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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

CanucksArmy’s complete 2020 Vancouver Canucks prospect rankings

Over the past three or so weeks, we at CanucksArmy have been counting down the top 16 prospects in the Vancouver Canucks organization.

Stephan Roget, Chris Faber, and I have watched a multitude of video and talked to many different scouts regarding each of these prospects. Here is our completed 2020 list, with an excerpt from each article.

16: Jonah Gadjovich

Here’s part of what Faber had to say about number 16 on our list:

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Jonah Gadjovich can score goals, he is strong in front of the net and he can fight. He seems like a good bottom six prospect for the Canucks and he will be playing in his third AHL season at the tender age of 22.

There are a few things that are holding Gadjovich back in his career. The first being injuries, he missed 23 games last season due to injury and for the second year in a row was not able to consistently play in the Comets’ top six forward group. The other big knock is his skating, though he is fine once he gets up to full speed, it feels like it takes too many steps for him to get there and he isn’t generating the power that he needs in his strides.

As for the positives, he is tough as nails. He will drop the gloves against anyone and is always ready to back up a teammate after a big hit. When I spoke to him in September he said that sticking up for his teammates has been a thing he has done all his life and that mentality was fluid throughout the Utica Comets roster last season.

Gadjovich scored 13 goals in 38 games last season and some of them were beauties. His shot can be lethal if given enough space and he does his best work on the power play.

15: Arvid Costmar

Keep your eye on Swedish forward Arvid Costmar. This next little bit is going to be very telling for what the Canucks have in him, but here is what Faber had to say about him:

Costmar is averaging just 5:04 per game this season in six games with Linkoping in the SHL. When he is playing with his J20 team, he is averaging two points per game. He is a centre prospect that could bring some real offence to a lineup if he is able to continue to develop enough to make it over to North America.

He is a long way away from that as he is struggling to get consistent ice time at the SHL level. The good thing is that he is only 19-years-old and has a lot of time to perfect his craft overseas.

Costmar led the J20 SuperElit league in points per game out of players who played at least 10 games last year with 1.72 ppg.

This winter he should be a top six centre on Sweden’s WJC team. He will get power play time and be relied upon to create offence at 5-on-5. Sweden’s team should feature some elite scoring wingers and Costmar will be between two of them. Costmar is also a shorthanded goal machine when he plays against his age group. Sweden should use him on their WJC team as one of the top penalty killers in the tournament and he finds openings to break down the wing and fire his lethal wrist shot.

14: Arturs Silovs

I had the pleasure of watching a good amount of tape on Arturs Silovs, and had a lot to say about him. He is a raw prospect with a ton of upside, but still has a ways to go until he’s ready for NHL action.

Silovs is an athletic freak who’s long legs allow him to make the bottom of the net virtually inaccessible for opposing shooters.

An area for improvement in Silovs’ game is his low and wide stance, which leaves plenty of room up high and makes him look smaller in the net than his 6’4 203-pound frame would suggest.

When you take into account that Silovs has such a wide stance, it’s almost even more impressive just how quick he is at moving side to side and how explosive his lateral movements can be.

Silovs has already begun the process of narrowing his stance, recognizing that he needs to make this adjustment in order to succeed at higher levels.

13: Viktor Persson

Faber actually just interviewed Viktor Persson, a couple of days ago, actually. The full conversation is now available on the latest episode of the Canucks Conversation Podcast, and a good chunk of it will be posted in written format to this very website.

Here is part of what Faber had to say about the Canucks’ 2020 7th round pick:

Persson turns 19 on November 7th and this will be his final year of eligibility for the World Junior Championships. If he continues to trend upwards, he could end up finding himself in Edmonton this Winter. No matter the case, he will be reporting to the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL in January. This is a great spot for him to develop and Canucks fans and management will be able to monitor his development with a close eye as a result.

The best part of Persson’s game is his offensive instincts. He has a good enough shot to beat goaltenders in his age group and works the powerplay quarterback position with ease. He keeps the puck moving around and fits in well in any part of the offensive zone. This is great to see because he is able to score from both half walls and if given enough space can fire off a very accurate slap shot from the top of the zone.

