Wrapping up the 2021 NHL Draft
by Lucas Aykroyd|25 JUL 2021
Russia’s Prokhor Poltapov celebrates a goal at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
2021 has been an unpredictable year, both on and off the ice. That trend continued on Day Two of the NHL Draft. Conducted virtually via the NHL Network, the draft featured virtually no consensus. Plenty of potential first-round picks tumbled to the second round on Saturday.

Consider the Russians. Two-way defenceman Danil Chaika (CSKA Moscow), who had two strong years with the OHL’s Guelph Storm, ended up as the 38th overall pick by the Vegas Golden Knights. Winger Nikita Chibrikov (SKA St. Petersburg), who captained the silver medal-winning Russian U18 Worlds team, was projected to go late in the first round, but the Winnipeg Jets took him 50th overall.

On the other hand, skilled forward Prokhor Poltapov (Krasnaya Armia Moscow, MHL) went a little higher than many expected to the Buffalo Sabres, 33rd overall, with the first pick of the second round.

In total, 29 Russians were drafted this year – the most since 2003 (30).

The Canadian squad that won the U18 Worlds in Frisco and Plano, Texas to end an eight-year gold medal drought continued to spawn high-end picks. Olen Zellweger (Everett Silvertips, WHL), whose eight points tied Finland’s Aleksi Heimosalmi (Assat U20) and Canadian teammate Corson Ceulemans for the tournament lead among blueliners, went 34th overall to the Anaheim Ducks.
Savvy forward Francesco Pinelli (Kitchener Rangers, OHL), who shone overseas against men with 13 points in 15 games for Slovenia’s HDD Jesenice, was drafted 42nd overall by the Los Angeles Kings. Meanwhile, sharpshooter Logan Stankoven (Kamloops Blazers, WHL) was taken 47th overall by the Dallas Stars.

Finland, despite icing an all-time high of 60 NHLers in 2020-21, had zero players drafted in this year’s first round. Things picked up on Day Two with six Suomi selections in the second round.

The Carolina Hurricanes, whose top players already include captain Sebastian Aho and playmaking left wing Teuvo Teravainen, added Heimosalmi with the 44th pick overall and Ville Koivunen (Karpat U20) went 51st.
Winger Samu Tuomaala (Karpat), who joined underagers Matvei Michkov (Russia) and Connor Bedard (Canada) as a U18 all-star forward thanks largely to his wicked one-timer, went 46th to the Philadelphia Flyers. Aatu Raty (Karpat) – the brother of Aku, once touted as a potential #1 overall draft choice – could turn out to be a windfall for the New York Islanders, who are coming off their second straight run to the semi-finals, in the 52nd slot.

Other second-round Finns included relatives of former NHLers. Towering centre Samuel Helenius, the son of tough blueliner Sami Helenius, was drafted 59th overall by Los Angeles. The Montreal Canadiens grabbed speedy Oliver Kapanen – the nephew of Sami Kapanen – with the 64nd and last pick of the second round. 

Family connections were very much front and centre on Day Two.

In another example, the Arizona Coyotes drafted Josh Doan (37th overall), much to the joy of his father Shane Doan. The elder Doan, of course, played his entire 21-season NHL career with the Coyotes franchise, in addition to winning three IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medals (2003, 2004, 2007) with Canada and adding a fourth in June as the assistant GM at last month’s Worlds in Latvia. Coming off a 70-point season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, Josh Doan will stick close to his birthplace by skating for Arizona State University next season.
Chicago Blackhawks fans had something to cheer about when their team took Colton Dach (Saskatoon Blades, WHL) late in the second round with the 62nd overall pick. The 192-cm, 93-cm forward is the younger brother of Kirby Dach. Slated to serve as Canada’s captain at the 2021 World Juniors, Kirby Dach injured his wrist in a pre-tournament game against Russia and wouldn’t see NHL action until late March. With 82 points in 33 career NHL games, the elder Dach can head into his third NHL season with the dream of someday suiting up alongside his kid brother.

In the department of surprises, Belarus had three players drafted, matching its highest total in history (2004: Mikhail Grabovski, Sergei Kolosov, Sergei Kukushkin).

Forward Danila Klimovich (Minskie Zubry) excited scouts with his six goals in five games at the U18 Worlds, and the 18-year-old parlayed that into three games at the men’s Worlds in Latvia. Klimovich went 41st overall to the Vancouver Canucks in the second round. In the third round, goalie Alexei Kolosov (Dynamo Minsk) was chosen 78th overall by Philadelphia, and Winnipeg took defenceman Dmitri Kuzmin (Dinamo Molodechno) four picks later.

Kazakhstan had reason to celebrate after forward Andrei Buyalski (HK Almaty) became the first player born and trained in that former Soviet republic to get drafted in 17 years. (Viktor Alexandrov, the son of the late Soviet ace Boris Alexandrov, and Maxim Semyonov were both taken in 2004.)

Buyalski was taken in the third round (92nd overall) by the Colorado Avalanche. The 20-year-old, who had 32 points in 36 games for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints last year, will hone his skills with the University of Vermont in 2021/22. 

Similarly, Artur Cholach became the first Ukrainian player to be drafted since Sergei Gaiduchenko in 2007. Cholach had returned to Ukraine to play senior hockey with Sokil Kyiv after one year each of junior hockey in Moscow and in New Jersey. The Vegas Golden Knights picked him in the sixth round (190th overall).

Saturday also featured a pair of noteworthy trades.
In a homecoming of sorts, long-time Flyers star Jakub Voracek returned to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that originally drafted him (seventh overall in 2007), in exchange for American sniper Cam Atkinson. It’s an intriguing, hockey-based swap as neither club retained salary in this bid to revitalize the careers of two early-30’s star forwards.

Voracek, 31, is the leading active scorer among Czech NHLers (738 points), just ahead of Boston David Krejci (730 points). He has captained the Czech Republic at three of his six Worlds, winning gold (2010) and bronze (2011) in his first two stints. The 32-year-old Atkinson, who peaked NHL-wise with 41 goals in 2018-19, is a two-time Worlds participant who won a bronze medal in 2018.

Meanwhile, Buffalo sent Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers for goalie prospect Devon Levi and a first-round pick in 2022. Reinhart, 25, was the second overall pick in 2014 and has scored 20 or more goals in five of his six NHL campaigns. He’s even more accomplished in IIHF play, with gold medals to his credit at the U18 (2013), World Junior (2015), and World Championship (2016) levels.

Levi was the breakout performer of this year’s World Juniors for the silver-medal host Canadians. Unexpectedly, the Northeastern University prospect’s record-setting 0.75 GAA and 96.4 save percentage earned him Best Goalie and tournament all-star honours in Edmonton.

Breakdown of players drafted by country: 

Canada 83
USA 51
Russia 29
Sweden 23
Finland 16
Czech Republic 8
Belarus 3
Germany 3
Switzerland 3
Kazakhstan 1
Norway 1
Slovakia 1
Ukraine 1

The NHL plans to hold the 2022 draft in Montreal.