Less than a month removed from the club’s memorable playoff run and disappointing Stanley cup finals defeat, it was back to work for the front office of the Vancouver Canucks. The cup finalists went into the 2011 NHL draft with eight picks to their credit and despite owning the 29th selection in the first round, GM Mike Gillis and his staff knew they would be getting a good player. With a number of first-round worthy talents still on the board, Gillis went with Nicklas Jensen; a big, skilled winger from the Oshawa Generals in the OHL.
A lack of forwards and goaltenders were considered to be the Canucks two biggest organizational weaknesses heading into the draft and it was clear that they would be addressed at this year’s draft. Five of Vancouver’s picks were used to select forwards while their second pick of the draft was used on a promising young net-minder out of the QMJHL.
Nicklas Jensen, LW/RW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
1st round, 29th overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 187 lbs
Jensen figured to be one of the many talented forwards that would still be available by the time the Canucks first-round, 29th overall selection rolled around and when he was the Canucks were more than happy to take the high-scoring Dane. Jensen came over to play for the Oshawa Generals this past season where he played a starring role alongside the likes of fellow top draft prospects Boone Jenner (CLB) and Lucas Lessio (PHX). He ranked third on the Gens with 29 goals and fourth with 58 points finishing the year as one of the best rookies in the OHL.
At 6’2 and 187 lbs, Jensen is not overly physical but an imposing figure on the wing nonetheless. Thanks to his excellent puck-handling and playmaking ability, he is also very tough to contain on the rush and in the offensive zone. He possesses a quick release that makes him equally dangerous in one-on-one situations as he is around the goal area. While his skating is not elite, Jensen is by no means slow and has good lateral mobility, but the one knock against him throughout his first year in Oshawa was that he needs to give a more consistent effort on a nightly basis.
The 18-year-old also comes from some good bloodlines as his father Dan played in the OHL as well prior to a lengthy 16-year-career as a pro in Denmark. Comfortable with North American culture, Jensen speaks both Danish and English fluently which made the transition from his native Denmark to Canada that much easier.
With the capability to do so, the Canucks will hope that Jensen can assert himself more as a dominant player next year in junior and make a push for the roster within the next few years.
With Cory Schneider seemingly always in the middle of trade talk, the Canucks needed to add to their thin goaltending depth. Without a second-round pick, Gillis was forced to wait until the third round before he was able to grab David Honzik, making the big Czech the fourth goalie selected in the 2011 draft.
Honzik burst onto the scene in his first year in North America as a rookie netminder with the Victoriaville Tigres in the QMJHL. After a solid regular season, Honzik really turned it on in the playoffs. He averaged around 40 saves a game in the Tiger’s two playoff rounds and was spectacular in defeat as they were ousted by the eventual Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs in the second round.
At 6’2, 209 lbs, Honzik is simply a monster between the pipes. He moves very well in the crease, playing a butterfly style that allows him to cover a large portion of the net even when on his knees. He is very agile for such a big man and proved to possess excellent mental toughness as he was at his best in big games.
Not turning 18 until August, Honzik was one of the youngest players in the draft and is considered to just be scratching the surface of his potential. He has been invited to the Czech Republic’s tryout camp for their World Junior team and should he make the team it would certainly be a big boost for his development.
Alexandre Grenier, RW – Quebec Remparts/Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
3rd round, 90th overall
Height: 6’5 Weight: 200 lbs
In the third round Mike Gillis made one of the more surprising picks of the draft when he selected 19-year-old Alexandre Grenier. Having only played one season with Quebec in the QMJHL, Grenier was very much an unknown commodity until this year. He had previously been playing a step below the Q in the QJAAAHL until making his way to Canadian major-junior and catching the eyes of scouts around the league with his size and potential. He appeared in 31 regular season games with the Remparts posting 24 points in 31 games, and followed that up by averaging a point per game through 15 games in the playoffs. The big man was then traded to the Halifax Moosehead where he will likely play his overage season for the club next year.
At 6’5 and 200 lbs, Grenier’s size alone made him one of the most intriguing players in the draft. He has very good hands, is a good skater for his size and plays a complete game at both ends of the rink. Although he is very much a power-forward project, Grenier is a late bloomer who clearly took some time to co-ordinate his skills with his growing frame. It is always dangerous to pick a player because potential based mainly off size, but with good vision and overall hockey sense, Grenier could end being a pick that the Canucks strike gold with or one that leaves people scratching when they look back on the 2011 draft.
Joseph Labate, C – Holy Angels (Minn H.S.)
