Faber: What the Vancouver Canucks have in first-round pick Tom Willander

Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
By Faber
9 months ago
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His name was rumoured with the Vancouver Canucks for a long time and with the 11th overall pick, General Manager Patrik Allvin went back to the Swedish well when he selected right-shot defenceman Tom Willander with the 11th overall pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Willander is a 6’1″, right-shot defenceman who was born in Stockholm and grew up playing in the Flemingsbergg, AIK and Rögle junior programs. He will be off to the NCAA next season as he is set to join Boston University.
Looked at as one of the top-three two-way defencemen in the draft, Willander finished his J20 season with four goals and 21 assists in 39 games. He added a goal and three assists in six playoff games and was over a point per game at the U18s with three goals and five assists in seven games.
Willander’s best trait is his skating. He is powerful with his strides but is also very detailed with his cuts and spins and that allowed him to make J20 players look silly this past season. His quickness is certainly impressive but he
also has the breakaway speed that helps him cut through the neutral zone untouched. This will obviously be more difficult when he moves on from the J20 league in Sweden and the NCAA will put his best trait to the test.
The young Swede is taking an aberrant route of development, especially when the J20 graduation to the SHL seems to be such a usual path for Swedes.
“Personally, I think it’s a better fit,” said Willander in his first meeting with the media as a Canucks prospect. “I feel like I have a lot of development left to do – getting a bit heavier. But also, skills-wise, I feel like I have a bit to go and NCAA being a bit more towards the development side, contrary to SHL teams feels like a good move for me.”
We like the development path that Willander is choosing and it will give the Canucks a better chance of working with the prospect in terms of how he develops in these critical teenage years. If Willander would have gone to the SHL, he would have had to win a third-pairing job and that isn’t guaranteed. Another year in the J20 would have been redundant as he already showed that he was good enough to graduate from that league.
There’s certainly a lot to like about the profile of Willander — he’s got size, he’s looking to add weight, he is solid defensively, moves the puck well and is a tremendous skater. Allvin gave high praise on his first-round pick, and even with Zach Benson still available, Allvin said that he and his scouts went with the best player available in their eyes.
“At the start of the season, the scouts start talking about that then they just grew and grew on him,” said Allvin just minutes after selecting Willander. “As I’ve said all the way along here, best player available, he was actually there [for us]. All the other players ahead of him were gone. We discussed different scenarios — if it made sense for us to move down or keep the pick but our guys were so excited and I didn’t see a reason why to not pick Tom there.”
At the time of the pick, our best player available was Zach Benson, who is a smaller winger with ridiculous puck skills. Oliver Moore was another player in the mix for us with Willander, who we had mocked around 14-15 in this draft. It’s not much of a reach when you take into consideration that you are getting a player who plays the most valuable position in hockey as a right-shot defenceman.
I talked about Willander in the middle of May after watching every game he played in this season.

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The Canucks need defencemen in their prospect pool and they decided to commit their first-round pick to help fill that hole.
Will they look back five years from now and wish that they selected the uber-talented Benson? Maybe, or maybe not.
Overall, we feel pretty good about the pick. It’s not a homerun swing but it’s certainly a double in the gap with the chance to push it into a triple.
Allvin believes that Willander could be the partner of the future for Quinn Hughes.
“With his IQ, his ability to skate, and his size makes him you, depending on how the coach wants to use him, but I could see him being a perfect fit for a guy like Quinn Hughes,” said Allvin.
In the end, the Canucks didn’t reach too far down in the draft to get their guy. They didn’t go the route of going for the dynamite talent in Benson and instead stuck to their board and drafted the right-shot defenceman. We’re good with the pick in the end and there are enough exciting things in Willander’s skillset that makes us believe he does have a chance to be Hughes’ partner in 2-4 years.

Pre-draft rankings list provided by EliteProspects.com (who bought all my beers on Tuesday night)
Willander instantly becomes the Canucks’ top prospect and they now set themselves up to go defence heavy through the 2023 draft. And if this is their philosophy, we love it and see why they went with Willander over Benson in the first round.
It’s incredibly hard to trade for or sign a top-four, right-shot defenceman. The best way to do it is draft and develop, and that is exactly what the Canucks are doing here with their selection of Willander. We see their logic behind it and don’t think this will come back to bite them in the ass.
We now move on from the first round. The Canucks will be busy on day two as they hold two picks in the third round, three picks in the fourth round and one pick in the sixth round.
We will be back tomorrow to recap their entire draft haul and evaluate the picks that we liked from day two.


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