10 Players I Love in the 2021 NHL Draft

10 Players I find I’m Ranking Way Higher Than the Consensus

This is my first year writing for DBTB as a staff writer, but I’ve been in this community since 2015. For the past few years I’ve laid out a pretty consistent pattern of posts that I make leading up to the draft including: the final draft rankings (coming the second week of June), bold predictions, 5 players for every Sabres draft slot, and a final mock draft/1st round draft contest.

This year heading into the NHL draft lottery on June 2nd I thought I’d add two posts to the schedule: 10 players that I’m higher on, and 10 players I’m lower on than the consensus rankings or where players have been projected to be drafted.

This post will focus on the 10 prospects that I am continually finding myself drafting in simulated and live mock drafts, or finding myself as an outlier for having them ranked so high when other media outlets release their prospect rankings.

To be considered for this list players had to be one of two things:

1.) If they’re a consensus first round pick: I have them at a significantly higher tier than the consensus.

2.) 2nd round+ consensus players: I had to have them at least a full round earlier in where I’m targeting to acquire them.

Without further adieu: the 1st annual 10 Players I Love for the 2021 draft

10.) Ethan Cardwell*, C, HockeyEttan (8/30/02)

5’11, 181 lbs

18gp, 9g, 27pts

My Rank: #64, my target range: 5th round

NHLCSS: #159 NA skater, projected 6/7th round pick

Consensus: Not ranked

Justifying my draft rank:

I think it simply comes down to that he’s given me the season I expected after his draft year.   Both he and Cam Berg have similar stories in that they were having lackluster draft eligible years, but a mid-season trade saw their seasons turn around. Had Evan Vierling not taken the top center position alongside Foerster last year I thought Cardwell was almost a lock to be drafted, and I anointed him with the Nic Robertson Award as the player most likely to take a PPG draft year pace with an extremely late birthday and go nuts in their DY+1.

Unfortunately, the North American crowd did not get to see that as the OHL never played and Cardwell went to the third division Swedish league to play this year where he ripped it apart for 27 points in 18 games against men.

Even under normal circumstances I’d have pegged him in this draft slot, but given the small sample sizes we’ve been given for the WHL/OHL players I thought Cardwell would be regarded more as a mid-round pick and not off the draft radar like he has been.

9.) Lorenzo Canonica, C, QMJHL (9/3/03)

5’11, 163 lbs

24gp, 6g, 16pts

My Rank: #53, my target range: 4th round

NHLCSS: #62 NA Skater: projected 5th/6th round pick

Consensus: #69, 3rd-5th round

Justifying my draft rank:

Canonica is a player that isn’t going to pop off the screen when you watch him play, nor is he going to put up gaudy numbers as a draft eligible player. However, when you dig into the positive sequences of plays that happen when he’s on the ice he’s often the catalyst behind it. Coming into the year the biggest question mark often referenced was his skating and lack of pace. While still not an above average skater; I find that he’s able to control the play on the ice with his ability to drive position and win small-area battles to keep plays alive.

His defensive game is outstanding, and if I’m chasing a bottom 6 center I think he fits the bill as one of the best available in the mid-rounds.

8.) Jake Martin, RHD, USNTDP (3/18/03)

6’0, 190 lbs

38gp, 4g, 14pts

My Rank: #47, projected range: late 3rd-4th round

NHLCSS: #211 NA skater: projected 5th+ round pick

Consensus: #73, projected 4th+ round pick

Justifying my rank:

Jake Martin is criminally underrated. Mitch Brown of EPRinkside calls him him the most unheralded USNTDP player this draft year. Will Scouch’s data has him as one of the best defensive blue transition players in this draft. When you watch Martin play it becomes extremely evident that he excels at defending the blue line and making quick decision in puck retrieval to keep control of the puck on defensive exits. He is poised under pressure, and works hard in the defensive zone to minimize players from gaining the time or position to be able to complete or attempt dangerous shots/passes.

While he shows skill in his defensive zone exits: it doesn’t translate to the offensive zone or offensive zone entries. He prefers to hammer the puck into the zone once he gets to the red line and makes simple plays from the backend when in the zone.

The first paragraph makes him an ideal defensive-defensemen to target, however if any of the skill ever flashes or progresses in the offensive end then he could be a steal in the making. Heading to the University of Wisconsin next year it’ll be fun to track his progress in what will be a very difficult conference the next few years.

7.) Sean Tschigerl, LW, WHL (4/11/03)

6’0, 181 lbs

21gp, 13g, 21pts

My rank: #36, projected range: 3rd round

NHLCSS: #59 NA skater, projected 5th round

Consensus: Not ranked

Justifying my ranking:

This is just going to end up being a fact: Sean Tschigerl will be drafted by me in the third/fourth round of this draft for the Sabres. That I am 100% certain. I know I’m on a bit of an island with Tschigerl compared to most ranking sites and the NHLCSS. Let me explain.

