In their 46 year history the Vancouver Canucks have flirted with the first overall pick, yet never had the distinction (or luck) of being the first club to step up to the microphone at the NHL Draft. In 1970, the Canucks infamously thought the franchise’s first ever pick would be 1st overall, however a spin of the wheel sent Hall-of-Famer Gilbert Perreault to expansion cousin Buffalo, while Vancouver settled for Dale Tallon at 2nd overall.
The Canucks also briefly flirted with the 1st overall pick at the 1999 draft, as part of the complex web of deals made by former General Manager Brian Burke which ultimately resulted in the Canucks taking Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin 2nd and 3rd overall, respectively, on one of the most important days in the team’s history.
Fast forward to April 30, 2016, and Vancouver again has an opportunity to pick 1st overall, and perhaps add another franchise-defining player by winning the NHL Draft Lottery.
Vancouver Canucks Draft Lottery Preview
By virtue of finishing 28th overall, the Canucks earned an 11.5% chance at the first overall pick in the upcoming draft, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers.
However, despite finishing with the third-worst points total in the NHL, Vancouver actually has a higher chance of picking 4th-6th than in the top three, because of the new draft lottery system in which the first three picks are drawn, not just the top pick.
So while the Canucks still have a good chance of picking in the top three, and the right to choose a potential superstar, they may find themselves dropping down the board a bit, where things could get interesting and the selections perhaps less automatic. In any event, a top-six pick, which is equal to the highest the Canucks have drafted (Jake Virtanen, 6th overall in 2014) since the Sedins in 1999, is assured.
With that in mind, let’s break down what players the Canucks might be targeting at the draft later this week in each potential drafting position.
With the First Overall Pick, the Vancouver Canucks Select…
Auston Matthews, C, ZSC Lions (NLA)
Stats: 36 games, 24 goals, 22 assists, 46 points
Last Word on Sports has Matthews as our projected 1st overall pick, but some have said Matthews at first overall isn’t necessarily a given, dropping him down to 2nd (meaning we can no longer use the word “consensus” in relation to Matthews) in their rankings.
However, for the Vancouver Canucks, the choice should be easy. Matthews is already an elite talent, proving that by finishing in the top 10 of NLA scoring as a 18-year-old playing in Zurich, helping propel the club to the top of the Swiss league standings. A top-level prospect turning pro in Europe before his draft year is extremely rare, but Matthews thrived at better than a point-per-game in a league full of former NHLers and AHLers.
Matthews also had a strong showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships, netting seven goals and 11 points in seven games, while he’ll get the opportunity to add to his draft year resume when he suits up for Team USA again at the World Championships in May.
When it comes to his offensive skill set, Matthews is the complete package. He’s a dynamic skater with soft hands, great passing and stickhandling ability, and a hockey IQ on par with many of the world’s best players.
However, what makes Matthews particularly enticing for the Canucks is the franchise’s desperate need to replace Henrik Sedin. In a Western Conference full of dominant centers including Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton, and Ryan Getzlaf, among others, the Canucks simply must find a comparable player to take over top line duties, perhaps as early as next season, and Matthews fits that role.
With the 2nd Overall Pick, the Vancouver Canucks Select…
Patrik Laine, RW/LW, Tappara (SM-Liiga)
Stats: 46 games, 17 goals, 16 assists, 33 points
As far as consolation prizes go, the Canucks could not do better than Laine, who has drawn comparisons from some corners of the hockey world to Mario Lemieux and been making a big push for 1st overall.
The Finn has great size at 6’4″ and 209 pounds, which he uses to control the puck with aplomb. However, his greatest asset is his shot, which is already world class. Laine had a solid regular season for Tappara in the Finnish league, while his performance when the stakes were higher really impressed observers. At the World Junior Championships Laine racked up seven goals and 13 points in just seven games (third in tournament scoring).
He also came up huge in the Liiga post-season, leading Tappara to the championship with 10 goals and a league-leading 15 points in 18 games en route to winning the Jari Kurri Award as best player in the playoffs. Like Matthews, Laine will represent his country at the World Championships is Russia, where his performance may make the decision at the top of the draft board between the two uber prospects even more difficult.
For the Canucks, Laine represents the best option at second overall because, at this position in the draft, talent is simply far too valuable to pass up. While Vancouver may look at drafting a defenseman if they land a lower pick, adding Laine to a prospect pool which already includes Brock Boeser could form a potent one-two punch on the wings for years to come.
With the 3rd Overall Pick the Vancouver Canucks Select….
Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Liiga)
Stats: 50 games, 13 goals, 15 assists, 28 points.
When discussing the next two picks after Matthews, there’s very little to differentiate between Laine and fellow Finn Puljujarvi. While Laine has drawn comparisons to Lemieux, Puljujarvi has been compared to Dallas Stars captain Jaime Benn. Puljujarvi may not quite have the same sniping skills as Benn, but his skating, the way he uses his body, and his offensive awareness are incredible.
Like Laine, Puljujarvi had an fantastic World Junior Championships, leading the tournament in points with 17 in just seven games, including two assists in the gold medal game. Like Laine, Puljujarvi also turned in a strong performance during the Finnish league post-season, recording nine points in 10 games.
