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A Look at Which 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Could be #1 Depending on the Lottery Results

The top spot for this year’s draft class is open more than normal. Tomorrow’s draft lottery could very well decide which prospect is going to be the #1 pick. In this post, I’ll try to figure out which prospect each team could take if they were to win the lottery.

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Canada v United States: Group B - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Owen Power, a defenseman from the University of Michigan, finished as the top ranked skater in North America by the NHL’s Central Scouting. How many teams could he be a fit for if they win the lottery?
Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

The draft lottery for the 2021 NHL Draft takes place tomorrow night. There will be two drawings to decide the top two picks in this year’s draft, a slight change from previous lotteries. In today’s post, I want to take a look at what prospect each team might take if they were to win the top spot. In most draft classes, there are usually one or two prospects that clearly stand out above the rest. This year’s class is more wide open due to the lack of one or two prospects that clearly have stood out above their peers as well as due to the pandemic making scouting a much more difficult task this season. I’m going to try to look at each organizations strengths and tendencies in making my pick for whom I think they will select as opposed to whom I think they should select. Of course with the top overall pick, any team would select who they think is the best player available in the class. Unlike previous years, there seems to be plenty of debate about whether that player is a forward or defenseman and just who it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if across the lottery teams, there were a few different players ranked #1.

Below are the lottery odds for the first overall selection for each team in the lottery:

Now let’s take a look at which prospect each team would potentially select if they win the top spot:

Buffalo Sabres - LD Owen Power (University of Michigan)

It’s not secret that the Sabres need a lot of help and pretty much anywhere they can get it. In their prospect pool they do have a duo of goaltenders that could develop into their future #1 in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Erik Portillo. Given their depth at goaltender and other needs, I think Jesper Wallstedt is out of the question for #1 should Buffalo win the lottery.

General Manager Kevyn Adams took over last June and used four of his five selections on forwards, including the top three picks they made. NHL Central Scouting has ranked LD Owen Power (University of Michigan) as the top North American skater in this year’s class. He’s also been one of the more hyped prospects for this draft class the past couple of seasons and seems the most likely to go in the top spot at this moment in time. Power is also #1 on Elite Prospects’ Consolidated Rankings which seems to add to him being the closest to a consensus #1 prospect we have for this year’s draft. If the Sabres win the top spot, I think they will go with Power and try to rebuild the team from the blue line. In Power they would get a prospect that profiles as a potential #1 defenseman due to his two-way game, hockey IQ, size, and skating. Hockey Prospecting has Power with a 7% Star Probability and 62% NHLer Probability. (A Star Probability is 0.70+ career Pts/GP for a F and a 0.45+ career Pts/GP for a D and a NHLer Probability is 200+ NHL games.) The Hockey Prospecting model has him compared to Dante Fabbro, Jackob Chychrun, and Mikhail Sergachev.

Of course, it’s possible that they prefer another defenseman like Brandt Clarke or Luke Hughes to Power. Or perhaps they want to add some help upfront, especially given the Jack Eichel situation, and they look to add a center such as Matthew Beniers, William Eklund, or Mason McTavish who has just seen a big rise up the NHL Central Scouting Ranking. They could be looking to rebuild down the middle with one of those highly rated centers and Dylan Cozens who has debuted for them this past season. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised at all if the pick was Beniers. Still, if I had to guess, I think it’s most likely they take Owen Power with the top pick.

Anaheim Ducks - LD Owen Power (University of Michigan)

Looking at the Ducks organization and it immediately jumps out to me that their last two 1st round picks, D Jamie Drysdale and C Trevor Zegras, are both developing into cornerstone pieces for the team going forward. The Hockey Prospecting model loves the progress those players made, with Drysdale now having an 80% Star Probability and Zegras a 62% Star Probability.

It also appears that in addition to Zegras, they have other young forwads to potentially build around such as Isac Lundestrom, Jacob Perreault, Maxime Comtois, Sam Colangelo, Brayden Tracey, and Benoit Olivier-Groulx. On defense they have prospects such as Henry Thrun, Jackson LaCombe, and Josh Mahura to potentially complement Drysdale in the future. For as many struggles they have had at the NHL level recently, it seems like they could turn things around fairly quickly over the next couple of seasons.

