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With the 22nd overall pick...

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Make no mistake about it, players like John Tavares and Victor Hedman will be long, long, long gone by the time the Vancouver Canucks make their first pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.


That doesn’t mean there won’t be a gem available at 22nd overall.

Unlike last year’s draft where the Canucks knew they were going to get a quality player with the 10th pick – for the record Vancouver seemingly outdid itself in landing franchise player Cody Hodgson – on June 26 the Canucks better have done their homework.

Twenty-one teams will approach the podium before Vancouver, which leaves a lot of time for the players the Canucks had pegged to be swiped.

All sorts of scenarios could play out that would have the Canucks move up in the draft, but assuming GM Mike Gillis and company stand pat, all indications are they’ll be going after an offensive-defenceman.

There is a bevy of such blueliners available in Montreal next weekend and the popular opinion among NHL writers is that landing defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be a steal.

The 17-year-old is considered the third best Swedish d-man available behind Hedman and David Rundblad, who should both be top 10 picks.

To land Ekman-Larsson, a 6-foot-2, 176-pound leftie who had 17 points in 39 games for Leksands IF last season, a few teams would have to pass on the Swede, but crazier things have happened.

NHL.com writer Shawn P. Roarke believes the chips will fall Vancouver’s way and that Ekman-Larsson is a good fit with the Canucks because they “have had luck with Swedes, and this one has great instincts in the offensive zone.”

Another candidate the Canucks have certainly taken a look at is Ryan Ellis, the power play specialist who led the Windsor Spitfires to a Memorial Cup and was a major contributor for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

At 5-foor-10 and 173-pounds, Ellis is the smallest defenceman ranked in the top 50, yet his ability to move the puck and produce timely blasts from the blueline, alongside his solid skating, counteracts that.

Windsor head coach Bob Boughner had the following to say about Ellis’ abilities: “There's plays where he's making something out of nothing. And his biggest asset is his shot. He's got an NHL one-timer, he's got an NHL slap shot, and that's a dangerous weapon.”

Despite the accolades for Ellis, many believe he too will have to fall through a lot of cracks to land in Vancouver.

One player whose path could align with the Canucks is BC product Stefan Elliott.

The 6-foot-1, 184-pound Saskatoon Blades defenceman is such an offensive talent with his puck skills that he’s been criticized as being too lax in his own end of the rink. Whether that’s a fair assessment of his play or not, most scouts are in agreement that Elliott needs to improve his strength before his game truly blossoms.

It isn’t unanimous in mock drafts that he’ll end up in Vancouver, but quite a few people believe he’ll be the first player the Canucks snag this year.

Adam Kimelman and Brad Holland, both from NHL.com, each have the Canucks taking Elliott. The skinny from Kimelman is that Elliott “has brains and skill in equally large portions,” while Holland said that “’08 pick Cody Hodgson is a forward to build around, and Elliott could be the same.”

TSN.ca’s prospect insider Shane Malloy also has Elliott landing in Vancouver and he said that while there are a downside or two to his game, Elliott is a smart player and that will take him a long way in becoming a “consistent professional.”

“Like most young defenceman, he needs work in certain areas but you cannot deny his keen hockey sense and ability to jump-start an offence,” said Malloy.

“If given three to four years to learn his craft, Elliott could turn into a valued top four defenceman.”

The Canucks have a solid defensive core built around Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Alex Edler and all three are under contract for another two seasons, with Edler inked for four.

Willie Mitchell has one season left on his three-year deal, while Mattias Ohlund, Rob Davison, Ossi Vaananen and Shane O’Brien are all free agents come July 1.

With 2008 draft pick Yann Sauve and 2007 selection Taylor Ellington still ripening there are two prospects on the horizon, so Vancouver surely won’t panic and pick a defenceman if there aren’t any up for grabs.

Next Friday’s action will be exciting to say least and once the dust settles and Saturday rolls around, the Canucks have another six decisions to make that will hopefully result in production down the road.
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