Canucks’ 2015 NHL Entry Draft: One Year Later

Draft Review - 2015

With the summer winding down, we at Canucks Army are looking to fill the dead space between our Top 20 countdown and the start of the World Cup of Hockey. This week, I’ve decided to head back to the draft, and I’m going to be looking at the past, present and future on Canucks drafting and NHL prospects by going over the 2015, 2016, and 2017 NHL Entry Drafts and how they pertain to the Canucks.

First up in the 2015 draft. It’s been a little over a year since Jim Benning and co brought home seven players from their trip to Sunrise, Florida, including their reigning top offensive prospect in Brock Boeser. Now it’s only been 14 months, so these prospects are all still works in progress, but some development has taken place. So how exactly has one full turn of the calendar affected the value of Vancouver’s 2015 class?

Disclaimer: When it comes to pGPS numbers, you may notice that some have changed over time. That’s because I’ve been doing ongoing research and development of the system throughout the entire summer, and when I push a new update, individuals’ percentages often change (I spoke of this recently in my article on Olli Juolevi). This is particularly true with prospects in leagues with wider age ranges (college, and professional leagues even more so). This is designed to make the numbers more representative of the players by tightening the similarity of the factors involved. At this point, I think I’ve found a formula that I’m planning on sticking with for the foreseeable future, so pGPS scores should be fairly stable for a while.

Brock Boeser – RW – 1st Round, 23rd Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #1 Canucks prospect

A lot of Canucks fans weren’t quite sure what to make of the Boeser selection right away. With high profile options like Anthony Beauvillier, Jansen Harkins, Oliver Kylington, Jeremy Roy, and Nick Merkley still on the board, there were plenty of options that bore the CA stamp of approval. We knew right away that Brock Boeser wasn’t a bad selection – but we weren’t sure yet how good it was.

Well, one year out, it looks to be an incredible pick. Not only has Boeser turned out to be a fantastic value selection at 23, he likely rates in the top ten of that draft class now. It seems that Jim Benning thought the same thing a year ago, as this video reveals that they’d had their eye on Boeser before the top ten had even been selected.

After the draft, Boeser attended the Canucks development camp in Shawnigan Lake, before heading for the University of North Dakota for his freshman year on NCAA hockey. There, he exploded onto the college scene by becoming one the top freshmen in the nation and one of the best freshmen in UND history, all en route to a national championship.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 USHL Waterloo Black Hawks 57 35 33 68 18.3% 35.6% 25
2015-16 NCAA Univ. of North Dakota 42 27 33 60 16.7% 37.0% 48

The fact that Boeser managed to increased his points per game between 2014-15 and 2015-16 (from 1.19 to 1.43) while transitioning from the USHL to the NCAA demonstrates an incredible level of development, which is reflected in his NHL equivalency, which nearly doubled.

Brock Boeser Y2Y

Boeser’s massive jump in pGPS percentage is partially due to moving from the USHL, a league that has only recently begun supplying NHL players at a respectable rate, to the NCAA, an organization with a long history of doing so. Of course, doubling his NHL equivalency played a much larger role in his improved projection. His pGPS points per 82 games also saw a large increase, owing to statistical matches like Jonathan Toews and Thomas Vanek this past year.

Boeser is currently sporting the single highest pGPS percentage in the Canucks organization, which is one of the reasons that he ended up as our selection for the Canucks’ top prospect two weeks ago. At this point, he is about as close to a sure thing as you’re going to see if you browse through the Canucks’ cupboards.

Boeser is a dynamic offensive player with a shot that would be considered top notch at the NHL level already. He scores a lot of his goals with 30-foot laser wrist shots, but he’s not afraid to get dirty and bang in pucks in the crease either. He projects as a top line winger in the NHL.

Boeser is already committed to heading back to the University of North Dakota next year, meaning we won’t be seeing him at the Young Stars tournament or in training camp. Come the start of the 2017-18 season though, expect Boeser to push for a roster spot on the big club. In the meantime, he’ll head back to college in search of a second consecutive national championship.

