The average hockey fan learns about draft eligible prospects in one of two ways. The first is by taking a look at the industry rankings and maybe watching highlights of the draft’s consensus top players. The second is by furiously googling a player’s name immediately after he’s been selected by your favourite team.
This applies to CanucksArmy at times, too. We finished our list of the top 100 prospects available in the 2018 draft in mid-June. That’s a longer list of players than many teams have, but it’s still woefully insufficient when it comes to assessing all 217 picks that were made. As a result, it takes a bit of time to become acquainted with each team’s new crop of prospects and to sufficiently assess a team’s selections.
Now that there’s been a bit of time to digest these picks and learn more about the players that were selected, it seems like a perfect time to take a deeper look at and make some judgement calls on the Canucks’ 2018 draft class.
7th Overall: Quinn Hughes
Offensively, Hughes has a high-end and diverse set of skills. He’s creative and dynamic with the puck, pulling off moves even most forwards couldn’t dream up, let alone execute. His two-step quickness and deceptiveness allow him to catch opponents flat-footed, and he has the hands to keep the puck moving as fast as his feet. His outlet passes are crisp and clean, which makes him a potent weapon on the breakout when paired with his ability to rush the puck on his own. His shot doesn’t have much pop, but he more than makes up for this by thinking the game two or three steps ahead of his peers.
-Jackson McDonald, CanucksArmy
Overview: The Canucks absolutely knocked it out of the park with their first round pick by picking not only the best player available, but also addressing the prospect pool’s need: a dynamic offensive talent on the back end. In Hughes, the Canucks got an excellent skater who is tremendously effective in transition and possesses high-end offensive creativity.
When viewed through the lens of pGPS, Hughes actually carries a slightly underwhelming expected success rate of 33.1%. Its important to note, however, that none of the players who met the similarity threshold to match with Hughes’ season scored as much as Hughes did. Players playing in the NCAA in their draft-eligible season is also relatively rare, and American hockey has grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade or so. When comparing Hughes only to recent NCAA players who have graduated from the NHL, his season begins to jump off the page. Hughes put up more impressive numbers in his freshman year than Shayne Gostisbehere and Zach Werenski. Hughes looks every bit like he will continue the recent trend of impressive first-round defensemen drafted out of the NCAA that includes Werenski, Charlie McAvoy, and Noah Hanifin.
Grade: There really isn’t much to say about this one. You could argue they got a bit lucky here with Hughes falling to them, but many scouting services still had other players ahead of him, and in the end they took the hands-down best player available. A+
37th Overall: Jett Woo
Woo has an interesting skill set that indicates he could be a capable offensive defenceman, albeit a conservative one. He makes good passes that he can use from a standing position in the offensive zone or in a rush situation. He is mobile with the puck but generally isn’t someone who enters the zone, instead of moving the puck to his forwards to get in there. He doesn’t have a particularly strong slapshot and is more known to get the puck through with quick snapshots or wrist shots.
I’ve found Woo’s skating to be excellent with great agility on his feet. He uses his edges effectively to move around the ice with ease and constantly keeps his head up. He possesses above average acceleration and top speed.
When looking at Woo’s pGPS matches, we can see that he has an expected likelihood of success of 30.9%. That’s very good value at the 37th overall slot and roughly commensurate with what would be expected of a late first-round pick. Woo’s successful matches run the gamut from depth pieces to legitimate offensive top-pairing defenders. Given Woo’s role change towards the end of the season, there’s a chance he may have more to show offensively, which makes him an intriguing gamble for the Canucks in the second round.
Grade: While there were a few other players I might have preferred at this spot, Woo is still a legitimate prospect with a bit of upside who will help fill out the team’s prospect depth on the back end. CanucksArmy had Woo ranked as the 32nd best prospect in the draft, which indicates he was at the very least an above-average prospect relative to where he was selected and that’s really all you can hope for outside of the first round. B+
68th Overall: Tyler Madden
Keeping in mind that pGPS can create slightly skewed numbers for USHL players, the mid-season trade for Madden, and then the losing streak that Tri-City went on to close the season – the reason that Madden is ranked in the top 100 is because of his speed, the ability to control the puck at that speed, his agility and that he is committed to the NCAA next season.
If there was a similar player in the CHL, I might be a little more wary of his underlying numbers and projections but given those aforementioned disclaimers, he might be worth a late round flyer simply because of those skating abilities. He is able to keep the puck with him when he gets going and doesn’t shy away from taking charge.
Madden is also an ‘intangibles’ darling – known for his leadership qualities, willingness to do whatever it takes and laying it all out there. He also isn’t afraid to mix it up and get to the front of the net.
Without a doubt, he will need to add strength and weight to be successful in professional hockey. The combine is next week and we will have a better idea of what his measurements are but the public ones generally have him around 155 lbs on his 5’10” frame.
