Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Canucks Army Monday Mailbag: April 24th

Greetings and welcome to my second guest appearance on the Monday Mailbag, where you ask questions and I respond with whatever knowledge I can dig out of the recesses of my brain. In keeping with what I’d have to consider my “specialization”, the questions and answers revolve mostly around prospects, analytics, and prospect analytics. About as nerdy as it gets here. Let’s get into it.

The Draft

Patrick finished his injury riddled season with a pGPS percentage of 83%. His comparables range from Petr Nedved (remember when Vancouver drafted him, and not Jagr? Good times.) to Andrew Ladd and Jamie Benn. I usually give seven seasons of leeway to players in the database to get a fair shot at getting to the 200 game threshold, but if we peek at the next group, we’ll see that Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter also meet the similarity thresholds.

Hischier has a somewhat lower percentage of 53%, though that’s from a QMJHL cohort, a league that produces far fewer NHL players these days. Alex Tanguay and Brad Richards are some of his older comparables. Some QMJHL players from recent seasons with high degrees of similarity include Jonathan Huberdeau, Nikolai Ehlers, and Timo Meier.

I definitely see both of them as centres. I’ve flip flopped on these two players numerous times. I had Mittelstadt ahead until just recently, and I’ve now got Vilardi in that spot with Mittelstadt right behind him.

These are two very different players with different strengths, though they’re both highly adept between the ears. Vilardi isn’t the fastest skater, but he’s got that Western Conference size (if you believe in that sort of thing) and, perhaps more appealingly, he’s possibly the best stick handler in the draft. His puck protection and puck skills more than compensate for what he lacks in top speed, leaving him extremely dangerous off the rush and in close.

Mittelstadt is considerably more slight, but he’s one of the fastest players available. He hardly stops moving the entire game, whether he has the puck or not. He’s constantly flitting into open spaces and changing angles. The thing about players who are constantly moving is that sometimes it makes them seem like they’re doing a whole lot when they actually aren’t. Certainly Mittelstadt feasted on the power play with the Green Bay Gamblers this season – that’s exactly why he was leading the USHL in scoring early on – but his 5-on-5 stats have been surprisingly poor. Of course, that could just be a sampling issue – one that he brought on himself when he decided to spend half his draft season chasing a high school championship.

Anyway, at this point I’m leaning towards Vilardi, but it’s agonizingly close, and I’ll likely change my mind a few more times before the draft.

The only defenceman that I could see being in the top five at this point is Makar, and I’m not sure if I’d even do that if I were the Canucks. I’m a big fan of “take the best player available”, though that usually goes hand in hand with “all else being equal, take the position you need more”. In the Canucks case, even with the loss of Tryamkin, that should be a centre.

This draft works out decently for the Canucks, as in my personal opinion, the Best Player Available in the top five spots are all centres – whatever order you want to put Patrick, Hischier, Vilardi and Mittelstadt in, and then Glass, Necas, or maybe even Suzuki in that fifth spot (I’d go Glass, personally). I don’t think that Makar has such an edge over Vilardi, Mittelstadt and Glass that I’d take him at the fifth spot.

As far as Heiskanen goes, I’m willing to entertain this idea that he’s catching up to Liljegren, but that’s more about Liljegren falling out of the top five than Heiskanen working his way into it.

If the Canucks do end up falling to five at the lottery next weekend, we can have a far more in depth discussion about this.

Cody Glass has had a hell of a season. Much has been made about how he used being cut from Team Canada for the Ivan Hlinka tournament as motivation for the season, and boy did it ever work. I don’t know if any high end prospect has improved their draft stock this year more than Glass has, with the exception of Cale Makar.

Glass led all CHL players in 5-on-5 points this season, with 63 in 69 games – just an incredible rate. He put up another 29 points on the power play as well, just to top it off. As of now, I have his season as the second best by SEAL adjusted scoring, trailing only Nico Hischier. As of now, Glass projects to be a top six centre, but a future as a first line pivot is within his grasp.

