew Samoskevich, a graduate of the renowned Shattuck St. Mary’s program in the USHS-Prep league, is entering his sophomore season with the club and should be a leader on the squad.

Playing with Shattuck in 2018-19, he recorded 36 goals, 38 assists, and 74 points in 51 games. He ended up playing two games with the Steel that season, collecting two assists. He also stepping into three playoff games, capturing another assist.

In 2019-20, Samoskevich spent the full season with Chicago. In 47 games, he potted 13 goals, 21 assists and 34 points. To start off the year, he dressed for Team USA at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and had one goal in his four games.

“Samoskevich may have flown under the radar in some stacked Steel teams but his offensive game is his bread and butter,” said Napientek. “He has soft hands, is an excellent playmaker and a sneaky good shot. Samo’s skating is improving and can play all over the ice. He’ll drive the offense in Chicago this season.”

With the Steel established as a top tier development program for the NHL, Samoskevich should have a lot of eyes on his this season.

SAMUEL HELENIUS, C, JYP (Liiga)

FCHockey Rank: 84

You can’t miss Samuel Helenius on the ice. Standing at six-foot-six, 183 pounds, the towering centerman is pretty easy to pick out. The two-way forward should gain some considerable attention for the 2021 NHL Draft since it looks like he’ll be playing the majority of the 2020-21 season on JYP’s Liiga squad, the top league in Finland.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar Finnish players to watch

Last season, Helenius spent the season with the Jokerit U20 squad in the Jr. A SM-liiga, playing 51 games and collecting 13 goals, 11 assists, and 24 points. He is a very dependable center that should be one of the safer picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft. In 2018-19, he played in the U18 SM-sarja with Jokerit’s U18 group, putting up 13 goals, 15 assists, and 28 points in 43 games. He may not make too many highlight reels but his reliability is extremely intriguing.

“Decent acceleration and possesses powerful strides,” said European scout Dennis Schellenberg. “Surely, his size and offensive skills make him a promising player. Competes and plays a rough type of game, does not shy away from physical contact, obviously at his size. However, he’s a long-term project and needs to mature his game. Tends to over-compete here and there.”

The centreman looks like he should be a strong contender to dress for Team Finland at the 2021 World Junior Championships, which should only help his stock rise.

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