One of the most exciting dates on the Franchise Mode calendar is the NHL Entry Draft. Each year, you get to pick the future stars of your team and valuable trade pieces.
The first draft on NHL 21 is the 2021 Entry Draft, but to make the most of the prospects coming through, you need to have your scouts conduct extensive scouting around the world.
Of course, it’s much easier if you know where to scout to find the best prospects and 2021 draft steals, which is what we’re running through here.
Finding the best NHL 2021 Draft picks and steals
Based on the October 16 Online Roster – the first to have the 2020 draftees in NHL teams – the players featured on this page are the ones with the highest overall ratings after simulating to the start of the 2024/25 season.
An important point to consider is that each team will use their 2021 draft picks differently, so the growth of some players may be better or worse than shown here, depending on how you use the player.
As these best 2021 draft picks are based on the Day One NHL 21 roster, some of them will be generated players. While the names may vary, in previous editions, a similar player can usually be found by scouting their same region.
So, on this page, you’ll find the highest-rated and highest potential 2021 draft prospects as well as their nationalities and their draft position in our simulation – to help you try to find some 2021 draft steals.
At the foot of the table, you can find a list of all of the best 2021 draft prospects to pick.
Alan Cullimore, Left Wing (91 OVR)
Overall Rating: 91
Potential: Elite med
Position: Left Wing
Player Type: Power Forward
Drafted: 1st Round, 4th Overall
In NHL 21, Alan Cullimore was given NHL ice time almost as soon as he was drafted, carrying a 73 overall rating in the 2021 draft to get taken off of the board as the fourth pick in the first round.
His continued efforts for the Detroit Red Wings allowed the American power forward to grow into his Elite med potential, starting the 2024/25 season with a 91 overall rating.
A hefty forward at 191cm and 101kg, Cullimore’s best attributes four seasons after being one of the best 2021 prospects include his 91 hand-eye, 91 puck control, 96 defensive awareness, 91 body checking, and 94 wrist shot accuracy.
Jukka Jaaskelainen, Right Defenseman (90 OVR)
Overall Rating: 90
Potential: Elite med
Position: Right Defenseman
Player Type: Two-Way Defenseman
Drafted: 1st Round, 2nd Overall
Second on our list of the best 2021 draft picks of NHL 21 is the player who went second overall in the draft itself, Jukka Jaaskelainen.
Hailing from Finland, the right defenseman came into the draft with an NHL-ready overall rating of 78, allowing him to grow into his Elite med potential very quickly.
Come the start of the fourth season in NHL 21 Franchise Mode, Jaaskelainen carried a mighty 90 OVR. The left-shot blueliner’s highlight attribute ratings at this stage include his 92 body checking, 91 strength, 90 acceleration, 90 agility, 90 speed, and 93 stick checking.
Aatu Räty, Left Wing (86 OVR)
Overall Rating: 86
Potential: Elite high
Position: Left Wing
Player Type: Two-Way Forward
Drafted: 1st Round, 1st Overall
Aatu Räty is one of the most exciting skaters set to battle for their place in the 2021 NHL Draft. Having worked his way through the Kärpät youth system, the 17-year-old winger made his first-team debut last season, playing 12 games and scoring four points in the Liiga.
Praised for his versatility and competence in all situations, Räty is once again in the Kärpät lines; he is also expected to feature for the U20 side throughout the campaign.
In NHL 21, it seems likely that Räty will be the top pick in most simulations of the 2021 Draft, with his Elite high potential rating being too good to miss with the first overall selection.
Räty’s ability to play a 200-foot game is shown in his attribute ratings a few seasons down the line, which includes his 92 offensive awareness, 91 defensive awareness, 93 stick checking, 87 passing, 90 strength, and 92 durability.
In this simulation, Räty entered as the best 2021 draft pick due to his potential rating, but his overall rating was a mere 70. So, even though he has an 86 OVR a few seasons down the line, he can eventually develop into the highest-rated player of this draft class.
Hayden Chow, Right Wing (86 OVR)
Overall Rating: 86
Potential: Elite med
Position: Right Wing
Player Type: Power Forward
Drafted: 1st Round, 3rd Overall
The San Jose Sharks have made some baffling decisions in recent seasons, but the simulated team certainly made one of the top 2021 draft picks in NHL 21, taking Hayden Chow off of the board with the third overall pick.
The American right wing comes into the draft with an Elite med rating, developing into an 86 OVR right wing with some absurdly high and useful attribute ratings.
Chow may be listed as a power forward, but his massive attribute ratings of 94 passing, 97 hand-eye, 97 slap shot power, 99 wrist shot accuracy, 97 wrist shot power, 90 speed, and 90 agility enable him to be used as a top-class sniper.
Zachary L’Heureux, Center (85 OVR)
Overall Rating: 85
Potential: Top 6 Forward high
Player Type: Playmaker
Drafted: 1st Round, 7th Overall
Having impressed with the Châteauguay Grenadiers in the QMAAA in 2018/19, scoring 52 points in 41 games, Zachary L’Heureux was able to step up to the QMJHL in style.
In his first season at the level up, with the Moncton Wildcats, he scored 20 goals and 53 points in 55 games, also earning five caps for Canada Black U17.
For 2020/21, L’Heureux is with the Halifax Mooseheads, impressing early with three goals and seven points in just six games.
He ranks as one of the best 2021 draft picks in the game, with the Canadian’s rapid growth warranting his selection at seventh overall – despite there being plenty of Elite med potential skaters left at the time.
