Canucks 2005 draft review

By Matt MacInnis

When the Vancouver Canucks received the tenth pick overall in the 2005 Entry Draft courtesy of the draft lottery, it was a great victory for the team, having selected 26th overall the year before. The Canucks kept the pick rather than trading it, and selected QMJHL defenseman Luc Bourdon.

Luc Bourdon, D
1st round (10th overall), 6’2, 205 lbs, Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

Bourdon spent the 2004-05 season playing for Val-d’Or of the QMJHL. He played in every game the team played, finishing with 13 goals and 19 assists for 32 points. He compiled 117 penalty minutes and played at least half of every game, logging enormous minutes for the hapless Foreurs. His ability to play so many minutes on a constant basis is a positive sign of his durability.

At 6’2, 205 lbs Bourdon is already big enough and strong enough to play in the NHL. He is an outstanding two-way defender, coupling decent positioning with grit, determination, raw power, and the ability to play the body hard. Offensively gifted as well, Bourdon makes the right first pass out of the defensive zone and possesses an impressive shot that hovers around 95 mph.

There are very few knocks on Bourdon. He is considered a safe pick to become at least a second pairing NHL player, but that doesn’t mean that is his maximum potential. Bourdon has the capability to become a versatile top pairing blueliner who plays a game somewhat similar to Mattias Ohlund. If he development does not go perfectly he will likely become a player of the rough capabilities of Sami Salo.

There has been some criticism about his hockey sense, particularly while handing the puck in the neutral zone where there is less space to operate. His abysmal -39 rating is not reflective in any way of his defensive competency, but a by-product of seeing so much ice time on an overall lousy team. His situation was similar to that of Brooks Orpik in the 2003-04 season.

Bourdon was projected as a mid first-round pick by Hockey’s Future in its ranking of the Top 40 QMJHL players in the Draft, before his stock improved more after being Canada’s top defenseman at the U018 World Championships. No one is surprised that he managed to squeak into the top ten picks of 2005. Although Bourdon already has the size and physical strength to play in the NHL, it is unlikely that he will leave junior this season.

Mason Raymond, LW
2nd Round (51st overall), 6’0, 170 lbs, Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)

Because of his September 17, 1985 birthday, this was the second year Raymond was eligible to enter the NHL Entry Draft, but for all intents and purposes he is actually two years older than most of the players taken on draft day. Raymond played the 2004-05 season with the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL, where he was among the most offensively dominant players in the league, scoring 41 goals and 42 assists in 55 games. At the RBC Cup, Raymond had 10 points in five games.

Much like Bourdon, fans are going to question the selection of Raymond over players such as Dan Bertram (CHI) and Chris Durand (COL). The fact that Mason will turn 20 in just over a month certainly makes his pick less appealing. However, the Canucks clearly believe that Raymond is a late bloomer and will continue to develop at a good rate despite his age. Raymond is described as a good all-around offensive player who has particularly impressive playmaking skills. His skating ability is NHL quality, and this may become particularly important if the rule changes are as dramatic as many believe they will be for the game. He is described as having excellent hockey sense and having really good decision-making abilities. At 170 lbs, Raymond obviously needs to bulk up quite a bit, roughly 20 lbs, in order to play in the NHL, but reports indicate he has not done much weight training in the past, so with proper guidance from the Canucks gaining muscle mass shouldn’t be too difficult.

Raymond is set to debut with Minnesota Duluth this season, playing his first competitive hockey outside the AJHL. Soon to be 20 years old it is difficult to forecast how long he will stay in college. At this point he looks to have a reasonable chance at developing into a second-line player, but that will require a lot of positive development. A successful freshman season at Minnesota Duluth will go a long way to dispel concerns about his selection.

Alexander Vincent, G
4th round (114th overall), 6’4, 193 lbs, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)

Drafted with the Canucks fourth round selection, it isn’t unreasonable to believe that the team made an astute pick and got a bit of a steal, as some publications considered him a consensus second round pick who could even creep into the end of the first round. However, it does appear that the value of goaltenders in general was diminished somewhat in this draft. Vincent inherited the starting job with Chicoutimi this year after last year’s starter Jeff Deslauriers (EDM) graduated to the AHL. He posted very respectable numbers, particularly when you consider the offensive mindset of the team with a 3.01 goals against average and .904 save percentage. His record was 24 wins, 13 losses, and four ties. He did struggle in the team’s playoff series against Rimouski, but considering the Oceanic terrorized basically every goaltender they faced, this should not cause concern.

At 6’4, 195 lbs, Vincent seems to follow the general trend of drafting taller goaltenders. A tall goalie with a similar build to Alex Auld, Vincent is extremely difficult to beat down low while in the butterfly and has great agility and reflexes, a surprising trait for such a big goalie. Vincent’s most evident weakness is his mental toughness. He does get rattled by a bad goal or game and doesn’t always rebound the way you would want a hungry and confident goalie to respond.

There is no denying that Vincent has the raw tools to become a legitimate full-time starting goalie in the NHL. Of course, like any other goaltender, he has a long road ahead of him. The biggest hurdle facing Vincent may be the Canucks depth chart at the goaltending position among prospects. With Auld seemingly poised to make the jump to the NHL in a backup role this year, the team still has Cory Schneider and Julien Ellis ahead of him, and it is conceivable that both will turn pro after the 2005-06 season, and almost a guarantee that both will have left their respective leagues for the start of 2007-08, when one would assume Vincent himself would graduate. Finding a place for him to play may be an issue, but that is two years away and a great deal can happen in that time. This selection is most likely the best the Canucks made in terms of bang for the buck in the 2005 Draft.