The defensive game is lacking compared to the offensive and physical abilities. He does need to make some better decisions on when to pinch and how long to pinch for. These should be coached into him during his WHL career and his decision to come play in the WHL will pay off for his long term goal of being a professional player in North America. His physical game should fit right into the WHL as well. He is not shy when it comes to attempting massive open-ice hits. If he catches a streaking winger with his head down, he will pounce at the opportunity to throw a big check.

12. Toni Utunen

Toni Utunen is a lesser talked about prospect thanks to his quiet, defence-first style of play. However, he is still playing in the highest league in Finland, and that deserves some praise. Here is what Faber had to say about him:

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A leader through and through who is going to be steadily in our top 15 rankings for the next couple of years.

At just 20 years old, Toni Utunen has played in almost 100 professional games in the top Finnish league. He has been a captain for Finland in international play and is just beginning to get regular ice time in the Liiga.

Utunen plays a quiet game, the type of game where if you don’t hear from him at all, then he has done his job. He’s not going to be quarterbacking any powerplays but he will kill penalties for you. He only has one goal and six assists in 93 Liiga games, so he’s not lighting up the scoreboard, to say the least.

The 20-year-old Utunen is playing 14 minutes a night in the top Finnish league and being used on a second pairing for Tappara. He still has a long way to go to become an NHL player but he is definitely taking steps toward becoming an AHL contributor with his growth into a top-four defenceman in Liiga.

He moves the puck well, is physical enough and skates well with a good looking stride. He is just under six feet tall and will need to work on a few things before becoming a real candidate to make the NHL.

His work in the defensive zone is fine for now but he will need to become a penalty killing machine because he is not going to bring much offence to the NHL.

Utunen doesn’t possess any one elite skill and projects more as an all-around defensive defenceman. Many scouts have noted the improvements in his skating in the past two seasons. The consensus among scouts I’ve spoken to is that he has reinvented his game a bit to be more of a defensive defenceman now instead of being a two-way guy.

11. Dmitri Zlodeyev

Unfortunately, Dmitri Zlodeyev was not named to Russia’s World Juniors roster despite playing with the squad in the Karjala Cup. Granted, he was a 13th forward in the majority of the game action he saw, but head coach Igor Larionov had some high praise for the youngster who has somehow forced his way into the 11th spot of our rankings. Here’s part of Faber’s report:

Zlodeyev is first and foremost a defensive centre but there’s something about how he attacks the net in the offensive zone that gets me excited. He is constantly moving his feet in the offensive zone to find the spot on the ice where he will have the most open net if a pass is given to him. He has excellent hand eye coordination and can be used in multiple positions on the power play.

The hands on this kid are silky to go with his quick stride. He is able to pull off dekes at full speed and loves to drive to the net.

His playmaking ability is high end as well. Though he hasn’t registered an assist in the VHL this season, he has been brilliant when it comes to passing in the MHL with the extra space he is given.

Zlodeyev feels like the type of player that the Utica Comets could really use. A natural centre who plays a strong two way game and can contribute on both special teams units, he’s a dream addition to an AHL lineup.

He’s a few years away from coming over to North America so for now we will have to follow his MHL and VHL action while waiting for him to break into the KHL.

10. Joni Jurmo

Undoubtedly the most highly-touted prospect taken by the Canucks in the 2020 draft, Joni Jurmo is a smooth-skating 6’3 Finnish defenceman with a ton of upside. Stephan had this to say about him:

As someone simply described as fast, mobile, and big — 6’4” and already nearly 200lbs with plenty of room to bulk up — the most pertinent question regarding Jurmo might not be if he has an NHL future, but how a player so plainly designed for success in the modern era lasted until the third round. We’ve got some answers for that, but before we get to them, let’s delve into what exactly makes Jurmo such an enticing prospect.

In 2017/18, Jurmo dominated at the Under-16 level of the SM-liiga, producing at a point-per-game rate consistently across multiple teams. The next year, he moved up to Under-18, where his scoring dipped — down to 23 points in 42 games — but still remained fairly impressive. He also got his first taste of the top “Junior A”/Under-20 SM-liiga before stepping up full-time in 2019/20.

