Canucks 2002 Draft Review

By Kirk Pedersen

Leading up to the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, the Canucks did not look likely to have an exciting draft. With no first-round selection, and two picks towards the end of the second round, the chances of landing a premier youngster seemed to be slim. It went pretty much as expected.

Hockey’s Future’s Rangers and Avalanche Writer Brandon LeBourveau analyzes the Canucks’ selections.

Selection 1, Pick #49
Name: Kirill Koltsov
Position: Defense
Height/Weight: 5’11”; 183 lbs.
CSB Rank: #6 European Skater.

With their first selection, the Canucks snatched up free-falling Russian blueliner Kirill Koltsov. This 19-year-old is thought by many to be somewhat of a problem-child; feuding with coaches and management over in Russia. He was unable to opt-in to the 2001 NHL Draft because his agent failed to file the proper paperwork in order to make him available.

Pluses: Koltsov is an excellent offensive defenseman with amazing wheels and a great shot. He sees the ice well and has good hockey sense; and has a motor that won’t stop. This young Russian is also, despite his lack of size, quite a physical player. If he had opted-in to last year’s draft, he would’ve gone in the middle of the first round. He was also projected to land around that spot in the first round this year; but several teams must’ve decided he wasn’t worth hassle and passed on him; giving the Canucks what looks like the makings of a steal at 49.

Minuses: The first, and largest obstacle Koltsov will need to maneuver in order to become a productive NHL player is his attitude. Getting out of Russia might be the best thing that’s ever happened to a guy like him. The Canucks should bring this youngster over as quick as they can; his development isn’t being helped in Russia as long as he’s not on good terms with coaches and management. His lack of size is also a bit of a worry, as you don’t see too many premiere defensemen in the NHL around his size. His aggression often leads to silly penalties; which is something he would be well-advised to cut down on.

In Conclusion: Considering where he was supposed to go, Vancouver pulled a definite coup by grabbing this talented, yet troubled Russian. In a draft full of gambles, he was one that Vancouver couldn’t afford not to take.

Brandon LeBourveau:The closest clone to Sandis Ozolinsh that you’ll find. Doesn’t know where the defensive zone is, but he’s dangerous in the offensive end. Is a fabulous skater with a good offensive upside. I’m surprised he lasted this long but it’s a great pick by the Canucks.

Selection 2, Pick #55
Name: Denis Grot
Position: Defense
Height/Weight: 6’1″; 180 lbs.
CSB Rank: #11 European Skater.

Denis Grot was still available when Burke and Company came to the table with their second of two round two picks. While his upside isn’t nearly that of Koltsov; he’s probably got a better chance to be an average player; whereas Kirill may either boom or bust.

Positives: An excellent puck-mover, Grot does all of the little things well on the ice. He’s a good skater, a decent passer, and has a good shot from the point; although he probably won’t contribute much in the way of offense once he reaches the NHL.

Negatives: There really aren’t too many to talk about here, besides the fact that he’ll just be an average player at the NHL-level. There isn’t too much upside after that. Like Koltsov, he could add a bit of muscle.

Overall: Another talented defenseman taken from Russia. Vancouver needs to bring this fellow over soon to help get him acclimatized to the North American style of play.

BL:Going back to Russia again to select defenseman after taking Koltsov a few picks earlier, the Canucks will be happy with Grot in the future. Grot is a physical defenseman but will need to bulk up and improve his strength.

Selection 3, Pick #68
Name: Brett Skinner
Position: Defense
Height/Weight: 6’1″; 170 lbs.
CSB Rank: #22 North American Skater.

In the third round, their first selection was 68th overall, and once again, Burke and his group of scouts, assistants and advisors zeroed in on a defenseman; this time grabbing former Trail Smoke Eater Brett Skinner. An offensive-defenseman who spent last season in the USHL; Skinner has committed to the U. of Denver for next season.

Good: Skinner is an excellent skater who has good speed to boot. He rarely makes a poor play in his own zone; and has okay defensive abilities overall. He’s a good passer who also has a good shot from the point. He has a very polished offensive game overall.

Not So Good: He’s not a particularly physical specimen; and he’d be well-advised to put on a bit of muscle.

BL:Skinner is another good pick up by the Canucks to patch up their defense. He plays a two-way game and possesses some good offensive skills. Is considered by some to be soft, and he’ll have to work hard to prove those critics wrong.

Selection 4, Pick #83
Name: Lukas Mensator
Position: Goaltender
Height/Weight: 5’8″; 167 lbs.
CSB Rank: #4 European Goaltender.

The first of three goaltenders selected by Vancouver, Arturs Irbe-ish netminder Lukas Mensator was a surprise selection at 83. This Czech netminder stood on his head all season long for his junior club in Karlovy Vary; posting a 2.91 GAA, and a .922 SV%. (All statistics courtesy of Eurohockey.net)

What’s To Like: Mensator is an immensely talented goaltender with very quick reflexes. His style doesn’t really pay homage to anyone; but his size reminds many of ‘Canes stopper Arturs Irbe. He anticipates the play well, and is usually in a good position to stop the puck. He’s decent at playing the puck, and is always quick to get out of his crease to do so. He dominated the U-18 WJC with a 1.57 GAA and .947 SV%; being named to the Tournament All-star team, and being named Best Goaltender of the tournament.

