2021 NHL Draft first round to begin, gets intrigue from Sabres, Kraken

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Defenseman Owen Power is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the first pick they won in the NHL Draft Lottery on June 2.

Power scored 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) and had a plus-20 rating in 26 games for the University of Michigan in his first NCAA season and was the only draft-eligible player with Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Latvia, where he had three assists and averaged 20:07 of ice time. Michigan has had 25 players chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft, but never at No. 1.

“I think any kid that plays hockey also wants to go No. 1 [in the NHL Draft] if they can, so everyone dreams about it,” Power said. “It’d be a huge honor to me and my family, and we’d be really excited but it’s not me making the decision. So if I don’t [go No. 1], it’s not that big of a deal and you still have got to prove yourself anyway.”

Rounds 2-7 will be Saturday (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).

The Sabres missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 10th consecutive season and tied for 28th in scoring (134 goals) with the Columbus Blue Jackets. They were tied with the San Jose Sharks for the second-most goals allowed (196).

“What’s exciting is, especially at the top of the draft, there’s a lot of players that we feel good about, and we’re continuing to kind of work through that,” Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams said July 1. “I love the draft process, it’s interesting to me. It’s a lot of fun to really try to project and evaluate where these … they’re young, they’re 18-year-olds most of them, and where they’ll be when they’re 23, 24 because it’s not an easy job to do.

“What we’ll talk about [is] what is best for this player and what is best for this franchise. You’re balancing all that and there are so many things that come into play; could be physical maturity, some of it could be mental maturity and you just don’t want to rush someone.”

Tweet from @NHLdotcom: Go listen to @NHL Draft Class! This week, David Gregory of @NHLCentralScout provides analysis. Plus, @mikemorrealeNHL & @NHLAdamK explain why @BuffaloSabres fans should be excited for Owen Power. 🎧 https://t.co/T6pdablBu8 pic.twitter.com/pYAUu0AYeg

Power has said he’s leaning toward returning to Michigan for a second season, but Adams said that wouldn’t affect the Sabres’ decision.

“Zero for us does it factor into whose name we call tomorrow,” Adams said Thursday. “I know I’ve said this before, clearly you’re looking to draft who we believe is the top player, but also who’s going to be the top player projecting out, moving forward, and that’s obviously challenging. So this isn’t about who comes out of the gate and Day One is the best player. This is about where they go in their career. Development is never a straight line. You want to put these players in a position to continue to get better, continue to grow, continue to be ready when they step into the NHL.

“This is a tough league. So I think one mistake we don’t want to make is putting someone in a position that they’re just treading water. We want them to be ready to play.”

The Seattle Kraken begin play in the NHL next season and will make their first pick at No. 2. 

Contributing to the unpredictability and due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, several players were forced to come up with alternative options to showcase their ability in their draft-eligible season, and scouts across the NHL had to resort to other means of evaluation with game and isolation video.

“We’ve done a lot of homework, basically through video,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “It’s going to be an extremely challenging draft for sure. There’s going to be players, especially from the [Ontario Hockey League], who may not have played a game since last March, so you’re watching on video. There’s guys from that league playing in Europe and you have to evaluate what that level of competition is and how they stack up. Everyone’s in the same boat, but we don’t have the database that other teams have.”

The Anaheim Ducks have the No. 3 pick, the New Jersey Devils have the first of two first-round choices at No. 4, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have the first of three first-round selections at No. 5.

Rounding out the top six North American skaters are center Mason McTavish of Peterborough (OHL), center Kent Johnson of Michigan, defenseman Luke Hughes of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, forward Dylan Guenther of Edmonton in the Western Hockey League, and center Matthew Beniers of Michigan. 

Never have three players from the same NCAA program been selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.

“The No. 2 spot on our [North American] list was not easy to get to,” Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “Nos. 2-6 were not consensus spots and everyone can make an argument for any one of these players. Beniers can go No. 2 and it wouldn’t surprise any of us. We’re talking about some exceptionally talented, yet very different style players available, but all earmarked to have very strong NHL careers.”

Tweet from @NHLdotcom: With the 2021 @NHL Draft days away, @mikemorrealeNHL & @NHLAdamK go over their final mock draft of the first round & debate the reasons they had certain players matched with particular teams.https://t.co/HDdigDQilk

McTavish 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 impressed at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, when he scored 11 points (five goals, six assists) in seven games and helped Canada win the tournament.

Johnson thrived at left wing for Michigan; he scored 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 26 games and was first among first-time NHL draft-eligible NCAA players in assists and points.

Never has a family from the United States had three brothers chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft, but Hughes should change that. He’s the younger brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes (2018 NHL Draft, No. 7) and New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (2019, No. 1), and is committed to play at Michigan next season. He scored 34 points (six goals, 28 assists) in 38 games for the NTDP U-18 team.

Guenther scored 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 12 games for Edmonton and led Canada with 34 shots on goal in seven games at the U-18s, when he had seven points (four goals, three assists).

Beniers scored 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 24 games at Michigan. He helped the United States win the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as its youngest player and was the only draft-eligible player to represent it at the World Championship.

William Eklund of Djurgarden in the Swedish Hockey League is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters. The forward was named rookie of the year in the SHL and overcame an emergency appendectomy and a positive COVID-19 test to score 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) and average 15:29 of ice time in 40 games.

“He plays bigger than the size, he’s got a good low center of gravity (5-foot=-0, 176 pounds) that he uses with his agility to win battles and make plays off the cycle,” Devils vice president of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. 

Defenseman Simon Edvinsson (No. 2 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters) averaged 5:48 of ice time in 10 games with Frolunda in the SHL and scored four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games to help Sweden finish third at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship.

Jesper Wallstedt of Lulea in the SHL is No. 1 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International goalies and is expected to be the first Sweden-born goalie chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft.

The top North American goalie is Sebastian Cossa of Edmonton in the Western Hockey League.

Two goalies have not been selected in the first round since 2012, when Andrei Vasilevskiy was the No. 19 pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Malcolm Subban was chosen by the Boston Bruins at No. 24. 

“There is a good chance to see both Wallstedt and Cossa be selected in the first round,” Marr said. “Not only because they are the best at their position but also because they are both well-known commodities who have competed consistently at elite levels, which may lend support to first-round consideration.”

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