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5 undersized prospects that could fall to the Canucks in the third round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft

With no picks until the third round, the Canucks might need to take a risk to get an impact player.
Alexandr Pashin on his team's 3-2 win and tournament victory 0-5 screenshot
Alexander Pashin speaks with the media after the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. photo: Hlinka Gretzky Cup, YouTube

With no picks until the third round, the Canucks are going to have to take some big swings to get an impact player in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Sometimes taking a big swing means picking a small player.

The Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning provide a perfect example. One of their best players in the playoffs was Brayden Point, who led the playoffs in goalscoring with 14 goals in 23 games and was second in points with 33. In his four seasons in the NHL, Point has 116 goals and 262 points in 295 games.

Point was drafted in the third round, 79th overall, just a couple of picks removed from where the Canucks will have their first pick next week.

The Lightning got an elite player in the third round primarily because of his size. Point was listed at 5’9” and 160 lbs in his draft year when he put up 36 goals and 91 points in 72 games in the WHL. That’s 20 points more than Jake Virtanen scored that season, but Virtanen was 6’1” and 210 lbs, so got picked 6th overall.

In order to get a first-round calibre talent with the 82nd overall pick, the Canucks are going to have to settle for a player with a significant weakness or two in the hopes that they can overcome that weakness. Size is one of those traits that is considered a weakness by a lot of people in decision-making positions in hockey and, to be fair, it can be a weakness at the NHL level. For every Brayden Point, there are dozens of other undersized players that never made it.

For the Canucks, however, banking on an undersized player might be the best way to leave the draft with a future star. Let’s take a look at five undersized players that might be available to the Canucks late in the third round.

1 | Zion Nybeck, Left Wing - 5’8”

You want an undersized winger that put up big numbers in junior hockey like Brayden Point? Zion Nybeck is your guy.

The 5’8” Nybeck led Sweden’s top junior league, the J20 SuperElit, in scoring, putting up 27 goals and 66 points in 42 games. What makes it all the more impressive is that he was 17 for the entire season, out-scoring 19 year olds, despite being just 5’8”. He even played 15 games in the SHL this past season. Even though he averaged just 4:41 in ice time per game and managed just one goal, getting called up to the SHL as a 17 year old is impressive on its own.

Nybeck has great offensive instincts and is a high-end playmaker with superb vision and passing to go with smooth hands and a quick release on his wrist shot. He’s ranked all over the place by public scouting services, with Future Considerations seeing him as a late first-round pick at 30th overall and TSN’s Craig Button ranking him in the second round at 52nd.

Most rankings, however, see flaws in Nybeck beyond his size that could see him drop to where the Canucks are picking in the third round. That includes Bob McKenzie at TSN, who has him at 73rd overall. McKenzie’s rankings are often more reflective of the order the players will get picked on draft day because they’re gathered from a survey of 10 NHL scouts. It’s the closest the public can get to an actual ranking from an NHL team’s scouting department.

Elite Prospects places Nybeck 78th, labeling him “boom or bust” because of concerns over his skating, which lacks explosiveness. It’s tough for a small player to excel in the NHL without wheels.

Hockey Prospect has him down at 87th, citing  some selfish tendencies, while McKeen’s drops him all the way to 97th because of worries about his size and skating.

Those are some serious red flags, but Nybeck has the skill of a first-round pick. If he improves his skating, he could be a gem.

2 | Michael Benning, Defence - 5’10”

Let’s address the elephant in the room: yes, Michael Benning is the nephew of Canucks’ GM Jim Benning. That’s not why the Canucks should be interested in Benning, however. That has more to do with him racking up similar numbers in the AJHL to this year’s Calder Trophy winner, Cale Makar.

Like Makar, Benning put up 75 points in 54 games in his draft year, a season after scoring just over a point-per-game as a rookie. Like Makar, Benning is an undersized offensive defenceman heading to the NCAA. The parallels stop right about there, however.

Makar had twice as many goals as Benning in his draft year while playing for a worse team. Benning’s assist totals are boosted as a result of playing with other top-tier talents like Carter Savoie. In addition, Benning isn’t as strong a skater as Makar and doesn’t jump up in the rush; his contribution to the transition game is primarily through his strong passing game.

Along with his passing, Benning has a bomb of a slap shot, making him an effective power play quarterback.

With his production and skill, it comes as a surprise that Benning doesn’t even make McKenzie’s draft ranking of 93 players. That might suggest that most NHL teams don’t view Benning very highly, which is a good thing for the Canucks if they’re looking for a right-handed puck-moving defenceman.

Benning doesn’t show up on the draft ranking from McKenzie’s colleague at TSN, Craig Button, either, but his lack of size hasn’t deterred other draft experts from listing him as a late second-round pick or early third-round pick. 

Elite Prospects has him 62nd overall, noting his ability to use “deception and manipulation” so that he “hides his passing intentions.” McKeen’s ranks him 59th overall, touting his edgework. Future Considerations puts him at 66th, praising his patience and ability to be the focal point of his team’s offensive attack.

All it takes is one team to view Benning as highly as these scouting reports and he won’t be available by the time the Canucks pick. If he is still available, however, Jim Benning might get the opportunity to pick his own nephew at the draft.

3 | Anton Johannesson, Defence - 5’9”

Before talking about Anton Johannesson, we have to talk about another 5’9” Swedish defenceman: Emil Andrae.

Andrae is expected to be picked somewhere around the second round at this year’s draft thanks to his superb passing ability and puck handling, along with a strong performance as the captain of Team Sweden at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He led all defencemen in scoring in Sweden’s J20 SuperElit league with 38 points in 40 games. There is, however, one defenceman who outscored Andrae on a point-per-game basis: his frequent defence partner with HV71, Anton Johannesson.

