The Vancouver Canucks have never been a strong team on draft day. Fans of the Canucks have recently grown more skeptical of the organization’s scouting abilities over the past half decade or so. The wedge has been driven deeper in recent years as fans watched Anze Kopitar perform as a star in the NHL this season while 10th overall pick in 2005, Luc Bourdon, was demoted back to the minors after a cup of coffee in the big show. Likewise, few believe Michael Grabner was the best choice at 14th overall in 2006.
With a huge hole in the middle of the prospect depth chart and a general lack of scoring depth, the draft watchers among the Canucks faithful were cautiously optimistic that the team would come out of this draft with two quality forwards from the 25th and 33rd overall picks in the 2007 Entry Draft. But when it came to selection time, the general response tended to lean more towards confusion and frustration. It will be five years before any fair judgment can be cast upon the Canucks performance this year, and it’s important to keep in mind that this was a wide-open draft that had no consensus order by any stretch of the imagination.
Patrick Whitetrong>, C
25th overall – Tri-City Storm (USHL) and Grand Rapids (Minnesota High School)
6’0, 186 lbs
For the fourth time in seven years, the Canucks selected a player from or bound for the NCAA ranks. The previous selections have been successful or show signs of being quality players. A product of America’s hockey hotbed, Minnesota, White split last season between his high school team and the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He ended up netting 18 goals and 31 assists in 24 high school games en route to capturing a number of awards and recognition including: 2007 Associated Press Minnesota High School Hockey Player of the Year, Associated Press First Team All-State, a Minnesota Mr. Hockey Finalist and earned St. Paul Pioneer Press First Team All State honors. He also put up nine points in a dozen USHL games, a strong performance considering he played sporadically with the squad and infrequently practiced with his teammates.
A mature and well-spoken teenager, White is also a fiercely intense player on the ice. He possesses very, very good puckhandling abilities and has been tagged as potentially one of the best snipers in the draft in the long term. He works well at both ends of the rink and is particularly effective down low. White will spend next season with the historically-rich Minnesota Golden Gophers trying to prove that he can successfully make the jump from the high school ranks to college. Joining the fairly deep Gophers, White will likely have a third-line role this season and can reasonably be expected to put up limited offensive stats in his freshman season. White has first-line potential but is several years away from breaking into the NHL.
Said GM Dave Nonis: “We liked his offensive instincts, he’s very good with the puck and his vision is well above average.
White’s a long time away before he gets to us, but we do like [his edge] as well. he’s not afraid of the corners, and I think that is a big part of his game, puck control and battling players. Although I would still consider him a skill player.”
Thanks to some wheeling and dealing in the past, the Canucks also held a near first -round pick with the 33rd overall selection. With local favorites Oscar Moller and Michal Repik, as well as other highly-touted forwards such as Bill Sweat, Akim Aliu and Kevin Veilleux still on the board and the Canucks in desperate need of scoring in the system, it came as quite a shock when the team selected a defensive defenseman. Ellington is a native of Victoria, BC, a city not only just brief ferry ride from Vancouver, but also the current home of the team’s ECHL affiliate. Ellington played in 60 WHL games with the Everett Silvertips this season, scoring 13 points. Going into the draft, he was generally considered a third-round pick, rated 39th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
Ellington was officially measured at just over 6’ and 200 lbs. His strengths lie in the fact that he is a physical, punishing defender who finishes his checks and does a good job filling the passing lanes. Conversely, he has a tendency to get impatient with the puck and throws it away and some scouts feel that he does not do well under pressure. His conditioning has also been questioned, but that is an easy problem to solve. He does not have great upside, but does have the potential to develop into the type of steady, second-pairing anchor that every successful team needs to shore up their own end.
The Canucks third pick came 145th overall and the team went to the QMJHL to select an undersized, but offensively gifted, forward. Messier stands in at 5’10, 176 lbs and put up a total of 48 points (27 goals, 21 assists) in 69 games during his second season with the Baie-Comeau Drakker. He also posted a solid +15 rating. While he does possess good all-around offensive skills, his diminutive size is going to be an extremely significant stumbling block when he attempts to make the transition to professional hockey. He will need to make marked improvements in his offensive capabilities to make up for his size. That said, Messier is the type of long-shot prospect with solid offensive upside that the team should be making at this stage of the draft considering the giant hole they have at the center position among prospects. Messier was dealt during the off-season and will be playing with the Acadie-Bathurst Titans next season.
Ilja Kablokov, W
146th overall – CSKA Moscow (Russia)
6’2, 183 lbs
The Canucks made several bizarre selections, including calling out Kablukov’s name. An ’88 birthdate, Kablukov was passed over in previous years (much like last year’s pick Sergei Shirokov) despite being rated the 92nd overall forward by CSS at the time. He is a center with a large frame (6’2, 183 lbs) and spent the season playing for CSKA Moscow alongside the aforementioned Shirokov, which is likely how the team originally took notice of the two-way forward despite the extremely limited ice time he received. It is important to note that he did not score a single point while playing in the Russian Super League this year.
Unfortunately, going to the Russian well has not been successful for the Canucks historically. The organization has not drafted a Russian player who became a full-time NHLer outside of the top 35 selections (at 31st overall, Artem Chubarov was practically a first-rounder) since Pavel Bure in 1989. In fact, if you don’t count Bure, Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov who were all selected in a completely different era under very unique circumstances, the team has never found a late-round gem from Russia. Kablukov and Shirokov have the unenviable task of trying to break the streak.
With their fifth pick of the draft, the Canucks selected Matson, a center from Minnesota with a late ’88 birthday. A complete mystery to even many of the most draft followers, Matson put up three points in 10 USHL games with Des Moines and 31 points in 11 games in the high school ranks. He has a very good first step although his top-end speed is not great. He is a decent two-way player with above-average hands and although he has a respectable wrist shot, he is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer.
At 5’10, 165 lbs he has a fair-sized frame and has been described as being deceptively strong for his size, which is displayed in his solid play along the boards. It appears likely that he will spend next season in the USHL before joining the Minnesota Gophers for the 2008-09 hockey season. He is generally not considered to have great offensive upside, but it is difficult to say for sure considering the comparatively low level he has played at to date.
Dan Gendur, C
206th overall – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
5’11, 195 lbs
With their final selection, the Canucks opted to grab Gendur, a now 20-year old veteran of three WHL seasons plus a year with the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL. The selection is surprising considering he is reportedly from close-by Ellington, a lifelong Canucks fan and a BC native who the team likely could have signed as a free agent. Gendur played 61 WHL games this season split between Prince George and Everett, notching 22 goals and 27 assists as well as 62 penalty minutes. He added eight points in a dozen post-season appearances.
Gendur really broke out after the trade when he was able to fully showcase his blazing speed and powerful shot. The Canucks are clearly hoping that he is a late bloomer who can deliver some offensive talent from the latter stages of the draft. Gendur will likely find himself playing for the team’s ECHL affiliate in Victoria next season and definitely appears to have a long road to the NHL.
Dustin Nielson contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.