Oddly enough, despite the increase in competition, Jurmo’s numbers actually improved in his draft season, up to five goals and 28 points in 43 games. 2019/20 also saw Jurmo spend significant time with the National Under-20 Team, where he racked up three goals and three assists in four international contests.

But Jurmo’s endeavors in the offensive end were not the primary reason he was drafted. Scouts, who consistently rated him as a likely second round pick, were far more impressed with Jurmo’s ability to skate the puck up ice and get it into the o-zone, whether that resulted in points for him or not.

9. Aidan McDonough

We’ve written extensively about Northeastern University forward Aidan McDonough. He’s got a killer shot, and is motivated to prove he’s much more than just Tyler Madden’s linemate. Faber took the reins on this one:

His ability to score goals is at a high level and his playmaking looked to improve as the NCAA season went on last year. He is definitely a powerplay specialist but wants to improve his all-around game so that he can develop into a complete NHL player.

He will need to be more of a 5-on-5 contributor this coming year. He scored nine of his 11 goals on the power play last season, including his first eight, which all come on the man advantage.

Two 5-on-5 goals in 31 games is just not good enough.

McDonough is aware of that and believes that this year’s Northeastern team is built differently from last season’s. The team is quicker up front and has some exciting young players coming into the lineup.

Another thing to love about McDonough’s game is how he steps up in big situations. He has talked about dreaming about playing in the Beanpot tournament for as long as he can remember and this year he went off in the final.

McDonough had a goal and three assists in the final and led his team to victory over Boston University.

8. Jett Woo

As pointed out very well by Stephan, there is still plenty to like about Jett Woo, despite a slight dip in production last season.

Woo’s across-the-board-strong skating ability is the underpinning of his bodychecking, and, really, the rest of his game, too. He’s been touted as an extremely mobile blueliner since before he was drafted, and he’s continued to add to his bipedal repertoire since. Anderson reports that, “another [thing Woo improved on in 2019/20] was his speed and acceleration up and down the ice; he was able to push past players if there but also able to hold opponents down going through the neutral zone.”

Woo appeared to be heating up as the WHL season came to a close unexpectedly early. He had an 11-game point streak in February — imagine how bad his production drop would have looked without it — and finally looked fully acclimated with his new club. And so, no playoff run and no cameo with the Comets, though Utica is where he’ll most likely be in 2021, provided there actually is an AHL season.

Recent history tells us to expect coach Trent Cull to bring Woo along slowly, either pairing him with a veteran presence like Ashton Sautner or limiting his minutes. There, those less-noticeable refinements he’s made to his game should pay off through a smooth transition into pro, and back onto the track of an eventual full-time gig with the Vancouver Canucks.

7. Kole Lind

I’ve been seeing a lot of Kole Lind love lately, and I’m here for it. He could push for a bottom six job with the Canucks as soon as this year. Faber had this to say:

Lind was a mainstay on the Comets’ power play last season. He was used in the bumper position and was able to set up some pretty goals while utilizing his high-end passing ability in tight. He saw a major improvement to his decision-making at the AHL level and with that, was a dangerous force with the man advantage.

There’s a world where Lind is on the second power play unit for the Canucks in a few years.

He works the bumper position very well and does have the ability to find passing lanes to set up easy goals for his teammates. Lind had 11 assists on the powerplay this season, eight of which were primary assists. He can certainly contribute on the right half-wall, a place where he found himself rotating to at times in the 2019-20 season.

His playmaking is hands down the best part of his offensive game. From time to time he can surprise you with a deadly shot but his best offensive skill is definitely his passing. His ability to extend plays helped him lead the Comets in Corsi for percentage last season. He had 30 assists last season and 18 of them were primary assists.

6. Brogan Rafferty

Dubbed the Canucks’ most NHL ready defenceman by Faber, Brogan Rafferty has been a pleasant surprise after being signed as a college free agent in the twilight of the 2019-20 season. Chris watched a ton of Rafferty’s games last season and concluded the following:

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There’s a lot to like about Rafferty’s game. He is an incredible puck mover who can break the forecheck with his puck carrying ability or his outlet passes. He can run a power play unit and has a good enough shot to do damage on his own.