I’ve never been a huge fan of stylistic comparisons, but one that I’ve heard/read a few times with Glass is Mark Scheifele, which is a damn fine comparison when you consider the season that Scheifele just had. Glass himself also says that he likes to model his game after Sidney Crosby. I mean, who wouldn’t? But Glass might have a little bit of an inside track, given that his coach in Portland this season was Mike Johnston, who spent a season and a half as Crosby’s coach in Pittsburgh, before being let go last season in favour of Mike Sullivan.

No… but he’s not far off – I actually have him seventh for the time being.

One of the things that I love about Suzuki is that he’s supposed to be known mostly for his playmaking ability, and early in the year you could read about how he wasn’t much of a dangler – yet you watch him down the stretch and certainly into the OHL playoffs, and he’s routinely breaking ankles with these filthy dekes. Apparently he’s added that to his repertoire.

Suzuki is another star of the adjusted stats, owning to phenomenal 5-on-5 scoring rates and a high proportion of primary points at evens (which is when that sort of thing really matters), not to mention the fact that his August 10th birthday makes him one of the draft’s youngest options.

No mainstream ranking has him higher than 10th yet, but that may change as we head towards June.

I’m pretty sure Popugayev peaked when he made that backhand sauce pass to spring Hischier for a breakaway goal in the Top Prospects Game. Knowing he wasn’t ever going to top that, he’s pretty much coasted through the second half of the season.

I jest of course, but in all seriousness, you can draw a pretty straight line between his fall in the rankings and the discrepancy in his performances before and after the WHL trade deadline with Moose Jaw and Prince George respectively. With the Warriors, he tallied 51 points in 40 games (1.23 points per game), then just 18 points in 31 games with the Cougars (0.58 points per game), and only three points in six playoff games, as Prince George exited the WHL postseason far earlier than expected. This was despite playing in the Cougars’ top six and with ample power play time. I saw them play a game in Vancouver where Prince George’s entire top power play was focused on getting Popugayev the puck. They didn’t score.

But someone is going to see that size and that skill and assume that they can coax the production back out of him. I still think he’ll go before the end of the first round, but it’ll likely be in the mid-to-late 20’s at this point.

Sure they should. Mainstream rankings have him between 37 and 69 at this point, though my personal board has him in the late 20’s, part of the reason being that he has some of the best 5-on-5 numbers of any available CHL player. I’d expect him to go somewhere in the latter half of the second round, and depending on whether the Canucks receive Columbus’ second round pick, they might be in a position to take a flyer on him – something I’d strongly endorse at that point in the draft.

Someone else answered this question for you, saying he shouldn’t be taken before 20, and I’d agree with that. I might not take him before 30, or even with the Canucks’ 33rd pick.

Foote has a few things going for him. One is his shot, which is a cannon. Two others are his size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and the fact that his father was an excellent NHL player (Adam Foote, of course), and both of those factors tend to be a bit overrated. Cal Foote is a punishing defender that tends to lean towards his own zone, where he is defensively solid. He put up a lot of points this season on a very good Kelowna Rockets squad, though less than half of them came at 5-on-5.

He’s one of those defencemen that gets tagged with the “moves well for his size” label. He’s got decent agility, but his acceleration and top speed are lacking, and he doesn’t have the greatest set of hands, so he’s not much of a rusher. This doesn’t really fit with the “new NHL”, where are the best defencemen are fast and exceptionally mobile.

But Foote will be taken, and he will play in the NHL. In my mind, he’s one of those low ceiling/high floor guys. I’d just prefer to go for a higher ceiling when it comes to the first round.

Why you gotta put me in a box with defencemen? There are actually a few forwards that I’ve been fawning over in this region. For example, Aleksi Heponiemi or Kole Lind, assuming they get that far.

But since you specified defencemen, I’ll play along. First off, this actually seems to be a bit of a weak point for defencemen: either you’re hoping that some ranked in the mid-20’s fall, or you’re reaching for some that are ranked in the early 40’s – just a bit of an odd situation. That said, everyone’s draft boards are different, and it wouldn’t be difficult for one of the earlier guys to still be around at 33.

A pair of such defenders might be Conor Timmins of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who leads all first time eligible CHL blueliners in the latest version of SEAL adjusted points per game; and Erik Brannstrom of the SHL’s HV71, who seems less and less likely to fall that far at this point. Moose Jaw’s Josh Brook might be a possibility, though most have him ranked a little later (I think he’s been underrated, but perhaps not that underrated).

