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What might the Canucks look like if they never traded any draft picks away?

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
6 months ago
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Ever since they began their gruelling climb back to hopeful playoff contention in 2016, the Vancouver Canucks have tried to take a lot of shortcuts.
And in a lot of those cases, the decisions they made to trade to sacrifice the future for ”win now” pieces either didn’t move the needle enough or were just flat-out disasters.
Striking the right balance between patience and immediacy is crucial to building a Stanley Cup favourite, and it’s something Canucks management has consistently struggled to find of late.
But what if they had figured out such a balance? Or better yet, what if they were so overly patient that they never traded a single one of their own draft picks for eight years?
Such an extreme team building plan has never happened in the history of the NHL, and it likely never will. But with the previous front office making some franchise crippling trades that the team is still feeling the effect of, it’s worth thinking about.
But that kind of thought exercise wouldn’t just require someone with way too much time on their hands. It would take someone willing to scour every single pick the Canucks have had since 2016, retroactively wipe out years worth of trades and selections and redo entire rounds of draft picks, all for some content to fill the August offseason lull.
Sigh, alright.
Here are the basic ground rules:
  1. The Canucks are now operating in a universe where every decision they make from the 2015-16 season on requires them to have all their own picks by NHL draft day. It does not directly impact what they do in free agency or any decision that doesn’t directly involve their own picks.
  2. Any trade involving a Canucks draft pick is retroactively voided unless they were able to reacquire the pick before that draft.
  3. The Canucks are still able to trade and acquire picks originally from other teams. For example, their 2019 deal for the Senators’ 6th rounder didn’t require any of their own picks to make happen, so Arturs Silovs still becomes a Canuck.
  4. If a top-100 pick was returned to the Canucks, I went back and redrafted it, taking the best player available based on consensus pre-draft rankings from the time. To do this I used a series of articles written by Canadiens reporter Jared Book from Habs Eyes on the Prize. Without Jared’s hard work annually aggregating the biggest draft ranking lists on the internet, this article never would’ve been possible.
Now that the rules are in place, let’s go back in time.

The Picks

It doesn’t take long for the decision to keep their picks to immediately pay off.
In 2016, the Canucks traded away their second-round pick in the infamous Jared McCann for Erik Gudbranson deal, and it’s safe to say that decision set them back years. Because keeping a potential future 40-goal scorer in McCann on the roster wasn’t even the biggest loss out of this deal.
That 33rd overall selection would eventually wind up in Buffalo, who used it to select Rasmus Asplund. Asplund ranked #27 out of that year’s top prospects list, and had the Canucks kept the selection he could’ve become a decent supporting cast member. But Asplund wasn’t the best player still available, according to our aggregated list.
That player was the one a spot above him at #26; a player named Alex DeBrincat.

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In the real world DeBrincat fell to Chicago six picks later at 39th overall, and currently sits fourth on the Class of 2016 scoring list. In this alternate dimension, he accomplishes all that as part of a one-two punch with Elias Pettersson.
Picking the best player available through the first four rounds netted a pretty fascinating cast. Along with DeBrincat, the Canucks also added Dylan Guenther, Philipp Kurashev, Connor Zary, Lane Hutson, Pavel Dorofeyev, Oliver Moore and Riley Heidt, among others.
The complications of voiding past trades obviously had some major ripple effects. Without the ability to let their own picks go, the Canucks never added Gudbranson, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland or Filip Hronek. In a few of those cases, that might be a blessing in disguise (or plain sight, depending on who you ask).

The Current* Lineup

Obviously, with so many changes across that timespan, particularly when it comes to contracts and cap space, there’s no way of knowing exactly what the team would look like today. And trying to play armchair GM to figure out which new players stayed or left would be another article entirely.
So assuming that any prospects in voided trades remained, and the team signed or walked away from the same players as planned across that timespan, here’s where they’d stand.
Forwards
Alex DeBrincat – Elias Pettersson – Brock Boeser
Andrei Kuzmenko – Jared McCannDylan Guenther
Anthony Beauvillier – Teddy Blueger – Ilya Mikheyev
Nils Höglander – Philipp Kurashev – Vasily Podkolzin
Defence
Quinn Hughes – Tyler Myers
Ian Cole – Carson Soucy
Jack Rathbone – Nick Perbix
Goalies
Thatcher Demko
Devon Levi
Arturs Silovs
One thing that’s immediately noticeable is just how identical the Canucks’ blue line looks. No matter how you slice it, the last regime had a hard time building a blue line beyond Quinn Hughes. The only legit addition comes in the form of Nick Perbix, who the Canucks would’ve taken with an extra sixth rounder in 2017.
The one bright side you can’t see in defensive group is the disappearance of the Ekman-Larsson contract. That money would likely have gone to keeping the top six intact instead.
Speaking of the offence, the Bo Horvat trade with the Islanders still went through in this scenario. But it’s worth noting that based on how much better the Canucks might’ve looked with the likes of DeBrincat and McCann, the captain’s future might’ve looked different.
It’s also likely that not all of these forwards would still be Canucks, especially with a defence in dire need of fixing. But without the ability to predict alternative trade choices, we just have some pretty hefty logjams on the wings. But what else is new?

The Draft Classes

Since trying to format eight seasons worth of draft class tables would be an absolute mess for website formatting, I’m just going to just go over the important changes in cliffnotes. If you’d like to see me show my work in a spreadsheet, you can do so here.
We’ve already talked about Alex DeBrincat in the 2016 class, but the Gudbranson deal also returns the Canucks’ own fourth rounder, which they use to select defencemen Victor Mete.
Overall, eight of the Canucks selections between 2016 and 2023 had to be voided because they traded their own picks to get them. But in the majority of those cases, it didn’t really change much.
A good example is in 2017, when the Canucks traded down in the sixth round with the Capitals and used Washington’s 186th overall pick to select Artyom Manukyan. Back in their original spot at 161, it’s worth assuming they would’ve taken Manukyan anyway.
Ironically, in real life the Caps traded up to select current Canuck Alex Kannok-Leipert.
Out of the eight selections I had to cross out, the Canucks still conceivably got their man in five of those scenarios. The only prospects who come off the board entirely are late round picks Jack Malone, Arvid Costmar and Jonathan Myrenberg.
For a couple late round spots I opted to go with the best case scenario, since there’s not really an easy way to determine how a team might’ve spent one of those draft picks. For example, with an extra seventh round pick to use in 2020 and no goalies already on the team’s draft board, that left me to pick future Canadian World Junior goalie Devon Levi.
In last year’s draft, with absolutely no NHL intel to go off of, I kept things simple and just picked the same player the Sharks did, Russian winger Yegor Rimashevsky.
2023 also presented an interesting scenario thanks to the Filip Hronek trade being ineligible.
Because we can’t redo existing picks the Canucks still end up selecting Tom Willander over Zach Benson, but with both 11th and 17th at their disposal it likely would’ve been possible to land both. Instead, the Canucks use the Isles pick on centre Oliver Moore, the ninth highest rated player in the 2023 class.
The Canucks own second rounder at 43rd overall nabs them Riley Heidt, who was rated #27 on our draft board but waited until the 64th pick to hear his name called.

The Verdict

Overall, in a world where the Canucks keep all their own draft picks, they appear to be a better position than the real team currently is. But none of this factors in the decisions the team would make in other places, such as what they would do with the cap space available from certain voided deals or the reasons they had for letting other key pieces go.
But whether or not they look better on paper, a Canucks team with all their own draft picks is, at the very least, in a better position to build off of it after. The morale of this story might be with the right scouting staff, patience can a much faster route than any shortcut.

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