General Manager Bob Murray has been in charge since 2008 so his footprint is all over the organization. Over their last four drafts, the Ducks have taken 16 forwards, 8 defenseman, and 3 goaltenders. The last two drafts features a split between 8 forwards and 7 defenseman. Ultimately, I think they would add to their defensive core and select Owen Power if they were to win the lottery. However, selecting LD Luke Hughes (USNTDP) wouldn’t surprise me should they feel comfortable with his injury recovery and feel he has higher upside. Another option that wouldn’t surprise me would be C Matthew Beniers (University of Michigan). He played on the same USNTDP team has Zegras did in his draft season so the Ducks will surely have scouted him well. Beniers was playing up in the age group and has long stood out for this year’s draft class and would be a great addition to the young group of forwards that Anaheim is collecting.

Seattle Kraken - RD Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky)

Seattle winning the lottery would be an exciting development just to see how they choose to build their team. As of right now, General Manager Ron Francis has made one signing, inking Blainville-Boisbriand captain Luke Henman to an entry-level contract. I expect him to prefer to build out of the back and wouldn’t be surprised if their analytics department views RD Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky) as the top prospect. In the Hockey Prospecting database, Clarke ranks top among all prospects in this year’s draft class with a 56% Star Probability and an 80% NHLer Probability. Some names the model compares him to are Chris Pronger, Brian Leetch, and Scott Niedermayer. Building the franchise around the right handed defenseman would provide them a strong foundation. Clarke has earned plenty of praise for his skating that allows him to join the rush offensively. His offensive instincts and skills are among the best defenseman in this year’s draft. He’s already had the chance to test his defensive game against men in Slovakia this past season with the OHL shutdown. He was a point per game player for Canada’s Gold Medal winning U18 team at the most recent U18 WJC. Owen Power and Luke Hughes will certainly get some consideration but I think Clarke’s ceiling as a #1 RD makes him appealing to Seattle should they win the lottery.

New Jersey Devils - LD Luke Hughes (USNTDP)

Last week I wrote about the Devils prospect needs to supplement their pool that features a lot of depth but could use some more high end talent. I noted that goal scoring wings, a potential top pairing defenseman, and right handed defenseman as pressing needs. Any of these needs would certainly be addressed should the team win the lottery again. Brandt Clarke would address two of those needs himself as a potential #1 RD. Owen Power and Luke Hughes could address the top pairing defenseman need though on the left side. Up front Matthew Beniers, Kent Johnson (University of Michigan), William Eklund (Djurgardens IF), and Mason McTavish (Olten) could be options for the Devils to further improve the quality and depth at center. Beniers and Eklund are crafty prospects certainly capable of playing on the wing which would make them enticing to take with the top pick. In terms of goal scoring wings, the top of this draft has the likes of Dylan Guenther (Edmonton) and Fabian Lysell (Lulea HF) though the top spot would be way too high to consider them.

The Devils would certainly have a lot of options and I wouldn’t be surprised if they view Luke Hughes as the best player in the draft. I’m not just saying that because he’s Jack’s brother too. Luke Hughes has long been considered a potential top pick in the 2021 NHL Draft due to his smooth skating (no surprise there), mobility, offensive instincts, soft hands, puck moving ability, and strong defensive game. As of right now, my biggest concern with Hughes is the fact he is coming off of surgery this past March to repair a foot tendon lacerated by a skate cut. Hopefully that doesn’t impact his skating which is a huge part of his game long-term. If he comes out of that fine and the medicals show no need for concern, then I think the Devils would be comfortable picking him. The Hockey Prospecting model likes Hughes with a 7% Star Probability and 62% NHLer Probability, comparing him to the likes of P.K. Subban, Mikhail Sergachev, and Alex Pietrangelo.

