The 2021 NHL Draft does not pose the same excitement as the 2020 NHL Draft did. However, there are still plenty of players that teams can build around for the future. There’s another future elite goaltender in this class, falling in line with goalies like Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov before him. There are several defenders in the class, as opposed to 2020 where there weren’t many defensive prospects. Finally, there are a plethora of forwards who have futures at the NHL level.
2021 NHL Draft: Kyle Pereira’s Picks 11 to 15
11. Zach Dean, Center
Zach Dean is a smart player. He doesn’t necessarily stand out in any one area, but he is good in just about every way. His defensive zone coverage needs the most work, but even there, his positioning is at least average, and his work ethic on the ice makes him look better there. His transitional game is excellent, though he doesn’t stand out in this class in that area either. He’s a very good skater, showing good speed, acceleration and edges, but again, he isn’t a player I’d consider as one of the best skaters in the class. Dean has a strong shooting ability, and a good passing ability, making him a balanced offensive threat. He needs to work on his offensive zone positioning, as he could work on getting into space more consistently to truly show off his offensive skill set.
Arguably where he stands out, and also what makes him so good on the transition, is in his creativity, stickhandling and skating all paired together. When he has the puck on his stick, he can make plays happen with regularity. He just needs to work on his off-the-puck abilities, as I pointed out earlier. His upside is certainly limited, but his ceiling is probably as a 1st line winger, as I don’t see him as a future center. Paired with strong linemates, Dean could be a 60 point producer. It’s not likely he hits that mark, however, he has a high floor, something that’s very valuable in the 2021 NHL Draft class. If, and when, he bulks up and gets stronger, he projects safely as a middle-six winger with 40-point upside.
12. Isak Rosen, Left Wing/Right Wing
Maybe the best skater in the class, right up there with Fabian Lysell, Rosen is fast as hell. His edges are superb, as he is able to weave through traffic with ease. His acceleration is excellent. But that’s not where the positives end. He has an excellent set of hands, and when he is playing in the U20’s, he isn’t afraid to dazzle and take risks. His ability to make subtle moves and make defenders fall over from it, is just so fun to watch. He pairs his elite skating and stickhandling with his fantastic shot. Rosen is also solid with his positioning in the defensive zone, and shows a willingness to get involved and be a positive defensive zone player.
The issue with Rosen is this: his confidence is lacking in the SHL, which isn’t what you want to see. It’s glaring at times, as he does not flash his stickhandling and game-breaking offensive abilities. He also doesn’t display strong transitional abilities, despite having the skating and stickhandling, as well as the vision, to excel in that area. It’s become so glaring that he isn’t totally comfortable at the SHL level that he went three consecutive games playing less than 1:34 on ice per game. In fact, he looks like a totally different player.
However, confidence and becoming comfortable is something that can be established in time. That said, what he has displayed in the U20 Swedish leagues is way too tantalizing to not take earlier than many project him to be taken. Generally regarded as a fringe top-20 selection, and in some cases not even being ranked in round one, is criminal for him. But it’s hard not to see the negatives. That said, if he’s able to take a step ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft at the SHL level in terms of confidence, and shows that he can be the same player at the top level that he is in the U20’s, then he easily projects as a future elite winger. If he cannot get over that hump, then you have to look at his smarts, skating, and defensive reliability to project him as a middle-six winger, who can play in all situations.
13. Kent Johnson, Left Wing
Kent Johnson is an offensive dynamo. He pairs his high-end skating ability with his excellent set of hands and creativity to pull off highlight reel plays. Anyone that has been paying any sort of attention towards Michigan Wolverines hockey has seen what he can do. He isn’t limited to just flashy plays, either. Johnson has excellent passing and shooting abilities, and he is constantly looking for, and finding, open space in the offensive zone both with and without the puck. However, that’s where his game teeters off. Outside of the offensive zone, he doesn’t do much. He has looked more engaged since he started playing NCAA hockey on defense, but he still isn’t very good in this area.
Being on a line with Matty Beniers has allowed those negative qualities in the defensive zone to be hidden. His transitional game isn’t that great either, with Beniers again spearheading the play and moving the puck up ice. In some ways, he’s reliant on Beniers in all three zones. However, his offensive abilities and skating abilities still make him a promising prospect nonetheless. If he can become more effective in transition, as he has the traits needed to be such, and become at least average on the defensive end of the ice, he has the makings of an elite forward. It all comes down to how he can play without Beniers on his line consistently.
14. Zachary Bolduc, Center
Bolduc is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of player. He is strong positionally in the defensive zone and shows a decent ability to force turnovers there. He also has strong transitional abilities that allow him to push the pace up the ice. His skating is good, though not great, which allows him to find success moving the puck up ice. He does not possess the creativity and stickhandling abilities that some of the guys above him possess, but he does have excellent puck-carrier vision, which allows him to navigate through the neutral zone.
