Though Canucks general manager Jim Benning has intimated that he’ll look to recoup additional mid-round selections, it’s likely that he’ll be at the draft table with less than a full deck.
Benning has made it clear that he intends on using his first-round selection to pick the best player available, regardless of position. He’s aware though that its been a long time since the Canucks selected a highly regarded blue line prospect in the first 30 picks of the entry draft.
“We haven't drafted a defenseman in the first round for the last 10 years,” Benning told me earlier this week, referring to the club’s selection of Luc Bourdon in 2005. “So depending on who was there when we pick, if there's a defenseman that we like, we'll consider him.”
Ultimately though the identity of Vancouver’s next first-round pick will largely depend on their upside and who is available when the draft snakes around to the 23rd overall selection.
“When you're picking at the end of the first round like we are there's so much that goes into a player’s development, so we want to try and take a player with a high upside to his game,” Benning said. “So in four years time with development he can grow into a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman for us.”
Benning’s best player available approach will govern the club’s first-round pick, but the calculus does begin to change somewhat as the draft goes on.
“The first pick at 23 we're going to take the best available player and then as we start going through the draft, if we feel there's a need or a type of player we want to concentrate on, then maybe we'll pick more on position and fit,” Benning said.
Today let’s take a look at some of the areas of need in the Canucks system that perhaps the team might address in the later rounds of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Vancouver used to be regarded as a goalie graveyard, but that popular perception has done a complete 180 in recent years.
With Cory Schneider, Eddie Lack, and Jacob Markstrom graduating from the Canucks’ system and developing into bona fide NHL-level puck stoppers in recent seasons, Vancouver is now seen as a development hot spot for netminders.
Since arriving in Vancouver Benning has shown that he’s willing to spend dollars (Ryan Miller) and draft picks (Thatcher Demko) on shoring up a position that he’s repeatedly referred to as the most important on the ice. He’s also pitched College free agents like Matt O’Connor on joining the club, and he made sure to engage in some clever roster gymnastics last fall in order to keep Markstrom in the system.
This summer could be an interesting one in the crease for the Canucks, at both the NHL and at the minor league level. The club is expected to trade one of Markstrom or Lack ahead of the NHL draft, and the contracts of minor league goaltenders Joacim Ericsson and Joe Cannata will expire on July 1.
Based on the way the club has prioritized the goaltending position during the first year of the Benning-Trevor Linden era, we might expect them to use one of their mid- or late-round picks to select a puck stopper. Barrie Colts netminder MacKenzie Blackwood, 6-foot-5 Czech league puck-stopper Daniel Vladar, and Slovakian born puck stopper Matej Tomek could fit the bill if they’re around when the Canucks make their selections in the fourth- and fifth-rounds.
You can never have enough potential centremen in the system.
Though the Canucks have bolstered their pivot ranks in recent seasons by selecting players like Jared McCann, Cole Cassels, Kyle Pettit and Bo Horvat, it’s often difficult to project centremen. It’s not rare, after all, for players listed as centremen in junior hockey to get moved to the wing upon joining the professional ranks – as occurred with Brendan Gaunce in Utica this past season.
There are some intriguing centremen who could be available in the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-rounds of the entry draft, including Medicine Hat Tigers late-bloomer Matthew Bradley, big Prince Albert Raiders pivot Matteo Gennaro and heavy BCHL centre and Burnaby, B.C. native Marcus Vela.
The Canucks’ system is as deep along the blue line as it has been in decades, even if the club lacks a real blue chip young rearguard.
If we look a little bit closer at the types of defensemen in the system, we can see that there’s a variety of intriguing two-way defenders in Frank Corrado and Ashton Sautner, some talented offensive defenders in Ben Hutton, Adam Clendening and Jordan Subban, and some imposing potential stay-at-home shutdown guys like Nikita Tryamkin, Andrey Pedan and Anton Cedarholm.
What the club lacks along the back-end of their prospect ranks is a real burner, a blue-liner with high-end skating ability.
This may be a tough need to address with a fourth-round (or later) pick, since defensemen with projectable NHL speed tend to be selected earlier on in the draft. There are a couple of possible candidates that could slip into the fourth-round though, including Boston College commit Casey Fitzgerald or Finnish speedster Veeti Vainio.