2014 NHL Draft: Vancouver Canucks draft review

By Larenzo Jensen

Jake Virtanen - Vancouver Canucks

Photo: Vancouver’s sixth overall pick, Jake Virtanen, tied for second in goals among draft-eligible CHL players with 45 tallies for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen (courtesy of Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

The Vancouver Canucks were one of the busiest teams during the 2014 NHL Draft, selecting seven players, while moving disgruntled center Ryan Kesler to Anaheim and defenseman Jason Garrison to Tampa Bay.

New General Manager Jim Benning made four different moves at the NHL draft that will significantly impact the organization for years to come. Benning selected a winger, two centers, a goaltender, and three defensemen with their picks. Right wing Linden Vey was acquired in exchange for Vancouver’s 50th selection in the draft.

Of note, Benning placed the onus on improving the size of the team, particularly with the defensemen they acquired with their picks. Canucks fans have clamored for an improvement in this area, particularly since they lost in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals in seven games to the Boston Bruins.

Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
1st round, 6th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 210

Although a lot of fans may not be thrilled with the Canucks’ first selection of the draft, Jake Virtanen brings a wealth of talent to the table. Two of his greatest attributes are his excellent skating skills and his superb ability to finish. In fact, some feel he was the top finisher available in the draft. Still, the opinion remains that perhaps Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG, 9th overall) or William Nylander (TOR, 8th overall) had higher upside, and that there is the potential Virtanen could be a bust, in the mold of Kyle Beach. The highest compliments he has been paid were comparisons to Jeff Carter and Ryan Johansen.

With an August birthday, Virtanen was one of the youngest players drafted at 17 years of age. He possesses excellent size and has the ability to play a power forward style of game. Virtanen scored 45 goals in 71 games for the Calgary Hitmen last season, ranking him sixth in the WHL. His relatively low assist totals have created some concern, however, regarding his hockey IQ and on-ice vision. He was tied for second with St. Louis pick Robby Fabbri, behind Ehlers, in goal scoring among draft-eligible prospects in the CHL. He was also tied with Fabbri for the most even-strength goals among draft-eligible skaters with 30.

Another concern was that Virtanen had strong linemates in Brady Brassart (MIN) and Greg Chase (EDM), who both had 35 goals each, and finished with 85 points. It begs the question: Did Virtanen make his linemates better, and if so, why did he manage only 26 assists? Virtanen will most likely miss the Canucks’ training camp and prospect tournament due to shoulder surgery. It is unlikely that Virtanen gets into the Canucks lineup this season. Still, his raw potential, combined with his excellent skating and ability to finish, are irrefutable.

Virtanen spoke with the media following his selection by the Canucks, with some of his comments captured in this HF video.

Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
1st round, 24th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 179

With their second selection in the first round, the Canucks added a playmaking center. Jared McCann finished the 2013-14 season third on the Soo Greyhounds in goals (27) and points (62). Considered a gifted playmaker, McCann’s skating ability shines through with good acceleration and strong lateral mobility. He has a long reach and utilizes it well throughout all three zones.

A two-way center, McCann has an outstanding hockey IQ and his on-ice vision and decision-making are exceptional. The Canucks like his consistency as well as his determination and his competitive edge. Some fans were a little jolted by his comments on being selected by Vancouver, but it is likely he was disappointed to not be taken higher in the draft.

McCann will spend another year in Sault Ste. Marie fine-tuning his game, with the goal of turning pro after that. His faceoff skills are good, but there are concerns about his weight and injury history. Like many newly drafted players, these concerns are usually put to rest during the rest of their developmental period. He is projected to be a second or third line center with some offensive upside. The pick came via the Ryan Kesler trade to the Anaheim Ducks.

Following his selection by the Canucks, McCann met with the media, with some of that conversation being captured in this HF video.

Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College Eagles (NCAA)
2nd round, 36th overall
Height: 6-3 Weight: 190

General Manager Jim Benning made no secret of the amount of value he places on the goaltending position. He and the Canucks are willing to gamble on the Boston College star, who will likely require surgery on both hips. Demko helped guide the Eagles to a Frozen Four appearance in his freshman year, an achievement rarely heard of. He stopped 29 shots against UMass-Lowell to earn a 4-3 victory during the NCAA Northeast Regional Final.

In his freshman year, he was the youngest player in College Hockey at 17 years old. He spent some time waiting for his shot behind Brian Billett in Chestnut Hill, as well as behind Jon Gillies (CGY) when he represented Team USA at the 2014 World Junior Championships. But shortly after his 18th birthday in December, he became the starter for Boston College and ran with it all they way to the Frozen Four.

