The 2021 NHL Draft is an unconventional one for one reason and one reason only. COVID-19. With the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) only playing roughly half a season, the Western Hockey League (WHL) being limited to only 24 games, and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) not having a season at all, the circumstances have made it incredibly hard to scout players. Some Canadian Hockey League (CHL) prospects made the move overseas to further their development, while some didn’t even play at all.
On top of this, there’s no surefire first-overall pick this year. While the general consensus is that University of Michigan defender Owen Power will go first, many mock drafts have Power’s teammate, forward Matthew Beniers, slated in that position. The really adventurous ones even have Swedish forward William Eklund as a possibility.
Related: THW’s 2021 Draft Guide
With all the uncertainty around the draft, I’m going to do my part to try and shed some light on some of the prospects to keep an eye on. In part of a new feature series at The Hockey Writers, today we’re going to do a deep dive into the top-10 left wingers heading into the draft.
10. Ayrton Martino (Omaha Lancers, USHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank: #46 (among NA skaters)
While most Canadian prospects end up playing in the CHL, Martino took an unconventional, but not unheard of, route by playing in the United States Hockey League (USHL). He’s seemingly flown under the radar because of this — he quietly put up some really impressive totals in his draft year. He spent his 2019-20 season with the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) and led his team in scoring with 79 points in 48 games.
In his rookie season for the Omaha Lancers, Martino stood out and once again led his team in points, finishing the season with 56 points in 38 games. While his game most resembles that of a playmaker, he can also score goals at a respectable pace and he’s a great skater to go along with it. The 5-foot-10 winger is committed to Clarkson University of the NCAA next season, and while most have him ranked outside of the first round, he could be one of those guys that a team takes a flier on for his skillset.
9. Ville Koivunen (Karpat U20, U20 SM-Sarja)
NHL Central Scouting rank: #20 (among EU skaters)
In a draft that’s rather weak for high-end Finnish talent, Koivunen is right near the top of players hailing from his homeland. He really started to turn heads in 2019-20 when he led the U18 Finnish league in scoring with a groundbreaking 71 points in 37 games. Making the jump to the U20 league this year, he continued his stellar offensive production with 49 points in 38 games. He was also a key piece of Finland’s team at the U18 World Championships with 10 points through seven games.
Like Martino, Koivunen is another player who’s slated to go in the second round, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if a team takes a chance on him with a late first-round pick. While the left side is his go-to position, he can play either wing and really doesn’t have any holes in his game offensively. He’s a lethal passer, and a great skater with good hockey IQ and some serious fight to his game as well. He will play for Karpat’s pro team next season.
8. Brennan Othmann (EHC Olten, Swiss League)
NHL Central Scouting rank: #8 (among NA skaters)
A member of the undefeated 2018-19 Don Mills Flyers, Othmann knocked his AAA season out of the park in 2018-19 and earned himself a selection at second overall courtesy of the Flint Firebirds. Heading into the 2019-20 season as a beacon of hope for the Firebirds, who aren’t strangers to hardship, he enjoyed a solid rookie season where he registered 33 points in 55 games.
But like the rest of his fellow OHLers, Othmann was left without a job after the league cancelled their 2020-21 season. Holding Canadian and Swiss dual citzenship, he went overseas to play for EHC Olten of the Swiss League, Switzerland’s second-tier pro league. He finished the season with 16 points in 34 games, and also saw success with the gold medal-winning Canadians at the U18 World Championships with six points in seven games.
Despite not being overwhelming in size at 6-foot-0 and 174 pounds, he’s a relentless forechecker and will utilize his speed to make opposing players’ lives hard. He will also throw the body and has a great shot as well. While it’s unlikely he’ll go in the top-15, I think it’s a safe bet to assume he’ll go somewhere between 15th and 32nd overall.
7. Isak Rosen (Leksands IF, SHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank: #8 (among EU skaters)
A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Rosen has been with the Leksands organization in some capacity ever since his hockey career started. While he spent the majority of his draft year playing for Leksands’ top team, that didn’t come without him paying his dues and spending a season with their J20 team. In 2019-20, he finished his season with 21 goals and 35 points in 38 games.
This was good enough to earn him a promotion to their pro team, where he wound up splitting the season with the J20 team in his draft year. He finished the season with 12 points in 12 games for Leksands IF J20 and one assist in 22 games for the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) team. European pro teams are generally more concerned with icing the best possible team than developing players for the NHL, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into his pro totals.
The goals generally tend to overshadow the assists if you look at Rosen’s career stats, but he’s still seen as an elite playmaker. He can score from all areas of the ice, and has a knack for sniffing out open lanes in high-traffic areas. While it’s more likely he goes in the bottom-15 of the first round, he has some sneaky skill that could warrant a team drafting him higher.
6. Oskar Olausson (HV71, SHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank – #13 (among EU skaters)
Like Rosen with Leksands, Olausson has spent the majority of his hockey career in Sweden with HV71’s organization. Also a native of Stockholm, he has seen promotion after promotion at a consistent rate. He spent the majority of the 2019-20 season with HV71’s J20 team and finished with 16 points in 21 games.
He wound up splitting his draft year between three teams. He quickly proved to his organization that he was too good for the J20 league, amassing 27 points in 16 games, and even made things interesting with Sodertalje SK of the Allsvenskan league with six points in 11 games. In 16 games with HV71, he scored three goals and had four points in 16 games.
While NHL Central Scouting has Olausson ranked below Rosen, I gave Olausson the edge because of his size and overall production across the three leagues this year. The 6-foot-2 winger is a great skater for his size and is incredibly hard to knock off the puck, which will made him a dangerous force once he adds some extra muscle. He could go anywhere in the first round, but somewhere in the 15-25 range is likely for him.
