The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is one of the most difficult to predict in recent memory. With COVID-19 impacting many prospects’ plans and league schedules, rankings are all over the place. The New York Rangers will select 15th overall and then wait until the third round (64th overall) to select again. Stacked with great depth at wing and a plethora of young defensemen, the Rangers will likely target a center. In terms of prospects, the two best centers in the system are Morgan Barron and Karl Henriksson. Both have NHL-level skills, but it seems they are more likely to become wingers at that level. If the Rangers do keep their first-round pick, which is a big if, it probably will be a center. With only one pick in the top 50, they need to fill their biggest organizational need.
Three top-five defensemen highlight this year’s prospect pool, including Owen Power, which bodes well for New York. Looking specifically at centers, there are only two consensus top 10 picks (Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson). After them, it’s anyone’s guess where the rest of the centers end up. Let’s take a look at who the Rangers should be targeting with the 15th overall pick.
1. Mason McTavish (C, Canada)
Though there’s a 70/30 chance that McTavish is selected before the Rangers are on the clock, he’s the dream pick. At 6’2″ and 210 pounds, McTavish is the best all-around center prospect in the draft. Though many players are listed as centers, many of them will transition to wing if they want to make the NHL. Since the Rangers want to secure a true center, McTavish is the ideal player. Captain of the U-18 World Junior Gold Medal-winning Canadian team, he does it all. He combines defensive awareness and faceoff ability with a net-front presence and great shot. McTavish was selected 5th overall in the 2019 OHL draft and was a scoring machine at every level. If everything falls the Rangers’ way, Mason McTavish is welcome in New York with open arms.
2. Chaz Lucius (C, U.S. National Team Development Program)
The Rangers’ prospect pool allows them to be riskier than other teams in the draft. They should not interpret this as a reason to reach for a player, but should instead be willing to offensively gifted prospects with room to grow defensively. The prime example is Chaz Lucius. At 6′ and 172 pounds, Lucius is a borderline center/winger, but his skills would be worth the risk. With a playing style similar to Filip Chytil, Lucius is a threat to score at all times with good hands and a quick shot. His skating needs some improvement, but his ability to score can make up for that.
Committed to the University of Minnesota, Lucius is a top prospect that slipped as his season was shortened due to injuries. While he led all players in goals and points in the U17 World Championships, his injuries kept him out of this year’s U-18 tournament. His style is different than new GM Chris Drury‘s wishes for the team, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s attracted to an American center.
3. Fedor Svechkov (C, Russia)
Almost the opposite of Chaz Lucius, Fedor Svechkov is already a fully developed center with great defensive skills. The upside is more questionable than other first-round prospects, but he checks all the boxes on Drury’s wishlist. Svechkov has been playing professional hockey in Russia and signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL for the 2021-22 season. While some rankings have him closer to 30th overall, the consensus is he’s a terrific defensive forward. History has shown that those types of players are not good first-round picks, but there’s a chance his offensive talent isn’t showing while playing against older competition. He’s a great forechecker with an active stick who moves the puck quickly out of his own zone. Fedor Svechkov wouldn’t be the sexy pick, but it’s one that I wouldn’t be surprised to see. If the Rangers see some offensive talent in him, they would have just cause to select Svhechkov.
4. Aatu Raty (C, Finland)
Probably the player you’re most likely to see the Rangers selecting in mock drafts is Aatu Raty. The Finnish center was originally the #1 prospect in this class until recently. After great play at the U-18/U-20 Liiga levels, his production at the highest level in Finland was disappointing. Prior to being promoted, his puck handling skills and great shot separated him from the pack. When he started playing with more skilled players, the production dropped off a cliff and his flaws became more obvious. It’s up to the Rangers scouts to determine whether this was growing pains or whether he was unable to overcome the adversity.
After playing as the youngest skater in the World Junior Championships in 2019-20, he was a surprising cut from the 2020-21 team. This combined with his demotion to start the season in the Liiga dropped him to a late first-round prospect. He has since risen to a middle-round pick because the talent is still there, but it’s a risky selection. The Rangers have surprised fans in the past, so expect the unexpected.
5. Cole Sillinger (C/W, Canada)
Similar to Chaz Lucius, Cole Sillinger is talented with the puck and in the offensive zone, but his defense leaves a lot to be desired. Some believe Sillinger has the best shot in the class and he shows the ability to get open and move the puck quickly to generate scoring chances. But on the other end, scouts have many concerns with his defense and aren’t crazy about his skating ability. Given the current construction of the Rangers, he’s the most unlikely selection of the bunch. All mock drafts place him firmly in the 12-20 range, but the Rangers likely don’t view him as a center.