Friday night was the National Hockey League’s 2021 Entry-Level Draft. The first night of the draft saw the first round of the draft completed. With the majority of the 32 NHL teams choosing in the first round, Friday night was an interesting night to say the least.
This is the second consecutive year that the entry-level draft will be held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. In a typical year, the draft would have been hosted by a NHL team in their city with all members of the first round draft class present for the first round. This year, the draft is being held remotely with the players videoconferencing with their respected new NHL teams, and the NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, announcing the selections in the NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. The NHL entry-level draft typically takes place in late June, following the completion of the Stanley Cup Final. However, with the COVID-shortened NHL season that did not end until early July, the draft was pushed back until July 23rd to 24th. Friday night marked the first round of the draft with Saturday seeing the round two through seven take place.
The players that are being drafted in the 2021 NHL Entry-Level draft are born between January 1, 2001 and September 15, 2003. Players that were born in 2000 and are non-North American, as well as players who were drafted in the 2019 NHL Entry-Level Draft but have yet to sign with an NHL team and who were born after June 30, 2001 are eligible for this year’s draft.
The Buffalo Sabres won the draft lottery that took place on June 2nd, 2021 giving them the first overall pick of the night. With their first pick of the night, the Sabres chose defensemen Owen Power as their first pick. Power, a 18 year old from Mississauga, Ontario played for the University of Michigan last season as a freshman who suited up for 26 games and tallied 16 points. Power is only the 4th NCAA player in NHL history to have been chosen first overall with the latest being Erik Johnson in 2006. It was the beginning of quite a night for the University of Michigan hockey program.
With the second overall pick of the night, the new team on the block, the Seattle Kraken, chose Matthew “Matty” Beniers at number 2. Beniers, a member of University of Michigan Wolverines last season, put up 10 goals and 14 assists in just 24 games at UMich. When asked about what he thought about being Seattle’s first ever draft pick, Beniers said, “being drafted in the first place, going second overall and going to a new expansion team, I’m so unbelievably excited and thankful for everything.” To say Matty Beniers made history by going second overall would be an understatement.
The Anaheim Ducks had the third overall pick in this year’s entry-level draft and they did not disappoint. With their third overall pick, the Ducks chose the 6 foot 1, 207 pound centre from Carp, Ontario, Mason McTavish. McTavish, an Ottawa Valley boy, played for the Peterborough Petes last season in the COVID-19 depleted season. In the 2019-20 campaign, McTavish made the OHL rookie all-star team after scoring an impressive 29 goals and 13 assists in 57 games. After an impressive performance at the under-18 world championships in Switzerland, where he was an alternate captain, McTavish will bring a much needed breath of fresh air to the Ducks. The Ducks, who were dead last in the NHL offensive race last year after scoring only 126 goals, needed to find some offensive help and with Mason McTavish, they did just that.
The fourth pick of the night was, hands down, the most anticipated pick of the night. Would the devils pick Luke Hughes, younger brother of number one overall draft pick, Jack Hughes, or would they choose someone else? Speculations were flying whether the Devils would unite the Hughes boys or if they would pass on the 6-foot-2, 184 pound high-flying defensemen. Well, the Hughes boys (and parents’) dream came true. The Devils chose Luke with their 4th overall pick uniting the 2 youngest Hughes boys. With the pick of Hughes at 4, the Hughes Family became just the first American family with three siblings to all be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. Only the Sutters and the Staals have reached this accomplishment before. After seeing Jack’s reaction when the Devils chose Luke, I think it’s safe to say that the middle Hughes is pumped to have his little brother in Jersey with him.
Rounding out the top five was the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the fifth pick of the night, the Blue Jackets who had just completed a huge trade that sent star defensemen Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks in return for Adam Boqvist, and later on, sent a second-rounder they got from Chicago to acquire Carolina defenseman, Jake Bean. The Blue Jackets capped off their their day with the 5th overall pick. At fifth, they picked UMich’s Kent Johnson. Johnson, who played for the Wolverines last season is a late bloomer. Before he headed to UMich, he played within the British Columbia Hockey League, not in the typical CHL that most players go to school from. Despite not playing the CHL system, the BCHL still produces high quality NCAA players, like Johnson. Last season, in just 26th games, Johnson was able to put 9 goals and 27 points in only 26 games. He was seventh overall in the Big Ten in points per game as a freshman; not a bad statistic at all.
With Johnson being chosen at 5th overall and Mackie Samoskevich being chosen at 24 by the Florida Panthers, the University of Michigan had quite the night. As Greg Wyshynski of ESPN said, this 2021 NHL entry-level draft class will be known as “The Michigan Draft”. With Owen Power and Matty Beniers going first and second overall, that is the first time since 1969 that the sam team has produced the first two picks in the draft. “The Michigan Draft” and the Michigan boys became the first NCAA team that has had three current players taken in the first round nor had three teammates selected within the top five picks in the same year. If all of the UMich players return to the Wolverines lineup next season and not crack their respected NHL rosters as rookies, UMich will be unstoppable in NCAA action.
As always, the NHL entry-level draft was a night that these players will never forget. A day that was full of blockbuster trades and history making, was nothing but exciting. The NHL will not be back until late September when training camps begin with a hope for an October 12 start date for the 2021-22 season. Until then, happy off-season trading!