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Scouting ahead of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft was notably difficult, which led to a lack of consensus on the order in which players would be picked after Owen Power went No. 1 to the Sabres. Similarly, fantasy managers in dynasty formats face several obstacles when it comes to restocking the cupboard for their teams this fall.
While no two leagues are the same, the following is some general advice on the approach savvy managers should take on draft day this year.
Know your team
While last season was a short one, managers should have a good concept of the strengths and weaknesses of their rosters and prospect pools heading into October. Dynasty is a format in which you have to balance short-term progress with long-term stability to remain competitive. Knowing what your team is capable of is an important first step — from there, you can stock up on forwards if you need more scoring, defensemen for blocked shots and plus-minus rating, or goalies if your current netminders aren't getting the job done. Since most formats lean more so on forwards, you'll want to target players who have a high ceiling for scoring potential.
Cut a deal
Once you've evaluated your team's shortcomings, there are a few ways to approach improving your roster. One of them is the trade market. If your league allows a pre-draft trading period, don't be afraid to engage in negotiations with other managers. Remember that potential is just that — potential. If a player has been on an NHL roster for a few years and hasn't made an impact, don't be afraid to deal him away to a more optimistic manager in exchange for picks. Conversely, if you're lacking in pedigree prospects, consider parting with some picks to acquire a big name. There's never a bad time to strengthen your roster, even well before the season starts.
Goalies can wait
Goalie prospects notoriously take a long time to develop, in part due to only one being able to play at a time. In 2021, only two goalies (Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt) were taken in the first round. There's no need to reach on a goalie in the early rounds of a virtual rookie draft — it'll probably take 3-4 years for the investment to pay off, whereas high-end forwards can usually make an impact in a year or two. If a goalie takes a big step forward in the minors, you always have the option of floating a trade offer to acquire him without wasting draft capital.
Do your homework
The best way to build a winner in any fantasy hockey format is to do your homework. This is most important in dynasty formats when it comes to how useful a player is expected to be when they're expected to reach the NHL and what style they play. Get familiar with players by reading scouting reports, tracking progress in junior, minor, college, or foreign leagues, and adjusting expectations based on performance as they climb toward the NHL. For starters, check out the Rotowire Top 200 prospects list.
Embrace the youth movement
It's important to remember that managing in a dynasty format requires some long-term planning in terms of roster construction. As such, if all other stats are equal, go with the younger player. The development curve favors players with a longer runway before they peak — typically around 27 years old. That means this year's draft class has roughly nine years of improvement ahead of them, while older prospects are likely to top out sooner. It takes some patience to wait for these players to develop, but it'll be worth it down the line.
Top 2021 NHL Draft prospects
Now that you have an approach to work with, let's check out some top prospects who were selected in July's draft. In addition to the players listed below, fantasy managers can get ahead of their opponents by keeping an eye on undrafted free agents overseas, in college, or in junior leagues to round out their prospect pools with lesser-known names. Most dynasty formats, however, will be heavily focused on players selected in the NHL Entry Draft.
William Eklund, LW, Sharks: Taken seventh overall, Eklund joins a Sharks team short of proven NHL options at his natural left-wing position. While a half-dozen other players were selected ahead of him, the Swede has a great chance of at least making his NHL debut at some point this season. Most importantly, Eklund played against men in Sweden last year while many other top prospects worked on their trade in junior hockey. He was voted SHL rookie of the year with 11 goals and 12 assists in 40 contests with Djurgardens.
Owen Power, D, Sabres: The consensus first-overall pick this year, Power will likely be a star for years to come in the NHL. He's a huge defenseman (6-foot-6) with great vision, although there are still some questions surrounding his offensive game. He's committed to play at Michigan for the upcoming college hockey season, but there's a reasonable chance he inks an entry-level deal with Buffalo once the NCAA season is done.
Matt Beniers, C, Kraken: The first draft pick in Kraken history was taken second overall this year. The thing that makes Beniers exciting as a dynasty prospect is opportunity. The Kraken are notably weak down the middle, an issue the 18-year-old center could address as soon as this spring. Like Power, Beniers is set to play at Michigan during the upcoming NCAA season, but it shouldn't be long before we see him on NHL ice. He projects as a reliable second-line center at a minimum.
