Who is the Canucks’ choice of centre at the draft? Nate Danielson or Brayden Yager?
Photo credit:Jeremy Champagne / Brandon Wheat Kings
2 months ago
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Welcome back to our series here at CanucksArmy where we examine players the Vancouver Canucks could select with the 11th pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
We’ve previously looked at Swedish right-shot defenceman Axel Sandin Pellikka; last season’s youngest NCAA player, BC’s own, Matthew Wood; Bo Horvat comparable, Slovakian centre Dalibor Dvorský; draft long shot Matvei Michkov; OHLer Calum Ritchie; the fastest skater of the draft, USNTDP centre Oliver Moore; Russian LD Dmitri Simashev; Canuck favourite David Reinbacher; number one OHL pick Quentin Musty; Brandon Wheat King captain Nate Danielson; draft riser RD Tom Willander; sniper Colby Barlow; playmaking wizard Zach Benson; wall specialist Samuel Honzek; Boston College commit Ryan Leonard, and spark plug Gracyn Sawchyn. In today’s 17th and final article of this series, we’ll take a look at WHL centre Brayden Yager — projected 22nd pick and seventh-best centre in the draft, according to Elite Prospects.
Brayden Yager played his minor hockey in Martensville and Saskatoon, the latter where he’s from. During his 14-year-old season, Yager put up triple digits: recording 103 points (44 G, 59 A) in 31 games, cementing himself as a top player in the 05 prospect pool among this year’s number-one NHL draft pick Connor Bedard, who never reached 100 points in a season prior to his sophomore season with the Regina Pats. As history had it, the following year, Yager was drafted third overall in the 2020 WHL draft by the Moose Jaw Warriors, two spots behind Bedard. Yager’s father played hockey at the University of Saskatchewan, while his older brother played minor hockey for three seasons with Brayden. In a 24-game stint with Moose Jaw following his drafting, Yager tallied 18 points (7 G, 11 A). In a full season of work the following year, Yager had 59 points (34 G, 25 A) in 63 games, earning WHL Rookie of the Year, won by Bedard the year prior, and CHL Rookie of the Year. In his first postseason with Moose Jaw, Yager scored 7 points (3 G, 4 A) in 10 games.
Wearing an “A” during his draft season, Yager reached the point-per-game plateau for the first time in his short WHL career, putting up 78 points (28 G, 50 P), the same as Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nate Danielson whom the Canucks like, in 67 games. Yager continued his point-per-game trend, putting up 16 (6 G, 10 A) points this playoff run in as many playoff games as last season. His increased production contributed to nine points (5 G, 4 A) in five games as an assistant for Team Canada’s Gretzky Hlinka Cup winning roster. In addition to his international accolade, Yager picked up a WHL award for the second straight year in a row, as the league’s “Most Sportsmanlike Player” this season.
What the scouts are saying
Craig Button, TSN: “When he gets open in the offensive zone, he’s dangerous. He can shoot the puck, but he also is dangerous to make a play. So he doesn’t lock into one option: he understands that there may be more than one option. When you watch him play in the different areas of the game, he can generate opportunities from his strong defensive positioning to his really good skating in transition into the offensive zone. There is so much improvement available for Brayden Yager.”
Smaht Scouting: “Yager has found success in the offensive zone when he has acquired open space. Instead of forcing his way through the offensive zone and weaving in heavily pressured areas, Yager looks to quickly distribute the puck once entering the zone with the puck.”
Steven Ellis, Daily Faceoff: “Statistically, 78 points in a draft year is solid. He had 50 assists and showed he can be a highlight-reel machine. But there have been enough off-games to get some scouts concerned. He can play all situations, but he rarely engages physically and most scouts wanted to see more goals out of him. I like him as a complementary winger more than a center down the road.”
