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The Vancouver Canucks’ worst first-round picks of the 2000s

Isabella Urbani
9 months ago
Drafting is quintessential to the longevity of a team’s postseason success. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche are reaping the benefits of several years of good drafting decisions with the most coveted prize in all of hockey, the Stanley Cup. Both teams’ systems have done an excellent job of moulding the promising 18-year-olds they drafted into franchise-level players. 
The Canucks, on the other hand, have not seen their prospect pool take so much of a step. While the team’s current core, minus JT Miller, consists of drafted talent, there’s a glut of first-round picks that should have been a key aspect of today’s Canucks’ roster, or the ones preceding it, that never quite panned out. Nothing encapsulates missing the mark more than some of the drafting mishaps the Canucks made in the 2000s. 

Presenting: The Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Draft Picks 

Nathan Smith: 23rd overall, 2000 NHL Draft 
4 GP: 0 PTS 
Taken before: Justin Williams (797 PTS), Antoine Vermette (515 PTS) 
Now I can’t remember Nathan Smith because I was -3 when he was drafted, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to recall Smith’s four-game stint with the Canucks or his extensive 26-game career, which resulted in zero NHL points. Rick DiPietro recorded more career points. Yes, goaltender Rick DiPietro. This is a pretty far cry from what Canucks were able to do in the 1999 draft — pulling off some Sedinery to trade multiple players and picks to secure two future Hall of Famers. 
R. J. Umberger: 16th overall, 2001 NHL Draft 
0 GP 
Taken before: Mike Cammalleri (642 PTS), Jason Pominville (727 PTS) 
Although recording 392 points between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers, R. J. Umberger never played a single game for the Canucks. After being drafted, Umberger spent three years at Ohio State University, putting up consistent 30-plus point seasons. But before he even had the chance to sign a deal with the Canucks, Umberger was shipped to the New York Rangers alongside Martin Grenier for Martin Rucinsky, who was subsequently traded to the Rangers a year later. While Umberger wouldn’t have made this list based on career stats alone, the Canucks choice to trade their 16th overall pick before he even played a game for Rucinsky — a former first-rounder whose point production was declining— is baffling, to say the least. 
Michael Grabner: 14th overall, 2006 NHL Draft 
20 GP: 5 G, 6 A 
Taken before: Claude Giroux (1002 PTS), Brad Marchand (862 PTS)
After a disastrous draft start to the new millennium, the Canucks had an impressive trio of picks from 2003–05 with the additions of Ryan Kesler, Cory Schneider, and the late Luc Bourdon. While Michael Grabner’s career spanned close to 700 games, the second Austrian-born first-rounder was traded after just his first NHL season with the Canucks. Prior to his trade, Grabner had spent four seasons in the AHL. He was sent to the Flordia Panthers with Steve Bernier and a 2010 first-round pick in return for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich the summer before the Canucks’ Stanley Cup final run. 
Patrick White: 25th overall, 2007 NHL Draft 
0 GP 
Taken before: Jaime Benn (847 PTS), David Perron (721 PTS)
Who, is correct. Patrick White was selected in the first round after playing high school hockey. His draft status created previously unattainable opportunities for his career, including a World Juniors appearance, a year with the Tri-City Storm, and four years with the University of Minnesota. However, before White could finish his time with the University of Minnesota, he was sent off to the San Jose Sharks with Daniel Rahimi in return for Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich. While this was more than a fantastic return for the Canucks, you can’t help but question why a first-round pick was wasted on a player who never recorded an NHL point or played an NHL game? 
Cody Hodgson: 10th overall, 2008 NHL Draft 
71 GP: 17 G, 18 A
Taken before: Jordan Eberle (658 PTS), Derek Stepan (515 PTS) 
You may have noticed a bit of a pattern here. Hodgson generated shy of 40 points in two seasons with the Canucks, before he became one of the team’s sprees of unpromising high draft picks to be flipped for quick roster fixes. At this point, most of the Canucks’ first-round draft picks had yet to finish their entry-level contracts or sign one in the first place with the team. However, unlike other picks, Hodgson will always have a spot in Canucks history as the first draft pick under former GM Mike Gillis. However, by 2012, Hodgson was sent to the Buffalo Sabres with Alexander Sulzer for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Gillis was two years away from being fired.
Jordan Schroeder: 22nd overall, 2009 NHL Draft 
56 GP: 6 G, 9 A 
Taken before: Ryan O’Reilly (702 PTS), Reilly Smith (473)
