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What if the Canucks drafted Matthew Tkachuk instead of Olli Juolevi?

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Bill Huan
10 months ago
Welcome back to the second article of our new “What If?” series! In our first piece, we talked about how the Canucks’ roster might look now had they followed Trevor Linden’s vision of a slower rebuild, and we’ll now jump into the first of two parts about a hypothetical that every Canucks fan has thought about over the past few years.
Yes, we’re going back to the infamous 2016 draft and see what could’ve happened if the club had picked Matthew Tkachuk instead of Olli Juolevi with the fifth overall pick. As previously mentioned, we’ll be using Evolving-Hockey‘s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as an objective proxy of how many points the team might’ve gained/lost each season by the impact of this decision.
Let’s dive in.

Timeline of events

Following a season in which the Canucks finished 3rd last in the standings, many fans were hoping to land the first overall pick and win the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. In typical Canucks fashion, they not only lost the draft lottery, but also moved down two spots as well.
This meant that they were slated to pick fifth overall, which was used on London Knights defenceman Olli Juolevi. Coming off a standout season and a great World Juniors performance, Juolevi was seen as a future top-pairing defender who could fill a desperate need on the Canucks’ back-end. The only problem was, his teammate Matthew Tkachuk was also still on the board and ranked by most to be a better prospect.
Turns out, that future forecast came to fruition, as Tkachuk has turned into a star winger for the Flames while Juolevi has been subsequently traded and is only a fringe NHL player at this point. Fortunately, the Canucks decide to select Tkachuk fifth overall in this alternate universe, setting off a chain of events that will impact the entire league.

2016-17 season

Nothing changes in the 2016 offseason, as the team still signs Loui Eriksson to a massive six-year contract in a futile attempt to extend the careers of the Sedins. The only difference is that Jack Skille isn’t signed to a minimum contract due to Tkachuk sticking with the Canucks for the entire season.
With the rookie putting together an impressive season, the Canucks know that they have good building blocks on the wing, so both the Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen deals still happen at the trade deadline. Replacing Skille with Tkachuk adds two wins to the team, resulting in the Canucks finishing 27th (as opposed to 29th) at the end of the regular season.

Roster turnover

In: 2.4 WAROut: 0.4 WAR
Matthew Tkachuk (2.4 WAR)Jack Skille (0.4 WAR)

2017-18 season

2017 offseason

Finishing 27th also means that the Canucks have taken the Devils’ place in the draft lottery, resulting in the club picking first overall in franchise history and proceeding to select Cale Makar.
No, you’re not dreaming. The multiverse is truly filled with madness.
And no, the team isn’t choosing Makar due to the hindsight that we have today; there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they really had him ranked first.
Days before the draft, Jim Benning was on record saying that he was either going to pick a playmaking centre or a defenceman who can quarterback a powerplay with their original fifth overall pick. He even admitted that the team would’ve been put in a tough position had Makar or Miro Heiskanen still been available; both defencemen were also ranked higher than Elias Pettersson on most draft boards, so it seems likely the Canucks would’ve picked one of them over the Swedish centre.
Still skeptical? Trevor Linden outright admitted that neither Nico Hischier nor Nolan Patrick was ranked first on their draft board, so Makar would’ve been the logical pick to fill the role as that future powerplay quarterback since Heiskanen wasn’t viewed as having the same offensive potential.
To summarize, the Canucks would’ve lost out on Pettersson, but add an even better player.
The rest of the draft would be significantly altered too, with the following picks playing out like this:
2. Flyers: Nico Hischier (still better than Patrick, right Bobby Clarke?)
3. Stars: Nolan Patrick
4. Avalanche: Heiskanen
5. Rangers: Pettersson
Other than drafting Makar, the Canucks also decide not to sign Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract due to the presence of Tkachuk.

Regular season

The hype in Vancouver reaches new heights going into the 2017-18 season with Tkachuk beginning his sophomore campaign and Brock Boeser entering his rookie year. Makar goes to UMass to continue his development but Boeser dazzles and finishes second in Calder Trophy just like in real life.
Without Vanek on the team, the Canucks aren’t able to acquire Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte at the deadline but the Derrick Pouliot, Brendan Leipsic, and Nic Dowd deals still take place. In the end, the team adds three points to their overall total and their position in the standings doesn’t change by finishing 26th overall.

