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2021 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch 2.0

Looking more in depth at some of my early favourites in the 2021 draft

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Kyle Brown/NHLI via Getty Images

Back in October, and right after the 2020 NHL Draft, I wrote a piece looking at an early list of 2021 draft prospects that public scouts had included on their early rankings. The theme back then is still true now: the lack of playing time for most of North American prospects is going to turn the focus more on Europeans, and this seems like a good draft for defensemen.

The other theme that I’ve seen emerge is that this draft is not as deep as last year’s. Where I saw several writers last year say that it was very deep from the 20th pick into the 40’s, this year each tier is shorter — at least so far. A lot of the big names going into this season have come across as disappointing, and you could almost get a completely different top 5 or top 10 order from several scouting folk.

One note I want to be clear about is that I’ve seen very little, if any, live games for any of these prospects. And even highlights of them can be minimal at this time of year, especially if they play in more obscure leagues. This is a list of players who have caught my attention because the scouting people I’ve come to like (Scott Wheeler, Kevin Papetti, Will Scouch, Lauren Kelly, Dylan Griffing, Josh Tessler, Tony Ferraro, etc) are high on them. Actually, not just high on them, but also the way they talk about these prospects have gotten me interested them for my own reasons as well. When I have chances to watch games for any of these guys, I plan to take them.

I’ll refer to Colin Cudmore’s (@CudmoreColin) expected draft range sheet that aggregates the ranking scores for all prospects from several sources to give an idea of their potential draft range.

DEFENSEMEN

Scott Morrow is an interesting one. He’s a 6’2” RHD who chose to keep playing this year in Minnesota High School rather than play in the USHL, because of the pandemic. Next year he is committed to North Dakota of the NCAA — one of the top hockey schools in the US college world. Last year he had 67 points in 46 games in high school, and this year he is clearly just too good for the level.

Morrow is said to be a very skilled puck handler and skater, and he is just clearly way, way too good for high school anymore. He has size, is legitimately a great skater, and has tons of offensive tools and potential. It’s hard to tell just how good is is compared to other top defensive prospects, however, when he’s playing against high schoolers. Top guys like Powers, Edvinnson, and Hughes are is in the NCAA, SHL, or at least the USHL on the top US National team.

Morrow’s draft rank range is between 26th and 47th overall, so he could wind up being a late first round pick or mid-second round pick for the Toronto Leafs, depending on where their picks fall.

Scouting Reports:

Logan Mailloux is another interesting case. He played in the GOJHL last year because his OHL team, the London Knights, were pretty stacked as usual. This year, with the OHL not having played yet, he has been playing in Sweden in the HockeyEttan league — Sweden’s third tier professional level, behind the SHL and Allsvenskan. He has 12 points in 15 games, which leads the team on a per-game basis because they’re bad. Like, 2-15-0-3 record-bad.

His points can be misleading because he’s playing in lower levels, but he has solid all-round potential with more defensive reliability and physicality than someone like Morrow. Despite being on a terrible team, he is getting points and his underlying numbers for things he can control are stellar. He can break up rushes to shut down transition, and push the play up the other way.

His draft range is between 56th and 100th, so he could be a smart late-second round pick, or a steal in the third and even fourth rounds. If he does fall, it will be because he’s never had exposure in more traditional leagues and levels. But if the OHL does return, and Mailloux returns to London playing a bigger role in a bigger market close to home, you may see his draft stock skyrocket in an unusual year with far fewer games played in North America than normal.

Scouting Reports:

Brent Johnson is another American defenseman, but he’s playing in the USHL. He’s smaller than Morrow at 5’11”, but has a similar profile as a more offensively inclined and fun defenseman. He has 8 goals and 8 assists in 25 games, good for third on his team in total points.

He has a hard, accurate shot from the point that he can also get off pretty quick. He’s smart at picking his spots, and as you’d expect from a smaller defenseman he is a very good skater and playmaker. He definitely has a more offensive profile, and also has some weaknesses you would expect from his profile when it comes to defense.

He isn’t currently included on the draft range sheet (it adds more sources through the year, as many ranking lists don’t go beyond the first round until later in the year), but Scouch has him ranked at 38th. I would expect other outlets, and NHL scouts mainly, will have him later than that. He may sneak in as a 2nd round pick, but he’s someone I’d like to watch as a potential faller and hidden gem in later rounds.