Columbus Blue Jackets - RD Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky)

Like most lottery teams, the Blue Jackets are another organization that could use help in any position. Though the development of Daniil Tarasov in goal should make it so they don’t have to reach for Jesper Wallstedt at the top spot if they were to win the lottery. Their prospect pool isn’t great but does seem forward heavy which makes me think they would prefer a defenseman in the top spot. Columbus seems to do things their own way and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have Brandt Clarke higher than any other prospect on their draft board. He would be a nice addition to their prospect pool, give the organization more depth on the right side, and is a North American prospect that now has European experience playing in Slovakia this past season. He seems to check multiple boxes for the organization and from an analytic perspective has high upside which should appeal to the them.

Detroit Red Wings - LD Owen Power (University of Michigan)

The Red Wings are in a great position to add even more talent to their intriguing prospect pool this draft. If they don’t win the lottery and stay around their current draft position, then I wouldn’t be shocked to see them go for a home run pick such as G Jesper Wallstedt (Lulea HF). As for winning the lottery and taking a goaltender? I just can’t see that happening.

Detroit has intriguing forward prospects in Joe Veleno, Michael Rasmussen, Jonatan Berggren, and Robert Mastrosimone. On defense, RD Moritz Seider stands out as one of the top prospects in the game followed by LD Jared McIsaac and RD Antti Tuomisto. If they view one of the top LD in this year’s draft as the best player available, then I think the pick would be either Owen Power or Luke Hughes. No doubt they will be very familiar with each prospect due to the close proximity in which they play. Ultimately, I went with them taking Power should they win the lottery due to what he’s proven at the collegiate level, his skillset, size, and durability.

San Jose Sharks - LD Luke Hughes (USNTDP)

San Jose’s prospect pool features the talented but divisive RD Ryan Merkley leading the way and then a bunch of intriguing forwards that offer promise. For that reason alone, I think long time General Manager would be ecstatic to win the lottery and take either LD’s Owen Power or Luke Hughes. I think Hughes may be more appealing to them due to his projectionable frame, smooth skating, and late birthday that could give him more time to reach his upside.

Los Angeles Kings - RD Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky)

The Los Angeles Kings have perhaps the best prospect pool in the NHL. It shouldn’t be long now until they are a playoff team and eventually contenders once again. They have Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, and Gabriel Vilardi to name a few leading the way up front. On the blue line they have Tobias Bjonfot, Jordan Spence, and Helge Grans as promising prospects. There are some questions in goal for the organization though as Jonathan Quick is aging and not as effective. Cal Peterson has been solid in limited time but will be 27 years old next season. Perhaps if they won the lottery then they would go off board and try to hit a home run by selecting Jesper Wallstedt. Still, I just can’t see a goaltender going in the top spot no matter how good of a prospect Wallstedt is. To me this would come down to whether they think one of the defenseman is the best player in the draft and which player that would be. I wouldn’t be surprised if they view Brandt Clarke as the top prospect in this year’s draft due the strong season he had playing against men in Slovakia and his previous track record in the OHL. He would be a great addition to their high end prospect pool and could be a player that steps in sooner than later for them at the NHL level if they were to win the lottery and take him.

Vancouver Canucks - LD Luke Hughes (USNTDP)

Like with the Devils, I’m not just putting Luke Hughes on a team with his brother. As a prospect, Luke is very deserving of contending for the #1 spot and had he not had such a significant injury, could very well be ranked in that spot on many lists. I think Luke Hughes would appeal to the Canucks as they continue to rebuild their team from the back end where they have Quinn Hughes, Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, and Jett Woo. With that quality and depth they can afford to swing on Luke Hughes’ potential and ability to return from the injury he sustained. They also have Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro in goal which should make this team very hard to score against going forward. Of course one of the forwards at the top spot would be appealing for them but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they have Hughes as the top prospect overall on their draft board.

