In every draft, there are always notable names that are not selected due to various reasons. Whether it is a undersized player or their skating is sloppy, these concerns can scare prospective teams away.
The uniqueness of last season caused many quality prospects to slip in this draft, as the pandemic altered the schedules for a majority of the major junior leagues. The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) did not even play a season last year, and COVID-19 outbreaks forced a majority of teams not to complete the full schedule in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Without further ado, here are the top 10 undrafted prospects that were not selected in the 2021 NHL Draft and why they all have shown potential as players.
10. Valtteri Koskela, D, JYP
NHL Central Scouting rank: 119th (among EU skaters)
Playing again professionals in the Liiga is quite the accomplishment, and Koskela displayed moments of brilliance during his rookie season for JYP. His first career goal showcased his tremendous skating ability, as he was able to walk around opposing forwards, and drive to the net on his own. It should be mentioned that he is a defensemen, and the level of poise shown on that particular play is promising.
Koskela outperformed Vancouver Canucks prospect Joni Jurmo for a spot in JYP’s lineup, and he took advantage of the opportunity. His primary skills are using his quick acceleration to either make a firm pass, or just carry the puck into the offensive zone himself. He is a skilled puck handler, and looks to jump into the play when he can. He is responsible defensively, but he still has to work on one-on-one matchups. He has tight gap control, and makes safe decisions when in his own zone.
If he can continue to progress heading into his sophomore season, there is a very high chance that he is selected in next years draft.
9. Lorenzo Canonica, C, Shawinigan Cataractes
NHL Central Scouting rank: 62nd (among NA skaters)
Canonica played in several leagues last season, spending time between the U-20 Elit League in Switzerland, and the QMJHL. He is going to have a chance to shine on the national stage in December, as he will get to play a bigger role for the Swiss in the U-20 World Junior Championships. He suited up in just four games last year for them, and is looking to be more of an impact player for the team.
Primarliy known as a defensive specialist, Canonica is strong on the back check, and is always focusing on his defensive assignments. He is to super aggressive, but he uses his defensive awareness to always position himself in the correct spot, and he’s able to force the opposition to turn the puck over. He needs to work on his skating, as his strides are a bit backward and he needs to get quicker in smaller spaces.
A fun fact, when playing for Switzerland at the U-20 summer camp in 2020, he played as a defensemen on the powerplay. He noticeabley looked strong there, taking powerful one-timers, and mainitng quick puck movement.
8. Jacob Guévin, D, Muskegon Lumberjacks
NHL Central Scouting rank: 56th (among NA skaters)
It was shocking to see Guévin name slip as the draft went on, as he was a very solid player in the United States Hockey League (USHL). In 53 games, he produced 45 points as a defensemen for the Lumberjacks, and Patrick Bacons NHL equivalency model (NHLe) had him projected as a first-round pick based on his production.
Guévin is a strong skater, and has the ability to deceptive in the neutral zone to fake out defenders with his crossovers. He can be a powerplay quarterback, and find the shooting lanes through a screen, as well as being a good passer. He is a prototypical offensive defensemen that has a high ceiling if he can reach his potential, but won’t succeed if he doesn’t adapt his game. He likely won’t convert to being a third-pair defensemen at the NHL level, as he has legitimate defensive concerns, and his offensive game wouldn’t be enough to make up for it.
He will begin playing for the Univeristy of Nebraska-Omaha starting this fall.
7. Théo Rochette, C, Québec Remparts
NHL Central Scouting rank: 89th (among NA skaters)
Another undersized forward goes undrafted, meaning a trend is being formed. Rochette is only 5-foot-10 and a measly 165 pounds, but that didn’t stop him from producing for the Remparts. In 32 games last season, he scored 12 goals and 30 points, and looks poised to take a step forward this coming season.
There are a lot of aspects of Rochettes game to admire, especially his ability to enter the offensive zone with possession. Any player that is strong in zone entries, and can drive the play on their line, which is needed in a centermen, should be a player that most teams value. His offensive awareness is also a strength, as he is always in the right place to make a pass or position to score. His shot is very accurate but he needs to work on his power when releasing it.
Rochette was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs development camp, so he is on an NHL team’s radar.
