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Looking back at the Vancouver Canucks’ draft classes of 2014-2019

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Photo credit:Gerry Kahrmann
Michael Liu
1 year ago
The Vancouver Canucks exited the 2023 NHL Draft with Tom Willander headlining a group of 7 prospects now in the system. Chances are, we won’t know their impact and value at the NHL level (if they make it there) for another 3-4 years. And that’s alright. It’s all part of the development game.
But what about the Vancouver draft classes of years past? How do they stack up with their peers around them? Because being a Canucks fan isn’t painful enough, I’ve decided to go back and take a look at every Canuck draft pick between 2014-2019. In doing so, I looked at their pre-draft rankings and how they ranked in terms of NHL contributions within their draft class.
I had to suffer through compiling this data, so suffer with me.

Background

I looked at the 2014-2019 draft classes because the prospects have had time to mature and make their NHL debuts. It’s been 9 years since 2014, approaching 4 years since the 2019 entry draft. As such, these time frames should allow for a decent picture to form of the players the Canucks picked up in each draft. Of course, I’ll make notes on each draft class, since there are players that haven’t made it to the NHL who are still in the system.
For pre-draft rankings, I took the high and low end of the player’s rankings that I could find from the best of my ability. This way, it gives a gauge of what the discussion was at the time around the player prior to be selected. Some players only have one ranking, which I put as their high. If a player is noted as “unranked,” it means that outlets did not have him ranked but made an honourable mention as a potential dark horse selection. If they didn’t have a rank, it was left as N/A.
When looking at a re-draft ranking, I opted to use point shares from Hockey Reference. This is a metric based on win shares in baseball and basketball, where a stat is used to quantify an individual’s impact contributing to wins. When applied to hockey, point shares function similarly, allowing the quantification of players’ contributions toward a team’s total number of points. This would also allow me to compare goalies with skaters. If you want to read more about the background and formulas for different positions and historical eras, check out Hockey Reference’s piece here. Point shares would only be recorded if a player has played in an NHL game, so for some of the more recent draft classes, there will be some shorter rankings thanks to not all players have made their debuts.

2014

  • Jim Benning’s first NHL draft at the helm of the Canucks was statistically the most impactful in terms of NHL contributions from the players selected.
  • Out of the Canucks’ 7 picks, 5 of them produced a ranking that was within a first to second-round range.
  • The problem is that most of McCann and Forsling’s point shares came from not playing on the Canucks, meaning that Vancouver was not the one that benefitted the most from their selections.
  • It is a little surprising that Tryamkin still ranks high up in the 2014 NHL draft class even with only 79 games played to his name, but it’s more so a reflection of the class around him that he’s ranked as 62.
  • Craig Button’s ranking for Virtanen looks to have been nearly spot on, with the former 6th overall pick performing closer to that of a 46th pick than his original draft slot.
  • Pettit and Stewart were off-the-board picks, which isn’t the absolute worst given the crapshoot that the later rounds are. However, the Canucks did miss out on Victor Olofsson, Kevin Labanc, Sammy Blais, and Pierre Engvall with the power of hindsight.

2015

  • Brock Boeser’s performances thus far have been against industry expectations, ranked in the top half of the first round instead of his expected late-first draft ranking. He’s the only player that Vancouver selected who wasn’t ranked ahead of his draft slot.
  • The Canucks appeared to go with the BPA strategy in this draft judging from the pre-draft rankings but had little to show for it with only Boeser, Brisebois, and Gaudette appearing in NHL contests.
  • Speaking of Gaudette, it’s quite funny to see the Canucks go way off the board to pick Carl Neill, then 5 picks later snag a player ranked in the early 3rd round.
  • Jasek looks unlikely to play an NHL game, with the Czech plying his trade with IK Oskarshamn in the SHL for next season. Olson currently plays U SPORTS hockey for the Saskatchewan Huskies.
  • The Predators, Blue Jackets, Coyotes, Wild, and Hurricanes hit on most of their draft picks, especially their late ones in 2015. They’re the teams that populate much of the top 60 in point shares from this draft class.

2016

  • Oh boy.
  • Olli Juolevi as a selection in the 5th slot wasn’t a terrible reach, with his highest ranking coming in at 5 and the lowest at 11. Still, even with the context of injuries, it sucks to see him ranked in the early third round as a first-round selection.
  • What makes it worse is that Matthew Tkachuk is the second-ranked player in this draft class.
  • Overall, 2016 was a year to forget for the Canucks, as they had only two players make marginal appearances in the NHL with the rest of the class flaming out.
  • Funnily enough, Will Lockwood’s 111th ranking in the draft makes him the worst player by point share to have made an appearance in the NHL from the 2016 class. At least he made it there?
  • Benning took swings on Candella and Stukel, which wasn’t the worst at where they were expected to go, but in hindsight missed out on the likes of Jesper Bratt (162nd overall).
  • The Rodrigo Abols pick will never cease to puzzle me. A 20-year-old overager that you’ve invited to multiple camps previously only for you to draft? The consolation is that this seventh-rounder didn’t mean much at all, with only two players having made marginal appearances in the NHL selected after Abols.