Roster turnover

In: 2.7 WAROut: 1 WAR
Matthew Tkachuk (2.7 WAR)Thomas Vanek (0.3 WAR)
Jussi Jokinen (0.6 WAR)
Tyler Motte (0.1 WAR)

2018-19 season

2018 offseason

Due to the standings remaining the same, the results of the draft are unchanged too, with the Canucks selecting Quinn Hughes seventh overall. The remainder of the offseason goes similarly as well, as Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Tim Schaller all join the team.

Regular season

Even though the Canucks would like Makar to join the team, the young defenceman chooses to return to UMass for a second season and continue honing his game. The remaining roster looks almost identical to the previous year, and the Canucks continue to be bottom feeders in the league.
A major reason for that is the absence of Pettersson, of course. The Swedish phenom would go on to contribute over three wins to the Rangers, who finally have a franchise centre in place. That’s bad news for the Canucks though, as they lose five points in the standings even with Tkachuk having his best offensive season to date.

Roster turnover

In: 1.3 WAROut: 3.8 WAR
Matthew Tkachuk (1.3 WAR)Elias Pettersson (3.3 WAR)
Tyler Motte (-0.2 WAR)
Tim Schaller (0.7 WAR)

2019-20 season

2019 offseason

Finishing the season with five fewer points drops the Canucks down to the 27th overall spot in the standings, and the other changes to the 2017 draft heavily impact the selection order for the 2019 draft as well:
  1. Kings: Jack Hughes
  2. Sabres: Kaapo Kakko
  3. Panthers: Alex Turcotte
  4. Avalanche: Bowen Byram
  5. Devils: Trevor Zegras
  6. Red Wings: Moritz Seider
  7. Canucks: Kirby Dach
  8. Oilers: Philip Broberg
  9. Ducks: Dylan Cozens
  10. Flyers: Vasili Podkolzin
The Canucks had an obvious hole to fill at centre and targeted Trevor Zegras, but are still happy to end up with Kirby Dach instead. Nils Höglander is also selected in the second round in what will turn out to be a very successful draft for the team.
The bigger storyline of the offseason, however, revolves around the second contracts for both Tkachuk and Boeser. Coming off a somewhat disappointing campaign, Boeser signs for the same amount he did in real life: three years, $17.625 million ($5.875 million AAV). On the other hand, Tkachuk makes things more difficult since the Canucks didn’t have the same success as the Flames did the previous season, so he commands a slightly higher deal than what actually happened and is inked for three seasons at a total of $21.5 million ($7.167 million AAV).
Since Hughes and Makar are set to join the team, the Canucks decide not to sign Tyler Myers. They also decide not to trade for J.T. Miller since he’s seen mostly as a winger at that point, and the team desperately needs another top six centre. To fill that void, Benning signs Marcus Johansson to a three year, $12.75 million contract ($4.25 million AAV) and adds Ryan Dzingel for secondary scoring too (three year, $9.75 million, $3.25 AAV).

Regular season

As you might expect, everyone in and outside of Vancouver is enamoured with the duo of Hughes and Makar for the entire season. The dynamic rookies spend most of their time playing with Chris Tanev and Alex Edler, respectively, but the rare minutes when they share the ice are a sight to behold. By the halfway point of the season, they had both carved out a role on the first powerplay unit, which is unheard of in today’s NHL — especially for two rookie defencemen!
With the team fighting for a playoff spot and Benning feeling pressure to make the playoffs, he acquires Tyler Toffoli in exchange for Tim Schaller, a conditional 2020 first-round pick (converts to an unprotected2021 first if the Canucks don’t make the playoffs), and a 2020 fourth-round pick. The Canucks only improve by a mere point, but that actually vaults them into sixth seed in the West instead of the seventh. Along with the other turnover in the standings due to changes in the previous drafts, the qualifying round for the 2020 postseason looks drastically different than what actually happened.

Roster turnover

In: 6.1 WAROut: 5.4 WAR
Matthew Tkachuk (2.2 WAR)Elias Pettersson (4.2 WAR)
Cale Makar (2.8 WAR)J.T. Miller (1.9 WAR)
Marcus Johansson (0.4 WAR)Tyler Myers (-0.3 WAR)
Ryan Dzingel (0.1 WAR)Tyler Motte (-0.3 WAR)
Tyler Toffoli (0.6 WAR)Tim Schaller (-0.1 WAR)
 

That’s it for now! We’ll pick up at the start of the 2020 qualifying round in part two of this “What If?” scenario, dropping next Sunday!
Let us know what you think of this hypothetical so far and stay tuned next week to see how this ends!

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