Ottawa Senators - LD Owen Power (University of Michigan)

General Manager Pierre Dorion has done a good job of re-stocking Ottawa’s prospect pool which is now one of the deepest in the NHL. I think they would love the chance to add in Owen Power should they win the lottery. They already have some defenseman to potentially build around in LD Erik Brannstrom, LD Jake Sanderson, RD Jacob Bernard-Docker, and RD Lassi Thomson. LD Victor Mete will be just 22 years old next season and is a worthwhile reclamation project after picking him up on waivers last season from the Montreal Canadiens. Power would give them Ottawa another option on the blue line in their rebuild and a high end option at that. It seems like it would be a great fit for both the organization and player if they win the lottery.

Arizona Coyotes - N/A

The Coyotes 2021 1st Round pick has been forfeited after the team violated the NHL’s Combine Testing Policy during the 2019-20 season. Should the Coyotes “win” the lottery, a re-draw will take place.

Chicago Blackhawks - LD Owen Power (University of Michigan)

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the Blackhawks win the lottery. They have a solid group of young players that have already seen action in Chicago such as C Kirby Dach, RD Adam Boqvist, LD Nicolas Beaudin, and RD Ian Mitchell. They also have some good prospects to try to build around in Philipp Kurashev, Henrik Borgstrom, and Lukas Reichel up front. General Manager Stan Bowman has been on the job since 2009 and would love to win the lottery to speed up the rebuild and get Chicago back into the playoffs sooner than later. Like with all top picks, it’s about taking whichever prospect they deem the best in the class. In recent years they have used their top picks on a a forward from Germany (Reichel), a forward from Canada (Dach), and a defenseman from Sweden (Boqvist). I do wonder if they were to win the lottery, if they would have one of the forwards such as Matthew Beniers, William Eklund, or the rising Mason McTavish on the top of their board. I personally don’t see it but you never know how these things could shake out. If I had to guess, I think they would take the talented Owen Power who has long been in contention for the top spot. He would certainly help them as they build out their defensive group.

Calgary Flames - C/LW William Eklund (Djurgardens IF)

The Flames as an organization already have some young players contributing in the NHL such as forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Dillon Dube and defenseman Juuso Valimaki. Their prospect pool may not have a lot of depth but they have promising forwards in Connor Zary, Jakob Pelletier, and Mathias Emilio Pettersen, and Matthew Phillips. They also have defenseman such as Ilya Solovyov and Jeremie Poirier who lack star potential but have some upside. In goal Dustin Wolf remains an underrated goaltending prospect that could be their future #1.

While they have more of a need for a defenseman, it would be interesting to see if they have a forward such as Beniers, McTavish, or Eklund as the best player on their draft board. The Flames seem to have no issue with taking skill over size when it comes to their forward prospects so perhaps this could be a situation where William Eklund makes a shock move to the top spot. The Flames have a 2nd round pick and two 3rd round picks should they want to address their defense. Given Eklund’s favorable projection due to his high end offensive skill, his status as the top European skater by Central Scouting, and the fact that LW Johnny Gaudreau has one year left on his deal and C Sean Monahan two years; I’m going to have some fun and say they take Eklund to further bolster their high quality forward prospect pool. General Manager Brad Treliving hasn’t been shy about drafting a forward with their first pick four of the past five drafts. Last year they Zary in the 1st round and then not another forward until the 5th round so I’m sure they would love to add the potential of Eklund. Hockey Prospecting has him with a 39% Star Probability and 65% NHLer Probability comparing him to Eric Staal and Olli Jokinen to name a few.

Philadelphia Flyers - RD Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky)

The Flyers are a team that have a decent young core to build around. Though not as young as other players mentioned in this post, the Flyers have NHL contributors in forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Oskar Lindblom, and Travis Konecny as well as defenseman LD Travis Sanheim and LD Ivan Provorov. Younger forwards like Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost have seen NHL action and seem to be pieces for the future. Despite his recent struggles, Carter Hart could be their long term answer in goal. Taking a look at their prospect pool and it seems like they have some promising defensive prospects in LD Cam York, LD Yegor Zamula, LD Emil Andrae, and RD Wyatte Wylie. Forwards C Tyson Foerster, C Zayde Wisdom, and RW Connor McClennon seem to be developing well.

