July 21, 2021

Holmes 10 Takes: Pre-Draft Thoughts

Holmes’ 10 Takes is a monthly column from Brandon Holmes, one of FCHockey’s video scouts.

This column will highlight Holmes’ analysis of 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospects and reaction news in the prospect world.

Well, here we are.

We’re just a few days away from Round 1 of the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday, closing out a year that has been so wide open for prospect evaluation. I can’t overstate how excited I am to see how everything shakes out.

Whether your team is picking top-five or near the end of the first round, there is such a wide range of options and potential outcomes — which I think adds a good deal of fun for the evening as we’ll all have to stay on our toes for what is coming next. There will be plenty of storylines and wildcard prospects to watch throughout days one and two of the draft, so, let’s get into it with a draft preview edition of 10 Takes.

Here are my final 10 Takes for the 2021 Draft season:

No. 1 Still Undecided

In about a week, the Buffalo Sabres will be on the clock with the first overall pick in 2021 NHL Draft, but who will they take? With many lists placing Owen Power at No. 1, including FCHockey, many have presumed that the 6-foot-6 defenseman from University of Michigan will be the pick. There have been some shadows of doubt casted on the notion that Power will be the Sabres pick, as it’s rumoured Buffalo’s front office is also very high Swedish forward William Eklund. I personally would lean towards selecting Power and building the Sabres defense core around Power, Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju, but I can’t blame the Sabres for at least looking at the possibility of selecting a creative forward in Eklund. Whatever they decide, it will be an interesting discussion to monitor as we head towards draft day on July 23rd.

Top-Five Dark Horse

FCHockey’s final draft board landed with a top five of Power, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes, Matthew Beniers, and Eklund, but I think it’s important to entertain the possibility that that’s not how things will shake out on draft day. So, if those are not the top five players selected, who could rise up to knock at least one of those players into the back half of the top-10? Among the many possibilities, my personal favorite is Canadian center Mason McTavish. McTavish, who is coming off of a fantastic 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship earlier this Spring, is a heavy and cerebral 200-foot pivot who I think will make whoever drafts him very happy. If you are a team looking for a center in the draft you are going to be hard pressed to find a better one than McTavish, and it would not surprise me in the slightest to see a team step up and take this kid earlier than we all think.

Depth at Key Positions

NHL clubs are always looking for centers and defensemen, and for all of the flak this draft class has taken in terms of perceived quality, it does appear to be a good draft if you’re looking to acquire one of those key positions, especially early. In FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2021 draft, seven of our top 10 prospects fall into that category, as well as 20 of 32 to round out the rest of the first round. Conventional wisdom says to always draft the best player available, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that this year’s draft is flush with players at pivotal positions.

Goaltending Landscape

I mentioned that figure of 20 of the top 32 top prospects are either centers or defensemen, but that does also leave out the fact that this is the first time since 2012 that FCHockey has ranked three goaltenders as first round talents: Jesper Wallstedt (No. 8), Sebastian Cossa (15) and Benjamin Gaudreau (32). It seems to be a lock that we’ll have at least one goaltender go in the top-10, though I would also not leave it out of the question that Cossa could also sneak his way in there on draft night if Wallstedt goes early. In the later half of the first round, there are plenty of teams that I could see as fits for one of the high-end goaltenders, namely the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings or the Minnesota Wild, to name a few. The success of former first round goaltenders in this year’s playoffs certainly couldn’t hurt the prospect of multiple goaltenders going in this year’s first round. One other note on that goaltender class of 2012: the top selected goaltender from that year was Conn Smythe winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. Just something to think about.

Big USHL Class Finally Graduates

With the pandemic affecting junior hockey this year, the USHL was able to draw in a large influx of top-end talent in players whose leagues were not playing, so it’s no surprise that this year’s could be one of the top USHL crops we’ve ever seen in draft history. There is a distinct possibility that we could see anywhere from six to 10 current or former USHL players go in this year’s first round, with many more projected to go in the second and third rounds, and that includes Chicago Steel alumni in Power potentially going first overall. For supporters of the USHL, this year’s draft will be a fun couple of days to monitor.