5. Fyodor Svechkov (Lada Togliatti, VHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank: #6 (among EU skaters)
Despite a stellar performance at the U17 World Championships in 2019-20 that saw him record six goals and eight points in six games, Svechkov’s rookie season in the MHL wasn’t anything special, finishing with only six points in 24 games. However, he took a massive step forward in 2020-21, enough of a step to rank him as a likely first-rounder.
Splitting the 2020-21 season between Lada Togliatti of the VHL and Ladia Togliatti of the MHL, Svechkov scored at a point-per-game pace in the MHL with 15 points in 15 games. However, he spent most of his season in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier league, and ended the season with 15 points in 38 games.
Once he rounds out his game, Svechkov is going to be a treat for any team. He’s a two-way forward who, as it stands, is the top-ranked Russian in his draft class, despite not being as dynamic offensively as you might expect from a top forward. He has great hockey IQ and a good shot, and the general consensus is that he’ll be a first-round pick at the draft. Likely somewhere between 10th and 25th overall.
4. Sasha Pastujov (USNTDP, USHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank – #18 (among NA skaters)
If you’re looking for a bona fide goal scorer, look no further than Pastujov. The 17-year-old is one of the younger players in his draft class and won’t turn 18 until July 15. Playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP), he put his offensive ability on full display all season. Despite finishing as a point-per-game player across the board in 2019-20, his goal scoring took a massive step forward in 2020-21.
In 59 games, the Florida-native scored 40 goals and finished with 91 points in 59 games. He also represented Team USA at the U18 World Championships, leading the team in scoring with five goals and eight points in five games. He’s committed to play for the University of Notre Dame of the NCAA in 2021-22.
Like I said, Pastujov is primarily known for his ability to put pucks in the net. Which, generally, helps you win hockey games. He doesn’t really lack anything on the offensive side of the game, but the 6-foot-0, 183-pound winger could stand to be a little more physical. There are some rankings that have him outside of the first round, but I’d be incredibly surprised if he wasn’t a first rounder come the draft.
3. Matthew Coronato (Chicago Steel, USHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank: #9 (among NA skaters)
Coronato first made his mark for the Chicago Steel in 2019-20 and had an impressive rookie season, finishing with 40 points in 45 games. In 2020-21, the New York City-native wasted no time ensuring that the mark he made was cemented in place.
He finished second on his team in scoring and exploded for a whopping 48 goals and 85 points in 51 games. He also proved that he’s a worthy playoff performer, scoring at over a goal-per-game pace with nine goals and 13 points in eight games. For reference, Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor had 34 goals and 80 points in the USHL in his draft year.
The right-handed winger is committed to Harvard University next season. Despite being right-handed, he loves playing on his off-wing and utilizing the half wall with a stellar one-timer. In my humble opinion, Coronato is one of, if not the most underrated player in his draft class. Some rankings have him going as late as 25th to 32nd overall, but I’d go as far as to say he could be a top-15 pick.
2. Dylan Guenther (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank – #5 (among NA skaters)
In a list that’s mostly dominated by European wingers, Guenther is the highest-ranked North American winger on my list. A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Guenther got to live out a childhood dream playing for his hometown WHL team. He impressed in a small sample size in 2018-19 with three goals and four points in eight games, and established himself as an offensive juggernaut in 2019-20 with 26 goals and 59 points in 58 games.
Guenther might have been a guaranteed top-5 pick if not for the limited sample size in the WHL this year. Despite only playing 12 games, he made the absolute most out of those 12 games. He matched his game total with 12 goals, and added 12 assists for a combined 24 points in 12 games. He also served as an alternate captain with Team Canada at the U18 World Championships, scoring four goals and tallying seven points in seven games.
With Pastujov, Coronato, and now Guenther, there’s certainly no shortage of goal scorers in this draft class. While he has lots of redeeming qualities offensively, his shot is far and away his best asset. His second best asset would be his ability to find the sweet spots to make himself open on the ice, which helps his scoring ability. Like I said, I think he would be a guaranteed top-5 pick if not for the circumstances, but he’ll be a top-10 pick for sure.
1. William Eklund (Djurgardens IF, SHL)
NHL Central Scouting rank – #1 (among EU skaters)
Capping off my list of the top-10 left wingers at number one is William Eklund. He began turning heads in 2019-20 after a successful season that saw him put up 36 points in 31 games for Djurgardens IF J20, but the improvements he made towards his game and production in 2020-21 is what cemented his status as a likely top-5 pick.
Eklund spent half of last season in the SHL with Djurgardens’ top team, but only had two assists in 20 games. This season was a completely different story. Eklund scored 11 goals and finished with 23 points in 40 games, and his production this year tells me that his team genuinely trusted him with big minutes for somebody his age.
He’s a super agile skater and is also relentless on the forecheck despite his smaller frame at 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds. He’s a pass-first player, but has an elite shot that he could certainly stand to use more. He can play both left wing and centre, but I have him ranked as a left winger because I feel like he’s more sustainable there long term. Some scouts have him ranked first overall, and while the top pick is more likely to belong to Matthew Beniers or Owen Power, Eklund will, without a doubt, be a top-5 pick.
Despite the 2021 NHL Draft not being quite as front-loaded when it comes to top-end talent, there’s still lots to look forward to and lots of promising young players. While Eklund and Guenther are more than likely going to be the top two left wingers drafted, the rest of the players on the list could be taken in any order. Between CHL players overseas, American players in the USHL, and Europeans playing in both the pro and junior leagues, the left side has a ton of talent in this year’s draft.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.