The Flyers have had two drafts under General Manager Chuck Fletcher, selecting 7 forwards, 4 defenseman, and a goaltender. All but two of those selections were North American based players which stands out. Of course that could just be due to circumstance given what their draft board looked like and the players available to them when they made those selections. Regardless, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them target one of the high ranked North American based players should they win the lottery. If I had to guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flyers viewed Brandt Clarke as the best player on their board given his potential and natural fit as a right sided defenseman.

Dallas Stars - LD Luke Hughes (USNTDP)

Dallas had a season to forget in 2020-21 after making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020. The young core of the team at the NHL level is led by defenseman Miro Heiskanen and forward Denis Gurianov. Their prospect pool has plenty of skilled players that could make an impact at the NHL level soon in forwards Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson, Adam Mascherin, Mavrik Bourque, Yevgeni Oksentyuk, and Riley Damiani. On defense Thomas Harley is a high quality prospect and their best defensive prospect by a wide margin. Obviously they would love to win the lottery, especially this year where it seems like a defenseman could be the best player in the draft. I’m going to speculate that they would take Luke Hughes with the top overall selection. Power seems like he may be the safer of the two LD’s at the top of the draft but Hughes seems to have the higher ceiling. His skating would fit in nicely on that Dallas team and make them set down the left side of defense for years to come.

New York Rangers - LD Luke Hughes (USNTDP)

So obviously this doesn’t happen but if the Rangers do win the top spot in the lottery, then newly promoted General Manager Chris Drury will have a big decision to make without a clear cut #1 prospect in this year’s draft. Despite the recent turmoil in the front office, the team is in a good spot on the ice when it comes to their rebuild. They have forwards Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, defenseman Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller, and goaltender Igor Shesterkin already contributing at the NHL level. The organization also boast one of the best prospect pools in the NHL with forwards Evan Vierling, Vitali Kravstov, Brett Berard, and Morgan Barron as well as defenseman Matthew Robertson, Zac Jones, Braden Schneider, and Nils Lundkvist. Overall, the organization has depth and quality split fairly well amongst the forwards and defenseman.

Hopefully we don’t have to find out what would happen in this scenario, but for the sake of speculation here, it would be interesting to see what player they could target with the top pick. Do they feel that Wiliam Eklund has shown enough skill and production in Sweden to warrant being the top prospect? His ability to play either LW or C would fit in nicely with their young forwards. Do they value one of the North American forwards such as Matthew Beniers, Mason McTavish, or Kent Johnson the most? Or would it be one out of the trio of defenseman in Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, or Luke Hughes? Given Drury’s strong ties to USA Hockey due to his playing and management careers, could he be really tuned into Luke Hughes? No doubt he would be able to consult a wide range of people in USA Hockey to get a full scouting report on him. For that reason, I’m inclined to think they would take a chance that Hughes is fully recovered and offers the most upside out of any prospect in this year’s class.

Final Tally and Concluding Thoughts

So that is a lot of words and speculation to essentially say that this is a wide open draft class. The top spot is far from decided and I wouldn’t be surprised if across all the lottery teams’ draft boards, there are three, four, or even five different players on top. It should certainly be a fun draft to follow because not only can a number of players be the potential top pick but the way the draft shakes out after that could go many different ways. Based on my speculation of which player each team may select, the breakdown for the top spot is five teams for Owen Power, five teams for Luke Hughes, 4 teams for Brandt Clarke, and one team for William Eklund. This was a fun but challenging exercise and I went back and forth on these predictions a few times.

There were numerous times I seriously considered Matthew Beniers going in the top spot even though Central Scouting doesn’t seem to rate him as high as other scouting outlets. I think he’s very much in contention for that top spot with his high end skill and what he showcased at the University of Michigan and for the USA at the U20 WJC. I honestly can’t wait to see how this draft unfolds with so much uncertainty.

Your Take

Do you agree or disagree with which player I think each team could take if they win the top spot in the lottery? Which player do you think will go #1 depending on the circumstances? If the Devils win the lottery, which prospect do you hope they select? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!