Olen Zellweger: First Round Talent

In the last couple months of work on this draft class, one player that really began to rise on a lot of boards after more intimate viewings was Everett Silvertips defenseman Olen Zellweger. Finishing at No. 26 on our draft board, Zellweger has played himself firmly into the first round discussion after a strong season in the WHL as well as a strong showing at the Under-18s. Though Zellweger is a bit undersized, it’s his smooth skating and elite transition ability that has drawn the eyes of many scouts, myself included, and I can’t help but think about the impact that Samuel Girard has had on Colorado’s blue line when thinking about Zellweger’s potential trajectory in his development. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen but I’m going to plant my flag in this: Zellweger deserves to be taken in the first round.

U18’s Affecting Draft Stock

Speaking of Zellweger and McTavish, it will be interesting to see how performances at the Under-18s will affect how the draft shakes out next week. For many of these players, the U18s were their final opportunity to show themselves in front of scouts and in a strange year for scouting it was a chance to show themselves compete directly against their peers. McTavish and Zellweger both had spectacular tournaments and their performances have only cemented their standing has high draft picks. I wonder if the same bump in draft stock might materialize for prospects such as Samu Tuomaala, Aleksi Heimosalmi, and Isak Rosen. The inverse may also be true, as I wonder if a handful of players, such as Simon Edvinsson and Simon Robertsson, may slide a little because of what I thought were somewhat weak performances at the U18’s.

Where Do the Russians Go?

On the subject of strong Under-18 performances, there are three Russian born forwards who put up point-per-game or better showings who may be up for first round consideration: Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov, and Prokhor Poltapov. Svechkov, ranked 18th by FCHockey, I feel has the greatest potential of the trio in terms of how high he could go in the draft, as his hockey sense, playmaking ability, and 200-foot awareness are all attributes that NHL teams are bound to fall in love with at the center ice position. Chibrikov, ranked 21st and a future teammate of Svechkov on SKA St. Petersburg, is a dynamic playmaking winger who led all draft eligibles in scoring at the U18’s and will be an exciting name to watch in the latter half of the first round. Finally, Poltapov, ranked 37th and the longest shot to be a first round pick of the three, is a fantastically skilled and exciting winger to watch and I think is absolutely worth a swing at the end of Round 1. No matter where they end up, I think they’re all high-ceiling prospects who deserve to hear their names called on the 23rd and will be worth their draft slots for teams who will be willing to wait for them to cross the pond in a few years.

How Far Does Raty Fall?

Once upon a time, 2021 was considered the Aatu Raty draft, but, in a year where so little is certain, we can say this one thing for certain: Aatu Raty will not be the first name off the board on July 23rd. For me, one of the most fascinating stories will be just seeing how high, or low, the former No. 1 ranked prospect goes. Raty is a toolsy center who can score and play with skill and size, but consistency seems to be the biggest issue in how often he can combine all of his attributes on the ice on a nightly basis. For a team looking for a center in the first round he is absolutely still worth a look, but it will be interesting to see just how many prospects have passed Raty on the draft boards of NHL teams.

Right Defense Shortage

NHL clubs are always looking for right-shot defensemen, and while this draft has good defensive depth in the top half of the first round, I do feel there is a slight deficit on right-shot defensemen that are worth selecting high. Clarke should be a lock to go in the top-10, and Corson Ceulemans, ranked at No. 12, has a good chance of going in the top-15. But after that, the right-shot blue line landscape gets a little thin for teams selecting in the first round which makes me wonder if we might see some swings on off-the-board talents in the latter half of round one. Scott Morrow, Heimosalmi, and Brent Johnson are all ranked outside of FC Hockey’s first round, but part of me wonders if one or two of them might sneak their way into the top-31 on draft night.

Brandon Holmes is a current Video Scout at Future Considerations based out of Syracuse, NY. Honing his abilities in player evaluation in the public writing sphere for many years before coming to FC Hockey, Brandon also hosts a podcast of his own where he discusses and conducts interviews with draft eligible prospects.

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