Here is a look at Vancouver’s organizational needs and possible draft targets:
Vancouver joined Colorado as one of the big losers in the draft lottery as the club fell from second overall and a sure shot at one of the two coveted centers in the draft in Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier down to the fifth overall selection.
On the positive side, the third-rated center prospect will likely be on the board when the Canucks pick, and it just so happens that the club has a pressing long-term need to fortify that position as Henrik Sedin is getting a little long in the tooth. If, as expected, the top two defencemen join Hischier and Patrick as the top-four selections, Portland center Cody Glass will be a terrific consolation prize for a club that could look forward to a solid one-two punch of Bo Horvat and Glass down the middle in a couple of years.
Glass was 5-9, 138 when Portland drafted him in the first round of the WHL 2014 bantam draft. He has sprouted to almost 6-2 and is still growing into his body. Scouts are confident the speed issues he has are strictly a matter of strength as his skating mechanics and stride are solid. He is expected to become a decent skater, and when that happens, Vancouver will have a well-rounded prospect with terrific smarts, vision and puck skills who is one of the elite playmakers in this draft.
The Canucks have three more picks in the top 65, so they will be hoping to add at least four prospects who can play in Vancouver some day. At 33rd overall a prospect the team ranked in the first round will most assuredly be available, and it’s anybody’s guess who that might be. There are several wingers who could go anywhere from 20 to 35, and the Canucks would have no issues adding another forward piece who could vie for a top-six along with Glass in 2-3 years.
If Kailer Yamamoto, as many scouts suspect, falls out of the first round, the Canucks may consider taking a chance on the 5-7 winger who does nothing but produce, having accumulated the most points of any draft-eligible prospect (170) in the past two seasons. A late birthday who already has three WHL seasons under his belt, it may appeal to the Canucks to grab a player who will turn pro after one more junior season and compete for an NHL roster spot in 2018-19.
Other wingers who would be serious candidates to end up in a Canucks uniform if available at 33 would include Eeli Tolvanen, Filip Chytil, Jesper Boqvist, Isaac Ratcliffe and Klim Kostin. It’s unlikely that all of them get selected in the first round as defencemen and centers always hold more value, and if any are still on the board at 33rd the Canucks may indeed be adding a winger.
Tolvanen and Kostin are the least likely to drop to the second round, yet there are plenty of NHL scouts who contend that they would not take a chance on either in the first round. In the second…teams are more likely to look at a riskier player, and while both have solid offensive upside, they are not without their warts and concerns. Tolvanen is undersized and one-dimensional, but that dimension is scoring goals, and a club like Vancouver will welcome that if he falls out of the first. Kostin brings the risk of being an enigmatic Russian…and for those prospects the KHL option is always in the picture, and something that may scare off teams in the first round.
Defence is the other serious option for Vancouver at 33rd overall if any are at the top of its list when the second round gets underway, and possibilities could include Nicolas Hague, Cal Foote, Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Henri Jokiharju. Hague and Foote were once thought to be top-ten prospects and are the least likely to be available as teams may forgive the skating issues and draft them because of their size and smarts. Both put up good stats and may have some powerplay potential if they can improve their footwork, and Foote is already decent on the defensive end when he’s not pressured by speed. Hague has a cannon shot that should get him goals at any level, but he will have to keep working on his agility and own-zone play.
Joseph and Jokiharju are the most likely candidates to be available at 33 who could end up in Vancouver, and both also have enough offensive ability to compete for a second-line pairing on the Canucks after three or four years of seasoning. Joseph’s main issue is a lack of girth; at 6-2 and 166 pounds he’s got to get stronger before he can play at the pro level. Jokiharju stepped into the WHL as a rookie and by season’s end looked like a three-year veteran. Smart, skilled and poised, he will be Portland’s go-to defenceman next season in all situations.
At 55th and 64th overall the Canucks will most certainly go with the best player available regardless of position as there is a good bet that a player in their top 40 will still be on the board as NHL draft lists are always quite varied. There are a number of defencemen ranked 40-60 by Recrutes that could interest the club at 55 an 64, including Ian Mitchell, Dmitri Samorukov, Cale Fleury, Mario Ferraro, David Farrance and Dylan Samberg.
Forwards in the mix may include Matt Strome, Nikita Popugaev, Mackenzie Entwistle, Zach Gallant, Grant Mismash, Jack Studnicka, Alex Lipanov and Jonah Gadjovich. Each has their warts – forwards with good offensive potential like Gadjovich and Strome have major work to do on their skating as does Popugaev, who also has to overcome issues with consistency and work ethic. Mismash and Studnicka are pretty good all-around prospects who should vie for third-line duties in the NHL, and Entwistle and Gallant both project to be shutdown-type centers with good intangibles.