Guillaume Brisebois – D – 3rd Round, 66th Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #11 Canucks prospect

Guillaume Brisebois was selected with the highest pick that the Canucks received in return for Eddie Lack, and for a short time it seemed that Brisebois would carry that weight around. However, an impressive increase in defensive depth in conjunction with the rejuvenation of Jacob Markstrom and an underwhelming first season by Lack in Carolina have lessened the pressure on this Mont-Saint-Hilaire native.

Brisebois’ draft-plus-one season in Bathurst was incrementally better than his draft year (despite a decrease in assists and total points, he increased his points per game and more than doubled his goal output), but some of the context issues still remain from a year ago. Namely, the Titan were once again a very bad team, despite winning 10 more games than they did in 2014-15. Brisebois also improved his plus-minus from minus-40 to minus-13, and though it’s a flawed statistic, a 27-goal increase is certainly notable.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst Titan 63 4 24 28 2.5% 17.7% 9
2015-16 QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst Titan 52 10 16 26 4.5% 11.6% 11

While Brisebois’ stats showed marginal increase, it still left a fair bit to be desired. After all, junior players are expected to improve year to year, and slight increases could still lead to decreases in projection, as was unfortunately the case with Brisebois.

Guillaume Brisebois Y2Y

Brisebois played a ton of minutes this year. Prospect-stats.com estimates his average TOI to be just over 25 minutes per game, which was the third highest eTOI in the QMJHL this year among draft-plus-one season players. He was a heavy minute muncher of a team that didn’t have very much going for it offensively or defensively.

I handtracked a few of Brisebois’ games earlier in the season (before Hockeystreams went dark), and came away with a couple of key observations. One, Brisebois is particular adept at clearing his own zone. Rare was the occurrence when he had the puck on his stick in the defensive zone and didn’t make a good play to exit it. Plays off the boards were used mostly as a last resort, as Brisebois preferred to carry the puck to the line and distribute it to a forward from the neutral zone.

This brings me to my next point: Acadie-Bathurst was a terrible team. The amount of plays like this that were die on forwards’ sticks and head back into Brisebois’ end was staggering. He did show the occasional propensity to rush the puck up the entire ice and enter the opposing zone himself, but he didn’t do this as often as I would have liked, given that his teammates were not very reliable puck carriers. Perhaps his reluctance had to do with an obligation to hanging back as a safety valve, given that most of his teammates weren’t reliable in that regard either.

The positive thing here is that Brisebois is set to join a new team in the fall – he was traded at the QMJHL draft to the Charlottetown Islanders, a team that isn’t great by any means, but is certainly an improvement on where he came from.

Dmitry Zhukenov – C – 4th Round, 114th Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #10 Canucks prospect

As a Russian coming out of the MHL, there was some inherent mystery about Dmitry Zhukenov. The Molodezhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga has only completed seven seasons as Russia’s major junior league – their answer to the CHL and USHL. With no comparable leagues before it, prospect projection tools require some outside of the box thinking to predict what kind of players kids like Zhukenov really are.

Of course, there’s always international play, and that was an area where Zhukenov shined in 2014-15, which was likely a major factor in his 2015 selection.

Following that season, Zhukenov was selected 10th overall in the 2015 CHL import draft by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens – a regrettably awful QMJHL team. He still have a relatively successful rookie season in North America, and was one of Vancouver’s highest scoring prospects.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 MHL Omskie Yastreby 35 3 16 19 1.7% 10.4% 8
2015-16 QMJHL Chicoutimi Saguenéens 64 15 42 57 6.7% 25.6% 19

Zhukenov was also a point per game player in the QMJHL playoffs this year, scoring three goals and adding three assists in six games. Six games may well feel like an accomplishment for Chicoutimi, as they were certainly outmatched by their opening round opponents. But in the QMJHL, 16 teams make the post-season in an 18 team league, so this is a relatively frequent occurrence.

Dmitri Zhukenov Y2Y

It’s hard to look good in the QMJHL, given its low graduation rate compared to the other CHL leagues. Given that, Zhukenov’s abysmal pGPS score should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. The same statistical profile, adjusted for league, would produce a pGPS score of 8.5 percent against the WHL database, or 7 percent in the OHL, which still isn’t that impressive. The moral of the story here is that scoring under a point per game in your draft-plus-one season bears a mediocre projection in any junior league.

