The Vancouver Canucks had only five picks in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft after moving several of their 2006 picks at the trade deadline in an attempt to make a splash in the playoffs. The Canucks stayed true to one of their previous draft tendencies while completing ignoring others. They ultimately selected four European-born players and a “local” BC boy. Of the Europeans, two of them are expected to play in the Canadian Hockey League next season, following a recent trend of selecting European prospects destined, or already in, the CHL ranks.
The organization surprised many when they used their first round, 14th overall, pick to select Austrian-born Michael Grabner, who played last season with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. The team had no second round pick, and went even further off the board to select Daniel Rahimi. Diminutive and previously overlooked Russian forward Sergei Shirokov was picked by the team in the fifth round. Juraj Simek, a Slovakian winger rated much higher than he went on draft day, way the team’s fourth pick of the day. GM Dave Nonis and his staff rounded out the day by once again going off the map to select tough guy Evan Fuller from the Prince George Cougars.
Chief Amateur Scout Ron Delorme told Hockey’s Future that the team has never considered themselves an organization that focused on taking players from one development stream, the NCAA ranks for example, where the team has picked 30 percent of its players from over the past six years. He also told reporters that he would consider this an “average” draft.
Michael Grabner, RW
14th overall – Spokane (WHL)
The slender Austrian proved to be a lightning fast scoring machine in the second half of the WHL season. He struggled mightily during the opening games of the season despite having a strong preseason, but finished the year on fire scoring 22 goals in the final 23 games. He ended up with 36 goals, 14 assists and 50 points in 67 games. His blazing speed is by far the most dangerous component of his game as he has breakaway speed and the hands to keep up with his feet. By coming across the Atlantic to play major junior, he has shown a deep commitment to making himself the best possible NHL player he can become.
He needs to get stronger and add a little bit of bulk to his frame to help deal with the physicality and power of NHL defenders. He will never be a big player, and he doesn’t need to because that isn’t his game, but he’s likely too thin to step into the league at this point. Also, like all young players, he will need to pay a little more attention to his defensive game, but he’s not likely to develop into the traditional penalty killer anyhow, so that isn’t a big concern. With the speed and skill that Grabner possesses he has the potential to become a first line scorer, especially with how the game has opened up over the past year. On the other hand he is a riskier prospect who could be a complete bust.
Assistant GM Steve Tambellini on Grabner: “Ron Delorme and our staff were really excited about the explosiveness in his game. From the prospect game on I think he doubled his output as far as goals. He’s not afraid to take the puck to the net. Overall he’s a dynamic player with great acceleration and he fits the overall type mode of this game.”
Chief Amateur Scout Ron Delorme on Grabner: “He was there in Spokane last year and he had an injury that kept him from playing. This year was sort of his breakout year. I’d say just before Christmas he was just feeling himself in the Western Hockey League. And when he went to the prospect game, he ended up with something like 38 goals by the time the season ended. I think we’re looking at a kid who, even though he’s Austrian, we were all kind of fighting the idea of if we should have went with a North American, but it shouldn’t have mattered, because with the way the new NHL is, speed does fuel this game. With the new NHL, we were pretty happy with the guy that was still available. We felt the cut off line that we thought it was at 7 or 8. Then it just started spreading out, players were starting to get picked all over the place.”
Daniel Rahimi, D
82nd overall – Bjorkloven (Sweden)
Two years ago, the Canucks turned heads on draft day by selecting a little-known defenseman from Northern Sweden. The Canucks did the same thing with the draft in GM Place, selecting an unknown defensive prospect from Sweden. While the team went for a big offensive blueliner last time, Swedish scout Thomas Gradin has found almost the polar opposite in Rahimi, a big, almost purely defensive, defenseman. The Canucks are very impressed with his leadership skills and said that they believe he has a chance at being a leader on the Swedish World Junior team. He is not a risky type of player, and the team felt that it was necessary to use a high pick on Rahimi, despite having limited viewing of him outside of Gradin and that he was eligible to be taken in last year’s draft.
Delorme on Rahimi: “Thomas Gradin was more of an influence on us taking him because he had seen this kid a lot more viewings than we did. I saw him once there in St. Petersburg and I was very happy to see the size and his mobility. He plays pretty much a pretty safe game. There’s nothing great in any one area, but he’s 6’3 and the chances are pretty good that he’s going to make the World Junior team next year for Sweden.”
Swedish Scout Thomas Gradin: “He for sure has the upside to do that (be a top four defenseman). That’s sort of hard to tell though. As a kid, he’s not really a kid in that meaning, he’s a grown up person for being at that young age. You don’t really need to put a lot more muscle on this guy because he’s not a slim guy, but he skates well enough to play in this league, the new National Hockey League as they say. So the only thing that he might, that he will not do as of today is chip in on the PP. On the other hand you need to have the guys who play the penalty kill too. That’s how I see him anyhow today.”
Sergei Shirokov, LW
163rd overall – CSKA Moscow (Russia)
5’10, 176 lbs
Shirokov drew a lot of attention in the past two World Juniors with his solid skating, shifty speed and sometimes dazzling stick-handling ability. The sparkplug has been passed up the past two drafts, but the Canucks were clearly drawn to the fact that he had played well in the Russian Super League this season with 13 points in 39 games, although his performance was inconsistent throughout the season. It’s very difficult to gauge what kind of long-term potential Shirokov has at the NHL level. He certainly isn’t expected to be carrying the offensive load for the Canucks at any point, but he has the raw skills to become a supportive scorer. Shirokov has indicated that he is interested in one day potentially coming to play in Manitoba to learn the ropes of the North American game.
