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Top ten draft-day steals

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
Once the cameras pack up and draft floor starts to look like the tail end of a banquet for the criminally bored, the scouts really start to sweat. It’s the dregs of the draft, and it’s the time when amateur scouts sift through the late rounds looking for the homerun picks that could help win a series. Steal a Henrik Zetterberg (210th) or a Mikka Kiprusoff (116th), and a franchise goes from playoff pretender to cup contender

Everyone points to the Red Wings as paradigm for squeezing every viable ounce of hockey talent out of the annual draft, landing the likes of Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk (171), and Johan Franzen (97) in the late rounds, but what about the Canucks?

Here’s a quick look at the Canucks’ all-time top 10 draft steals:

1. PAVEL BURE – Selected in the 6th round (113th overall) in 1989

An easy choice as the biggest Canucks draft steal ever. Give former Canucks chief scout Mike Penny all the credit for this one. “Pasha” was just 18 when the Canucks picked him in 1989, one year ahead of his slated draft eligible season. Penny searched old game sheets and discovered that Bure had played in enough international contests in his previous two seasons to make him eligible as an 18-year-old. The Canucks nabbed him in the sixth round and he quickly cemented his reputation as one of the most talented skaters in franchise history.

Bure scored 34 goals and 60 points in his first season in Vancouver and won the Calder Memorial Trophy. He racked-up 60 goals in each of his next two seasons and scored arguably the most memorable goal in franchise history beating Mike Vernon on a breakaway deke in double overtime to complete a first-round 3-1 series comeback in 1994.

Bure was eventually traded on January 17, 1999 to the Florida Panthers, along with with Bret Hedican, Brad Ference, and Vancouver's 3rd round choice in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft for Ed Jovanovski, Dave Gagner, Mike Brown, Kevin Weekes, and Florida's first round draft choice in the 2000 draft.

Bure’s great-grandfather was a watchmaker to Tsar Alexander III. His father Vladimir , was an Olympic swimmer who competed for the Soviet Union in the 1968, 1972, and 1976 Olympic Games. In '72 Vladimir took the bronze medal in the 100 meter losing out on gold by half a second to swimming legend Mark Spitz.
2. PATRIK SUNDSTROM Selected in the 9th round (175th overall) in 1980

The Canucks took a flyer on Sundstrom back in a day when a hockey cards came bundled with a stick of one-minute gum and were produced in Ontario factory by O-Pee-Chee. That’s a long-winded way of saying that Swedish players weren’t exactly the hot commodity they are today. Sundstrom was a ninth-round wish that came true. Anyone who lived through the “flying V” days will attest to just how talented this guy was. The slick centre racked up 134 goals and 210 assists in 385 games with the Canucks – primarily on a line with Toni Tanti – before being shipped to New Jersey along with a second and fourth round pick in 1987 for Kirk McLean, Greg Adams and 1988 second-round pick (Leif Rohlin) on September 10, 1987 (does everything somehow relate back to the ’94 run?)

Sundstrom was named team MVP in 1983-84, and at one point held records for most points in one game (7 at Pittsburgh on Feb. 29, 1984), most assists in one game (6 at Pittsburgh on Feb. 29, 1984), most points by a center in one season (91 in 1983-84), most goals by a center in one season (38 in 1983-84). Solid bloodlines probably didn’t hurt either. His twin brother was NHLer Peter Sundstrom, who was born 20 minutes after Patrik, and his younger sister was Swedish junior women's archery champion (Pernilla Sundstrom).
3. IGOR LARIONOV Selected in the 11th round (214th overall) in 1985

Is Igor a cheapie pick? Maybe. The Canucks nabbed two-thirds of the Soviet Union’s famed KLM line when they took Larionov and Krutov in back-to-back drafts in 1985 and 1986 respectively (Sergei Makarov was drafted by the Flames). Would the pair have gone higher than the 12th round had the rest of the world known that Soviet hockey players would win their freedom and be permitted to join the NHL only four years later? Probably, but for the purposes of this list we’ll allow it.

Larionov played just three seasons for the Canucks following an international career that saw him land more awards in the 80’s than Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. We could list them, but that’s boring. Suffice it to say that if Igor did manage to hang on to all those trophies when he fled Mother Russia, he’s paying rent on a storage locker.

