Trio of Wolverines head 2021 NHL Draft class swirling with questions, mysteries

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

Detroit — The world junior tournament is beginning shortly, the junior and college hockey seasons would be skating along, and talk of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft would start to surface.

In a typical hockey season, that is.

But, as we know, right now (or most of the year) is anything but typical, with junior and college hockey hit-and-miss around the globe and the NHL not even yet playing.

But there will be an NHL Draft at some point in 2021. That will not change. So compiling a draft list will not be the easiest thing NHL amateur scouts will ever do.

Since there have been so many tournaments and games canceled for this particular draft class because of the pandemic, getting an accurate read on some of these prospects will be difficult.

The chances to watch them play have been so limited, compared to previous years. For that reason, many different teams might have completely different opinions on different players.

If you talk to talent evaluators, or skim hardcore draft reports, there isn’t yet a definite consensus of top-5 or top-10 players.

It’s all over the board, given the lack of junior games in Canada and stop-and-starts in Europe because of the global virus.

Still, three Michigan prospects from an ultra-talented freshman class are impressing everyone early, led by defenseman Owen Power, who many scouts felt would be an early draft selection.

There are approximately 10 players who are liable to work their way into being top-five or so selections in a draft season that is surely going to fluctuate and stay fluid for months.

With that, here’s an early look at top players in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft class:

Owen Power, defense, Michigan: There’s a lot of uncertainty around this draft class, but Power is about as sure a thing as possible. A 6-foot-5, 215-pound defenseman who is reliable at both ends, Power has a great shot, is mobile and breaks ups plays on the defensive end. He’s playing in every situation at Michigan and has been impressive. Unless Power’s performance tails off significantly the rest of the winter, it’ll be shocking if he doesn’t get selected within the first five picks.

Brandt Clarke, defense, Barrie (OHL): Another of the recent, prototypical offensive defensemen who will cause opposing coaching staffs consternation. Clarke (6-1, 181 pounds) isn’t afraid to handle the puck down the ice and find defensive seams, and he has an accurate and effective shot. Clarke doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities and is effective positionally. He should be picked early in this draft class.

Dylan Guenther, left wing/right wing, Edmonton (WHL): Many draft projections have Guenther going somewhere in the top five currently, given his success last season. Guenther (6-1, 170 pounds) was the 2019 WHL Rookie of the Year, showing an advanced ability with the puck. He’s comfortable driving to the net or looking for opportunities on the perimeter, and he’s particularly dangerous in transition searching for openings. Guenther’s offensive skill should translate to the pro level.

Aatu Raty, center, Karpat (Finland): This is interesting. Raty was considered a lock to be picked within the first five picks for the past two years. But his lackluster performance playing in a men’s league has some scouts worried. Raty (6-1, 177 pounds) isn’t playing much and his confidence is wavering, according to some reports. He has some maturing to do, but it’s hard to overlook the offense he showed as a 16- and 17-year-old in junior tournaments.

Kent Johnson, center, Michigan: Another of UM’s talented freshmen, Johnson isn’t big (6-1, 165 pounds) or physical — and that part of his game will need to develop over time — but he has the ability to break open games the way he passes and can see the ice. He has great poise with the puck. Some talent evaluators feel Johnson has as much pure offensive ability as anyone in this draft class.

Carson Lambos, defense, Winnipeg (WHL): Some scouts view Lambos right there with Power, given the way Lambos has played on loan in Europe this season. Lambos (6-1, 200 pounds) is the type of player who isn’t going to make the highlight packages every night, but he consistently makes plays and is utterly reliable on defense. He’s a real safe pick who should play in the NHL for a long time.

Matthew Beniers, center, Michigan: Another talented UM prospect who has been awfully impressive to start the season. Beniers has good size (6-1, 174 pounds) and plays an impressive two-way game. He wins battles all over the ice, makes smart plays with the puck and can be used in a variety of roles. Beniers looks to be an early draft pick.

Luke Hughes, defense, USNTDP: The younger brother of Quinn (Vancouver Canucks) and Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils), Luke is the defenseman in the family. Luke (6-2, 176 pounds) has a bit more size than his older brothers, but he has similar skating skills and instincts with the puck. Hughes has steadily risen on most scouts’ draft lists in recent months.

Simon Edvinsson, defense, Frolunda (Sweden): There is a bit of mixed reaction to Edvinsson. He has the size (6-4, 185 pounds) and ability with the puck, but some scouts are worried if there is another level to reach or if this is as good as Edvinsson gets. Edvinsson is a fine puck-handler and can manufacture plays, but he has to do it consistently. He’s likely too intriguing to pass up early in the draft.

Fabian Lysell, left wing, Frolunda (Sweden): Lysell is listed as only 5-10, 176 pounds, but his abundance of offensive skills compensate for the lack of size. An NHL team is likely to give Lysell a bit of time to mature into his body, but he doesn’t back down from physical challenges, so that’s a positive. He has the ability to create offensive chances out of a seemingly quiet possession. Some teams like Lysell high in this draft.

William Eklund, center, Djurgardens (Sweden): There were some doubts coming into this season, but Eklund has had a fantastic start (10 points in 15 games) and seems on his way to be a definite first-round pick. Eklund (5-10, 172 pounds) is a great skater and plays with a motor that never stops. He could sneak higher on lists if he continues his hot start.

Daniil Chayka, defense, Guelph (OHL): He’s more of an old-school defenseman who does all the dirty work, is sound positionally and knows how to use his stick but can surprise offensively. Probably not a top-10 pick, but Chayka (6-3, 185 pounds) should go somewhere in the teens for sure.

Chaz Lucius, center, USNTDP: A 31-goal scorer last season on the Under-17 team, Lucius (6-foot, 172 pounds) has missed time this season due to injuries but scouts were impressed with what they saw last year. He could be a shrewd selection for some team.

Cole Sillinger, left wing, Medicine Hat (WHL): The son of former Red Wing Mike Sillinger, Cole plays with the same type of tenacity. But unlike his dad, Cole (6-foot, 187 pounds) has more of a well-rounded offensive game.

Jesper Wallstedt, goaltender, Lulea (Finland): It seems there’s been a goalie standout in the past several drafts, and this year it’s definitely Wallstedt who is exciting people. He’s a 6-foot-3, 214-pound netminder who is calm, athletic and already seems to have polished technique. One worry, though, is his average start to this season.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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