For the Vancouver Canucks, the question of whom to select at the 2011 NHL Draft was secondary. After clinching the President’s Trophy and a Western Conference title, the primary concern was adding pieces to make another run to the Stanley Cup finals, not the state of the prospect pool.
Reigning NHL GM of the Year Mike Gillis nonetheless took bold action on the draft floor, acquiring additional picks from the host Minnesota Wild by trading down from 60th overall. Despite the extra lottery tickets, it remains an underwhelming class with the hindsight regret being that the club seemingly whiffed after going so heavy in Swedish picks despite some of the available talents from that country (Rickard Rakell, Victor Rask, William Karlsson, Klas Dahlbeck, Anton Forsberg) that might have had a greater impact on their fortunes.
While some of these picks retain prospect status, 2011 is another draft class for the Canucks that lags behind the league average.
The consolation prize for second place in the NHL was this pick, in a first round that has not produced much in the way of NHL talents at this juncture. Nicklas Jensen was 21st among NHL Central Scouting’s North American skaters, but a look back reveals that the organization did not have a high success rate this particular year.
The 2010-11 Oshawa Generals boasted a strong group led by Christian Thomas, and the team’s speedy Danish import finished fourth on the squad in scoring as a draft-eligible rookie. Jensen had already played some pro hockey in his native land, and was an international standout for Denmark against tier two competition. He came with skill and size, but Jensen has still not put it all together as a pro.
Even after a 2012 loan to AIK of the SHL meant to instill some confidence, Jensen never took the next step. A bit of a one-directional player, he lacked some of the puck skills that could have made him a dangerous NHL forward. Up and down between Vancouver and Utica, Jensen never established himself comfortably in the AHL – even with the speed that suggested a role in defensive assignments could be his calling (not unlike Jannik Hansen).
Eventually the Canucks gave up, sending him away for another speedy young player with an incomplete skill package in Emerson Etem. Jensen might yet fit in a Rangers system that lacks for quality prospects, but he did not develop the right way for the Canucks.
David Honzik is the first of two picks acquired from the Minnesota Wild, who tried to make a splash on their home turf by trading up for Minnesota high school standout Mario Lucia at 60th overall.
At first blush, an .884 save percentage does not suggest a particularly strong prospect, despite the scouting services being rather high on the Czech import. Honzik redeemed a middling regular season in the freewheeling QMJHL with a strong playoff performance that saw his save percentage up around 92%. Alas, over two more seasons in that league, including a trade to Cape Breton, Honzik never saw such heights again.
The Canucks never qualified the third-rounder and he was back in the Czech Republic by the fall of 2013. Honzik’s career has not trended the right way there, either. Though he put up impressive numbers last season, his Dukla Jihlava squad is stuck in the second division, and Honzik is currently a free agent.
3rd round, 90th overall: Alexandre Grenier, RW, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
NHL Games Played: 6
The first of two overage draft picks the Canucks made in this draft, Alexandre Grenier has been a good addition to the depth chart in terms of his contributions at the AHL level. Like other Canucks picks over the years, Grenier came with question marks.
First eligible for the 2009 draft, Grenier still had only 46 QMJHL games (including playoffs) on his resume when he was picked in 2011. He was traded as an overager to the Halifax Mooseheads for the next season, and got to run with 16-year-old star Nathan MacKinnon. Things then got a little strange for Grenier, as he spent the next season in Salzburg, Austria and Kalamazoo, Michigan before finally signing an entry-level deal in April, 2013.
Since then, Grenier has been a solid AHL player and leader for the Utica Comets. While he was on the Canucks roster for a few games this season, his prospect status is nearly over. A restricted free agent, Grenier certainly has enough skill and production to remain part of the system. His qualifying offer would be relatively inexpensive, and six NHL games is hardly sufficient to make a call on losing a player who has developed a scoring presence in the AHL. Still, the Canucks have been known to make stranger decisions, and Grenier’s mix of size and skill could well appeal to another squad.
4th round, 101st overall: Joseph Labate, C/LW, Holy Angels Academy (MN-HS)
NHL Games Played: 0
Joseph Labate is the second player chosen with the two draft picks acquired from Minnesota, so it is fitting that the Canucks would turn to Minnesota for the selection. Also, Labate was a notable faller in the draft, having been injured for a large chunk of the season, so he represented some reasonable value.
Labate had a big frame for a teenager, and was a prized recruit in the college ranks before he eventually committed to the University of Wisconsin. His freshman campaign came on a top-heavy Badgers squad, with players like Mike Mersch and Justin Schultz leading the attack. To his credit, Labate finished fifth in team scoring.
