Without a first-round pick after the trade for Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Canucks need to find a top-tier talent with their first pick in the second round.
They may have done exactly that, taking a home run swing on a quality prospect in an under-scouted league in Belarus: Danila Klimovich.
The Canucks chief amateur scout Ron Delorme made the pick for the Canucks, dedicating it to his mother, Gertrude, a residential school survivor.
Klimovich is a 6’1” forward with a right-hand shot, who is listed at centre but has also played on the wing. He was supposed to play last season in the QMJHL, but chose to stay in Belarus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s some serious upside in Klimovich, who spent the bulk of the season piling up points in the Vysshaya Liga, Belarus’s second-tier professional league. He had 28 goals and 52 points in 37 games with Minskie Zubry in the Vysshaya, then 9 goals and 14 points in 12 playoff games.
At the same time, it’s hard to know what to make of that production in a league not known for producing NHL players.
But then he went to the World Under-18 Championship with Belarus and dominated.
A creative, goal-scoring force
Klimovich had 6 goals in 5 games at the U18 tournament, leading a clearly overmatched Belarus team in scoring. That was also third in goalscoring and first in goals-per-game among draft-eligible players at that tournament.
“Even if the Belarus team was outmatched in most of their contests, the winger never let up,” said Elite Prospects in their draft guide. “He worked defensively every shift, forechecked and backchecked with an intensity that few could match on the ice, and managed more than his share of puck steals, turning some of them into breakaways or odd-man rushes.”
Klimovich certainly has a well-rounded game, with the type of defensive effort that is sometimes unusual to see in a player his age, but what really jumps off the ice is his skill and shot. The Belarusian has slick hands and a willingness to use them to challenge defencemen one-on-one to get to prime scoring areas.
Beyond his hands, Klimovich has an excellent shot that he can release from seemingly anywhere and keen vision on the ice to thread passes through to his teammates. The combination of skills combined with a creative mind make him difficult to defend.
“The defining feature of Klimovich is how many available options he has within his skillset to create and generate plays,” said Hockey Prospect in their draft guide. “He can force opponents into slowing their play against him by using his dynamic and adaptive hands in combination with his poise and deception. He can mix up his playmaking and shooting options well, due to having primary ability in both.
“He’s dangerous from distance, he’s dangerous in motion, he’s dangerous from stationary positions and he’s dangerous in tight around the net area.”
Sometimes, he was almost too creative. He goes between the legs on breakaways, over-exaggerates fake shots to get defencemen to bite, and can sometimes dangle himself directly into trouble. But it’s hard to get mad at a teenager for trying to do creative things on the ice, especially when he works so hard away from the puck.
“The size, the skills, the hockey sense are all there for him to be an offensive producing player and he’s consistent in his approach,” said director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. “He’s got NHL speed and competes hard. Now, he does have a flair for the dramatic at times, but that’s good. It means he’s confident, but, every shift, he’s first on pucks, always going to the net and he’s got that knack to be open and available to get that shot off.”
A raw prospect with room to grow
From the scouting reports, Klimovich is a dangerous, creative offensive threat that also works his tail off away from the puck. What’s not to like and why was he available to the Canucks at 41st overall in the second round? Why was he ranked so low by some publications — many had him as a third-round pick and he didn’t even make the top 100 for The Hockey News.
There are a few reasons why. One is that he played in a second-tier league in Belarus, so had fewer eyes on him. It’s easier to dismiss a player’s point production when it’s coming in that kind of league.
Another reason is related to that one — he’s very raw. Perhaps because of a lack of high-level coaching or high-level competition, Klimovich lacks a lot of structure to his game compared to other prospects his age.
He also has some flaws in his skating that will need to be addressed.
“Klimovich’s skating holds him back,” said Elite Prospects. “He strides wide; his skates fall on their inside edges as they recover under him and his torso leans over the ice too much, limiting his speed and overall quickness. However, his motor, pace, and anticipation largely compensate for the mechanical deficiencies of his skating.”
And finally, there was a repeated note in scouting reports that Klimovich had a tendency to be very critical of himself and visibly frustrated when things didn’t go right on the ice.
“Klimovich was clearly frustrated by this game,” said David St-Louis in one game report for Elite Prospects. “Pointing towards teammates when they missed a play and being just as annoyed with himself when he did. He wanted to win and thought he had more than a chance to do so. Is that a good attitude or is the teammate-pointing a bad thing? I’ll leave that to the psychology experts.”
To a certain extent, Klimovich’s rawness is part of the appeal. It means he has more room to grow. Make no mistake, this is a high upside pick for the Canucks that could pay off in a big way.
“Despite lacking structure, this is a talented player with elite level skill chaining,” said Hockey Prospect. “He can mix his hands and dekes into both his shot and passing, making it very difficult to read him, even when you don’t factor in his creativity or deception.”
With more structure, maturity, and work on his skating, Klimovich has the potential to be a top-six forward for the Canucks, with the creativity, shot, and two-way play to have a major impact. That’s a great potential outcome for a second-round pick.