2006 Draft day trades laid foundation for Vancouver Canucks current success

By Jason Menard
Photo: Former first-rounder Michael Grabner didn’t realize his offensive potential until he was traded to the Florida Panthers and later picked up off waivers by the New York Islanders. (Photo courtesy of www.whl.ca

)

The Vancouver Canucks hosted the 2006 NHL Entry Draft and, as host city, certainly gave the fans something to cheer about with the announcement of a blockbuster trade that not only shocked the NHL, but also served as the foundation for the team’s current elite status.

However, with only one of five picks still in the system — including one who traded in skates and a stick for saddles and stirrups — it’s safe to say that the 2006 draft was notable only in the players that traded draft picks returned, as opposed to the talent that it infused into the system.

On the day of the draft the Canucks and the Florida Panthers announced a trade that had actually been finalized a couple of days beforehand. The Canucks obtained all-world goaltender Roberto Luongo, Lukas Krajicek and the 163rd pick overall (sixth round) in return for Todd Bertuzzi (who, at the time, as vilified for his career-ending attack on Steve Moore), Alex Auld, and prospect blueliner Bryan Allen.

It was a season of change for the Canucks, emphasized by the firing of coach Marc Crawford and the promotion of Alain Vigneault from its AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. The acquisition of Luongo made goaltender Dan Cloutier redundant and he was shipped out to the Los Angeles Kings for a 2007 second-round selection and a conditional 2009 pick.

After a flurry of trades, the Canucks ended up only selecting five players in the hometown draft. Earlier in the year, the Canucks traded their fourth-round selection to the New Jersey Devils for Sean Brown. They followed that by sending their second-round selection to the Buffalo Sabres for Mika Noronen. Vancouver also had another second-round selection in 2006, which they traded to the Anaheim (then-)Mighty Ducks as part of the bounty for Keith Carney. In 2005, Vancouver obtained the New York Islanders‘ third-round selection in return for Brent Sopel. The club temporarily had two third-round selections, but one was sent to Chicago for Steve McCarthy and the other found its way to St. Louis, along with Tomas Mojzis, for Eric Weinrich


Michael Grabner, RW, Spokane WOHL) – 1st round, 14th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 61

Although the team had high hopes for the winger, Grabner is no longer with the organization. On June 26, 2010, he was traded to Florida in return for Keith Ballard. And after a less-than-stellar training camp with the Panthers, he was placed on waivers, where he was subsequently claimed by the New York Islanders.

It took a few years for Grabner to crack the Canucks’ lineup, spending parts of four seasons with the club’s AHL affiliate in Winnipeg (including a two-game stint with the Moose once his final junior season ended.) Last year, Grabner saw action in 20 NHL games with the Canucks, scoring five goals and adding six assists. He also participated in nine playoff games, with negligible success, only accounting for one goal in his inaugural NHL post-season.

Grabner did show flashes of the offensive talent that led him to be selected with the 14th-overall selection, posting seasons of 22 and 30 goals in Manitoba. Last year, he was well on his way to his best offensive season (15 goals, 26 points in 38 games) and he’s continued to tease with his talents on Long Island. This year, he’s accounted four 12 goals, but only four assists in 41 games with the Islanders.

He’s yet to put together a complete season, representative of his talent level. However, at just 23 years old, the Austrian still has time to present the complete package. However, after passing through three teams in a matter of months, the jury’s still out on Grabner’s long-term prospects.


Daniel Rahimi, D, Bjorkloven (Sweden) – 3rd round, 38th overall (from Anaheim)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Rahimi also is no longer with the Canucks’ organization. In August 2009, he was sent to the San Jose Sharks along with Patrick White, in return for blueliner Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich.

The Swede of Iranian descent has yet to play in the NHL and currently finds himself toiling in the Swedish Elite League. He split the 2007-08 season between the ECHL and AHL, before finding a home in Manitoba for the 2008-09 campaign. Since the trade, he’s played for Rogle Angelholm and HV71 Jonkoping in Sweden, posting limited offensive numbers befitting his defensive defenseman status.

At 6’2, 220 pounds, the 23-year-old blueliner has solid NHL size, but his long-term NHL prospects look slight. Chances are we’ve seen the last of Rahimi on North American soil — at least in non-international competition — and he’ll likely enjoy a long career in his home nation.


Sergei Shirokov, F, CKSA-Moscow (Russia) – 6th round, 163rd overall (from Florida)
NHL Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 8

Shirokov’s pre-season performance spelled the end of his club’s top pick in the 2006 draft class. Despite suffering a knee injury in 2009, he was able to show enough in his limited exhibition season (a team leading seven points in four games) that he earned the final roster spot over Grabner.

He was given a golden opportunity to shine that year, earning a top-six forward position and time on the power play. However, he was held pointless early and quickly found his way into the press box. Sent back to Manitoba, Shirokov enjoyed an all-star campaign in the AHL, finishing the season with 22 goals and 23 assists in 76 games with the Moose.

Prior to last year, Shirokov spent four full years playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL (then the Russian Elite League) where he put up impressive point totals of 34, 34, and 41 points in his final three years, respectively.

The Russian has spent the majority of the past two season in Winnipeg playing for the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, but recently found his way back onto the NHL roster. Recalled Jan. 17, 2011, he finally scored his first NHL goal (which also was his first NHL point) and hopes to continue the offensive production that led him to lead the Moose in scoring (16 g
oals, 17 assists in 39 games).

Juraj Simek, F, Kloten Jr. (Switzerland) – 6th round, 167th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Simek’s another prospect who has bounced around the league, also now a part of his third NHL franchise. In 2008, the Slovakian-born forward was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with Lukas Kraijcek, for Shane O’Brien and Michel Ouellet. Last month, the Lightning sent him to Boston in a swap of minor leaguers.

Simek’s North American experience got off to a rousing start. After being selected by the Canucks, he was chosen by the Brandon Wheat Kings and tore up the WHL, averaging almost a point-per-game with 57 points in 58 games. After signing a professional contract, Simek found his way to Manitoba where he scored seven goals and 17 points in 66 games.

His finest season came last year, with the Norfolk Admirals, when we scored 21 goals in 75 games, en route to 36 points. This year, his offensive totals have plummeted — he only scored three goals and added six assists in 21 games with Norfolk. Since the trade, he’s been held pointless in 11 games with the Providence Bruins. And it’s not like he’s compensating for his lack of offense with stellar defensive play — he’s currently a minus-six.


Evan Fuller, F, Prince George (WHL) – 7th round, 197th overall
NHL Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The 6’2 Williams Lake, BC native was always a long-shot to make the NHL — his hands known more for their ability to form fists than put the puck in the net. Now, instead of wrestling foes to the ice, he’s wrestling with bulls in British Columbia.

He was last reported on-ice toiling in the CIHL — not exactly the end of the world in hockey, but you can certainly see it from there (for example, a notice on the Williams Lake Stampeders’ Web site indicates that they’ve recently been able to secure ice time for a two-game series against the Burns Lake Braves. They did politely thank the local figure-skating club for their generosity.)

Last year Fuller was a part of his home-town Stampeders’ Senior AA championship squad, which took home the 2010 CIHL Rio Tinto Alcan Cup Championship against Powell River. He also moonlighted as a bull rider with the BC Rodeo Association, where he continues to compete.

It’s safe to say that if the Canucks weren’t bullish on Fuller at the time of his drafting, they certainly would be now!