The 2021 NHL draft season is going to be tricky -- to put it mildly. Start dates for leagues in North America are all over the map, and European leagues are already underway amid the constant threat of a coronavirus disruption. Many prospects haven't played much, if at all, since March. In short, expect plenty of changes to these early rankings between now and whenever the 2021 draft is held. There is a lot we don't know about this class. Consider the following an extremely preliminary look at what the class could be.
Further complicating matters is a complete lack of consensus on which player is the No. 1 prospect in the class. There is no Alexis Lafreniere or Jack Hughes this season. Rather, there is a handful of high-end talents who could be the top pick. With talent more evenly spread across the top prospects, the class is very exciting. (One more NHL team will be evaluating the group of prospects, too. The Seattle Kraken will be making their first draft pick and will enter the lottery with the third-best odds of acquiring the No. 1 selection.)
Which prospects stand out at this point in the process? Here is my early look at the top 32 players in the 2021 class, based on the information I've collected and the video I've reviewed so far.
1. Owen Power, D, Michigan (Big Ten)
Power is unique. He has the big frame at 6-foot-6 and 214 pounds, and he adds a fluidity to his game that belies his size. Most everything Power does looks effortless. Coming from the Chicago Steel program that played a big role in the 2020 draft, Power will be a true freshman defenseman on one of the youngest teams in the country. He's going to be leaned on to play a big role right away -- and with good reason.
The reigning USHL defenseman of the year, Power posted 40 points in 45 games for the Steel in 2019-20. His 0.89 points per game is fourth highest in USHL history for a U18 defenseman (minimum 30 games). While he played on the highest-scoring team in league history, he was a driver and made things happen in transition. Power has tremendous hockey sense and vision, with an ability to get around the offensive zone without any issues. To have Power's combination of size, range, mobility and hockey sense is rare.
2. Aatu Raty, C, Karpat (Finland)
Expectations are high for Raty, one of the top juniors in Finland for the past few years. He is one of those players who does pretty much everything well. That said, there isn't one thing that jumps out as a "special" trait for him.
Raty is committed to playing in all zones, he excels in the offensive elements of the game, and his hockey sense is probably his most notable tool. He has good size, has been borderline dominant against his age group internationally and has earned the pro time he has received. I like his skating and shot, too. He always plays up a level and has tremendous maturity both on and off the ice.