Stylistically, Zhukenov has been compared to (brace yourselves) fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk, at least by the Canucks’ Russian scout, Sergei Chibisov. Consider him a light, light version of what Datsyuk is. He’s incredibly dedicated to his own end, possibly to the point that it inhibits his own offence. His offence is certainly there too, and it’s got some creative flair. Like Datsyuk, he has a propensity to pull out the dangles from time to time. The Canucks will certainly want to see him continue to develop his offensive game as he prepares for another season in the Q.

Carl Neill – D – 5th Round, 144th Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #16 Canucks prospect

Carl Neill was selected as an overager in 2014-15, having been passed over at the previous draft. According to the Lachute, Quebec native, that was a bit of a wake up call – Neill nearly doubled his point total in in roughly the same amount of games between his first and second-time eligible seasons. The up tick convinced the Canucks to take a chance on him in the fifth round.Prior to the 2015-16 season, was given the captaincy of his QMJHL team, the Sherbrooke Phoenix Carl Neills, demonstrating some leadership qualities. He also gained some notoriety in Vancouver for having a team named after him.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 QMJHL Carl Neills 63 14 26 40 6.1% 17.5% 13
2015-16 QMJHL Carl Neills 64 8 42 50 3.9% 24.2% 17

The season following his draft (which was technically his draft-plus-two season, as it were) saw another increase, though it wasn’t quite as impressive as the one he showed between draft and draft-plus-one season. The increased may have been more profound if it wasn’t for a late season slump.

Carl Neill Y2Y

Both Neill’s pGPS percentage and pGPS points per 82 stayed relatively static from year to year, as his improvement was more or less on par with what we’d expect between 18- and 19-year-old seasons.

Given his age, Neill is eligible to turn pro this season. Whether he will is not yet a sure thing. Though he spent some time in Utica at the end of last season on a PTO, he never played a game, nor has he signed an NHL contract this off season. Despite his eligibility, it’s still possible that Neill returns to the QMJHL for an overaged year to avoid being relegated to the ECHL if the Canucks feel that there isn’t room in Utica (more on the roster situation in Utica in the coming weeks).

Adam Gaudette – C – 5th Round, 149th Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #13 Canucks prospect

The fifth selection that the Canucks made last year, this time out of the USHL, was a centre by the name of Adam Gaudette. This was seen at the time as a “Weisbrod selection”, given what is known about Jon Weisbrod’s affinity for the top American junior league. Gaudette was ranked higher than his eventual draft position by a lot of scouting services, while his statistical profile made him appear unimpressive even in the 149th spot, and could even be considered a bit of a reach. These contrary observations seemed to indicate that there was more to Gaudette than what was showing up on the stat sheet.

In 2015-16, he proved that to be true. Though his first few months at Northeastern University were fairly quiet, he caught fire in the second half of the season, scoring 25 points in the final 23 games, a pace that would have among near the top of the freshmen leaderboard if sustained over a full season.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 USHL Cedar Rapids RoughRiders 50 13 17 30 6.2% 14.3% 12
2015-16 NCAA Northeastern Univ. 41 12 18 30 9.0% 22.4% 22

As it were, he finished 11th among NCAA freshmen – and the best freshman at Northeastern University – with a points per game of 0.73. This explosion of production led to a major improvement in his projection. Much like Boeser, Gaudette’s ability to raise his points per game while moving from the USHL to the NCAA is very impressive, again reflected in a large increase in NHL equivalency.

Adam Gaudette Y2Y

Gaudette’s 2015 projection score was rather poor. This is due in large part to the projection process – taking historical comparable players and tracking their percentages of success – and the fact that the USHL is a league on the rise. A good portion of the historical data used to compare modern players to is from years in which the USHL wasn’t producing very many draft picks, and even fewer successful players. As such, USHL prospects are typically undersold by projection models.