Overview: With their third round pick, the Canucks turned yet again to the USHL to draft unheralded and undersized forward Tyler Madden. Madden put up just 20 points in 32 games, tied for seventh on his team in scoring. While his numbers were uninspiring, he’s earned the praise of some scouts for his determination and hockey sense. Much like team’s other mid-round picks out of the USHL, Madden’s biggest asset is his skating. He’s got speed to burn.
While the talent pool greatly diminishes by the this point in the draft, the Canucks left some talent on the board to select Madden with the 64th pick. Most notably, high-scoring center Jake Wise of the USNTDP went to the Chicago Blackhawks with the following pick.
Canucks’ Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett was acutely aware of the controversy that could arise by passing on Wise. The Canucks were drawn to Madden because he’s underdeveloped, and they believe his additional room to develop gives him a higher ceiling. It was quite the bet to make.
pGPS doesn’t paint the most flattering picture of Madden, whose expected likelihood of success sits at just 2.2%; however, as Ryan Biech alluded to in his profile of Madden, the USHL is another league that has begun to produce more NHLers in recent years. It’s also worth noting that of Madden’s four successful matches, three have gone on to have fairly impressive NHL careers. If Tyler Madden can be a Ryan Dzingel, Jason Zucker, or Patrick Sharp-calibre player at the NHL level, that will be a huge win in the third round.
Grade: While the Canucks have had some success in the past selecting low-scoring forwards out of the USHL with the emergence of Adam Gaudette, I’m still a bit skeptical about this pick. They’ve gone to this well before, with varying results. While Gaudette has already greatly surpassed expectations for a fifth-round pick, I’m far less sold on Will Lockwood, the other Canucks pick that fits this mold. This feels a bit like a “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” situation. Some would say that Judd Brackett has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to these type of selections, but that feels like a lot of trust to place in the infallibility of an organization that’s made their fair share of mistakes in the past. Sometimes teams can get a little too high on their own supply and this feels more like an example of that than it does like a smart bet on a player who has more to give. C
130th Overall: Toni Utunen
Utunen spent the entire season playing against men. He played 11 games in Liiga and was held pointless. But he also played 28 games in Mestis and scored 12 points there. Utunen is an average-sized (5-11, 172) puck-moving defenseman, and he’s also pretty decent defensively. He just doesn’t have any real high-end tools which limits his upside. Utunen captained the Finnish team to gold at the U18 Worlds, and he played big minutes in all situations for that team.
-Jokke Nevalainen, Dobber Prospects
Overview: Utunen gave a solid if unremarkable performance at the U18s, where he captained the Finnish team to a gold medal. Other than that, opportunities for fans to get a glimpse of Utunen have been severely limited.
Luckily, Liiga is ahead of most pro hockey leagues in terms of tracking stats and making them easily available. While I’d caution against reading too much into Utunen’s stats during his stint in Finland’s top pro league, they do provide some descriptive value. It would seem that Utunen was somewhat overmatched during his brief time with Tappara, as his team controlled just north of 34% of the shot attempts when he was on the ice and he averaged just 3:37 in TOI as he went pointless over 11 games. Utunen fared better in Mestis, Finland’s second best league, where he potted 12 points over 28 games.
Utunen’s uninspiring numbers with Tappara may not inspire confidence, but it’s important to remember that playing men’s hockey as a first-time draft eligible player is a good sign in and of itself. Only 14 players under the age of 18 suited up for a game in Liiga this season. That Utunen was one of them already indicates he’s worthy of selection.
This is evidenced by Utunen’s expected likelihood of success of 10.9%. Utunen’s two matches, Teppo Numinen and Kimmo Timonen, each had long and successful NHL careers.
Grade: Utunen adds to the team’s prospect depth on defense and looks like a fair bet to make in the fifth round. His upside appears limited, but teams have generally had decent success in later rounds by targeting unheralded young players who have made appearances in men’s professional leagues. The Canucks also get a player with leadership experience and winning pedigree, which is a nice bonus. B
186th Overall: Artyom Manukyan
Artyom Manukyan is a very curious story coming out of Russia. The Armenian-Russian forward is the first in the MHL’s history to break 100 points, and his 45% involvement put him 3rd behind Shvyryov for the lead in his age group. He improved his production by an amazing 77 points this year and seems primed for a KHL spot next season with Avangard Omsk. He is electrifyingly skilled and commands possession of the puck while he’s on the ice. He’s no slouch on defense, but doesn’t really rely on physical ability too much. He’s feisty, however and he needs to be when you realize that he stands at just 5’7″. Any player with his underlying metrics would be a surefire NHL pick, but his significant lack of size is a major question mark. To succeed at the next level, a player at that size needs to be able to skate through and around bodies and sticks at a high speed to create space, something a player like Johnny Gaudreau excels at. Manukyan is a curious case, and is likely worth a look in the late rounds if someone else doesn’t jump up and snag him as a swing for the fences, but his raw talent can’t be denied. He may need another season of viewing to ensure this isn’t just a career year for him, so he may appear on this same list in 2018 after a season in the VHL or KHL, but he is a record setting diminutive skilled forward who doesn’t look out of place dominating Russian junior games, and that is at least worth keeping an eye on.