What’s Not To Like: Barely over 5’7″, he’s got to either put on a lot of muscle, or have a Hulk-like growth spurt. (The former appears to be more likely.) However, there are several smaller goaltenders in the NHL who have become starters; so don’t count him out yet. Another thing he’ll need to work on is becoming a more consistent performer, which will take a lot of time and effort in the Czech league.

To Make a Short Story Shorter: This is another pick we’ll have to wait on for a few years to see the actual value; although his numbers thus far are very impressive. Bringing him over to North America might be a bit hasty at this point; as Vancouver has also drafted 20-year-old Rob McVicar. An interesting pick, to say the least.

BL:He’s a small goaltender; but is technically sound and has amazingly quick reflexes. Will need some time to develop but has some upside as an NHL starter provided that he continues to improve.

Selection 5, Pick #114
Name: John Laliberte
Position: Right Wing
Height/Weight: 6’1″; 185 lbs.
CSB Rank: #105 North American Skater

Delorme, Burke and Co decided to take a risk with the #114 selection; and snatched up Boston University recruit John Laliberte. A native of Saco, Maine, Laliberte led the EJHL (Eastern Junior Hockey League) in scoring, with 83 points, and was second in the league in goals with 39. John was also named Offensive MVP of the league; and a first-team All-star.

Growth Spurts: He’s got excellent hockey sense, and almost always makes passes the puck to the right destination, or shoots at an opportune time. He’s a patient player who would rather wait than (obviously) make a silly play hastily. He’s also a natural goal-scorer who, as previously mentioned, tore up the second-tier EJHL this season; he’s definitely a finisher.

Growing Pains: Like most of the players drafted this time by the Canucks, he could stand to add a bit more muscle to his frame. Laliberte will spend the next four years in university, so Canuck fans shouldn’t count on seeing him any time soon. One other thing to consider is that he tore up a second-rate league in the EJHL last season, and one might ponder whether or not his scoring will transfer over to the NCAA.

Growth or Shrinkage?: Like Skinner, Laliberte will spend the forseeable future in college, so he’ll be seeing more practice time than game time. He could play in the CHL for a year and then watch him develop his skills in Manitoba. However, getting an education is important no matter who you are; and going the college route is a good way to go if you can. He’ll be an interesting guy to watch.

BL:An interesting selection by the Canucks right here. Laliberte dominated the EJHL but you would like to see him do it against better competition.

Selection 6, Pick #151
Name: Rob McVicar
Position: Goaltender
Height/Weight: 6’4″; 195 lbs.
CSB Rank: #28 North American Goaltender.

In a move that clearly was made to aid the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks selected Brandon Wheat Kings’ netminder Rob McVicar with their sixth selection. A big, stringy goaltender, McVicar was passed over two times; both in ’00, and in ’01. He was invited to Tampa’s training camp last season, and came away with a contract offer (which he later declined). A Brandon native, he won’t need to drive far to training camp this season with the Moose.

Positives: Size is definitely an advantage. Rob towers over many players at 6’4″, and is among the taller players in the WHL. He had a great play-offs with the Wheat Kings; but the two numbers that stand out the most are a .925 save percentage, and a 2.10 GAA. He plays a stand-up style, and is a technically sound goalie who was among the better ‘keepers in the WHL this past season.

Negatives: A very poor puck-handler, he often gives it away if pressured in his own zone; this is a skill he’ll definitely need to improve upon. Like most stand-up style goaltenders, Rob is weak up high. Like almost every young goalie, he gives up the occasional ‘softie’.

In The End: He’d make a solid back-up for the Moose next season if he can iron out the flaws in his game. Martin Brochu and Alfie Michaud appear to have run their courses with the organization, so a back-up spot could become available; or he could battle it out with Alex Auld for the No. 1. Drafted as a 20-year-old, he’ll need to make an impression as soon as he can.

BL:Ranked very low by Central Scouting but obviously the Canucks saw some potential in this kid. He’s a huge goaltender but will likely need some extensive time in the minors to develop. A long term project.

Selection 7, pick #214
Name: Marc-Andre Roy
Position: Left Wing
Height/Weight: 6’2″; 205 lbs.
CSB Rank: Not Ranked.

What He Does Well: According to Dave Nonis, ‘He’s a driven kid..’. (Vancouver Province, June 24/02) So, if he’s a hard-worker, that’s a definite plus. If Roy has one thing going for him, it’s that he’s very, very tough. You don’t get 428 PIM in any league if you’re a creampuff.

What Needs Work: Everything else. Roy’s skating is very poor, his defensive zone coverage isn’t that great, and he has hands that would make Mike Brown and Alek Stojanov cry.

Bottom Line: One point in the QMJHL. He might become a decent ECHL goon someday. Until he does something radical to prove otherwise, this is a waste of a pick.

