NHL Draft: Top 15 Overage Players to Watch for the 2021 NHL Draft

There's a lot of unknowns still about the 2021 NHL draft, but the extra year of development could serve some of the game's top overage prospects well.
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Brett Brochu

Brett Brochu

All NHL draft prospects were dealt a terrible hand over the past two years.

A draft season is already challenging enough for prospects, with the pressures of performing in front of scouts - among other life tasks - putting a load of anxiety on these teenagers. So now you got the issue of, you know, the pandemic preventing some leagues to drastically change and others to sit doormat altogether and there's probably never been a tougher time to be a hockey prospect - especially those on the outside looking in.

Some prospects have been able to take advantage of the situation, namely Europeans. But for players in the OHL, if you didn't get the early jump on going overseas, you likely weren't getting the shot needed to impress scouts. 

That applies to overage prospects, too. Some of them haven't played either, and while there aren't any really big names on the market this season, there's a unique opportunity for the overage class of 2021. Will teams take a look at them because they have an extra year of data on them compared to many others? 

There hasn't been a better year for an NHL team's drafting department to flex their muscles and show just how good they are than this year. The team's who've done their most homework will be able to make the most of what's considered to be a weaker draft with more challenges than usual, and that includes finding value in overage prospects. With that in mind, here are 15 candidates that could get the call this season after previously being left off the hook:

James Hardie, LW 

With 34 goals as an OHL sophomore last year, there wasn't much more offensively that Hardie could have done to have his name heard last year. This year, though, has been a total wash due to the pandemic, with Hardie and the rest of the Mississauga Steelheads sitting on the sidelines. Hardie has quick hands and despite not being a big kid, he puts a ton of power into his wrist shot. Hardie's skating was good enough to hang with some top talent, albeit not at a level that sets him apart from other big goal scorers. If Hardie's defensive play could match his smart decision-making with the puck, he would have been a shoo-in to get selected last year. It'll be interesting to see how scouts view him a year later after not playing at a competitive level.

Janis Moser, D 

A 2000-born defender, Moser is definitely a project prospect, but one teams will definitely take a look at. An average-sized blueliner, Moser has had a fantastic season as a 20-year-old captain with EHC Biel-Bienne, a team in the top league in Switzerland. He's already been passed over twice, but the NHL gave him a "B" ranking in the last Central Scouting Service watch list and it's hard to imagine a team not having an interest in him this time around. Since his first draft go-around, Moser's skating has taken big leaps, specifically in how much quicker he is off of his first stride and he wastes little effort getting back into his zone to retrieve a puck. He's more offensively minded, too, and his coaches continue to give him opportunities to move the puck without any real restraints. His defensive awareness, specifically how he gets himself to break up passing lanes, has always been a nice trait of his. Moser is currently signed until 2023-24, but Biel GM Martin Steinegger believes he won't return next year and move to North America instead.

Ethan Cardwell, C

Many quality OHLers were left on the sidelines this past season, but Cardwell wasn't one of them. A relentless attacker, Cardwell went overseas to play in the Swedish HockeyEttan league, finishing third in Surahammars team scoring with 27 points despite missing half the season. Cardwell's skating took big steps in his first full OHL season a year ago but his improvements this year should help his draft status. Cardwell has a solid wrist shot - nothing incredible about it, but the results show he knows what he's doing - and his own zone play is a big asset that many other fringe prospects haven't figured out. He had a slow start to his junior career, but it's unlikely he's passed over a second time.

Joel Nyström, D

There isn't an abundance of small defenders in the NHL, but that doesn't mean they're not worth a look. At 5-foot-10, Nyström isn't a big kid by any means, but the 18-year-old has fantastic acceleration and despite not seeing a ton of offense, his wrist shot often contains a nice degree of velocity. Nyström is a great puck-mover that doesn't give up the puck often and doesn't lose a ton of 1-on-1 battles going towards his own net. If he can find a way to add some more muscle, Nyström could take his game to a whole new level.

Zakhar Bardakov, F

Passed over twice, one name that has popped up often over the past year - good or bad - is Bardakov. Bardakov plays a power forward game, but at points, it looked like he was more focused on the power side of things, evidenced by leading the MHL in penalty minutes in consecutive years. But in the KHL this season, Bardakov has found a way to hone his strength to his advantage and scouts especially loved his presence in the bottom six with Russia's World Junior outfit. 

Josh Doan, C 

The son of former NHLer Shane Doan, the extra year of development has been huge for Doan. An Arizona State University commit, Doan returned to the USHL's Chicago Steel and has 66 points in 52 games - a huge step up from his 14-point draft season. Doan's most exciting trait is his all-out, never-stop-moving style that really makes you value him as a team player - he plays every shift like he's on a tryout contract trying to earn one last shot at an NHL deal. Now that his offensive numbers have matched his energy, he'll be one to watch at the draft table.

Ilya Safonov, C

The offensive totals may not have been there for Safonov this season, but neither was the ice time, either. Safonov averaged 6:54 of ice time in the regular season and 5:31 in the playoffs, but when he finally broke the 13-minute barrier for the first time in the final playoff game, he exploded for three assists. The night when he scored his first two KHL goals back in January, he played just 7:23 and only had double-digit minutes on a handful of occasions all year. Safonov had a strong Karjala Cup prior to the World Junior Championship and while he didn't produce much for his country at the top U-20 event, he still had an impact. Scouts like his big 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, but as he continues to develop, he has to prove he's more than just a big body. Don't be surprised if he's selected in the top 100.

