NHL Draft: Five First Round Targets

Assuming Vancouver doesn’t move up from or trade away the 26th overall selection in this Friday’s first round, who should they target? Here are five realistic (no Nail Yakupov unfortunately) targets who would all fill a long term need.

Read on past the jump.

Pontus Aberg – LW

The Good: The 6-1, 190 pound Stockholm native could go anywhere from 10 to 30 in round one on Friday. His best attribute is his speed, and he has a solid array of offensive skills too. Aberg had impressive numbers in the SEL for an 18-year-old, scoring eight goals in 47 games for Djurgarden. He’s a fast goal scorer with a bit of grit to his game. He is signed through the 2013-14 season in the SEL, but that could change with a strong training camp in 2013. He may not be around at pick 26, but if he is, the Canucks would be wise to snatch up the skilled Swedish winger.

The Bad: Aberg missed the 2012 World Juniors with an injury, and has been knocked by scouts for a lack of playmaking ability. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a twin who plays center.

Henrik Samuelsson

The Good: The big and gritty Swede has adjusted seamlessly to life in the WHL. Born in Alexander Radulov’s favorite place on earth, Scottsdale, Arizona, Samuelsson is also the son of noted career killer Ulf Samuelsson. The younger Samuelsson had an impressive WHL season in Edmonton, helping the Oil Kings win the WHL Championship. He only turned 18 back in February, and is already 6-2 and over 210 pounds. He has a hard shot and is tough to play against for opposing defensemen.

The Bad: He has a tendency for undisciplined hockey and was doled out four suspensions this past season with the Oil Kings (the comparisons to his father aren’t completely off base). Samuelsson has bounced around a bit in his early career, which could be seen as good or bad depending on your perspective. He spent 27 games in the USHL with the NTDP last season, and spend the early part of the 2011-12 season in the SEL before joining the Oil Kings.

Slater Koekkoek

The Good: The 6-3, 200 pound mobile defenseman has a very projectable skill set. He is best known for his skating and physicality, but Koekkoek also possesses a hard and accurate shot from the point (music to the ears of Canucks fans). His name is pronounced “Kook-kook,” which should count for something, too. More seriously, he is one of the better ‘second tier’ defensemen who will be available on Friday, and the Canucks would be very happy if he fell into their laps at pick 26.

The Bad: He played in only 26 games in 2011-12 due to a torn labrum in his shoulder (the same injury that affected Ryan Kesler this season). His draft ranking was hurt by the injury, and it may present an opportunity to grab a top-15 talent later on in the first round.

Dalton Thrower

The Good: Although he is a shade under 6-0, Thrower plays a physical brand of hockey. The North Vancouver native improved dramatically as the season went on, finishing 2011-12 with 18 goals, 54 points, and 103 PIM in 66 games for the Saskatoon Blades. Thrower’s production improved considerably from 2010-11 (six goals and 20 points). He’s been through a lot of adversity (his father recently had a serious battle with stomach cancer, and appears to be on the road to recovery now, and his mother had breast cancer when Dalton was a child).

As his production indicates, Thrower knows his way around the offensive zone, but not at the expense of the defensive side of things. He’s responsible in his own zone, and his physical presence is consistent game in and game out. Here’s an example:

Nerd Editors note: That’s a bad-ass sequence, but it’s worth noting that Thrower’s hit put the defenseman way out of position, and surrendered a breakaway. In effect that hit resulted in both a scoring chance against, a Corsi event against and the loss of Saskatoon’s best defenseman for five minutes. Nice!

The Bad: Thrower’s lack of size may throw a few teams off (pun intended), but as we have seen in the NHL, size is irrelevant for defensemen as long as immense hockey sense, strength and fearlessness are present (Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, and so on). The Canucks haven’t had much luck drafting early from the WHL in a long while. That may be indicative of the lack of faith they have in their scouts following the league, or it may be that they prefer the OHL or other developmental leagues. I think the WHL does a fantastic job of preparing young players for the NHL and the Canucks need to do a better job of assessing young talent in their own backyard.

Tomas Hertl

The Good: The Canucks placed an emphasis on size and skill with their selections at the draft in 2011, and picking Hertl on Friday would continue that trend. The 6-2, 190 pound forward had a fantastic year for Slavia Praha HC in the Czech top league, finishing with 25 points in 38 games. He’s a big and strong winger with great hands. His scouting report reads quite similar to Vancouver’s 1st round pick from last June, Nicklas Jensen. Both can score and make plays, and puck protection is a strong suit.

The Bad: His skating could use some work, but he’s still growing into his body. Hertl is more of a project pick than some of the other players who could be available at 26 – he may not be ready for the NHL for another three or four years. Some scouting reports mention Hertl needing to use his teammates more often, as he tries to be a one man show at times.

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