The questions surrounding Rafferty are all about his defending. He looked strong in the AHL but the NHL is a different animal. That being said, he made the least amount of clear defensive mistakes out of the Utica Comets defencemen last season. I remember looking back at film for my deep dive on Rafferty back in May and it took a handful of games for me to even find one big mistake in his own end. With other Comets defencemen like Jalen Chatfield and Olli Juolevi, it was almost a nightly occurrence.

One of the things that could hold Rafferty back is his inability to kill penalties. He was rarely on the ice last season when the Comets were shorthanded and that could be a reason why the Canucks choose to go with Juolevi over Rafferty out of camp. Juolevi was the Comets’ best penalty killer last season and if he’s able to do it at the NHL level, the Canucks can then keep Nate Schmidt off the penalty kill and throw out the pairing of Quinn Hughes and Schmidt as a quick response pairing after each kill.

Rafferty is not undersized, coming in at 6’2″ and just shy of 200 pounds, he is big enough to use his strength as an advantage when it comes to defending. Back when we talked in May, he was confident in his defensive game and believes the only reason people bring it up as a negative is because there’s nothing in his offensive game to criticize.

5. Olli Juolevi

I, like Travis Green and the Canucks’ management group, am a big believer in Olli Juolevi. There are a few things to be concerned about — namely his ability (or lack thereof) to defend on the rush — but I think he’s very close to putting it all together and being an impact defenceman who can kill penalties and play on a bottom pairing.

The Finnish rearguard has struggled to stay healthy for much of his junior and professional career, and not only has that slowed down his development, but it’s also kept him out of the NHL. That was, up until July’s training camp, when Juolevi not only forced his way onto the Canucks’ playoff roster, but was the first man called upon when injury struck the Canucks’ blueline.

Juolevi looked to be playing with much more confidence, perhaps the most confident he’s had since his junior days with the London Knights.

The reason for his high draft ranking was his above-average defensive IQ, playmaking capabilities, and his ability to quickly transition the puck up the ice, among other things. Really, Juolevi was a well-rounded complete defenceman who multiple teams had near the top five of their draft rankings.

I’d say the only thing that’s different about Juolevi now is that his skating isn’t something I’d call strong, and that can likely be attributed to Juolevi’s multiple lower-body injuries.

4. Michael DiPietro

Again, this is a prospect who I’m a big believer in. What Michael DiPietro did last season was incredible for a goaltender coming out of junior. He’s got phenomenal positional play and some of the best crease awareness I have ever seen from a young goaltender.

DiPietro is incredibly smooth on his skates, and although he hunches over a bit more than any goaltender I’ve seen in recent memory, (his stance is almost like an old school stand-up style where the hands are high and tight to the body and the feet are closer together) DiPietro appears bigger in the net due to his ability to quickly come out and challenge shooters.

That being said, coming out too far and being too aggressive when it’s not absolutely necessary may make him susceptible to back door tap ins when he graduates to the NHL level, but again, these are all things that can be worked on. Knowing when to come out and when to stay deeper in the crease is going to be vital for DiPietro’s success at the next level, but in the AHL, he was just fine.

It goes back to his smooth skating. No matter how far out he goes, DiPietro never has to hesitate to figure out where he needs to be positionally when the puck is cycled around. He’s quick with his movements which helps him a ton when it comes to east-west puck movement and again, when coming to and from the top of his crease and beyond.

All of his movements are precise, quick, and executed with purpose. His narrow stance certainly helps him with this, as DiPietro never seems to panic and always seems to be in the right position when making stops.

3. Jack Rathbone

Three prospects in a row who I’m personally fairly high on. Jack Rathbone is a borderline elite skater and fans don’t seem to be quite aware yet just how good this kid. If he doesn’t make the Canucks this year, his time will certainly come, and when it does, he’s going to be a very impactful offensive defenceman.

The 21-year-old is a smooth-skating defenceman who can wheel the puck up the ice with confidence or launch a stretch pass out of his own zone to begin the transition up the ice. He possesses a booming slapshot from the point that he can fire off in a hurry, and is extremely deceptive in creating open space for himself to let it go. He’s got excellent acceleration and fantastic edge work, which will certainly help the Canucks in their breakout efforts and transitional play when he arrives on the scene.

