After coming up just short in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010-11, the Vancouver Canucks had another banner regular season, taking home the President's Trophy. However they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs this year by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. The price to pay for finishing near the top of the regular season standings is another draft pick right near the end of the first round, just like last year.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Nicklas Jensen, RW
2. Zack Kassian, RW
3. Eddie Lack, G
4. Jordan Schroeder, C
5. Chris Tanev, D
6. Anton Rodin, RW
7. Kevin Connauton, D
8. Alex Grenier, RW
9. Patrick McNally, D
10. Joseph Labate, C
There's no doubt that GM Mike Gillis will look to make some roster moves over the course of the summer and the first of such moves will likely include trying to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo and his large contract as the team is ready to give Cory Schneider the number one goaltending job.
It will be interesting to see what kind of role the Canucks have planned for Zach Kassian, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Sabres because what they have planned for him could dictate some of what they choose to do upfront. Kassian played mainly in a checking-line role for the Canucks last year, but should he be given an opportunity to play as a top-six forward, the results could be very fruitful. Mason Raymond has been given plenty of opportunities to play in the top-six, but has not been able to seize that role, so regardless of what happens with Kassian, the Canucks might look to add another top-nine winger to the team.
Down the middle, the Canucks will need to find someone to help fill the void of Ryan Kesler for the first couple of months of the season. For the second straight season he will be recovering from off-season surgery, this time to his shoulder. That, combined with the departure of Sami Pahlsson, who's already signed to play in Sweden next year makes finding a center or two a priority for Gillis. Jordan Schroeder is really the only viable candidate in the organization that could fill a center spot, but he still might not be ready for the NHL just yet.
Though Chris Tanev appears ready to play in the Canucks top-six group of defenseman, the potential departure of UFA's Sami Salo and Aaron Rome means that the Canucks will be in the market to add a blueliner or two if they don't bring back one of the aforementioned player.
The Canucks are pretty well stacked at the right-wing position, led by top prospect Nicklas Jensen. Kassian, though he had NHL experience, is still considered a prospect in the organization. Alex Grenier is very raw, with a lot of un-tapped potential. He's going to play next season in Austria, so he's still a few years away. Anton Rodin, who just completed his first season in the AHL could be a diamond in the rough. He has top-nine upside.
One reason why the Canucks feel confident they can potentially move one of their goaltenders at the NHL level is because of the strength of the Canucks goaltending prospects. Eddie Lack has had back-to-back productive seasons at the AHL level and appears ready to challenge for a back-up job in the NHL. Joe Cannata is fresh off a great four year career at Merrimack College will look to prove himself at the AHL level. David Honzik had rough season last year, but the Canucks aren't going to give up on him yet.
There is a lot of depth at center and left-wing, but those positions are also thin when it comes to potential top-six players. Schroeder and Joseph Labate have the best upside of the bunch, but Schroeder is no sure bet and Labate is at least two or three years away from even turning pro. The team needs to start adding some impact, scoring forwards to the system for the long-term as the Sedin's won't be around forever.
The Canucks have long been perceived as a team that has lacked in muscle and grit. The addition of Zach Kassian was made in part because of this problem. There are some grinders like Darren Archibald, Alex Friesen, and Aaron Volpatti in the system, but don't be surprised to the team continue to look to add more players of that nature at the draft.
There are some defensemen like Kevin Connauton, Patrick McNally, and Frank Corrado that have some potential, but it wouldn't hurt the Canucks to try and add another future top-four defenseman to the fold.
As is the case for most teams drafting towards the lower portion of the first round, it's the old adage of best player available for the Canucks. Drafting there makes things tougher for Gillis, head scout Ron Delorme and his scouting staff, but that's the price you pay for success.
The Canucks really don't have much in terms of discernable draft patterns over the course of the past few years when it comes to drafting specific positions. Out of 20 selections in the past three Canucks draft classes, they've selected nine forwards, eight defenseman and three goaltenders. Vancouver just needs to continue the same pattern of drafting the best player available because they need to add talent at all positions.
In terms of drafting from specific leagues, they've shown a tendency lately to stray away from the WHL, which is slightly puzzling considering they have a good chunk of the WHL teams practically right in their own backyard. They haven't drafted a player from the WHL since 2008. The last four players they drafted from that league can safely be considered draft busts. They have dipped into the QMJHL quite a fair bit over the past three drafts as a quarter of their 20 picks have come from that league.
One look at the Canucks NHL roster and you can see their fondness for drafting Europeans, specifically Swedish players. Just like the QMJHL, a quarter of their 20 picks from the past three years have come from Sweden. Given the success the Canucks have had drafting from that country, combined with Sweden's player development being on a major upswing and it's no wonder they are fond of drafting them.
The Canucks have five choices in the 2012 NHL draft. They own the 26th, 57th, 147th, 177th, and 207th picks.
The late-blooming Pearson is a well-rounded and mature player who should be able to advance relatively quickly in a Vancouver system that is quite thin on forwards. He provides a nice mix of grit and skill and while he may not possess a high ceiling compared to other draft eligible prospects, he should eventually emerge as a solid two-way third liner. However he does have the potential to possible become a second-line player as well.