Ottawa Senators boldest risk taker of NHL draft, while Edmonton Oilers played it safe

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Who was the biggest risk taker in the all-important first round of the 2021 NHL draft? Which team made the biggest reach and plucked a lower ranked player with a high pick?

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That honour goes to the Ottawa Senators with their bold drafting of forward Tyler Boucher with the 10th overall pick. The consensus of 17 public draft experts was that Boucher was a good prospect, but not that good.

In the public rankings compiled by The Cult of Hockey, 17 experts — including TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Allan Mitchell, Corey Pronman and Scott Wheeler of the Athletic, independent scouts Mark Seidel, Sean Patrick Ryan and Mark Edwards, and Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino — had Boucher ranked as the 41st best player in the draft, not anywhere close to the Top Ten, where draft picks hold by far the most value.

As for the Edmonton Oilers, they took attacking forward Xavier Bourgault with the 22nd pick in the draft, which is right around where the consensus of experts had him with a 25th overall ranking.

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This isn’t to say daring Ottawa got it right and more conservative Edmonton got it wrong. That story is yet to be told. It could well be that Bourgault turns out to be a much better NHL player than Boucher. It could well be that the Senators will be seen to have reached, while the Oilers made a sharp and prudent pick.

All we can say at this point is where the consensus of public experts ranked players and compare that to where NHL teams drafted them.

In Boucher’s case, his highest rankings came from Seidel, who had him 21st overall, and Edwards, who had him at 26th overall. They were the only ones out of the 17 experts who had Boucher as a first round pick. The player’s lowest ranking came from Future Considerations, which had him 94th overall.

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Boucher, a big young man at 6-feet, 1-inches, 205-pounds, scored 11 points in 12 games this year for the U-18 U.S. Developmental Team this past season.

The Elite Prospects Draft Guide says of Boucher, whom they had ranked 45th: “There’s no player more physical in the draft class. Sometimes, it’s a small nudge, an extra cross-check, or a smart play to cut off the hands. There’s also plenty of bone-crushing hits along the boards. His physical game is insane. Perfectly balancing scoring and supporting positioning, he’s always a passing option. He’s also a crafty shooter, shooting under defenders’ sticks or changing the angle.

Scott Wheeler of the Athletic ranked Boucher 63rd overall and said of him: “A knee injury suffered in January ended Boucher’s already-shortened season early … Boucher’s a physical, heavy forward who takes space and plays kind of a modern, hybrid skill and power game. He finishes his checks, he goes to the net, and he’s a lot to handle off the cycle when he wants to muscle his way to the front of the net, but he can also go backhand to forehand to put a hard shot post-and-in off the rush. When he’s at his best, he’s an imposing presence who can be the puck retrieval guy for skilled linemates.”

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The boldest picks come at the top of the draft because the picks there are so much more valuable than other draft picks. For example, the value of the first overall pick is vastly greater than the value of the second overall pick, and all the picks in the Top Ten are worth vastly more than picks outside of the first round. When a team goes against the consensus and reaches for a player with a Top Ten pick, the magnitude of the gamble is increased by the high value of these picks.

Other bold picks include Anaheim taking Mason McTavish third overall when the consensus of experts had him ranked seventh and Columbus taking Kent Johnson fifth overall, when the consensus had him at eighth.

As for teams reaching to take players higher as compared to their consensus ranking, Boucher moved up 31 spots compared to the consensus, 41 to 10, Chase Stillman was taken by New Jersey 28 spots higher than the consensus ranking, 29th when he was ranked 57th, and Montreal took the controversial Logan Mailloux 38 spots higher than his ranking, 31st compared to 69th.

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Biggest drops

As for players who dropped in the draft compared to their consensus ranking, again the most consequential drops happened at the top of the draft.

Swedish attacker William Eklund was ranked third overall but dropped to seventh, where San Jose grabbed him.

Ontario d-man Brandt Clarked dropped from a consensus fifth ranking to be taken eighth overall by Los Angeles.

Edmonton’s Dylan Guenther dropped from the fourth overall consensus ranking to get drafted ninth overall by Arizona.

And goalie Jesper Wallstedt, whom some fans hoped Edmonton would draft, dropped from a 10th ranking to get taken 20th overall by the Wild, after the Oilers traded them that pick.

Was this a mistake by the Oilers? Critics of Oilers GM Ken Holland certainly believe this is so. Not having seen Wallstedt or Bourgault play, I’m not going to offer an opinion here, other than to congratulate Wallstedt and Bourgault and wish them well.

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