NHL Entry Draft Journal, Day 1: Canucks get Gaunce

Thomas Drance is in Pittsburgh covering the NHL entry draft for Pass it to Bulis. We told him that if he doesn’t get us at least one sexy scoop, he will be whipped when he returns, so he’s doing it journal-style, touching on a bunch of topics really quickly in the hopes that something he files will appease our irrational demands and spare him a flogging.

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When the Washington Capitals used the 48th pick in the 1996 NHL draft on a Czech winger named Jan, who could have guessed that 15 years later he’d bequeath his name to one of the biggest Canucks blogs on the Internet? The answer is no one — no one on Earth could have possibly called that. Not even Ken Holland.

And that’s what makes the draft so intriguing: it’s filled with possibilities, flawed decision making and chaos. It will only yield a minority of players who will ever contribute at the NHL level, and those that do are several years away from making a real impact for the team that selected them.

Day one of this year’s draft was memorable, even if few real “blockbuster” trades went down — Jordan Staal being the utmost. It may have been frustrating for some Canucks fans, as Mike Gillis dragged his feet on a Luongo trade and calmly selected Brendan Gaunce with the 26th pick of the first round, but day one of the draft proved to be memorable and obscurely historic.

Never in NHL history had so many defenseman previously been picked in the top-10. I think it’s downright neat that so many General Managers frittered away top-10 draft picks on players who are unlikely to contribute at the NHL level before 2015.

Let’s go over some news and notes from Day of the Draft.

The Year of the Defenceman

As the likes of Dan Tencer and Bob Stauffer dropped hints that the Oilers were seriously considering taking Ryan Murray with the first overall pick, or trading down and selecting Griffin Reinhardt in the top-5, fear grew among Oilers fans. Was Steve Tambellini really preparing to pass on Nail Yakupov? Entry Drafts are chaotic and unpredictable, but picking the best forward available is as close to a sure thing as it gets on draft day (unless that forward is Patrick Stefan, of course).

In the midst of this gripping fear, Tyler Dellow savaged the notion of taking a defenseman in the top-5. It’s extraordinarily hard to know much of anything about 18 year old prospects in the first place, and for whatever reason it’s even harder to pick the best defenseman out of any particular draft group.

Some of the best blueliners in the league, from Duncan Keith to Shea Weber were selected well after the first round. Meanwhile, Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian were selected well ahead of the likes of Erik Karlsson and Tyler Myers. The variability present with 18-year-old defencemen makes selecting them in the top-10 a massive gamble. Compared with forwards, you just don’t have particularly good odds on getting a defenceman who is any better than a guy sitting at home because he won’t be drafted until day two.

Last night, good sense was thrown out the window as General Managers league-wide eschewed picking forwards and drafted defenceman after defenceman with the first ten picks. Several of those selected — Slater Koekkoek and Hampus Lindholm, in particular — were massive reaches, though perhaps GMs took their wicked awesome names into account. If you’re going to go off the board with a pick, choosing a dude with a silly name is as good  an excuse as any in my book.

So what happened?

Going into the draft a lot of ink was spilled addressing how “weak” this particular draft class was, largely because the forward class left a lot to be desired. While that was common knowledge prior to Friday, I think most observers underestimated just how poorly regarded forward prospects in this draft were.

If it turns out that, in hindsight, the majority of scouts and GMs misjudged the talent level among draft eligible forwards this year, there could be some serious steals in the latter half of the first round. Even if the forward class was extraordinarily subaverage, it’s still very possible that the best blueliner taken this weekend will be picked at some point tomorrow.

Green Around The Gills

I’m credentialed by the Ontario Hockey League, and I’ve covered AHL games in the past, but this was my first NHL event as accredited media. It was eye-opening to watch the Sun’s Iain Macintyre and the Province’s Jason Botchford do work. For a guy like me, who is used to summarizing and analyzing information rather than gathering it, I was fascinated by the way those guys worked the phones and leveraged their relationships with the team and with other contacts to chase leads.

