Day 1 of the 2021 NHL Draft is in the books. For the second-straight year, the draft was conducted virtually due to Covid-19, leaving prospects to celebrate their selections with groups of family and friends rather than stepping up to the stage in a packed arena.
Restrictions around Covid-19 forced scouts to rely on video scouting more than ever before, which could make the end results of this draft particularly volatile. But on draft day itself, it’s all about optimism. Every selection is a future star, packed with potential.
Rounds 2 through 7 will run Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. ET. Here’s a look at the winners and losers from Friday’s first round.
Winner: University of Michigan Hockey
For the first time in history, three teammates from the same college program were selected within the top five of one draft. As expected, defenseman Owen Power went first overall to the Buffalo Sabres, and it was no surprise that two-way center Matthew Beniers followed him at No. 2, the first-ever draft pick of the expansion Seattle Kraken.
Rounding out the group was Kent Johnson, the Canadian who was the third-ranked North American forward according to NHL Central Scouting. The highly skilled scorer and playmaker was selected at No. 5 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Adding to the historic day, two incoming Michigan freshmen were also first-round selections. Defenseman Luke Hughes went fourth to the New Jersey Devils, while forward Mackie Samoskevich went to the Florida Panthers at No. 24.
At 6’6” and 213 pounds, Power has the physical tools to step directly into the NHL. But after a year of online classes and playing games in empty Yost Arena, he says he’s inclined to return for a sophomore season, to soak up the full college experience. If he and his fellow top picks return, the Wolverines could ice a stacked roster next season that would be the team to beat in the NCAA.
Loser: Montreal Canadiens
The NHL walked the walk on its ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ slogan to start the week. On Monday, Luke Prokop, a third-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators in 2020, was roundly supported when he became the first active player in an NHL organization to come out as gay.
But the Montreal Canadiens added another black eye for the league on Friday, when they selected defenseman Logan Mailloux with the 31st pick.
Earlier this week, Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff reported that Mailloux had been charged and paid a fine after secretly taking and distributing a photo of a woman engaging in a consenual sex act shortly after he arrived to play hockey in Sweden last fall, while his OHL London Knights were shut down due to Covid-19.
Earlier this week, Mailloux posted to Twitter, asking to be omitted from the draft as he works to learn from and move past the incident.
With the second-last pick of the first round, the Montreal Canadiens drafted the big right-shot blueliner anyway, prompting an instant uproar on social media. It was a shocking and controversial end to a day that’s supposed to be about hope and celebration.
Winners: The Hughes Family
As Michigan made history, so did one of its recruits. Selected fourth overall by the New Jersey Devils, defenseman Luke Hughes made his family the first in NHL history to see three brothers all drafted within the top 10.
Oldest brother Quinn, now 21, was selected seventh overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 2018. Jack, a forward, went first in 2019, also to New Jersey.
Jack couldn’t contain his excitement on Friday when he learned that his youngest, tallest sibling had just become his teammate.
With their lofty selections, the Hughes brothers surpassed out the Staals — Eric (No. 2 in 2003), Marc (No. 12 in 2005) and Jordan (No. 2 in 2006) — and the Sutters — Ron (No. 4, 1982), Rich (No. 10, 1982) Duane (No. 17, 1979), Brent (No. 17, 1980), Brian (No. 20, 1976) and Darryl (No. 179, 1978).
Losers: Aatu Raty And Other Droppers
Every time a player rises in the draft, someone else has to fall. So for every Tyler Boucher, ranked by Central Scouting as the 25th-best North American skater but chosen 10th overall by Ottawa, there’s a player like Aatu Raty. Listed third on Central Scouting’s list of European skaters, Raty is a center with decent size. Two years ago, he was expected to be the first-overall pick in this draft.
Raty’s stock plummeted after a pair of so-so seasons and a national team snub when he was left off Finland’s 2021 World Junior roster after playing in 2020. But I’m not sure anybody expected him to fall all the way out of the first round.
With his skillset, he could bring a high reward to the team that makes him a later-round selection on Saturday.
Raty came in at No. 28 on Bob McKenzie’s highly regarded draft rankings, an aggregation of the draft lists of 10 NHL scouts. Other players in McKenzie’s top 30 who did not get selected on Friday include Canadian center Francesco Pinelli (No.23), Russian winger Nikita Chibrikov (No. 24), Russian defenseman Daniil Chayka (No. 26), Canadian forward Logan Stankoven (No. 27) and Finnish winger Samu Tuomaala (No. 30).
Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets
After a disastrous season that saw them finish 28th overall and see important goalie prospect Matiss Kivlenieks pass away after a tragic Fourth of July fireworks accident, the Blue Jackets made lemonade out of lemons on Friday. With a blockbuster trade of Seth Jones, who had made it clear that he was looking to move on when his contract expired in one year’s time, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen re-set the future of his franchise.
Earlier on Friday, the market rate for high-profile defensemen came into focus as the Philadelphia Flyers acquired Rasmus Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks grabbed Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes.
In the wake of those deals, the Blue Jackets got an impressive return when they dealt Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he promptly signed a $76 million contract extension. The Blue Jackets also bundled in the first-rounder they’d received from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the David Savard trade (No. 32) and a sixth-rounder in 2022.
In return, they received picks No. 12 and No. 44, a first-rounder in either 2022 or 2023, and young defenseman Adam Boqvist, who was selected eighth overall in 2018.
That 44th pick was promptly flipped to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for another promising young defenseman, Jake Bean (No. 13 in 2016). Then, with their three first-round picks, the Blue Jackets shored up their forward depth by choosing Kent Johnson at No. 5 and Cole Sillinger at No. 12. They finished the day by adding a third new defenseman, Corson Ceulemans, with the No. 23 pick they received from Toronto in the trade-deadline swap for Nick Foligno.
Not bad for a day’s work.
Loser: Canucks and Flyers Scouting Departments
The 2020-21 season was a tough one for the NHL’s amateur scouts, whose live viewings of players were severely limited by Covid-19. Many leagues played shortened schedules; some didn’t play at all. Travel restrictions made it difficult for scouts to get to games, and safety protocols limited access to buildings and made it impossible to speak to prospects face-to-face.
Nevertheless, they persisted. But in the hours leading up to Friday’s first round, when the fruits of their labors would be realized, both the Flyers and the Canucks pulled the rug out from under their scouts’ feet when they traded away their first-round draft picks in the deals for Ristolainen and Ekman-Larsson, respectively.
Heading into Day 2 of the draft, the Flyers do hold six other picks — one each in Rounds 2 through 7.
The Canucks also traded away their third-rounder last Saturday, in the deal that saw them acquire forward Jason Dickinson from the Dallas Stars before the expansion draft roster freeze. They won’t pick in Rounds 3 or 4, but do hold six picks in total for Day 2.