Welcome to Kyle Pereira’s NHL mailbag, where Last Word on Hockey draft writer Kyle Pereira answers a handful of questions from the readers. If you would like to ask draft questions to this mailbag, you can follow him on Twitter @pereirareport. For today, the mailbag will be focusing on 2021 NHL draft questions.
The 2021 Draft is still quite a time away but there are a lot of questions surrounding it. From news that the draft could be pushed into next year, to co-exist with the 2022 Draft, to how the class is weaker than most classes before and potentially after it. In this mailbag, we’ll be looking at who is the best in Sweden, what makes Jesper Wallstedt so special, and much more!
Kyle Pereira’s 2021 NHL Draft Mailbag
“Do you see the Rangers selecting defense or center with their inevitable top-10 pick?” – @ConnorJCris
Great question Connor. They have a notable need for left-handed defensemen, definitely. They have Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox on the right side, currently, on their roster. On the left-side, their most notable defenseman at the NHL level is K’Andre Miller. Beyond him, on the left side, is Libor Hajek.
What Defenders Should the Rangers Watch?
The best left-shot defenders on my list are Carson Lambos, Stanislav Svozil, Simon Edvinsson, and Luke Hughes. Lambos is the most well-rounded of the bunch. He’s strong both ways, though he has struggled a bit in Europe defensively, and he’s excellent in transition. Svozil is arguably, in my eyes, the closest to being NHL-ready. The problem is upside, as Svozil isn’t great in transition and lacks the offensive flare. However, he is the best of the bunch when it comes to defensive zone coverage, making him a prospect you can plug into a lineup and not have to worry too much about. Edvinsson and Hughes are the most raw, but both provide immense upside. Both need a lot of work in the defensive zone, as they are offensively-leaning defenders who can give up a lot when trying to push the pace.
2021 NHL Draft Center Fits for NYR?
The Rangers currently boast just one center on their roster below the age of 23, and that’s Brett Howden. He is a middle-six player at best, as it currently stands. Filip Chytil, who’s on injured reserve, looks promising, but you could always use multiple strong center options, ask Pittsburgh and Toronto. That said, the Rangers should absolutely be looking at Matthew Beniers. Beniers is a strong skater, with incredible defensive abilities, excellent transitional skills, and immense offensive potential. Paired up with Alexis Lafreniere, Artemi Panarin or Kaapo Kakko, he could be lethal.
William Eklund also provides incredible value. At the SHL level, at 18-years-old, he’s receiving really good minutes each game, which is a rarity, just ask Fabian Lysell and Isak Rosen! Eklund is dominant in the offensive zone, and is decent defensively. Where he struggles is in his transitional game, but that weakness will be minimalized if he plays with Panarin or Lafreniere. If neither of those guys are available, Aatu Raty is a safe bet, and guys like Xavier Bourgault, Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson are strong options with good-to-great upside.
2021 NHL Draft best options for Rangers
For the Rangers, they have yet to draft their future stud center. They’ve had opportunities to snag one for a while, and Quinton Byfield could have been their guy, though I’m sure absolutely no one is complaining about Lafreniere. That said, they should go with a center this year. If one of Beniers or Eklund falls into their laps, take them. If neither is available, Aatu Raty would be a guy near NHL-readiness, and Kent Johnson would be the highest upside.
“Compare the level of potential of Eklund and Lysell” – @JakubHromadaCZ
The two best Swedes in the class both possess immense upside, but I’ll give the edge to Lysell here Jakub. Let’s start with Eklund. William Eklund is more mature and consistent then Lysell as it currently stands, which is reflected in the fact that he’s been averaging a lot more ice time than Lysell this season at the SHL level. His offensive game is dominant, as he’s not just a great passer with excellent vision, but he also has a great shot. It helps that he’s playing with Alexander Holtz, and they’ve had excellent chemistry together.
Defensively, Eklund is positionally sound, but he won’t provide game-changing value in this area. His glaring weakness is in the transition. That makes his projectability a bit of a question mark, as the transitional game has been growing in importance every single year.
How About Lysell?
Meanwhile, Lysell is arguably the best transitional player among the top Swedish forwards in the 2021 NHL Draft class. Lysell is a faster and more explosive skater, which he pairs with sensational stickhandling abilities, further making him a threat when moving the puck up ice. The issue is, Lysell relies a bit too heavily on his stickhandling, which makes his offensive game a bit harder to truly gauge the potential of.
While he clearly possesses a high offensive IQ and a knack for finding teammates with slick passing ability and high-end vision, he can put himself in difficult positions in an attempt to find the perfect play. Also, his defensive game is a lot more spotty than Eklund’s. Since moving from Frolunda to Lulea, his defensive game has improved, but it isn’t better than Eklund’s yet.
