Canucks 2002 Draft Preview: part 1

By Kirk Pedersen

Traditionally, the Vancouver Canucks have never been one of the better drafting teams in NHL history. Could it be poor management? Bad scouting? Inferior minor-league coaching and development?

All of these may very well be true, but many hockey purists backtrack to the day back in 1970, when the Canucks lost the #1 overall pick, and the right to draft Gilbert Perreault to the Buffalo Sabres. Vancouver ended up with a consolation prize: Toronto Marlboros defenseman Dale Tallon. Whilst Perreault went on to score more than 1300 points in the NHL and set several single-season records for the Sabres; also helping them to an improbable finals run in 1975. Tallon, despite representing the Canucks twice at the All-star game (’71, ’72), but never lived up to his potential.

Flash forward thirty-two years, and the Canucks, for the fifth time in team history, have no first-round pick. In those years, the Canucks’ first selections were the following: Ron Sedlbauer, who went on to become the team’s first forty-goal man; Bob Manno, a forward/defenseman who had a decent career in the NHL before shuttling off to Italy; Rob Murphy, a mostly minor-league centreman who only had eight points in his only real shot with the Canucks; and Chris McAllister, a classic ‘Quinn Pick’; i.e. a big guy with little skill.

The 2002 NHL Entry Draft is touted as the weakest since 1996, and with no first rounder, many would assume the Canucks would be ‘hooped’, as one observer so deftly put it. With several players ‘opting-out’ of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft; one would assume the amount of talent available would be limited to the Canucks; but you know what they say: ‘If you look hard enough, you’ll find something.’.

Going into the 2002 draft, the Canucks are a team that is filled with a lot less uncertainty than this time last year. The worries about goaltending have more or less been put on the back-burner, but there are still come lingering questions about Dan Cloutier’s competence in the play-offs. Vancouver has no first-round selection in an already-weak draft. That said, addressing your weaknesses through a draft is almost always a very poor strategy unless you’re picking at the top of the pool.

Here are several players who are projected to be available in round two who the Canucks might be looking at.

Kirill Koltsov was eligible for the 2001 Entry Draft, but chose not to ‘opt-in’. The Russian Defenseman probably would’ve gone in the top twenty in 2001, a strikingly more deep draft than this year’s edition; but he’s looked at as a mid-to-late first rounder, possibly a second-rounder in this year’s draft.

Strengths: Koltsov is an excellent skater, with great speed and very good balance. His offensive skills are top-notch; especially when coupled with his skating ability. Koltsov makes a crisp first-pass out of the zone, which may fuel some ‘offensive defenseman’ expectations. As previously mentioned, Kirill has good hockey sense and rarely makes a poor offensive decision. His overall defensive game is solid; he’s a decent checker despite his size, and he won’t back down from many.

Weaknesses: He has been branded with the ‘bad attitude’ tag ever since last season. Koltsov was a no-show at this season’s WJC because he was feuding with club management. Coincedentally, his icetime was a little bit lower in Omsk because of his attitude, as well; as Koltsov had some arguments with the coaching staff there.

Also, at age nineteen, scouts have had an extra season to pick Koltsov’s game apart; and one of his biggest flaws is his lack of discipline. Koltsov often flies off the handle or takes silly penalties which could’ve been avoided, had he not been so high-strung.

Bottom Line: He’ll be long-gone by the time the Canucks get to pick in the second round; unless the club decides to acquire a first on draft day, which, if Brian Burke took a risk, would be put to good use on a player like Kirill. He is what is described as a ‘(very) high-risk, high-reward’ prospect.

Another European defenseman is gargantuan backliner Daniel Fernholm. Injured for most of this season, Fernholm was limited to a mere eight games with Djurgarden of the Swedish (junior) league; racking up nineteen points. The league Fernholm played in is similar to a Jr.-C league over in Canada. And as you all know, very few junior C players go in the first round of any draft.

However, the only reason he was stuck so low was because of his injuries, and a failure to come of age.

Strengths: Fernholm has excellent size, and, usually can use it. For someone of his size, he moves quite well, which is a stark departure from what Canuck fans are used to in big defensemen. At times, he can play an offensive game, but don’t expect too much of that to translate over to the North American game; or the SEL, for that matter.

