For many at the junior level who are eligible for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, it wasn’t the draft year they had hoped for. For some it meant getting an opportunity to play else where in order for them to continue and develop their game. Some haven’t even played a single game to make an impression for NHL teams and scouts.
Plenty of players are going to get their chance now by representing Canada as they prepare for the upcoming World Under 18 Hockey Championships. Canada is boasting a very talented and deep roster this year as they’re eyeing their first gold medal since 2013 when Connor McDavid was named MVP and led the tournament in scoring and first medal (bronze) since 2015.
Related: 2021NHL Draft Guide
Given the circumstances that many have faced over the last year, they’re going to make the most of this opportunity. This team has an abundance of skill up front and on the blue line and they’re going to make it a point that they mean business with this very skilled group. Here are seven players that everyone should keep an eye on as they’ll be leading the charge for Canada.
7. Corson Ceulemans
Ceulemans has spent the last two seasons with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL and is committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2021-22 season. He’s recorded 37 assists and 46 points in 57 games played, good for a 0.81 point per game pace. Even during a shortened season as a result of the pandemic, he made the most of the games he’s played with 11 points and four goals.
Ceulemans possesses great size and mobility to be a very strong puck moving defenseman. That’s the first thing that jumps out when he’s on the ice. He has no problem jumping into the rush or even carrying the puck to jump-start the attack. His game revolves around his ability to generate shots from all over the offensive zone.
FC Hockey’s Josh Mallory wrote a very detailed analysis of his game, focusing on his capability to generate quality-scoring chances and constantly gain possession of the puck. It’s this part of his game where many will now get to witness first hand as he’ll be a key factor in driving Canada’s offense from the backend.
Ceulemans is going to be heavily relied on to bring the offensive flare and speed that is a big part of his game. He’s dangerous at even strength and he’s just as lethal on the power play with his puck movement, a great asset for Canada to have entering the tournament. He’s a top ranked prospect in this year’s draft and is definitely worth being selected in the first round.
6. Francesco Pinelli
If there was ever a player that displayed the skillset to be an impact centreman in the NHL, it’s Pinelli of the Kitchener Rangers. A product of the Toronto Red Wings of the GTHL, he put together a remarkable 114 points in 71 games. He followed that up with a strong rookie campaign with the Rangers tallying 41 points in 59 games. According to Pick 224, 25 of those were even strength primary points.
Pinelli went over to play in Slovenia for HDD Jesenice. He was under a point per game with 11 points in 13 regular season games and added a goal in two playoff games. That’s great production for a player who wanted to make his mark as a potential top-20 player in this year’s draft.
Pinelli is a very talented player and will look to be Canada’s second line centre. THW’s own Hadi Kalakeche has him ranked as the top playmaker in this year’s draft and I probably would have to agree with him. He’s very crafty with the puck and always finds the right opportunity to make a play. He has strong vision, awareness and patience with the puck to locate his teammates to set a play up.
While his passing makes him valuable, he isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. He has great accuracy and power with his shot, finding the back of the net in their 5-1 pre-tournament win over Finland. He has really great speed to navigate the zone and intercept passes. Pinelli’s ability to be a dual offensive threat will make him a dangerous player for Canada.
5. Brennan Othmann
It goes without saying that, I’m a big fan of Flint Firebirds forward Brennan Othmann’s ability to be a very strong goal scoring threat. From his days in the GTHL with the Don Mills Flyers where he tallied 146 points, he has a knack of finding the open areas of the ice and utilizing his NHL-like shot to get it off quickly and accurately.
With a team that boasts an immensely deep and talented group, Othmann is definitely going to be an important player for Canada in the tournament. He’s an offensive dynamo. He can hurt you with his shot, being teed up for a one-timer or even joining the rush, he’s going to get his opportunity to get a shot on net and score.
While he’s pretty good at 5v5, Othmann should get an opportunity to do a lot of his damage with the man advantage. Every team seems to have their finisher, and he could be that go-to man. When he gets into the one-timer position on the right side and the puck is perfectly placed on his stick, chances are it’s going in the back of the net.