The same cannot be said for the NCAA, where graduation rates have been fairly stable for decades. Thus we would consider Gaudette’s 2016 projection score to be a bit more reliable. Of course, he’s still looking at about a one-in-five shot, so it’s far from a guarantee, but a percentage in the range is much better than your average fifth round pick, suggesting that it was a much better value pick than we originally thought.

Lukas Jasek – RW – 174th Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #17 Canucks prospect

Lukas Jasek (that yashek, by the way – think Dominic Hasek) is an interesting case. After suiting up for more than two dozen games with HC Trinec of the Czech Extraliga in 2014-15, Jasek’s outlook was looking pretty solid – after all, sticking around on a professional roster as a 17-year old is a pretty reliable sign of success.

Canucks Army alumnus Cam Lawrence ventured to suggest that he could be “the biggest late round steal in the 2015 NHL draft”, given that he PCS and PSCO were among the best value for draft position in all of the 2015 draft. Several prospect followers, including myself, hitched our wagons to Jasek as a player to watch going forward.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 Czech Extraliga HC Trinec 27 0 2 2 0.0% 1.1% 3
2015-16 Czech Extraliga HC Trinec 25 2 1 3 1.6% 2.5% 5
2014-15 Czech ELJ (U20) HC Trinec U20 24 10 17 27 5.0% 13.4%  *
2015-16 Czech ELJ (U20) HC Trinec U20 14 15 13 28 8.3% 15.5%  *

*No NHL equivalency numbers for Extraliga Junior

A year later, it’s tough the gauge where and what Jasek is. His 2015-16 season at the pro level was largely indiscernible from his 2014-15 campaign: he scored a couple of goals, whiling tallying one extra point in two fewer games.

Lukas Jasek Y2Y

pGPS was unimpressed with this development. As his projection in 2015 was largely due to his young age, a nearly static year-to-year level of production sent his 2016 projection into the tank. Additionally, his international play in 2015-16 left a lot to be desired, after being one of his strongest aspects in 2014-15. He was also cut from the Czech U20 team prior to the World Junior Championships, probably due to his uninspiring pro

There is one area the Jasek impressed in though – he absolutely tore apart the Czech U20 league, finishing with an even 2.0 points per game – nearly double his production rate in the same league the year before. There seems to be some level of advancement in his abilities, but given where he plays, it’s often difficult to track.

That will unfortunately continue next year, as Jasek was not selected in this summer’s CHL import draft (more on that from J.D. Burke in Jasek’s prospect profile). He is expected to head back to HC Trinec for next season, where hopefully gets a better opportunity, and achieves better results with it.

Tate Olson – D – 7th Round, 210th Overall

Ranked Canucks Army’s #9 Canucks prospect

Tate Olson was taken 210th of out 211 players at the 2015. In this position, the expectation is going to be that the prospect doesn’t work out, and one that does should be celebrated. Tate Olson, while still very young, is looking like a great selection at 210th. Heck, given how his 2015-16 season went, he looks like he would have been good value in the sixth, fifth, or even fourth rounds as well.

SEASON LEAGUE TEAM GP G A Pts Tm G % Tm P % NHLe
2014-15 WHL Prince George Cougars 68 5 19 24 2.3% 10.8% 8
2015-16 WHL Prince George Cougars 65 9 38 47 3.8% 19.6% 16

Olson saw a huge increase in points this past year, doubling his assists and nearly doubling his goals and points, all while playing three less games. He also swing his plus-minus from minus-13 to plus-16, a difference of 29 goals (subject to the same skepticism mentioned under Brisebois above). These factors conspired to massively increase a projection that was already impressive for a seventh rounder.

Tate Olson Y2Y

The Saskatoon native spent a portion of last season as one of the Canucks’ highest projected prospects. A late season dip in production, coupled with late surges from fellow Canucks prospects like Brock Boeser and Andrey Pedan, and the drafting of Olli Juolevi, have dropped Olson down the ladder a bit, but as a seventh round selection, he should be considered the best value for cost in the organization at this point. The fact that he was ranked 9th in our prospect profiles, second among this seven player draft class, is a testament to that.

