Nine months after the festivities of the 2020 NHL Draft, we are here again at the 2021 NHL Draft. It seems like yesterday we were crowning Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, and Tim Stuetzle first, second, and third overall respectively. But now a new crop of prospects are set to be named the top three of the draft and for the first time in a long time, we have no idea what the order will be.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft: Live Tracker
The questions start right off the bat too. A lot of outlets are predicting Owen Power as the No. 1 pick, but that’s far from a certainty. We could see William Eklund, Matthew Beniers or even Dylan Guenther take the top spot. That’s how wide-open the top of the draft is this year. After the top three, the questions just keep on coming. I guarantee you we will see some surprises before the night is out. So, as we get closer and closer to the beginning of hockey’s version of Christmas Day, here are five predictions for how the first round will go.
Sabres Draft William Eklund First Overall
The Buffalo Sabres are a team in turmoil. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2011, two of their stars in Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart want out, and they haven’t finished with a winning record since the 2011-12 season. That’s how bad it is in the city of Buffalo. So, why not turn it around with the selection of an exciting Swede in Eklund?
The Sabres could draft Power and no one would criticize them for it. He is a bonified franchise defenceman after all. Except I think they need a bit more excitement in their lineup, especially after Eichel and Reinhart are ultimately traded. Eklund brings that and more with his exciting brand of speed, work ethic, and two-way hockey. There are not many things he can’t do as a forward. He can shoot, he can pass, he can deke. He is even versatile enough to play up and down the lineup. Now that’s someone a team can build around.
Devils Draft Hughes at No. 4
If the Sabres, Seattle Kraken, or Anaheim Ducks don’t select dynamic defenceman Luke Hughes, he is likely going to the New Jersey Devils at fourth overall. With their blueline a mess and lacking a young star, he would immediately inject some speed and puck movement to a core that is somewhat stale right now. He also would be joining his older brother Jack in the pursuit of bringing the Devils out of the dark ages and into a new light. One leading the defence from the back end while the other leading the attack up front.
Sharks Draft Wallstedt at No. 7
Even with the acquisition of 25-year-old Adin Hill, the San Jose Sharks still need a bonafide star in their system. At his peak, Jesper Wallstedt will be in the same realm as Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck, a franchise goaltender that will be the face of the crease for decades. Here is what I said in his prospect profile:
All the superlatives you can think of apply to Wallstedt. He’s quick laterally, strong on his skates, almost perfect technically, and finally, never gives up on a play. He’s also calm as a cucumber, possesses a lightning-quick glove hand, and can handle the puck efficiently outside of his crease. Basically, what I am saying is, there are not many weaknesses to his game.
If Wallstedt is still available at seven, the Sharks will jump all over him like he was a seven-course dinner.
Lysell Drops Into the 20s
As much as I love Fabian Lysell‘s game, there are some red flags that may make him a candidate to drop from the top ten. He is as skilled as they come with his speed, hands, and creativity, but he does tend to run hot and cold when it comes to his effort level. When I hear that, it reminds me of Alexei Kovalev and Alexander Mogilny, two players that were full of skill, but sometimes decided that they didn’t want to play on a particular night. Though when they were on, they played the game like Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid.
On his best shift, Lysell is using his skill and speed to get around guys and take pucks to the net, or making tremendous plays with pace to his teammates. His physical effort comes and goes off the puck, but with the puck he plays with courage. In a sentence, Lysell projects as a second-line winger who has the talent to dominate an NHL shift but may frustrate observers too.
Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from ‘Top 151 Prospects for 2021 NHL Draft: Owen Power leads Corey Pronman’s final rankings’, The Athletic, 6/15/21)
Those types of players are definitely frustrating to coach and for fans to watch. Work ethic is a huge attribute for many scouts and general managers, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some teams get turned off by Lysell. Nevertheless, a team will draft him in the first round, it just may be further down than his skill level seems to suggest.
Jack Peart & Olen Zellweger Will Be Drafted in the First Round
Two defencemen that have been climbing the rankings recently are Jack Peart and Olen Zellweger. Starring for the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Fargo Force and Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Everett Silvertips respectively, they both led their bluelines with mobility and poise throughout the 2020-21 season.
For Peart, he increased his stock by playing a key role in the playoffs en route to a Clark Cup Final appearance, while Zellweger put himself on the map with an outstanding performance at the U18 World Championships (U18s). They both have seen their names pop up in the first round on several rankings since and could end up being taken in the first round. I for one wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
Other Random Predictions
Alright, there are eight of my predictions heading into the 2021 NHL Draft. What are yours? Drop a comment below! And, be sure to tune in to the draft, tonight at 8 p.m. EST and Saturday, July 23 at 11:00 a.m. EST.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.