The Canucks are 9-3-3 in their last 15 games, but some fans aren’t happy with the winning record. After all, every win takes them further and further from the league basement and further from winning the draft lottery to bring Auston Matthews to Vancouver.
The problem is there are other teams out there that are truly committed to being terrible and the Canucks, with their wizardous Swedish twins, bushel of precocious youth, and pair of all-too-competent goaltenders, are capable of being just good enough to stay out of the hunt for a high-end pick.
And that’s okay.
As much as it would be awesome to draft a franchise forward like Matthews or any of the other top tier forward prospects like Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, Alexander Nylander, or Matthew Tkachuk, the Canucks might be more likely to fill their greatest need if they don’t get a top-five pick.
What’s the biggest need in the Canucks’ system right now? It should be immediately obvious: defence.
The Canucks have blue-chip talent in the pipeline at forward, not to mention the young players already in the lineup. Hunter Shinkaruk is scoring at a point-per-game pace in the AHL in his second professional season, while Brock Boeser is one of the best freshmen in the NCAA this year. And guys like Brendan Gaunce, Cole Cassels, Lukas Jasek, and Dmitry Zhukenov all have the potential to be impact players for the Canucks in the future.
The Canucks also have a blue-chip prospect in net, as Thatcher Demko is one of the best goaltending prospects in hockey.
Where they don’t have, however, is a blue-chip prospect on the blue line. Ben Hutton’s emergence as NHL-ready this season was a pleasant surprise, but the Canucks’ prospect pool at defence is lacking potential four defencemen, let alone potential number one defencemen.
Andrey Pedan showed well in his Canucks debut and his combination of size and skill is intriguing, Guillaume Brisebois has upside, Jordan Subban has potential, and Carl Neill and Tate Olson are putting together excellent post-draft seasons this year, but none of these prospects are what anyone could call top tier.
The thing with high-end, top-pairing defencemen is that they’re not always found at the top of the draft. It’s a testament to how difficult it can be to project defencemen that so many excellent ones are found later in the first round of the draft, in later rounds, or off the board altogether.
Just look at the Canucks’ current top pairing: third-round pick Alex Edler and the undrafted Chris Tanev.
Look at the Predators: Shea Weber and Roman Josi were both second round picks.
Arguably the best defencemen in the world right now is Erik Karlsson, who is on track to win his third Norris trophy. He was drafted 15th overall and was the 7th defenceman picked, after guys like Luke Schenn and Colten Teubert were taken.
P.K. Subban, who has a Norris trophy himself, was a second round pick. Zdeno Chara, Norris winner: third round. Duncan Keith, Norris winner: second round.
Mark Giordano was undrafted.
And defencemen picked at the top of the draft don’t always work out the way teams hope. Erik Johnson was selected first overall in 2006 and didn’t turn into anywhere near the player he was expected to.
Jack Johnson was picked third overall, right after Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan, in 2005. Keith Yandle was picked in the fourth round that year.
Sure, there are great defencemen picked at the top of the draft, like Alex Pietrangelo, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, and Aaron Ekblad. You could point to Drew Doughty, who was selected second overall by the Kings, but some—mainly fancy stats aficionados—would argue that Jake Muzzin might be better than Doughty. Muzzin was picked 141st overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but went unsigned, re-entered the draft, and slipped through without being picked.
I’m just saying that the Canucks could still get a great prospect defenceman even if they end up picking in the back half of the first round. They could get a future number one guy in the second round or even later if they scout well and get lucky.
Making the playoffs and taking themselves out of the draft lottery might not be the worst thing for the future of the Canucks.