Selected after putting up 45 points in a Rookie of the Year season for the University of Minnesota, Jordan Schroeder spent five years in the AHL for the Canucks. In his last two years with the organization, Schroeder split his time between the minors and the big club. But eventually signed as a UFA with the Minnesota Wild in 2014, after spending most of the previous season recovering from a shoulder and retweaked ankle injury.
Nicklas Jensen: 29th overall, 2011 NHL Draft 
24 G: 3 G, 3 A
Taken before: Nikita Kucherov (729 PTS), Johnny Gaudreau (683 PTS) 
Nicklas Jensen played all but seven of his 31 career NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks. All of his six NHL points came in his 17 appearances during the 2013–14 season with the Canucks. He was sent to the New York Rangers in 2017 along with a throwaway sixth-round pick in exchange for Emerson Etem, whose one season with the Canucks was just longer than Jensen’s career-high 17-game season with the Canucks. 
Brendan Gaunce: 26th overall, 2012 NHL Draft 
177 G: 6 G, 9 A
Taken before: Tanner Pearson (275 PTS), Chandler Stephenson (219 PTS)
The Vancouver Canucks selected Brendan Guance with the fourth last selection in the first round, hoping he’d be a rebound for the team’s shocking first-round elimination to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. Prior to being drafted, Gaunce recorded a 68-point season with the Belleville Bulls, which he never could surpass in the following years with the team. That trend continued during his seven years with the Canucks organization, where Guance struggled to translate his AHL success into NHL success. He’s since played for Boston and Columbus’ AHL teams and has never played more than 57 games in an NHL season, which he last did with the Canucks in 2016–17. Even then, Gaunce was only able to suit up for that number of games due to an incredibly depraved Canucks team. 21-year-old Bo Horvat was the team’s leading scorer with 52 points. With those numbers, Horvat wouldn’t even be amongst the top five in scoring on the current Canucks roster.
Jake Virtanen: 6th overall, 2014 NHL Draft 
317 GP: 55 G, 45 A
Taken before: David Pastrnak (617 PTS), Brayden Point (463 PTS) 
Jake Virtanen never amounted to anything and was rewarded with one too many contract extensions when he should have had one foot out the door. David Pastrnak, who almost wasn’t a first-round selection, mustered double the amount of points Virtanen had in his rookie season in fewer games. Virtanen’s season was so disappointing, he landed himself in the minors the same season Loui Eriksson scored an own goal against the Calgary Flames: the only goal the Flames would have in that game. Virtanen was more of a liability than an asset when he was on the ice: taking unnecessary penalties, losing his assignment, and electing to shoot rather than pass in almost all situations. With all the talent that was left for the taking in this draft class, the Canucks seemed to have been swayed by Virtanen’s hometown connection and heavy style of play, which coincidentally, has been the exact opposite style of player the Canucks have drafted since.
Olli Juolevi: 5th overall, 2016 NHL Draft
23 GP: 2 G, 1 A 
Taken before: Mikhail Sergachev (238 PTS), Charlie McAvoy (230 PTS)
A year after drafting Brock Boeser 23rd overall, the Canucks killed all possible momentum by picking Olli Juolevi. To be fair, Juolevi had a respectful resume heading into the draft: putting up 42 points with the Memorial Cup-winning London Knights. If anything, the nine awards he racked up that season, including All-Star nods in the World Juniors and CHL, were what landed him on the Canucks’ radar. Instead of being the face for the Canucks’ initial phase of their defensive rebuild, Juolevi failed to cement himself as an NHL defenceman with the Canucks and multiple teams. His first season facing NHL action with the team happened to be his last, as he was traded shortly thereafter to the Flordia Panthers for Noah Juulsen and Juho Lammikko, the latter of whom is no longer with the Canucks. Definitely not the return you want to warrant from a top-five pick. Juolevi is currently on his third NHL team in the span of two years and has yet to play more than 50 NHL games.

The result of empty draft picks

From 2000-2016, the Canucks have had 10 uncompetitive draft picks. These 10 players generated a total of 185 points for the Canucks in 692 games. For a team that has constantly been a cut below the rest, the Canucks haven’t done themselves any favours with the players they’ve drafted. In the past several years, if the team wasn’t trading picks for strung-out players that would spend their entire contract on the trading block, they were failing to meaningfully develop their prospects through their affiliate teams. However, with the relocation of the Abbotsford Canucks, Vancouver has made it easier to tap into their resource of players, and is giving their recent signings and draft picks time to get some reps in so when they do solidify themselves as NHL-calibre players, it’s more of a momentary adjustment than a make it or break it type leap.

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