The introduction of a triple-threat lottery for the top three positions in the NHL Entry Draft has dulled the appeal of intentionally tanking for down on their luck franchises. Take the Vancouver Canucks, for one example. They finished third last in the entire league and are in line to pick fifth overall in the first round.
I said the lottery dulled the appeal though because it doesn’t necessarily strip it entirely. Beyond the first round, the draft goes according to the standings – last place earns the first pick of each round, and so on. So the Canucks will pick no lower than third in any given round. That’s not a half bad spot to be in.
Luck permitting, that means there’s going to be at least one – perhaps many, even – first-round talent that slips through the cracks and lands right in their laps. And that trend will likely continue all the way into the seventh-round. Sticking strictly with the second, though, there’s bound to be a few great options for their choosing. Let’s look at five exactly that should of special interest to the Canucks.
Though undersized, Samuel Girard represents an interesting gamble on the blue. As the leading defender on the Shawinigan Cataracts, Girard put up points at over a point-per-game clip in both the regular season and the playoffs alike. Girard can skate exceptionally well and is a slippery player from within his own zone, though he’s just as adept at completing the breakout with a strong first pass.
The biggest knock of Girard is his in-zone coverage and defensive play on the whole. One scout I chatted with at the Top Prospect’s Game literally described him as “a fourth forward”. Which is to say that Girard is very raw as a defender and a long way from developing into a sound and viable option at the professional level.
I still think we’re looking at a first-round player, though, if Girard were but an inch or two taller. He’s well worth the risk late in the first, or preferably the second-round.
I can’t remember who said it, but I recall someone I respect highly in the industry describing Will Bitten as everything for the Flint Firebirds – in those exact words. If any one player is “everything” for his junior franchise at the age of 17, that’s lofty praise. If that franchise happens to be the Firebirds, we’re talking about a pretty special player and in all likelihood, a pretty special person, too. For those not up to speed, the team walked out on their owner upon his dismissal of the head coach, due in large to his reluctance to play his son more. That’s just the start, too.
Bitten is a well-rounded forward, best known for his gaudy work ethic and ability to process the game exceedingly well in all three zones. He’s a great passer too, with excellent anticipation. Bitten’s innate offensive abilities would likely show themselves better on literally any other team than Flint in the OHL. The next highest scoring Firebird has 17 fewer points than Bitten.
If Tyler Benson weren’t sidelined for the vast majority of the 2015-16 season by injuries, I think we’re talking about a player ranked in the top twenty, if not the top ten of the draft. It’s not as Benson is necessarily injury prone, either. Some of these injuries were born entirely of abysmally poor luck.
Benson is still a former first overall selection in the WHL draft. The talent is definitely there. It’s worth noting that Benson was still able to maintain a near-point-per-game pace playing through injuries for the few games he was able to suit up in. If he’s available at 33rd overall, that’s a bet well worth placing.