The original “Iggy” didn’t have a huge impact on the Canucks franchise, scoring 55 goals and 154 points in three seasons – which is roughly five times the amount of countryman Vladimir Krutov – but he did tutor a young Pavel Bure. Never a big fan of an old-guard Soviet hockey regime led by Viktor Tikhonov, Larionov chose to play a year in the Swiss league after his initial deal with Vancouver ran out in 1992 to avoid a stipulation in his contract that saw a portion of his NHL salary get funneled back to Sovintersport. He then returned to the NHL joining former linemate Makarov in San Jose before moving on to Detroit where he won three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, 2002).

Larionov is married to former figure skater Elena Botanova and has three children. Among the many hats he wears, Igor is also a professional wine merchant representing the "Hattrick" and "Triple Overtime" lables from Australia and California.
4. DOUG LIDSTER Selected in the 7th round (133rd overall) in 1980

Back in the 80s there were probably more mascots employed in the NHL than U.S. College grads, and the Canucks weren’t exactly keen to buck the trend by spending valuable picks on guys who weren’t tested in the rough-and-tumble junior ranks. Thankfully that all changed with their 7th round selection in 1980 when they chose Kamloops native Doug Lidster from Colorado College. Canuck fans were forced to wait for "Liddy" to finish his business degree, and play one season with Team Canada on the 1984 Olympic Team, before the smooth-skating defender made the jump to pro hockey in 1984.

Lidster played 15 years in the NHL, 10 of them in Vancouver. His best season was 1986-87 when he put up 12 goals, and 51 assists for 63 points – a franchise record for points by a defenceman to this day. He was never flashy or chippy, but was as reliable as the lunar calendar. Last minute of the game with a lead on the board? Liddy. Need to rally in the third? Liddy.

On top of his solid skill set and calming demeanor, Lidster was a freak in the gym – he was ahead of the conditioning curve that’s now the norm in the NHL. That dedication to fitness certainly helped add a few years to his career. The Canucks dealt him to the Rangers in exchange for John Vanbiesbrouck on June 23, 1993. That season Lidster won a Stanley Cup as the Rangers defeated his old team in seven games (again with the ’94 tie-in). Lidster went on to win a second cup with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99, his final season in the NHL. Lidster logged 666 games for Vancouver racking up 309 points. He retired back to his hometown of Kamloops following his playing career and briefly coached the Saginaw Spirit in 2004-05.
5. KEVIN BIEKSA Selected in the 4th round (151st overall) in 2001

“Bee-esk-ah” is a modern-day gem. This fourth-rounder from the Bowling Green hockey factory is a testament to the hidden advantages of snapping up collegiate players (they remain club property until they complete their studies). Drafted as a freshman, this undersized d-man was allowed to develop with the Flacons in the CCHA before finally turning pro late in the 2003-04 season. The seasoned Grimsby, Ontario-native ran up 12 goals and 39 points in his rookie year with the Moose at 24 years old.

Bieksa saw spot duty with the Canucks in 2005-06 registering just six assists in 39 games, but that proved to be an invaluable learning experience. He returned the next season and rapidly developed into a defensive cornerstone playing in 81 games, scoring 12 goals and 42 points, and helping an injury-depleted Canucks team push the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Ducks to five games before bowing out in OT of game five. Bieksa was cut by a skate versus Nashville on November 1st, 2007, and missed nearly five months. In all, he played in 34 games last season recording two goals and 12 points.

Bieksa, who is renowned for his toughness and temper, completed his finance degree at Bowling Green with a 3.42 GPA. He has stone hands, but clearly no rocks in his head, though he lists American Gladiators among his most watched TV shows. His last name is frequently mispronounced by broadcasters, most famously Bob Cole and Harry Neale, not to mention misspelled by many a scoreboard operators across the league. Bieksa and his wife Katie have a new born named Cole.
6. PETRI SKRIKO Selected in the 8th round (157th overall) in 1981

The Skreek defines the term “draft steal”. Taken in the 8th round back in 1981, the Lappeenranta, Finland native dominated as a hometown hero at 18 years old before the Canucks nabbed him with the 157th pick. Skriko signed with Vancouver in 1985-86 and promptly racked up 21 goals and 37 points.

The following season – just his second in the NHL - Skriko led the team with 78 points. He recorded four consecutive 30-goal seasons and in November of 1986 he netted three hat tricks, just eight days apart and was the first-ever Vancouver Canuck to be named the NHL’s Player of the Month. The Skreaky Wheel didn’t exactly grease the goalies as the 80’s wore on and the Canucks dealt him to the Boston Bruins for a second-round draft choice (Michael Peca). The Bruins flipped him to the Jets for Brent Ashton, and eventually Petri signed as a free agent with the Sharks in 1992 and played a few months before returning to Europe.

