The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is rapidly approaching, and—as this author outlined previously—the chances of the Vancouver Canucks trading up to acquire a higher pick are slim to none. As well, with the draft located in Vancouver, there’s just no way that GM Jim Benning will make the presumably unpopular move of trading down.
With that being said, it’s a near-certainty that the Canucks will be drafting a player from the spot they currently hold—10th overall. It’s the lowest the team has drafted since their last trip to the playoffs in 2015, but that doesn’t mean Vancouver won’t be able to draft a premier prospect—just that it won’t be an outright guarantee.
The depth of the 2019 Entry Draft has been extolled by countless individuals with more expertise than this author—and that’s reason enough to be optimistic about Vancouver’s impending pick—but that’s not the point of this article. Instead, we’ll be looking at past 10th overall picks to try to establish a range for the sort of player the Canucks can expect to draft at that spot—and to give fans an early idea of how high to turn the dial on their hype-machine.
To narrow the scope a bit, we’ll only be looking at the drafts from 2006 on—as the end of the 2004/05 lockout and the advent of the salary cap marks the beginning of what should be considered as the modern NHL era. It also avoids needless speculation on the feasibility of Luc Bourdon as a 10th overall pick in 2005—and instead, we’ll just say Rest In Peace to the fallen Canuck.
From 2006 to 2018, the results are decidedly mixed.
Michael Frolik, RW (10th overall by Florida)
At first blush, Frolik might not look like the most exciting name on the list—and, indeed, he’s not—but he actually represents a pretty fair return on the 10th overall pick. Two years after being drafted, Frolik immediately established himself as a genuine NHLer and never looked back—despite never being able to equal his rookie totals. At the end of the day, Frolik has been a middle-six winger for 11 seasons running—and that’s good value for a mid-first rounder.
Keaton Ellerby, D (10th overall by Florida)
The Panthers drafted at 10th overall two years in a row, but they received drastically different returns from their picks. Ellerby isn’t the worst player to have ever been drafted in that slot, but he also failed to ever really establish himself as a full-time NHLer. He was a solid contributor during his very brief time, but he was very quickly Europe-bound after that—where he’s curiously played in all of the KHL, the Swiss-A, the SM-liiga, the SHL, and the DEL in just four years. In other words, staying power isn’t really Ellerby’s thing.
Cody Hodgson, C (10th overall by Vancouver)
Well, this is awkward.
Putting the obvious biases aside, Hodgson surprisingly represents good value for the 10th overall pick. He was once the best prospect in hockey, after all, and managed three consecutive strong offensive seasons from 2011 to 2014. Thereafter, his play fell off a cliff due to health issues—but such a thing is impossible to predict when drafting a player, so he still qualifies as a good pick.
Magnus Paajarvi, LW (10th overall by Edmonton)
Paajarvi isn’t a bust by any stretch of the imagination—he’ll cross 500 career games sometime in 2020—but he’s definitely a disappointing pick at 10th overall. He came out like gangbusters in his rookie season, but never again approached that point total—or the games played total, for that matter. Paajarvi has bounced from team to team—and occasionally to the minors—for nine seasons, and he’ll probably stick around for a few more. He’s just not quite as memorable as one hopes a high first round draft pick to be.
Dylan McIlrath, D (10th overall by New York)
For a knuckle-chucking defenseman, McIlrath has one of the greatest names in hockey history. Unfortunately, that’s about his only positive ranking in the annals of the game. It’s probably not wise to worry about McIlrath too much when considering the value of the 10th overall pick, however, because this was considered a reach and an abjectly poor choice seconds after it was made. In fact, McIlrath might just be the worst draft pick in Rangers history—if only Hugh Jessiman didn’t exist.
Jonas Brodin, D (10th overall by Minnesota)
If not for the player drafted in 2015, Brodin would probably be the best player on this list. While that fact might cause a slight hype-hesitation in Canuck fans eagerly anticipating the 10th overall selection, it really shouldn’t. Brodin has put together an excellent and consistent—if unspectacular—career over seven seasons with the Minnesota Wild. He’ll never be an offensive dynamo, but he’s been a defensive cornerstone ever since his rookie year—and is still just 25 years old. Brodin remains a core piece for the Wild, and that’s an amazing return for 10th overall.
Slater Koekkoek, D (10th overall by Tampa Bay)
Koekkoek definitely falls into the Dylan McIlrath camp of “cool name, but not much else to get excited about.” Despite his well-deserved accolades later in the draft, Steve Yzerman traditionally struggled with his first round picks while helming the Lightning—and Koekkoek might be his worst. Though he was fighting uphill to crack one of the best bluelines in the league, Koekkoek never really managed to establish himself as an everyday NHLer—and as of 2019 it’s probably too late.
Valeri Nichushkin, D (10th overall by Dallas)
There was once a time when this looked like a great draft pick—so much so that some Vancouver fans were ready to run 9th overall pick Bo Horvat out of town before he’d even arrived. Oh, how the worm has turned.
Nichushkin showed promise as a rookie and even in his third year, but then he went back to the KHL for two seasons and came back a worse player. Some—like Mark Giordano—are able to translate time abroad in Russia into significant development, but Nichushkin serves as a reminder of the less-favourable but more-likely outcome.
Nick Ritchie, LW (10th overall by Anaheim)
Ritchie and Jake Virtanen have a lot in common. Both power forwards were drafted high in 2014 and then faced criticism when they were slow to develop—only to breakout offensively in 2018/19. Ritchie is probably further along his development curve than Virtanen and looks like he might become a legitimate second-line winger while maintaining a physical presence—which isn’t bad at all for a 10th overall selection.
Mikko Rantanen, RW (10th overall by Colorado)
This is the cream of the crop right here. Though he eventually slowed down from his magma-hot pace at the start of the season, Rantanen still established himself as one of the best wingers in the game in 2018/19. He’d represent a great return on a lottery pick—never mind at 10th overall. Rantanen should be considered the absolute best Canuck fans could hope for from the 2019 Entry Draft—but he definitely shouldn’t be thought of as a reasonable expectation.
Tyson Jost, C (10th overall by Colorado)
It’s still too early to make any definitive statements on Jost’s worthiness as a 10th overall pick, but he did establish a few things in the 2018/19 season. Firstly, he showed that he could be an everyday player on a playoff team—which is more than a number of players on this list can say. That Jost maintained his scoring rate during Colorado’s brief playoff run suggests that the best is yet to come for him—but only time will tell.
Owen Tippett, RW (10th overall by Florida)
Tippett did what few mid-round picks ever do and made his NHL team right out of the draft. Unfortunately, he only produced a single assist across seven games and was sent back to the OHL—where he remains a dynamic scoring talent. There are those who question the pace of Tippett’s development since being drafted, but it’s still far too early to make a call on his overall worth.
Evan Bouchard, D (10th overall by Edmonton)
Bouchard did what Owen Tippett did and made the Oilers right out of the draft—only to put up a single point and be returned to the OHL. Unlike Tippett, however, Bouchard actually looked like he belonged in the big league—though it was still a wise decision to send him far away from the tire-fire that was Edmonton’s 2018/19 season. Bouchard proceeded to put up an excellent year with the London Knights—including at insane 21 points in 11 playoff games—and looks to be rounding out into a great value pick. Of course, Oiler fans have heard that line before.
Best 10th Overall Pick: Mikko Rantanen
Worst 10th Overall Pick: Dylan McIlrath
Most Reasonable Expectation: Michael Frolik, maybe?
Weird Fact: Three of the players on this list had their best seasons as a rookie.