Johannesson played half as many games as Andrae due to injury, but still put up 8 goals and 24 points in 20 games. There’s an argument to be made that that Johannesson is actually the better player of the two, but that’s not reflected in most draft rankings.

Neither Bob McKenzie nor Craig Button has Johannesson on their list, suggesting they don’t even see him getting picked in the first three rounds, but each rank Andrae in the second or third round. That means Johannesson could very well be available when the Canucks pick at 83rd overall.

Elite Prospects views Johannesson a lot more highly, ranking him 50th overall, ahead of Andrae. They point to his skating and playmaking as the key to creating offence and making life easier for his teammates.

“Johannesson has a good mix of creative, deceptive passes, and simple effective ones in the offensive zone. Whatever works,” said Christoffer Hedlund, Elite Prospects’ Director of European Scouting. “He really takes advantage of his mobility to open up passing lanes and ruthlessly exploits them.”

Defensively, Johannesson makes gaining the zone tough with his excellent gap control, though he struggles with in-zone defence due to his lack of size. Hockey Prospect, however, suggests his small stature won’t be a long-term impediment because he plays bigger than his size.

“He isn't afraid of playing the body and often plays with a nasty edge to get the opposing teams star players out of rhythm,” reads the report from Hockey Prospect. Still, he weighs in at just 154 lbs and has a tough time protecting the puck and winning puck battles at his current size.

Johannesson represents a gamble. If he can bulk up, improve his core strength, and learn how to use his small size to his advantage, he has the potential to be second-pairing defenceman thanks to his incredible vision and passing. If he can’t work that out, his size will seriously limit his ability in the defensive zone and likely prevent him from having an NHL career. 

For a team in need of puck-moving defencemen, Johannesson is worth the gamble.

4 | Alexander Pashin, Right Wing - 5’7”

If you’re looking for flashy offensive skill outside the first round, Alexander Pashin has dangles for days.

“He heads straight at defenders with only one idea in mind — trying to make them look as foolish as possible,” reads his scouting report from Elite Prospects.

Pashin used that skill to excellent effect at last year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup, racking up 7 goals in 5 games.

That’s the kind of international performance that makes NHL teams sit up and take notice. He was also very good in Russia’s MHL this past season, putting up 39 points in 37 games to lead all first-time draft-eligible players in points per game.

He combines that offensive skill with a high motor, constantly moving his feet and working to win races to the puck, win puck battles, and win the game. Hockey Prospect calls him “a feisty player who is almost always going a mile a minute.”

That’s enough for Craig Button to rank Pashin as a second-round pick, 47th overall on his draft ranking and it’s easy to imagine his combination of skill and pace helping him overcome his 5’7” stature. In fact, with the pest side of his game, maybe he could even become a bottom-six forward, limiting the boom or bust aspect that so often comes with undersized prospects.

There are some red flags, however, which see him ranked lower by several others. McKenzie, for instance, has Pashin ranked 89th, while McKeen’s drops him all the way to 184th overall. 

Elite Prospects goes a step farther, putting Pashin on their “do not draft” list, pointing out his underdeveloped skating stride, overhandling of the puck, and a general lack of hockey sense. To them, these represent far too many obstacles.

Hockey Prospect notes his puck handling ability, but points out that all his dangles take him to the outside rather than working towards the middle to create chances. They also question his awareness in all three zones, saying he has tunnel vision on the ice.

Those are some significant flaws, but it’s still hard to deny the point production and work rate. What if, with some development of his weaknesses, he becomes a Brad Marchand-lite? He has skill and the drive to go with it, great top-end speed that makes him dangerous in transition, and a strong defensive game despite his size.

5 | Dmitri Ovchinnikov, Forward - 5’10”

Pashin led the MHL in points per game among first-time draft-eligible players, but Dmitri Ovchinnikov led the way in total points, putting up 24 goals and 55 points in 54 games. He played every forward position for his team, playing both wings and centre, doing a little bit of everything.

This season, Ovchinnikov has gotten off to a roaring start with 3 goals and 7 points in his first 3 games in the MHL, earning a quick call-up to the KHL.

Despite the scoring, Ovchinnikov seems to be off the radar a little bit, perhaps because of a lack of international appearances for Russia over the past year. He’s unranked by Central Scouting, completely absent from McKenzie and Button’s lists, doesn’t show up on Hockey Prospect’s top 109 list, and is ranked all the way down at 160th and 172nd by McKeen’s and Future Considerations, respectively.

There are a lot of reasons to like Ovchinnikov, however, notably his impressive production at a young age. Ovchinnikov has a mid-August birthday, making him one of the younger players in the draft. If he was a month younger, he’d be eligible for next year’s draft and his eye-catching production to kick off the current MHL season would likely see him a lot higher on the draft rankings.

Ovchinnikov has the potential to play centre at the next level thanks to his strong two-way game. Hockey Prospect calls him a “talented, multi-faceted forward who can beat opposing defenses in a number of ways” and noted “he stood out more when placed at centre.”

He’s got great speed, a strong shot with a quick release, and is a decent playmaker as well. His report from Elite Prospects notes how he attacks the inside of the ice and plays with structure, something not easily found in the MHL.

Elite Prospects ranks him 117th overall, knocking him for a lack of problem-solving ability when situations change rapidly and one-dimensional skating: he doesn’t vary his speed on the attack and has inconsistent mechanics.

I keep coming back to his age, however, and the thought that with some additional development, he could become a third-line centre or a bottom-six winger, attacking opposing defences and forechecking with speed. It seems like there’s a lot of raw potential there worth taking a chance on, perhaps not in the third round, but in a later round, if being unranked by Central Scouting is any indication of his likelihood of getting picked.