After an unprecedented October draft, NHL Central Scouting released its preliminary players to watch list ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft. There were not many surprises with the players chosen, but there were a few other things that stood out.
University of Michigan Gets Perfect Marks
The University of Michigan has a rich history of churning out top prospects in the NHL. Currently, there are 21 players wearing an NHL sweater right now and six of them are considered elite players. Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks was the latest graduate to become the cat’s meow in the league, and he certainly won’t be the last especially if these 2021 players to watch make good on their potential.
By the end of the 2021 Draft, the Michigan Wolverines could have six players walk away with a first or second round distinction. Headlining the list are two premier defencemen in Owen Power and Luke Hughes, who probably will be selected before the draft is five picks old. Rounding out the list are forwards Matthew Beniers, Kent Johnson, Mackie Samoskevich, and Dylan Duke. Three of those four are rated as an “A” prospect which means they likely will be drafted in the first round.
Needless to say, the University of Michigan will be well-represented in the NHL draft this year. In fact, they could have two of the first five picks and five first-rounders overall when everything is said and done.
OHL Tops All Junior Leagues With 46 Players
The status of the Ontario Hockey League’s 2020-21 season is up in the air right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s definitely not good timing for scouts considering they dominated the players to watch list this year. Of all the junior leagues, they had the most entries with 46. Of those, 14 of them were ranked as an “A” or “B” prospect which means they could be selected in the first three rounds.
In these uncertain times, scouting staffs won’t be getting the same amount of viewings, and given that the OHL probably won’t be having any sort of physical contact or body checking, some players may fall through the cracks. The 2021 draft may end up seeing the most steals in the next five years than any other, since an accurate scouting report definitely won’t be produced this season, especially in North America.
But enough of the doom and gloom. Even though we won’t be seeing a lot of these prospects play live games this season, teams will still end up with some elite talent farmed from the OHL side of the tracks. Topping the list is Brandt Clarke from the Barrie Colts. He could actually top all lists as the first-overall pick, that’s how good he is. As a defenceman, he posted 35 goals and 113 points in 73 games for the Don Mills Flyers, then hit the ground running in his OHL debut with six goals and 38 points in 57 games with the Colts.
Apart from Clarke, the OHL boasts several other high-ranking defencemen in Daniil Chayka of the Guelph Storm, Giancarlo Chanton of the Niagra Ice Dogs, Ethan Del Mastro of the Mississauga Steelheads, and Artyom Grushnikov of the Hamilton Bulldogs. Not to be outdone, they also have several outstanding forwards that will come from this draft in Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes, and Francesco Pinelli of the Kitchener Rangers.
Defence, Defence & More Defence
As you probably have figured out already, the 2021 Draft has a lot of defencemen projected to go in the first three rounds. 2021 will without a doubt go down as the year of the defenceman. If you are a franchise that is looking to add to your blueline, this is the year to do it.
NHL Central Scouting ranked 26 defencemen as “A” or “B” prospects and at least three of them could legitimately be gone before the draft hits the fifth pick. This draft may not be as deep as 2020, but it’s chocked full of potential top-four blueliners.
So if you are a fan of defencemen, get excited, because there are lots of them to choose from. The OHL, WHL, US National Team Development Program, and NCAA dominate the field so it’s going to be interesting to see how much actual scouting can be done, seeing that all those leagues have not started playing their 2020-21 seasons yet. We may have to take into account their 2019-20 campaigns a lot more this time to get an accurate picture of their abilities. One thing is certain though, it’s going to be fun to scout and get to know defencemen this year, regardless of the circumstances.
2021 Draft Is Coming Up Fast
We just put the finishing touches on the 2020 NHL Draft just three weeks ago, and we are already talking about the 2021 Draft. Usually, the draft is months old and we are closing in on a month of hockey in almost every league. In normal circumstances, we have seen these upcoming prospects several times and obtained a more clearer picture of their abilities.
Though as it stands, no hockey has been played in North America and the first real scouting opportunity will come in the form of the 2021 World Junior Championships which takes place in the Edmonton bubble starting on Christmas Day. Right now, that will be Christmas morning for many scouts and draft pundits across the globe because it probably feels like a lifetime ago since they were able to see any of these prospects in an actual game.
In any case, the 2021 Draft is coming up fast and in no time we will be talking about yet another set of rankings, draft profiles, and features on every site imaginable. The THW 2021 Draft Guide will be live before you know it!
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, 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.