0 of 4
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The 2021 NHL Draft is unlike any other in recent memory.
There was a level of uncertainty with this draft class from the very beginning, as the talent pool is diluted and there was no strong consensus for ranking the players. Those things tend to get sorted out over the course of the season, but the COVID-19 pandemic completely derailed that possibility for many prospects. Tournaments were canceled. Some players were forced to play in unfamiliar leagues. Some had limited seasons, and some played no more than a handful of competitive games.
It creates an environment where there is more uncertainty than ever before. Teams will have to make franchise-changing decisions with limited information.
There will be 31 picks made in Tuesday’s first round. The Arizona Coyotes, slated to pick at 11th overall, were forced to forfeit the selection for draft combine testing violations. The draft order can be viewed here, though keep in mind that trades might happen that could change the order.
We’ll be offering a scouting report of every player selected in the first round, as well as a grade for each selection, here, with live updates happening as each pick is announced. Enjoy the show and get excited about your favorite team’s future, but keep in perspective that these are teenagers under immense pressure.
1 of 4
Sergei Grits/Associated Press
Defenseman Owen Power is the type of player who will stand out to viewers during his very first shift. NHL Central Scouting lists him at 6’6” and 213 pounds, which is massive by NHL standards, let alone for an 18-year-old playing college hockey.
Supplementing that size is his impressive skating ability. The Ontario native has a lot of strength in his stride and is able to cover a lot of ice with just a few vertical steps. Other players create zone entries by misdirection. For Power, it’s about pure momentum. And while nobody is going to mistake him for Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar, he is more than competent at walking the blue line laterally and beating covering wingers into lower, more dangerous areas of the offensive zone.
Power is not purely brawn. He does have a hockey brain and decent hands to match. He’s not likely to quarterback the play at the NHL level, but he does typically make good decisions with the puck and has a knack for finding cross-ice passing opportunities in the offensive zone. Already highlighted was his ability to enter the offensive zone with speed, but he is also capable of finding the right outlets. He’ll be useful in moving the puck up the ice and has good enough hands and vision to contribute his share in the offensive zone, but he probably lacks the finesse and shooting ability to become a major point-producer.
Defensively, Power has a lot of upside. He’s a responsible player who rarely makes the mistakes typical of a young defenseman while trying to be too aggressive. In fact, it’s in his interest to loosen up on the conservative mentality. For one, Buffalo will want him to become meaner in front of the net. He also tends to keep a large gap between himself and puck-carriers, knowing he has the reach to make up the space using his stick. This works well against college players, but professionals take advantage of any space offered, however small. He needs to learn how to keep tighter gaps and use his big frame to clog up space.
Power is a top prospect, but big defensemen who can skate are a classic trap for scouts. Such physical abilities were so overwhelming at lower levels that they never needed to learn the problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in the NHL. When a player figures it out, he becomes Victor Hedman or Aaron Ekblad. Otherwise, he becomes Rasmus Ristolainen or Tyler Myers: an NHL-caliber defenseman whose output underperforms expectations.
A cautious expectation for Power is that he will become a top-four NHL defenseman who heavily features on the penalty kill and maybe the second power-play unit. How much more he can achieve will come down to development and perhaps the coaching prowess in Buffalo. Power would not have been my pick at first overall, but it’s definitely a reasonable selection.
2 of 4
Al Goldis/Associated Press
We did a more in-depth scouting report on Matthew Beniers here.
An American center, Beniers was the best forward on the USA Hockey National Development Program U18 team in 2019-20 despite playing a year ahead. He played college hockey last season at the University of Michigan and was arguably the top player on the team.
Beniers possesses no physical abilities that stand out in isolation. Rather, his effectiveness offensively is through the layering of multiple skills. He’s a B+ skater. His straight-line speed is fine, but it’s his ability to change directions that makes the difference. That, combined with his knack for anticipating the decisions of others, results in incredible puck-carrying success. He’s a machine on zone exits and entries and can beat multiple layers of the opposition forecheck single-handedly.
In the offensive zone, he’s more of a playmaker than a finisher. He can play keepaway for ages, forcing the opposition to move with him. This creates inevitable confusion and lane openings. Beniers also has great vision and passing prowess, so he constantly exploits these breakdowns by threading passes to teammates in scoring positions.
Finally, Beniers is a diligent defensive presence. He works hard to recover pucks and is relentless in pursuing opposing puck-carriers.
A lack of scoring touch will limit his upside, but Beniers is a safe bet to become a first- or second-line center who plays in all situations and influences the game in every zone.