Overview: There’s been a tendency in discourse on the draft to essentially write off any analysis at the time of a player’s selection. Every so often, someone will say something along the lines of “you can’t judge a draft pick until five years after it’s been made”, as if it’s some profound observation; as if throwing up your hands and saying you have nothing to offer is somehow taking the intellectual high ground. That’s nonsense. You can, and should, always make value judgments in the early aftermath of the draft. The selection of Artyom Manukyan, however, benefits from a bit of sober second thought and can serve as a cautionary tale against jumping to conclusions too quickly.
At first, selecting a small, 20-year old forward who put up uninspiring numbers in a season split between the MHL and KHL might seem a bit puzzling; but upon second glance, there’s definitely a sound thought process behind it. Manukyan put up a record-breaking season in the MHL in 2016-17, becoming the only player in league history to score over 100 points in a season, but was passed over because of his small stature. In 2017-18, he had a brief stint in the MHL but had proven he was simply too good for Russia’s top junior league. He got a brief audition in the KHL, but didn’t get much of an opportunity in a league that’s notoriously reliant on veteran players. Avangard Omsk was no exception, and Manukyan averaged just 5:54 in TOI per game.
Grade: Because Manukyan stands at just 5’7″, fans will likely compare this selection to the Petrus Palmu pick from last year’s draft, but they aren’t all that similar. The “short, not small” descriptor that’s been applied to Palmu’s fire hydrant-like physique doesn’t apply to Manukyan. At 140 pounds, Manukyan is certifiably tiny. The MHL also doesn’t have a history of producing NHLers the way the OHL does, which is reflected in the fact that Manukyan’s season doesn’t produce any pGPS matches. That doesn’t men the selection is without merit. The MHL is a relatively new league, and it’s traditionally been one of if not the lowest scoring junior hockey leagues in the world, which makes Manukyan’s 2016-17 season all the more impressive. He’s a long shot, but this is exactly the type of “swing for the fences” pick that a rebuilding team should be making in the later rounds. The Canucks could use scoring talent and they’re much better off selecting a shot-in-the-dark player with upside than someone they think has a decent chance at carving out a career as a depth player. B+
192nd Overall: Matthew Thiessen
Thiessen (6-2, 192), who is committed to the University of Maine in 2019-20, led the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in wins (28-3-1), was first with a 2.06 GAA and second with a .923 save percentage. He helped the Pistons to their first ANAVET Cup championship, going 4-2 with a 2.47 GAA and .903 save percentage in six games against Nipawin in the best-of-7 series.
-Mike G. Morreale
Overview: The Canucks were one of 15 teams to select a goalie in the seventh round, which serves to illustrate just how much of a crapshoot selecting a goalie is perceived to be at the moment. Thiessen was ranked as the draft’s fourth best North American goalie by Central scouting, and finished his season with the third-best save percentage in the MJHL and first among the league’s first-time draft-eligible goaltenders. Former Canucks goalie Alfie Michaud, now a coach at the University of Maine, praised Thiessen for his attitude, motivation, and calm under pressure. Thiessen’s a conservative goaltender who plays deep in his net, and Michaud identified learning when to move out and challenge attackers as an area that will need improvement at the next level.
Grade: We’ve officially reached the “throwing darts at a list of names” point of the draft. The hockey world appears to be short on Matthew Thiessen experts at the moment. Canadian Junior A doesn’t exactly have a great history of producing NHLers, but the goaltending position seems like an area where talent could be greatly underestimated. There was still a surprising amount of talent left on the board at this point in the draft (that Nathan Dunkley went completely unselected is a little baffling) but it’s hard to blame the Canucks for missing out on players the rest of the league passed on, too. Thiessen put up good numbers this season and gives them a bit of insurance at the goaltending position, which is notoriously volatile. C+
The Canucks had a fairly solid draft overall. Adding Quinn Hughes alone will be enough to make it a successful draft, and based on the bets they took there’s a decent shot the team gets another NHL player out of the five picks they made on day two. That would be a decent haul for a team that had just six picks to work with. That’s really the only valid complaint to be had: a team at the bottom of the standings needs to be making more than six selections. In the three seasons the team has spent in the NHL’s basement, they’ve made two less picks than they’ve been allotted. Looking ahead to 2019, the Canucks currently have an extra sixth round pick. Here’s hoping they acquire even more and give the hometown fans as many opportunities to cheer as possible. The team’s done a good job of bringing in talent through the draft. Now they just need more opportunities to continue to do so.