NHL mock draft 2021: Predicting what could -- and should -- happen for all 32 first-round picks

Brent Flahr has seen his share of draft classes in his 20 years in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers' assistant general manager believes the 2021 edition is going to be a fascinating one.

The draft lottery picks, for example, could prove totally unpredictable.

"It's going to be a really interesting draft. The top eight or nine guys ... teams will have them in different order, but it's probably going to be the same names," he said.

The rest of the draft could offer the same volatility. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many junior hockey leagues played truncated schedules or, in the case of the Ontario Hockey League, not at all. Major tournaments like the Memorial Cup were postponed. In-person scouting and player evaluation were ongoing challenges.

"What you're going to see is [the draft] to go all over the board. I think there are a number of players that media outlets have not seen a lot of. But teams have done their homework. You have some players that didn't even play this year. So you're going to see variances," Flahr said.

So, in summary, it's all a mystery. But here's our attempt at solving it. Our 2021 NHL mock draft includes the players we expect to be selected in all 32 opening-night slots, as well as our own picks for each team in the first round. The picks were formulated through conversations around the league, industry consensus and our own projections.

Here's how the first round could go down on Friday night. Watch it live at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

1. Buffalo Sabres

What makes sense: Owen Power, D, Michigan (Big Ten)

Power is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year's draft. He's 6-foot-6, skates well and can move the puck. The projection is for Power to develop into a poor man's Victor Hedman. He might not be quite the power-play QB or elite shutdown defender the Lightning star has become, but a poor man's Hedman is still pretty rich.

Our pick: Owen Power, D, Michigan (Big Ten)

If this is indeed the end of the Jack Eichel era in Buffalo, they need to move on to the next thing. You can do a heck of a lot worse for a "next thing" than building around Power and 21-year-old 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on the left side of your defense.

2. Seattle Kraken