2017

  • Pettersson’s selection could be considered a slight reach. The highest any ranking had him was 7th overall, while McKeen’s even pegged him to go outside of the top 10. Thankfully, the scouts did their jobs and secured the third-best player in the 2017 NHL draft by point share.
  • Both Lind and Gadjovich had a lot of range within their pre-draft rankings, so honestly these selections are justifiable. It does suck to see that both of them are underperforming their draft slots, but they are also no longer Canucks property.
  • Jack Rathbone will have the opportunity to push his value from early third round to second round this year. It’s very good value for a player selected in the latter bits of the fourth round.
  • Kristoffer Gunnarsson is such a strange pick. He was ranked as the 120th EU skater in the 2015 NHL entry draft but went unpicked twice before the Canucks saw something they apparently liked in him. Passing on the defenceman Sebastian Aho, they got a player who posted 5 assists in 43 games at the HockeyAllsvenskan level during 2022-23, Sweden’s second tier.
  • I distinctly remember there being outrage when Petrus Palmu decided to leave the Canucks development system (not that he was missing much). The diminutive Finn is returning to Liiga with TPS after an underwhelming 2022-23 with Örebro HK and Linköping HC, tallying 1 goal and 8 assists in 41 SHL contests.

2018

  • Now, your first thought is probably “In what alternate dimension is Quinn Hughes better than Rasmus Dahlin?” The answer to that is Quinn Hughes has contributed more to a team that has won more than the Buffalo Sabres since the 2018 draft. Remember, Dahlin was in contention for the Master’s green jacket back during the 2020-21 season with how minus he went, and it’s only been in the last year that the Sabres have actually looked like a young budding hockey team. It isn’t like he’s far off either, with Dahlin sitting at 31.0 PS and Hughes at 31.4.
  • The problem with this class isn’t Hughes, it’s what came after. Jett Woo was probably a reasonable selection at the 37th pick given his projected rankings, but has taken a windy road thus far in his professional hockey career. Woo has shown some signs of improvement though with a stronger 2022-23 season, so eyes will be on him to see if he can crack the NHL.
  • Tyler Madden was the prospect the Canucks dealt away for a couple of games of Tyler Toffoli. Fans were understandably not the happiest about this, and for two seasons, it looked like Vancouver would regret it. Madden was on fire finishing his career with Northeastern (37 points in 27 games) before an electric full season with the Reign saw him put up 31 points in 48 contests. Last season saw Madden stall out a bit, finishing the year with only 33 points in 71 AHL games. It remains to be seen if he can make that next step in his development.
  • There isn’t much particularly offensive about the latter three picks of this draft, they just didn’t work out. Utunen fizzled out after a stellar 2019 World Juniors, putting up respectable but not NHL-worthy numbers in Liiga play. Manukyan has been replacement-level in the KHL and is currently bouncing around the second-tier VHL. Thiessen has struggled at the NCAA level, only managing a 2.64 GAA and 0.905 SV% for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in his transfer senior year.

2019

  • This draft being only 4 years ago, it’s understandable that a lot of the draft class still hasn’t had time to establish themselves in the NHL or through the development system. Thus, these rankings are in flux and are current as of 2022-23.
  • It’s encouraging to see that despite their struggles last season, Podkolzin and Höglander are still rated in the first round in terms of their NHL impacts. There are still question marks around Podkolzin’s selection at 10th overall, but realistically according to the rankings, he was probably the BPA. There’s still time for him to put his tools together as well, so Podkolzin stands good chance to outperform his current ranking. Höglander has been a welcome surprise since his selection, and hopefully the 2023-24 campaign comes with him re-establishing himself in the Canucks’ lineup.
  • With Carson Focht not being qualified by the Canucks, he’s likely looking at a series of AHL or ECHL deals to try and prove he can still improve. It hasn’t been easy, but from the rankings he was still a reasonable selection in the 4th round.
  • Arturs Silovs being placed in the early second round shows that this class still has players waiting to break out. At the same token though, Silovs also has room to develop and improve. There was a promising NHL cameo at the end of last season with a solid AHL campaign to boot. Perhaps there’s more in store for the hometown Latvian hero.
  • It seems that the Canucks still have hope for a lot of the players they selected in the later rounds of the draft. Arvid Costmar stalled out a little this season but still holds some promise, while Aidan McDonough made his NHL debut this past year and looks to cement himself next season. Karel Plasek might have an outside shot of returning to the AHL and playing his way to an NHL role.

General Thoughts

Overall, there’s nothing inherently awful about the Canucks draft classes from 2014-2019. Yes, the 2016 draft absolutely sucked, but teams are always going to have such duds. What stands out in general is that Vancouver tended to go for players ranked around the range of their pick, mostly towards the top end but didn’t usually pick big sliders. They would go with players estimated around the range instead of the absolute top end. The problem is that when you contextualize these draft classes with the fact that the Canucks were one of the worst teams in the NHL from 2016-2019, it’s not a great accumulation of prospects that could’ve made an impact by this year.
Not only did the Canucks lack quantity in their draft picks, they also lacked quality. Whereas other teams were able to accumulate a wealth of talent with later-round picks, Vancouver went way off the board with some of their selections. Whenever they went off the board, it went absolutely terribly. There’s such a thing as trying to outsmart the room only to outsmart yourself and fall flat on your face.
Hopefully, under this new regime, the amateur scouting department can improve a bit. The Canucks did deently well to extract solid value from their selections whenever they made them. The only thing is that they need to be able to do that more frequently and with better results.

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