2021 NHL Draft Rankings: Bell’s Early Top 21

It’s 18 months away, but it’s never too early to start looking at prospects eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft. The 2020 NHL Draft will see a surge in OHL and QMJHL players, lots of high-end forwards, and a bit of a fall for American prospects. Fast forward one year, and the draft will look much different. Well, there’s still a number of great QMJHL players.

Related: 2020 NHL Draft: Bell’s Top-93 November Rankings

The 2020 Draft has one clear-cut leader on the defensive side in Jamie Drysdale. He could be the only top-10 defender taken and has the potential to be the only one taken in the top half of the first round. 2021 will not be like that. This draft could see as many as five defenders taken in the top 10. Of course, a lot can change in a year and a half.

Luke Hughes and Brandt Clarke 2021 NHL Draft Bell’s Rankings

Also notably missing ahead of 2020 are Americans near the top of the draft. Antonio Stranges could go in the first 15 or 20 picks, but after that, there likely won’t be an American taken in the top 20 – even top 25. The 2021 Draft won’t have that problem. As of right now. I have three Americans in my top 10 – with one in the top three and two in the top five.

Early Impressions of the 2021 NHL Draft

This draft has the potential to make history. Since the NHL Draft began in 1963, a Finnish-born player has never been taken first-overall. Kaapo Kakko came close in 2019, going second-overall to the New York Rangers. This 2021 Draft is very likely to see the first Finn ever to have his name called first in Aatu Räty. It’s a long way away still, but Räty is the unanimous first-overall rankings – so far.

Räty is currently playing in the top Finnish league, the Liiga, for Kärpät – at just 17-years-old. He’s incredibly shifty with the puck and is a very well-rounded forward. He’s played well for Finland internationally and should get the chance to do so again at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

After Räty, there will be a large rise in two categories from 2020: the number of high-end defensemen and the number of Americans near the top. Right behind the projected top-pick, two high-end defensemen should be available in Brandt Clarke and Luke Hughes. The defenders are neck-and-neck in my opinion and are right there with Räty.

Related: 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge: 9 Players to Watch

For now, I give the edge to Clarke, but that can change based on the day. I think it’s that close. He’s an excellent skater with a great shot. He has incredible patience with the puck for his age, as he waits for the perfect opportunity to present itself. 

Brandt Clarke Barrie Colts
Brandt Clarke of the Barrie Colts. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

You should recognize the last name of the third-ranked prospect: Hughes. He’s part of the family that is taking over the NHL, with Vancouver Canucks Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils’ Jack Hughes. Luke has drawn comparisons to his defensive brother, Quinn, but I’ve also seen some who think Luke could be even better. He’s a smooth skater, great in his own end, and can drive the rush. There’s not much to critique about his game, which is impressive at just 16 years old.

While I think Räty has a hold on that spot right now, I could see any of these three going with the top spot.

After them, the top-10 has two more high-end defensemen in American Carson Lambos and Canadian Owen Power (potentially three with another American, Aiden Hreschuk, in my 12th spot right now), and a number of great forwards. That includes yet another American in Chaz Lucius, a crafty forward with a ton of offensive upside.

A few more of my early favourites in this draft class are Swedish winger Fabian Lysell, a speedy forward with the skill to go with it, Canadian Kent Johnson, an extremely creative player that is dominating the BCHL, Zachary Bolduc, an excellent skater who can rifle the puck, and Francesco Pinelli, who I’m convinced keeps the puck on a string. I’m also a big fan of William Eklund, a Swedish forward that can do pretty much anything.

Related: 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup: Top Performances

It’s worth noting the lone goaltender in my top 21, Jesper Wallstedt. Wallstedt is going to be held to nearly as much hype as 2020-eligible Yaroslav Askarov. He’s not quite at Askarov’s level, but I’d put him just below him and just above 2019 first-rounder Spencer Knight. He’s going to be a hot commodity in a year and a half.

The 2021 NHL Draft isn’t as deep as the upcoming 2020 edition, but there are some potentially elite players at the top. Without further adieu, here’s my current top 21 for the 2021 NHL Draft.

2021 NHL Entry Draft Rankings

1. Aatu Räty, C, Kärpät (Jr. A SM-Liiga)

2. Brandt Clarke, RD, Barrie Colts (OHL)

3. Luke Hughes, LD, U.S. U17 (NTDP)

4. Chaz Lucius, RW, U.S. U17 (NTDP)

5. Fabian Lysell, LW, Frölunda HC J20 (SuperElit)

6. Carson Lambos, LD, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

7. Owen Power, LD, Chicago Steel (USHL)

8. Kent Johnson, LW, Trail Smoke Eaters (BCHL)

9. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Océanic  (QMJHL)

10. Dylan Guenther, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

11. Zachary L’Heureux, C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)

Saint John Sea Dogs Joshua Roy
Joshua Roy of the Saint John Sea Dogs (Dan Culberson/Saint John Sea Dogs)

12. Aiden Hreschuk, LD, U.S. U17 (NTDP)

13. Joshua Roy, C, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

14. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Luleå HF J20 (SuperElit)

15. Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)

16. Samu Tuomaala, RW, Kärpät (Jr. A SM-Liiga)

17. Daniil Lazutin, LW, MHK Dynamo Moskva (MHL)

18. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skellefteå AIK J20 (SuperElit)

19. Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

20. William Eklund, C, Djurgårdens IF J20 (SuperElit)

21. Ryder Korczak, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

Honourable Mentions for the 2021 NHL Draft Top-21: Isaac Belliveau, Matthew Berniers, Daniil Chayka, Corson Ceulemans, Dylan Duke, Simon Edvinsson, James Malatesta, Brennan Othman, Sasha Pastujov, Cole Sillinger, Logan Stankoven, and Jeremy Wilmer.

I had all of these prospects in first-round consideration for the draft, but I’m not quite ready to rank them all yet. Either I haven’t seen enough of them or they are too close to rank just yet. This is likely my lone 2021 NHL Draft ranking through this season, so I’ll look to have an expanded grasp on where I rank them in the offseason.

Obviously, the 2021 NHL Draft is still about a year and a half away. This list could be vastly different come 2021, but it’s never too early to take a look at some of the players that should be near the top of another exciting draft.