That said, Lysell is the more dynamic player, especially if he can put all the pieces together offensively, while Eklund has the safer floor, at the moment.
“What do you see in Wallstedt and his upside in the NHL?” – @MagicianMarner
I play goalie for fun, never played competitively, but I do understand the importance of movements, angles, composure, and hand-placement. I am not a goalie-specific scout and do not know the verbiage and the details to truly look for when evaluating goalies, however. What I can tell you is Wallstedt is not similar to the first-round goalies taken recently in Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov. Knight and Askarov are extremely athletic and flexible, with the ability to make flashy, momentum-shifting stops with relative consistency. However, both goalies could use some work on their technical ability in certain areas, especially with rebound control. Meanwhile, Wallstedt does not have that same lateral ability and athleticism, nor does he make the flashy saves. He doesn’t need to make the flashy saves, because he is so technically sound and excellent at controlling his rebounds.
Wallstedt seals off the posts when the puck is being held in the corners or at odd angles really well. He constantly keeps himself squared off to the shot, giving opponents very little to shoot at. When he drops down in the butterfly, he does so quickly and effectively, as he is extremely difficult to beat down low. He holds his glove and blocker out in front of his body, which makes him take more of the net away, and he keeps them parallel to each other while standing up, and in the process of going down. His lateral movement is powerful and precise.
2021 NHL Draft Top Goalie Jesper Wallstedt’s Upside
There are two things that need a deeper look as the season continues: his aggressiveness when challenging a shooter and how many high-danger shots he faces. It was brought to my attention that he faces harmless shots more often than not due to playing on a good defensive team. However, Wallstedt is the best goalie I’ve ever scouted, in my honest opinion, with his maturity and technical ability. His upside isn’t as high as Knight and Askarov, but he has the makings of being consistently ranked among the best goalies from the moment he makes an NHL roster to the end of his career.
Now let’s get into some less-detailed answers.
“Who are some players who have caught your eye based on your preferences?” – @CudmoreColin
The full question Colin asked mentioned how we have previously talked about my preference of defensively responsible and effective forwards. With that, there are several two-way forwards who have caught my eye in this draft, and I’ll be higher on them then most people, probably. The obvious one is Matthew Beniers, who I had ranked third prior to the World Juniors tournament. Now everyone is copying me. I love Isak Rosen, and he is another effective forward in the defensive end. Fyodor Svechkov is a guy lauded for his defensive game in the Russian circuit, and as I watch more games on him, he should rise quickly on my board. Daniil Lazutin and Robert “Bobby” Orr are two second-round prospects on my board, and they’re both strong in the defensive end, at least from what I have seen.
Rosen, for one, is heavily involved. He’s quick to attack the puck-carrier when they’re in his vicinity, and it leads to a high volume of zone exit attempts. Especially compared to other draft-eligible Swedes, from what I have tracked. Svechkov is similar to that of Rosen, but is more detail-oriented and has game-changing upside in his defensive zone play, whereas Rosen likely won’t be as good. Orr and Lazutin are positionally sound. They know where to be and what to do based on the situation at hand. They should, if they can develop well, provide positive value defensively.
“What does ‘hockey sense’ mean to you?” – @Dylan_Krill
This is an awesome question Dylan, because there are so many different variations. For me, there’s two different ways a prospect can show good hockey sense. Without the puck, they are consistently putting themselves into good spots on the ice. In the offensive zone, they’re moving their feet and constantly receiving passes in high-danger areas due to their off-the-puck movement. Another way they show this is by consistently being in the right place at the right time. That shows that they’re constantly a step or two ahead of everyone else.
Then, there’s good hockey sense with the puck. That’s when players are able to pick up their heads and scan the ice quick, and deliver passes quickly. Being able to read and react swiftly puts the opposing defenders in difficult positions. One of the best players in this class, that I’ve seen not getting enough credit is Xavier Bourgault in this area. That’s what hockey sense means to me.
“Will this draft feature multiple first round goalies?” – @skiminer36
The draft is weak, there’s no denying that. However, I personally do not see this being the case. Jesper Wallstedt should absolutely be taken in the first. Next on my list is Benjamin Gaudreau, and he is a very raw goaltender, with decent upside. However, he needs work in all aspects of his game, albeit not as much as the other draft-eligible goalies. Sebastian Cossa and Tristen Lennox are interchangeable as the 3rd best goalies in the class for me. However, I don’t really like either goalies games, personally. I see upside in both, but it’ll take a lot of time. Outside of Wallstedt, there aren’t mouthwatering, sure-fire goalie prospects in this class to warrant a first-round selection.
Thanks for reading, and to those who asked questions, thanks for participating! Keep your eyes out for more mailbags!