Delorme on Shirokov: “He played in two World Juniors, he played in Grand Forks, North Dakota; he played here last year and he was a kid that…he’s not a fast skater, but he’s a sturdy skater. He’s very strong on his feet and he’s put up some pretty good numbers. He played in the Super League in Russia so here’s a kid that you know was interviewed by our Russian scout and he said that he would like to learn the experience of playing in the minor leagues. So there’s the chance that, obviously we think he’s got a chance.
“He’s 20 now; he’d still have an overage year in junior. But he’s playing in the Super League there so he’s got a choice to stay in the Russian Super League or he can come back here and play here in Manitoba. And we feel he could probably play in Manitoba. But that’s a choice that he has to make along with his agent and once Dave talks to him, but we’re pretty happy with him.”
Juraj Simek, RW
167th overall – Kloten Junior (Switzerland)
6’0, 189 lbs
Simek was rated highly, but slipped to the sixth round. He is a good skater who is also strong on his skates. He is said to have very good puck-handling and one-on-one skills with the ability to deke past opponents. Central Scouting says he is not one to initiate contact but is not afraid to get physically involved either. He had a very strong season with Kloten’s junior team in 2005-06, scoring 21 goals and 63 total points in 42 games. He is listed with 196 penalty minutes as well. He also appeared in eight games with the Kloten club team, getting one assist. Simek was selected by the Brandon Wheat Kings in the CHL Import Draft and is expected to play for the team next season. He could be a top-six forward down the road.
Delorme on Simek: “Simek was here at the World Junior here in Vancouver also, playing with Switzerland, but he’s originally from Slovakia. He’s got a Slovakian father who moved out there for work. The kid has some individual skill. He does a lot in tight maneuvers with the puck and he’s pretty good. He’s had some games that we were very impressed with the way he scored some nice goals. He’s a kid that’s more than willing to come play major junior and learn more about the North American style. Again, the North American style is pretty much the Euro style too. He’s going to fit in pretty well it’s probably just the language that he’s going to have to learn here.”
Evan Fuller, RW
197th overall – Prince George (WHL)
6’1, 196 lbs
With seven points over 56 games this season, and 15 points in his entire 112-game WHL career, it’s safe to say that the Canucks aren’t expecting Fuller to contribute offensively to the Canucks at any point. Fuller is essentially a middleweight fighter who plays an all-out, aggressive type of forechecking. He needs to work very hard on his all-around game, particularly his puck skills and the Canucks are hoping that hearing his name called on Draft Day will inspire him to work even harder towards making the NHL. The Canucks were impressed by the fact that he held his own against Matt Kassian (MIN), who is widely considered the toughest player in junior hockey.
Delorme on Fuller: “[Fuller] is a fairly tough kid so we thought we better select someone who might protect all these Euros! The kid from Prince George also had limited viewing because of injury. He hurt his ankle. He only played I think one or two games in the playoffs against Vancouver but it had to do with injuries. He’s a kid that can skate. He’s 6’2 and he’s a fairly tough kid. I think he’s about 195 or so. We just can’t draft anybody that is tough anymore, they have to be able to play and (scout) Harold Snepts and I felt that he’s capable of playing.
“The only player we thought we went out of best player available thought was Fuller because of the fact that he is a player a team needs. Which is again toughness and I think he could play well and be a good forechecker and bring a type of kamikaze role on any team.”
Draft Day Notes
·The Canucks had several offers for draft picks on draft day but elected to not make the moves in order to keep what the team considers to be more valuable 2007 selections.
·Delorme acknowledged that the Canucks were looking at selecting Nanaimo Clipper goaltending product Marc Cheverie (FLA).
·The Canucks ended up getting two of the players the scouting staff had identified as wanting to have as a (best case scenario) group during draft preparation. These two players were almost certainly Rahimi and Fuller.
·Nicklas Danielsson is still property of the Canucks and was offered a contract to come over this season but turned down the team. Thomas Gradin said he was “disappointed” by the decision and felt that staying in Sweden was too comfortable for Danielsson, adding: “I think a new environment and a feel for the Canadian game would be good. He is a fancy, fast-skating forward. And with the new rules, I would think it would be better to play on our farm team than the Swedish Elite League.”
·Gradin conclusively told HF that Thomas Nussli is not NHL material, citing that he has the size and the skills but the inability to put it together in anything other than practice.
·The Canucks have not received any indication that Kirill Koltsov wants to come over to North America. Koltsov reportedly makes between $900,000 to one million dollars tax free playing in Russia, an amount that exceeds the bracket he would be in as a NHL rookie. The Canucks also feel that appears to enjoy the Russian environment more than playing and living in Canada.
·Largely unheralded Russians Evgeni Gladskikh, Ilya Krikunov and Denis Grot remain Canucks property according to Gradin, who believes Gladskikh could play in the NHL but is in a similar situation as Koltsov where he makes more money in Russia than he would in the NHL.
Gradin said about Grot: “I don’t know exactly what category of contract he will be offered. He is a player who for sure could be offered a two-way contract, play a couple of years on the farm team and that way have a chance to crack the National Hockey League line-up. But as of right now I wouldn’t know if he’s willing to do that.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.