L’Heureux was drafted by the New Jersey Devils with a lowly 63 OVR, but after a single season, he became a 76 OVR center, hitting 85 OVR by the start of the 2024/25 campaign.
His best attributes include his 92 acceleration, 92 agility, 92 speed, 90 stick checking, 91 deking, 91 puck control, 91 passing, and 90 hand-eye.
Tucker Tynan, Goaltender (84 OVR)
Overall Rating: 84
Potential: Starter med
Player Type: Hybrid
Drafted: 2nd Round, 56th Overall
Tucker Tynan developed his game in the American youth ranks, starting 24 games with a .924 save percentage for the New Jersey Rockets in 2018/19.
Last season, however, Tynan decided to move north, joining the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL to put up a .910 save percentage through 23 games.
Even the highest potential goaltenders don’t tend to go in the first round of drafts in NHL games, so a 56th overall selection for Tynan in NHL 21 is respectable.
Playing for the Montreal Canadiens, the young American netminder quickly becomes a starter in the NHL, developing into an 84 overall rating by the time he hits 22-years-old.
With some more room to grow into his Starter med potential, Tynan features attribute ratings of 94 glove low, 92 glove high, 94 agility, and 94 speed by the start of the 2024/25 campaign.
All of the best 2021 draft picks and steals in NHL 21 Franchise Mode
Along with those above, the following table contains all of the 2021 prospects which either reach a high overall rating a few seasons down the line or have a particularly high potential rating.
|Name||Potential||24/25 Overall||Position||2021 Draft Pick||Nationality|
|Alan Cullimore||Elite med||91||Left Wing||1st round, 4th overall||American|
|Jukka Jaaskelainen||Elite med||90||Right Defenseman||1st round, 2nd overall||Finnish|
|Aatu Räty||Elite high||86||Left Wing||1st round, 1st overall||Finnish|
|Hayden Chow||Elite med||86||Right Wing||1st round, 3rd overall||American|
|Zachary L’Heureux||Top 6 Forward high||85||Center||1st round, 7th overall||Canadian|
|Tucker Tynan||Starter med||84||Goaltender||2nd round, 56th overall||American|
|Kirill Bryzgalov||Elite low||83||Left Wing||2nd round, 37th overall||Belarusian|
|Dylan Guenther||Elite med||82||Left Wing||1st round, 10th overall||Canadian|
|Nicklas Jakobs||Elite med||82||Right Defenseman||1st round, 11th overall||Swedish|
|Mason McTavish||Top 6 Forward med||81||Center||1st round, 26th overall||Canadian|
|Cole Sillinger||Top 6 Forward high||80||Center||1st round, 6th overall||Canadian|
|Devon Bureau||Elite med||80||Right Wing||1st round, 8th overall||Norwegian|
|Gael Tavares||Elite low||80||Right Wing||2nd round, 43rd overall||American|
|Trevor Wong||Elite med||79||Center||1st round, 5th overall||Canadian|
|Jesper Henriksen||Top 6 Forward med||79||Right Wing||1st round, 13th overall||Swedish|
|Carson Lambos||Elite med||78||Left/Right Defenseman||1st round, 12th overall||Canadian|
|Brett Harrison||Top 6 Forward med||78||Center||1st round, 14th overall||Canadian|
|Zachary Bolduc||Top 6 Forward med||78||Center||2nd round, 32nd overall||Canadian|
|Gustavs Khudobin||Top 6 Forward med||78||Left Wing||1st round, 27th overall||Russian|
|Jan Cikhart||Top 6 Forward med||78||Left Wing||1st round, 29th overall||Czech|
|Jack Byers||Top 4 Defenseman med||77||Left Defenseman||1st round, 20th overall||Polish|
|Vyacheslav Kenins||Top 4 Defenseman med||77||Right Defenseman||1st round, 22nd overall||Russian|
|Tyler Curtis||Top 4 Defenseman med||77||Left Defenseman||2nd round, 36th overall||American|
|Joshua Roy||Top 6 Forward high||76||Center||1st round, 9th overall||Canadian|
|Brandt Clarke||Elite med||75||Right/Left Defenseman||1st round, 15th overall||Canadian|
|Daniil Chayka||Top 4 Defenseman med||75||Left/Right Defenseman||1st round, 16th overall||Russian|
|Sergey Petrov||Elite med||75||Goaltender||5th round, 135th overall||Belarusian|
|Graham Sward||Top 4 Defenseman med||74||Left/Right Defenseman||4th round, 101st overall||Canadian|
|Ulf Hedman||Elite med||73||Goaltender||5th round, 141st overall||Swedish|
|Alexei Valentenko||Top 4 Defenseman med||72||Right Defenseman||1st round, 25th overall||Russian|
|Chase Stillman||Top 6 Forward med||63||Right Wing||5th round, 130th overall||Canadian|
Many of the best prospects get snapped up in the first round, as you’d expect, but there are several 2021 draft steals to be found in the first Franchise Mode draft on NHL 21.
Want to learn more about playing NHL 21?
NHL 21: Complete Controls Guide (Goalie, Faceoffs, Offense, and Defense) for PS4 and Xbox One
NHL 21: Complete Deke Guide, Tutorial, and Tips
NHL 21: Best and Worst Teams to Use and Rebuild
NHL 21 Ratings: Best Enforcers
NHL 21 Franchise Mode: Best Young Players