2000 Draft Picks, to sign, or not to sign?

By Kirk Pedersen

Going into the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, many scouts had said this was a ‘no-star’ draft, and was full of wild-card players. Two years later, that prediction looks to be true. Only two players from the first round of 2000 have established themselves as scorers at the NHL level: Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik.

However, two years after a draft is a poor judge of the overall talent level. For example, Scott Hartnell was far from the most naturally talented player available in the draft, but, in ten years, he could be looked upon as one of the most complete players in the NHL. Justin Williams, taken later in the first round; could also be one of the better players to come out of the 2000 draft.

Only two months before the 2000 draft, the Canucks were flying high, just missing the playoffs by a few points after an excellent late charge. The team was the best it had been since the Cup-run year of 1993-94, amassing 83 points. Expensive stars Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure had been jettisoned, and the only overpaid, older player left was Mark Messier. Former enigma Markus Naslund had finally started to break out, as did Todd Bertuzzi. The only missing piece of the puzzle was goaltending, but Felix Potvin’s .906 save percentage was thought to be a long-term fix. Well, they were wrong; but that’s a story for another day. The team already had, thanks to some creative trades and good drafting, one of the best prospect reserves in the league. Wonder Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin were only one year away; defenseman Bryan Allen had missed almost the entire season with an injury, but we all knew he’d be back. And finally, young Josh Holden was in his second professional season, and had gotten six points in as many games with the Canucks. Things were looking up.

The Canucks had one first round selection in the 2000 draft, which had come by way of the Florida Panthers in the Pavel Bure deal. Florida was coming off their best season yet, so the pick was in the lower-half of the first round. (23rd overall to be exact.) The original Canuck pick, which was slated to be tenth overall; was traded to Chicago along with Bryan McCabe, so the Canucks could get Henrik Sedin. The pick ended up being centreman Mikhail Yakubov, who came to North America this season to play for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.

With the 23rd pick in the 2000 Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks selected Nathan Smith, from the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League. On draft day, Smith was described by scouts as having great vision of the ice, being a good passer, having good hockey sense, and being a good defensive center. Needless to say, it’s not a usual tale for first-round picks. Many draft magazines had Smith listed in the second or third rounds.

Since being drafted, Smith has gone from being a decent, second-line offensive player, (He was stuck behind Layne Ulmer for most of ’99-00 and ’00-01) to an excellent WHL-scorer. That said, the chances of seeing him score 90 points in the NHL are slim. Smith is an excellent skater, a good passer, and has a good shot. He’s good on faceoffs, and plays an excellent defensive game. His defensive skills will no doubt be what will get him to the show, rather than his offensive prowess. The deciding factor on whether or not to sign Smith is: Has he improved enough over the past two years to warrant a contract?

Smith has improved more than enough in the past two years to warrant a pro contract from the Canucks. However, he hasn’t really improved as much as he has re-discovered the offensive talent he had as a midget player. Also keep in mind his season was shortened by nagging injuries. By not signing Smith, Burke will prove the sneaking suspicions of many Canuck fans in thinking drafting him was entirely the wrong direction to go in, so likely Smith will be signed.

The Canucks had no second round pick (their picks were traded to Atlanta and to New Jersey so their next selection was to come in the third round, in a pick acquired from the New York Islanders in the Felix Potvin deal. The player they selected was HF’s highest-ranked QMJHL player, Thatcher Bell of the Rimouski Oceanic.

Even though his scoring stats were inflated a trifle due to the club he played on, Bell was a sniper through and through. He had good speed, excellent offensive awareness, good passer, good shot. Unfortunately, the knock on Bell was his durability, or lack thereof. He hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year in the Q, and he’s only played 75 games in the past two seasons combined.

His stock has fallen a great deal since he’s been drafted because of Bell’s durability. Had he been able to stay healthy in his final season of junior, who knows how well he could’ve done? Bell could have doubled his point-production, much like Oiler hopeful Matt Lombardi, but we’ll never know.

Should Bell be signed by the Canucks? He was signed by the Moose to a PTO contract, but never appeared in a game, as the Moose were quickly dispatched in four games by Rick Dipietro and Bridgeport. He hasn’t done anything to make me think he deserves a contract with the Canucks. His moves probably won’t translate well to the professional level, and his durability is somewhat south of Gord Kluzak.

Bell isn’t worthy of a contract, especially considering he’s been passed by several players on the prospect depth chart. But he’s still got some serious upside. The big downside is, whomever decides to take a chance on him is in for a long wait.

With their second third round selection, the Canucks picked defenseman Tim Branham from the Barrie Colts. Drafted at the age of 19, he had an extra year to develop, and had a solid half-season in his draft year with Barrie. However, since then, his play has dropped off a great deal. In his last season in Barrie, his scoring dropped off a bit, and he was quickly traded to Guelph in the off season.

This year with the Storm, Branham was expected to form a top-notch overage pairing with offensive-dynamo Kevin Dallman. That was not to be, as the supposedly-offensive defenseman was overtaken by new arrival Fedor Tjutin. He finished the season with a mere 21 points in his overage year, far below expectations, especially considering Branham was playing for a pro contract.

Like Bell, if he gets a contract with the Canucks, it will likely be a very small one, and Branham will more than likely begin his professional career (Should he choose to have one) in the ECHL or a similar league. Since being drafted, his overall game, which is mostly offensive, has gone downhill, which may suggest that he was an early bloomer. He’s a good skater, and does many little things well, but that isn’t enough to help him earn a contract with the Canucks.

Seeing as Pavel Duma is playing in Europe, the Canucks have no deadline at which to sign him.

Nathan Barrett, the WHL’s leading scorer in ’01-02 is still unsigned by the Canucks, and it appears this won’t change. Like Tim Branham and Pavel Duma, Barrett was born in 1981. That would make this season his overage year of junior, which is why people shouldn’t get so giddy over his statistics. Another reason Barrett isn’t as good as advertised by gaudy numbers in the regular season is: He choked in the playoffs, only putting up one point in four games, as Lethbridge went out in four straight. He’s not a good team-player, and not too great of a leader, but the man can score. However, he infuriated Canuck management by leaving training camp early because he wanted to win a WHL scoring title.

Leaving camp early was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for Barrett and his relationship with the Canucks. He wants first-round money, but no matter how much he wants them to change, are that draftees are paid according to their position in the draft. Barrett will not get first-round money. He, much like Thatcher Bell, will be a source of frustration for teams in the near future.

Barrett’s demands are far too high for the Canucks, especially considering that just about every player scores at will in their overage year. When he left camp, any thoughts of ever wearing a Canuck uniform should have vanished from his mind.

Last, but certainly not least is Tim Smith. One of five 1981 birthdays in the Canucks 2000 draft, (Branham, Duma, Reid, Barrett and himself) he has made a name for himself in the WHL.

Smith’s size deficencies have kept him from earning a contract with the Canucks, and he probably won’t be offered one.

Smith has good skills, and his large increase in penalty minutes shows that he’s getting feistier in his young age. He could be worth a gamble for a couple of teams, but his scoring dropped off in his overage year.