6. Jeremy Wilmer, C, U.S. National U18 Team
NHL Central Scouting rank: 194th (among NA skaters)
The undersized forward is 5-foot-7 and weighs just 141 pounds, which is likely why he went undrafted. He played in the United States Development Program (USDP) last season and is set to play for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League (USHL) next season. He has also committed to Boston University to start playing in the 2022-23 season.
When evaluating Wilmer’s game, his puck-handling skills are his biggest strength. He can deke out the opposition with such ease and set up high danger scoring chances. He also is strong at retrieving the puck in the defensive zone, stripping pucks off opposing teams forwards, and causing turnovers. For a player of his size, he plays like he’s 6-foot-3 in defensive situations. He does tend to get outmatched in board battles and will need to get a bigger frame if he hopes to play in the NHL one day.
Peter Baracchini of THW addressed how Wilmer could have gone undrafted, stating, “Although size shouldn’t be an issue for many, it looks like that could’ve been a factor when it comes to Jeremy Wilmer, who comes in at 5-foot-7, 141 pounds. However, you look at the play of Cole Caufield, who is the same height and plays with great pace, and wonder how Wilmer cannot be selected. He does tend to get pushed around a lot as he lacks the physical strength to go up against bigger players. However, he does have a lot of positives. He’s a very shifty playmaker with quick hands and a smooth skating stride with great speed. He’s extremely dangerous in transition and is very reliable defensively. Wilmer’s qualities should’ve made him a mid to late-round pick, but the lack of size and strength may have been the X-factor.”
5. Jake Martin, D, U.S. National U18 Team
NHL Central Scouting rank: 211th (among NA skaters)
Martin is a glitter player, meaning he standouts when watching him play, which is a term used by Scouching on Youtube. He played in the USDP last season, along with time spent in the USHL. He is also committed to playing for the University of Michigan for this coming season.
Martin’s defensive game has so much to like, including his gap control when defending on the counter-attack. He is a rare right-shot defenseman that the USDP is playing on the left side, affecting his public perception. Playing on your offside is a difficult challenge, and Martin struggled at times with challenging the opposing players along the boards.
Matthew Zator of THW touched upon his reaction when Martin wasn’t selected, saying, “In a draft class full of intriguing defenceman, Jake Martin’s name was shockingly missing from the final board after the dust settled on July 24. One of the rare right-shot blueliners available this year, his game shines on the defensive side of the puck. You would think at least one team would find that valuable, especially in the sixth or seventh round. If he improves his skating, I could see him become a solid third-pairing option to supplement the game of a purely offensive defenceman.”
4. Peter Reynolds, C, Saint John Sea Dogs
NHL Central Scouting rank: 80th (among NA skaters)
Reynolds impressed during his rookie season for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the WHL, progressively improving by the game. He is poised to take a step further as a sophomore, and the Fredericton native could see his name being called in 2022.
Reynolds was a notable play driver on any line he was on, as he is really good at maintaining possession in the offensive zone. The opponent never has the puck when his line is on the ice, and already displaying that level of poise in his game is impressive. He needs to work on his shooting, as his shot is not very powerful, and he could work on his accuracy as well.
The raw intangibles in his game are promising, but I would like to see him enter the offensive zone with possession more. For a player of his caliber, he executes the dump and chase strategy on many plays, which could be a systematic issue with the team. Hopefully, he can earn more freedom heading into next season, as he looks poised to dominate next season for the Sea Dogs.
During the draft, Baracchini believed Reynolds would have been drafted in the middle rounds, stating, “I would’ve thought that Reynolds would’ve been selected as a late-second or early-third round pick. He’s a powerful skater and a great stick handler. His production was decent as he was just under a point per game with the Sea Dogs with 31 points in 33 games, playing in all situations. The main factor was his consistency, wanting to see him go above and beyond with his play and getting outmuscled against the competition. If he can work on that, he should definitely not be passed over the next time around as the skillset and potential areare there. For what it’s worth, I would’ve selected him.”
