The Vancouver Canucks are picking ninth overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft but that’s no guarantee they’ll get the ninth-best prospect in the draft.
Just look at ninth overall picks from past years. Certainly, there are some great players picked ninth, such as Dougie Hamilton, Logan Couture, and Canucks captain Bo Horvat. But there are also players who didn’t live up to expectations like James Sheppard, Brian Lee, and Brent Krahn.
There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to scouting prospects because a team isn’t just trying to find the best player now but the best player five years from now. In a year where some prospects barely played and scouts weren’t always able to travel to see games, the uncertainty is even more significant.
That’s why there seems to be such a wide range of views heading into this year’s draft. There’s little consistency between draft rankings and a player that might be a top-ten pick on someone’s board is ranked as a late first-round pick on someone else’s.
It’s entirely possible that someone unexpected could come out of this draft as the best player in a few years. Maybe that someone could be Chaz Lucius, who already possesses one of the best names in the draft.
Most draft rankings have Lucius outside of the top ten, with International Scouting Services ranking him lowest at 19th overall. But a few see him as a top ten pick, including TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who noted that one of the NHL scouts he spoke to had Lucius at seventh overall.
Chaz Lucius by the numbers
What you get from Chaz Lucius is obvious: goals, and lots of them.
The 6’0”, 172 lbs centre piled up goals in his all-too brief season with the US National Team Development Program. He played just 12 games in the USHL because he was coming off knee surgery.
He had 13 goals in those 12 games.
“Literally, he scores almost every time you watch him,” said one scout to The Hockey News.
No other prospect in his draft year had a goal-per-game in the USHL this year, though Matthew Coronato came close with 48 goals in 51 games. There are concerns that Coronato’s scoring won’t be translatable, however, as he lacks the high-end shot to beat NHL goaltenders.
That’s not a concern for Lucius.
Unless you go back to the late 80’s or early 90’s when defence was considered optional and goaltenders hadn’t discovered the butterfly, there’s just one other player that scored at better than a goal-per-game in his draft year in the USHL: Cole Caufield. Considering what Caufield just accomplished in the playoffs for the Montreal Canadiens, that’s a favourable comparison.
Lucius’ goal-scoring prowess wasn’t a surprise. He tore up the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge last year for Team USA, leading the tournament with 7 goals and 10 points in 6 games.
The best shot in the draft?
There are a few prospects who could be said to have the best shot in the draft, such as Mason McTavish, Simon Robertsson, Brennan Othmann, and Cole Sillinger. Chaz Lucius belongs up there.
“He has one of the softest catch and releases featured in this class,” said Hockey Prospect in their scouting report on Lucius. “In a head-to-head match up with an elite level shooter such as Alexander Holtz, Lucius’s catch and release is arguably even better.”
It’s easy to want to draw comparisons between Lucius and Sillinger, both of whom should be available at ninth overall to the Canucks. They both racked up goals in the USHL and put up points at a nearly identical rate.
What sets Lucius apart from Cole Sillinger is shot selection. While Sillinger is willing to fire the puck from everywhere, Lucius was conscientious about creating quality chances. He drove off the boards into the middle of the ice to get chances from the slot and used his excellent hands to maneuver around defenders to get into more dangerous areas of the ice.
Lucius also has a knack for finding soft spots in coverage away from the puck, creating opportunities for his linemates to find him with space to fire the puck.
Not that he ever needed much time and space to shoot. What stands out the most about Lucius is his ability to get a hard and accurate shot away while under pressure.
Consider the below highlight. Lucius nabs the puck off the boards, then immediately drives into the slot — already an excellent tendency. With his man continually attempting to check his stick, Lucius still gets the puck in position to snap a shot just under the bar with no windup or dragging the puck at all.
It’s a ridiculous shot, made even more ridiculous when you realize his skates are pointing towards the left boards. That’s a completely atypical shooting position for a right-hand shot, but he contorts his torso around and gets tremendous torque with his hands alone. Check out his top hand as it shoots out from his body, then snaps back in, providing the power on the shot.
“That shot is already an NHL calibre weapon,” said Elite Prospects in their profile on Lucius. “Lucius can work the one- and two-touch snapshot with power and precision. He can send the puck on net with a deceptive, downward force-loaded wrist shot. And he can even let one-timers rip from just about anywhere in the offensive zone. Everything you look for mechanically is there.”
A multi-dimensional game
It seems like Lucius also has more to his game than Sillinger. He’s not a one-trick pony offensively, as he does more than just score goals. He’s constantly looking to get the puck into the slot or find his teammates at the backdoor rather than focussing solely on creating chances for himself.
