Canucks 2000 draft evaluation

By Matt MacInnis

Across the board the 2000 NHL Entry Draft was an unimpressive one, with very few teams getting more than one or two legitimate NHL players out of their selections. The Canucks are one of the teams who struggled even harder to find the top talents in the thin draft crop. Five years after the draft, only two of the players are actively in the Canucks system (Nathan Smith and Tim Smith) and one in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization (Nathan Barrett). Brandon Reid appears to have made Europe his location of choice to play, while Thatcher Bell, Pavel Duma, and Tim Branham are complete busts. None of the players drafted by the Canucks will ever play more than a third line role, and even that is very much in doubt.

Of the seven picks, two played NHL games, Nathan Smith (2) and Brandon Reid (10), for a draft class average of under two NHL games per pick.

Nathan Smith, C – 1st round, 23rd overall (WHL – Swift Current Broncos)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 2

When the Canucks took Smith in the first round, the reaction was one of trepidation. He has scored 49 points in his draft year, but was clearly not projected to be an impact scoring player. The selection looked a bit better the next season when Smith notched 62 assists en route to a 90-point season. However, his 2001-02 season was marred by an injury which limited him to just 47 games, although he managed 60 points while healthy. The next season he made the jump to the AHL, playing for the Manitoba Moose. He scored nine goals in 53 games as a rookie, filling a role as a depth line player. In 2003-04, he continued to develop his defensive skills, seeing slightly more ice time and he had a permanent spot in the lineup, appearing in 76 games. He also received a two-game call-up to the Canucks early in the season to fill in for injured starters.

Smith is a defensive player. He has the appropriate size for an NHL center at 6’2, 190 lbs, but is greatly lacking in offensive ability. He does not possess a good shot, and his stick handling abilities are below average. While he is an adequate passer, his finishing abilities leave much to be desired. He is not a fast skater, and it remains an area he needs to improve upon to become a full-time NHL player.

This season with the Moose, Smith continued to play a defensive role, scoring just 16 points in 72 games and finished a disappointing -11. The Moose have reached the AHL semi-finals, and in ten games Smith has five points and a +2 rating. With further improvement in his skating and the steady stream of development of his defensive awareness, Smith could develop into a fourth line pivot. However, that said, no organization wants to get a fourth liner out of a first round pick.

Thatcher Bell, C – 3rd round, 71st overall (QMJHL – Rimouski Oceanic)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted by the Canucks after putting up stellar numbers with Rimouski (69 points in 53 games), Bell missed nearly half the 2000-01 season due to injury, although he was able to come back in time for the playoffs. Bell’s 2001-02 season, his fourth year in the QMJHL, was cut even shorter with more injuries problems, which enabled him to appear in just 29 games (12 goals, 27 assists). Not offered a contract by Vancouver, Bell’s QMJHL rights were transferred to Halifax for the 2002-03 season. He managed to stay reasonably healthy as an overager, scoring 36 goals and 48 assists for 84 points in 64 games and was a key contributor to Halifax’s lengthy playoff run. However, not receiving any prominent professional offers, Bell elected to take his educational fund money earned from five seasons in the QMJHL and attend St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB.

The Murray Harbour, PEI product, the same small fishing town which produced Brad Richards, has had a difficult time in the CIS as well. In his freshman season, Bell scored 7 points in 15 games, hardly terrific production from a third round NHL pick and a player who had averaged more than a point-per-game in the QMJHL the season before. In 2004-05, Bell once again suited up for the Tommies, playing in only 12 of 28 games, notching a disappointing three points. When he graduates from STU, he’s unlikely to continue in hockey.

Tim Branham, D – 3rd round, 93rd overall (OHL – Barrie Colts)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canucks selected Branham, a native of Eagle River, WI, from a Barrie Colts team that was full of players who eventually became major disappointments. The top four scorers for the 1999-2000 Colts were Sheldon Keefe (47th overall in 1999), Denis Schvidki (12th overall in 1999), Mike Danton (135th overall, 2000), and Michael Henrick (13th overall, 1998) respectively. Brian Finley (NSH), whose career was marred by injuries before seemingly turning it around this season, was also a part of the team, as was Minnesota prospect Eric Reitz. The Canucks picked Branham coming off a season he played in only 38 games, although his 19 points from the blueline were a positive indication of his upside. Unfortunately, his career went the way of many of his teammates. In 2000-01, Branham has a solid season, coming close to the 0.5 points-per-game mark he set the year before. In the offseason he was dealt to Guelph, where his offensive production decreased.

Unsigned by Vancouver, Branham spent the next two seasons bouncing between the AHL and ECHL, putting up minimal numbers. He spent the 2004-05 season bouncing around the ECHL, eventually playing for three different teams, scoring eight points in 40 total games. Now 24 years old, Branham appears to be a career minor leaguer.

Pavel Duma, C – 5th round, 144th overall (Russia – Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted by Vancouver after playing 37 games in the RSL as a teenager, the thin Russian showed few signs of improvement the next season, where he also played for Russia at the World Junior Championships for the second time. In 2000, Duma had three points and was +9 in the tournament. In 2001, he had just one goal. He played for Molot-Prikamie in 2001-02, scoring five goals and four assists in 42 games. In 2002, he appeared in 48 games for Neftyanik Almetievsk, but spent 2003-04 with Penza (both in feeder leagues to the RSL). In 48 games he scored a respectable 11 points.