Scouting Reports:

Aleksi Malinen is a 6’0” LHD playing in Finland, and all of his games this year have come in the Liiga as a 17 year old. He hasn’t played in every game for his team, JYP, in fact he’s played in only 12 of their 29 games where has one goal to his name. When he’s played, however, he’s averaged over 16 minutes per game, which is more than the Canucks’ 3rd round pick from last year, Joni Jurmo, who is a year older than him.

He is said to be a very smooth skater, and surprisingly explosive going backwards. As you’d expect from a teenager playing against men, he can hold his own defensively and is said to be good at angling opposing forwards away from the net and into the boards, and not giving the opposition clean looks at the net. That reads as Topi Niemela all over again, and I’m a big Niemela fan so I want to follow and watch him with more interest for the rest of the year.

What makes him intriguing to me is that we know the Leafs love taking a teenage Finnish defenseman who played all his draft year in the Liiga but had little points because of his age and usage so they fall to the third round. His expected draft range is all over the place, as high as 62nd (so a veeeery late 2nd round pick) to 128th. It will be more likely that he falls to the 3rd or even 4th rounds, but that may wind up making him a steal.

Scouting Reports:

Hugo Gabrielsson is a 6’1” LHD playing between Sweden’s U20 junior and the HockeyEttan leauge — their third professional league tier. He’s an older prospect with an October 2002 birthday, but his advanced tracking data for the year so far are stellar.

More specifically, his data for creating shot attempts for his team are ridiculous, which is what caught my attention initially. He passes a lot, succeeds in a high percentage of his passes, and a lot of those passes are into dangerous areas to set up good scoring chances. He has mixed reviews for his defense, however, so he may be another guy with more of an offensive profile. For me, if he’s going to have an offensive profile then I’d like it to be exceptional, and his data seems to indicate he might be. I don’t really know much more about him, but he’s someone I want to follow because of this to see if the rest of his season shows that he’s legit or not.

His expected draft range as of now is 65th to 102nd, so another pretty wide range from early 3rd round into the 5th round. He some good size and skating, and if has exceptional passing skill that might carry him to the NHL. Especially if he can shore up his weaknesses enough that they’re not as much of a liability at higher levels.

Scouting Reports:

Jimi Suomi has an expected draft range of 64th to 78th overall. I included him on this list because his name is basically Jimmy Finland, and I love that so much.

FORWARDS

Samu Salminen — 6’3” pure center for Finland who has crushed every level he’s played at. He had 1.3 PPG at the U16 level as a 14/15 year old, then 1.5 PPG at the U18 level as a 15/16 year old, and so far is 1.15 PPG as a 16/17 year old in the U18 level. That rate will keep going up as he racks up points this season, as he has 26 in 17 games so far.

He’s a 60+% at faceoffs if that’s your thing, he’s a smart playmaker but can use his size and skill to score plenty of goals, and a good track record in international tournaments. His one concern seems to be skating, maybe a lack of high-end skill, both which can be a significant concern for future projection. I’ve read mixed reviews, so I want to follow him some more. He’s a borderline first rounder as-is, and if he can improve his skating and keeps on scoring at that rate he may solidify himself as a mid-to-late first rounder, but will likely go in the second round at least even if he doesn’t.

What he also seems to be is smart on the ice as far as using what he can do to be effective. To be honest that profile does not seem so far away from what the Leafs have liked in recent years, especially if he winds up being a 2nd rounder.

Scouting Reports:

Oliver Kapanen is another prospect in Finland’s U20 junior league that I’ve had my eye on. He is the cousin of Kasperi Kapanen, but plays as a center. He has 21 goals and 16 assists in 31 games so far, and averages 4.6 shots per game. If faceoffs are your thing, he’s winning 57% of his attempts.

He has gotten stronger as the year went on, winning “best young player” for the month of November and then starting to train with his Liiga team in mid-December. Like Hugo Gabrielsson, he also has very strong shot creation metrics — he either shoots it himself or assists on shot attempts at a very high rate. He is a strong skater, as you may expect as a Kapanen, but also gets strong reviews as a puck handler, play maker, and physical play along the boards. He may wind up being one of the better prospects out of Finland this year.