BL:He’s a thug..and a thug..and yeah, that’s about it. If this guy makes the NHL it’s going to be because of his fists, and not his skills. An enforcer who hasn’t shown much ability to do anything offensively in the QMJHL. I think they could have gotten this kid later in the draft.

Selection 8, pick #223
Name: Ilia Krikunov
Position: Winger
Height/Weight: 5’11”; 169 lbs.
CSB Rank: Not Ranked.

Another highly-skilled Russian, Ilia Krikunov was a seventh-round pick by the Canucks. Like several others taken in this draft late, he’s one of the sleepers that Burke and his group seem to flush out of the deepest parts of Europe; sort of like Evgeny Gladskikh.

Good: Krikunov played very well for Team Russia at the ’02 U-18 Championships, racking up eleven points (3g, 8a) in eight games. He played for Elemash Elektrostal in the Vysshaya Liga during the regular season; adding 22 points (12g, 10a) in 48 games. He’s got good skills across the board, but he’s still a bit soft.

Not so Good: He’s still very small, and needs to bulk up a great deal if he wants to be effective in North America. He still hasn’t faced top competition yet, so we won’t know how well he measures up as a prospect until he does.

Overall: A good sleeper selection by the Canucks. He might be something, but he might not.

BL:A small Russian winger but one that is a sleeper and could surprise some in a couple of years.

Selection 9, pick #247
Name:Matt Violin
Position: Goaltender
Height/Weight: 6’1″; 180 lbs.
CSB Rank: #24 North American Goaltender.

Three goalies in one draft? After only picking one goaltender in his first four drafts combined, Brian Burke has taken a radical 180 degree turn. Violin, who is in his freshman year with Lake Superior State, had a 3.06 GAA and a .913 SV% this past season.

Good: He faced a lot of shots this season with a rather poor team, and had an impressive save percentage. Hopefully LSSU can improve next season, so he won’t have to face a barrage of shots again. However, getting a lot of action is important to any young goalie’s development.

Not So Good: Didn’t play as many games as he would’ve liked, sharing goaltending chores with Kings draftee Terry Denike. At 20, it doesn’t seem like Violin is currently a serious pro prospect, but that could change quickly if he’s able to steal the starting job and run with it next season.

BL:Boy, the Canucks must not be confident in Dan Cloutier since they drafted three goaltenders in this draft. Violin has quite the name, but does he have the skills? He’ll finish out his career with Lake Superior State before giving a crack at the pro ranks.

Selection 10, pick #277
Name: Thomas Nüssli
Position: Left/Right Wing
Height/Weight: 6’2″; 205 lbs.
CSB Rank: #88 European Skater.

Not picked in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Thomas Nüssli is another late pick that might end up paying dividends in the future. The big (bigger than the listed 205) Swiss winger was one of (if not the) top players for Switzerland at the WJC this past December. Upon returning to Zug, though, he received limited icetime and his scoring suffered. He spent some time in the Nationalliga B with EHC Basel; but wasn’t really able to completely recover his scoring touch.

Pluses: Size is a definite bonus, and his penalty minute totals indicate that he’s got some grit. Thomas has soft hands, and once he regains his scoring touch, will be a solid player in the Swiss league.

Swiss Misses: Nüssli isn’t a very hard-working player, and that was a definite reason for his slip in this year’s draft; going at the end to the Canucks; who were more than happy to snap him up. He’ll be twenty late this year, so that also might’ve aided his falling. Thomas still has yet to produce consistently in the Swiss high league, and until he can do so, North America isn’t an option.

Overall: A player with obviously high skill level was still available when Vancouver came to pick in the 9th round. Talent can’t be taught, but work-ethic can; here’s to hoping he learns that fine art.

BL:A very good pick by the Canucks. Nussli is an overager and had a good World Junior Tournament for the Swiss. He’s got decent size and has shown the ability to score some goals. Could make the NHL one day, but not sure if he can become an impact player.

Selection 11, pick #278
Name: Matt Gens
Position: Defense
Height/Weight: 6’0″; 180 lbs.
CSB Rank:#124 North American Skater.

With their eleventh and final selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Vancouver selected St. Cloud State blueliner Matt Gens. Gens played for the USNTDP team for two seasons before going to university. He was still rather unpolished overall going into his first year of college hockey; which was why many schools wanted him to play in the USHL or the EJHL before entering the ranks. He chose not to listen, and went to St. Cloud State.

Good: The 19-year-old Gens put up good offensive numbers in his freshman season; scoring 23 points (6g, 17a) in forty games; but he won’t be an offensive defenseman once he goes pro. He impressed several scouts in his first season, developing into a top-two pairing defenseman. Gens has decent speed, and is a good skater overall. He passes well, and has a decent shot from the point.

Not So Good: Gens isn’t very strong, and that will hinder him even in the NCAA; so he needs to bulk up a bit. Due to his lack of strength, he’s not a very physical player, and is usually beaten when it comes to pucks along the boards.

Finally: For a ninth rounder, Gens is a solid pick.

BL:Another good pick to sure up the defense. Gens is small for defensive standards and will need to bulk up to be effective in the NHL. The ‘Nucks will give him an opportunity to do that while he finishes school.

Brandon LeBourveau contributed to this article.