3. Dmitri Katelevsky, C, Bars Kazan
NHL Central Scouting rank: 139th (among EU skaters)
As is usually the case with Russian-born prospects, they tend to play in various junior leagues leading into their draft season. Katelevsky suited up for Bars Kazan of the Vysshaya Hokkeinaya Liga (VHL) while also playing time with Irbis Kazan of the Molodezhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga (MHL) and Ak Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
It’s impressive that he suited for a game in the KHL as an 18-year-old, as that league is notorious for being hard to gain ice time in. This is due to coaches often not trusting rookie players, and actively scratching them in favor of veteran options. Katelevsky earned his call-up from his good play in the MHL, scoring 16 points in 43 games.
His main strength is his on-ice awareness, as he reads the play very well. Coinciding with this, he also has a strong net-front presence and has a good ability to screen any goaltender. He could be a more physical player, as he tends to lose one-on-one matchups with opposing players, and he could forecheck a little harder when attempting to retrieve the puck. It was astounding to see him go undrafted, and he is likely taken in 2022 in the middle rounds.
2. James Hardie, LW, Mississauga Steelheads
NHL Central Scouting rank: Unranked
Due to the OHL shutdown, Hardie didn’t get a chance to play for the Steelheads last season. He did participate in the Erie Summer Showcase, getting to suit up for in-game action for the first time in 15 months.
Going back to the 2019-20 season, Hardie was terrific in his sophomore campaign. His offensive production reached new heights, scoring 34 goals and 63 points in 59 games. His biggest strength is his dynamic goal-scoring abilities, as he can score from any area in the offensive zone and has plenty of tricks in his toolbag.
Whether it is firing a one-timer on the powerplay, or cutting to the middle of the ice, or shooting a backhand shot into the back of the net, he is electric. His shot is already NHL ready, and the other aspects of his game need improvements. He is not the fastest skater, although his straight-line speed is faster than most at the OHL level, and it allows him to win footraces against the opposition.
Peter Baracchini of THW was surprised to see Hardie still available after the draft, stating, “I was surprised to see James Hardie get passed over in the 2020 NHL draft. I was even more surprised to see him get passed over again in 2021, as I do feel that’s there still some value and promise in his game. On top of Hardie not playing a full season due to the pandemic, the knock on him has always been his skating, as his speed and footwork may not be the best.”
“However, he does have strong offensive instincts, a good shot, and work ethic, as those factors should have at least generated some interest at the draft,” Baracchini continued. “He was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ development camp, and could be another undrafted player with potential like Pavel Gogolev. He has the tools that could allow him to be a depth player in the NHL. A strong team development system, like the Maple Leafs, could get him to the next point in his career as he’ll be more motivated than ever.”
1. Trevor Wong, C, Kelowna Rockets
NHL Central Scouting rank: 90th (among NA skaters)
Wong only suited up for 16 games for the Rockets last season, as there was a Covid outbreak on the team that forced them to miss six games over the span of 14 days. He has only suited up for 72 games total over the last two seasons, but the improvement in his game has been quite substantial.
Wong only scored 14 points in 58 games as a rookie during the 2019-20 season, as the undersized center was physically outmatched in all three zones. After the extended months of training, he came back and improved all aspects of his game. His offensive production skyrocketed, scoring 16 points in 16 games last year for the Rockets and tying his previous season’s goal total with six, but in 42 fewer games.
Wong is very shifty, and uses his quick edgework to avoid body contact against the opposing team’s defenders. He can skate through players and create high-danger scoring chances from all areas in the offensive zone. He is also very tenacious with and without the puck, as he uses his straight-line speed to force defenders to make a quick play, which can lead to turnovers. His combination of speed and skill, along with his offensive awareness, makes him the best prospect to go undrafted in 2021.
Matthew Zator of THW was shocked to see Wong go undrafted, stating, “to say I was surprised to see Trevor Wong go undrafted would be a massive understatement. Although undersized, he packs a lot of skill into his 5-foot-8, 154-pound frame. Sometimes playing with reckless abandon, his overall game is loaded with speed, offensive instincts, and a knack for finding open space. When, not if he makes it to the NHL, a lot of teams will wonder why they didn’t take a chance on the Vancouver native during the 2021 Draft.”
He was also invited to the Florida Panthers’ development camp, so he is on an NHL team’s radar.
Jordan Jacklin is a freelance writer who covers the Buffalo Sabres here at The Hockey Writers. Jordan is a student at Ryerson’s Sport Media program and uses analytics and video scouting to evaluate your favourite players in the game.