4th round, 101st overall
Height: 6’4 Weight: 180 lbs
The Canucks followed up their big body pick of Alex Grenier by taking another tall forward; 6’4 center Joseph Labate from Holy Angels high school in Minnesota. Labate, who will be headed to the University of Wisconsin, admits that he was happy to get picked by a strong, contending organization like Vancouver despite the club’s heated rivalry with his hometown Minnesota Wild.
“Draft day is so unpredictable so you’re just hoping to get picked by a really good organization and I did,” said Labate who says that although his size is an advantage, he also realizes that he must add weight to his lanky frame. “I definitely need to fill out a little bit more and get stronger and I’ll be working on that, but it’s definitely an advantage to be as big as I am.”
A finalist for the Mr. Hockey award in the hockey mad state of Minnesota, the 18-year-old has a good nose for the net and does great work in close with the puck on his stick. He is a decent skater but does need to improve his first-step burst and lateral mobility. As his body continues to fill out and he adds more strength particularly in his legs, Labate should develop more power in his stride, which is something that should be a lot easier to accomplish by playing at such a great program like Wisconsin.
Ludwig Blomstrand, LW – Djurgarden Jr. (SuperElit)
4th round, 120th overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 198 lbs
The 74th ranked European prospect going into the draft, Blomstrand ended up being the 19th European player taken; undoubtedly the handy work of chief European scout Thomas Gradin. The little known Blomstrand spent the past season with the Djurgarden Jr. team as well as competing internationally with Sweden’s Under-18 team, and although he didn’t produce much in the way of offense, he is considered an excellent defensive forward with untapped offensive potential thanks to his blazing speed.
At 6’1, 198 lbs Blomstrand has good size to go along with his tremendous skating ability. At this point in his career the 18-year-old is classified best as a role player who is a good defensive forward and a great back-checker. He will remain in Sweden to further develop his skill-set but with size and speed already in place; he projects to be a solid defensive-forward whom Canucks fans will likely want to compare to Jannik Hansen.
Frank Corrado, D – Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
5th round, 150th overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 190 lbs
For the first time in the 2011 draft, the Canucks went with a defenseman selecting Frankie Corrado from the Sudbury Wolves with their fifth-round, 150th overall pick. A smooth-skating rear-guard, Corrado is a puck-possession defenseman who excels with the puck on his stick. The 18-year-old had a solid second year in Sudbury upping his point total from nine as a rookie to 30 points in his second year.
A right-handed shot, Corrado’s best asset is his confidence and poise while carrying the puck as well as being a very good skater with excellent acceleration. He has added a lot of strength to his smallish frame but is prone to being out-worked along the boards and must continue to improve his defensive positioning.
An offensive defenseman, Corrado will be given more of an opportunity to produce with the added ice-time, particularly on the power-play as he heads into his third OHL season.
Pathrik Westerholm, C – Malmo Redhawks (SuperElit)
6th round, 180th overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 185 lbs
In his second year of draft eligibility, Swedish center Pathrik Westerholm made it impossible not to get noticed the second time around. Westerholm, whose twin brother Ponthus played on his line in Malmo, led the Swedish U-20 league with 32 goals and 57 points in just 26 games and really blossomed a year after being passed over in his first chance to be drafted.
The 19-year-old Westerholm is a slick offensive player who plays an east-west game and is very adept at distributing the puck. He has excellent vision, a solid finishing ability and although he isn’t the best of skaters, he anticipates the play very well allowing him to find the open ice needed to create scoring chances. Westerholm is also a responsible defensive player who is hard on his man and works extremely hard to win puck battles.
Even though his twin brother Ponthus is yet to be drafted by an NHL team, it wouldn’t at all be a surprise if the Canucks looked into nabbing him. Like a certain set of twins playing in Vancouver, the Westerholms have tremendous chemistry and excel on the cycle so it is certainly not a stretch to believe that two more Swedish twins could be landing in the organization.
Henrik Tommernes, D – Vastra Frolunda HC (SEL)
7th round, 210th overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 176 lbs
With the next to last pick in the draft the Canucks selected 20-year-old defenseman Henrik Tommernes who had a surprisingly productive season with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League. An offensively gifted blueliner, Tommernes led the Swedish club in scoring among defensemen with 20 points in 47 games to help boost a team that struggled to score goals.
As mentioned, Tommernes is an offensive-minded rearguard with excellent skating and playmaking ability. He combines his skill with very good hockey sense and has a knack at getting his point shot through. At 6’0 and only 176 lbs Tommernes doesn’t play much of a physical game and needs to improve defensively, but his offense is certainly the main reason why the Canucks drafted him.