The best juxtaposition of our levels of experience, on the other hand, was when I sat down in the Vancouver Sun’s press seats and promptly messaged Harrison, “Man, I’ve got unreal seats.” About twenty minutes later, Macintyre sat down beside me, guffawed at the view and promptly tweeted this:

 

To make an extended analogy: the NHL Draft is Ygritte, I’m Jon Snow, and I know nothing.

The Buffalonian Log-Jam

You’ve got to feel for Cody Hodgson, who famously requested more ice-time two days before the trade deadline and was promptly dealt to Buffalo. Now in fairness, it wasn’t this request that caused the Canucks to move Cody Hodgson — the team had been quietly showcasing him for months — but it’s what Canucks fans remember most about Hodgson’s departure.

In Vancouver, Hodgson was trapped behind “Mr. Art Ross” and “Mr. Selke,” and now in Buffalo, he’s got a new legion of promising, young centremen to compete against for that precious icetime. Even with Derek Roy headed for Unrestricted Free Agency this summer, the competition looks to be stiff over the next couple of years: Tyler Ennis is a natural centre, as are Luke Adam, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Zemgus Girgensons. Hodgson’s new predicament in Buffalo is what we like to call “situational irony“.

With the 26th pick…

With the 26th pick in the draft, the Canucks selected Brendan Gaunce, a big productive center who OHL scout Victor Carneiro has compared to Avalanche centreman Ryan O’Reilly. In doing so, the Canucks tempted the wrath of fate, since Henrik Samuelsson and his absurdly Canuck-y name was still on the board. Nonetheless, Gaunce was superlative value that late in the draft, as the Canucks benefitted from other General Managers completely ignoring this year’s forward class.

Gaunce’s post-draft interview was mostly uneventful. He displayed a veteran’s poise while saying the right thing (i.e. spouting clichés), though he did flash a bit of a sense of humour. Asked about his first thoughts upon realizing he’d been drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, he quipped, “All I really thought of was Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and how I’m going to tell them apart if I ever actually see them.” And when French media asked him if he could speak French so they could get a quote or two, he begged off, assuring them that he could say “je suis fatigeé” and not much else.

Probably the most interesting bit of Gaunce’s post draft presser, however, was when he addressed Bio Steel, his personal relationship with Cody Hodgson, and his working relationship with Gary Roberts. Gaunce referred to Hodgson as “a great role model” before being asked to address “Roberts’ comments about Gillis,” and the general enmity between the two camps. I thought Gaunce responded smartly:

“I honestly heard about it, but it never really went into my mind as anything to worry about. Vancouver has produced enough hockey players I think. Cody’s situation just didn’t work out, that’s obviously unfortunate for Cody and Vancouver, but Vancouver hasn’t had that problem very often.”

A deft touch on a delicate issue. He might survive in this town.

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4 comments

  1. Cody
    June 23, 2012

    That quote was incredibly delicate for a hockey player at that age. Perhaps the leadership skills will come in handy some day.

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  2. Nick
    June 23, 2012

    Buffalo is potentially stacked at centre now.

    If their 1st rounders from this year’s draft pan out, Cody H may find it tough to impossible to get top 6 ice time.

    And with the shelf life running out on a battle-worn Kessler with his torn hip and shoulder labrums and on a Henrik now approaching his mid 30s, the Hodgsons may rue their decision to force their way out of Vancouver.

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  3. Anonymous
    June 23, 2012

    the NHL Draft is Ygritte, I’m Jon Snow, and I know nothing.

    best.

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  4. akidd
    June 23, 2012

    nice post, thomas. a good feel.

    in the plodding delirium of watching the draft(for the first time ever) my heart rate went up a bit after buffalo selected their 2nd centre. i jumped to alert for an impending coho trade( “the canucks trade their 26th pick and Zach Kassian to the buffalo sabres for….” says a beaming gary bettman before letting out a high-pitched squeal of pure delight.) it didn’t happen but it may be a real possiblity over the summer. a coho trade somewhere else that is. just kidding about the canuck destination… but…wait…wouldn’t that be so cool…!

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