When Mike Gills took the reins of the Vancouver Canucks in April 2008, he made it clear to all observers that he felt there were new and unique ways to build a championship hockey club at the National Hockey League level.
For years, many in the hockey world felt the best way to get to the top of the heap was to mine major junior hockey for its best prospects and assemble a contender that way. And certainly Gillis and the Canucks dipped into all three branches of the Canadian Hockey League last year to nab Cody Hodgson (OHL), Yann Sauve
(QMJHL), Prab Rai and Morgan Clark (both from the WHL).
But this time around the Canucks general manager and his scouting crew bypassed major junior hockey until their final selection while going in various directions with the club’s first six picks in the 2009 Entry Draft in Montreal.
When the draft was done, the Canucks had landed a trio of American university players, two players from the Swedish junior league and one player from Canadian Junior ‘A’ hockey along and then made a late trade with Phoenix to acquire a seventh round pick which was spent on a Quebec Major Junior League player.
The hockey world is so vast and there are so many routes to the NHL these days that teams have no choice but to cast their nets as wide as possible in hopes of landing a prize prospect. As the draft unfolded, it was evident the Canucks were looking to address some needs up front early on by selecting a pair of forwards with their first two picks and then focussed their attention on the back-end as they grabbed three defensemen before taking a goaltender.
With their first pick (22nd overall), the Canucks appear to have gained instant offence in the form of Jordan Schroeder
– a small, but shifty, playmaker from the University of Minnesota. The Canucks followed that selection by taking Anton Rodin from Brynas in the Swedish Junior League.
Like Schroeder, Rodin is not blessed with great size (5’11” 175 pounds), but after a strong Under-20 in Finland in February, he was considered one of the fastest-rising Swedish prospects in a draft loaded with Swedish talent. Rodin was ranked 15th among European skaters in Central Scouting’s Final report, up four spots from his mid-term grade. He’s a left-handed shooter who registered 29 goals and 55 points in 37 games last season.
In the third round, the Canucks opted for Kevin Connauton
, a 6’1” 185-pound defenseman who just finished his freshman season at Western Michigan University. On his bio page on the WMU website, the Edmonton native is described as an offensive defenseman who had seven goals and 18 points in 40 games this past season. Connauton was also among his team’s leaders in penalty minutes with 44 which indicates that he likely has an edge to his game.
The Canucks used their fourth round pick on Jeremy Price
, a 6’1” 195 pound offensive-minded defenseman from the Nepean Raiders of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. While his overall statistics may not immediately leap off the page – 12+29=41 in 55 games – Price is another one of those players who finished the year much stronger than he started it as evidenced by the fact he had 6+10=16 in his final 14 games and picked up at least one point in 13 of the final 14 games he played this season.
The fifth round yielded the Canucks biggest selection – hulking Swedish blueliner Peter Andersson
who just finished his second season with Frolunda in Sweden’s junior league. Ranked 100th by Central Scouting in the mid-term rankings, the 6’3” 194 pounder climbed considerably in the second half of the season to finish 48th on the final CSB list released just prior to the draft. He’s considered a prototypical big defenseman likely to focus more on the play in his own end than at the other end of the ice.
The Canucks sixth round pick in the 2009 draft was Merrimack University netminder Joe Cannata
who, as a freshman last season, posted impressive numbers: 2.35 goals against average and a 91.8 save percentage. Cannata also had a chance to suit up with US Hockey’s Under-18 team.
“He is a big-time goalie,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy told the Boston Herald prior to the draft. “Having been lucky enough to coach and recruit David Stathos at Princeton University and (Los Angeles Kings goalie) Jon Quick at UMass, I feel Joe Cannata
has the potential to be an NHL player.”
When it looked like the Canucks were done for the day, Gillis pulled off a minor trade shipping defenseman Shaun Heshka to Phoenix for a seventh-round selection. The Canucks used that pick to take Halifax native Steven Anthony
, a high-scoring left winger from the St. John Sea Dogs where he was a teammate with ’08 Canuck pick Yann Sauve
The Vancouver Canucks hope that all seven of the players they selected this weekend become NHL players for years to come. Much of that is now up to them and how hard they work to make their dreams come true. It seems apparent judging by the Canuck selections that Mike Gillis was willing to sacrifice size for skill and he also seemed to like players who showed growth and development over the second half of their seasons. And he’s hoping that progress and career advancement will only improve now that this new crop of prospects has joined the Canuck organization.