It’s been over a month since I released my February rankings and now that the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) have resumed play, a lot more players are starting to catch my eye. The 2021 NHL Draft has been confirmed for July 23-24 after a lot of discussion about moving it to later in the year, so uncertainty has also been removed from the equation.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
That doesn’t mean there won’t be surprises though, as the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) has yet to confirm a 2020-21 season, despite it being April already. At this point, it’s looking more and more like this season will be officially canceled which is not ideal for the prospects that are eligible for this year’s draft. First-round talents like Brandt Clarke, Francesco Pinelli, and Brennan Othmann have seen playing time with European teams, but there are many that have not seen action for over a year which could hurt their development a bit.
As a result, rankings will be very fluid, especially for OHL prospects that scouts may not get to see this season. The potential for steals will also be far more likely as high-ranking players drop out of the first and second rounds due to a lack of viewings. On the flip side, players that are fortunate enough to be in leagues like the NCAA, USHL, QMJHL, and European leagues were given an extra opportunity to showcase their skills, which could lead to a higher selection than previously expected.
But enough of the preamble, let’s get into my latest rankings which saw a lot of movement from my previous ones. Like my colleague, Peter Baracchini, I also expanded them to an even 100, which means they now extend into the third and fourth rounds.
My first-overall pick remains Matthew Beniers of the University of Michigan, even though his season is over because of positive COVID-19 tests. He is still arguably the most complete forward in this draft and has done enough to remain firmly in the top spot. He finished his season with a very impressive 10 goals and 24 points and was just recently named to the College Hockey News’ 2021 All-Rookie Team along with teammate Owen Power.
However, if Dylan Guenther keeps playing the way he has for the Edmonton Oil Kings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take the crown in the next version of these rankings. Since the WHL returned to action, he has been one of the best players in Canada with nine goals and 18 points in only nine games so far. He already has four multi-goal games and six multi-point efforts and has only been kept off the scoresheet three times. He will also get to raise his stock even further in the Under-18 World Championships later this month as he was recently added to Team Canada’s roster. For those reasons and more, he has risen to second overall in my rankings.
Related: Dylan Guenther Prospect Profile
Rounding out the top-three is Swedish phenom William Eklund of Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). Playing with and against men he has an impressive 11 goals and 23 points in 40 games and has all the makings of a pure goal scorer. Like Alexander Holtz before him, he just knows how to put the puck in the net. He also has the creativity and playmaking abilities that will make him a multi-faceted threat in the NHL.
Two forwards that rose the most in my rankings were Logan Stankoven (43rd to 14th), and Xavier Bourgeault (33rd to 15th). Coming all the way from the depths of the second round, they now sit in the top-20. After digging deeper into their games, they all deserve to be first-round picks and high ones to boot. Stankoven looks bigger and stronger than last season and with the way he plays, that’s significant. His forechecking was already at an elite level, so having extra strength on his 5-foot-8 frame should make him an even bigger threat to hunt down the puck and put it into the net.
As for Bourgault, I honestly don’t know why I had him in the second round. He’s versatile, can do almost everything at a high level, and his hockey IQ is off the charts. Like Guenther, he’s been amazing so far this season with 20 goals and 37 points in 28 games. In the last ten games alone, he has seven goals and 15 points and has only been shut out three times in that span. Again, not a second-round talent by any means.