He hasn’t been on many ranking lists yet — his EP page lists him as 86th and 88th by Draft Prospects Hockey and DobberProspects respectively, and Scouch has him ranked 95th. Josh Bell of Future Considerations said he’s a borderline first rounder for him, however. So he does have some buzz around him, and it has been growing. He likely won’t be a first round pick like Kasperi was, but considering he plays center, is 2nd in the level for his age group in points, and has the ‘bloodlines’ factor, I can see his draft rankings improve over the year as long as he continues to produce. He might even get some Liiga time, as he’s practiced with his Liiga team a few times this year.

Scouting Reports:

Alexander Kisakov is someone you may vaguely remember, and that’s because Katya brought him up when she wrote her piece looking at Ovchinnikov’s contextual point production. He’s an older prospect for this draft year with an October 2020 birthday, and he’s a small winger at 5’9” who racks up points in the MHL.

He has been one of the top P/60 producers in the MHL as a first time draft eligible player this year. Since that piece, he’s continued to be hot: he has 31 goals and 29 assists, which leads the whole MHL for players of all ages in goals and total points. He is said to be very skilled and has good hands, but will go to more dangerous areas to make a play as well.

His expected draft range is 64th to 78th, so seems likely as of now to be a third round pick. But NHL Central Scouting, who have not made any actual rankings yet, have graded Kisakov in a way that makes him a potential first round pick. That seems surprising given how infrequently small Russian wingers in the MHL get taken that highly, but we’ll have to see how that plays out.

Scouting Reports:

Marcus Almquist is a smoooool prospect from Denmark. He’s 5’7” and 161 lbs, and one of the youngest players of the draft with a September 13th birthday — just two days from the cutoff. He’s listed as a left winger, and has played in both Sweden’s U20 junior league and in Denmark’s professional league. In Sweden he had 23 points in 19 games, and in Denmark he has 5 points in 13 games.

Almquist is very quick in terms of straight line speed and lateral agility, and he’s also very skilled, both are attributes that smaller players need to succeed at higher levels. He has a history of having more goals than assists at other levels, and you can see from some of his goal highlights (like the one below) that he can really fire a rocket of a shot. I’m going to admit, one of the main reasons why I’m including him is because I have a soft spot for smol forwards who can rip it. (Coughs in Robertson and Miettinen).

His draft range is 67th to 102nd, which is a large range but considering his size and nationality that’s maybe not surprising. He’ll be a fun late round pick and I am automatically going to assume that either the Hurricanes or Leafs are the ones to take him.

Scouting Reports:

Matthew Coronato is someone I am calling right now will be a Leafs pick. He’s a 5’10” winger, so a small and skilled forward that fits that Dubas stereotype. He plays on the Chicago Steel in the USHL, so there’s another box checked on the Dubas checklist. And he is commited next year to Harvard University in the NCAA, which is yet another team that Dubas loves to pick from (Abruzzese, Fusco, and Tverberg before he switched schools). The only thing that would make him more of a guaranteed pick is if he was from Sault Ste. Marie.

All those jokes aside, he is also a very skilled and high scoring forward. He’s an older pick as a November 2002 birthday, but he has 43 points in 24 games. That’s good for second in the league behind a 2020 draft pick Sean Farrell, and well ahead of the next closest draft eligible player this year. At one point he was on pace to have the most points by a first-time draft eligible player in the USHL for the last 30 years. He has racked up points because he is a good skater, and can handle the puck very well. He has a good shot and is said to be very smart and creative with finding ways to score goals.

His expected draft range is 27th to 64th. He may have a lot of points, but he isn’t a truly elite skater nor does have an elite shot. He is effective because he is smart and has very good all-round ability as a forward. Those are also things that the Leafs have liked in their draft picks, so I can absolutely see the Leafs taking him if they have the opportunity.

Scouting Reports:

Cole Huckins is a 6’3” center/winger tweener in the QMJHL who is getting a surprisingly little amount of attention or hype considering his size and skills. He has 19 points in 15 games for Acadie-Bathurst, which is 3rd on the team behind two players that are 3 years older than him.

