In 1974, an American was selected for the first time in the first round of the NHL Draft when the Montreal Canadiens drafted Rick Chartraw 10th overall. However, USA Hockey would have to wait until 1979 to see the first American-trained player taken in the first round in Mike Ramsey, who went 11th overall to the Buffalo Sabres. Finally, in 1983, 14 years after the implementation of the amateur entry draft, an American would go first overall when the Minnesota North Stars selected Brian Lawton.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Since then, Americans have dominated the top end of the NHL draft. In the last five years alone, two Americans have been selected first overall and are the second most-selected nationality behind Canada. The class of 2021 is especially promising, not only because another American is fighting for the first-overall position, but that nearly every top prospect from the United States has trained at home; the highest-ranked American-born prospect playing outside of the USA is Ty Voit, who was with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting this past season and is ranked 107th by the Central Scouting Service. Everyone ranked above him has spent their junior career in either the United States Hockey League (USHL), NCAA, or US National Development Team (USNDP).
Despite the mystery that surrounds the 2021 Draft, one thing is for certain — Americans will be front and center in the first round. Here are the top-ranked American-born players, according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.
10. Jack Peart, D, Grand Rapids High
2021 will be a strong draft for defensemen, with the likes of Owen Power, Luke Hughes, Brant Clarke, and Simon Edvinsson all projected to be top-10 picks. That doesn’t drop off into the second round, either, as Jack Peart promises to be an early selection after an incredible 2020-21 season that saw him capture the USHL’s Rookie of the Year, Best Defenseman, and Mr. Hockey as the top Minnesota High School hockey player. His hockey IQ and skating are arguably his biggest assets, and after the success of the smooth-skating and cerebral Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar, every team is going to be looking for a defenseman that can potentially fit that mold, making Peart an intriguing pick.
9. Matthew Samoskevich, C, Chicago Steel
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 26th
Another smooth-skating player, Matthew “Mackie” Samoskevich may be one of the most talented players in terms of raw skill. He’s deceptively quick, excellent at transitioning, and possesses incredibly soft hands, and had he played for any other USHL team, he would have likely been their biggest star. Unfortunately, he was on the Chicago Steel, and his 37 points in 36 games were only good enough to rank sixth on the team. However, in the playoffs, he was much more noticeable, posting 10 points in eight games, tying for second on the team, en route to their second championship in five years.
Samoskevich will need some time to develop his overall game, but The Hockey Writers’ head scout Matthew Zator already describes him as “a human highlight reel capable of bringing fans out of their seats at a moment’s notice.” Will that be enough for him to sneak into the first round? It’s entirely possible and could be boosted by the fact that he’ll be going from one dominant program to another, as he’s committed to the University of Michigan for 2021-22, where he’ll join Kent Johnson, Luke Hughes, and potentially Power and Matty Beniers.
8. Tyler Boucher, RW, USNDP
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 25th
When you hear the name Boucher, you may think of the long-time goalie and current analyst Brian, who currently owns the record for the longest shutout streak. But that could change in the next few seasons, as Brian’s son, Tyler, is set to be a high selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. His biggest asset is his physicality and grit, thanks to a powerful 6-foot-1, 201-pound frame, and he could be one of the most physical players available this year, but he also owns a craft shot. He played with three separate clubs this season and was a point-per-game with all of them, including scoring three goals in two games with the US U17 National Team. The winger is set to join Boston University in 2021-22, where he’ll hopefully develop into a more complete power forward.
7. Sean Behrens, D, USNDP
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 24th
Like Peart, Behrens is another smaller, smooth-skating defenseman with great vision who has been an offensive force at every level he’s played so far. In 46 games with the U18 National Team, he scored seven goals and 35 points, second among all defenders in scoring. He was just as effective with the USNDP, scoring 18 points in 24 games, which was also second among defensemen scoring. That kind of performance made him an easy pick for the American U18 World Championship Team this year, where he was named alternate captain and put up a goal and four points in five games.
But Behrens is much more than just offence. Despite being one of the younger players available in the 2021 class, he possesses incredible patience and defensive awareness. He refuses to back down in physical battles along the boards, despite being outsized by many of his opponents, and he has shown to have excellent positioning and can command play on his own. The University of Denver commit hasn’t received much consideration as a first-round pick but certainly won’t make it out of the second.
6. Shai Buium, D, Sioux City Musketeers
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 20th
Few players have had such a meteoric rise as Shai Buium in 2020-21, who began this season as a projected third-round pick and has since emerged as a potential late first-round selection. He started the season playing with Shattuck St. Mary’s U18 Prep team, where he put an impressive 13 points in 17 games. But being that he was on a high school team, albeit a prestigious one, scouts hesitated to rank him too highly. However, after his call-up to join the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, many quickly changed their tune. In 50 games, Buium had 26 points, the fourth-highest total among U18 defensemen across the league. His blend of smarts, offensive skill, and size is a rare blend in players his age, which will make him a hard name to pass on come draft day.
