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Top prospects for Vancouver Canucks

Forward Pettersson, defenseman Juolevi could make impact this season

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing an in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the top five prospects for the Vancouver Canucks, according to NHL.com.

 

[Canucks 31 IN 31: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the Numbers]

 

1. Elias Pettersson, F

How acquired: Selected with No. 5 pick in 2017 NHL Draft

Last season: Vaxjo (SHL): 44 GP, 24-32-56

The 19-year-old is almost certain to start the season with the Canucks after a dominant rookie season in the Swedish Hockey League. Pettersson led the league in scoring, passing Kent Nilsson for the most points by a junior-aged player (under-20) in SHL history, was named the most valuable player in the regular season and playoffs, and helped Vaxjo win the SHL championship. The bigger question is whether Pettersson (6-foot-2, 161 pounds) will play center or wing, where he spent most of last season.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said the possibility of Pettersson being ready to play center slowed Vancouver's pursuit of a second-line center in free agency this offseason. 

"We drafted him as a center and he has the skill to do it, maybe right off the hop," Benning said. "We want to look at him in the middle at training camp and see where he is at."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

2. Quintin Hughes, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 7 pick in 2018 NHL Draft

Last season: Michigan (NCAA): 37 GP, 5-24-29 

Hughes, who turns 19 on Oct. 14, chose to return to the University of Michigan for his sophomore season despite a skill set that arguably would have already made him the most dynamic defenseman for the Canucks, who have struggled to generate offense from the position.

Hughes (5-10, 170) hopes to build off last season, when he set the record for most assists by a freshman defenseman as the youngest player in NCAA Division I men's ice hockey. He is expected to play for the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship and could turn pro this season, provided Michigan's season ends before the Canucks' does.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

Video: Weekes on whether Quinn Hughes is ready for the NHL

 

3. Olli Juolevi, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 5 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

Last season: TPS (Liiga): 38 GP, 7-12-19 

The 20-year-old left London of the Ontario Hockey League to play professionally in his native Finland last season. He led defensemen in Finland's top league with seven points (two goals, five assists) in 11 playoff games.

Back surgery in June and four one-way contracts on the left side of the Canucks defenseman depth chart will likely force Juolevi (6-2, 182) to begin the season with Utica of the American Hockey League, but there's a good chance he will make his NHL debut before the end of the season. 

"We don't want him sitting in the stands or playing 10-12 minutes a night," Benning said. "He's better served playing 20-24 minutes a night in the American [Hockey] League and developing."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

4. Thatcher Demko, G

How acquired: Selected with No. 36 pick in 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Vancouver (NHL): 1 GP, 1-0-0, 3.93 GAA, .867 SV%; Utica (AHL): 46 GP, 25-13-4, 2.44 GAA, .922 SV%

The 22-year-old is expected to compete for the backup job with Anders Nilsson after he was named to the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic and won his NHL debut, 5-4 in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 31.

However, much like Juolevi, the Canucks don't want Demko (6-4, 192) watching more than he plays this season, so he likely will start his third professional season with Utica. But with Nilsson able to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, don't be surprised if Vancouver tries to create a spot for Demko before the NHL Trade Deadline.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

 

5. Adam Gaudette, F 

How acquired: Selected with No. 149 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Vancouver (NHL): 5 GP, 0-0-0; Northeastern University (NCAA): 38 GP, 30-30-60

Gaudette, who turns 22 on Oct. 3, led NCAA Division I in scoring and won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in U.S. college hockey last season before playing five games with the Canucks near the end of the season.

Though he did look increasingly comfortable the more he played, three free agent additions (Jay Beagle, Tim Schaller and Antoine Roussel) to Vancouver's bottom six forwards leave little roster room outside a possible second-line spot with Pettersson, so don't be surprised if Gaudette (6-1, 170) begins his first full professional season in the AHL.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

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