Yes, absolutely. We get our backs up a little bit when teams take a lot of overagers, probably a little scarred from Mike Gillis’ major lack of success with this during his tenure, but there are times when overagers are the safer pick. Certainly that time comes later in the draft rather than earlier – there is usually a reason that these guys sat unselected through at least 210 picks already after all.

Towards the later rounds though, they can be of quite good value, considering that they’re a bit more of a known quantity. You just have to make sure that you’re adjusting your expectations when it comes to production based on their advanced ages. This is why we were not particularly pleased with the acquisitions of Rodrigo Abols and to a lesser extent Jakob Stukel last year – scoring a point per game at 19 or 20 in the CHL is not nearly as impressive as doing it in your first draft eligible season.

As for the players referenced, all three of them were on a list I made of leftover talent following the 2016 draft – some of the names on that list have aged better than others, but Polunin and Stransky would be on the list of names to keep a close eye on in the mid-to-late rounds this year, as would Maxime Fortier, Kyle Maksimovich, and Kristian Reichel. Brayden Burke will be in his third year of eligibility, but has the best expected likelihood of success out of all of them – scoring a whole lot of points will do that for you.

As for the goaltending part of that question, yes I do think that the Canucks should be looking to grab a netminder this season. They haven’t taken one since Demko in 2014, and even though Demko’s development is moving right on schedule, it’s always in the best interest of the club to accumulate goalies with staggered age ranges. There should be plenty of good first time eligible options in the middle rounds before looking to an overager though.

Yes, there are lots of thoughts about this. Mainly they arise from the fact that pGPS is pretty rudimentary at this point – it relies a lot on games and goals and points, because that’s the kind of thing that tends to be available when you’re looking at 30 years of data across 25 leagues.

This is exactly why I’ve been dabbling in adjusted stats like SEAL, and gathering shot and on-ice data to make sure that I have a great deal of context to go with simple cohort projections. The problem with that kind of data is that it’s a) harder to get, and b) only available for the past ten years or so for leagues like the CHL and top Euro leagues, and much less than that for many other leagues, if it can be found at all. Which means building cohorts with SEAL-like data will be almost pointless – so few of the cohorts will have had enough time to cement themselves in the NHL.

I’m not giving up on either concept though. I’m looking into new ways to bring new depth to pGPS, and that’s something that should be rolled out just in time for our Prospect Profiles and official rankings – which start in less than a month from now.

Canucks Prospects

I think it’s still possible that Virtanen turns into a top six winger – he’s only 20 still after all – but at this point it’s pretty improbable. The most difficult thing to try about reconcile is how out of sorts he looked at the AHL level this year after surviving (and thriving from a possession standpoint) in the NHL the year previous.

I think if we all accept that Virtanen should make a sturdy bottom six forwards for the next several season and try not to think about what Nylander, Ehlers, Ritchie, Fabbri, Schmaltz, Pastrnak, Ho-Sang, Barbashev, Dvorak, Point and Arvidsson are doing, then we can at least force ourselves to be pleasantly surprised if he turns into a middle six winger.

Remember that Jannik Hansen comparison? Not looking so bad now is it? I’d take that in a heartbeat at this point. And I don’t think that’s entirely unattainable for him at this point. But he has to put his 2016-17 season far behind him as we head into next year.

I’d imagine he was trying to pack on as much muscle as he possibly could (and possibly fueling up on Cactus Club and beer), focusing all on strength and not so much on speed. It worked in a way – apparently he had some of the best strength test results at training camp, though his cardio left a lot to be desired. The real question is, how did he get so confused as to what the Canucks wanted, and why didn’t they point this out when he was at Rogers Arena every day? Seems to point to a communication problem.

I’d go with middle six centres for both as a fair assessment of potential. As a rule, the high end of middle six is second line, which is also technically top six, so I guess the answer is sort of yes? I wouldn’t count on it though.

Both are looking like pretty good prospects right now, but the nature of prospects is that they look good some years and not so good the next. We should count ourselves lucky if either one sticks in the NHL.

Goalies are voodoo and there’s no way to know what to expect.