The decision between Laine and Puljujarvi for the Canucks is a difficult one. Puljujarvi has the complete package and could be a dominant physical force offensively, something Canucks management is surely a fan of, but Laine appears, at this point, to have a slightly higher offensive ceiling. Vancouver seemingly can’t go wrong with either selection, but the need for more offense could ever so slightly push Puljujarvi below Laine.
With the 4th Overall Pick, the Vancouver Canucks Select…
Matthew Tkachuk, LW, London Knights (OHL)
Stats: 57 games, 30 goals, 77 assists, 107 points.
Vancouver General Manager Jim Benning hinted recently that the Canucks draft board may have four forwards at the top, indicating that the club may look at another offensive player should they get pushed out of the top three. At this point Tkachuk looks to be the most likely option, though Pierre-Luc Dubois, Alexander Nylander and Tyson Jost aren’t far behind.
Along with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner (4th overall, 2015), Tkachuk terrorized the OHL this season with the Knights, finishing 5th in league scoring with 107 points. Through 14 post-season games, Tkachuk has been nigh unstoppable for London, scoring 33 points in 14 games, as the team looks poised for a shot at the Memorial Cup. He also turned in a great performance at the World Junior Championships, scoring 11 points in seven games and helping Team USA capture the bronze medal.
Tkachuk has first line powerforward potential at the NHL level, something which will surely entice Canucks management. He plays a hard game with some bite, and also has the hockey sense and shot to be dangerous every time he’s on the ice, even if his skating isn’t yet elite. Tkachuk has drawn comparisons to both his father, former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, and Andew Ladd.
The Canucks may have to be a bit more patient with Tkachuk than the previous three players on this list, however he could prove to be the most important part of the Canucks core moving forward should they draft him at fourth.
With the 5th Overall Pick, the Vancouver Canucks Select…
Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights (OHL)
Stats: 57 games, 9 goals, 33 assists, 42 points.
Fifth overall is the pick which the Canucks are most likely to receive in the lottery, as well as most likely to trade after. The middle of the top-10 in this year’s draft is very mucky and there may be some jostling as teams maneuver in an attempt to select the player they have higher on their draft board. The Canucks won’t trade their 1st round pick this year for an established player, but they may move up or down a spot or two (and acquire another asset, if they can) if they have the 5th pick, depending on who’s on the board.
For the Canucks, 5th overall likely means taking the best defenseman available, barring any of the top four forwards somehow dropping down to five.
For the Canucks, that choice should be Tkachuk’s teammate in London, Juolevi, despite some other tantalizing options available, including Jakob Chychrun and Mikhail Segachyov. Juolevi had a solid rookie season in North America, netting 42 points for the London Knights, while he also had a great World Junior Championships with nine points (all assists) in seven games.
What should make Juolevi attractive to the Canucks is that he’s a strong, all-around defender. He has good size and uses it well in his own end to make things difficult for his opponents without taking a lot of penalties. He also has elite-level vision and hockey sense in addition to being a very smooth skater, which makes him a threat on the attack. Juolevi has drawn comparisons to Ryan Suter.
With the Canucks prospect pool on defense being as weak as it is, a player of Juolevi’s stature and skill, particularly on the offensive side of the puck as a potential power play quarterback, will be too much to pass up.
With the 6th Overall Pick, the Vancouver Canucks Select…
Tyson Jost, C/LW, Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Stats: 48 games, 42 goals, 62 assists, 104 points.
In reality, the Canucks should still probably try to nab the best defenseman available at six, potentially eyeing Sergachyov, who could form an impressive duo one day with Nikita Tryamkin, but there’s something about Jost which could be very tempting for the Canucks, even if he’s a reach at 6th (most project him to be somewhere in the 10-15 range, Last Word on Sports has him at 13).
Jost hasn’t received a lot of attention because, unlike most of his contemporaries, he played in the BCHL last season instead of the more high-profile CHL, NCAA, or European leagues. A recent example of a BCHL player who went highly in the draft was Ottawa Senators forward Kyle Turris, who was selected 3rd overall by the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2007. Turris posted 121 points in 53 games for the Burnaby Express in his draft year.
While Jost’s numbers weren’t quite at that level last season, he proved to be a crafty goal-scorer, with 42 goals in just 48 games. A touch undersized, Jost can best be described as an energy winger who has the vision, determination, and quick release to be a solid offensive contributor at the NHL level. His style of play has been compared to Patrice Bergeron.
Jost’s stock really rose during the recently completed U-18 World Championship, where he led the tournament in scoring with 15 points in seven games, ahead of more notable forwards including Puljujarvi and Nylander, and was named the tournament’s best forward, despite Canada’s embarrassing loss in the bronze medal game.
Jost would certainly be a stretch at 6th, especially with so much proven talent on the board, and there may be some fan backlash as well, but an Alberta native plying his trade in British Columbia who shows the level of determination that he does (sound familiar?) very likely puts him higher on the Canucks list than most other NHL teams.