The 2021 NHL Draft provides an opportunity for teams to strengthen positions of need with young talent.
The first round is scheduled for July 23 (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW). Rounds 2-7 are scheduled July 24 (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).
Here are what Central Division teams could be looking to do at the draft (teams listed in alphabetical order):
Top priority: Playmakers
First pick: No. 37
The situation: Since 2010 the Coyotes have drafted two players who scored 20 goals in a season for them, forwards Conor Garland (2015, No. 123) and Clayton Keller (2016, No. 7). Recent draft picks still are maturing, among them center Barrett Hayton, the No. 5 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft who scored three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 NHL games this season and 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 26 games with Tucson of the American Hockey League. With general manager Bill Armstrong overseeing the draft for the first time (he agreed not to participate in the 2020 NHL Draft after being hired from the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 17, 2020, three weeks before the draft), Arizona could look to find the best available offensive performer with its first selection in the second round. The Coyotes forfeited the No. 11 pick in the draft as a result of violations of the NHL Combine Testing Policy during the 2019-20 season.
Possible fits: Logan Stankoven, C, Kamloops (WHL); Samu Tuomaala, RW, Karpat Jr., (FIN-JR); Sasha Pastujov, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)
Top priority: Scoring depth
First pick: No. 12
The situation: Forward Patrick Kane remains one of the top offensive players in the NHL and forward Alex DeBrincat was third in the League with 32 goals this season, but the Blackhawks need more to support them. Center Jonathan Toews‘ return after missing all season because of an illness will help, as will a full healthy season from center Kirby Dach, who was limited to 18 games because of a broken wrist. Forward Lukas Reichel, the No. 17 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, scored 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 38 games with Eisbaren Berlin in Deutsche Eishockey Liga, the top professional league in Germany. The 19-year-old will get a chance to play in the NHL next season, and more will be expected from forward Brandon Hagel and centers Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev, who each had a solid rookie season. Adding another top-end forward high in the first round should be the priority.
Possible fits: Chaz Lucius, C, USA U-18 (NTDP); Matthew Coronato, RW, Chicago (USHL); Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
Top priority: Prospect depth
First pick: No. 28
The situation: The Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL this season, and their prospect pipeline is among the League’s best as well. Defenseman Bowen Byram (2019, No. 4) impressed when healthy this season, and forward Alex Newhook (2019, No. 16) adjusted well to the NHL pace after signing an entry-level contract March 31. Each has the potential to be an impact player next season, and defenseman Justin Barron (2020, No. 25) and forwards Martin Kaut (2018, No. 16), Shane Bowers (trade, Ottawa Senators) and Sampo Raanta (2018, No. 78) top a talented pool of prospects that soon could be pushing for roster spots. So how do the rich get richer? Taking the best player available to make a deep crop of prospects that much better.
Possible fits: Zach Dean, C, Gatineau (QMJHL); Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea (SWE); Francesco Pinelli, C, Kitchener (OHL)
Top priority: Defenseman
First pick: No. 15
The situation: At 21 years old, defenseman Miro Heiskanen led the Stars in average ice time at 24:58 per game, with defensemen Esa Lindell (23:11) and John Klingberg (22:42) next. Lindell is 27 and plays a tough, physical brand of hockey, and Klingberg will be 29 when next season starts. Thomas Harley, the No. 18 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, could be ready for a full-time NHL spot on defense next season, but in a draft stocked with talented defensemen, this could be the right time for Dallas to add another blue-chip prospect at the position.
Possible fits: Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL); Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL); Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint (OHL)
Top priority: Defenseman
First pick: No. 22
The situation: Calen Addison impressed enough as a rookie to average 12:16 of ice time in three games in the Stanley Cup First Round against the Vegas Golden Knights, but the Wild don’t have top-end prospect depth beyond him; Ryan O’Rourke (2020, No. 39), Filip Johansson (2018, No. 24) and Daemon Hunt (2020, No. 65) each is at least a few seasons away. In a draft heavy on talented defensemen, finding one in the first round with potentially a quicker road to the NHL should be the goal. Minnesota, which also has the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round pick at No. 26 from the trade of forward Jason Zucker, also could look to add to its depth of prospects on the wing.
Possible fits: Shai Buium, D, Sioux City (USHL); Sean Behrens, D, USA U-18 (NTDP); Nikita Chibrikov, RW, St. Petersburg (RUS)
Top priority: Defenseman
First pick: No. 19
The situation: Nashville’s top three defensemen, Roman Josi (31), Ryan Ellis (30) and Mattias Ekholm (31) are getting older, and Ekholm has one season left on his contract. In the past 10 years the Predators have selected a defenseman in the first two rounds three times, and only Dante Fabbro (2016, No. 17) remains on the roster after Seth Jones (2013, No. 4) and Samuel Girard (2016, No. 47) were traded. Finding a young defenseman to support and eventually replace their top players at the position should be a focus in the first round.
Possible fits: Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL); Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA (RUS); Shai Buium, D, Sioux City (USHL)
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Top priority: Defenseman
First pick: No. 17
The situation: The Blues have a solid top-four corps of defensemen in Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk and Marco Scandella, but not much NHL-ready prospect depth behind them outside of 22-year-old Scott Perunovich (2018, No. 45), who won the Hobey Baker Award as the top men’s NCAA hockey player in 2019-20 but didn’t play this season because of a shoulder injury. In a draft stocked with talented defensemen prospects, the Blues likely will look there with their top pick.
Possible fits: Carson Lambos, D, Winnipeg (WHL); Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA (RUS); Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
Top priority: Forward
First pick: No. 18
The situation: The Jets have done well bolstering their depth at defenseman the past few seasons, with Ville Heinola (2019, No. 20), Dylan Samberg (2017, No. 43) and Logan Stanley (2016, No. 18) set to become key contributors. Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler comprise Winnipeg’s core forwards; each is in his prime and signed through the 2023-24 season, but this could be a good time to start developing players to support them. Their first-round pick in 2020, center Cole Perfetti (No. 10), scored 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 32 games as a 19-year-old with Manitoba of the American Hockey League. The Jets should focus on finding more young forward talent with their first pick this year.
Possible fits: Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL); Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL); Nikita Chibrikov, RW, St. Petersburg (RUS)
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