Okay, I don’t actually believe that, but goalies also aren’t my strong suit. I tend to lean on experts like the guys and gals at In Goal Magazine for stuff like that. That said, there’s no reason that one couldn’t try to build a statistical projection model for netminders. That’s another thing to watch out for when the Prospect Profiles get underway, hint hint.

As for Demko, I have a lot of faith that he’s still going to be a number one goalie. I know that his season stats weren’t mindblowing (a .907 save percentage is decidedly meh), but he finished the season strong, and certainly seemed to play a heck of a lot better when he was the undisputed starter in Utica, rather than alternating starts or playing as the back up. Some goalies need that rhythm, and Demko certainly seemed to thrive under a heavy workload. I think that bodes well for his future, and we should see him in the Canucks’ net before too long. But I do believe that another full season in Utica is in his best interest first.

That depends on a couple of factors, and how to view things. For one, it’s certainly good to get draft picks, and though neither selection (Guillaume Brisebois and Brett McKenzie) is a top tier prospect, they’re depth in the pool that’s better to have than to not.

One question is, do we believe the rumour that the Canucks could have gotten a late first round pick for Miller at the 2015 draft? If that’s the case, then maybe they should have taken it. Clearly they felt that Miller was the better goaltender, and undoubtedly he has put up better numbers over the two intervening seasons. But does that matter? The Canucks finished 28th and 29th in those years, in spite of Miller’s strong play. Perhaps Lack inches them closer to Matthews or Laine in 2016 – we’ll never know for sure.

One thing I will say: I’m not usually one for intangibles and being “good in the room”, but I’ve really come to appreciate what Ryan Miller was able to do this year with some of the young players – particularly his defence of Troy Stecher and the boost he gave to a confidence-lacking Nickolay Goldobin. I think that kind of mentorship is invaluable on bad teams like the Canucks, especially when the coaching staff was inexplicably sticking to the tough love approach and openly criticizing young players in the media. I think things could have gotten a whole lot worse without Miller around.

Derrick Pouliot mystifies me. The former 8th overall pick hasn’t cemented himself in Pittsburgh like we figured he would have by now. I honestly don’t have an explanation for his fall from grace.

But I’d certainly feel comfortable deferring to Travis Green on that one. Not only did Travis coach Pouliot through three of his four full seasons in junior, including as head coach for the latter half of the 2012-13 season when the Portland Winterhawks won the WHL championship and went to the Memorial Cup, but he’s also had a close up view of Pouliot in the American League, coaching against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a handful of times each of the last two seasons. Pouliot suited up against the Comets four times in 2016-17 and once in 2015-16, scoring a goal and adding three assists in those five games. I’d assume that Green would have as good a handle as anyone in the Canucks’ organization of where Pouliot stands at this point.

If he gets Green’s recommendation (which isn’t given lightly), I’d absolutely see what the Penguins are willing to take for him. You can’t have too much defensive depth, and assuming there’s still something to coax out of Pouliot, it might as well be Green and the Canucks that take a stab at it.

The Canucks’ Future

About as likely as not, I’d say. The 2017-18 Canucks season could go a lot of different ways. I could see them sniffing a wild card spot, but they’d need absolutely everything to go right for that to become a reality. I could just as easily (perhaps more easily) see them being right in the hunt for Rasmus Dahlin or Andrei Svechnikov, the top tier prospects for the 2018 draft. Their most likely result is probably somewhere in the middle.

The Golden Knights are probably going to fall within a similar range. Depending on how injuries strike both teams, and how many players experience up-years, either team could finish in front of the other. I’d bet on them both finishing in the bottom seven.

These two prospect pools are a very good match for each other. Much has been made about the comparison between Olli Juolevi and Mikhail Sergachev, and while Juolevi plateaued a bit this season, Sergachev did as well – but I’d give this round to Sergachev with that offensive upside, size, and mean streak. Jordan Subban would seem to be a more NHL ready option that any other defenceman that the Canadiens have at their disposal – though he can’t seem to get a sniff. Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen provide better defensive depth and upside than Vancouver’s next tier of Evan McEneny, Guillaume Brisebois and Carl Neill.

