As far back as the 2020 NHL Draft, everyone knew that 2021 was going to be the year of the defenceman. As it stands right now, Owen Power, Luke Hughes, Brandt Clarke, and maybe even Simon Edvinsson stand to be top ten picks and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond them, names like Corson Ceulemans, Olen Zellweger, Evan Nause, Jack Peart, Scott Morrow, Stanislav Svozil, Carson Lambos, and Daniil Chayka all stand to be selected later in the first round or into the early second.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
So, now that we are just a day away from naming the 2021 draft class, let’s take a closer look at the top ten defencemen that will eventually be selected on July 23 and 24.
10. Evan Nause, LD, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
As well-rounded as any defenceman in this draft, Evan Nause should eventually become the perfect partner to an offensively-minded defenceman like Quinn Hughes or Cale Makar. Though don’t be fooled by his strong defensive game, he can provide points as well, as evidenced by his 22 points in 32 games this season with the Quebec Remparts. His high hockey IQ, strong breakout passes, and overall two-way game should make any NHL coach happy to have him in his lineup one day.
He is a prototypical defenseman that can thrive in today’s game. He has the ability to be a steady, second-pairing defenseman with the ability to play in any situation and is effective on the power play and penalty kill. Teams love smarts and vision and Nause has that to provide a positive impact.”Peter Baracchini, The Hockey Writers
Versatile defencemen that can play in every situation are valuable commodities in the NHL. That’s why I don’t see Nause falling much past the early second round.
9. Scott Morrow, RD, Shattuck St. Mary’s 18U Prep (USHS-Prep)
Scott Morrow has risen up draft lists all season long from toiling in the second round to being a late first-round pick. The smooth-skating defenseman is most likely a long-term project, but it will be well worth the wait when he finally makes it to the NHL. Blessed with tremendous mobility, vision, and smarts, he is the definition of a modern-day blueliner.
Playing for the famed Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep, a school that boasts alumni like Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, and Jonathan Toews, Morrow excelled to the tune of eight goals and 48 points in 30 games. His offensive game is something to behold as he knows how to use his skating and smarts to generate chances from the back end. However, his defensive game has some significant holes in it as he turns the puck over at inopportune times and sometimes gets caught up ice on a pinch. Although, if that’s cleaned up, he could become as dynamic as top-five potential Luke Hughes.
8. Stanislav Svozil, LD, HC Kometa Brno (Czech)
Like Nause, Svozil’s defensive game is very well-developed for an 18-year-old. He didn’t produce like a first-round pick playing for HC Kometa Brito in the Czech League, but raw numbers don’t tell the whole story with his game, especially given his lack of ice time and opportunity. Blessed with tremendous vision and hockey IQ, he’s usually one of the most responsible defenders on the ice at any given time. He’s not a burner when he’s skating, but he’s mobile enough to jump into the play and get back with plenty of time to defend a rush chance.
Svozil may not be the flashiest defenceman, but he gets the job done with little to no mess. For a defenceman, that’s one of the highest compliments you can give. When a defender is not noticeable on the ice, it means they are doing exactly what they are paid to do, defend.
7. Daniil Chayka, LD, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
Chayka plays a very simple game from the back end, utilizing his hockey IQ, long reach, and strong skating to break up plays and transition the puck up the ice. Not projected to be a high point producer in the NHL, he probably will settle in as a reliable second-pairing defender that kills penalties and protects leads at the end of games.
A favourite of scouts, Chayka is not too far away from being a regular NHL defenceman. With his size, smarts, and already developed defensive game, he will definitely be chosen in the first round. Ranked as high as 19th by TSN’s Bob McKenzie, he might actually be one of the first defenders picked after the big four of Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes, and Simon Edvinsson.
6. Corson Ceulemans, RD, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
One of Team Canada’s most productive defencemen at the 2021 U18 World Championship, Ceulemans proved to everyone that his play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) was no fluke. Playing against his peers, he looked every bit of the player that racked up 11 points in eight games with the Brooks Bandits. Known for his speed and offensive touch, he and teammate Olen Zellweger led all Team Canada defencemen in points and helped his team win a gold medal over Team Russia.
Like Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar before him, Ceulemans will have a chance to follow up his AJHL career with a breakthrough season in college. Committed to the University of Wisconsin next season, he will look to translate his skills to the next level and continue to prove to everyone that the Canadian Junior A hockey league should be taken more seriously.