In 9 seasons in the NHL, Skriko recorded 183 goals and 222 assists for 405 points in 541 games, After a brief stint back in the SM-Liiga, Skriko moved to the Danish league with Herning IK in 1993. He would be one of the best players ever to play in Denmark, helping his team to four championships and earning two Player of the Year honours. He would retire in 1999, but continue on as the team's head coach, winning another title in that capacity in 2001.

Finnish Rookie of the Year (1981) WJC-A All-Star Team (1982) Named Best Forward at WJC-A (1982) Finnish First All-Star Team (1984) Traded to Boston by Vancouver for Boston's 2nd round choice (Michael Peca) in 1992 Entry Draft, January 16, 1991. Traded to Winnipeg by Boston for Brent Ashton, October 29, 1991. Signed as a free agent by San Jose, August 27, 1992.
7. ADRIAN AUCOIN Selected in the 5th round (117th overall) in 1992

Adrian was a true diamond in the rough. He played two seasons with the Nepean Raiders of the Ontario Junior A league, and one with Boston College before the Canucks plucked him out of the 5th round in 1992.

Aucoin racked up an impressive 31 points in his first full season in the AHL, but the 6’2” rear guard struggled to put on weight back in an era when general managers looked at size on the blueline before skill. It took Aucion four seasons to break into the NHL, but when he did, he stuck – helping Canucks fans forget another, more highly-touted Adrian on the Vancouver back end (Adrian Plavsic).

Aucoin’s best season came under Iron Mike Keenan in 1998-99 when he set a single-season record for power-play goals by a defenceman with 18 (tying Denis Potvin and Sheldon Souray), and won the Babe Pratt Trophy as the Canucks most outstanding defenseman. Despite respectable numbers the next two seasons, Aucion was shuffled down to Tampa in 2001 along with a draft pick in exchange for Dan Cloutier. Despite stints in Long island and Chicago where he was given marquee time as a power-play quarterback, Aucoin never did manage to equal that dream season in 1998-99, though he’s had some very respectable years, most notably last season in Calgary under Magic Mike Keenan when he put up 10 goals and 25 points.

Aucoin played for Canada at the 1993 World Juniors on a gold-medal team and then played at the Lillehammer Olympics. He’s also one of only a handful of Canucks who could eat one of Ken Bogus’ 52-ounce porterhouse steaks in one sitting back in the days when Mangiamo was a Yaletown hotspot. The other? Mike Peca.
8. BRENT SOPEL Selected in the 6th round (144th overall) of the 1995

Sopes slips into the number eight spot on our list. He was a skinny, wide-eyed kid from Calgary when the Canucks snuck him off the daft floor in the sixth round in 1995. He had two decent seasons playing with Swift Current, but there was little about him that would predict a long, productive NHL career. For starters, he wasn’t all that thick for an NHL defenceman. Secondly, he wasn’t that agile as many long-term Canuck fans will remember (he’s tripped over the blueline a few times at GM Place). What he did have was heart, as almost all of his former teammates would agree.

It took Sopel five years to find a permanent home in Vancouver – he spent four years bouncing between the AHL, IHL, and NHL. Sopel packed on some muscle with a focused summer training regime is his final two seasons in the AHL and managed to carve himself a home on Vancouver’s blueline. Under Marc Crawford Sopel developed a steady defensive game and earned some secondary power-play time. He peaked points-wise in 2003-04 scoring 10 goals and 32 points before Brian Burke traded him to the New York Islanders for a conditional draft pick on August 3, 2005.

Sopel was traded back to the Canucks in 2006-07 at the deadline. He sat out the first game of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Dallas Stars with an injured back (he hurt it picking a cracker up off the floor). Sopel is widely reputed to be among the most superstitious players in the NHL going into a near trance like state in the dressing room as he taps, jiggles, and wiggles through a very complex pre-game routine. Sopel spent last season dancing with the ‘Hawks.
9. MATT COOKE Selected in the 6th round (144th overall) in 1997

The sixth round has been kind to the Canucks and Cookie is just further proof. The sparkplug from Bellville played 598 games in a Vancouver uniform before Dave Nonis dealt the pending unrestricted agent to the Washington Capitals at the deadline for Matt Pettinger.