Mike Eaves’ teams fell on hard times later in Labate’s college career, but he still played the role of a first-line center. The question mark with Labate was that, even as his overall game improved, he scored only 28 goals as a collegiate player. Despite the lack of pizzazz, he grew to be a defensively sound center who managed to contribute points as well as possession value, and Labate earned an entry-level contract after his senior season.
Last season, as an AHL rookie for Utica, Labate posted 20 points (10 goals) in 66 games. In all, it was an encouraging sign that there still might be an NHL player here. Not one with tremendous scoring upside, but one more center who can play some minutes, win face-offs, and contribute some is always a positive for the system.
4th round, 120th overall: Ludwig Blomstrand, LW, Djurgarden Jrs. (Sweden)
NHL Games Played: 0
Ludwig Blomstrand was already a big-bodied kid on Draft Day, pushing 200 pounds. A checking wing with minimal offensive talent, scouts liked not only the frame but the shift-by-shift tenacity. Djurgårdens even rostered Blomstrand a few times the next season, suggesting a nice progression for the teenager. Yet the club traded him to Almtuna the next season, where Blomstrand began to show some serious two-way promise at the Allsvenskan level. The 13-goal campaign earned Blomstrand a contract from GM Mike Gillis.
In North America, Blomstrand’s development somehow went sideways. Brief opportunities in the AHL suddenly gave way to time in the ECHL, and Blomstrand has never gotten another chance. One has to wonder how a player praised for his skating and defensive play, and who was able to score at just under a point-per-game rate in the ECHL, never cracked the AHL. But that is how it went with Blomstrand, who signed a European deal with Almtuna (Allsvenskan) in May.
Although Frank Corrado has taken the long road so far in his career, he has passed the Hockey’s Future mark for graduation. A fine junior defenseman who never put up a lot of points, Corrado developed a reputation as a steady and safe player. He was, to the chagrin of many, lost on waivers just three months after signing an extension with the Canucks.
While he does not project to be a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL, nor one who puts up a lot of points, Corrado does look like an NHL player. Losing an inexpensive player who can fill a roster spot, especially at this stage in Canucks history, is a serious error. The Canucks took a lot of time developing Corrado, and now another team gets the benefit of a solid pick at this stage of the draft.
6th round, 180th overall: Pathrik Westerholm, LW, Malmö Redhawks (Allsvenskan)
NHL Games Played: 0
One-half of a pair of Swedish twins known for on-ice chemistry and high-level skill, Pathrik Westerholm took a long time developing into a pro scorer. Alongside his brother Ponthus, Westerholm slowly climbed up the ranks of Swedish hockey, breaking out in the 2013-14 season with Karlskoga of the Allsvenskan with a 47-point campaign.
Now preparing for a third season with Brynäs of the SHL, the Westerholm brothers are a highly-skilled duo, but neither has the kind of physical game that makes an NHL tenure likely at this point.
7th round, 210th overall: Henrik Tömmernes, D, Frölunda (SHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
A player first eligible for the 2008 draft, Henrik Tommernes’ trajectory should have been a bit easier to project. Despite his relatively advanced age, the Canucks did not sign Tommernes until May of 2013. By that time, he had already played parts of five seasons with Frölunda of the Swedish Elite League, and posted a high of 20 points back in 2010-11. Given those modest totals (albeit in a low-scoring league) his transition to North American pro hockey was an encouraging one, as he put up 18 points in 54 games for Utica as a rookie. Even so, the physical side of the game is not his strong suit, and adjusting to the speed and violence posed issues.
There was friction between organization and player after he failed to make the Canucks roster in the fall of 2014, and after just 23 AHL games the next season, Tommernes departed for Europe. He played the rest of the 2014-15 season in Finland, then re-signed with Frölunda. A top-five defensive scorer in the SHL last season (with 29 points in 50 games), Tommernes has found a nice groove as a European pro. While some team might see fit to offer him another chance at the NHL (see Tim Heed with Anaheim for example), it is highly unlikely to be Vancouver.
Hockey’s Future looks back at the 2011 NHL Draft of the Vancouver Canucks in the video below, which includes draft footage of fourth round pick Joseph Labate.
Prospect of the Month
A 2013 third round pick of the Arizona Coyotes, Yan-Pavel Laplante almost had his career derailed by injuries. He managed instead to use his overage season with the Gatineau Olympiques to establish himself as a prospect of interest, at least as far as one team was concerned. If he can continue to improve as a player, the Canucks may have found a great reclamation project. Still only 21 years old, Laplante’s 34 goals in 63 games may have come as a benefit of playing with the more skilled presence of Vitaly Abramov (2016-eligible), but he also scored the most shorthanded goals in the league with seven. While not necessarily a replicable skill, that kind of defensive prowess (and scoring touch) surely helped attract the Canucks management. He has some pedigree, some skating ability, some physicality and courage, and now an opportunity to carve out a role as a professional player next season.