4 young defencemen playing outside the NHL that the Canucks should target
Photo credit:© Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks need to revamp their defence corps badly. The group is not only substandard, but also overpaid and is a large reason why this roster struggles to be a playoff team.
The unfortunate news for the Canucks is that it’s very difficult to acquire defencemen without cap space or expendable assets, of which the Canucks have neither. This means that the organization needs to get creative in how it will acquire fresh talent for its blueline.
Looking outside the NHL is a great way for the Canucks to find undervalued assets that could help them in the future. Patrik Allvin has made it clear that he wants to look at the NCAA and European leagues as alternative sources of talent where the Canucks can sign players without giving up anything in return.
Finding defencemen that are between the ages of 22-26 and are showing promise should be one of the top goals for the Canucks right now. Besides Quinn Hughes, Ethan Bear, and Jack Rathbone, they don’t have any other players in that group that are much cause for excitement. The Canucks have struggled to develop players so targeting ones further along their path could be helpful, at least in the short term.
Allvin is correct in that signing free agents from other leagues is a way that the Canucks can add to their organizational depth without much cost. Here are four defencemen that are currently playing outside the NHL that the Canucks should target to sign over the next 12 months.
1. Jake Livingstone, RHD, Minnesota State (NCAA)
6’3″, 205 lbs, 23 years old2022-23 Stats: 30 GP, 6 G, 21 A, 27 PTS
The crown jewel of this year’s class of NCAA free agents, Livingstone is a player that you’ve likely heard about in the past and that you’re sure to hear a lot about in the coming months. He’s someone that will have plenty of NHL teams interested and his pick of which organization he wants to join.
The Canucks should definitely be in on Livingstone as he would fit perfectly into their future plans. As a big, right-shot defenceman, you couldn’t draw up a better addition to the organization. The fact that he was born in Creston, BC only makes things even better.
He’s currently producing at just under a point-per-game pace at the NCAA level while being a strong defensive presence. If the Canucks manage to sign him, he’d instantly step into a significant NHL role chewing up minutes.
Livingstone would be the biggest get of any name on this list but the Canucks are sure to face plenty of completion in getting him to sign.
2. Hardy Häman Aktell, LHD, Växjö (SHL)
6’4″, 198 lbs, 24 years old2022-23 Stats: 43 GP, 8 G, 20 A, 28 PTS
The next player on this list is Hardy Häman Aktell who is currently playing for Växjö in Sweden, Elias Pettersson’s former club. He’s a former fourth round draft pick of the Nashville Predators during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. However, the organization let his rights expire and he is now free to sign with any NHL team he likes.
After being drafted, Häman Aktell dealt with a series of hip injuries that forced him to miss the better part of two years. This severely impacted his development and led to the Predators letting him walk in 2020. However, he’s proven everyone wrong with a monster season this year in Sweden’s top league.
Häman Aktell is currently ranked seventh among all SHL defencemen with 28 points in 43 games. He’s not just an offensive threat as he’s also second among all defencemen with a +19. To make matters better, he’s a big presence on the ice as he stands 6’4″.
It’s been reported by a few Swedish news outlets that there is NHL interest in Häman Aktell and that he will sign with a team later this spring. The Canucks would be smart to push for the big Swedish defenceman as they could use any youthful talent they can get their hands on.
3. Thomas Gregoire, RHD, Lukko (Liiga)
5,11″, 170 lbs2022-23 Stats: 50 GP, 11 G, 31 A, 41 PTS
Thomas Gregoire is a Canadian playing in Liiga, the top hockey league in Finland. After scoring 133 points over his final 133 QMJHL games, he signed an AHL contract to make his transition to professional hockey. When there, he slowly made progress, eventually scoring 24 points in 46 AHL games during the 2019-20 season with the San Jose Barracuda.
However, Gregoire wasn’t happy with being consistently looked over in favour of players with NHL contracts and decided to head to Europe. That decision has worked out well for him as he is currently leading Liiga in points by a defenceman with 41 through 50 games. His team has a five-point lead for the top spot in the standings and Gregoire is a +21.
As a smaller and offensive-minded defenceman, he’s not a natural fit with the Canucks. However, his production has been too strong to ignore and he’s playing well enough that he’s starting to draw some serious NHL attention.
“For sure, it’s still my dream to play in the NHL. It’s a dream that is still possible,” he said in a recent feature with QMJHL.ca. “The quality of hockey is very high in Europe and eventually I would love to come back to America with an NHL contract.”
4. Colton Huard, RHD, New Hampshire (NCAA)
6’4″, 201 lbs, 22 years old2022-23 Stats: 30 GP, 3 G, 15 A, 18 PTS
Last but not least, Huard is a player that has been outlined by Faber in the past as an NCAA free agent to keep an eye on. He’s a big body at 6’4″ and as a right-handed shot would be a valuable addition for the Canucks. He’s very solid on both ends of the ice and can contribute on the scoresheet while also playing against strong competition.
The concerns with Huard, as with many big defencemen, surround his agility and ability to keep up in tight spaces around the ice. He admitted as much in a 2021 interview with the UNH hockey blog.
“I would say my strength is that I’m able to contribute on both ends of the rink,” he said. “I think I’m very good at breaking the puck out whether that be in the defensive zone or neutral zone. One area I’m looking to improve is my skating, specifically backwards to forwards transitions.”
Huard also has a connection to BC as he did come to the province as a teenager to play in Kelowna.
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