Cooke was slapped with the pest tag early in his NHL career, mostly because he never failed to finish a body check – whether it was Steve Yzerman or Steve Montador. At 5’11” and less than 200 pounds, Cooke didn’t exactly relish the extracurricular activities (to borrow a John McKeachie-ism), hence the pest label. But Cooke is a far more valuable player than that.

Cookie put up 42 points in 2002-03 and found himself on the team’s top line alongside Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison during the 2003-04 first-round series against the Flames. Cooke sits 12th in all-time games in a Canucks uniform and has 83 goals to his name, most famously, he scored the game-tying goal with five seconds remaining in game seven of the first-round series against the Flames in 2004, banging home a Naslund rebound. Unfortunately, Martin Gelinas lifted the eventual game-winner behind Alex Auld early in OT with the Canucks shorthanded.

While with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL, Cooke nearly gave up on his dream of making the NHL until a sit-down chat with former Canucks assistant coach Mike Kelly during training camp. Thankfully Kelly’s encouragement had an impact on #24 and Cooke stuck with it. Along with his wife Michelle, and children Gabby, Reece, and Jackson, Cooke is hoping to parlay his success with Capitals last season into a new contract for 2008-09.
10. JANNIK HANSEN Selected in the 9th round (287th overall) in 2004

Admittedly, this is a sentimental pick of sorts. Hansen has just 15 NHL games on his resume – though 10 were in a pressure-packed 2006-07 playoff run. What makes Hansen stand out, is his draft position. In 2004, only four players were selected lower than Hansen: Brian Mahoney-Wilson, Christian Jensen, Nils Backstrom, and John Carter. How many of those guys have sniffed the inside of an NHL locker room? That’s why Hansen makes the 10-spot on our list. And he’s just a great kid who’s worked extremely hard to make it to the NHL.

Along with Frans Nielsen, Hansen is the only other Dane playing the NHL, and he’s the first Dane to ever lace-up for an NHL playoff game. The Herlev native began skating in a men’s league at 15 years old simply because that was the only high-level competition available. That training certainly didn’t hurt his development. He came over to North America to play a year in the WHL with Portland before turning pro with the Moose. Hansen is a shifty, tenacious forward with deceptively good hands.

His most notable experience came in April of 2007 when injuries to Ryan Kesler, Matt Cooke, and Jeff Cowan in a first-round series against the Dallas Stars forced call-ups from Manitoba. Hansen slid in and quickly became a fan-favourite with a sand-paper, high-energy game. He had just one assist, but was a spark for a Canucks team that eventually triumphed in seven games.

Hansen would have likely seen more ice time in 2007-08 if he hadn’t suffered a broken thumb in training camp with the Canucks, and a concussion playing for Winnipeg. He still managed to get 50 games in at the AHL level posting 21 goals and 43 points, and finishing a +23 (he had just 34 points in his rookie season with the Moose).

Hansen didn’t follow the NHL game growing up, in fact, he didn’t see a game on TV until he was drafted by Vancouver. Hansen says he wears #17 because that’s what he was given by the Moose. They gave him #17 because that’s what he wore in Portland. They gave it to him because that’s what he wore playing for Rodovre in the Danish professional league – which coincidentally, was the number his father Bent wore when he played for the Rodovre Mighty Bulls.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss your picks on the boards

Other notable draft steals:

1983: Dave Lowry - sixth round (110th overall)

1987: Gary Valk - sixth round (108th overall)

1993: Scott Walker - fifth round (124th overall)

1974: Harold Snepsts- fouth round (59th overall)

10 - Skriko's ranking in all-time Canucks scoring.

2003 - Year Matt Cooke won the Fred J. Hume Award as the Canucks' most unsung hero.

5 - Number of times Pavel Bure was voted Most Exciting Player.

24 - Club record shorthanded goals by Pavel Bure.

47 - Power-play goals scored by Petri Skriko, 10th most on the all-time franchise leaderboard.

4 - Hattricks scored by Petri Skriko in the 1986-87 season.

407 - Shots taken in the 1992-93 season by Pavel Bure, a team record.

71 - Seconds apart that Petri Skriko scored back-to-back shorthanded goals against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 18th, 1986.

71 - Seconds apart that Petri Skriko scored back-to-back shorthanded goals against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 18th, 1986.
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