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Standing pat

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
There are a number of talented young forwards that will be available if the Canucks decide to stand pat and keep the 6th overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft.

Last week we looked at the possibility of Vancouver moving the 6th overall draft pick (along with other assets) to Florida in exchange for the 1st overall pick. The price to land that pick – and hometown kid Sam Reinhart – would be very steep, and there are several great prospects available in this draft asides from Reinhart. Who should the Canucks consider taking if they are unable or unwilling to ante up for the top pick?

The Power Forwards

Jake Virtanen – LW | Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

A Virtanen selection would give Canucks fans another opportunity to cheer on one of their own. The Abbotsford product had a phenomenal campaign for the Hitmen this past season, scoring 45 goals in 71 games (good enough for second among all draft-eligible CHL players). Virtanen is a solid skater and possesses good size at 6-1 and 210 pounds. His top end speed isn’t as good as some of his peers available this June, but that is a very correctable issue. Virtanen enjoys the physical aspects of the game as evidenced by his 100 PIM and willingness to drop the gloves when called upon (but he does need to improve his discipline as bad penalties were a problem). He has been projected to go anywhere from 5th to 12th in mock drafts – as a prototypical young power forward, a Virtanen selection would be one made with a long term focus in mind.

Virtanen recently underwent shoulder surgery (a similar procedure to the ones undergone by Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recently) and is projected to be out until October or November.

Nick Ritchie – LW | Peterborough Petes (OHL)

The Canucks are not strangers to the OHL when it comes to draft day, and it has been a pretty successful strategy in recent years (Bo Horvat, Frank Corrado, Brendan Gaunce, Cole Cassels, and undrafted free agent Dane Fox to name a few). At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Ritchie is an imposing presence on the ice. He scored 39 goals last year and also finished with 136 PIM. On February 7th Ritchie lit the lamp five times in a single game (coincidentally becoming the first player in the OHL to do it since older brother Brett did the same in 2012). Nick obviously has NHL size and his shot is NHL quality, too. Like Virtanen, he could stand to improve his speed and ability to separate from defenders.

There will very likely be an emphasis placed on size at the draft this year after teams once again watched the Los Angeles Kings wear down opponents on their way to their second Stanley Cup in three years.

The Scorers

William Nylander – C | Sodertalje (Sweden-Allsvenskan)

The slick Swede and son of former NHLer Michael Nylander may have the highest upside of any of the 2014 draft-eligible prospects. He’s small and not great without the puck, but he can absolutely dazzle offensively as both a scorer and a playmaker. He has lined up at both center and on the wing, and his experience playing in a men’s professional league will undoubtedly help as he adjusts to the North American game. There are some rumors that Florida really wants Nylander and are willing to move down from the 1st pick (assuming they are confident that he will slide down to wherever they would end up). It is hard to get an accurate read on teenagers playing in Europe if you only go by the stats they put up – ice time is often limited and the dynamic of the game is different over there. That being said, Nylander’s draft-year production compares very favorably with other recent stars to come out of Sweden, including Nicklas Backstrom and Mika Zibanejad.

Nylander would give the Canucks a future superstar scorer to build around, but he wouldn’t fulfill their needs for more size up front. Do they draft him if he is the best player available?

Nikolaj Ehlers – LW | Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

The Aalborg, Demark native is another undersized skilled forward. He spent most of 2013-14 playing alongside Jonathan Drouin, and that has to be taken into account when looking at the impressive numbers he put up – 49 goals and 104 points in 63 games. He also added another 11 goals and 28 points in 16 postseason games for Halifax. Ehlers plays like Chicago’s Patrick Kane – he relies on speed and terrific vision to create offense and he is nearly impossible to hit. Kane was able to play in the NHL as an underside 18-year-old, and some believe that Ehlers could do the same in 2014-15. He was projected as a late first or early second round pick heading in to this past season, but his impressive play has pushed him way up on all pre draft rankings.

His YouTube highlight package is probably my favorite to watch of any of the 2014 draft-eligible prospects. The goal he scores at the 0:29 mark looks exactly like something number 88 on Chicago would pull off.

The All-Around Talents

Michael Dal Colle – LW/C | Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Dal Colle is a very skilled playmaker who can also excel in defensive situations. Would he make sense for the Canucks at pick six? At 6-2 and 171 pounds, he needs to add at least 15-20 pounds to compete in the NHL. While that can’t be accomplished in one summer, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to add that amount of muscle over the next year or two. Dal Colle has been compared to Eric Staal and Patrick Marleau – the Marleau comparison may be more accurate.

His game isn’t overly flashy, but he is a versatile forward who can do a lot of things very well depending on his role and the game situation. He has phenomenal foot speed and can score from anywhere on the ice. He would make a lot of sense for the Canucks if they view him as the best player available. You can never have too many guys with his skill set and hockey sense on your team.

Leon Draisaitl – C | Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Canucks fans may not like Draistaitl’s six degrees of separation connection with Mark Messier, but the big center could be the long-term building block up the middle that the team is looking for. He is a pass-first center who has one of the most polished two-way games among the 2014 prospects. Although he only had 24 PIM last year, Draisaitl is not a soft player. He is hard to knock off the puck and uses his 6-1, 210 pound frame very effectively to make plays and shield off opposing defenders.

His 105 points placed him fourth in the WHL scoring race (in a tie with Sam Reinhart). He isn’t as big as Los Angeles superstar center Anze Kopitar, but there are many similarities to their games.

Sam Bennett – C | Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

A lot was made of Bennett’s inability to do a single pull-up at the recent NHL combine (pull-ups were added to the series of tests this year), but the argument could be made that the fact he couldn’t do a pull-up makes his play to date even more impressive. Think how good Bennett will be once he adds some muscle and strength to his lanky frame.

The 6-0, 181 pound center had 36 goals in 57 games this past season. Some scouts are projecting him to go 1st overall at the draft. His game is similar to Reinhart’s – skill, speed, and hockey sense. Sometimes well-rounded players don’t get as much hype as it is harder to pinpoint a specific element of their game that makes them stand out. It takes a few viewings to really appreciate what Bennett brings to the ice.

There is a lot of talent available at the 2014 NHL Draft, as evidenced by the players listed above. The Canucks may not have to go far to find the player they want – both the WHL and OHL boast a number of impressive young players that have franchise cornerstone upside. Depending on who is taken before Jim Benning and the Canucks come to the podium, the argument could be made for any of the above players. Trading for Reinhart may make the most sense if the Canucks don’t have to overpay, but he may not even be viewed as the top prospect available by the organization.

One thing is for sure – the pressure is to make this draft count.

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