Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson, linemates at the University of Michigan, headline a class at center that could feature as many as eight players at the position selected in the top 20 of the 2021 NHL Draft.
Beniers (6-foot-2, 175 pounds), No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters for the 2021 draft, and Johnson (6-1, 167), No. 3, were each named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Johnson is listed as a center on NHL Central Scouting’s ranking but played left wing on Beniers’ line
There were seven centers selected in the top 20 of the 2020 NHL Draft: Quinton Byfield (No. 2, Los Angeles Kings), Marco Rossi (No. 9, Minnesota Wild), Cole Perfetti(No. 10, Winnipeg Jets), Anton Lundell(No. 12, Florida Panthers), Seth Jarvis (No. 13, Carolina Hurricanes), Dylan Holloway (No. 14, Edmonton Oilers) and Dawson Mercer (No. 18, New Jersey Devils).
Here are NHL.com’s top 10 centers available for the 2021 NHL Draft:
1. Matthew Beniers, Michigan (NCAA)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 6 (North American skaters)
Beniers scored 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 24 games in his first college season. He led first-time draft eligible NCAA players in goals, goals per game (0.42) and shots on goal per game (2.38). Michigan received an at-large bid into the NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament but had to withdraw due to COVID-19 protocols. The 18-year-old helped the United States win the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as the youngest player on the roster, scoring three points (one goal, two assists) and averaging 17:05 of ice time in seven games as a second-line center. He also has scored one goal in four games as the only draft eligible player with the U.S. at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.
2. Kent Johnson, Michigan (NCAA)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 3 (North American skaters)
A sniper who plays with pace, skill and creativity, Johnson thrived at left wing this season, scoring 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists), including a Michigan-best three power-play goals, in 26 games. The 18-year-old led first-time draft eligible NCAA players in assists, points, and points per game (1.04). Johnson led the British Columbia Hockey League with 101 points (41 goals, 60 assists) in 52 games for Trail in 2019-20.
3. Mason McTavish, Peterborough (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 2 (North American skaters)
The 18-year-old (6-1, 207), a powerful skater with balance and solid puck-protection skills, scored 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 13 games on loan with EHC Olten in the Swiss League, the second-highest professional league in Switzerland. He also filled in as captain for Canada at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship when Shane Wright (2022 draft eligible) missed two games because of an injury. He scored 11 points (five goals, six assists) in seven games to help his country win the tournament.
4. Cole Sillinger, Sioux Falls (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 10 (North American skaters)
Sillinger (6-0, 197) began the season with Sioux Falls because of the uncertainty surrounding the start of the Western Hockey League season due to the coronavirus. When the WHL began play Feb. 26, the 18-year-old opted to remain in the USHL rather than return to Medicine Hat. Sillinger led Sioux Falls in goals (24), points (46), points per game (1.48) and shots on goal (113) in 31 games and was named USHL rookie of the year. He also scored five power-play goals, two game-winning goals and one shorthanded goal. Sillinger will return to Medicine Hat next season. His father is former NHL forward Mike Sillinger, who played 1,049 games with 12 NHL teams.
5. Chaz Lucius, USA U-18 (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 12 (North American skaters)
The right-handed shot scored 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) in 13 games for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Lucius (6-1, 185) made his season debut Feb. 19 after being out the first four months of the season recovering from a bone lesion on his knee. The 18-year-old, who can shoot the puck as well as any player available in the 2021 draft, is committed to play at the University of Minnesota next season.
6. Xavier Bourgault, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 13 (North American skaters)
Bourgault can play wing or center and is a dynamic offensive player who is relentless in his puck pursuit. The 18-year-old (6-0, 172) was third on Shawinigan with 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) and second with seven power-play goals in 29 regular-season games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season. He also had four assists and 25 shots on goal in five QMJHL playoff games.
7. Fedor Svechkov, Togliatti Jr. (RUS-2)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 6 (International skaters)
The 18-year-old scored 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 38 games in the VHL, Russia’s second division and 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 15 games in the MHL, Russia’s junior league. He’s a reliable, hard-working two-way competitor with a good shot, smart passing ability, an improved skater and effective penalty killer. Svechkov (6-0, 187) scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in seven games for second-place Russia at the U-18 World Championship.
8. Aatu Raty, Karpat (FIN)
NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 3 (International skaters)
Raty (6-2, 185), a good skater with speed, balance and excellent puck control, scored six points (three goals, three assists) and had 80 shots on goal while averaging 11:38 of ice time in 35 games in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. As a 17-year-old, he scored three points (two goals, one assist) as Finland’s youngest player at the 2020 World Junior Championship.
9. Zachary Bolduc, Rimouski (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 17 (North American skaters)
Bolduc (6-1, 175), winner of the Michael Bossy Trophy as the top prospect in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is an excellent skater with good hockey IQ and an ability to finish plays. The 18-year-old scored 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), three power-play goals and ranked second on Rimouski with a 1.07 points-per game average in 27 games before a lower-body injury ended his season. He has maintained a point-per game average over two QMJHL seasons.
10. Francesco Pinelli, Kitchener (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 15 (North American skaters)
The 18-year-old can contribute on the power play and penalty kill, and projects to be a reliable two-way player in the NHL. Pinelli (6-0, 185) scored 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 13 games on loan with Jesenice in the Alps Hockey League in Slovenia. He finished tied for seventh in scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games for first-place Canada at the U-18 World Championship.
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