5. Carson Lambos, LD, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
Some might think this ranking is too high for Lambos, but when you look at his overall toolbox and the fact that he was considered a top-five talent only a year ago, your tune should change. Yes, he struggled overseas in a men’s league, and yes, he didn’t look very good upon returning to the Western Hockey League (WHL), but in a season filled with weird circumstances, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
THWs’ own draft ranker Peter Barrachini talked about Lambos in the same breath as Power and Clarke only eight months ago when he discussed the possibility of them going 1-2-3. In fact, he even said that he could go first overall. That type of skill does not just disappear overnight. That’s why it’s foolhardy to just disregard him as one of the top defenders in this class. Some team is going to get very lucky selecting him in the latter part of the first round.
While he possesses a strong offensive game, Lambos’ defensive game is what stands out the most. He has great positioning. Whether it’s defending against rush or battle in front of the net, Lambos is always aware of what do…If a team wants a complete defender that can make an impact in all situations, then Lambos is that player.Peter Barrachini, The Hockey Writers
Basically, don’t sleep on Lambos, even though he has fallen down the draft boards like a rock. He still possesses the tools of a top-end first pairing defenceman. From his strong positioning to his ability to affect the game with his size, speed, and aggressiveness, he might turn out to be one of the biggest steals in this draft when we look back at it in five years.
4. Simon Edvinsson, LD, Frolunda HC (SHL)
As we approach the three biggest prizes of this draft class, it’s time to look at the menacing 6-foot-5 Swede Simon Edvinsson. Size, check, mobility, check, wingspan, double-check. Compared favorably to Victor Hedman by THW’s own Alex Hobson, he could be one of the biggest consolation prizes for the team that does not draft one of the big three of Clarke, Power, and Hughes.
Maybe not as offensively inclined as his Swedish counterpart, Edvinsson has been praised by scouts like Craig Button for his character, compete level, and ability to play in all situations. His decision-making might be suspect at times, but all of his other attributes should make that a moot point considering the immense potential he has.
Edvinsson’s a great skater with all the essential parts of being a really good defenseman…I don’t think he’s going to be a 50-to-60-point producer, but he competes under pressure and makes every right play. As the game got harder, he got better…I’d compare him to (Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman) Seth Jones … a 40-point player logging 25-plus minutes a night in all situations.Craig Button, TSN director of scouting and NHL analyst
When Edvinsson hits his prime, he will be exactly what Button described him as. A big presence on an NHL blueline capable of changing a game at a moment’s notice. He may not develop into another Hedman, but I’m sure any coach would take another Jones on their roster any day.
3. Brandt Clarke, RD, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Drum roll please…and now the top three. Coming in third place is Brandt Clarke. Touted as a defenceman that could go as high as first overall at the beginning of the 2021 Draft season, he has dropped off a bit, but not by much. Saved by a dominant U18s tournament, he is yet another defenceman from this class that could become a fixture on an NHL team’s top pairing. A package of poise, mobility, and hockey IQ, he could potentially be a franchise defenceman for whichever team drafts him.
Throw in the fact that Clarke is part of the rare right-handed club, and most teams will be chomping at the bit to get him in the fold. If he can keep developing his defensive game, the sky’s the limit.
2. Luke Hughes, LD, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
The third Hughes to be drafted in the last five years, Luke is the younger brother of Quinn and Jack, two stars in the NHL already. It’s soon to be three, and Luke might turn out to be the best of them all. One of the most dynamic skaters in this draft class, he combines speed, quickness, and acceleration into a skating stride that’s just pretty to watch. Before you know it, he’s up the ice in a flash before you can say the word go.
Combine that with Luke’s elite offensive awareness and powerful shot, and you get a package that will become a prolific point producer in the NHL one day. There are definite questions about his defensive awareness and decision-making, but with his size and skating ability, that shouldn’t deter teams from choosing him in the top five. Unlike his brother Quinn, he boasts a 6-foot-2 frame that can withstand the physical pressure teams will put on him once they figure out his game.
Luke’s skating and offensive upside are what will get him selected ahead of Edvinsson and Clarke. Even with the question marks surrounding his defensive game.
1. Owen Power, LD, Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
Now we get to the biggest prize of the draft, Owen Power. Despite the uncertainty around who will be going first overall on Friday, he should be considered worthy of the title when all is said and done. There may have been questions about his status as the top pick in this draft before the 2021 World Championship, but those critics are mostly silenced now. Trusted by head coach Gerard Gallant to play increased minutes during the elimination round and gold medal game, he ended the tournament as one of his go-to defenders on a team littered with NHL talent.
Like Clarke, Power will develop into a top-pairing NHL defenceman one day. With his package of size, mobility, hockey IQ, and overall two-way game, he will be what Hedman, Makar, and Roman Josi are today, minute-munching franchise defencemen.
Overall, this draft class offers a lot when it comes to defencemen. There is the definite cream of the crop in Hughes, Clarke, and Power, but there are also many to be had later on in the draft as well. From purely offensive defencemen to tough as nails defensive defencemen, there’s something for everyone as the rounds go from one to seven.
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.