Detroit Red Wings 2021 NHL Draft Preview: Part I - The Forwards
June 18, 2021
Welcome to Part I of a four-part weekly series previewing the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Part I will break down the forward options that may be available when the Red Wings step up to make the 6th overall pick. Part II will cover the defensemen, while Part III will serve as a deep dive into the idea of drafting a goaltender on Day 1. The fourth, and final, installment of the series will explore the abundance of options the Red Wings will have with the 22nd overall pick.
Check out the rest of the series here:
Part IV – The 22nd Overall Pick (July 9)
The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is just 5 weeks away and final draft rankings are slowly trickling out across major publications.
For Red Wings fans, it’s a familiar time of year. With no dog in the fight that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, attention has shifted to the possibility of adding another elite talent to the organization this summer.
The Red Wings will head into Day 1 of the draft with two 1st round picks — 6th (DET) and 22nd (WSH) overall. Detroit will be picking 6th for the third time in four years and will make multiple Day 1 picks for just the third time in team history.
While the 2021 Draft has often been scrutinized for lacking an elite, franchise-altering superstar, there will undoubtedly be some perennial all-stars to emerge from this year’s crop of talent.
And make no mistake about it, there is plenty of talent to be had.
For the Red Wings, this may be the ideal year to pick 6th overall. All season, there’s been a cluster of players so closely grouped together that, with just over a month to go, it’s tough to definitively say what will happen beyond the first two picks — and even THAT is debatable.
So, let’s evaluate the top forward options the Red Wings may have (listed alphabetically) with the 6th overall pick.
A quick disclaimer: by no means is this an exhaustive list. If Moritz Seider can vault up to #6, do not be surprised to see an unlisted player hear his name called by the Red Wings brass early on Day 1.
Also of note, Owen Power and Matthew Beniers have been omitted from this series as they appear to be the consensus #1 and #2 picks in this year’s draft. Interestingly, Matthew Beniers was just the 6th ranked North American skater on Central Scouting’s Final Rankings, but we’ll skip over him here nonetheless.
William Eklund | LW/C | Djurgårdens (SHL) | 5-10 | 172 lbs
Eklund was among the most productive U20 skaters during the first half of the 2020-21 SHL season. Few could have predicted the left winger’s early production — 14 points in his first 19 games — and this performance skyrocketed him up draft boards.
Why the Red Wings draft William Eklund:
The skill with Eklund is undeniable, and his complete offensive game is among the most translatable of all 2021 draft-eligible forwards.
It all starts with his offensive awareness and ability to generate scoring chances. Eklund is able to find and open up passing seams and skating lanes while circling the offensive zone with the puck on a string. His puck skills are near the top of the class, and he’s probably the best pure playmaker available this year.
But Eklund can also finish. He doesn’t have a great shot, but he does have a quick release and knows when to attack the net. His ability to anticipate where the play is headed and get himself to the high-danger areas makes him a constant offensive threat.
Eklund doesn’t have elite north-south speed, but he’s extremely agile and deceptive with the puck. He has amazing edgework, balance, and the ability to utilize quick weight transfers to fend off defenders in all three zones. Along with his vision, this is what makes him so dangerous in transition.
The pace Eklund can maintain throughout a game is impressive — again, in all three zones. Compete level will not be a question with the Swede as he remains just as engaged in his own end as he does when he’s carving up defenders and setting up teammates.
Why they don’t:
If Eklund projected to play down the middle in the NHL he’d probably be a top 2 pick in this year’s draft. He may even be favored to go 1st overall.
But the Swede played the wing in Djurgårdens this season and his game does appear to be better suited on the wing at the next level as well. Eklund is also on the smaller side at 5’10” and 172 lbs. If the Wings feel they have too many undersized wingers, this is something they may have to consider.
Then there’s the production. Eklund had just 9 points in his final 21 games after his torrid start to the 2020-21 season. Did the league figure him out? Was it a product of a struggling Djurgårdens squad? Did Eklund simply tire during the latter half of the season? For his age, the numbers remain impressive, but the drop-off is notable.
The bottom line:
Eklund’s game should translate very well to the NHL. There’s a very good chance Eklund is snatched up in the top 5, but he’d be hard to pass on at 6.
Dylan Guenther | RW | Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) | 6-1 | 181 lbs
Guenther dominated the shortened WHL season, playing at a league-leading two-point-per-game pace over 12 contests. The Edmonton, AB native has a well-rounded game and boasts the best shot in the draft.
