Potential Steals of the 2021 NHL Draft

With the 2021 NHL Draft in the rearview mirror, teams are hoping that the assets they collected over the two-day event will materialize into solid NHL options for them in the future; some teams opted to fill holes in their lineup from within their development programs, and others went for the best players available. This led to some interesting pick-ups in the first round, such as Nolan Allan (32nd – CHI), Tyler Boucher (10th – OTT) and Chase Stillman (29th – NJD).

This, in turn, led to some interesting names falling down the board and into teams’ laps; the 2021 NHL Draft’s unpredictable order warrants an early look at the prospects from rounds 2-7 that could end up being top-end players in the NHL one day.

Round 2

#42 – Francesco Pinelli, C, Los Angeles Kings

Pinelli dropped to 42nd overall after being ranked in the first round of almost every draft board available online; he was 15th on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s (NHL CSB) ranking of North American skaters, which is a list that teams often read intently when picking in the top-50. He was 16th on Baracchini’s final 160, 15th on Zator’s board and 21st in Forbes’ rankings. The young center was among the most intelligent forwards picked in the 2021 NHL Draft; his ability to make perfect reads, anticipate his teammates’ and opponents’ actions, and execute the right play with speed and accuracy, makes him a dominant player on east-west plays.

Francesco Pinelli Kitchener Rangers
Francesco Pinelli of the Kitchener Rangers (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

His sub-par skating is likely what led him to fall into the Kings’ lap, as he lacks top-end speed and agility due to unrefined skating mechanics. When a player thinks the game like Pinelli does, it is often wise to overlook skating deficiencies, especially if the work rate and positioning are as good as his. Likely a top-six forward who will be very appreciated by his wingers.

#47 – Logan Stankoven, C/RW, Dallas Stars

Stankoven is yet another second-rounder who definitely deserved to be selected among the top-32; he was ranked as high as 19th by Recruit Scouting and was only excluded from the top 32 by Craig Button’s TSN rankings. Baracchini had predicted that he would go 20th, Zator had him 17th, and Forbes was the lowest of our three ranking scouts with his 29th pick reserved for the Kamloops, B.C. native. Stankoven’s fearlessness makes him both an outstanding forechecker, as he battles for pucks with defenders twice his size and leaves the scrum with the puck on his stick, and a great puck-carrier, as he cuts to the inside and through pressure without hesitation.

Logan Stankoven Kamloops Blazers
Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers (Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers)

His effort level is also among the top of his class, as his feet never seem to stop. He doesn’t shy away from the front of the net and contributes defensively at a consistent rate. Apart from choppy skating strides that require fine-tuning, there aren’t many weaknesses to Stankoven’s game, which make his drop in this draft all the more confusing. A great pick-up for the Stars at 47th overall.

Round 3

#66 – Sasha Pastujov, RW, Anaheim Ducks

The fact that Pastujov was selected 66th overall in the third round is ample proof that teams went for needs instead of selecting the best player available. Pastujov’s dual-threat offense allowed him to lead his team in scoring by a wide margin, earning 30 goals and 35 assists in 41 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in the United States Hockey League (USHL). A consistent chance-creator, Pastujov uses his high-end passing and stickhandling to enter the zone with control and distribute with purpose and accuracy.

Sasha Pastujov USTNDP
Sasha Pastujov, USTNDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

He mans the half-wall on the powerplay effortlessly, can shoot off either foot with deadly precision, and can make small-ice plays that prolong offensive sequences with regularity. Same as with Pinelli, Pastujov’s skating likely held him back from the top-60, as teams saw the flaws in his stride and decided against selecting him. Baracchini, Zator and Forbes all had him in their top-25, with Zator being the most bullish on the young American at 13th on his board.

#71 – Simon Robertsson, RW, St. Louis Blues

The lowest Robertsson had shown up on any of the main public draft rankings was 36th, on Draft Prospects Hockey’s board. He was 26th on all three of our experts’ final rankings, making the drop to 71st overall an utter surprise. His wrist shot is easily among the top five of this draft class. His scoring touch so far in Sweden’s junior level (20 points in 15 games) indicates an offensive ceiling that wasn’t truly maximized in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL – top men’s league in Sweden), as the young winger only earned a goal and an assist in 22 games at that level. He was expected to drop into the second round as a mid-thirties pick, but not all the way to 71st. The Blues get a goal-scoring winger with top-six potential, which aren’t easy to come by in the third round.