All in all, my rankings changed quite a bit when it came to the top-32. Some transformed into first-round picks while others dropped into the second and even third rounds. Like I said before, the rankings this year are going to be very fluid right up to the beginning of the first round on July 22. So without further ado, I give you my top-100 prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Rankings – Top 100
1. Matt Beniers, C, Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
2. Dylan Guenther, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
3. William Eklund, C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
4. Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
5. Brandt Clarke, D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovakia) On Loan
6. Owen Power, D, Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
7. Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea HF (SHL)
8. Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea HF (SHL)
9. Kent Johnson, C, Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
10. Matthew Coronato, LW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
11. Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda HC (SHL)
12. Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Liiga)
13. Simon Robertsson, RW, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
14. Logan Stankoven, F, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
15. Xavier Bourgault, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
16. Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
17. Dylan Duke, C, US National U18 Team (USDP)
18. Prokhor Poltapov, RW, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
19. Chaz Lucius, C, US National U18 Team (USDP)
20. Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
21. Brennan Othmann, LW, EHC Olten (SL) On Loan
22. Oskar Olausson, LW/RW, HV71 (SHL)
23. Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
24. Zach Dean, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
25. Scott Morrow, D, Shattuck St. Mary’s 18U Prep (USHS-Prep)
26. Isak Rosen, LW/RW, Leksands IF (SHL)
27. Sebastien Cossa, G, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
28. Nikita Chibrikov, RW, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
29. Stanislav Svozil, D, HC Kometa Brno (Czech)
30. Daniil Chayka, D, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
31. Samu Tuomaala, F, Karpat (Liiga)
32. Mason McTavish, C, EHC Olten (SL) On Loan
33. Zachary L’Heureux, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
34. Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
35. Sasha Pastujov, LW, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
36. Alexander Kisakov, F, MHK Dynamo Moskva (MHL)
37. Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
38. Matthew Samoskevich, C, Chicago Steel (USHL)
39. Victor Stjernborg, C/LW, Vaxjo HC (SHL)
40. Anton Olsson, D, Malmo Redhawks (SHL)
41. Fyodor Svechkov, LW/C, Ladia Togliatti (MHL)
42. Brett Harrison, C, KOOVEE (Mestis)
43. Ryder Korczak, C, Moosejaw Warriors (WHL)
44. Joshua Roy, C, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
45. Vladislav Lukashevich, D, Loko Yaroslavi (MHL)
46. Samu Salminen, C/LW, Jokerit U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
47. Artyom Grushnikov, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
48. Sean Behrens, D, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
49. Justin Robidas, C, Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
50. Ville Koivunen, LW, Karpat U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
51. Cole Huckins, C, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
52. Matvei Petrov, LW, MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva (MHL)
53. James Malatesta, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
54. Evan Nause, D, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
55. Kirill Kirsanov, D, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
56. Samuel Helenius, C, JYP (Liiga)
57. Cameron Whynot, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
58. Vincent Iorio, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
59. Conner Roulette, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
60. Jackson Blake, F, Chicago Steel (USHL)
61. Jimi Suomi, D, Jokerit U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
62. Ryan Ufko, D, Chicago Steel (USHL)
63. Jeremy Wilmer, C, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
64. Tristan Lennox, G, Toronto Marlies (AHL) On Loan
Third Round/Fourth Round
65. Marcus Almquist, C/RW, HV71 J20 (J20 Nationell)
66. Benjamin Gaudreau, G, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
67. Aidan Hreschuk, D, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
68. Chase Stillman, RW, Esbjerg II (Denmark2)
69. Matthew Knies, F, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
70. Tristan Broz, F, Fargo Force (USHL)
71. Jake Martin, D, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
72. Lorenzo Canonica, C/LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
73. William Stromgren, LW, MODO Hockey (HockeyAllsvenskan)
74. Roman Schmidt, D, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
75. Olen Zellweger, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
76. Logan Mailloux, D, SK Lejon (HockeyEttan)
77. Niko Huuhtanen, F, Tappara U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
78. Oscar Plandowski, D, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
79. Hugo Gabrielsson, D, Frolunda HC J20 (J20 Nationell)
80. Victor Sjöholm, D, HV71 J20 (J20 Nationell)
81. Oliver Kapanen, F, JoKP (Mestis)
82. Red Savage, C/LW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
83. Manix Landry, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
84. Verner Miettinen, C, Kiekko-Espoo U20 (U20 SM-sarja)
85. Eetu Liukas, RW, TPS (Liiga)
86. Aleksi Malinen, D, JYP (Liiga)
87. Guillaume Richard, D, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
88. Justin Janicke, F, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
89. Robert Orr, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
90. Jack Peart, D, Grand Rapids High (USHS-MN)
91. Olivier Nadeau, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
92. Tyler Boucher, F, US National U18 Team (USNDP)
93. Dmitri Kostenko, D, Ladia Togliatti (MHL)
94. Lucas Forsell, LW, Färjestad BK J20 (J20 Nationell)
95. Liam Dower-Nilsson, C, Frölunda HC J20 (J20 Nationell)
96. Riley Kidney, C, Acadie Bathhurst (QMJHL)
97. Ayrton Martino, LW, Omaha Lancers (USHL)
98. Ruban Rafken, D, TPS (Liiga)
99. Florian Elias, C, Manheim (DEL)
100. Kyle Kukkonen, F, Maple Grove High (USHS-MN)
Yusaku Ando, F, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL), Daniil Lazutin, C, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL), Ilya Ivantsov, F, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL), Matthew Argentina, C, Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL), Matvei Averochkin, C, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
New Names in the Top-64
While I mentioned a few risers off the top, there were quite a few new names that made it into my top-64 that weren’t in the first iteration of these rankings. Among them were defenceman Evan Nause (props to Peter for turning me on to him), Finnish forward Ville Koivunen, and goaltender Tristan Lennox.
