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16 prospects the experts think could be available for the Canucks’ first pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft

The Canucks don't pick until 82nd overall in the third round.
Jack Thompson of the Sudbury Wolves. photo: Terry Wilson, OHL Images

With four-straight years picking in the top 10, it’s been easy to get a read on who the Canucks might take with their first pick at the draft. There’s a limited number of prospects that make sense to take with a top-10 pick without going extremely off the board.

This year, it’s a little more difficult. Not only do the Canucks not have a top-10 pick, they don’t even have a first-round pick. Where only a handful of players might be available and make sense when you’re picking 5th or 7th overall, there’s a much wider swathe of prospects to select from in the third round, when the Canucks will be making their first pick.

Barring a trade, the Canucks won’t be picking until 82nd overall. Technically, the Canucks’ pick will actually be the 81st pick of the draft, as the Arizona Coyotes were forced to forfeit their second-round pick as part of their sanctions for conducting private physical testing of 2020 draft-eligible players prior to the NHL Combine. 

Who might the Canucks take with that 82nd/81st pick? There are a wide array of options. What we can do is look at some of the major public draft rankings and see who they have ranked at 81st or 82nd. Even if the Canucks don’t specifically take one of these players, this should give you an idea of the calibre of prospects generally expected to be available by the time the Canucks make their first pick of the draft.

The publications I’m pulling from are Elite Prospects, McKeen’s Hockey, and Hockey Prospect, as well as lists from Bob McKenzie and Craig Button at TSN, Scott Wheeler from The Athletic, J.D. Burke and Mitch Brown at Elite Prospects, and Cam Robinson from Dobber Prospects.  

Let’s take a look at who these experts have ranked where the Canucks will be making their first pick, listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Robert Calisti, LHD

Calisti is an over-aged and under-sized puck-moving defenceman, who put up 50 points in 64 games for the Soo Greyhounds, which was good for 12th among all OHL defenceman. It was a big step up for 5’10” Calisti, who turned 19 in January, and it was enough to catch the eye of Elite Prospect scout Mitch Brown, who ranked him 82nd overall.

Brown praised his skating and playmaking in his scouting report, though he suggested that he can be over-aggressive defensively. Calisti can flat-out fly and has some serious upside with his skillset, so could be an intriguing target. 

Ivan Didkovsky, LW

Ranked 82nd overall by Craig Button, Didkovsky was one of the top 17-year-old goalscorers in Russia’s junior league, the MHL, last season. He scored 20 goals in just 37 games, just 4 goals behind the leading 17 year old, Dimitri Ovchinnikov, who played 17 more games.

Didkovsky is a shooter through-and-through, with a wicked wrist shot that he lets loose from all angles. He could stand to pass a bit more, but he was the leading scorer on a struggling Dynamo Moscow team, despite playing so few games, so didn’t have a lot of players to pass to.

His lack of speed is a concern, but if the Canucks are looking for a skilled sniper, Didkovsky could be worth the gamble. 

Alexei Goryachev, LHD

J.D. Burke is higher on Alexei Goryachev than anyone else, ranking him 82nd on his list. He rightfully calls Goryachev a project, but he’s an intriguing project because of his hard-hitting defensive game, with aggressive gap control, great defensive reads, and an ability to crush opponents into the boards.

“The Russian defenceman hits and hits hard,” says Burke. “Goryachev quite literally kills opposing plays.”

Goryachev isn’t going to do much offensively, but sometimes you just want a defenceman that will wipe out opposing forwards. There’s enough potential in his skating and passing for Goryachev to bring that physical style to the NHL, making him an intriguing prospect. Perhaps he’s not right for the third round — no one else has him ranked that high — but maybe for a later round.

Roni Hirvonen, C

It’s always nice to see a prospect play against men in their draft year. It shows they’re trusted by their coaches to have a well-developed two-way game and hold their own against older opponents. It’s particularly impressive when that prospect is just 5’9”.

Ranked 82nd overall by Hockey Prospect, Roni Hirvonen spent all of last season in the Finnish Liiga, where he tallied 16 points in 52 games. Against his peers, Hirvonen had a standout performance in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he led Finland in scoring with 4 goals and 5 points in 3 games. 

Hirvonen is a smart, efficient playmaker with a solid defensive game. Some see Hirvonen as a second-round pick, but his lack of size and underdeveloped skating could see him drop to the Canucks in the third round.

Wyatt Kaiser, LHD

I touched on Wyatt Kaiser, ranked 81st by Bob McKenzie, when I profiled some intriguing prospects from the USHL. Kaiser bears similarities to Jack Rathbone, both in terms of his smooth-skating style and because he primarily played high school hockey with a quick dip in the USHL in his draft year.

Daniel Gee, a scout for Elite Prospects, couldn’t stop praising Kaiser’s skating, both for his pure speed and for his mobility and escapability under pressure. 

Allan McShane, C

Ranked 81st by Mitch Brown, McShane scored better-than a point-per-game in the OHL this past season. There’s just one issue: he’s 20 years old.

McShane was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the fourth round in 2018, but wasn’t signed, so will re-enter the 2020 draft. He’s a skilled playmaker with a high hockey IQ and could be an intriguing target in the 7th round or as a prospect camp invite, but not in the third round.

Alexander Pashin, LW

Cam Robinson has Alexander Pashin at 82nd overall. The 5’7” winger is one of the undersized players I profiled last week, as his size could drop him down to the Canucks despite his high level of skill and tireless work ethic.