#73 – Ayrton Martino, LW, Dallas Stars

The second Dallas Stars prospect on this list after Stankoven, Martino was not ranked any lower than 52nd on any board, as Craig Button likely questioned the forward’s size and defensive involvement. However, his skating and passing make him an absolute threat on the rush, and he often finds himself on a breakaway against the goaltender due to his quick-up mentality inside his zone.

Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide

This leads to him occasionally blowing the defensive zone when he shouldn’t, but more often than not, Martino selects his rushes efficiently. His outstanding passing led him to accumulate an assist per game on average this season with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. His 56 points led the team by five tallies despite having played 14 fewer games than his next teammate, 21-year-old Ryan Lautenbach. The Stars could have a very decent offensive chance generator in their system with Martino.

Round 4

#126 – Dylan Duke, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

Duke, almost being a fifth-round pick, had everyone following the 2021 NHL Draft scratching their heads; the lowest he had seen his name was on McKeen’s rankings at 86th overall and was projected to hear his name in the early forties by most ranking websites. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who have more talent than the salary cap can contain, get an absolute gift with the final pick of the fourth round. His net-front presence is one of the best of his class, and he can stickhandle and shoot from within tight spaces, making his presence in front of the goaltender ever-more dangerous.

His lack of transitional tools makes him more of a dump chaser than a puck-carrier, and he lacks the high-end speed to get around defenders with the puck. His 29 goals and 49 points in 50 USHL games with the USNTDP are second behind the aforementioned Sasha Pastujov, and there are multiple players selected above him that have much less projectable skill than he does.

Round 5

#134 – Liam Dower-Nilsson, C, Detroit Red Wings

An outstanding playmaker, Dower-Nilsson’s drop to the fifth round likely came after a sub-par U-18 World Championship run by the entire Swedish team; his four points in seven games at the tournament likely saw his stock fall steeply. However, Dower-Nilsson really shined at the HockeyEttan, Sweden’s third division of men’s hockey, with 14 points in as many games. His ability to deceive his opponents with head and shoulder manipulation allow him to open up new lanes to zip passes to his teammates, and he mans the power play wonderfully as a result. His lack of speed is likely another contributor to his drop in the draft. Still, Dower-Nilsson has untapped offensive potential as a distributor and could very well flourish within the Detroit Red Wings’ Swede-friendly pipeline.

Round 6

#167 – Liam Gilmartin, LW, San Jose Sharks

A forechecking specialist with a high motor and great reactions, Gilmartin started the season a bit slow and missed some time due to injuries, ending the season with only 15 points in 23 games for the USNTDP in the USHL. This likely led to him dropping all the way to 167th, but the forward played much better than his point totals suggest; his ability to dominate players along the boards and use his 6-foot-2, 192-pound frame to knock pucks loose makes him a great energy line forward.

Liam Gilmartin USNTDP
Liam Gilmartin, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

He appeared as high as 55th on Smaht Scouting’s list and was only ranked in the hundreds by McKeen’s Hockey and the NHL CSB’s North American Skaters ranking. The Sharks get a great project in Gilmartin, who already shows a mature game that could translate very well to the NHL.

Round 7

#217 – Ty Gallagher, RD, Boston Bruins

A right-handed blueliner with a shooting mentality, Gallagher ended his USNTDP season with 14 goals and 27 points in 48 games across all levels, including 12 points in 25 USHL games. Matthew Zator had Gallagher 53rd overall in his top-128, mainly due to his above-average offensive tools. His shot is heavy but unpredictable at times, and his ability to distribute the puck is sneakily good when he chooses to utilize it.

Ty Gallagher USNTDP
Ty Gallagher, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

He gets involved in transitions at a decent rate, beating the first forechecker to open up ice behind him. He does need space to make plays, and if he does not find the space required, he is quick to dump the puck out of his zone, but the offensive upside with Gallagher, especially if his shooting is rectified, makes his selection in the final picks of the 2021 NHL Draft a win for the Boston Bruins.

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