5. Sasha Pastujov, LW, USNDP
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 18th
Sasha Pastujov is about as high-offence as they come. The winger was on fire this season, leading the National U18 Team with 65 points over 41 games, including 30 goals, and also had the highest points per game rate for the USNDP, scoring 26 points over just 18 games. And he was still fourth in scoring despite most of his teammates playing nearly double the number of games than him. With offence like that, he was impossible to leave off the U18 World Championship roster, where he once again led the team with five goals and eight points in five games.
Pastujov’s shot stacks up against some of the best in the class, although scouts would like to see him use it a bit more frequently. His skating and speed could use some work, but that likely will be ironed out during his time with the University of Michigan next season and beyond. He also is incredibly young — he won’t turn 18 until July 15 — making him an excellent project pick. If the team drafting him has patience, Pastujov could turn out to be one of the gems of this draft class.
4. Chaz Lucius, C, USNDP
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 12th
NHL teams looking for elite goalscoring should take a long look at Chaz Lucius, who finished the 2020-21 season with 13 goals in 12 games with the US National Development Team, plus another 13 goals in 13 games with the US U18 Team. Had he not suffered a lower-body injury early in the season, his totals would have been even higher, which is almost hard to imagine.
Even in the limited showings, Lucius still ranked top-seven on both squads in goals, surpassing teammates that played more than two or three times as much as him. Goal-scoring centers are always at a premium, so he’ll likely be one of the first players taken outside of the top-10.
3. Matthew Coronato, LW, Chicago Steel
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 9th
It seems as though, every year, a highly talented prospect will slip down in the draft simply because he is on the smaller side. Brayden Point was touted as a player with first-round skills but had to wait until the third round in 2014 before he heard his name called. Alex DeBrincat was a second-round pick after being hailed as a lock for the first round in 2016. Even playoff hero Cole Caufield fell victim to the prejudice, falling to 15th in 2019 after going most of the year as a top-10 pick. This year, that player could be Matthew Coronato, the 5-foot-10 phenom with the Steel, who led the league with 48 goals in 51 games. He’s a gifted playmaker with an excellent shot and was a key player in the Steel’s championship run this season, scoring nine goals and 13 points in just eight games.
2. Matthew Beniers, C, University of Michigan
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 6th
Will Matthew Beniers end up going first overall? That still seems to be a debate many scouts are having, despite his final rankings of 6th among North American skaters. Both The Hockey Writers’ own Matthew Zator and Andrew Forbes have him as their top pick, as do Dobber Prospects, Smaht Scouting, and Recruit Scouting, and the Sabres should think long and hard before they pass on him. He may not have the highest potential among this year’s top prospects, but he’s arguably the readiest to step into an NHL lineup next season, playing a smart, two-way style that made him a valuable member of the US U20 World Junior Team back in January, despite being the youngest on the team.
But don’t discount Beniers’ offensive upside, either. He finished his freshman season at the University of Michigan with 24 points in as many games, which ranked third on the team, and tied 2020 first-round selection, Brendan Brisson, for the scoring lead with 10 goals. There are very few things he does wrong, even at such a young age, and it will ensure he is taken very early in the 2021 Draft.
1. Luke Hughes, D, USNDP
NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters): 4th
Central Scouting’s top American came as a bit of a surprise, as many assumed Beniers, who many saw as the second-best player behind Owen Power, would take that place. Yet, it was Luke Hughes who stepped away as the top-ranked American player, and fans shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, FC Hockey’s Josh Bell named him one of the hottest risers for the 2021 Draft back in February, and he’s even been considered for the first-overall selection at times. He plays a similar style to his eldest brother, Quinn, which should have teams drooling at the prospect of adding another high-offence, smooth-skating defenseman to their corps.
Sure, Hughes has some polishing up to do, as his game is still quite raw compared to other prospects, but he’s also one of the youngest players available and won’t turn 18 until September of this year. That gives him plenty of time to iron out the inconsistencies. He’s also the biggest Hughes brother, standing 6-foot-2, giving him the sky-high potential to be a dominant force in the NHL.
Few All-Stars, But Plenty of Depth
The 2021 American draft class is one of the strongest the country has seen in several years. Although they don’t possess many potential future all-stars like the 2019 class, which featured Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, and Cole Caufield in the first round, this group has incredible depth. The second round promises to be littered with American prospects who project to be solid core contributors down the road. Beyond the top 10, several other players are worth keeping an eye on, too, like potential first-round selections Scott Morrow and Dylan Duke, along with Jack O’Brien, Tristan Broz, Josh Doan, Red Savage, Matthew Knies, Ryan Ufko, Aidan Hreschuk, and Brent Johnson, all of whom could end up in the second round. It may not be as top-heavy as years past, but this will be an American draft class to watch.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.