Nause is the type of defenceman all coaches want in their top-four, as he plays a no-nonsense type of game while making the right play 99 percent of the time. He skates well, is solid in every zone on the ice, and can put up points. He’s basically a coach’s dream.
Koivunen has all the makings of a player that could become a great complementary piece on an NHL roster. Like most Fins, he’s tenacious and hard-working and makes life miserable for defencemen in the offensive zone.
He’s a stocky and feisty winger who goes into the dirty areas and isn’t afraid to get chippy after the whistle.
He also is a threat offensively, as shown by his prolific point totals this season. He led all U20 SM-sarja draft-eligible players in points and finished only two goals back of Oliver Kapanen who finished with 25. At the end of the season, he walked away with Rookie of the Year honours, finishing with 23 goals and 49 points in 38 games.
Finally, there’s Tristan Lennox, who will probably be the third goaltender off the board after the phenom that is Jesper Wallstedt and Oil Kings’ standout Sebastian Cossa. He already has an NHL goaltender’s frame at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds and he knows how to use that frame to his advantage too. He’s quick and agile in the crease for his size and he knows how to control his rebounds too. He’s still a little raw in his positioning and overall game, but that will come with time and coaching. When he’s fully developed he should become a solid number one goaltender in the NHL.
Scouting Opportunities Are Coming
Luckily for scouts everywhere, there are two major events coming in the month of April. Here are all the details to get you ready.
Bio Steel All-American Game (Apr 7 at 8 pm ET on NHL Network)
First up is the Bio Steel All-American Game which will take place on Apr 7. It will feature a lot of draft-eligible prospects, most notably Dylan Duke, Chaz Lucius, Sasha Pastujov, Matthew Coronato, Matthew Knies, Cole Sillinger, and Mackie Samoskevich.
Unfortunately, even though Luke Hughes was named to the NTDP roster, he won’t be playing due to an injury that will keep him out of both this game and the Under-18 World Championships. The potential first-overall pick will have to let his body of work this season speak for itself because he won’t have any further opportunities to raise his draft stock any further.
2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship (Apr 26 – May 6)
Then the main event takes center stage in the form of the 2021 Under-18 World Championship. Sweden, Canada, Belarus, Latvia, and Switzerland will compete in Group A, while Russia, the United States, Czech Republic, Finland, and Germany will round out the competition in Group B. With almost every other international competition being canceled this year, this tournament will be one of the most anticipated for scouts and draft enthusiasts everywhere.
It will give everyone a chance to see most of the top prospects in a competitive atmosphere, and it could ultimately determine where they will be placed in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings which have yet to be released. With my rankings being released now, you might see a whole different set when it comes time for my next ones which will come shortly before the draft occurs. All I know is, it’s exciting to finally have an event where I can watch multiple draft-eligible prospects at the same time. That my friends is a scout’s dream come true.
Do you agree with my top-100 rankings? Which prospects do you have an eye on? Who would you add? Who would you exclude? Have your say in the comments below!
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.