Matt Butcher, C
5th round (138th overall), 6’3, 195 lbs, Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)

Matt Butcher is the son of Garth Butcher, who the Canucks picked 10th overall way back in 1981. The second CJAHL player taken in the draft by Vancouver, Butcher most recently played for the Chilliwack Chiefs. He has decent size at 6’3, 195 lbs (according to the BCHL), and shouldn’t have problems filling out his frame over the coming years. He played 59 games for the Chiefs last season, recording 27 goals, 28 points, 55 points and received 94 penalty minutes.

The selection of Butcher was not a hunt to find a future scorer. Butcher is a moderately low risk, low reward type of player who will hopefully fill a depth role in a number of years. He’s a grinding style player who is more than willing to throw his body around to cause some damage and disrupt the flow of play. He is never going to score many goals or put up much in terms of points, but that does not change the fact that he is still a useful component of a team. His challenge is going to be developing his offensive abilities enough to be worth playing as a defensive player. Like any young player looking to become this type of player, his positioning in his own zone will need to evolve over time as well.

Butcher has committed to Northern Michigan University for the 2006-07 season, a commitment made only in the past few weeks. He will eventually join two of his Chief teammates (Mark Olver and Stephen Balint) at Northern Michigan. Butcher will never become anything more than a third line player, but the Canucks clearly saw that ability in him to make him a fifth round selection. Butcher joins a host of similar prospects in the Canucks system who one day hope to be depth players on the NHL team.

Kyle Fredheim, D
6th round (185th overall), 6’2, 170 lbs, Notre Dame (SJHL)

Coming from the famed hockey school of Notre Dame, Fredheim has the right pedigree to be a professional hockey player. He is a bit of a local boy, coming from Campbell River in the Northern Vancouver Island region, so his family is only a few hours drive and a ferry ride away from seeing him play if he ever makes it to the big leagues. The blueliner appeared in 50 games this past season, totaling 17 points with two goals and 15 assists, as well as 28 penalty minutes.

Fredheim was Notre Dame’s top defenseman this season and boasts reasonable two-way skills, including an impressive, although inaccurate, slapshot.

Fredheim hasn’t committed to a NCAA program yet, so it is expected he will return to Notre Dame this year and try to earn a scholarship. With the added attention of being drafted by the NHL, this should not be a difficulty for the Campbell River native. His upside appears to be a second or third pairing rearguard in the future, although there is a long road ahead of him at this point.

Mario Bliznak, C
7th round (205th overall), 6’0, 185 lbs, Dubnica (Slovakia Jr)

Bliznak spent last season in his homeland, Slovakia, playing for Dubnica of the junior league. He put up impressive numbers in the junior league, averaging more than a point-per-game with 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists) in 36 games. He also demonstrated a feisty side, tallying 38 penalty minutes. Bliznak was selected in the 2005 CHL Import Draft by the Vancouver Giants, 27th overall.

Despite the numbers he put up with his junior team, there are concerns about his offensive skills and ability to produce points at a higher level of play. His play at the Under-18 World Championships demonstrated that he does not have elite skills. He plays a hard-working style that uses his solid speed and acceleration to get to opposing puck carriers quickly. His defensive play and commitment to his own end of the ice is something that scouts picked up on at the U18s. He’s not a flashy player, but has adequate puck-handling skills for his age and is a decent, although unspectacular, shooter. His vision and hockey sense are both areas of concern, and he occasionally takes a shift off or fails to keep his feet moving, the latter of which could be a substantial issue in the new NHL.

Assuming that Marek Schwarz (STL) and Andrej Meszaros (OTT) leave the Giants as both are expected, Bliznak will join the Giants and find himself being carefully watched by the Canucks and their fans. It’s still very early to prognosticate with much accuracy, but at this point Bliznak seems to be on path to become a lower-tier second-line player or an above average third liner, depending on the evolution of his offensive skills to match his determination of defensive responsibility. His ability to play on both sides of the puck should make his transition to North America less difficult than the average Slovak who debuts in the WHL.

Summary

By the end of the day the Canucks made six selections: two players from the QMJHL, including a goaltender, three players from the CJAHL who are all bound for the NCAA, and a Slovak (a rarity for the Canucks) who is destined to play for the Giants of the WHL this year.

The only pick who is likely to be NHL ready within three years is Bourdon. Raymond, Fredheim, and Butcher are all at least four years away from the NHL, as two of them (Fredheim and Butcher) won’t even reach college until 2006-07. The Canucks continued their trend of selecting players who will be in the NCAA, and, under the terms of the new CBA, this gives them potentially twice as long to sign their players compared to CHL players. As a goaltender, Vincent’s trajectory is impossible to forecast, but it is safe to assume he will be brought along slowly with all the depth in front of him. Bliznak’s potential arrival in North American pro hockey will depend heavily on how quickly he adapts to the style of play in the WHL.

With so many projects selected, it will be years before this draft class can be judged. The Canucks did make at least one very astute pick with Vincent in the fourth round, and at this point he looks like the best selection for where he was chosen. Because of his age, the use of a second rounder to take Raymond is the most easily criticized choice, although he certainly has the potential to make his positioning irrelevant.

Guy Flaming contributed to this report. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.