Adding a piece of the puzzle to the line-up prior to or at the trade deadline could make or break a club’s chances of playing into June.
There’s no doubt Vancouver’s management has identified players around the league they think could be important additions to the club. However, there’s another “Watch List” the Canucks have put together that’s just as important, more-so for the future than the present.
The Canucks amateur scouting staff recently met in Vancouver for their annual mid-season meetings. Scouts who log thousand of miles touring the junior and college rinks across North America and Europe gather together only a few times a year to examine their list of players who are eligible for the NHL Entry Draft. Not only does this give President/General Manger Mike Gillis and his management team a chance to identify who the top-end players are in their draft class, it also gives them a chance to see who might be the so-called “diamonds in the rough” that could be one day become professionals.
One of the showcase events Canucks scouts attended in the middle of January was the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. 40 of the best draft eligible players from the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior League gathered in Windsor, Ontario to take part in what’s the furthest thing from your prototypical all-star game. It’s a great way for scouts to compare the 1992 and late 1991-born players in an intense environment you might not normally see at this point in a season.
Top end prospects like Taylor Hall (Windsor Spitfires), Tyler Seguin (Plymouth Whalers), Cam Fowler (Windsor Spitfires), and Mark Pysyk (Edmonton Oil Kings) were on hand and are sure-fire Top 5-10 picks. The way things are looking right now, they definitely won’t be available when the Canucks make their first selection when the draft occurs next June in Los Angeles.
I was lucky enough to be in Windsor and check out the event first hand. If the Canucks stay on the pace they’re playing at right now, they’ll wind up in the Top 10 in the NHL standings at the end of the season. That means they’ll be picking in the bottom third of the first round of the Entry Draft.
Here are a few of the players from the Top Prospects Game Canucks fans might want to keep their eyes on as they’re likely still going to be in the mix when Head Scout Ron Delorme and his staff make their first pick:
Stanislav Galiev, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
6’0.5”, 177lbs, C/RW, Moscow, Russia
Current Stats: 48GP-11g,35a,46pts, 32PIM
Central Scouting Mid-Season Ranking: 23rd overall
Highest scoring rookie in the QMJHL who also sports the second-best plus-minus in the league (+36). Gifted puck-handler with great vision, won a silver medal for his country at the World U18 Championships last spring. Bit of a gamble as many NHL clubs are very cautious about selecting Russians with the recent developments involving players returning to their homeland.
Austin Watson, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
6’3”, 180lbs, RW, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Current Stats: 45GP-12g,23a,35pts,18PIM
Central Scouting Mid-Season Ranking: 25th overall
Memorial Cup winner as a 16 year-old with the Windsor Spitfires was a tough player to give up to the Petes at the OHL trade deadline. Strong two-way forward who can play in any role a coach asks of him. Will play for Team USA at the World Junior Championships when they defend their Gold Medal on home soil next year.
Jeff Skinner, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
5’10”, 197lbs, C/RW, Markham, Ontario
Current Stats: 48GP-36g,29a,65pts,52PIM
Central Scouting Mid-Season Ranking: 47th overall
One of the hardest working players in the Top Prospects Game and with a goal and an assist was named Player of the Game for Team Orr. His hard work in the OHL is paying off too, as he leads the entire league in goals (36). This didn’t come as a surprise to those who watched him win the TPG’s Breakaway Showdown competition.
Dylan McIlrath, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
6’5”, 215lbs, D, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Current Stats: 47GP, 4g,11a,15pts, 127PIM
Central Scouting Mid-Season Ranking: 27th overall
Without question…bar none…the toughest player in this year’s draft. Just search his name on “YouTube” for proof. His wing-span, fingertip-to-fingertip, is seven feet long!! More importantly, he’s been responsible defensively and has a powerful shot, clocked at 91.8 mph at the TPG skills competition. His stock is rising and my guess is he’s gone by the time the Canucks have their first pick.