In early 2004-05, Duma struggled to find a place to play as the RSL was flooded with NHL players, causing a rippling effect through the entire Russian system. Midway through the season, however, Duma managed to secure a job with Penza, notching six points in 18 games. Although as a European, Duma’s rights are still held by Vancouver, the fact that he is unable to secure a spot with a RSL team means the Canucks hopes of him developing into a player are nearly zero.

Brandon Reid, C – 7th round, 208th overall (QMJHL – Halifax Mooseheads)
Status: DEL star, improbable NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 10 (plus nine playoff games)

After his third season in Halifax, where he scored 124 points in just 62 regular season games, Reid was taken late by Vancouver due to his diminutive size. At 5’8, 185 lbs, Reid is a small, quick, player who has been described as a “waterbug” for how he moves on the ice. In the 2000 QMJHL offseason, his rights were moved to Val D’Or, where he had another successful season, culminating with an amazing playoff run where he scored 42 points in 21 games.

With his junior career behind him, Reid earned an AHL contract with the Manitoba Moose in 2001-02. In 60 games, Reid scored 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points as a rookie. The next season he improved on those numbers, nearly doubling his assist total for 54 total points. His strong play earned him an end of season call-up with Vancouver. Playing in the final games of the regular season, Reid scored five points in seven games while playing on the third line much of the time. His offensive burst earned him a spot with the Canucks for the playoffs, where he managed just one assist in nine games. Going into the 2003-04 season, it was assumed Reid had a spot with the Canucks, but he was cut from training camp and assigned to Manitoba. Back with the Moose, Reid did not appear to develop much from the previous season, putting up nearly identical numbers.

Reid is a small, offensively talented center, with quick hands and feet, and a keen playmaking ability. He aggressively pursues the puck, and can be effective harassing opposition with his stick. Not possessing a great shot, it’s his puck handling and vision which produce most of Reid’s offensive totals. Obviously his size is a major obstacle to his NHL success.

Reid was clearly unhappy about not making the Canucks out of camp in 2003-04. His unhappiness with his place in the organization became clearer when he signed with Hamburg of the DEL in July, 2004, long before the NHL season was officially threatened by the impending lockout and before NHL players began to sign contracts with European teams. He was making it clear he had no interest in playing with Manitoba. With Hamburg, Reid played well, scoring 47 points in 45 games. On April 1, 2005, Reid signed a contract with SC Rapperswil-Jona of the Swiss League for the upcoming season. Reid has become a success in Europe, and shows no signs of returning to North America. It is unlikely he will ever play for the Canucks again.

Nathan Barrett, C – 8th round, 241st overall (WHL – Lethbridge Hurricanes)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The year after he was drafted, Barrett scored an impressive 46 goals and 53 assists for 99 points with Lethbridge. Then, in 2001-02, he won the WHL’s scoring title with a 107-point performance. However, the Canucks chose to not offer Barrett a contract, and he signed with Toronto shortly after he became an unrestricted free agent. As a rookie, the slightly undersized center compiled 31 points 31 games. The following season, 2003-04, Barrett’s games played were limited to 49, but he scored 38 points, an impressive point-per-game ratio for a second year player.

Now listed at 6’0, 190 lbs, Barrett has grown an inch and gained some weight since the Canucks chose to not offer him a contract. A skilled player with good puck distribution skills, there remain questions about his size and durability in a more physical NHL, and his skating must improve. His defensive abilities are improving as he spends more time with the Leafs farm club, but they must continue to evolve if he is to become an effective third or fourth line NHLer.

2004-05 proved to be Barrett’s highest point total in the AHL despite the higher quality of the league due to the NHL lockout, with 39 points. After three seasons in St. John’s, Barrett will play for the Toronto Marlies next season and hopes to continue to develop into an effective depth center for the Maple Leafs. Although Canucks management can’t be thrilled they let an asset with NHL potential, albeit limited, go for free, the Canucks have many players in their organization who can fill a similar role to that which Barrett projects.

Tim Smith, LW – 9th round, 272nd overall (WHL – Spokane Chiefs)
Status: Longshot prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted out of Spokane after a 96-point season, Smith was traded to Swift Current in the middle of the next season and finished with a combined total of 90 points. He struggled with consistency in his final year of junior (2001-02), but impressed the Canucks enough to earn a rookie contract. He was sent immediately to Columbia (ECHL), where he spent the vast majority of the year, totaling 59 points. In 2003-04, the Whitecourt, Alberta native was named the ECHL Top Scorer and Performer of the Year with 95 points in 69 games, in addition to being named to the league’s First All-Star team.

The problem with Smith is size. At 5’9 and between 160-170 lbs, Smith is incredibly small. Although he possesses great speed and quickness which helps him elude opponents, few can overlook his size. Smith plays an aggressive game, fearless at times as he drives towards the net. He has been described as a big-game player, and his playmaking skills are his strongest offensive weapon.

He split time between the ECHL and AHL in 2004-05. In 19 ECHL games he scored 19 points. However, receiving dramatically less ice time per game, Smith was unable to replicate his offensive output in the AHL, scoring four goals and failing to register a single assist in 29 games. With Reid seemingly out of the picture, Smith has less competition for the role of undersized depth player in the system, but he remains a prospect highly unlikely to don a Canucks jersey.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.