Canucks 2004 draft preview

By Sukhwinder Pandher

Canucks Top 10 Prospects

1. Alexander Auld
2. Ryan Kesler
3. Kirill Koltsov
4. Ilya Krikunov
5. Brandon Reid
6. Evgeny Gladskikh
7. Marc-Andre Bernier
8. Dennis Grot
9. Brett Skinner
10. Brandon Nolan

Team Needs

With another opening round playoff loss and a large number of players available, the Vancouver Canucks have a number of holes to fill immediately. With the addition of two forwards, the Canucks would be able to create three solid scoring lines. A hardworking, physical right winger with a scoring touch would be a nice addition to play with the Sedins and make them a threat all season long. If they could find a physical two-way center that could chip in the odd goal, they would have the option to move Brendan Morrison off the top line, which would help form another scoring line.

A big, mean, physical defenseman who can clear the net is something the Canucks, as well as most other teams, could have used in the playoffs. While they may have found their backup goalie for next year, speculation continues whether management will acquire a new No. 1 goaltender to replace Dan Cloutier. The Canucks, already without a second or third round draft pick, could use their first round draft pick to help them acquire someone to fill any of these needs.

Organizational Strengths

The Canucks have an abundance of gritty, hard working forwards. These players, including Brandon Nolan, Justin Morrison, and Jesse Schultz, have the speed and grit to be effective third or fourth line players down the road. Prospects like Ryan Kesler, Evgeny Gladskikh, and Marc-Andre Bernier do have the offensive upside to eventually play as a top six forward. They also have a healthy quantity of two-way defensemen that are solid in their own zone and have offensive upside, with Tomas Mojsiz in Manitoba, and Brett Skinner and Kevin Bieksa in the college ranks. Denis Grot and Markus Kankaanpera are two additional two-way defensemen playing in Europe, who may be arriving in North America next year.

The Canucks enjoy a good depth of prospects down the middle and on the right side of their forward lines. Manitoba leading scorer Brandon Reid, Francois-Pierre Guenette, and Nathan Smith join the likes of Kesler and Nolan to form a solid future down the middle for the Canucks. If all their right wingers in their system reach their potential, the Canucks would have a set of four (Krikunov, Bernier, Morrison, and Schultz) that would be envy of many in the league. Even with Lukas Mensator returning to his native Czech Republic to develop, the Canucks goalie situation has never been better with Alex Auld ready to step in as a backup and Rob McVicar competing for the starting spot in Manitoba.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Canucks system is in dire need of an infusion of players with a good combination of skill and size, as the players with skill are smallish and the players with size are lacking a finishing touch. Three of the prospects that potentially possess those ‘special’ skills and two of them, Ilya Krikunov and Brandon Reid, are on the smaller side and the other, Fedor Fedorov, has character issues with the organization. Drafting Travis Zajac would be risky, considering he has only proven himself at the BCHL level, but it would bring in a prospect that would potentially have that skill in a large frame. Of the two power forward prospects the Canucks have in the system, Marc-Andre Bernier is not a strong skater and it is debatable whether Ryan Kesler will ever be able to develop his touch around the net. Bruce Graham out of the Quebec League or Adam Pineault from the college ranks could be options to fill that void in the system.

Kirill Koltsov is the only legitimate offensive defenseman in the system. The Canucks big, mean, physical defenseman cupboard is completely bare, as their biggest d-men are in the six foot range and have yet to develop any physical presence in the defensive zone. Only two left wingers in the system, Evgeny Gladskikh and Fedor Fedorov, are considered legitimate prospects for the NHL.

Draft Tendencies

While the Canucks claim to draft the best player available every year, they have established some tendencies and have favorites among the many sources of talent. Of the past ten selections in the first round, five have been centermen, including the last four (Kesler, RJ Umberger, Nathan Smith, and Henrik Sedin). The other picks include four defensemen (Bryan Allen, Brad Ference, Mike Wilson, and Mattias Ohlund), and Daniel Sedin at left wing. These first round selections tend to be ‘safe’ picks, as they are prospects who are solid in most aspects of the game but not the upside or potential to develop into top players.

During Brian Burke’s six year tenure as GM, he worked with two chief scouts. Mike Penny ran the draft table for the 1998 to 2000 drafts and Ron Delorme, after being the head scout in the west, has been the chief scout for the 2001 to 2003 drafts. With Delorme taking over, there seemed to be a significant change in policy on where the Canucks would draft their future players from. Prospects from US college were drafted at a 27 percent rate during the Delorme’s first three years, which was a significant increase from the 19 percent that were drafted during the Burke/Penny regime. The past three years has also seen an increase of Russian-born players being drafted by the Canucks rose to 23 percent, compared to 7 percent being drafted in the previous three years.

The biggest decrease has occurred with 26 percent of players from the WHL drafted by the Canucks during the 1998-2000 drafts, compared to 12 percent during the 2001-2003 drafts. Even with Thomas Gardin as a scout, prospects drafted from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Finland have also decreased as 19 percent of the players drafted under Penny/Burke were from those two countries and only 4 percent have been drafted by Delorme/Burke. Time will tell if there is another policy shift with Dave Nonis now taking over as General Manager and Ron Delorme continuing his role as Head Scout.

The Canuck scouts have had a fair amount of success in drafting skill players in the later rounds of the draft. Evgeny Gladskikh (fourth round), Ilya Krikunov (seventh), and Brandon Reid (seventh) are just a few examples of the organization finding diamonds in the rough. Reid is also an example of the ability of their scouts to find prospects from the QMJHL in the late rounds. This year’s top rookie, Jason King, was drafted in the seventh round, and just last year the Canucks may have hit lucky sevens again as they selected Francois-Pierre Guenette in the same round.

Interestingly, the organization hasn’t drafted a player out of the Czech Republic in the past six years, Lukas Mensator having been drafted out of the OHL, despite the Czechs being one of the stronger hockey nations in the world. The Canucks have also never drafted a goalie in the first round, with Troy Gamble, in 1985, being the highest at 25th overall. In the past six years they have only drafted four goalies with three of those four selections occurring in the 2002 draft.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Travis Zajac, C out of Salmon Arm (BCHL)