Brock Boeser and Nikita Scherbak, a right winger who crested 40 points in the American League this year, have similar projections, though I’d give Boeser the edge there. Fifth round pick Charles Hudon has had three great seasons in the American League and a few cups of coffee in the NHL, making him good competition for Nikolay Goldobin, while Finnish import Artturi Lehkonen, who just finished his first full season in Montreal, is more comparable to Jonathan Dahlen. In net, Demko versus Zach Fucale, who is a year old and struggled in the ECHL this season, is a laugher in favour of Demko.

There are more names to note on either side – Adam Gaudette, Will Bitten, Will Lockwood, Jacob de la Rose – but you get the picture: it’s pretty even. Vancouver comes out ahead among forwards, while Montreal has an edge among defencemen. I’m going to give Vancouver the win here, because, well, I like them better, and because the Demko/Fucale match is so lopsided. And let’s not forget that the Canucks will be picking in the top five, while the Canadiens will be picking in the 20’s.

As for the future outlook, it’s still gotta be the Habs, what with Carey Price being between the pipes at all – he’ll give them a chance to make the playoffs each and every year. It’s looking like their Stanley Cup window is closing, if it’s not shut already (heavily dependent of what happens with Alex Radulov), and GM Marc Bergevin certainly didn’t help himself by adding Dwight King, Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen, Brandon Davidson, and Jordie Benn to an middle-of-the-pack offence at the trade deadline, rather than, you know, guys who could score goals.

Tricky question, but I’m gonna have to go with Denmark.

  • wojohowitz

    From Simmons. One of the CA contributors made the right call on the Preds.

    For those keeping score, of the 20 TSN prognosticators and 12 from ESPN, 32 in all, 31 picked the Blackhawks to beat the Predators in Round 1. I had the Hawks winning the Stanley Cup. Only one of 32 had Nashville and that was my TV partner, Bruce Arthur. The big-name hockey lifers, Bob McKenzie, Ray Ferraro, Pierre LeBrun, Darren Dreger all took Chicago

  • I picked San Jose in six, I was wrong. However, Talbot can stand on his head all he wants and he will have to for Oilers to have a chance against Kesler and mates. I don’t see Oilers doing it twice. Ducks in six, no, Ducks in five.

    Ducks may have shortcomings on D right now, but Kesler getting in McDavid’s face should be enough. Kesler has the right mix of skill and bad attitude. I picked Ducks to finish first in our division, I see them as top dog.

    • Dirty30

      As much as it roils my stomach to think of either team doing well, I don’t think Kesler is going to get away with that much when both Lucic and Kassian are around. It might be both teams go rough on each other and that leaves McJesus vs whatever goalie is in net.

      As much as I hate the Oilers, I’m guessing they will win in six. Bleah.

  • apr

    Thanks for the mailbag. Its going to be nice to pick in the second round, and perhaps even twice after a few off years. There is a lot being said about the Nucks needing a top 2 pick, but I think this will be one of those years where the best pick is made in the mid to late rounds, like In Karlsson’s year.

      • Dirk22

        Just another asinine Bud-ism. Find me any shred of evidence from anybody saying the Canucks should draft Karlsson going into 2009. In the meantime, I’ll find you a dozen articles on why they should pick Ehlers or Nylander over Virtanen – a case that has been shut by the way. Keep bringing it up though as it only enhances your already stellar reputation on these boards.

        • Bud Poile

          Fleury and Dal Colle have played ZERO games in the NHL .
          Maybe the Great Dirk can explain why the picks before and after Jake have nothing to show to date at the NHL level.
          It might be because it takes years to properly/fairly evaluate any draft class as is clearly shown when Gillis chose Hodgson over Karlsson.
          Keep showing your true colors,22.

          • Dirk22

            You’re right – of course it takes years before we really know how the picks are going to turn out. Three years after the draft and we don’t know for certain if a guy like Kyle Petit, drafted in the 6th round, is going to turn into a top line player. There’s no way of us having 100% certainly. We can have a fairly good idea though can’t we.

  • TheRealRusty

    Great article!

    I would like CA writers to explore more on Kovalchuk’s pending return to the NHL; specifically how his “Robert Luongo type” contract was voided with no potential cap recapture. Is it a loop hole that has since been closed? Can the Canucks use the same “voluntary retirement loophole” to escape cap hell (assuming precedence has been set with NJ Devils getting out of that monster contract)?