Canucks 2001 draft evaluation

By Matt MacInnis

The Vancouver Canucks made six selections during the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, four of which are still Canucks property. Both the team’s first and second round picks have since been traded, but one of the four remaining players is expected to be a full-time player in the Canucks line-up next season with another having a decent chance of earning a spot in the line-up. R.J. Umberger, one of the traded players, appears to have made it into the Philadelphia Flyers’ line-up on a permanent basis.

Of the six picks, four have seen time in the NHL for a total of 185 NHL games and an average of 31 NHL games per pick.

R.J. Umberger, C – 1st round, 16th overall (NCAA – Ohio State University)
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 73

Drafted as a big, talented, center from Ohio State, the Canucks thought they had a very talented future second liner on their hands. And they did. Unfortunately for the Canucks, he never suited up for the team. Umberger was unable to come to terms on a contract with former GM Brian Burke, who reportedly hard-lined the prospect with an offer less than that of fellow Buckeye and Canuck first-rounder, Ryan Kesler. Knowing the team was not going to be able to sign Umberger, Burke used the prospect as a bargaining chip during the 2003-04 trade deadline, sending him to the New York Rangers in exchange for Martin Rucinsky. The Rangers, in turn, chose not to sign Umberger and received a compensatory second-round pick. The Philadelphia Flyers inked Umberger as an unrestricted free agent.

Umberger has a successful professional rookie season, scoring 65 points during the NHL lockout while playing in the AHL for the Philly Phantoms. Umberger was essentially a full-time NHL player this season, appearing in 73 regular season NHL games and five playoff games. He scored 20 goals and 18 assists during the season mostly playing left wing on a line with Jeff Carter. Umberger had an overall good season that unfortunately ended up negatively. Not only did his Flyers lose in the first round, but he will appear on highlight clips for years on the receiving end of a brutal hit by Brian Campbell that knocked Umberger unconscious. He is a second-line talent who will give opposing forwards and defenders a difficult time physically.

Fedor Fedorov, C – 3rd round, 66th overall (OHL – Sudbury Wolves)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 18

The Canucks couldn’t resist using their third pick to select now 6’4, 217 lbs brother of Sergei Fedorov, Fedor. The huge Russian has always had tremendous physical skills but never been able to put it all together and excel at any professional level. Between being selected in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft and eventually being traded in early October 2005, Fedorov bounced between the ECHL, Russian Super League and AHL with a stint in the NHL. Fedorov is now a part of the New York Rangers organization, although he is currently on loan to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.

Fedorov is a long-shot prospect at this point. Now 24 years old, Fedorov is quickly running out of shots to make it and stay in the big show. He still displays the raw skill to be an effective second-line scorer, but the chances of him ever reaching his peak potential are quickly dwindling. His selection back in 2001 was exactly the type of pick Canucks fans want to see from their team, a high-risk, high-reward type of forward. Unfortunately for Fedorov, it appears unlikely that he will pan out.

Evgeny Gladskikh, LW – 4th round, 114th overall (Russia – Magnitogorsk)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted as a highly-skilled, slightly undersized sniper, Gladskikh has never truly reached expectations. His stock hit its peak after the 2003-04 season, where he scored 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Russian Super League. He has, however, seemingly plateaued at that level as he has scored 11 and 12 goals in the past two seasons. Also, as he gets older (he’s currently 24), Gladskikh likely becomes more and more comfortable with the idea of playing his career in Russia. With many RSL teams paying better than ever before, there is little incentive for players at Gladskikh’s level to risk everything and come to North America for a shot at the NHL which may land them in the American Hockey League anyhow.

There are two questions left to answer with Gladskikh. The first is whether or not he’s good enough to score goals in the NHL. The second is if, even if he has the talent, he has any interest in leaving Russia.

Kevin Bieksa, D – 5th round, 151st overall (NCAA – Bowling Green)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 39

Some may say it’s presumptuous to label Bieksa as an NHLer with just 39 games under his belt, but despite his benching down the final stretch of the season in favor of veteran Eric Weinrich (a move questioned by many observers), it is obvious that Bieksa belongs in the National Hockey League. Bieksa demonstrated a solid and reliable presence in his own zone and the north-south speed to jump up in the rush when the opportunity presented itself. Bieksa’s rise is admittedly fairly unexpected. He had a solid collegiate career and then burst onto the scene with an outstanding rookie performance in the AHL.

Bieksa has long been identified as a player who would fill a third-pairing role on the Canucks – if he even made it to the NHL. Now that he has arrived, the question is how high is his upside? If he is able to become more than a third-pairing defender he will have exceeded expectations.

Jason King, LW – 7th round, 212st overall (QMJHL – Halifax Mooseheads)
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 55

Despite having 55 games of NHL experience, King cannot be considered a true NHL player at this point of his career because of how the past season and a half has transpired. King received his first stint in the NHL during the 2002-03 season, scoring two points (both assists) in eight games. He began the 2003-04 campaign with the big club on a line with the Sedin brothers and started off at a torrid pace. He then went stone cold and was demoted to the AHL after registering 12 goals and nine assists over 47 games, most of which were spent on the second line. King proceeded to have a solid finish to the season in the AHL. Due to the NHL lockout, King was forced to spend the 2004-05 hockey season with the Manitoba Moose, scoring 53 points in 59 games before getting knocked out of the rest of the season by a concussion. King then missed the first half of the 2005-06 season as well, but rebounded well, scoring 33 points in the 36 games he played.

King’s NHL career now hedges on if he can remain healthy and if he can prove himself worthwhile of a top-six forward role in the NHL if one becomes available in the Canucks line-up. King is best suited to a scoring role, although he has showed some capability in the past to play more of a defensive role.

Konstantin Mikhailov, C – 8th round, 245th overall (Russia – Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik)
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Mikhailov is the only player selected by the Canucks in the 2001 draft who is clearly a bust right now. Mikhailov has bounced around various Russian Super League teams over the past few seasons, and even ended up spending the second half of last season with HC Gomel in the Belarus League, where he also played this season. It isn’t uncommon for young Russians to spend some time developing in Belarus and then return to the RSL, and that could potentially be the case with Mikhailov next season. At this age however, if he has not been able to prove himself a viable RSL player, he has no legitimate shot at the NHL.

Summary

Overall 2001 was a decent draft for the Canucks. Two of the six players selected are NHL players five years later, two more likely have one more chance to prove they can cut it in the big leagues, one (Gladskikh) is a fair Russian League player but unlikely to play in North America and their final pick, Mikhailov, is not a legitimate NHL prospect. This draft was certainly much more successful than the 2000 draft and most likely better than the 2002 draft for the Canucks.

Eugene Belashchenko contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.