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Canucks had Lekkerimäki ranked 7th overall ahead of NHL Entry Draft

"You guys are pounding the table for Lekkerimäki."
Lekkerimaki picked by Canucks
Jonathan Lekkerimäki poses with Canucks ownership and hockey operations staff after being picked 15th overall at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

Heading into the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Shane Wright was the consensus first overall pick. When the draft actually happened, however, it turned out there wasn’t much consensus at all.

Wright was very clearly not ranked first overall by the Montreal Canadiens, who took Juraj Slafkovsky with the first pick. Neither was he ranked first overall by the New Jersey Devils, who selected Simon Nemec second, or the Arizona Coyotes, who took Logan Cooley third. 

It took until the fourth pick of the draft for Wright to get picked by the Seattle Kraken, which is an excellent example of how wildly different draft lists can be. Every team has their own list based on the views of their scouts and the priorities they place on different aspects of the game. A prospect in one team’s top-10 might not even crack the first round on another team’s list. 

That leads us to the Vancouver Canucks' first-round pick, Jonathan Lekkerimäki.

"You guys are pounding the table for Lekkerimäki."

Most public draft rankings had Lekkerimäki in the top-10, with Bob McKenzie ranking him highest at 8th overall.  

Even McKenzie’s ranking, however, reflected how varied draft lists can be. McKenzie compiles his rankings by surveying actual NHL scouts and Lekkerimäki was all over the place on that survey, with one scout ranking him all the way up at 4th overall, while another had him 17th overall.

Evidently, a lot of the teams picking ahead of the Canucks at the draft did not have Lekkerimäki in their own top-10 or he would have gone a lot sooner than 15th overall to the Canucks.  

The Canucks were overjoyed to see him slide down the draft. Thanks to the team’s latest all-access video, we know exactly where the Canucks had Lekkerimäki on their list.

The relevant section starts at 5:08 in the video with Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin on the phone, presumably in a trade call with another team’s GM.

“Pass on that one,” says Allvin into the phone and the video cuts to Allvin saying to assistant GM Derek Clancey, “We’re not moving down.”

The reason why they’re not willing to trade down from 15th overall is immediately made clear.

“Lekkerimäki, we’ve got him at seven on the list for a reason, right? He’s a good player,” says Allvin. “You guys are pounding the table for Lekkerimäki. Lekkerimäki is the guy, right? He’s a top-six scorer.”

The Canucks had Lekkerimäki ranked 7th overall, which means they had him higher on their list than eight other players who were selected ahead of him. It’s no wonder that the Canucks’ director of amateur scouting excitedly says, “Oh yeah, it’s a steal,” to Allvin on the draft stage.

"You can't buy a difference maker."

The reason why they’re so high on Lekkerimäki should be clear from the behind-the-scenes of the pre-draft scouting meeting that leads the video. In that segment, Canucks fans get some clarity on Allvin’s philosophy and vision for the draft and the team.

“I don’t want to have a third-line guy in the first round. I don’t,” says Allvin at 1:45 in the video. “Those guys, you can find them in free agency — C+ players, you can find them in free agency. What you can’t find is the difference makers. You can’t buy a difference maker – it’s too expensive. In order to be good, you’ve got to find those difference makers.”

There were a couple of players who might be considered “third-line guys” that went ahead of Lekkerimäki at the draft, like Marco Kasper and Conor Geekie. Shortly after making the pick, Allvin talks about how Mikael Samuelsson was “really excited” about Lekkerimäki, then makes it clear that he’s the type of “difference maker” that he was talking about in their draft meetings.

“When you have a chance to get a difference maker and you have him rated high, go for it,” he says.

"It's easy to fall in love with the high-character, compete players."

There are some other intriguing details from the video. The Canucks’ entire analytics department — Aiden Fox, Miles Hoaken, Rachel Doerrie, and Ryan Biech — are in the room with the scouts for the pre-draft scouting meeting, which is a positive sign for how analytics have been integrated into their processes.

Allvin also has strong words about overvaluing compete level in scouting evaluations.

“At the end of the day, everybody’s competing at the National Hockey League level. What separates them is the skill level,” says Allvin. “It’s easy to fall in love with the high-character, compete players in this level — how can they get to the next level where everybody’s competing? You’ve got to be smarter, you’ve got to be more skilled. At some point, everybody’s going to compete.”

It’s an interesting point. Scouts value players that compete hard at lower levels as it can be an indication of whether that player will make it to the NHL at all — a prospect needs drive and character to put in the work needed to reach the NHL level. 

Allvin, however, is making the point that once that player gets to the NHL, “compete” is no longer a separating factor — everyone has it. What is a separating factor is marrying that compete level to intelligence and skill. 

"There's not going to be any excuses."

Beyond that, the video is careful not to reveal too much about the Canucks’ process and details at the draft. It doesn’t reveal any of the discussion at the table surrounding their picks on day two of the draft, for example. There is a cute moment at 4:40 in the video, however, where Allvin is chatting with Brian Burke and Burke, with his tie loosely draped around his shoulders as usual, takes a moment to adjust Allvin’s Canucks lapel pin.

Okay, it's not the most compelling moment, but like I said, not much is revealed. 

From the draft, the video moves on to development camp, where Allvin is encouraging but blunt to the gathered prospects.

“The coaching staff in Abbotsford and our development staff is going to guide you to become NHL players. There’s not going to be any excuses for not  — we have all the resources here,” says Allvin. 

The development camp section of the video features some of the interactions between the team’s development staff and the players, such as Samuelsson working with Danila Klimovich on small details on positioning and puck protection and Higgins encouraging Linus Karlsson to get his feet moving more when coming out of tight turns.

It’s a great illustration of the number of minor details that can make or break a prospect’s development. Standing two feet out of position can be the difference between maintaining puck possession to make a play and having a defenceman knock the puck off your stick and have the opportunity lost. 

Then there are the cooking classes, playing dodgeball with kids at Kimount Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and, of course, the Grouse Grind. The prospects weren’t alone on the Grind, with several development staff also taking part. As expected, there’s a shot at 17:40 of the Sedins dominating the Grind.

While this video isn’t as revealing as some past videos the Canucks have released of their scouting meetings and drafts — the Canucks infamously revealed their entire 2010 draft list in a video interview with then-assistant GM Laurence Gilman — but this video still gives some insight into how Allvin views the draft and building a team.

At the very least, it’s intriguing to know that the Canucks had Lekkerimäki ranked 7th overall. 

Which six players did they have ranked ahead of Lekkerimäki? Was it the same six who were selected with the first six picks of the draft — Slafkovsky, Nemec, Cooley, Wright, Cutter Gauthier, and David Jiricek — or did they have someone else in the mix?