Kent Johnson, C, Blue Jackets: Another Michigan Wolverine, Johnson put up 27 points in 26 games as a freshman last season. He was selected fifth overall by the Blue Jackets, and like Beniers, his high ranking on this list is primarily due to opportunity. The Blue Jackets need to retool their forward corps, and a playmaking center like Johnson could be given every chance to succeed in a top-six role shortly after joining the big club. The "when" remains a question mark, but there's little doubt to his skill set and highlight-reel potential.
Mason McTavish, C, Ducks: Due to the OHL not playing in 2020-21, McTavish got a chance at professional experience with Olten EHC in the Swiss league last year. He had 11 points in 13 games overseas, enough to interest the Ducks at the No. 3 spot in this year's draft. McTavish is much more of a long-term prospect, as he lacks NHL-caliber speed despite having a good shot. The Ducks haven't had much luck with center prospects yet — maybe this 18-year-old could eventually step in as a No. 2 center behind future superstar Trevor Zegras once the rebuild is over.
Dylan Guenther, RW, Coyotes: This Edmonton-born winger is a goal-scoring machine, netting 12 in as many games with his hometown Oil Kings in the WHL last year. He slipped to ninth overall in the draft, but he could address a long-term need for the Coyotes once he's NHL ready. He's got 30-goal potential in the NHL — fantasy managers need that kind of finishing touch wherever they can find it, as long as the Coyotes' notorious ability to snuff out offense doesn't diminish Guenther's potential.
Luke Hughes, D, Devils: The youngest of the three Hughes brothers, soon-to-be 18-year-old Luke was taken fourth overall by the Devils. Like the Canucks' Quinn Hughes, Luke is an absurdly talented blueliner. He's committed to playing for the Michigan Wolverines this fall, and he could still need a couple of college and/or minor-league seasons to refine his defensive game. He's got the potential to be like current Devil P.K. Subban in his prime — plenty of scoring, but also prone to turnovers, which could lead to a sheltered role for Hughes when he arrives in the NHL, but that won't bother fantasy managers.
Matthew Coronato, LW/RW, Flames: Another gifted scorer, Coronato tore apart the USHL with 48 goals and 37 assists in 51 games to etch his name in the junior league's record books with the Chicago Steel last season. He'll spend 2021-22 at Harvard. The New York native can score in spades, and he's a smart player too. The Flames have shown a good eye for American draft prospects — with Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Adam Fox among their recent selections — Coronato figures to have a good chance to develop a similar reputation, although he'll likely require multiple years to become NHL ready.
Simon Edvinsson, D, Red Wings: Edvinsson brings a well-rounded game on the blue line, although that could lead to a longer developmental path. The 18-year-old Swede had 12 points in 38 games across three leagues in his native Sweden last year — his offense is not NHL ready, but he's got size (6-foot-4) and skating skills in spades. He's still going to need multiple years to make the jump, but the Red Wings should be able to make room for him when he's ready.
Brandt Clarke, D, Kings: While not the fastest skater, Clarke is a solid two-way defender who is likely a little closer to NHL action than others listed above him. He put up 15 points in 26 games with HC Nove Zamky in the Slovak Extraliga when the OHL season was canceled last year. He's expected to return to OHL Barrie this year, which means he's likely a few years away from a full-time NHL gig.
Sebastian Cossa, Red Wings: Taken 15th overall in the NHL draft, Cossa clearly has the skill to be a factor in the NHL within three years. He's a big goalie, but he also has good movement in the crease. Whether he takes the reins as a true No. 1 goalie or starts in a tandem situation, Cossa will likely establish himself as an effective NHL netminder in the not-too-distant future.
Jesper Wallstedt, Wild: There are some questions about whether Wallstedt or Cossa will be better, but working in Wallstedt's favor is his experience in a professional league in Sweden's SHL. He logged a 2.23 GAA and a .908 save percentage in 22 contests with Lulea HF last year — those aren't stellar numbers, but the Swede may be a little more advanced on his NHL track than Cossa. The Wild aren't committed long-term to Kaapo Kahkonen yet, which could give Wallstedt a chance to win an NHL job as soon as 2023-24, and it figures he'll be worth the wait.