Fulfilling Team’s Needs at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft
As a young boy, I had dreams of my name being called at the NHL Entry Draft, and me walking up, throwing the jersey of the team who drafted me onto myself and snapping a picture with the owners. I even had an actual dream of this occurring one night, as I was promptly drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round while I was induced into my REM sleep.
Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, my hockey career would end prematurely when I was 17 years old, and with that ending, my dream of being drafted died as well. As they say, everything happens for a reason, and if I hadn’t had my playing days cut short I would have never found my new loves; performance and writing.
Today, I will be writing, and boy do I have a great article in the works. With the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft set to take place July 23rd, we will be looking at each team’s needs heading into the draft, and at which players can fulfill those needs. We will be going through them in increments and today, we will be covering picks number one through five. The reason these teams are this high on the draft board is because of their poor play during the 2020-21 regular season (Sans the Seattle Kraken), so naturally, they will be the ones who need the most help.
Can any of the top-five projected picks come to the rescue of these teams in distress? Let’s jump into the article and find out!
Buffalo Sabres – 1st Overall Pick
Where do I begin with the Buffalo Sabres? We wrote about should they be this bad earlier this season. The franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years has been an absolute dumpster fire ever since their last playoff appearance. What do the Sabres need to help them? I don’t know, how about an exorcism. Seriously, the team from upstate New York has had their fair share of star players come to the franchise (Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, Taylor Hall), yet they always find some way to lose; it baffles me. Don’t get me wrong, the players are to be taken responsible, but really I think poor management and ownership has led to this team’s demise.
Now, let’s not get all Debbie-downer here, as with a new NHL season comes new opportunities. The Sabres hold the 1st overall pick in this year’s draft. Now, they have two options with what they can do with the pick. They can either draft or trade the pick for a bonafide all-star. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at both options.
When it comes to drafting, the Sabres have a great track record. They have drafted names like Eichel, Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, Jake McCabe, and a slew of others. I don’t have any doubts about their ability to draft star-potential players, as their track record indicates they definitely can. If they do opt to use their pick, then they will probably go with the consensus number one overall pick; Owen Power.
With a stacked defensive corps that already holds names such as Dahlin, Ristolainen, and McCabe, drafting Owen Power would just add to the strength of that Buffalo back-end. Power is a 6″5 left-handed defenseman who dominated with Michigan this past season in the NCAA. His height and size are just the beginning of the benefits he may bring to an NHL team. The Mississauga, Ontario native is a tremendous skater with a great stride and even better pivots.
This allows him to seamlessly jump into the offensive or defensive plays his team might be getting into. Blessed with great vision and skill, Power definitely has some offensive tools he can use to generate plays and create scoring chances from the point. His vision lends a hand to teams who are weak when it comes to breaking out of their own zone.
Defensively, Power excels in his team’s own zone, where his physicality comes alive. Nothing is better than when your big defensemen know how to use their bodies, and Power does just that. He also knows how to use his gap control and skating to close any lanes and quickly break up developing offensive plays. If I were the Sabres I would definitely draft the Canadian and add him to my arsenal of defensemen.
When it comes to garnering a trade, who knows what the Sabres would be able to receive for the first overall pick. Obviously, teams who need defensive help would be calling Buffalo to see if they may procure a chance to draft Power. These teams can include the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Detroit Red Wings. All the teams mentioned hold pick in the top-15 of the draft, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one decides to move up and trade for the first pick.
Seattle Kraken – 2nd Overall Pick
The expansion Seattle Kraken holds the title of being the NHL’s 32nd team for the 2021-22 regular season. With so much hype building around them these past couple of years, with the endless comparisons to the Vegas Golden Knights, the pressure is definitely on the Kraken scouting team to hit a home run in their first-ever NHL entry draft.
The consensus number two overall pick in this year’s draft is supposedly Matthew Beniers of Michigan, in the NCAA. When I think of this pick I get excited for Kraken fans because this player has been compared to the next Jonathan Toews and why shouldn’t he; their games are almost exactly alike.
What makes Beniers such a great pick for the Kraken is that he seemingly checks off every box…and then some. He excels in the offensive zone, doing everything from seamlessly dishing passes to his teammates, to maneuvering with his stickhandling, to potting home wristers when he makes his way to the high slot. Defensively, his game is just as impressive, as his fierce competitiveness and work ethic leads to an elite two-way game most teams would kill to have in their center.
If Beniers plays anything like he did while at Michigan, the Kraken may have found their franchise player and number one center of the future.
Anaheim Ducks – 3rd Overall Pick
Dylan Guenther may already be a dark horse candidate for the Calder Trophy in 2021-22. The Canadian enjoyed a fantastic season playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL this past year, amassing 59 points in 58 games. His skill set is one of the best I have ever seen quite personally, and it looks as if the Anaheim Ducks may be the lucky winners of his services in this draft.
The great thing about Guenther that he is as dangerous without the puck as he is with it. His tremendous speed allows him to find openings most players may not be able to reach, allowing him to effortlessly get open and create scoring chances. When he has the puck Gunther thrives on beating defenseman to the outside and creating plays for his teammates who are driving the net. His vision and skill are comparable to some NHL superstars, which makes this pick evermore exciting for the Ducks.
With Anaheim occupying the lowest powerplay percentage last year, they would benefit the most from Guenther’s offensive skillset. The tricky thing is that Guenther only weighs 170 pounds, but that can quickly be remedied by some strength and conditioning in the gym. All in all, keep your eyes on this player in the future as he is my dark horse from this draft.
New Jersey Devils – 4th Overall Pick
The Hughes brothers are quickly becoming this generation’s Staal brothers, as Luke Hughes is slated to join his superstar brothers in the NHL in a couple of years. The Manchester, New Hampshire native is committed to playing at Michigan next season, and that is good news for the team that drafts him, as his time in the NCAA will allow him to further develop his burgeoning defensive game.
Hughes is a maestro with the puck in the defensive zone. His vision, mobility, and skating allow him to be a talented offensive-defenseman who can hang with the best of them. Defensively, his game does need some work, as scouts have commented on his inability to consistently make the right defensive decisions. Criticism aside, the reward factors heavily outweigh the risk factors when it comes to this player, all he needs is some time to develop his game.
The New Jersey Devils already have Jack Hughes on the roster, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring in his brother to aid the blueline. Having his brother on the team may help Luke acclimate to the NHL faster than most, which would be a huge plus for the New Jersey Devils. The Devils struggled offensively last year, so it would be a smart move to draft the product out of the U.S National Development Team.
Columbus Blue Jackets – 5th Overall Pick
The Columbus Blue Jackets have the chance to arguably draft the player with the best offensive upside in this draft. Mason McTavish, an 18-year-old Canadian center, has deadly speed coupled with an absolute howler of shot. These two attributes alone can almost guarantee success at any level he plays. Where he will thrive though, is in his ability to see the play happening before it even occurs. This almost sixth sense is what helped McTavish stand out at the Under-18 World Championships, as he potted 11 points in seven games.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a tough time keeping star offensive players in the past years, with Artemi Panarin & Matt Duchene bot opting to leave the Ohio club in search of greener pastures. The team does have Patrik Laine on the roster, but even he seems to want out of Columbus. In McTavish, the Blue Jackets can receive that star offensive player they have been looking for, and hopefully, keep him for the foreseeable future.
Exciting Draft Coming Up
With the draft in less than a month, I am extremely excited to see the deals that happen in the weeks leading up to it. Whatever happens, I’m just happy to see these young men, who have worked so hard to get where they are, have their dreams realized of playing in the NHL realized on July 23rd.
Dropping the Mike on ya: