Three months ago, Alexis Lafreniere completed his run as "hockey's next big thing" by being drafted at No. 1 in the 2020 NHL draft by the New York Rangers. But now, with the 2020-21 season upon us and the 2021 NHL draft just under seven months away, we're turning the page to a new crop of talented prospects. That begins with the 2021 class, but we're also taking an early peek at who might stand out in the 2022 and 2023 drafts.
The interesting thing about the next three drafts? Of the three, this year's has the least amount of certainty at No. 1 overall. There is a true wide-open race for the top pick in 2021, compounded by the uneven starts to this season, with some of the top competitors still waiting for the OHL and WHL seasons to commence.
So who is the likeliest candidate to go first overall in July? Who are his biggest challengers? And who is the favorite to earn that honor in the two drafts that follow? In order to get the lay of the land for hockey's future, we answer some of the biggest questions about the very top of the three coming draft classes.
Who is leading the race for No. 1 in the 2021 NHL draft?
That would be Owen Power out of the University of Michigan. The 6-foot-5, 214-pounder is a highly mobile defenseman with terrific hockey sense. He was the No. 1 prospect on my first draft ranking for the class, largely due to the body of work he had coming into this season.
Power was the USHL's Defenseman of the Year at age 17. He had 40 points in 45 games for the Chicago Steel, which was on pace for a record-shattering campaign. His team was stacked with first-rounder Brendan Brisson, second-rounder Sam Colangelo and a host of other draft picks dotting the lineup, but it was clear that Power was a driver on that team, dictating so much of the game from the back end.
In 10 games so far this season for the Wolverines, Power has four points. It's the potential that is really driving the hype around him, as he is having more of an up-and-down start at Michigan. You want to see No. 1 guys dominate and take over games, and Power hasn't quite gotten there yet. But that doesn't mean he won't as he adjusts to the college game.
The raw tools are really intriguing. He has the size and the range. Power can get physical and defends really well, with a long reach and high-end footwork. Offensively, he's so smooth and confident with the puck. Power makes good decisions and finds ways to create.