The 2022 NHL draft is only a couple of days away and the Canucks’ new regime is kicking into high gear. More than a couple of bombshells were dropped over the Canada Day long weekend, and more seems to be on the way.
With plenty of buzz surrounding Vancouver, here are three predictions of what will happen come draft day.
J.T. Miller is Traded
Not the riskiest of predictions here. After standing pat at the trade deadline, the trade discussions have picked up tenfold around the Canucks’ best trade chip. Coming off a 32-goal, 99-point campaign, Miller remains a sought-after commodity as the draft approaches.
There’s been plenty of teams thrown around by all sorts of insiders. The New Jersey Devils have probably been the most concretely linked, with the 2nd overall pick in the mix. Carolina has also been rumoured to want Miller in return for some of their expiring RFAs like Martin Necas. The Rangers also remain interested after a surprising playoff run.
Whatever the case, the list of teams interested in Miller is long. Contract negotiations might be still ongoing, but there’s a real good chance that the Canucks capitalize on Miller’s value to trade him come draft day.
The Canucks will draft a forward with the 15th overall selection
In the first round, teams should select based on the best player available. While there are a couple of intriguing defence prospects like Owen Pickering and Pavel Mintyukov, the Canucks should not be prioritizing positional needs just yet. In fact, there’s a better chance that they opt for a forward prospect with their own first-round pick.
There’s a bit of a chaotic element to this draft. Most of these prospects have missed out on a key season of development thanks to the pandemic, leading to quite a bit of shuffling especially at the top of the draft. Shane Wright no longer looks like the surefire number one with the surging Juraj Slafkovsky hot on his tail.
What this means for the Canucks is that there are a ton of toss-ups and possible drops to capitalize on. Last season, fans saw Finnish phenom Aatu Raty slide all the way to the second round. Maybe this happens again, where Vancouver can find themselves a blue-chip forward right in the middle of the first round.
And there’s plenty of talent that could hover around the 15th overall pick range. Swedish dynamo Jonathan Lekkerimaki is on the higher end of that side, showing elite scoring ability that has him pegged inside the top 10 in some mock drafts. Bob McKenzie’s list has him going anywhere from 6th to 15th.
Two other Swedish forwards that could be snagged at this range are Noah Östlund and Liam Öhgren. Both have done well in the Swedish U20 league featuring for Djurgårdens IF. Öhgren put up 58 points in 30 games, with Östlund posting 42 in 32. Either of these players would be good picks for the cupboards.
That’s not even getting to Frank Nazar or Isaac Howard. The two Americans have lit up the USHL, Nazar tallying 70 points in 56 games and Howard scoring 82 points in 60 games. The speedy, shifty Howard is heading to Minnesota Duluth, while the dazzling Nazar is off to Michigan. Both these players have been mocked as high as in the top 10 and as low as in the 20s.
Other potential selections could be the boom or bust Brad Lambert, or a Russian sliding down the order like Danila Yurov. Whomever the selection is, there’s a much greater pool of forward talent available to the Canucks at 15, and one of them is going to get selected.
Vancouver will make a second-round selection
Currently, the Canucks do not own their 2nd round pick. That was packaged off in the OEL-Garland trade last season. However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be making a second-round pick. Vancouver could very likely be trading back into the second round of the 2022 NHL entry draft.
A 2nd round pick could be tossed into a major trade return, such as one for JT Miller. Another name that has also been thrown around in trade rumours is Tanner Pearson. The 29-year-old winger is coming off a 34-point season and could very well be moved on from if the price is right.
Management probably has a few second-round targets in mind already. If a first-round talent slips through the first day, the Canucks very well could pull the trigger on a move to get back into the second round. Players like Filip Bystedt or Ty Nelson would go a long way in replenishing the prospect pipeline.
It never hurts to have another lottery ticket in the first two rounds of the draft.
Draft day represents the realization of a lifetime of work for many of these prospects, as well as diverse opportunities for all of the NHL franchises. Vancouver’s management might’ve finished off the season in quiet fashion, but make no mistake: the fireworks are coming.