Are you from Michigan? Do you like seeing local boys go on to do great things? Then the 2021 NHL Draft, good people of Michigan, is for you!
The University of Michigan has three freshmen slated to go in the top 10 picks of the draft. This possibility is a true anomaly and momentous moment for collegiate hockey.
None of them were born in Michigan, though. And only one of them is even American — he’s a Boston kid. So if you’re a Wolverines fan, hooray! Because the lone Michigan native projected to go top 10 is also headed to Ann Arbor, and this piece is sure to fill you with internal pride.
Here’s everything you need to know about the four Michigan Wolverines whose names will likely be called early on in the July 23 broadcast on ESPN2.
Owen Power — D, University of Michigan
Power has been the consensus No. 1 pick for most of the season, but there’s still a chance of a draft-day switcheroo.
A Canada native, Power verbally committed to play at the University of Michigan at age 15 — a somewhat unusual route for such a highly touted Canadian prospect — before lighting it up for two seasons with the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel.
At 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, Power has drawn comparisons to former Norris Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman, but there’s a much longer road ahead of him. For one, he’s staring down the barrel of starting his career in Buffalo, the place that turned 2018’s top overall choice, Rasmus Dahlin, into an inconsistent defenseman who lacks confidence.
Dahlin and Power’s projections heading into draft season are stark. Power is a really nice piece and a potential top-pair defenseman; Dahlin, on the other hand, had one scout ahead of the draft saying that he defends like Hall-of-Famer Nicklas Lidstrom and skates like future Hall-of-Famer Erik Karlsson.
Nobody is saying that about Power, although it’s not necessarily because part of his game is lacking. The main criticism is that he does everything very well, but only a few parts of his game have potential to become elite.
And nothing is quite there just yet.
For most teams, that profile would make him a fine pick. But for the Sabres, well … [gestures broadly at Tyler Myers].
Power may have started to turn even his biggest doubters into believers with his performance in June’s World Hockey Championships, though. He more than held his own playing against a collection of adult rosters that featured a good deal of NHL talent, even earning player of the game for Team Canada in the tournament quarterfinal.
Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan
If anybody robs Power of the chance to go No. 1 in the 2021 NHL Draft, it’s most likely going to be Michigan teammate Matty Beniers. The Massachusetts native was committed to Harvard but wound up flipping to Michigan after the Ivy League canceled its season because of COVID-19 precautions.
What a stroke of luck it was for the Wolverines.
Beniers put up 10 points and 14 assists in 24 games during his freshman season, raised his stock with an impressive showing for Team USA’s gold-medal win at the World Junior Championships, then solidified his resume with a roster spot on Team USA’s World Championships roster in June.
Even before the World Championships, Beniers had established himself as the most NHL-ready prospect in the draft. He defends at an elite level, has all the offensive tools and brings something unique to the ice in all three zones, drawing comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. He’d make a great pick for the Sabres at No. 1, who, at this point, are poised to lose their franchise center any minute now.
Assuming that won’t happen, he’s just as good of a pick to the Seattle Kraken at No. 2. His high floor almost makes sure that the franchise’s first non-expansion-draft pick isn’t a bust. And if Toews’ ability is Benier’s ceiling, then Seattle could quickly be heading down a similarly successful road.
Luke Hughes — D, U.S. National U-18 Team
In most mocks, sitting comfortably in the tier behind Power and Beniers is US Developmental Program defenseman Luke Hughes. But he’s not far behind.
Hughes grew up a city over from USA Hockey Arena in Canton. After watching his two brothers make their way through the program en route to top-10 selections, Hughes is up next.
Luke, who doesn’t turn 17 until September, will follow in his brother Quinn’s footsteps and head to play defense at the University of Michigan. Detroit Red Wings fans are probably hoping that’s where the similarities stop — Quinn was taken one spot after the Red Wings took Filip Zadina at No. 6, promptly encouraging a revenge tour that saw the oldest Hughes brother finish as runner-up for rookie of the year in 2020. Jack, a forward, went first-overall to the New Jersey Devils in 2019.
Now it’s time for the hacky, inevitable line you were all waiting for: Luke might be the best yet!
Luke Hughes has an incredibly gifted offensive toolbox highlighted by the best skating ability of any defenseman in the draft, particularly with the puck in transition. His ability to create unpredictable lanes in the neutral zone is a lethal weapon. His thinner frame and ability to get away with whatever he wants has left some defensive gaps, but he’s one of the youngest players in this class and has plenty of time to grow.
Jack has expressed desire for New Jersey, drafting fourth, to select his brother, and he’d probably be the best option available for the Columbus Blue Jackets at No. 5. So it’s hard to imagine he’ll end up in Detroit.
Kent Johnson — C/W, University of Michigan
At one point in the season, Kent Johnson looked like he might be a third 2021 NHL Draft challenger from Michigan to go No. 1. That ship looks like it’s sailed, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that he could still end up as one the best — if not the best — player in this year’s class.
In most mocks, Johnson sits in the Nos. 6-10 region, mainly because his possession and turnover metrics during his freshman season at Michigan only widened the gap between his high-ceiling, low-floor projection.
But when he’s playing his best hockey, Johnson’s creativity is so smooth that it’s almost machine-like. He scored with the Michigan Move (I believe the kids are calling it the “lacrosse goal” these days) twice during his final season in the British Columbia Hockey League and made No. 2 on the SportsCenter Top 10 with a showstopping goal against Minnesota in December.
He’s the real deal. And although the concerns about his game are valid, he took a massive leap between his two seasons in the British Columbia Hockey League.
Johnson’s first-year scoring numbers there looked a lot like they did in his first season at Michigan. If he follows a similar trajectory, the teams that passed on him are going to be sorry.
2021 NHL Draft
When: Round 1, Friday, July 23; Rounds 2-7, Saturday, July 24
TV: 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2; 11 a.m. ET Saturday, NHL Network
Note: The Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, on ESPN2.
2021 NHL Draft Order
|2.||Seattle Kraken||(Expansion team)|
|4.||New Jersey Devils|
|5.||Columbus Blue Jackets|
|6.||Detroit Red Wings|
|7.||San Jose Sharks|
|8.||Los Angeles Kings|
|15.||New York Rangers|
|16.||St. Louis Blues|
|22.||Detroit Red Wings||(from Washington)|
|24.||Columbus Blue Jackets||(from Toronto)|
|25.||Minnesota Wild||(from Pittsburgh)|
|28.||New Jersey Devils||(from New York Islanders)|
|29.||Vegas Golden Knights|
|31.||Columbus Blue Jackets||(from Tampa Bay)|