Olson received a lot of praise this season beyond his statistical prowess – TSN’s Craig Button ranked him the Canucks’ fourth best non-NHL prospect back in February. Hockey IQ is an area in which Olson is consistently lauded. His ability to make the right play before anyone else knows what the right play even is will be a very useful feature moving forward. Olson will return to Prince George again this year where he will play an even larger role on their blueline.

Conclusion

The Canucks’ 2015 draft looked decent on the day of, and only got better as the 2015-16 season progressed. Now, one year later, it looks outstanding, and may prove to be among the Canucks’ best drafts in the last 10 or 15 years. It’s still very early, but it isn’t outrageous to suggest that they should be able to get three or four NHL players out of this group.

  • TrueBlue

    This speaks to why Linden hired Benning in the first place.

    The only way to meaningfully improve an aging Canucks’ squad, whose window had effectively closed, was through the draft. And Benning continues to show that he is a master scout of young talent.

  • TheRealPB

    The best thing TL and JB have done is be smarter than the previous oilers management. Defenceman take longer to develope so it makes sense to load up on good defense prospects first, now we can start looking for a future first line center and winger to go with Boeser.

  • TrueBlue

    Definitely a very solid draft, especially considering where we were picking. 2015 had an amazing level of talent in the 2nd round though.. I’m obviously happy with getting Baertschi, but adding one of those 2nd rounders would have really put the exclamation mark on our 2015 draft haul.

  • Bob Long

    If you subscribe to the idea that other than a few physical freaks of nature, for the most part guys in their draft round cohort have pretty much the same physicality, and what separates them out is their character and work ethic. I think that’s how JB makes his decisions, on those face to face meetings to find out what kind of person they are and he’ll pick that guy over someone who might seem to have a slight physical edge. Boeser is the perfect example, not ranked in the top 20, but character to burn and after a year of hard work is the best college rookie forward on a lot of rankings.

  • TrueBlue

    Great update. Nice read.

    Lack for Brisbois and Gaudette/Neil looks pretty decent now, especially since Markstrom made Team Sweden and Lack could not beat out Cam Ward.

    Boeser is definitely top 10 now when you look at the draft. I remember a lot of CA writers having a kinipshin that Benning did not draft Koneckny or Merkely. I still have no idea what Boston was thinking. I wonder how Boeser’s shot compares to Laine.

    Its clear that as the prospect d pool gets deeper, the guys in the cusp of making the NHL (Pedan and Subban specifically) better step it up or else they well soon get passed, as Stetcher and OJ appear to have higher upside than even the d prospects in this draft class.

  • Ryan Biech

    Now, one year later, it looks outstanding, and may prove to be among the Canucks’ best drafts in the last 10 or 15 years.

    It would be hard to improve on 2004, where Schneider, Edler, and Hanson were picked.

    And it would hard to do worse than 2007, where not a single pick went on to play an NHL game.

  • Our prospect pipeline looks good, and is growing stronger with every draft. Jim Benning is doing what he was hired to do, which is to draft well.

    During an interview Jim Benning mentioned he no longer sees a need to move more picks. This is good news. Continue to draft, adding quality young players.(He may have to go back on this, to add to our 2nd line. However, we do have pieces to fill that spot. Lets hope he doesn’t have to.)

    All in all, I am pleased with the plan going forward.

  • Canuck4Life20

    “There’s no way Boeser is getting to us. We’re still like thirteen more picks.”

    What an amazing clip. Thanks for sharing that.

    Too many of Gillis’ picks were players that fell to him (Schroeder, Shinkaruk, Jensen). At the time they were picked they seemed like great selections because of their higher rankings, but over time it became more apparent as to why they were still available.

    Benning seems like he has a group of players that he targets. He isn’t afraid to reach for a player who others have ranked lower if it’s the guy that he wants. At the same time, he is aware of where players are ranked and that’s why he’s not afraid to give up his second round pick because he thinks he can find good players in the later rounds.

  • Honestly guys our prospect pools looks pretty respectable at this point thanks to JB. Our offensive prospect pool could be deeper but that has to mostly do with the fact that it seems we are fairly well loaded on the defensive prospects side. Also can’t forget about Demko. Now benning can focus all on the offensive side and hoping he can draft a few more top 6 forwards plus a top line centre to go with Bo Horvat.
    Great job benning.

