A week from today, the Nashville Predators will select 19th overall (but with the 18th pick, since the Arizona Coyotes lost theirs) at the 2021 NHL Draft. With the top-15 of this draft expected to be a bit chaotic, Nashville should have a number of good options here to add to their pipeline.
Below I’ve mocked up what Nashville’s draft board could look like in the first round with players who will likely be available and would be worthwhile targeting.
Nashville’s Draft Board: Round 1
|Nikita Chibrikov||W||SKA-Neva St. Petersburg||VHL||20||3||5||8||2003|
|Zachary Bolduc||C||Rimouski Océanic||QMJHL||27||10||19||29||2003|
|Carson Lambos||D||JYP U20||U20 SM-sarja||13||2||9||11||2003|
HV71 [SHL] | W | 6’2”, 181 lbs. | OTF Rank: 11
Earlier this week, I took Oskar Olausson in SB Nation’s 2021 NHL Mock Draft with Nashville’s pick. He’s a big-bodied winger who’s absolutely mesmerizing with the puck on his stick and was second in offensive production among draft-eligible Swedish skaters this season, behind William Eklund.
He’s already picked up great pro experience in the SHL and would be an excellent addition to an organization that desperately needs more scoring talent upfront.
(Note: I’ll be using prospect cards produced by @JFreshHockey using @TopDownHockey’s NHLe model. NHLe is a model that attempts to estimate point production in the NHL using historical data from all leagues that NHL players have come from. It’s by no means perfect and can exclude a lot of context, so don’t get too wrapped up in the ranks on these cards).
Olausson saw a big jump in his draft stock this season with impressive primary-point scoring rates at the J20 Nationell and SHL levels. His game is built around offensive creativity and one of the best shots in this draft class. He can stickhandle through any roadblock and maintains a good frame to protect the puck, he can fire deceptive wrist shots mid-stride to fool goalies, and he can generate good (not great speed) with solid skating mechanics.
Defensively, Olausson can be frustrating at times, making careless errors. His tendency to hold onto pucks can either work brilliantly in pulling defenders away or poorly in losing a play while trying to do too much.
SKA-Neva St. Petersburg [VHL] | W | 5’10”, 172 lbs. | OTF Rank: 14
One of the more exciting forwards in this draft class, Chibrikov could grow into an excellent spark plug for the club that drafts him. This season, he earned a wealth of experience playing ten or more games in the KHL, VHL, and MHL plus skating in the U18 World Junior Championship.
Although his counting stats don’t jump off the page, the maturity in his game was demonstrated in 36 games mostly against men this season while many of his peers were stuck in the MHL (the Russian junior league). In the KHL, Chibrikov averaged just under eight minutes of ice time per night.
For his size, Chibrikov is a good skater who generates impressive speed despite some inconsistencies in his stride mechanics from time to time. He can fly in transition or weave around defenders as he’s constantly looking to display his hallmark passing ability.
Not only can he be tenacious on the forecheck, but Chibrikov is astute defensively too, and covers all 200 feet of the ice well. On the attack, he can be reserved at times when entering the zone, but as his confidence grows, he’ll continue to excel at attacking defenders and finding new ways to dazzle with his passing skills.
Rimouski Océanic [QMJHL] | C | 6’1”, 174 lbs. | OTF Rank: 17
After a 52-point debut in 55 QMJHL games last season, many expected Bolduc to dominate as a scoring threat for Rimouski this season. But in a challenging season with many COVID-based disruptions, Bolduc managed just ten goals and 29 points in 27 games. That was still good enough to lead his club in scoring, and Bolduc finished ninth among draft-eligible QMJHL skaters in primary points per game (0.778) and eighth in even-strength primary points per game (0.593).
The question teams will be asking themselves is whether Bolduc’s 2019-20 season was an outlier or whether he can regain that form and become a top NHL scorer. My bet is it’s somewhere in between. Bolduc is a natural center who can help drive play and will be a complementary scoring piece in a team’s top-six, but I don’t think he’ll put in 30+ goals in the NHL.
He is, for my money, one of the more intelligent players in this draft class. He understands what small plays or puck touches need to be made, no matter how simple, to tilt the ice in his team’s favor. He’s got a good frame and overall good skating mechanics that let him attack defenders with force and utilize his puck-handling skill. He can improve both his puck protection and his decision making at times, but he has the foundation to become a two-way center who can clean up in high-danger areas and round out a line.
JYP U20 [U20 SM-sarja] | D | 6’1”, 201 lbs. | OTF Rank: 25
Lambos has been one of the more talked about 2021 prospects for a few years now, but he suffered more COVID-related draft setbacks than most of his peers. In 2019-20, he dazzled in the WHL, scoring 32 points in 57 games for the Winnipeg Ice, and was hearing his name in the conversation for a top-five pick.
During the pandemic, he went overseas to Finland and played okay at the U20 level but didn’t exceed many expectations. When the WHL season finally started, Lambos skated in just two games before suffering a season-ending injury.
While there are a lot of variables in drafting Lambos, there isn’t another defender that will be available at 18 that intrigues me as he does. In his DY-1 season (2019-20), he led all WHL defenders his age in primary points per game (0.281) and even-strength primary points per game (0.175).
Lambos’s skating profile has split a lot of evaluators. He has a good foundation to his stride, but inconsistencies in his knee bend and extension lead to a lack of explosiveness. He can manipulate his edges well as he carves up the ice in transition, but his backward C-cuts are shallow, and his base is too wide.
With the puck, Lambos operates like a fourth forward. He can complete forceful passes and plays an elastic game at the blue line, activating down low when appropriate and getting good shots on-net. Defensively, he can mirror opponents well and maintain his gaps, but he could stand to improve his pivot timing and rely less on his hands and stick in tight puck battles. At his best, Lambos could become a second-pair defender who can play in all situations (not unlike Mattias Ekholm).