Detroit — Michigan hockey will likely be well represented at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.
If there was any more doubt, it was quashed Thursday when three Michigan Wolverines — defenseman Owen Power and forwards Kent Johnson and Matthew Beniers — were ranked in the top six of the final rankings by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau for North American skaters for the 2021 draft.
No NCAA team has ever had three players selected in the first round, but that is likely to change at this year’s virtual event on July 23-24.
“For the University of Michigan, this season was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence where three of the best prospects in the NHL Draft class competed on the same team,” said Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting.
“Each plays a different position and style, and all contributed as freshmen. Credit to coach Mel Pearson for placing them in leadership roles to contribute and develop at the NCAA level. He helped guide them to be the best they could be.”
Power, a 6-foot-6 mobile defenseman, is ranked No. 1 among North American skaters — as Power has in many mock drafts and rankings throughout the season. Johnson is No. 3 and Beniers No. 6.
Power had three goals and 13 assists in 26 games this season, was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, earned second team all-conference honors, and is playing for Team Canada at the men’s world championships.
The mobility and size are key attributes when analyzing Power, plus the fact he can be plugged into any type of role, both specialty teams, and plays with some snarl in his game.
“Power is an excellent package of NHL size, skating and attributes which he utilizes effectively in all situations,” Marr said. “His hockey sense is intuitive and instinctive. A very fluid and agile skater who can transition quickly on plays and separate himself from checking. He plays a mature game for his age and is at the top of this draft class.”
Power can become the third NCAA player taken with the No. 1 overall pick, and first since the New York Islanders selected goaltender Rick DiPietro (Boston University) in 2000.
The other was forward Joe Murphy, by the Red Wings, in 1986. Murphy spent four unsuccessful seasons with the Wings before being traded to Edmonton for Jimmy Carson.
Aaron Ward, another former Red Wing, was the highest selected player out of Michigan’s program, being picked fifth overall in 1991 by Winnipeg.
Johnson, a 6-1, 163-pound forward, had 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 26 games at Michigan this season.
A shifty, creative playmaker, Johnson is expected to be picked somewhere in the top five on most mock drafts.
Beniers (6-1, 174 pounds) was also a point per game with the Wolverines, with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 24 games.
An effective two-way center, Beniers is an outstanding forechecker and many scouts rave about his defensive ability, feeling it matches his offensive potential.
Rounding out the top five North American skaters in the rankings are forward Mason McTavish (Peterborough/OHL) at No. 2, followed by defenseman Luke Hughes, out of the Plymouth Township-based U.S. National Team Development program, at No. 4 and forward Dylan Guenther (Edmonton/WHL) at No. 5.
With the Ontario Hockey League unable to play this season because of the pandemic, McTavish played 13 games in Olten (Switzerland), while also playing for Canada at the world junior championships.
Hughes is the younger brother of recent top draft picks defenseman Quinn Hughes (2018, No. 7 by Vancouver) and forward Jack Hughes (2019, No. 1 by New Jersey), both of whom also played in the USNTDP (Quinn also played one season at Michigan).
At 6-2 and 176 pounds, Luke Hughes is taller and projects to be bulkier than his brothers, but he also possesses the top-end skating ability the family has.
Also released by NHL Central Scouting Thursday were the international skaters and goaltenders (both North American and international).
Forward William Eklund (Sweden) was the top-ranked international skater, while goaltender Sebastian Cossa (Edmonton/WHL) was the top North American goalie and Jesper Wallstedt (Sweden) was the No. 1-ranked international goalie.
“Eklund is a speedy winger who played a big role on Djurgarden in the Swedish Hockey League,” Marr said. “He competes and works hard with excellent hockey sense, quickness and elite puck skills to be both a playmaker and a scorer. A scoring threat on every shift, he plays bigger than his size and plays to win.”
In its 46th year of operation, NHL Central Scouting provides evaluation and scouting of draft-eligible players to NHL member clubs.
Headed by Marr, NHL Central Scouting employs eight full-time scouts throughout North America, while Goran Stubb oversees the European Scouting Services based in Finland.