The NHL's Central Scouting department released its final rankings on Thursday for the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft starting on Friday, July 23. The final rankings profile more than 400 skaters and goaltenders eligible for the draft playing in both North America and internationally.
Sitting atop the North American skaters rankings is University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power. The 6-foot-6 defenseman is one of three Wolverines ranked inside the top-10 of North American skaters, including forwards Kent Johnson (third) and Matthew Beniers (sixth).
“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 the Director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr in a statement. “Each plays a different position and style, and all contributed as freshmen. Credit to [head 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.”
As a freshman in Ann Arbor, Power put up a very respectable 16 points (3+13), while also being named to the Big Ten All-Rookie Team, as well as a Big Ten Second-Team All-Star. Just the season before in 2018-19, Power finished as the highest-scoring defenseman in the USHL with the Chicago Steel, scoring 40 points (12+28) in 45 games. He was named the league's Defenseman of the Year following the season for his production.
“Power is an excellent package of NHL size, skating and attributes which he utilizes effectively in all situations,” said Marr said of the Michigan defenseman. “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.”
Johnson enters this year's draft as one of the best playmakers available in the first round. The forward had a productive freshman season with the Wolverines, scoring nine goals and adding 18 assists for 27 points in just 26 games.
As for Beniers, the versatile two-way center also produced at a point per-game rate as a freshman at Michigan with 24 points (10+14) in 24 games. Beniers is seen as a reliable all-situation player, and has been able to showcase his talents this season at some of the highest levels. This includes the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, where he helped the United States to a gold medal victory as an 18-year-old.
At No. 2 in the North American rankings sits forward Mason McTavish, who played in Switzerland this past season as the Ontario Hockey League was never able to get their season started due to COVID-19. While in Switzerland with EHC Olten in the Swiss second-tier league, McTavish went on to score nine goals and add two assists for 11 points in 13 games.
Despite not being able to play the 2020-21 season with the Peterborough Petes, McTavish was able to suit up for Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Frisco, Texas. In seven games played while serving as team captain, McTavish scored five goals and tallied six assists for 11 points as Canada went on to beat Russia to claim the gold medal.
U.S. National Team Development Program defenseman Luke Hughes comes in at No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's North American rankings. Hughes comes into the 2021 NHL Draft as one of the youngest players eligible for this year's event, but he has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL in the years to come.
Hughes is the youngest brother of Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes, and could be the third Hughes brother to be drafted in the top-10 of the NHL Draft. No other trio of brothers drafted in the NHL have ever been selected in the top-10 of each of their respective draft classes.
Michigan is likely to have one of the best college hockey teams in some time next season, as Hughes is set to the Wolverines as a freshman this upcoming season. He will add to a lineup that could have all three of Power, Beniers and Johnson back for the upcoming 2021-22 campaign.
Rounding out the top-five North American skaters rankings is Edmonton Oil Kings forward Dylan Guenther.
A former first overall pick of the Oil Kings in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft, Guenther has produced well in two full seasons in Edmonton with 83 points (38+45) in 70 games played. In just 12 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, Guenther was able to put up a goal per-game pace and finish with 24 points (12+12).
Guenther also took part this year in the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship with Team Canada, where he scored four goals and put up three assists for seven points as an alternate captain.
Meanwhile, NHL Central Scouting has ranked forward William Eklund as the top International skater out of Djurgårdens IF in the Swedish Hockey League.
The 18-year-old was able to spend the entire season playing at the top professional level in Sweden, where he managed to produce an impressive 11 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 40 games. Eklund had one of the most productive seasons ever for a SHL player in their draft year, which helped earn him the honor of SHL Rookie of the Year.
“Eklund is a speedy winger who played a big role on Djurgårdens in the Swedish Hockey League,” said Marr. “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.”
Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson comes in as the second-ranked International skater after spending time with Frölunda HC in the SHL and their Under-20 team, as well as Västerås IK in Sweden's second-tier league, HockeyAllsvenskan.
At No. 3 in the International rankings sits Finnish forward Aatu Räty, who, at one point a couple years back, was projected to be the top prospect of the 2021 class. The 18-year-old spent his 2020-21 season mainly with Kärpät in the Liiga, where he scored put up three goals and three assists for six points in 35 games.
Sebastian Cossa has been ranked as the No. 1 goaltending prospect among North American goaltenders, while Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt was ranked No. 1 among International goalies.
The 2021 NHL Draft will take place virtually this year starting with Round 1 on Friday, July 23. Rounds 2-7 of the draft will also take place virtually this year on Saturday, July 24.
***Photo: Michigan Photography