Canucks 2003 draft evaluation

By Matt MacInnis

The first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will almost certainly go down as the deepest in history.  With the overwhelming majority of the first-round picks well-established NHL players, just one of the 30 players yet to appear in a single NHL game and only a handful at risk of becoming busts, it was almost impossible for teams to miss in 2003. 

Fortunately – and some cynics might say surprisingly – the Canucks were not one of the few teams to fail to pick up a player who quickly stepped into their line-up with their top pick.  But five years later, the team’s remaining nine picks are fringe prospects or outright busts. 

The 10 drafted prospects have played a total of 262 games for an average of 26 games per pick.  This puts the Canucks on the low end of the spectrum among teams.

Ryan Kesler, C – 1st round, 23rd overall

Status: NHL Regular
NHL Games Played: 238

Drafted out of Ohio State, the same school as 2001 first rounder RJ Umberger, Kesler immediately left college and split the 2003-04 season between the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, and the Canucks.  He spent the following year with the Moose due to the lockout, but it was apparent he was ready for the big show when it resumed.  Kesler’s development has been solid over the course of the past three seasons, both offensively and as a complete player.

Kesler showed signs during the past season of having the potential to become an elite defensive forward in the NHL.  Blessed with the unique blend of size and speed, Kesler is an aggressive player who can match up with any of the game’s top offensive talents because of his physical attributes. 

Marc-Andre Bernier, RW – 2nd round, 60th overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

At 6’3 and almost 220 lbs, Bernier was touted in his draft year as a big winger with a very hard slap shot who might be a better professional than junior.  Bernier was never able to put it all together and struggled with consistency as a junior bouncing back and forth between the Halifax Mooseheads and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles during his tenure in the QMJHL.  Most concerning at the time was Bernier’s seeming lack of progress year to year.

Bernier has been a professional for three seasons now and with the exception of 39 AHL games, appears destined to a career in the ECHL, where he has settled in as a decent offensive contributor.  The Laval, Quebec native will have difficulty raising his game to another level in North America due largely to his below-par skating.

Brandon Nolan, C – 4th round, 111th overall

Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 6

With their third selection, the Canucks picked Brandon Nolan, a re-entry player who had previously been selected by New Jersey in 2001.  In his first pro season, Nolan had mixed success – playing well in the ECHL but struggling offensively in the AHL.  He showed enough during his time with the Moose to stick with the squad for the entire 2004-05 season, appearing in 48 games.  However, the next season Nolan once again bounced between the two leagues.  After the season, Nolan signed with Vaxjo of the Swedish First League, but inked a deal with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after only 19 games.  His 22 points in 40 games were enough to earn him an NHL contract with the Hurricanes.  Nolan averaged a point per game in 48 games with the ‘Canes new AHL affiliate in Albany which earned him six games in the NHL this past season.   Nolan’s unusual route and resurgence has renewed some hope of a limited NHL career. 

Ty Morris, D – 4th round, 128th overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted after a great year with the St. Albert Saints of the AJHL, Morris transitioned to the WHL the following season.  After starting with the Swift Current Broncos, he was dealt to the Vancouver Giants where he played roughly a full season until being traded once again to the Red Deer Rebels for the second half of the 2004-05 season.  Morris’ so-so play failed to earn him an NHL contract with the Canucks, leaving Morris to sign as a free agent with the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL).  He scored 32 points in 52 games but moved to Germany to play the 2006-07 season with Peiting EC.  He played great for Peiting, racking up 61 points which earned him a contract back with the Victoria Salmon Kings.  Things didn’t work out in Victoria though, and Morris ended up back in Germany, where he split time with Bad Nauheim EC and Landsberg 2000 EV. 

Nicklas Danielsson, LW – 5th round, 160th overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

At the time of his selection, it’s not unreasonable to call Danielsson a good value pick in the fifth round, regardless of the fact that he ultimately has not panned out.  The 6’0, 175 lb winger had already earned a part-time spot with the Swedish Elite League’s Brynas IF Gavle.  Danielsson continued to play with Brynas the next two seasons in limited roles but didn’t make a significant offensive contribution.  In 2005-06, Danielsson took a step backwards in league quality to hone his game.  He exploded with 35 points in 38 games for Almtuna in the Swedish first division.  The move was clearly a good one for Danielsson’s career.  The following season he was back in the SEL, now playing for Djurgardens.  It was in his second year with the club (2007-08) Danielsson finally broke out and showcased his talent, lighting the lamp 14 times and assisting on 18 others in 53 games.

Chad Brownlee, D – 6th round, 190th overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Brownlee attracted the Canucks’ attention while playing with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers with his size and physical play.  But he was unable to develop the rest of his game in future years enough to still be considered a viable NHL prospect.  The Kelowna, BC native spent four unremarkable years with Minnesota State – Mankato before graduating in 2007.  He spent this past year with the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL) where he played 35 games. 

FP Guenette, C – 7th round, 222nd overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With their seventh-round pick, the Canucks went back to the Halifax Mooseheads to pick Bernier’s teammate and often line-mate, FP Guenette.  Their careers mirrored each other for the next few years.  Traded from Halifax to Cape Breton and then back the following year together, they also made their professional debuts as teammates in Columbia (ECHL).  In 2006-07, when the Salmon Kings became the Canucks’ ECHL affiliate, both players spent the majority of the season in Victoria as well.  This past year, however, Guenette moved on to play for the Alaska Aces while Bernier remained in the Victoria.  Much like Bernier, Guenette is no longer an NHL prospect.

Sergei Topol, F – 8th round, 252nd overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canucks drafted the Russian Topol out of Omsk Avangard (Russian Super League) where he played parts of seasons from 2003-2007 with a few stints in the Russian First League and High League respectively.  Last season Topol left the Omsk organization and ended up playing just 12 games with Avtomobilist (Ekaterinburg) of the Russian Second League.   

Nathan McIver, D – 8th round, 254th overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 18

McIver has steadily progressed to the point where he can now be considered a decent NHL call-up in case of injury and may one day be a reliable third-pair defenseman for a team who needs toughness.  McIver’s journey has taken him through Toronto St. Michael’s and Manitoba, during which time he has amassed at least 121 PIM or more in each full season of play.  Never much of an offensive contributor (his career high is 26 points in 2004-05 with St. Mike’s), McIver is a dependable d-man who will drop the gloves.  The 2007-08 season was the best of his career, as major injury problems plagued the Canucks, resulting in him playing a total of 17 games with the big club.  In 60 games between Vancouver and Manitoba, he amassed 160 penalty minutes.  His dance card included veterans like Brendan Morrow, Andre Roy and Ian Laperriere.

Matthew Hansen, D – 9th round, 285th overall

Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
It’s never a bad idea to take a defenseman with size from the Prairies late in a draft, and that’s what the Canucks opted to do in 2003.  Hansen was a 6’0, 200 lbs blue liner from North Battleford, Saskatchewan who patrolled the defensive zone for the Seattle Thunderbirds from 2001-2005.  Unsigned by the Canucks, Hansen re-entered the 2005 Draft but was not selected.  He played out his overage year with Red Deer and Moose Jaw in 2005-06 which appears to have ended his hockey career.  There’s no denying that once you hit the ninth round, the draft truly is a crapshoot.  But few fans can resist taking a look at who went after certain picks were made.  Two of the three players selected after Hansen appear to be on the road to NHL careers, including Nick Tarnasky and David Jones, who was drafted out of the Canucks’ backyard from the Coquitlam Express.