With the mobility and quick movement on the backend, Othmann is going to be one of those players that’s going to be relied on to be a major offensive contributor for Canada at the tournament. His smarts and shot are really going to have teams keep a close eye on him.
4. Brandt Clarke
From one former Flyer to another, Brandt Clarke is among the top defenseman in this draft class as he can be a top-10, possibly a top-five player. Many had him as a potential first-overall pick as he’s shown a lot of game-breaking abilities from the backend.
Clarke posted 38 points in 57 games with the Barrie Colts in his rookie season. He had a slow start, but he was able to pick up his production and earn more meaningful minutes as the season progressed. Clarke played for HC Nove Zamky in Slovakia this season where he recorded 15 points in 26 games, a 0.58 P/G pace playing at the senior level.
If teams are looking to draft an offensively gifted puck moving defenseman then Clarke is going to be on their radar and turning heads at this tournament. His mobility, puck handling and awareness is what makes him a potential top pairing defenseman. It’s fitting that he was spotted on the top pairing for Canada in their exhibition game against Finland with Guillaume Richard.
Clarke has so much confidence when he has the puck and entering the zone. His ability to make long stretch passes and play a high tempo game fits perfectly into Canada’s system and mentality of being a major offensive team. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the best defenseman at the tournament.
3. Dylan Guenther
Despite only playing in only 12 games when the WHL resumed play for the 2020-21 season, Dylan Guenther of the Edmonton Oil Kings was lights out. After averaging a point per game with 59 points in 58 games in his rookie season, Guenther was at a two point per game pace with 24 points this season.
While Team Canada has a very deep forward unit for this year’s tournament, Guenther is going to be one of many to lead the charge offensively. He earned an assist in their pre-tournament game against Finland, playing on a line with Shane Wright and Othmann. If this line plays the way they did in their warm-up game, they’re going to be very difficult to contain.
A for sure top-10 in the 2021 NHL Entry draft, Guenther is going to continue to shine and make a case to crack the top-five. Much like Othmann on the right side, Guenther likes to set up on his off-wing for his own one-timer opportunities. He’s got great range with his shot and has the ability to shoot from anywhere in the offensive zone.
Being a threat on 5v5 and on the power play, Guenther gives Canada a top line player that’s going to be a real game changer for them heading into the tournament. His speed, size and ability to drive the net is definitely going to catch the eyes of many when the tournament starts.
1-2. Shane Wright and Connor Bedard
While many will be focused on draft eligible players for this season, don’t be surprised to see that two players that were granted exceptional status to play in the CHL gain most of the attention. Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs (who was named captain) and Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats will be stealing the spotlight for Canada at the tournament. I could’t put one over the so I combined the two into one section as both are generational talents and are going to be Canada’s top offensive weapons.
Both players had very impressive rookie campaigns. Wright fell short of 40 goals in his rookie season (39) and recorded 66 points, tying Connor McDavid’s mark in his first OHL season. What stands out is that Wright was well above McDavid’s P/G mark (1.05) as he finished the 2019-20 season with 1.14. From one exceptional status player to another, Wright is only going to continue to make his mark.
While it was a very short rookie season for Bedard, he finished eighth in the league in points with 28. There wasn’t one game that he played where he didn’t record a point. If this was a regular 68-game season, he would’ve been on pace for 127 points… as a 15-year-old rookie. This kind of production and consistency is absolutely astonishing.
Both players found the score sheet as they each recorded a goal off great shots in their win over Finland. Even when they went to a shootout, Bedard dropped jaws by putting on the moves to score a goal.
While scouts will be watching players up for the draft this year, you can bet that they’ll come away even more impressed. It’s very likely that they’ll be the top picks in the next two drafts. If you haven’t seen these two play, they’ll leave you in shock and awe at what they can accomplish.
There’s no doubt that Canada assembled a very strong and talented roster. With the amount of high-end skillset on this Canadian roster, you can bet that gold will be on their mind.
Honourbale Mentions: Logan Stankoven (Kamloops Blazers), Mason McTavish (Peterborough Petes), Wyatt Johnston (Windsor Spitfires), Ethan Del Mastro (Mississauga Steelheads), Ollen Zellweger (Everett Silvertips).