Weaknesses: The big Swede has been described by scouts as ‘lazy’, and ‘immature’; not exactly very glowing words for someone who will likely go in the top-fifty of this year’s draft. Fernholm also has bad knees; he has missed almost the entire ’00-01 and ’01-02 campaigns due to knee injuries. Also, he still has yet to put his total package of skills together on an SEL team; as the small sample size of his statistics do little to prove what kind of player he can be.

Bottom Line: His work-ethic (or lack thereof) could drop Fernholm far enough so that he falls into the Canucks’ lap in the mid-forties. He will still need a few years of seasoning before he’s completely ready to make the next step.

A former BCJHL standout, Duncan Keith has just completed his first season of University hockey at Michigan St. U. The former Penticton Panther had fifteen points in his freshman year with the Spartans; (3g, 12a) helping solidify what wasn’t all that great of a blueline in his inaugural season.

Strengths: Keith is an excellent offensive defenseman. The man with two first names makes a good first-pass out of the zone, has a good shot from the point, and is an offensive threat anywhere inside the opponents’ blueline.

Weaknesses: At six-feet (generous) and around 170 pounds, Duncan will have a very tough time getting would-be attackers away from the Canuck cage. He often gets manhandled in battles along the boards; and just isn’t very big or strong. Ranked at #94 out of the ‘North American Skaters’ section of the CSB’s final report; it’s safe to say that smallish defensemen aren’t too well-thought-of in today’s bigger, tougher, and meaner NHL.

Bottom Line: With his low ranking, Keith will easily be available to the Canucks in the second, third, and probably fourth rounds. The only reason I list him here is because his offensive skills are absolutely excellent. One thing he will need to do is bulk up quite a bit; hitting the weights for most, if not all of the off-season. If he can do that, he’ll be a solid pick in the third round.

The third (and final) European defenseman I’m going to talk about in my Part I Draft Preview is Belorussian blueliner Denis Grot. A slick eighteen-year-old who shares a birthday with yours truly, Grot has been making a steady ascension up the pre-draft rankings recently. Grot is ranked #35 overall by THN, and that has sparked some controversy on where he will be drafted.

Strengths: Grot can be summed up as someone who does just about everything well. A good skater with above-average passing skills, Denis could probably someday play on an NHL power-play unit. Physicality isn’t a focal point of his game, but Grot can throw a hit now and then. According to editor Eugene Belashchenko, Grot is a ‘friendly guy with a soft demeanor.’ not too shabby. He’s very solid in his own zone and defensively competent overall.

Weaknesses: There really aren’t too many in this jack-of-all-trades’ game. He’s got good size, and good skill over-all. One thing he could stand to do is increase his offensive production; this will only make him a more attractive prospect. His overall upside has been questioned by some, as he only projects to be a lower-pairing defenseman.

The final rearguard is a nineteen-year-old by the name of Jesse Lane. After spending last season with a U.S. U-18 club, Lane decided to attend Harvard University. Three games into the season, Lane got bored with only playing every few days; so he made the trek up to Hull to play in the QMJHL.

Strengths: Lane is an offensively-minded defenseman who is very apt with the puck. Lane has an accurate wrist-shot (For some reason, he doesn’t like to use the slapper.) which can often fool a goaltender who is caught off-guard. His passing is excellent; Lane rarely misses an open target. He’s a dedicated player who just loves to play the game.

Weaknesses: Lane has poor hockey sense. He often has trouble in his own end when it comes to clearing the zone; as his defense partner, highly-ranked Martin Vagner can definitely attest. Jesse isn’t the fastest skater in the world, but he’s strong on his skates. Skating is another skill he’ll need to work on before making the jump. Getting back to the hockey sense, though; Lane also has difficulties seeing the ice and interpreting the play unless it’s right up in his face. This is another skill he’ll need to improve upon, even though hockey sense cannot be taught.

Bottom Line: An excellent offensively-minded defenseman, Burke shouldn’t pass on Jesse Lane if he becomes available when the Canucks are ready to select. Vancouver is very short on defensive prospects, and adding a player like Lane could pay off five or six years down the road.