As the season slowly comes to a conclusion here in Vancouver, the level of scrutiny on the organization has ramped up.
It could simply be that it’s the same story in March for another year or we’ve reached a point where fans are just too frustrated. Either way, it seems that everything is being questioned as the Canucks finish out the 2018-19 season despite the arrival of Quinn Hughes.
Hughes’ arrival is actually one of the major talking points because after him, who else is coming?
The Canucks prospect pool was praised as being one of the best in the league but has seen that top prospect group and the perception about their potential quickly erode due to a variety of factors.
What got the wheels churning on this matter was former CanucksArmy managing editor, J.D. Burke, discussing the matter on TSN 1040 on Friday morning.
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— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) March 15, 2019
Mentioning J.D.’s name in these parts might cause many to automatically dismiss what he is trying to say but he does touch a few reasons why the Canucks pool has quickly dropped off. I figured I’d expand and add onto it here.
Quinn Hughes is making his NHL debut during his draft plus one season after Elias Pettersson made his debut after his draft plus one year. Those two players headlined the prospect pool heading into this season and both will be effectively removed from the list.
Thatcher Demko and Adam Gaudette have made their move to the NHL this season and both won’t be seeing the AHL ever again. That’s two prospects that were regularly in the 3-6 range of the Canucks prospect pool.
Take four of the top six prospects, insert them into your NHL lineup and it will hurt the preception of the prospect pool immensely. They are no longer coming but are here.
Which is why the remark about how ‘who’s next?” is a valid question – with those four moving to the NHL, who is the next impact prospect to make the leap in the short term?
Loss of Prospects (and injuries)
Petrus Palmu returned to Finland, Jonathan Dahlen was traded to the San Jose Sharks, and Olli Juolevi lost most of the season to a knee injury.
Palmu and Juolevi will come back to the Comets next season, or maybe even the NHL for Juolevi, but it’s a lost season for each prospect. Juolevi was getting better with each passing game but only appeared in 18 games this season. He has appeared in 56 regular season games (Liiga in 2017-18 and AHL in 2018-19) and 11 Liiga playoff games in the past two seasons. That is a low number for any prospect and has to raise some concern for someone drafted where he was.
This isn’t to say that Juolevi can’t get back on track but at this very moment, you have to wonder where he can go from here with missing over 50% of the possible games available to him.
Palmu has essentially kept the same pace as he did last season with TPS but will be 22 years old entering this training camp.
In a vacuum, Linus Karlsson is an okay prospect but the cost of Jonathan Dahlen doesn’t balance it out. That creates another hit to the prospect pool.
Each one of those will have varying degrees of impact to perception with Dahlen’s move being the biggest impact. You can debate the reason for each player leaving, and how much Juolevi’s injury will impact it, but it does add so many questions to it.
There was been much ink spilled and words said about the challenges going on in Utica. You can agree with the plan, oppose it, or be somewhere in the middle. But you can’t really argue with the fact that prospects like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich entered this season as legitimate prospects for the organization but haven’t seen their point totals reflect that hype.
Lind has been playing better over the last few weeks but still sits at three goals and eleven assists in forty-four AHL games. Gadjovich has eleven points in thirty-seven games after struggling to get into the lineup regularly.
Lukas Jasek burst onto the AHL scene last season but has seen similar issues with deployment and production.
Debating that side isn’t what the point is, just merely pointing out that the issues in Utica has resulted in the rookie prospects appearing to have taken a step back. Not every prospect is going to transition to the AHL and then the NHL but their struggles have rightfully raised questions on how the organization can do better once they are in their control.
Lack of added picks
Not all prospects will make it.
In reality, aside from the Pettersson’s and Hughes’ of the world, most prospects will ultimately fail. The best way to avoid this is to amass as many picks as possible and go for the quantity approach. If you refine your amateur drafting along the way, you can build a core of players that will make the organization take the next step forward. Then the lower round picks can fill in the depth pieces that are needed.
The main argument that Burke used in is radio hit was… “okay, the top guys are here, who is next?”
That’s a big problem.
Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Pettersson, Gaudette, Demko, and Hughes are here and will all be playing regularly but how does the organization add or support them. They don’t have tangible assets to acquire more picks and the players that could get moved won’t fetch a return that will help the group immensely.
So, they now rely on hoping that they hit a home run on multiple undervalued players in the market or have to rely on free agency, and if you are hoping to fix your problems through July 1, you’ll be in more trouble than before.
Had they acquired more picks over the years, the loss of someone like Dahlen wouldn’t have hurt as much or they could move a 2020 pick for something now.
We can’t all be negative, so here are some of the positives for the prospect pool over the last year.
- Tyler Madden has played very well in his freshman NCAA season. He has quickly evolved from a long term project into someone who might consider leaving the NCAA after one year.
- Jett Woo was placed in a more offensive role and has taken off. Last season was a roller coaster of deployment and roles for the Canucks 2018 2nd round pick but he has really taken control of his development this season.
- Zack MacEwen continued his upward trend to earn his NHL debut. Going from an undrafted UFA to a legitimate possibility in the future.
- Jack Rathbone was a bit of a forgotten prospect but has done well in his NCAA freshman season with Harvard.
The Canucks had a fantastic prospect pool to start the season but through the factors outlined above, the perception has changed.
Even with a good draft this year, they are just keeping the natural flow of players coming rather than building up a swell of talent.
The amateur scouting staff has done a fantastic job at the draft floor in terms of extracting talent from throughout the draft but so much happens after that day.
There is reason to be excited about that aforementioned core but leaves you with the question of ‘what’s next?’