The focus for hockey fans right now is on the upcoming NHL season, but for many 2021 draft-eligible prospects, the concern is just trying to get on the ice at all. The OHL and WHL haven’t started yet, while the QMJHL is about to shut down for a month due to increasing coronavirus numbers. Several NCAA schools have shut down their hockey programs for the year, while overseas leagues are routinely dealing with outbreaks of their own. It makes determining a draft ranking exceptionally difficult, but Scott Wheeler of The Athletic (subscription required) tried anyway, putting together his top-64 today.
At the very top without much surprise is Owen Power, the University of Michigan freshman that has dominated at every level of minor hockey. Power has the size—he stands 6’5″ and is well over 200 lbs—and skating ability to be a difference-maker in the NHL, potentially at a very young age. That said, he doesn’t project to have quite the same offensive upside as someone like Rasmus Dahlin, which means he isn’t a sure thing for the first-overall selection just yet. The 18-year-old defenseman was in the middle of some controversy last month when his college team wouldn’t release him for Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp, meaning he (likely) won’t get a chance to show what he can do on the world stage. Still, playing (and dominating) at Michigan should be more than enough for scouts to form a strong opinion on the young defender and decide whether he’s worth that top spot.
- Wheeler’s colleague Corey Pronman does his best to project what Canada’s roster will be like when the coaching staff cuts it down from 49 to 25 for the tournament later this month. Among his “locks” to make the team are Bowen Byram and Jamie Drysdale, who will return on defense and are a big reason why the loss of Power won’t really matter to the Canadians. Byram, the fourth-overall pick in 2019, and Drysdale, the sixth in 2020, could make up one of the most dynamic and skilled pairings in World Junior history should they play together for Canada. Both players can score at an elite level and skate among the best in the world, which should put them in the NHL before long.
- One young forward that never managed to make Team Canada at the WJC is now trying to lock down a role in the NHL, as Nick Merkley’s loan with Assat in Finland comes to an end. The 23-year-old was a first-round pick in 2015 but has just two NHL games under his belt so far and is now with his second organization. In his 19-game stint overseas the New Jersey Devils forward scored 13 points, all of them after going scoreless in his first four. Merkley signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Devils in October, accepting his qualifying offer amount to try and prove he can hack it at the NHL level.