The NHL Draft is still a few months away, but as the season winds down, many fans of organizations outside the playoffs are already thinking about which player their team will select. Although this year’s draft may not have any truly elite franchise players ready to make the jump to the NHL, it’s still full of high end talent and difference makers. Here’s how the first ten picks could look:
- Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power, Defenseman, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Buffalo once again finds themselves at the bottom of the league standings, and if these results hold, they’ll have the best lottery odds for the first overall pick. Hockey Insider Bob MacKenzie recently polled NHL scouts on who they rank first overall, and ten out of ten said Michigan defenseman Owen Power. One of the scouts elaborated, saying there is around a 60 percent chance Power goes number one. While things can change based on what team is picking where, for Buffalo, they’ll likely be inclined to pick a defenseman. With franchise center Jack Eichel still manning their top line (despite trade rumors), 2019 first round pick Dylan Cozens impressing in his rookie year, and 2017 first round pick Casey Mittlestadt bouncing back under interim coach Don Granato, it seems unlikely that the Sabres go with a center here. At 6’5”, Power is a physical presence and a great skater who can contribute both offensively and in his own zone. Although he’s a left handed shot like 2018 first overall selection Rasmus Dahlin, that won’t deter Buffalo from selecting the powerful blueliner.
- New Jersey Devils: Dylan Guenther, Right Wing, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
New Jersey, like Buffalo, find themselves once again picking in the top two. They also, like Buffalo, seem to have their center position locked up with former first overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. While they could go with a defenseman here, where the Devils are most lacking is in offense; they don’t have any elite wingers to play alongside either Hischier or Hughes. Dylan Guenther has been lighting it up in the WHL shortened season with 12 goals and 24 points in 12 games. At 6’1”, 181 pounds, he’s also got NHL size already, unlike winger William Eklund (5’10”), another candidate to go in this spot. After drafting sniper Alexander Holtz in last year’s draft, Guenther would work nicely in the Devils’ top six, and could shore up the depth issues they have at forward.
- Seattle Kraken: Matthew Beniers, Center, University of Michigan (NCAA)
The new expansion team is slated to have the third best odds in the draft, so for now they slot in at third overall. The Kraken could go in any direction based on who they draft in the expansion draft, but for now, Beniers seems to be both the best and the safest option. Out of the natural centers listed in most scouts top ten, Beniers may be the only one who has the certainty to play the position in the NHL. The native of Massachusetts has both the offensive game (24 points in 24 games for Michigan) and the defensive game teams love. Beniers also showed his ability to match up well against other teams top lines, and played a high responsibility role with Team USA at the World Juniors, centering their second line. For a team like Seattle looking to build their future, there’s no better place to start than a franchise center.
- Anaheim Ducks: William Eklund, Center/Wing, Djurgardens (SHL)
As mentioned above, Eklund is a smaller statured forward, but he has elite hockey sense and high end offensive ability. While it’s still to be determined if he can be an NHL level center, he should be a high end offensive player for a team that’s desperate for scoring. With a handful of young centers in their system, Anaheim may want to go with a skater who can slot in at wing if necessary. Eklund also has a solid goal scoring pedigree, with 11 goals in 40 games in the SHL as an 18 year old. He could fit nicely on prospect Trevor Zegras’ wing or as a 1-2 punch behind Zegras at center for the Ducks.
- Ottawa Senators: Simon Edvinsson, Defense, Frolunda (SHL)
Ottawa may be inclined to pick a forward here, particularly a center to play with Brady Tkachuk, however, Edvinsson is too hard to pass up here at 5. Like Power, Edvinsson has the size (6’5”) and skating to become an elite defensemen in the NHL. While Edvinsson is less offensively inclined than Power, he still has the ability to make an impact with his excellent passing and vision. If Ottawa does choose to select the Swede, he would work well with top defender Thomas Chabot; however Edvinsson has been rising on draft boards as of late and could be taken before the fifth pick.