Despite his size, he is a good skater. He is able to separate from defenders through the neutral zone, and is smart about using his combination of size and speed to his advantage to evade or simply skate through pressure with the puck. It also helps him help shut down transitions from the other team surprisingly well for a forward. He is probably more of a playmaker and set up man than he is a goal scorer. His shot isn’t elite, but he’s effective at making passes to teammates in dangerous areas.

His expected draft range is 46th to 68th, so likely a mid-to-late second round pick. That’s in a good range for the Leafs’ second round pick, if they finish the season where we expect them to. Having a bigger guy who can skate, play center, set up his linemates and play responsibly in the neutral zone both ways does sound like something that could suit the Leafs. His size may disqualify him for Dubas, though.

Scouting Reports:

GOALIES

Jesper Wallstedt is a Swedish goalie prospect. He’s 6’3”, and as a November 2002 birthday he’s an older prospect — only 6 months younger than Askarov. In Bob McKenzie’s early 2021 draft rankings he had Wallstedt ranked 14th, which is lower than Askarov’s early, mid-season and final rankings wound up being in 2020.

Something that Wallstedt has going for him is that he will be playing this full season in the SHL as his team’s 1B starting goalie. Neither Askarov or Knight had any exposure to the KHL or NCAA until after they were already drafted.

The other selling point on Wallstedt seems to play a style that inspires more confidence. He has a 2.02 GAA and .916 sv% in nine SHL games for Luleå HF, playing as their 1B goalie. Their other goalie, David Rautio, is a 35 year old veteran has played the same amount of games (18) with worse stats: 2.60 GAA and .891 sv%. He also had a strong World Junior tournament (ableit in two games), where he had a 2.40 GAA and .923 sv% on a COVID-depleted roster. We may see Wallstedt finish this season in the SHL as his team’s number one goalie. That’s something that, according to this quick blurb from Will Scouch, has never happened before with a draft-eligible goalie in the SHL:

He’s squared up in form constantly. He stops pucks a lot. He’s calm, collected, and already doing very well at the SHL level, something no first time draft eligible has done before. If you’re in such an uncertain draft, and there’s a chance of landing a franchise goalie, could we see a goalie go at #1 if they’ve been playing in the SHL all year? I wouldn’t count it out. Where Yaroslav Askarov might be a bit more reactionary and athletic, Wallstedt is calculated, smart, and focused, and I’ve greatly enjoyed watching him when he’s played this year.

If you’re hoping that teams avoid him more due to caution with goalie prospects and he can slip to where the Leafs pick, I wouldn’t bet on it. His expected draft range right now is 6th to 18th, but with McKenzie’s ranking of 14th that would likely put him off the board before the Leafs would likely have a pick. A guy can dream, though...

Kirill Gerasimyuk is a real interesting option as a late round pick. He’s a 6’2” Russian goalie, and he’ll be one of the youngest goalies in the draft with an August 22nd birthday. Despite his age, he’s split time between the MHL (19 games, .935 sv%) and the VHL (5 games, .913 sv%). This isn’t your usual case of a good goalie on a very strong Russian team, in leagues with balance issues, putting up good numbers. Let’s me just rattle off some facts and stats:

  • His team’s record is 17-33-7-4 and has the 9th most goals against
  • His save percentage is 6th best in the league
  • He has the highest rate of shots faced per game in the entire league (40 per game)
  • He has two shutouts in games where he faced 40+ shots
  • He has one a regulation game that he lost 4-1 where he faced 71 shots

Gerasimyuk is not getting a lot of attention so far, though as a goalie and a Russian in the MHL on a bad team that’s maybe not surprising. He has an expected draft range from one source at 180th, which is a very late 5th round pick. The Leafs took another Russian goalie from the MHL last year who simply had good numbers, and Gerasimyuk may be both better and available with a later pick than Akhtyamov (106th overall).

Poll

Which of these higher ranked players interests you the most?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Scott Morrow
    (29 votes)
  • 6%
    Matthew Coronato
    (8 votes)
  • 20%
    Samu Salminen
    (25 votes)
  • 48%
    Jesper Wallstedt (shut up let me dream)
    (58 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now