David St-Louis, Elite Prospects: “He’s really good at what he does, but seems fixed in his strength and style of play. At the NHL level, he will need the right, complementary teammates to succeed. I doubt he becomes a true driver. His motor could improve further and his physicality, too, making him a shutdown winger or center, but he will likely remain a give-and-go player and an off-puck shooter first-and-foremost. Can’t drop him too much. There is a clear NHL game there and a high-end skill. I think he stays a top-20/25 prospect.”
Cam Robinson, Elite Prospects: “The way the puck jumps off of Yager’s stick is wildly impressive. He generates so much power and leans every ounce of strength into it, yet it comes off so quickly and requires little wind up.”
Rankings (per Elite Prospects)
Based on these rankings, Yager should go 20th overall. For the most part, scouts view him as a first-round pick, with the exception of one. There’s a fair bit of criticism tacked on to Yager for being a low-end first player, certainly more than his peers. Yager was expected to have a stronger season, which says a lot about his skill, considering he recorded 78 points in an “average” season performance. After seeing him at the Gretzky Hlinka Cup, which many scouts refer to as the peak of his season, and with his easy-to-see shooting prowess, Yager was pinned to be a 30-40 goal scorer in the WHL. However, he only had 28 this season: six less than last season. Typically, his goals-to-assists ratio is much tighter. Some years, Yager has scored more goals than assists. But this season, it’s a little out of whack. His biggest asset is without a doubt his shot. Yager has a patent “inside leg wrister.” He could be pretty much absorbed by coverage and still have the strength to pull the puck back towards himself, with limited mobility and space, and fire it into the net. Very Connor Bedard-esque; his stick essentially becomes a rocket launcher. He relies on his weight and his wrist alone to propel the puck off his stick.
The Canucks have two big positional needs heading into this draft: defencemen (no shocker there), and centres. It would appear that Yager would meet one of those requirements, but not quite. Yager’s a centre in the WHL — the NHL? Not likely, unless a team would rather trade in his offence for a more conservative puck retrieval, puck distribution game. Personally, I don’t think that’s the way to go. You can workshop a player’s game, sure, but to keep Yager as a centre in the NHL, based on what has been seen of him, would change the very essence of his game. Defensively, Yager lets the attackers come to him, instead of challenging defensive threats and quickly thwarting low-medium scoring chances. Offensively, Yager struggles to lead rushes and enter the zone as a puck carrier. Typically, Yager prefers to dish a pass and head to the perimeter of the offensive zone. When he does try to break the blue line on his own, he has some difficulties bypassing defenders and can get hung up on the boards. At 165 lbs, he’s not strong enough to muscle past defenders, and at 6’0”, he’s not small or quick enough to brush by defenders. Yager’s in-tight game alone isn’t strong enough to get him passed defenders.
However, his shot is definitely something to marvel over. Fantastic, quick release. Doesn’t need a lot of time and space to get the puck off his stick, and manoeuvres effectively in the zone, getting himself available while not setting off alarm bells for defenders. Because Yager’s a more offensively-inclined, puck-distributing and releasing centre, it’s natural to want to flip him to a winger because that’s where his skills would best mesh. If the Canucks did draft him and wanted to keep him as a centre, they’d have to be really selective with the players they place around him on the line. I don’t think he could have the level of offensive success he’s known to have by throwing him on any given line during a night.
Yager’s also a fun comparable to Nate Danielson, a fellow centre in the WHL, who the Canucks have really taken a liking to, despite his 26th overall projection by Elite Prospects. Both players finished with the same amount of points, and are integral top-line players for their team who log a ton of minutes in a variety of scenarios. Danielson is the better puck handler and more defensive player, and Yager has the better shot of the two. I think for whatever reason, if Danielson is off the board by the 11th pick, which is highly unlikely, the next best centre is Yager, if all the other centres were taken as expected by then. I think Yager is an extremely skilled player. I just don’t believe he’s anyone that urgently addresses a need or stands out for the Canucks. But who knows, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Canucks shake something up at the draft. Make sure to tune in tonight at 4:00 PM PST to find out. It’s been a year in the making.
What would be your reaction if the Canucks drafted Brayden Yager? Let us know in the comment section below!
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