  • Whackanuck

    Nice article. Thanks. Fans seem to be appreciating Benning more as his work goes on.

    I’m curious how much weight, relatively, pGPS gives to height. Obviously it’s a trend factor but one subject to a lot of secondary factors. Wouldn’t it also tend to be a bit more static than weight from a players draft year to his D+1 and D+2 years?

    • It’s hard to define that exactly. I don’t necessarily want to divulge how I’ve done my scaling, but what I can see is this: on average, a player’s cohort, if of a reasonably large size, with have a range of height of about 8-10cm, which is about 3-4 inches – so in other words, matches are typically within +/- 1.5 to 2 inches.

      Now, because the system determines similarity through a Euclidean formula, if a player in the cohort has a 2 inch difference in height that the subject player, it means that they’re closer to the subject player in height and/or production. So hopefully that answers the question in a relatively simple manner: matches are going to be within a couple of inches, and even closer as age or production becomes less similar.

      As for the second question, yes, it becomes far less important as a player ages. Height is also of less importance in professional leagues, be it the AHL or a European Elite league. This is an old finding of Cam Lawrence and Rhys Jessop before him. Once a player has proven they can hang in the professional ranks, points are the greatest predictor of success.

  • TheRealPB

    Great article, love the context you provide for the various evaluations (especially the more in-depth analysis of Brisebois in terms of clearing the zone and the general getting dragged down by their terrible teams for both he and Zhukenov). I hadn’t really thought about how many of our prospects are either in the NCAA or the Q and on such terrible teams in the latter.

    In terms of your pGPS system, I found your comments about the difficulties in predicting outcomes from lower tier leagues to be interesting. I can definitely see the challenge for the MHL given how short its history is; are there comparable leagues you can use for the USHL? I don’t really know — maybe Tier 2, since both are feeders into the NCAA?

    • MHL is certainly a challenge, because the league is only half a dozen years old, and has no predecessor. I can use the same technique I’ve been using with the USHL (using NHLe to compare USHL players against the WHL, OHL databases) with the MHL, and compare those players against databases of like leagues – namely, SuperElit, Jr.A Liiga.. I’m just getting into that.

      USHL poses a slightly different issue. It’s not that there isn’t a large database available (my USHL database goes back to 1990), and I do have an NAHL (US tier 2) database as well. This issue with the USHL is that its rate of production of NHL players has changed so much over the past 20 years, that comparing a 2016 USHL player against a 1996 USHL, the two might have very different likelihoods of success, even if all other variables than year were equal. By contrast, the OHL and WHL and QMJHL have been very stable in their success rates for decades, so the projection numbers are quite reliable. So for now, using NHLe to compare USHL players against the WHL/OHL databases has been an interesting (though imperfect) proxy.

      • TheRealPB

        This is so interesting. I actually find this part of the attempt to project future success of prospects one of the most promising parts of these various efforts to rethink how we measure potential — not just trying to guess how a 16, 17 or 18 year old’s development path vis-a-vis raw talent will take them, but how a given environment and peer group will affect that development. I wonder how much the change in the success rate of USHL players has to do with an increase in the level of competition in that league and the improved coaching through the national development programs and the prospect of getting to the NHL via the NCAA (including for high picks like Boeser, Roslovic and Connor) and how much it’s changing the “gut instincts” of the good old boy network. I’m sure much of what you come up with will end up being very useful in answering this, good luck with it.

        On a different note, who is the jackass who goes through down voting every single comment on here? How do you down vote a clarification on a method question?

  • TheRealPB

    Love the job that Benning has done filling the prospect cupboard…the fullest that this franchise has ever seen…

    The trio of Boeser/Juolevi/Demko is very intriguing as a centerpiece, when combined with the likes of Horvat/Virtanen/Hutton who are already cutting their teeth at the big league level, we’re in way better shape than we were a mere three years ago…

    Would love to see Benning dangle the chance to play even strength with the twins and the Ovechkin spot on PP2 in order to entice Brock Boeser to join the Canucks for the 2017-18 season.