“His technical skill as a passer is right up there,” said Elite Prospects. “His vision is great. If someone’s open, Lucius is going to find them, and he’s going to get them the puck. Lucius understands player routes, and always seems to have a creative solution for pushing play in the right direction as a distributor.”
So far, the assists haven’t matched his clear skill as a playmaker, but it’s a common element of his scouting reports.
“This isn’t a straightforward thinker in terms of his vision or passing evaluations,” said Hockey Prospect. “Lucius is a deceptive and creative playmaker, who blends his look offs with advanced and technical passing plays.”
Beyond his offensive game, Lucius is also diligent away from the puck, forechecking hard, rotating to cover pinching defencemen, and getting back on the backcheck. He’s also sound on faceoffs, though he may land on the wing instead of centre in the NHL.
“Lucius is a smart player who can recognize passing outlets in advance, giving him the ability to compensate for his skating by anticipating the play quickly enough to intercept passes,” said Hockey Prospect. “Additionally, he’s good at stick timing when looking to get underneath an unsuspecting opponent on the backcheck, and stripping them off of pucks.”
Lack of consistency and pace
So, Lucius is a gifted goal-scorer, an adept playmaker, has silky-smooth hands, and plays an intelligent two-way game. With that in mind, what’s the problem? Why isn’t Lucius ranked in the top ten by everyone?
There are two main issues: consistency and skating.
“Consistency was a massive problem for Lucius last season,” said Elite Prospects. “His work rate was a constant source of concern, coming and going on a shift-to-shift basis if it showed up at all.”
While Lucius can play a smart game defensively, he doesn’t always do it, with Elite Prospects noting too many “defensive zone fly-bys” and a lack of effort on loose pucks at times.
Beyond those consistency issues, the big concern for Lucius is his pace and skating. Some playmakers slow the game down intentionally to control the pace of play and manipulate defenders. Lucius slows the game down because he’s such a slow skater.
“The most concerning element of Lucius’ game is the lack of pace — that’s what gives us pause,” said Elite Prospects. “He slows the game down to a crawl nearly every time the puck is on his stick. This lack of pace hasn’t kept him from putting up video game numbers for the program, but it might prove prohibitive to even secondary offence at the NHL level.”
Even those that see Lucius is a top-ten pick are skeptical about his skating, with Pronman calling it “a concern” and a scout for the The Hockey News calling it “just okay.”
“His mechanics are a technical mess, to put it bluntly,” said Hockey Prospect. “His stride is short, he lacks proper depth when attempting to bend his knees, and there’s rigidity within his shoulder rotation. His turn rates are bad, featuring short crossovers, and he’s unable to propel himself off of his centerline at even an average rate. This is a player with a lot of movement restrictions.”
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to his skating, pace, and consistency, is that he was coming off knee surgery. It was a long and grueling recovery and it's understandable if his skating mechanics suffered as a result. It’s hard to say what role that might have played in his confidence in his skating and his mobility.
The question is whether that will improve the further he gets from that surgery. If his skating doesn't improve, will he have the speed to forecheck effectively, catch opponents on the backcheck, and create separation with the puck?
Can’t deny the scoring potential
What is so intriguing about Lucius is that he just keeps putting up points. He’s so smart with where he attacks in the offensive zone, taking direct routes to the best areas on the ice to score, which compensates for his questionable skating.
Add an ability to get shots off in traffic and find teammates in the slot with his passing and you have a dangerous offensive threat even with his limitations.
“No pace, below-average skating, overdangling, bad reads, infrequent scanning — and four points,” reads one game report from Elite Prospects’ David St-Louis. “The saving grace of Lucius are some off-puck reads, the timing at which he attacks the net for rebounds and some small-area skills, like his lob passes under pressure and his ability to catch and release in an instant.”
The potential is clear. He could be a top-six winger in the NHL. The consistency should come with time — he’s regularly praised for his maturity and work ethic — and if he can make improvements in his skating, he could have a tremendously high ceiling.
Is that ceiling high enough for the Canucks to take him with the ninth overall pick?
To me, Lucius is the biggest wild card of the draft. Coming off of injury and then dealing with an illness that kept him out of the World Under-18 Championship, Lucius is likely to get picked lower than he deserves. He has the potential to make the teams that pass on him regret it.
Still, there may be players available to the Canucks at ninth that are better bets than Lucius. It may depend on how adventurous the teams picking ahead of the Canucks get and which players slide down the draft as a result.
The Canucks could do worse than getting potentially the best goal-scorer in the draft at ninth overall.