Some have Pashin ranked as high as the second round, while Elite Prospects put Pashin on their “Do Not Draft” list, citing some significant flaws. Still, Pashin has elite puckhandling ability and works his tail off in all three zones: he might still be worth the gamble. 

Dylan Petersen, C

Ranked 82nd overall by Scott Wheeler, Dylan Petersen is a 6’4” centre with power forward potential. The strongest element of his game is on the defensive end of the ice, which potentially gives him a high floor even if he doesn’t have the highest ceiling as a prospect: he could be a future third-line centre.

What’s intriguing is the occasional flashes of puckhandling skill and finish in front of the net, as well as the solid skating for a player his size. If the offensive side of his game can develop, Petersen could be a mid-round steal.

Zachary Plucinski, RHD

Another player J.D. Burke views more highly than any other publication, Plucinski is ranked 81st on his list. The right-side defenceman from the USHL had 26 points in 48 games and is already 20 years old, so it’s a bit surprising to see him ranked so highly, but Burke praises his fantastic defensive game and ability to start the transition game with his passing ability.

Perhaps not someone to take in the third round, but an intriguing late-round option.

Vasily Ponomarev, C

Both McKeen’s and Hockey Prospect have Vasily Ponomarev ranked 81st overall, which suggests consensus, but they actually have him quite low compared to other rankings. Ponomarev is expected to be a second-round pick, but might slide due to an underwhelming performance in the QMJHL, where he had 49 points in 57 games.

Ponomarev is a high-motor, two-way centre that does a little bit of everything. His performances in international tournaments were more impressive than his play during the regular season. Defensively, he’s unrelenting in his puck pursuit. Offensively, he lacks a great shot but is a consummate playmaker.

Will he slide to the third round? There’s always a chance. 

Eamon Powell, RHD

The Canucks could really use a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman on the right side. That could be Eamon Powell, ranked 81st by Elite Prospects.

Powell is a high-end skater, with great top speed and agility, which makes him dangerous in transition with the puck or jumping up in the rush with his forwards. Where he needs work is on the defensive side, where he doesn’t make the most of his skating to defend the blue line. 

Powell was overshadowed by his US National Team Development Program teammate Jake Sanderson, who will be a first-round pick, but he could also develop into a top-four defenceman at the NHL level.

Theo Rochette, C

Ranked 81st by Cam Robinson, Theo Rochette has a refined defensive game and is a superb passer in the offensive zone. His numbers, however, were middling, just 39 points in 49 games in the QMJHL.

That could be because he missed a month with mono, which can take a lot out of a person for weeks afterwards. If that’s the case, Rochette could be a mid-round steal thanks to his great hockey sense and two-way game.

Antonio Stranges, LW

Both Scott Wheeler and McKeen’s have Stranges at 82nd overall, which is quite the fall from grace for a player that was once expected to be a first-round pick. 

Stranges has incredible hands and some nice edgework in his skating, which makes for an exciting highlight reel. When he’s on his game, he looks like a first-round talent. The problem is that he’s so rarely on his game. His inconsistency led to just 40 points in 61 games, barely an improvement on the 34 points he had in the OHL in his first season. 

His inconsistency is a common complaint in his scouting reports, dropping him down the rankings and sometimes right off them: Stranges isn’t ranked by Hockey Prospect and is on Elite Prospects “Do Not Draft” list. Elite Prospects calls him a “perimeter player” among a litany of other criticisms, while Hockey Prospect says he has to “mentally restructure himself” before he has any chance of making the NHL.

Jack Thompson, RHD

Bob McKenzie ranks Jack Thompson 82nd overall and the 6’1” defenceman has a lot going for him. He’s got the size, skating, skill, and shot to be an offensive defenceman in the NHL, even if he only managed 32 points in 63 OHL games.

Perhaps because Thompson is also a high-level golfer, his best attribute is his shot. That makes him a danger to score from the point, but he needs to develop other aspects of his game, particularly his defence, to make it to the NHL. 

He’ll need time to develop, but there’s some serious upside to Thompson’s game.

Pavel Tyutnev, C

Ranked 82nd by Craig Button, Pavel Tyutnev is another undersized centre out of Russia. A standout in international tournaments, Tyutnev was merely okay in the MHL, with 22 points in 36 games.

Tyutnev has great speed, which drives his offensive game, as he wins races to loose pucks and puts pressure on the forecheck. That speed makes him more interesting than some of the other undersized players that could be available in mid-rounds, but the flaws in his game — inconsistency and few standout abilities apart from his speed — might make him a better fit as a 6th or 7th round pick. 

Eemil Viro, LHD

Finally, there’s Eemil Viro, ranked 82nd by Elite Prospects. Viro is ranked all over the place by scouts, as high as 31st overall by Craig Button. As in, the final pick of the first round. Other rankings agree with Elite Prospects and see Viro as a third round pick.

Viro played 29 games in the Finnish Liiga as a 17-year-old defenceman, a very positive sign. Elite Prospects sees him as a physical, stay-at-home defenceman with far better skating than you normally see from that type of player. He’s got the speed and footwork to keep a tight gap and angle forwards to the outside.

McKeen’s suggests there’s a little more offence there, suggesting he can use his skating offensively in transition and praising his passing ability. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty with Viro: is he a late first round pick? Early second round? Could he fall until late in the third? On the ice, he has to add a lot of strength to his 5’11” frame to effectively battle along the boards and in front of the net, where his defensive game can struggle compared to when he’s defending purely with his skating.