Tschigerl came into the WHL as the #4 pick in 2018 and really struggled to find a role for himself.  In the 2019-20 season if you watched Tschigerl you’d see a powerful skating, physical LW who played a 200ft game who flashed skill but really didn’t find a way to translate his skill into meaningful production or transition ability.

After a slow start this year: Tschigerl began to put it all together and took off. He was one of the highest involved players in offensive zone transitions that I tracked. He put a ton of pucks into dangerous areas with his passes. He was relentless in his scoring efforts and was rewarded with 13 goals in 21 games. Combine that with the 200ft game that he put together for himself last year and he has started to really round out into a complete player. There are still things to improve on. He can be a bit of a “man-without-a-plan” when he gains the zone and find himself not manipulating the defense but rather running into trouble and trying to bail himself out with a low danger shot or an errant pass to a high-danger area. He has bobbled more than his fair share of pucks.

Alas, one of the biggest growth areas for me this year as I dig into prospect hockey is to look more at development and what a player can be as opposed to just what they are at the moment. Jack Han talks about it in his four aspects of scouting. Ryan Hardy tweeted about it after the 2020 draft. When I look at Tschigerl I’m not drafting him for the player he is right now, but rather looking at the development curve, seeing his pedigree really coming into form, and knowing there are tools that he possesses that he’s still scratching the surface with (his skill+pace, shooting ability, connecting more on his dangerous pass attempts).

As a potential 3rd-4th round pick it’s a pretty low-risk gamble regardless, but he’s a player that I’d be shocked if he didn’t severely outperform his current draft stock.

6.) Brent Johnson, RHD, USHL (3/20/03)

5’11, 165 lbs

47gp, 11g, 32pts

My rank: #35, projected range: mid-2nd round

NHLCSS: #38 NA skater, projected 3rd round

Consensus: #64, 3rd round pick

Justifying my ranking:

There are players who when you watch them play just have an “it” factor. While Brent Johnson isn’t a finished product nor in my first round: Brent Johnson’s ability to manipulate the layers of a defense in a breakout or the offensive zone is so natural that it’s hard not to fall in love with the way he plays. He makes difficult plays look easy, and his aggression moving the puck comes across as the easy play rather than the high-risk play.

He activates smartly from the blue line. He’s not the most aggressive defensemen in the offensive zone this draft, but when he does activate he’s moving to areas of the ice to get a good look at a shot, and with the puck on his stick he’ll use his skill and vision to hit teammates all over the ice.

Johnson came out of nowhere this year. Unlike Tschigerl who was a bit of a disappointment with his WHL draft pedigree, Brent Johnson had one year of high end AAA hockey and then was thrust into a top pairing role in the USHL.

The skills are very good, he’s smaller but still physical, and his brain is high end. He’s an ideal target for me with the second Boston pick if Dylan Duke or the next guy aren’t available.

5.) Ville Koivunen, W, U20 SM-sarja (6/13/03)

6’0, 165 lbs

38gp, 23g, 49pts

My Rank: #34, projected range: early 2nd round

NHLCSS: #20 European skater: 3rd round

Consensus: #58, late 2nd round

Justifying my ranking:

I find it a bit asinine that Koivunen isn’t a high second round pick as a consensus in this year’s draft. His impact on the game is evident every time he steps on the ice. He has a relentless motor, is a driver in the transition game, has outstanding vision, and plays a 200ft game. If you were going to say anything negative about Koivunen it might be his skating mechanics, but even then his pace of play is still really high given the effort he gives on every shift.

Koivunen is a stand out in Lassi Alanen’s u20 tracking data, won the u20 SM-sarja Rookie of the Year award, put up 10 points in 7 games in the u18s, and also passes the eye test...so why isn’t he a borderline first round pick?

This one screams, to me, that a market correction is coming to Koivunen and he will be ranked right around where I have him (or higher) come draft time. However, if he continues to be ranked as a late-second or early-third round player then the Sabres could walk away with a steal with the Boston pick.

4.) Scott Morrow, RHD, USHS-Prep (11/1/02)

6’2, 192 lbs

30gp, 8g, 48pts

My Rank: #19, projected range: mid-1st round

NHLCSS: #39 NA skater

Consensus: #32, late first round

Justifying my ranking:

At this moment in time I am the highest on Morrow in the public ranking sphere. Similar to Tschigerl: I’m banking on Morrow on just starting a massive upswing in his developmental curve. Morrow is one of the most skilled defensemen in this draft class with his offensive talent. Outside of Brandt Clarke he has the best pure puck skill in the class from the backend. The way he can walk the blue line, make opposing players look silly as he dances around them, create opportunities on the rush, and use his vision in high-end ways is absurd for a player who played high school hockey for the majority of the year and then jumped into the USHL for the playoffs.

While he has great skill and skating: in the defensive zone he’s not afraid to use his size and strength to move players out from in front of the net or break up a cycle by using the body to disrupt a puck carrier.