He uses his 6’3” frame effectively, and is an athletic goaltender who focuses on staying square to the shooter. Being able to read the play and anticipate are also considered strengths for Demko. With his teammate Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) winning the 2014 Hobey Baker Award, some feel that he lost some of the spotlight. He quietly recorded a 19 game unbeaten streak with 17 wins and two ties.

Demko spoke with the media after being chosen by the Canucks, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.

Nikita Tryamkin, D, Yekaterinburg Automobilist (KHL)
3rd round, 66th overall
Height: 6-7 Weight: 230

Oddly passed over in two NHL drafts, this Zdeno Chara-esque behemoth blueliner immediately gives the Canucks something they have never had before. Though he still has two years remaining on his KHL contract, the Canucks will try to get him to Vancouver for training camp to examine what they have. He is the first Russian-born player the Canucks have selected since Ilya Kablukov was selected in the fifth round in 2007.

Tryamkin has, as you can imagine, an incredible reach and is a unique player. He has the defenseman’s mindset, is very responsible defensively, and skates well for a man his size. While he does not have fantastic puck handling skills, he was still used on Russia’s second power-play unit at the World Junior Championships. He has solid skating ability and is not afraid to mix it up and use his imposing size to his advantage. He will be 20 years old by the start of the 2014-15 season, putting him somewhat ahead of the developmental curve than most of his fellow draftees.

Through an interpreter, Tryamkin spoke with the media, with some of his comments included in this HF video.

Gustav Forsling, D, Linkoping J20 (Sweden SuperElit)
5th round, 126th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 175

Having dealt their fourth round pick to Carolina in the Zac Dalpe trade, the Canucks had to wait to until the fifth round to nab this offensive-minded defenseman. While he will never be a shutdown defenseman, he has made strides in his defensive zone coverage. He has also improved his defensive zone awareness and ability to make the safe play.

Where Forsling excels is in the creative aspects of the game, controlling tempo and flow, particularly on the power play. He has excellent puck control and distributes it well and in a timely fashion. Some feel that he was overlooked somewhat because of his diminutive frame, but he is still very young and has time to develop even further. While the Canucks have a couple of offensive minded defenders in their system, Forsling looks to bring a couple of elements to the table that have been lacking. He obviously exudes some qualities the Canucks desire, as physically he was not the stereotypical large, brawny prospect they targeted in the draft.

Kyle Pettit, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
6th round, 156th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 200

Lost amidst the wave of big names the Erie Otters possess – Connor McDavid, Andre Burakovsky (WAS), Connor Brown (TOR), and Canucks free agent signing Dane Fox – Kyle Pettit went about his business with little fanfare. No stranger to hard work and determination, Pettit is a team-first kind of player, and though he will never put up points like some of the afore-mentioned Otters, he is integral to his team’s success.

Pettit does a lot of the little things that win hockey games. He is strong in the faceoff circle and is called upon for defensive zone faceoffs quite often. He has good size, but does not look for hits and only mixes it up every so often. If he uses his height for anything, it is to lean on players while in the defensive zone. The offensive side of his game and puck possession will always be a work in progress, and his skating stride still needs some attention, though he is by no means a poor skater. He is a good shot-blocker, and despite missing 15 games this season due to a shoulder injury, is quite rugged. Pettit is a player that you never have to worry about from one shift to another; he always leaves it all out on the ice for your team.

Mackenze Stewart, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
7th round, 186th overall
Height: 6-5 Weight: 237

As previously mentioned, the Canucks prospect stable grew, not just in quantity, but also in average height/weight after the 2014 draft. Stewart has actually defied the odds to make it this far. He was born deaf; only surgeries gave him the ability to hear at 12 years of age.

Stewart will never be confused with an offensively gifted defenseman; in 55 games with the Prince Albert Raiders he had five goals and nine points. But he loves playing the game, and certainly has some tools that can be worked with. He will not shy away from the physical stuff either as he dropped the gloves 10 times this past season.

To be certain, players drafted in the later rounds in the draft are often a crapshoot, and Stewart is no exception. He is an intriguing pickup though, and with some work and attention to detail, could be molded into an imposing defenseman. Fans that have been hoping for the Canucks to get bigger certainly had those wishes granted during the 2014 draft.

Following the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning met with the media, with some of his comments included in this HF video.

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