There’s an old adage about hockey fans that states that their interest in prospects is directly related to how good or bad the team they follow is performing. The Vancouver Canucks, despite their best efforts, find themselves sitting at 28th in the overall league standings, and seven points out of a wild card spot. That means that for Canucks fans, the World Juniors should be appointment viewing.
We’ll look at a few things Canucks fans should be keeping their eyes on after the jump.
SIZING UP THE COMPETITION
While the Canucks will only be sending two of their youngsters to the WJC, the other Pacific Division teams’ prospects will be accounting for 17 of the tournament’s players.
|Anaheim||Julius Nattinen (FIN), Jacob Larsson (SWE), Troy Terry (USA)|
|Arizona||Jens Looke (SWE), Dylan Strome (CAN), Clayton Keller (USA)|
|Calgary||Oliver Kylington (SWE), Dillon Dube (CAN), Tyler Parsons (USA), Adam Fox (USA)|
|Edmonton||Aapeli Rasanen (FIN), Caleb Jones (USA)|
|Los Angeles||Jacob Moverare (SWE), Kale Clague (CAN),|
|San Jose||Joachim Blichfield (DEN), Karlis Cukste (LAT), Rudolfs Balcers (LAT)|
This will afford Canucks fans the opportunity to get their first look at the team’s future competition. Calgary and Arizona look especially intriguing, with both teams sporting a pair of young forwards that look as though they could be long-term contributors with their respective parent clubs.
It would be fair to say that Olli Juolevi’s season thus far has been a minor disappointment. It’s not that he’s played poorly. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that as an 18-year-old former fifth overall pick currently in the middle of his draft+1 season, most expected he would be a dominant player for the OHL London Knights. Instead, his status as the Knights’ clear #1 defenseman has been undermined somewhat by the strong play of Montreal Canadiens prospect Victor Mete.
Overall, I wouldn’t say this is something to be too concerned about. Juolevi’s point totals are beginning to creep up, and his reduction in power play time has more to do with the fantastic play of Mete than it does with anything Juolevi is doing.
London also saw it’s entire top line graduate to the NHL this season. This time last year, the London Knights’ line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner, and Christian Dvorak was the best combo in the OHL by a country mile. Now, all three are making an impact with their respective NHL clubs. That’s dealt a massive blow to the Knight’s attack. It’s not one they can’t recover from, but it’s still bound to have an effect on a transitional defenseman like Juolevi.
That’s what makes the Finns the team to watch this year for Canucks fans. As team captain, Juolevi will be logging big minutes for Team Finland, and he’ll be playing with their best offensive talent. Juolevi was lights out for the Finns at last year’s tournament, dishing passes to Sebastian Aho, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi, so Canucks fans will be eager to see if he has the same success with players like Kristian Vesalainen, Eeli Tolvanen, and Henrik Borgstrom.
Juolevi isn’t the only Canucks prospect that will be playing in this year’s WJC. There’s also Lukas Jasek, the Canucks’ ultimate mystery man. He was a Canucks Army favourite when he was drafted back in the summer of 2015. Since then, Jasek’s flown under the radar for the most part. He’s played the entirety of his pro career in the Czech Republic, meaning that the vast majority of us have never even seen him play. He’s also bounced up and down so much during his pro career that it’s been nearly impossible to even keep track of where he’s been playing on a weekly basis. A quick look at his transaction history reveals a plethora of promotions, demotions, and loan-outs in his two-and-a-half-year pro career, playing everywhere from the Czech junior league to the country’s highest level of professional men’s hockey.
For most of us, this will be our first chance to see how Jasek compares to his peers. The Czechs aren’t expected to be an especially competitive team, but at least fans will get a closer look at what attributes he possesses and insight into what type of game he plays. Jasek was recently voted player of the game in a recent preliminary outing against Canada, and his history playing men’s hockey as a teenager suggests he’s worth keeping tabs on.
A PREVIEW OF THE 2017 DRAFT
The main storyline surrounding the World Juniors for Canucks fans will be their attendees, but what’s even more interesting is the players that could be members of the organization by this time next year. Nolan Patrick and Timothy Liljegren will not be attending, but there are a few 2017 draft eligible players attending that are likely to be in the Canucks’ wheelhouse when they make their first-round selection in June.
Nico Hischier (Switzerland), Eeli Tolvanen (FIN), Kristian Vesalainen, (FIN), and Elias Petersson (SWE) are all projected to go in the first round of next year’s draft, and will likely play big minutes for their national team this year. Hischier should be of particular interest to Canucks fans. A skilled centre, Hischier possesses the type of offensive toolkit that the Canucks’ pool is currently lacking. Hischier has pushed himself into the conversation as a possible top-five pick due to his stellar play through the first half of the season with the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads. The Swiss team is traditionally thin on talent, so expect Hischier to see the ice as much as possible.
Obviously, Canucks fans are still a long way away from thinking about the 2018 draft, but it’s never too early to get a head start. The 2017 WJC will give hockey fans a good look at the early frontrunner to go first overall in 2018, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Just how much Dahlin will be used remains to be seen, but at just 16, he’s been turning heads and making grown men look silly.
A 16-year-old having this type of success in the SHL is completely unheard of. At just 165 pounds, Dahlin is holding his own against men that have the benefit of experience and physical maturity. One can only imagine what he’ll be capable of once he’s able to bulk up. Dahlin will be Sweden’s youngest player ever at the WJC, beating out Magnus Paajarvi’s stint at the 2008 tournament. To put that in perspective, he beat out 2017 draft-eligible defenseman Timothy Liljegren, who is expected to be selected second or third overall this June.
How interested you are in Dahlin’s performance at this tournament directly correlates with how good you expect the Canucks can be next season. Considering that they are still very thin up front, and the Sedins aren’t getting any younger, I’d expect the team to be in contention for a top 5 pick next season as well as this one. Obviously, it’s far too early to tell, but a quick look at Dahlin’s highlight package from the SHL will get you dreaming pretty quickly.