Rathbone’s skating ability helps him defend the rush effectively, but says that his play in the defensive end is where he sees the most room for improvement for himself. Here’s what Brett Lee had to say about Rathbone’s abilities in his own end:

“When defending against sustained pressure, Rathbone’s work ethic is unquestionable. He reminds me of a little bit of Troy Stecher in how hard he competes for pucks along the boards. He also doesn’t shy away from battles in the corners. He likes to attack by first engaging in a quick stick lift and then follow up by throwing a hit along the boards. It’s almost a throwback style of defending and is uncommon for defenders of his stature. I’m curious to see how this translates in the NHL but fans will notice quickly how aggressive and willing he is to lay the body.”

2. Nils Hoglander

You knew who the top two were going to be before even clicking on this article, I’m sure. Nils Höglander has gotten glowing reviews from everybody who has coached him, played with him, or even just watched him play. Stephan had some very positive things to say:

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The first thing one must talk about when discussing the still-19-year-old Hoglander, selected 40th overall in the 2019 Entry Draft, is his offensive prowess. It’s something that the folks at EliteProspects have summed up rather succinctly, writing that, “Höglander stands out with his exceptional puck skills and hands. Really good stickhandler and he loves getting creative with the puck, scoring spectacular goals at times. Decent skater who accelerates well and works very hard along the boards in the offensive zone.”

After lighting up the J20 SuperElit at 17, Hoglander played the bulk of his draft season in the SHL, where he made the difficult adjustment to playing against men and managed to put up 14 points in 50 games.

The following season didn’t start out as the explosive Draft+1 campaign that spoiled Vancouver fans have come to expect from their draft picks. Hoglander’s production plateaued a bit in the SHL — ultimately leaving him with just nine goals and 16 points in 41 games — though his overall game continued to round out.

Instead, Hoglander saved his big breakout for the World Junior Championships.

With five goals and six assists in just seven games — including a lacrosse goal that will be shown on WJC highlight reels for decades to come — Hoglander finished third overall in tournament scoring and helped Sweden to a bronze medal.

1. Vasili Podkolzin

#FreePodz is alive and well, and Canucks fans are going to absolutely love this kid once he gets here. You’ve heard enough trusted people (who actually watch his games) talk about how impactful Vasili Podkolzin is going to be at the NHL level, and we couldn’t agree more.

Aside from that one-game vacation to the VHL, and a very successful trip to the Karjala Cup — which we’ll get to in a minute — Podkolzin has stuck with SKA at the KHL level for the entirety of the season thus far, for better and for worse. A positive of the experience is that Podkolzin is getting an opportunity to play against seasoned professionals on a regular basis, truly the best possible preparation he could receive for an eventual NHL career. A negative, however, is how limited said opportunity has been in terms of actual minutes.

As of this writing, Podkolzin is averaging just 12:04 per game, ranking him 18th overall among forwards who have played for SKA this year. As our own Chris Faber has covered extensively, Podkolzin has been shuffled all over the lineup, moving from the press box, to the fourth line, occasionally all the way up to the first line, but seemingly never onto the powerplay.

Amid whispers of less-than-preferential treatment given to those young players destined to leave the KHL for North America  — keep in mind that Podkolzin turned down a contract extension from SKA this past offseason — it’s been increasingly difficult for Podkolzin to develop any semblance of consistency.

Speaking realistically, there’s no reason to hope for a drastic change in Podkolzin’s ice-time throughout the remainder of his time with SKA, barring significant injury troubles. As such, he’ll struggle to crack 20 points, and there will no doubt be those who question his merits as a prospect because of it.

Ignore them.

Look instead to Podkolzin’s performance at the Karjala Cup, and what we have to assume will be an assertive showing at the WJC in January. Those are far more indicative of the “true” Podkolzin and the sort of player he can be when he’s playing for a coach and team that actually want him to succeed.

And there you have it, folks! Those are our complete rankings of the Vancouver Canucks’ current prospect pool. Agree with our rankings? Who did we miss? Let us know in the comments section below!