The 2021 NHL Draft is shaping up to be the most unpredictable draft since at least 2012; even then, Nail Yakupov was first on almost every board, and that is where he was picked. This year, there is absolutely zero consensus, as most draft-oriented websites have one of five players first overall: William Eklund, Matt Beniers, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes or Owen Power. So many interesting and promising things have been said of Jesper Wallstedt, Fabian Lysell, Simon Edvinsson and Kent Johnson as well, to the extent that an argument can be made for any of those nine players to be the first to hear their names when draft day comes around.
When a draft as wide open as this one rears its head, general managers must feel very comfortable picking for need instead of going for who they hope is the best player available. Team needs will play an immense role in the 2021 NHL Draft’s outcome, given its lack of high-end talent — we’ll take a look at which 2021 draft-eligible players are top of their class in one of the most coveted skills in hockey: goal scoring.
5. Simon Robertsson, RW – Skellefteå AIK, SHL
Two things stand out massively about Simon Robertsson’s shooting: velocity and shot variation. The 6-foot, 180-pound right winger has possibly the most average frame, yet he shoots the puck with noticeable power; I often spare a thought for the poor goaltenders who need to stand in front of his attempts on net. To translate Swedish U20 National Team head coach Anders Eriksén’s comments on Robertsson to Swedish news site Sportbladet: “he shoots like a horse kicks.” He also shoots from all over the ice, on the forehand or backhand, with a snap shot, wrister, slap shot, you name it.
Robertsson is many things, but he is not a one-trick pony when it comes to goal-scoring ability. His knack for net drives and shoulder dips should see him become a reliable rush scorer, with decent ability down low and on deflections when offensive cycles are set up. A career built around goal scoring is not out of the question for Robertsson, although he will need to adapt to smaller ice surfaces by being much more reactive; time and space is cut out at the NHL level, and he will need to learn to play without those two added benefits.
4. Brennan Othmann, LW – EHC Olten, SL
Brennan Othmann’s prime shooting capabilities come from a different source than Robertsson’s; while the latter relies on brute strength and shot variation to find the back of the net, Othmann scores using blended tools — his skating, stickhandling and shooting all work in unison to create a deceptive, quick release, which he often masks using his soft hands to change the shot’s release point a fraction of a second before shooting.
Othmann’s ability to disguise his release even mid-stride and keep goaltenders guessing at all times is another way that prospects can find to turn their shooting game up a couple of notches, and despite playing in Switzerland’s second division, his production is quite impressive, with 16 points through 34 games as a rookie against men. He is likely to hear his name in the first round, with Elite Prospects’ rankings placing him in the top 20, and McKeen’s Hockey being the most bullish on the youngster with their 16th pick reserved for him. As for our rankings, Matthew Zator’s top 64 of February has him in the 18th slot.
3. Chaz Lucius, C – USNTDP, USHL
One of the bright stars of this crop of U.S. National Team Development Program graduates, Chaz Lucius has been extremely hard to evaluate as he has missed all but six games this season due to a lower-body injury. In those six games since his return to the program, Lucius has accumulated six goals and one assist. His wrist shot is mechanically refined and he seems to pick his corners with ease and regularity, and this was evident even last season, with his 31 goals in 46 games as a freshman. Lucius has an uncanny ability to get forgotten in soft spaces, and needs no time at all to release the puck right under the crossbar.
In order to gain traction leading up to the 2021 NHL Draft, Lucius will need to make up for lost time and sell his product hard in his next few games before the United States Hockey League (USHL) season ends. However, his projections are far from modest; he averages between the 14th and 16th slot on most draft boards, with only Smaht Scouting placing him outside the top 20. For a team looking to add goal scoring down the middle, Lucius seems like a perfect fit.
2. Cole Sillinger, C/LW – Sioux Falls Stampede, USHL
Cole Sillinger is yet another prospect whose career path was blown up by COVID-19; he was initially committed to continuing his development with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Medicine Hat Tigers, but ended up having to re-route to the USHL following uncertainties in the WHL’s return-to-play protocol, which saw their season delayed until late February. Sillinger lost no time getting on the scoresheet with the Sioux Falls Stampede, accumulating 18 goals and 36 points in only 22 games, and looking the better part of a goal-scoring center. His ability to work magic in the offensive zone with his stickhandling and net drives puts him in more than favorable situations to shoot the puck, as most of his shots come from the slot.
He has the strength and gnarl to will his way into dangerous areas and power through defenders on the rush, which only adds to his scoring threat. His confidence in his abilities is something that is certainly intangible, but yet adds a dimension to his scoring threat as he trusts his ability to trouble the goaltender from anywhere with a powerful, accurate wrist shot aided by excellent weight transfer from foot to foot as he releases. His one-timer from the half-wall is another deadly arrow in his quiver, as he can simply beat a goaltender to his near-post with ease. As of right now, Sillinger hovers around the mid-first round, although scouts’ opinions vary wildly on him due to his heel-heavy skating stride.
For more on Sillinger, read my DobberProspects Cole Sillinger Deep Dive feature article here.
1. Dylan Guenther, LW/RW – Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL
Our THW team is very, very high on Dylan Guenther; only McKeen’s Hockey has him as high as he is on Peter Baracchini’s top 100 of March, where he can be found sitting comfortably at seventh overall. He is projected in the top 10 for good reason: in this draft, no one’s shot is as regularly lethal as Guenther’s, who absolutely dominates the WHL from below the hashmarks. His ability to find the slightest nook and cranny to squeeze pucks through unsuspecting goaltenders, as well as his elite understanding of shot timing to throw them off, are sure to translate at higher levels. His release is lightning-fast, and he often creates his own chances with puck steals, give-and-gos, and smart little plays off the boards.
His eight goals and five assists in five games put him on pace for the second-best draft-year season in WHL history, and he is eight points clear of the next highest-scoring 2021 draft-eligible player from the WHL. Although such a pace is unlikely to be sustained for the remainder of the WHL season, it is still extremely impressive to see how well Guenther is doing in a historically low-scoring league.
If your team is picking in the top 15 and is looking to add goal-scoring wingers to their arsenal, it should look no further than the Edmonton-native Guenther. He has so many ways to fool goaltenders, and does so with unparalleled regularity, which is why he is first on our list of goal scorers available in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Honorable Mentions: Aatu Räty, Matt Coronato, William Eklund, Samu Tuomaala, Brett Harrison