I choose you…
It’s extremely difficult to pin-point exactly who a team might pick even just weeks before the draft. However, the case of the Vancouver Canucks tells us one thing: they like taking North American born players in the first round.
Since the Canucks took Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin at #2 and #3 in 1999, they have had 11 first round picks in 12 NHL Drafts. Every single one of those 11 picks played their junior careers in North American markets. In fact, only two of those eleven picks were born outside of North America and yes, even they played in the CHL.
I am of course referring to Michael Grabner and Nicklas Jensen.
Heading into the 2012 Draft which takes place June 22nd in Pittsburgh, there are a few key areas GM Mike Gillis needs to look at due the aging core of this team. As Richard Hodges of NWSB points out in his Draft Attack Plan, those key areas include defense, the center position and between the pipes.
Richard even went so far as to suggest the Canucks draft North Vancouver boy and Plymouth Whalers D-Man Dalton Thrower. A two-way player, Thrower has shown what some might call, ‘a heart of a Canuck,’ in his junior play. To boot, his favourite team is the Canucks and he’s been described as similar to Kevin Bieksa.
Not only is high praise a good thing, but why not bring in a guy who probably has dreamed his whole life of playing for his hometown team. Coincidentally, Thrower sits at #26 in the North American skaters rankings, precisely the same pick Gillis and co. will have in the first round this year.
Who’s out there apart from Dalton Thrower? Who could fall a few spots? Who could the Canucks take a look at despite them being ranked higher than 26? Here’s a list of five guys I think Vancouver’s management team should take a good, long look at.
Slater Koekkoek – Peterborough Petes – Ranked 23rd of North American Skaters
Not only would Koekkoek be the first Canucks to have four K’s in his name, but he could develop into a future stalwart on the blueline for Vancouver. A gold medallist at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in 2011, the Mountain, Ontario native had 18 points in just 26 games this past OHL season.
Unfortunately, he needed shoulder surgery due to a torn left labrum (sound familiar?) but in a recent interview with Neate Seager of Yahoo Sports, Koekkoek says that doctors have told him it’s good. Prior to his injury, Slater was averaging close to 30 minutes/game, but once he went down, so did the Petes’ season.
It’s also worth noting that Koekkoek’s shoulder held up great at the recent NHL Scouting Combine where prospects go through numerous gruelling physical tests.
Erik Karlsson – Frolunda Jr. – Ranked 14th of European Skaters
What’s in a name? Greatness perhaps? Not that I’m suggesting the Canucks should select this young man solely due to his name being the same as the Sens’ superstar d-man, but maybe it’s a sign; just sayin’.
However, he is Swedish and as Canucks fans very well know, Swedes are welcomed into this organization more often than a “Houdini” in a Tatooinian sand-storm.
The 18 year old center is set to play his 6th season with Frolunda, now at the U-20 level but would obviously be looking at a possible spot in the AHL should the Canucks possibly draft him and consequentially sign him.
In all stages of play this past season, Karlsson had 51 points in 57 games including 19 goals.
Franky Palazzese – Kitchener Rangers –Ranked 9th of North American Goalies
Palazzese recently finished his 3rd OHL season and his first with the Rangers after being traded from the Kingston Frontenacs. Being traded early in your career like that builds a certain level of maturity so there’s reason number one this guy could be valuable.
He also played the majority of the games for Kitchener (36) and finished off with a 2.93 GAA coupled with a .927 SV%. While that GAA isn’t stellar, it’s obviously something that every goalie looks to improve as the years go by.
Unfortunately, the P-man as I’m going to call him only played in two of the Rangers’ 17 playoff games before they were ousted by London in the conference finals, but being usurped as the starter and watching from the bench can also foster mental growth. In the two games he did play in, his GAA was 1.78 with a SV% of .943; not too shabby.
Regardless of whether or not the Canucks take Palazzese who hails from North York, the position of goaltender will need some reinforcement down on the farm team sooner or later.
Eddie Lack will get the permanent call-up in the next year whether people like it or not and let’s be honest, there isn’t much promise in Jon Lilahti, Joe Cannata and David Honzik.
Mike Winther – Prince Albert Raiders – Ranked 21st of North American Skaters
This 18 year old from Olds, Alberta could be a future top six player. In just his 2nd WHL season, Winther tallied 32 times and added 24 assists for 56 points in 71 games. While of a shorter stature at 5’11”, Winther is a speedy winger who fits the bill of two way player that Ryan Kesler currently holds for the Canucks.
Of Winther’s 32 goals, 16 were on the power-play, 4 were short-handed and 4 were game winners. In a stretch in December 2011, Winther had 16 points during a 7 game point streak. He was also selected to the CHL Top Prospects Game.
Charles An of HockeyProspect.com says, “Winther is more of a perimeter player that likes to strike with a quick shot. He gets into a good shooting position and quickly snaps them home when given the opportunity. He needs to improve his play along the boards and be a more physical presence to be a more effective player.”
While it’s unlikely Winther falls all the way to 26th, it would be a great opportunity for Gillis to build for the future by selecting him if he does.
Michael Matheson – USHL – Ranked 30th of North American Skaters
Another defenseman to look at for the Canucks, this native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec took the unconventional route for his junior play. Having played last season with Dubuque of the USHL, he scored 11 times and added 16 assists for 27 points in 53 games.
Defense may be the most important part for the Canucks to focus on at this draft. Bieksa, Hamhuis and Salo aren’t getting any younger and the future looks somewhat bright with the likes of Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and Kevin Connauton.
However, that’s just not going to cut it when the smoke clears.
The Canucks need good, young d-men and they need them now so they have time to develop while the aforementioned Bieksa and Hamhuis complete the aging process.
As for Matheson, he is committed to Boston College (where Cory Schneider went) and that could change if he is drafted, but as we’ve seen, having players attend college isn’t always such a bad thing.
You’re not expected to make the team that drafted you when you’re only 18 and drafted 26th overall.
Whether Matheson honed his skills at BC or with the Wolves in Chicago, he’s going to be improving in some way, shape or form.
As was mentioned at the start, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly what GM’s are thinking ahead of drafts. As fans we may recognize what holes need filling on the team, but GM’s also have to worry about calls regarding trades.
As with everything draft and prospect related, time will tell.