His transition to the USHL didn’t come without some bumps. He could get a bit careless trying to do too much which led to some odd-man rushes coming back on him. He could get too tunnel visioned in the defensive zone where he focused on his assignment more than the play developing around him.

However, in the neutral zone and both in offensive and defensive transition he shows a tremendous amount of anticipation to know where play is going and to dictate the results he desires.

A lot of this community has advocated for a high-end defensemen at the top of the draft if Beniers isn’t available. Scott Morrow is the reason why if we were to take who I have at #1 in this list I wouldn’t say we missed on a top-tier defensive prospect.

3.) Mackie Samoskevich, RW, USHL (11/15/02)

5’11, 190 lbs

36gp, 13g, 37pts

My Rank: #15, projected range: mid-1st round

NHLCSS: #26 NA skater, projected range: 2nd round

Consensus: #31, late first round

Justifying my ranking:

I would first like to say that if anyone watched the Biosteel All-American game and came away thinking that Mackie Samoskevich wasn’t the best player on the ice, by far, then I would say send me a Twitter DM and come on over so I can go shift-by-shift and gush about Samoskevich. It’s one game, sure, but what Samoskevich did over the course of this year was just dazzle you with high-end skill and play-after-play of “I can’t believe he just did that!”

This is a player that I think if he doesn’t go inside the top 25 it’s criminal. I never advocate for trading up but IF we ever were to trade up a few spots and took Samoskevich I promise I’d be mute online about it. Everything about Samoskevich’s game, to me, is exceptional. His topend speed isn’t to write home about, but possesses great three-step acceleration and is great on his edges. His puck skill is high-end. His vision is high-end. His brain and ability to generate his skill into dangerous areas of the ice is high-end. He isn’t an outstanding defender, but he’s involved enough that he isn’t a net-negative.

Really when it comes down to it: his production didn’t match the eye test. That’s all I can think of for why he’s being ranked behind players like Lucius, Sillinger, and Coronato from the USHL. Because even when all of them were on the ice, even when his team lost something ridiculous like 7-1 to the NTDP....it was Samoskevich who stole the show in the All-America game.

Draft Mackie Samoskevich, watch him rip apart the Big 10 at Michigan next year, and then laugh when he’s in your top 6 within three years of drafting him.

2.) Logan Stankoven, C, WHL (2/26/03)

5’8, 170 lbs

6gp, 7g, 10pts (7gp, 4g, 8pts in u18s)

My Rank: #14, mid-1st round

NHLCSS: #31 NA skaters, projected range: 2nd round

Consensus: #19, mid-1st round

Justifying my ranking:

Did you watch the u18s? If yes, then go to Eklund because you already know what I’m about to say.

Yes, Stankoven is small. Yes, he isn’t the fastest player ever at 5’8. Now that we have those two things out of the way: he has a very good (not elite...but close) shot, his small area puck skill and vision is high-end, and he is magnificent at reading the play and being two steps ahead to be in the right place at the right time. He finds space easily despite his size, and has been dominant in the WHL in his six game season and then went to the u18s and was a part of the most dominant line at the tournament.

His transition game, in terms of the puck on his stick, is a bit worrisome. His skating (similar to Kent Johnson) does limit him being able to go end-to-end on a rush. However, unlike Johnson, Stankoven is exceptional at finding teammates and while he may not ever be the drivers seat the entire time from an defensive exit-offensive entry; you can bet heavily that he’ll have a part in moving that puck up the ice in a positive manner.

He’s a player where his size won’t hinder the game he plays. Lean in on the shot, the playmaking, the offensive zone ability, and the vision to move the puck up the ice.

1.) William Eklund, LW, SHL (10/12/02)

5’10, 172 lbs

40gp, 11g, 23pts

My Rank: #2

NHLCSS: #1 European skaters

Consensus: #5

Justifying my ranking:

Despite being my #1 on this list I’m going to keep Eklund the shortest because a lot will be written about him in the upcoming months. I do feel the need to justify having Beniers and him as my top two options for the Sabres if we were to fall to the third pick in the 2021 draft.

First, let me say, that I wouldn’t be upset if we drafted any of Power/Clarke/Edvinsson/Hughes so long as Beniers is off the board. I understand the positional value over taking a winger, and while it’s not the decision I would make, all of those defensemen have upside to be optimistic about.

However, if we took Guenther or Kent Johnson over Eklund I’d be up in arms about it.

Here’s the thing: we can’t miss with this top 3 pick. Eklund screams can’t miss. Exceptional in transition in the SHL, exceptional vision and playmaking ability, and is physical enough at 5’10 that he almost excels in puck battles in the SHL and making plays along the board. His goal scoring ability I think will get overblown by those who are going to quote counting stats. He’s not Lukas Reichel where he got a lot of shot attempts from dangerous areas of the ice and I don’t think his 18% shooting percentage is indicative to his shooting talent.

He can slide into the top 6 as a driver of possession and a fantastic facilitator in the offensive zone. He’s smaller, European, and a winger. The chances he goes top 3 are slim, but I’d do it in a heartbeat.