Simon Knak, RW

If you're a keen international hockey fan, Knak's a name you're definitely familiar with. He's represented Switzerland at nearly every single level so far and was the nation's captain as a second-year player on the World Junior Championship team over the winter. Knak started the season with HC Davos in the top Swiss league but ventured back to the WHL's Portland Winterhawks later in the season, recording 14 points in his first 12 games. Knak's skating - in top speed, fluidness and acceleration - has taken nice leaps over the past few years and he has become a more confident shooter, too. Knak can seem to get lost in the offensive zone from time to time, but if he can manage his own play around the net better, teams might have more interest in him. His real value is in being a smart playmaker but he still needs to take more steps in his game to reach the next level.

Théo Rochette, C 

Rochette has been a prospect of note for quite a while now. A dual-citizen of Canada and Switzerland, he has represented both internationally, a rarity in today's game. Rochette was highly sought after as a Swiss national, often being one of the team's best players at the U-16/17/18 levels but he never found a way to make his domestic league play truly thrive after once putting a beating on the Swiss U-20 league. In the QMJHL, Rochette has 112 points in 140 career games, which is fine, but nothing incredible, either. There was hope he'd be a first-round pick in 2020, but he seemed to really fall out of favor after showing some inconsistency, lack of overall physical strength and never really finding a way to unleash his offense. Still, he has some diamond in the rough potential and might get another look after a good season with the Remparts.

Ruben Rafkin, D 

After spending the past few years playing in North America, Rafkin, 19, made the jump back to his native Finland and played key minutes for TPS's men's team in the top Finnish league. Rafkin will never wow you in any particular area, but he doesn't let playing against top competition drag him down and he has the energy and fight in him that you like to see in tight contests. Rafkin is patient - he'll hold the puck as long as he needs to in order to make the right play, not the easy play. There are times where he has the puck and you're just begging him to shoot it and he instead passes it away or holds on a little long, but his real bread and butter will be his reliability to not make many mistakes in his own zone - that's all you can ask for in a young defenseman.

Brett Brochu, G

Brochu's story is quite an interesting one. He made the jump up to the OHL for his draft year after spending a year in Junior C of all places, so it’s safe to say Brochu wasn’t on the draft – or Hockey Canada’s radar – heading into 2019-20. He had a stellar OHL rookie campaign, going 32-6-0 with a .919 save percentage and a league-leading 2.40 GAA with the always spectacular London Knights. For a goalie to jump up three leagues to become an OHL star is nearly unheard of, but Brochu’s numbers rivalled that of the league’s most experienced veterans and forced Hockey Canada to take notice, giving him a shot at the World Junior Championship roster back in the winter. Brochu ultimately missed out on the team and hasn't played a game since, instead sitting and learning from the AHL's Wilkes-Barre Scranton this year. It's hard for a goalie to not get into any meaningful game action, but scouts took notice of what he did during the streamed Hockey Canada camp games and could – and should – take a chance on him.

Florian Elias, C

Yeah, everyone watched Germany's World Junior Championship games to see Tim Stützle, but Elias did a good job of stealing hearts. The small, 5-foot-8 center was passed over a year ago but don't bet on that happening against after an impressive four-goal, nine-point run with the U-20 squad. Having a star prospect as a teammate helped, but Elias did a good job of finding his linemates and his defensive game was reliable, too. For a small prospect, Elias does engage quite a bit physically and if you're not paying attention, he'll sneak up on you and take the puck down to the other end of the ice. Turnovers are a concern of his and his high-end offensive output is likely limited, but Elias is a good low-risk pick to consider later in the draft.

Alexei Kolosov, G

A B-rated prospect, Kolosov was originally set to make his North American debut in the OHL with Erie this season, but with that season never getting underway, he has remained in Europe for the time being. Kolosov made a name for himself with Belarus at the 2020 Division IA World Junior Championship en route to bronze, but his adjustment to life in the KHL was impressive for a 19-year-old. His 3-5-1 record was nothing special, but he tied top prospect Yaroslav Askarov in terms of starts from a U-20 netminder. Kolosov's flexibility and athletic style can make him an entertaining goalie to watch, and while entertainment isn't an actual goaltending trait, you can never count him out on a scoring chance. Kolosov is a small goalie and that can be a disadvantage, but he's got the raw abilities that make you take notice.

Pavel Tyutnev, C

Not a big kid by any means, Tyutnev was passed over a year ago but will likely earn some more consideration this time around. Tyutnev played in four different Russian divisions this year, including an eight-game run with Yaroslavl during the KHL playoffs. Tyutnev had a strong MHL post-season run as well, scoring three goals in seven games, but it was his energetic nature that allowed him to make some noise along the boards. His past-paced, skilled game could adapt well for the NHL - although scouts would love it if he was another three inches taller. Still, at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, he's pretty feisty for his frame and he's got one heck of a wrist shot.

Josh Lopina, C

With just 62 points in 106 games during his USHL career, Lopina's offense was nothing too impressive prior to making the jump to UMass. But that transition to college couldn't have been any more seamless. In 26 games, Lopina finished sixth in team scoring with 23 points en route to an NCAA title and league rookie of the year award. Lopina played a solid role for UMass during the team's run to the national title, but he also previously looked great as a defensive center for USA at the World Junior A Challenge and his mix of hard forechecking and penalty kill prowess could result in him getting some NHL attention down the line. If he's not selected this year, he'll be a future NCAA UFA target.

Other notables: Xavier Simoneau (C), Carter Mazur (LW), Lleyton Moore, D

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