Why the Red Wings draft Dylan Guenther:
The first thing that stands out about Guenther is his scoring touch. Whether he’s streaking into the offensive zone on his strong side, corralling a rogue pass on his off-wing, or driving to the net while fighting off a defender, he always seems to be able to, in the end, find the back of the net. If you’re looking for a skill that plays at any level, it’s Guenther’s scoring versatility.
Guenther’s shot may not be elite, but his lightning-quick release and ability to get it off accurately — from various angles — stacks up against any other 2021 draft-eligible. There’s no doubt he has an NHL shot.
Guenther also sees the ice well. In addition to his finishing ability, he can spot opportunities to find his teammates in the offensive zone. This dual-threat offensive game plays especially well on the power play when Guenther is given more time to create separation and mislead defenders.
Guenther isn’t as quick or elusive as a William Eklund; but, like Eklund, he is a very intelligent forward who anticipates play well.
Why they don’t:
The 2021 U18s served as the biggest stage for this year’s draft eligibles, and Guenther was…good. He wasn’t the standout many were hoping to see, however.
The real question with Guenther is his ultimate upside.
He does a lot of things very well, but what kind of impact will he have on a game-by-game basis at the NHL level? And how does that compare to the other options the Red Wings may have at this spot?
Guenther has a fantastic shot, but with just solid tools across the board, he most likely tops out as a 2nd line winger.
The bottom line:
Dylan Guenther would be a solid addition for the Red Wings. Detroit needs goal scorers and Guenther fits the bill. With Guenther’s intelligence, solid play away from the puck, and competitiveness, he seems like the type of player the Wings would covet.
Kent Johnson | LW/C | Univ. of Michigan (NCAA) |
6-1 | 165 lbs
Johnson is a blast to watch. The ultra-skilled forward had an impressive rookie season in Michigan in his draft year, netting 9 goals and 27 points in 26 games for the Wolverines. The North Vancouver native is the toolsiest of the top forwards at this year’s draft.
Why the Red Wings draft Kent Johnson:
If we were sorting by potential — and not alphabetically — you’d find Johnson at the top of this list. He’s a guy the Red Wings could dream on.
He’s incredibly talented and plays with a ton of confidence. He has unbelievable puck skills and hand-eye coordination and is easily the most creative playmaker in this draft.
It really can’t be overstated just how gifted Johnson is. His spontaneity with the puck and ability to get himself out of trouble is something to behold.
Like Eklund, Johnson also has a nose for the net. While a lot of his work is done on the perimeter, Johnson does not shy away from the high-danger scoring areas and will attack when he sees an opening.
Johnson is a playmaker first, but one who possesses a hard, accurate shot — and he’ll let it go from just about anywhere. Whether it’s a wrister from a sharp angle or a spinning-backhand off the rush, Johnson can get the puck to the net in a variety of ways.
Why they don’t:
While Johnson is the most purely skilled player in the 2021 class, this pick would come with some significant risk.
Johnson’s skating has been much-maligned, and many question whether he has the foot speed to play at an NHL pace. For a team like the Red Wings — who’ve clearly prioritized skating with recent picks — it’s fair to question if they would view this as a major knock on Johnson.
The crafty forward also has a tendency to paint himself into a corner. While dipsy-doodling and flashing that elite skill, there are times when he passes up opportunities to move the puck to an open teammate, hangs onto the puck for too long, and coughs up possession. Because he lacks that pull-away speed, his decision to slow the game down often backfires when he’s angled off and closed in on.
The puck management and decision-making is a real concern with Johnson. The balance of reigning in Johnson’s creativity — without snuffing it out entirely — will be the challenge the team that drafts him will face.
The bottom line:
If you’re risk-averse, Kent Johnson is not going to be your guy at 6. But if you’re ok with rolling the dice on Johnson’s raw skill with the hopes of nurturing his strengths and building his weaknesses, it’s tough to find another forward with the potential Johnson possesses.
Fabian Lysell | RW | Luleå HF (SHL) | 5-10 | 172 lbs
Kent Johnson may be the most exciting player to watch in this year’s class, but Fabian Lysell isn’t far behind.
Lysell had 3 goals and 13 points in 11 games for Frölunda J20 in 2020 before being loaned to Luleå (SHL), where — despite playing just 9-10 minutes per game — he consistently impacted the game in a positive way.