3 of 4
Mason McTavish has been a tough one to figure out. His abilities aren’t the type that jump out on the first or second shift. Rather, to appreciate his game requires a number of viewings.
He possesses some qualities that are already pretty close to NHL-ready. At 6’2” and 207 pounds, he’s already pretty close to NHL size. It doesn’t go to waste, either, as McTavish knows exactly how to leverage his strength. He has tremendous balance on his skates. He’s extremely difficult to knock off the puck, especially once he widens his stance. He protects the puck well, particularly in motion. He’s overpowering in board battles and at the net front. McTavish is heavy in every sense of the word.
Offensively, McTavish’s skill set is varied. He can score in a number of ways. He has a weighty wrist shot, with power generated from loaded feet pre-release. But he can just as easily beat a goaltender with a more subtle wrist flick. As a passer, for all of his brawn, McTavish has a knack for soft-touch feeds. Defensemen don’t anticipate it, as there’s little movement in his arms. He’s able to disguise his intentions with a sleight of hand. He’s not necessarily one to hit a teammate’s tape with a saucer from the other side of the rink, but his vision and hands mean he can slip pucks to teammates through traffic.
The appropriate term to describe McTavish’s offensive game is gravity. He layers a number of positive attributes and welcomes defenders to engage physically, as he trusts his instincts and strength to hold them off and then exploit the space left behind.
McTavish has a lot of defensive acumen as well. He’s not going to heroically catch a puck-carrier from behind on a transition rush or sprint across the defensive zone to bail out someone’s missed assignment because he doesn’t have the feet for that. But McTavish is tough to outmaneuver in confined spaces of the defensive and neutral zones. He’s responsible in his assignments and is intuitive with his stick placement to cut off pass attempts. He uses his strength to push players off of pucks.
Unfortunately, mediocre skating limits McTavish’s upside, but he otherwise rates positively in virtually every other facet of the game. There are questions about whether he will stick at center or need to move to the wing as he moves up the pro ladder, but McTavish is one of the safest bets in this draft because of his mature game and ability to layer a number of physical qualities in every situation. He has upside as a second-line center and, at worst, won’t fall outside the confines of a good team’s top-nine forward group.
This early in the draft is all about taking the best player available, but the Ducks badly need a center to complement Trevor Zegras and McTavish is a defendable pick in this range
4 of 4
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
The younger brother of NHL stars Quinn and Jack, Luke Hughes in some ways mirrors them and in other ways is a different commodity.
Let’s start with the similarities. Like his brothers, Luke is a brilliant skater. His straight-line speed might be better than Quinn’s, as he’s bigger and has a longer stride. And although he may not have the same level of elite shiftiness, it’s still a positive quality. From the back end, he can skate the puck into the offensive zone himself, using his tremendous speed to attack open areas of ice and using his edges to change direction whenever a forechecker dares to step up.
It’s in the offensive zone where the differences become clear. While Luke has enough acumen to utilize his speed to transport the puck up the ice, he gets tunnel vision in the offensive zone and lacks the vision and instincts to make that final play to create a shot either for himself or a teammate. Opposing defenses have discovered the merits of funneling him to the outside, where he’s limited in affecting the play once his skating has been taken out of the equation.
His passing is perfectly fine when there are clear openings, but he’s not going to execute high-difficulty or even many moderate-difficulty plays to create scoring chances for his team. His shot is also average at best. Hughes relies on his physical tools to create offense, which overwhelms at the junior level but won’t against professionals.
Where Luke does have more upside than Quinn is on the defensive side of play. Like Quinn, Luke uses his skating ability to extinguish plays. He will inexplicably win races to pucks despite starting a few steps behind the closest opposing forward. His gap control is excellent. He will start out by defending the middle lane, funneling the puck-carrier to the board before quickly moving over and eliminating all space and ending the rush. And unlike his brothers, Luke is 6’2”. He uses his reach to disrupt rushes and, as he grows, will be able to add a physical component to his game.
There are two schools of thought regarding Hughes. The first is concerned that he is overly reliant on his skating and that he lacks the problem-solving skills to be a meaningful offensive contributor at higher levels. The other recognizes that he is one of the youngest players in this draft and believes he will have a lot of time to integrate better decision-making into his arsenal.
There’s mutual agreement that Hughes is raw but has a lot of upside, and a good compromise on his projection is probably a top-four defenseman who transitions the puck up the ice. Hughes could very well end up justifying this selection, but there were a few other players with similar upside but more certainty available at fourth overall.