- Columbus Blue Jackets: Kent Johnson, Center, University of Michigan (NCAA)
After trading away top center Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus is in desperate need of a high end center to fill the depth issue they have at forward. Although some have questioned Johnson’s ability to play the center position in the NHL, he still looks to be offensive talent regardless. In 26 games with Michigan, Johnson put up 27 points in 26 games; prior to college, he dominated the BCHL, scoring 101 points in 52 games, 30 more points than the next highest player. By adding Johnson, the Blue Jackets grab an elite offensive player they so desperately need. If Johnson can transition to the NHL as a center, pairing him with winger Patrik Laine could be a deadly tandem.
- Los Angeles Kings: Luke Hughes, Defense, USNTDP (USHL)
Hughes, like his older brother Jack and Quinn, is an elite skating defenseman who can bring a solid all around game to the table. While he doesn’t project to be quite the offensive defenseman Quinn is, he still looks to provide both points and solid in zone defense for his team. In 56 games for the United States Development Team, he scored 49 points and was the highest scoring defenseman on the team. He also has greater size than either of his brothers (6’2”) and is one of the younger players in the draft as a September 2003 birthdate. He’ll likely spend a few seasons developing at the University of Michigan, but could be the perfect fit for a Los Angeles Kings team that is stacked with high end prospects. With plenty of young forwards in the system, the Kings could look to start building their backend with the youngest Hughes brother.
- San Jose Sharks: Jesper Wallstadt, Goaltender, Lulea (SHL)
Goaltenders aren’t often taken in the top ten of the NHL Draft; Wallstedt deservedly should be. The Swede is easily the top netminder of the draft, and with size, speed, and technical prowess, he’ll certainly be a threat to crack the top ten. In 22 games for Lulea, Wallstedt posted a .908 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average. He also played two games at the World Juniors, sporting a .923 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average. For the Sharks, a franchise goalie could help propel them from the struggles they’ve had of late. Martin Jones, their current starting goalie, has struggled the past few seasons, posting three straight save percentages of .896. Adding an elite goaltender could help them get back to the playoffs while not having to go through the full rebuild process. With plenty of long, expensive contracts on their roster, they would benefit from a quick team reset, and selecting Wallstedt may just help with that.
- Vancouver Canucks: Brandt Clarke, Defenseman, HC Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
The 2020-21 season has not gone the way the Vancouver Canucks planned. They currently sit 8 points out of a playoff spot and most recently came off a near month long pause due to a COVID outbreak. For the Canucks, they have a handful of talented forwards (Brock Boeser, Elias Petterson, Bo Horvat, JT Miller), however, they could use a solid all around defenseman. Quinn Hughes has been excellent offensively for Vancouver, but following the departure of his defensive partner Chris Tanev, he’s struggled in the defensive zone. Adding Clarke to their d-corps as a potential partner for Hughes could create more balance. Clarke spent this season in Slovakia as the OHL season was cancelled, and performed very well with 15 points in 26 games. If he’s available at 9, don’t be surprised if the Canucks jump on him.
- Detroit Red Wings: Chaz Lucius, Center, USNTDP (USHL)
The Red Wings have a number of areas they could improve upon, however, the center position seems to be their biggest depth issue. Dylan Larkin has performed well over the past few years for Detroit but hasn’t put up the offensive numbers needed to be the top center on a contending team. The Red Wings also have Michael Rasmussen and prospect Joe Veleno in the organization but neither of their ceilings are projected to be high end, top six centers. Chaz Lucius has had an excellent career with the United States’ junior teams; his U17 season saw him put up 52 points in 52 games, and he followed that up with 36 points in 25 games this season. He’ll head off to the University of Minnesota for at least a year, but the Red Wings rebuild aligns with a project player who may be a few years off. With great offensive skill and goal scoring ability, he could be the player the Red Wings need to match with Dylan Larkin down the middle.
*Standings as of April 25
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