The Vancouver Canucks prospects pool might be the least of the franchise’s worries at this moment in time. Ranked right in the middle of the league prior to the 2015 NHL Draft, the group boasts some areas of strength but fails to inspire much confidence on the whole. There is some quality (especially at center) and some quantity (especially on defense) and the Canucks added more of both to the prospect pool.
Draft weekend in Sunrise, Florida yielded some decent bets. Considering the late position of the first-round pick and their second-round pick previously traded to Calgary for Sven Baertschi (and used on intriguing defender Rasmus Andersson), the Canucks did pretty well to maximize their position. However, the management team also traded Eddie Lack, a homegrown goaltender who had begun to look like a top NHL player at that position, and Zack Kassian, a former first-round pick. While those returns seem underwhelming to some, Jim Benning and Trevor Linden seem to have a plan in motion, and it will be interesting to see where the 2015 class fits into that scheme. The last place any franchise wants to be is stuck in the middle: barely missing the playoffs or barely making an impact or barely missing out on franchise-changing talents around whom a smart management group can establish some dominance.
Vancouver has done better at the draft table lately, but from the 2010 Draft onward there are no picks outside of Bo Horvat currently on pace to play 100 NHL games. There are some promising players in the pipeline (Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, Cole Cassels for starters) but the Canucks risk slipping further in the western conference arms race if they don’t start adding some elite talents. Whether this draft adequately addressed that need is a question whose answer will come, but not for two years or more.
Brock Boeser was the top goal-scorer in the USHL (tied with two others) and third overall in league scoring. The standout winger from Burnsville, Minnesota is a talent whose place in this draft nonetheless varied some. International Scouting Services pegged him as a second-rounder (35th overall), but most other scouts and publications placed him roughly in this slot, late in the first round. His game is somewhat less complete than other first-rounders, but his offensive tools, skating and awareness all rate favorably with his peers.
Boeser was, unsurprisingly, in a good mood on the draft floor, saying of the experience “it’s been tremendous, a dream come true. I couldn’t be more proud right now, hard to take it all in.”
He is a player who possesses top-line upside and is driven to show that ability every shift. Thus, his transition to college hockey may frustrate him at first as the physical challenges grow. As a freshman at the University of North Dakota, Boeser will be part of a new generation, one with a new mascot and a new head coach in Brad Berry (who once scouted for the Canucks).
Asked about the difficulty of making it to the NHL, Boeser said, “I definitely know that it’s not an easy process, it’s not an easy thing to do, I still have to put all the work in to earn my spot, and prove to them that I was a good pick-up.”
About the Canucks interview, Boeser said he wasn’t surprised that they picked him at 23rd: “I had a pretty strong feeling that they’d get me there.” Boeser’s innate confidence and scoring skill attracted the Canucks to him, but a breakout freshman campaign would do wonders for the confidence of the Canucks fanbase as well.
Brisebois is a player who served as captain for his team and embraced that leadership role in all situations. ISS’s 46th ranked player also made TSN analyst Bob Mackenzie’s top 50 list and was 41st in Central Scouting’s North American ranks. He did not put up great scoring totals on an overmatched team that was last in the QMJHL, and his rough-looking plus-minus rating speaks to the difficulty his team had in controlling play. That said, Brisebois is a highly-skilled defenseman with excellent awareness. He is a mobile and a very dependable player.
With the suppressed offense stemming from a weak team, Brisebois is a little hard to project. For Canucks fans, Brisebois currently represents the return for Eddie Lack. Whether fairly or not, it will be a burden that he has to face. The good news is that this young player has already shown a lot of resolve and character. After another strong season leading his junior squad, Brisebois will be ready to start climbing Vancouver’s depth chart. With a very well-rounded game, Brisebois might be one of the better picks of the third round, despite appearances.
Many teams deviated a bit from recent practice by turning to Russia at this draft. The World Junior squad that showed well at the Ivan Hlinka tournament is a strong group of talents, one whose North American prospects have been bolstered by uncertainty in Russia’s political economy. At that tournament, Zhukenov kept pace with the names that went earlier in the draft with a point-per-game outing. Like some of those teammates, Zhukenov is heading to Canada next season after being selected by Chicoutimi tenth overall in the CHL Import Draft.
Zhukenov did not have a standout season in the MHL, putting up only 19 points in 35 regular season games, with only three goals: all at even strength. It should be remembered that this total generally includes only primary assists however. Zhukenov was also a solid faceoff man, suggesting a reasonable level of defensive responsibility.
He proved capable against his own age group, with a slightly better than point-per-game pace against his cohort. This pick is a bit more long-range, but Zhukenov will undoubtedly put up some good numbers next season in Quebec.