Every year, there are always players who go unselected at the NHL draft that seems to generate significant buzz. From size and strength concerns for undersized players to a glaring issue such as a skating deficiency, the reasons are far and wide.
This means that there are overage players who are drafted in their second or third year of eligibility. With the entirety of the 2021 NHL draft season being undertaken in a pandemic, the chances that players may have slipped through the cracks are even higher than usual. The OHL didn’t play a single game and other leagues around the globe played shorter seasons, limiting the exposure that some players may have needed.
Mississauga Steelheads winger James Hardie was a popular name on the overage market last season. That made it all the more surprising when he was passed over in 2021 for the second time. He is attending Toronto Maple Leafs’ development camp as a non-roster invitee which means he is at least on the minds of NHL front offices.
The 2002-born forward has some mobility issues that have been well documented. Without being able to see the improvement that Hardie may have made, it made it difficult to justify making the selection this time around. At 6-foot-0 and 183 pounds, Hardie possesses a very good shot and the innate ability to find the soft spots in the offensive zone. If he can showcase improved mobility and some commitment to his own end, Hardie should hear his name called next June.
Another two-time unselected prospect of note is Russian forward Pavel Tyutnev. His mobility and puck skills are what immediately draw your attention. His ability to carve unique skating paths with the puck and work off his edges makes him dangerous. He had stints at four levels of Russian hockey last season including both the VHL and KHL, playing against men.
His defensive woes and off-puck deficiencies outside of the offensive zone are why he hasn’t been drafted yet, but his offensive skill is intriguing. If Tyutnev can secure a bit more of a full-time role with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL, he may hear his name called at the next draft. To do that, some commitment to his 200-foot game is necessary.
Trevor Wong of the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) and Peter Reynolds of the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) are two undersized forwards who many had pegged for mid-round selections in the 2021 draft. Wong is an agile and elusive skater who dashes in and out of traffic to move the puck from point A to B without regard for his physical disadvantages from a size and strength standpoint. Wong doesn't have great top-end speed but his edge work, cross-overs, and persistence to get to the interior make him an offensive threat. Wong is a true playmaker who reads off coverage and passes off the defender’s heels to find his targets.
Reynolds has all of the tools that should come together to produce a high-end junior producer, but he was only able to flash his potential last season. He is a very good skater who makes crisp passes throughout the entirety of the ice. The Sea Dogs forward loves to play off his teammates, utilizing give-and-go techniques or passing into space off the sidewall, to open up opportunities for attack. Reynolds plays a bit timid at times in the corners but he is a quick and persistent forechecker who uses his speed and skill to hunt the puck.
Both Wong and Reynolds have many tools and traits that NHL teams look for in prospects but they are 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10 respectively and they aren’t the kind of players that “play bigger” than they are. They each play to their size and will have to show that it won’t be an issue by taking a step and being borderline dominant this upcoming season.
The U.S. National Team Development Program has been on fire in the last few years, producing high-end draft talent year after year. With so much talent centralized on one team, players fall to the wayside at times and the player that seemed to be a victim of that last season was defender Jacob Martin. The 6-foot-0 blueliner may not light up the scoresheet, but his defensive value, particularly as a rush defender, is what should have gotten his name called at the 2021 draft.
When defending opposing transition, Martin's mobility and anticipation allow him to cut play down quickly. He gaps up to take away space while using his quick stick to poke the puck free. His quick decision-making allows him to move the puck to his teammates quickly and move up ice. Martin will be looking to catch the eye of more scouts this upcoming season at the University of Wisconsin.
Finnish defender Valtteri Koskela fits the same mold as Martin as a defensive-minded rearguard who moves the puck to his teammates and refuses to play outside of his character. Koskela brings a bit more physicality to the ice than Martin does, but his rush defense is also a strong suit. Cutting play down quickly is key to the young Finn’s success.
Koskela has underrated puck skill and the ability to make plays offensively but he seems to understand his role and only breaks out his finesse on the rare occasion where he is given the time and space needed for him to pull it off. A classic case of being glad a player understands his role while still having the raw tools to pull off the higher-end play that isn’t a necessity. The young Finn will be looking to bring more of that to the table as he matures at the Liiga level with JYP.
Others such as forwards Jeremy Wilmer and Lorenzo Canonica and defensemen David Gucciardi and Jimi Suomi all deserve to be mentioned as players who could be valuable to NHL teams down the line.