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 Atlantic Division teams could be looking to do at the draft (listed in alphabetical order):
Top priority: Defensemen
First pick: No. 21
The situation: The loss of Zdeno Chara (Washington Capitals) and Torey Krug (St. Louis Blues) hurt the Bruins on the left side of their defense this season. Matt Grzelcyk provided some stability, and two left-handed rookie defensemen earned playing time (Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen). Boston lost the Stanley Cup Second Round to the New York Islanders in six games and not one rookie was in the lineup for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak can become unrestricted free agents July 28, but the Bruins might have discovered their goalie of the future in Jeremy Swayman. The 22-year-old was 7-3-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in 10 games and may have passed Halak on the depth chart.
Possible fits: Evan Nause, D, Quebec (QMJHL); Sean Behrens, D, USA U-18 (USHL); Colton Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
Top priority: Best available player
First pick: No. 1
The situation: The Sabres missed the playofofs for the 10th consecutive season and tied the Columbus Blue Jackets for 28th in the NHL with an average of 2.39 goals per game, the ninth straight season they have finished in the bottom-third in scoring. They were also tied with the San Jose Sharks for the second-most goals allowed (196). Buffalo won the NHL Draft Lottery for the second time in four years and could choose University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, where they have 10 picks including two each in the second and third round. The organization has previously selected No. 1 three times: defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (2018), center Pierre Turgeon (1987) and center Gilbert Perreault (1970). The Sabres are building an impressive pipeline with forwards Jack Quinn (No. 8, 2020 NHL Draft), J-J Peterka (No. 34, 2020), and Rasmus Asplund (No. 33, 2016), defensemen Ryan Johnson (No. 31, 2019) and Mattias Samuelsson (No. 32, 2018), and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (No. 54, 2017).
Possible fits: Owen Power, D, Michigan (NCAA); Matthew Beniers, C, Michigan (NCAA); Simon Edvinsson, D, Frolunda Jr. (SWE-JR.)
DETROIT RED WINGS
Top priority: Power forward; goalie
First round picks: No. 6, No. 23 (from the Capitals)
The situation: The Red Wings’ rebuilding effort is starting to show promise. Moritz Seider (2019, No. 6) was named the defenseman of the year in the Swedish Hockey League. Forwards Lucas Raymond (2020, No. 4) and Joe Veleno (2018, No. 30) also could be ready to join a talented young core that includes defenseman Filip Hronek, 23, and forwards Dylan Larkin, 24, Filip Zadina, 21, and Michael Rasmussen, 22. Detroit has other prospects who might be a season or two away, among them forward Jonatan Berggren (2018, No. 33) and Theodor Niederbach (2020, No. 51) and defenseman William Wallinder (2020, No. 32). Look for the Red Wings to take the best available player with the first of two picks in the first round, and then possibly a goalie.
Possible fits: Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SWE); Mason McTavish, C, Peterborough (OHL); Sebastian Cossa, G, Edmonton (WHL)
Top priority: Defensemen depth
First pick: No. 24
The situation: The last defenseman the Panthers selected in the first round was Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. He averaged 0.63 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 33 games, the highest of his seven NHL seasons, but is coming back from a season-ending broken leg sustained March 28. MacKenzie Weegar (36 points; six goals, 30 assists, plus-29) had a breakout season but is 27 and Gustav Forsling (restricted) and Brandon Montour (unrestricted) are pending free agents. Adding to their prospect depth at the position should be a priority.
Possible fits: Evan Nause, D, Quebec (QMJHL); Sean Behrens, D, USA U-18 (NTDP); Daniil Chayka, D, CSKA (RUS)
Top priority: Depth at center
First pick: No. 31
The situation: The Canadiens have 11 picks in the draft, eight in the opening four rounds. The organization has done well in the previous two drafts. Defenseman Kaiden Guhle (2020, No. 16) scored three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games for second-place Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Forward Cole Caufield (2019, No. 15) won the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA player with the University of Wisconsin and scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 playoff games. Goalie Cayden Primeau (2017, No. 199) was 11-4-0 with a 2.10 GAA, .909 save percentage and two shutouts in 16 games for Laval in the American Hockey League. Canadiens assistant general manager Trevor Timmins has always been a staunch advocate of selecting the player with the most potential, regardless of size or position.
Possible fits: Zachary Bolduc, C, Rimouski (QMJHL); Fedor Svechkov, C, Togliatti (RUS-2); Corson Ceulemans, D, Brooks (AJHL)
Top priority: Goalie
First-round picks: No. 10
The situation: The Senators will be selecting in the top 10 of the draft for the third time in four years. Former NBC Sports hockey analyst Pierre McGuire was named senior vice president of player development July 12 and will play a role in drafting and developing players. Ottawa has targeted plenty of impact skaters in recent drafts: forward Brady Tkachuk (No. 4, 2018), defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (No. 26, 2018), defenseman Lassi Thomson (No. 19, 2019), forward Tim Stutzle (No. 3, 2020), defenseman Jake Sanderson (No. 5, 2020) and forward Ridly Greig (No. 28, 2020). They may want to add a future top-six center or high-end defenseman, but it might be tough to pass on one of the best International goalie prospects if Sweden-born Jesper Wallstedt is still on the board with the chance that goalie Matt Murray can be a UFA after the 2023-24 season. It’s also possible that the Senators trade down to accumulate more assets. Ottawa had seven rookies play at least five games this season. Forwards Artem Anisimov and Ryan Dzingel can each become a UFA.
Possible fits: Jesper Wallstedt, G, Lulea (SWE); Chaz Lucius, C, USA U-18 (USHL); Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls (USHL)
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Top priority: Prospect depth
First pick: No. 96
The situation: Tampa Bay’s most important players remain in the prime of their NHL careers and there are no obvious holes in their prospect pipeline. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions may want to address defenseman since Victor Hedman is 30 and Ryan McDonagh is 32. The Lightning won’t pick until the third round after trading their first-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman David Savard and their second-round pick to the Canadiens to move up in the 2020 draft and select center Jack Finley.
Possible fits: Aiden Hreschuk, D, USA U-18 (NTDP); Ryan Mast, D, Sarnia (OHL); Josh Doan, RW, Chicago (USHL)
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Top priority: Depth at all positions
First pick: No. 57
The situation: The Maple Leafs lost the first round to the Canadiens in seven games after leading the best-of-7 series 3-1 and are 0-8 in series-deciding games since 2018. Toronto is expected to have defenseman Rasmus Sandin (2018, No. 29) and forward Nicholas Robertson (2019, No. 53) playing full-time roles. Sandin quarterbacked the top power-play unit late in the season and Robertson had one assist in six games for the Maple Leafs and 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 21 games for Toronto in the AHL this season. The Maple Leafs chose seven forwards, four defensemen and a goalie in the 2020 draft and have three picks in this draft. They have no selections in the first, third, fourth and seventh round.
Possible fits: Benjamin Gaudreau, G, Sarnia (OHL); Jack Peart, D, Grand Rapids (HIGH-MN); Redmond Savage, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
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