The Vancouver Canucks are likely to have just one representative at the upcoming World Junior Championship tournament. But they could have had a lot more.
Dmitri Zlodeyev, the Canucks’ 6th-round pick in 2020, has made Team Russia for the 2022 World Juniors. Zlodeyev is expected to be Russia’s 4th-line centre, which makes a lot of sense given his skillset.
Zlodeyev plays a highly-detailed defensive game, excelling at faceoffs and on the penalty kill, so you can expect him to be used in a checking role for Russia. If he makes the NHL in the future, he projects as a bottom-six centre, combining strong defensive instincts with a relentless motor that makes him a nightmare for opposing defencemen on the forecheck.
Offensively, you shouldn’t expect much from Zlodeyev. He’s more of a distributor than a finisher and even then keeps things fairly simple when it comes to playmaking. He’s bounced between four different teams in three different leagues this season but has done most of his scoring in the MHL, Russia’s junior league, where he has 7 points in 10 games.
There are weaknesses to Zlodeyev’s game — there’s a reason why he didn’t get picked until the sixth round — but he’s still an intriguing prospect and it will be nice to get a look at him at the World Junior tournament.
Unfortunately, he’ll also be the only Canucks prospect at the tournament.
The Canucks had four prospects in the 2018, 2019, and 2020 tournaments, highlighted by stars like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Nils Höglander, and Vasily Podkolzin, but also late-round picks like Toni Utunen, Will Lockwood, and Karel Plášek.
Last year, the Canucks had just two prospects at the World Juniors: Podkolzin and Arvid Costmar.
This year, it’s just Zlodeyev.
Truscott and Jurmo didn't make the cut
There were, however, a couple of other Canucks prospects who could have been at the World Juniors.
Defenceman Jacob Truscott was a late cut for Team USA. The fifth-round pick in 2020 has been decent for the University of Michigan in the NCAA this season and has been rounding out his game, with time on the penalty kill and more attentiveness to the defensive zone.
Joni Jurmo, the defenceman selected in the third round in 2020 by the Canucks, wasn’t even invited to Finland’s camp. Jurmo has been playing in the Finnish Liiga, with 7 points in 26 games, while averaging a little over 15 minutes per game. Not too shabby.
In addition, Danila Klimovich could have played for Belarus in the World Juniors, only Belarus was competing in Division I instead of the top tournament. The Canucks didn’t release Klimovich to play in the tournament, which Belarus won.
That means Belarus was promoted to the top division. Klimovich will be 19 and eligible for next year’s World Juniors for Belarus if he’s released by the Canucks to play.
So, the Canucks could have had a couple more prospects represented but it’s still a little disappointing that they’ll only be sending one player. A big reason why is that the Canucks have traded away so many high picks recently, including their 1st-round picks in each of the last two drafts.
When Jim Rutherford came in as the president of hockey operations, his initial assessment was clear: this is not a team that should be trading away top picks.
“I want to be careful with our trades,” said Rutherford. “I don't want to trade draft picks, unless they're later round picks. It's not the cycle we're in to trade high draft picks.”
Canucks could've had three of Team Canada's top forwards
If the Canucks had hung on to their picks and made a few different choices, they could have had a few more players at this year’s World Juniors. If you take a glance at Team Canada’s projected lineup, you could see that the Canucks could have had all three of their top right wingers.
Dylan Guenther was taken ninth overall in the 2021 draft with the pick the Canucks traded to the Arizona Coyotes in the deal for Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He projects to be on Canada’s stacked first line.
On the second line is Logan Stankoven, taken a few picks after the Canucks took Klimovich in the second round. Stankoven was a potential first-round pick but fell into the second round primarily because of his size.
The Canucks could have taken advantage of that and taken him but instead went with Klimovich. Perhaps that will still work out well for the Canucks — Klimovich has 8 points in 17 AHL games this season — but Stankoven is looking awfully good.
Then there’s Justin Sourdif, a third-round pick in 2020, who is on Canada’s third line. He was taken a few picks after the Canucks selected Jurmo. The most frustrating aspect of the Canucks not selecting Sourdif is that he was playing in their backyard for the Vancouver Giants.
Let’s be clear: there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the Canucks picking Klimovich or Jurmo ahead of Stankoven and Sourdif. There are strong arguments to be made for both of those decisions. Still, when you see prospects making a stacked Team Canada squad, it’s hard to avoid wondering if the Canucks made the right decision.
These aren’t the only players heading to the World Juniors who could have been Canucks.
For instance, there’s Shakir Mukhamadullin, who was taken 20th overall in 2020 with the pick the Canucks traded for J.T. Miller. He will be Russia’s number one defenceman.
Instead of Mukhamadullin, the Canucks could have had Team Canada’s Jake Neighbours or Ridley Greig, taken 26th and 28th overall, respectively. Neighbours had a 9-game audition for the St. Louis Blues this season and has been utterly dominant in the WHL for the Edmonton Oil Kings, while Greig has a whopping 14 goals in just 19 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL this season.
Theodor Niederbach, taken 51st overall in 2020 with the pick the Canucks traded for Tyler Toffoli, had a phenomenal season in Sweden’s J20 league last season and has been playing in the SHL all season as a 19 year old. He could have a big tournament for Sweden.
Next year, we could be lamenting Ayrton Martino and Ethan Del Mastro, both Canadians taken in the 2021 draft with picks traded away by the Canucks for Jason Dickinson and Madison Bowey, respectively.
The larger point here is that the Canucks’ prospect pool could, and perhaps should, be stronger than it is right now.
The players that the Canucks received for their first-round picks — Miller, Garland, and Ekman-Larsson — are playing very well for the Canucks right now. But when the Canucks are actually at a stage where they can realistically compete for the Stanley Cup, would they be better served to have the likes of Guenther, Mukhamadullin, Neighbours, or Greig in the lineup on entry-level deals?