2021 NHL Draft: 5 Western Canadian players to watch
With the 2021 NHL Draft in mind, Western Canada is a region to watch.
FCHockey has been releasing these player-to-watch lists to highlight key 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospects from each region. You may have noticed that there was an edition for both the OHL and the QMJHL. Typically, there would be a WHL edition as well. But in the 2020-21 season, there is one player in Western Canada not playing in the WHL. Therefore, this edition had to expand in order to fit this prospect.
As we gear up for the season, our scouts agreed on five 2020 NHL Draft-eligible players from Western Canada that you’ll need to see this season, all of which could very well be first-round selections.
Here are FCHockey’s five Western Canadian prospects to watch this season:
Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
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.
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.
Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
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.
Dylan Guenther, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
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.
Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
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.
Cole Sillinger, C, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
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.