If he could work on opening his game up and work on his stickhandling even a little bit, he could become a lethal transitional player. When in the offensive zone, Bolduc shows strong positional awareness, with the ability to find open pockets of space. The issue is, he doesn’t always keep his feet moving. Thus, it makes it seem as though that won’t work at the NHL level with regularity. However, when he is set up by teammates, he can be dangerous.
His puck-carrier vision translates to his ability to find teammates in high-danger areas. His passing ability is high-end, and he poses a threat when he is positioned on the perimeter. He does need to work on his shot a little bit, but his playmaking is strong and projectable. With being an all-around solid player comes a low ceiling. Bolduc likely tops off as a strong 2nd line center, or a below-average 1st line center. His floor is high, however, and he looks to be a safe bet as a future bottom-six center with powerplay and penalty kill abilities.
15. Nikita Chibrikov, Right Wing
Nikita Chibrikov prides his game on his speed and stickhandling abilities. Similar to Fabian Lysell, though not nearly as good of a skater, Chibrikov is able to use the skating and stickhandling to be a game-changer through the neutral zone. If you watch Chibrikov’s highlight reels, a majority are generated off of clean zone entries. Once in the offensive zone, he doesn’t stand out in any one spot. He uses strong vision and awareness to know where to shoot the puck, and he is able to place it there with regularity.
Chibrikov isn’t one to snipe top shelf with consistency. He often just looks to shoot for rebounds and tips, playing smart. His passing abilities are definitely more of a threat than his shooting, as he has excellent anticipation and vision. He is so good at controlling the pace of play as well, going from being a facilitator and slowing the game down, to kicking it up a notch and threading a pass into a high-danger spot. He needs to be more consistent in this area, however.
Chibrikov’s Defense and Upside
In the defensive end, Chibrikov isn’t going to provide much. He isn’t going to get beaten due to a lack of effort or awareness. That’s because he keeps his head on a swivel and pays attention to his man. Chibrikov is a boom-or-bust prospect, as his game is hard to project at the moment.
His passing abilities are limited in a sense that he doesn’t always look for those high-danger passes. When he does, he doesn’t hit on them consistently. Coupled with the fact that his shot needs work. He has a long way to go before he’ll post strong offensive numbers. But his transitional abilities and the way he attacks off the rush, along with his skating and IQ, make him tantalizing nonetheless.
If things go his way, and he becomes a strong playmaker, he could end up as a 70-point producer at the NHL-level. He could even be considered a borderline elite player. If things don’t go his way in the offensive zone, then Chibrikov may never make the trek overseas to North American rinks.
Owen Power (Ranked 17th)
Owen Power is big and can play strong. He’s very good at positioning himself in the offensive zone to be a threat on that end of the ice. But he isn’t a very good skater, and with his struggles defending the rush at the collegiate ranks, just imagine what Connor McDavid can do to him? The game is evolving, and Power’s size and strength is a fading breed. His offensive abilities and hockey sense still make him a top prospect in a weak class. But I seriously question his NHL potential.
Luke Hughes (Ranked 25th)
I know, I know. This is just awful. Luke Hughes is almost always ranked at the very least top-10 in all of the top 2021 NHL Draft guru’s rankings. I get it. But Hughes is not as good as many people claim he is. The USNTDP has been heavily limited in their normal schedule this year, thanks to the lack of any international play or, really, the opting out of some teams. While the schedule is still tough, it’s still light compared to some years. And while players like Sasha Pastujov have taken that opportunity in stride, Luke Hughes has stuttered; something that’s a tad disheartening for the supposed-to-be 2021 NHL Draft top prospect.
To make matters worse, there are several examples of Hughes getting walked time and time again. He is not good at defending against the rush. He either over-skates it and gives them a ton of room. Or he tries adjusting to the fact he over-skated and becomes flat-footed and burned. His defensive zone play is bad.
His elite skating and offensive instinct is too good to doubt. I’m just not convinced that, with the competition he is facing, that he is as good offensively as it seems. His potential is sky-high if he can round out his game. But his floor is so low. With so many things to improve, that the risk outweighs the reward at this time.
Chaz Lucius (Ranked 37th)
Chaz Lucius has seemingly lost favor with experts as the season has worn on. This is largely thanks to a knee injury, which has kept him from participating at all this season. He entered the year as a top-15 prospect in the 2021 NHL Draft, and he now seems himself on the outside of my first-round. His shooting ability is absolutely lethal in every sense of the word, but outside of that, he isn’t a threat. His skating ability is above-average but nothing special. Lucius also doesn’t always engage himself in the play. Sitting back and waiting for the play to come to him rather than playing aggressive and trying to make something happen.
His defensive zone play is abysmal as well. That in part has to do with his lack of engagement in this area. Probably the thing that hurts his stock the most is the fact that he doesn’t position himself well in the offensive zone. That limits how often he gets the puck in scoring areas in order to show off his shot. He also lacks creativity, as he doesn’t do anything to create space for himself when he has the puck. Lucius doesn’t make a move to create space for himself to utilize his shots. So yes, Lucius is a remarkable shooter. But how good is his shooting if he isn’t putting himself into a position to use it?