Why the Red Wings draft Fabian Lysell:
If you like Lucas Raymond’s tenacious forechecking and relentless puck pursuit, you’ll love Fabian Lysell. The 5’10” winger has a motor that’s unrivaled by his peers. It doesn’t matter where he is on the ice — Lysell is hunting pucks.
And he can absolutely fly. Lysell thrives in open ice and does well to put himself in a position to accept passes while in transition and backtrack once possession is lost.
Lysell will keep you on the edge of your seat as he blows past defenders, completes end-to-end rushes, and then gets on his horse and chases play back into his own end.
In the offensive zone, Lysell can do it all. The Swedish winger has a lethal wrister, but can also snap accurate feeds through traffic while at a standstill or slicing through the offensive zone. Lysell’s vision is impressive, as is his ability to execute.
Defensively, Lysell plays a passable game at this stage. As mentioned, he’s intense and he wants the puck. With some structure, he could be a dependable two-way forward at higher levels.
Why they don’t:
Lysell is another undersized winger. With fellow countrymen, Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren knocking on the door, would Steve Yzerman add a third forward that fits this profile?
At times, Lysell’s high-octane style of play can come back to bite him. He’s been known to hold onto the puck too long and force low-probability plays. This is something that can be corrected at the next level, but it’s something that could give teams pause.
Some have questioned Lysell’s decision to demand a trade from Frölunda earlier this season as well. Was it a matter of entitlement or simply the drive to challenge himself at the highest level possible during his draft year?
The bottom line:
If the Red Wings snag Lysell at 6, it’ll be yet another example of the club believing in a player who played a tertiary role for a professional club in his draft year. He’s an exciting prospect who many seem to be sleeping on heading into the draft.
Mason McTavish | C/LW | EHC Olten (Swiss League) | 6-2 | 207 lbs
Previously considered more of a mid-first-round pick, McTavish now seems to have solidified his place among the top 10. After an impressive 13-game stint in the Swiss league, the Swiss-born Canadian — and son of former NHLer Dale McTavish — popped off at the IIHF U18s and took his game to another level.
Why the Red Wings draft Mason McTavish:
There’s a lot to like about McTavish. First, he’s a center — and he’s projected by most to remain a pivot at the next level.
He’s also one of the better pure goal scorers available in this year’s draft. With his quick release and booming shot, McTavish is a consistent threat in the offensive zone.
Most importantly, he’s shown the ability to consistently find open ice and get himself into good shooting positions. He also uses his size to protect pucks and push play to high-danger areas himself.
McTavish is a competitor. You’ll find him aggressively banging bodies and competing for pucks In all three zones. Again, he uses his size well to win these puck battles, and his deceptively quick hands allow him to dig pucks out of high traffic areas and evade active sticks.
If the Red Wings were to select McTavish, he’d quickly ingratiate himself with both fans and coaches with his competitive play.
No one will mistake McTavish for Joe Thornton, but the Zurich-born center does have some playmaking ability as well. He sees the ice well and can use those quick hands to open up passing lanes and find teammates.
Why they don’t:
McTavish doesn’t have the best foot speed, and when he isn’t moving his feet he can appear to be at a near standstill. As is the case with Johnson, it’s fair to wonder if the rest of McTavish’s toolkit is enough to make up for this in the eyes of Kris Draper and his scouts.
McTavish also shouldn’t be expected to drive a line at the next level. To be effective, he’ll likely need to be paired with a winger who can drive possession and allow him to help create space for himself and his linemates. The Red Wings do have some promising young wingers who may be able to fill this role.
Another thing to wonder about with McTavish is his upside. If everything goes right for him, McTavish is likely a solid 2nd line center —and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re looking to hit a grand slam with the 6th pick and potentially find someone who’s going to put up 90+ points, McTavish isn’t that guy.
The bottom line:
McTavish’s blend of size, skill, and scoring ability down the middle makes him an attractive target at 6th overall. There are no real “safe” picks in an NHL draft, but McTavish does appear to be one of the more conservative options among the top 10.
Eklund, Guenther, Johnson, Lysell, and McTavish would all be great additions to the Red Wings organization. Each player comes with varying levels of certainty, risk, and upside, but there’s no question Detroit would be adding a talented player to their already exciting pool of prospects.
So how would you rank them? Who would you prefer the Red Wings take with the 6th overall pick? Or would you rather the Red Wings address an entirely different need by nabbing a defenseman or, dare I say it, a goaltender?
Leave a comment below and I’ll see you for Part II – The Defensemen next week.
Featured Image: Josefin Andersson