The 2013 NHL entry draft is less than three weeks away, which means that Mike Gillis and his crew will be doubly busy as they continue their search for a new head coach and prepare for the drafting table — the drafting table being where they will draft their list of potential draft picks prior to the draft. It’s a lot easier on the back than a desk.
Gillis has been criticized — quite fairly — for his struggles at the draft. Not a single Gillis pick played the full season with the Canucks in 2013. While Jordan Schroeder reached 31 games as a rookie, he was back in the AHL by the end of the season and didn’t play for the Canucks in the playoffs.
It’s worth noting, however, that Frank Corrado, drafted in the fifth round in 2011, played all four playoff games for the Canucks and looks set to make the team as a 20-year-old next season. Corrado’s success would seem to indicate that Gillis has improved at drafting in recent years, with prospects like Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, and Patrick McNally bolstering that claim.
Meanwhile, he’s been able to add free agent prospects like Chris Tanev, Eddie Lack, and Kellan Lain. With that said, Gillis’s first couple years of drafting look rough in retrospect and the Canucks’ prospect pool is painfully shallow.
It’s been five years since Gillis’s first draft as Canucks’ GM in 2008, which gives us a fair span of time to judge a player’s development. Prospects drafted in 2008 are now 23 or so; at this point, if they haven’t already cracked an NHL lineup, they’re starting to reach their sell-by date. For the ones that have, after five years is when we can start to judge what kind of NHL player they have become.
So, just how bad was the 2008 draft for the Canucks? Was it as lacklustre as people think or has it been exaggerated?
It’s all too common to see people evaluate a GM’s drafting record by cherry-picking successful NHL players picked after a bust and berate the GM for missing out on the better player. It’s easy to do with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s often an inaccurate view of what was happening at the time.
There’s a reason why a player like Jamie Benn, who is now the face of the Dallas Stars franchise, fell to the fifth round in the 2007 draft. He was playing in the BCHL at the time and scored just over half as many points as 2007 first round pick Kyle Turris, who had 121 points in 53 games. Milan Lucic was considered a major stretch at 50th overall in 2006, coming off just 19 points in 62 games in his rookie WHL season.
Would it have been nice if Dave Nonis had drafted Benn and Lucic? Of course. Would it have made any sense for Nonis to reach and draft them earlier at the time? None whatsoever. Instead, I’d like to look at the players that were picked near where the Canucks picked in 2008, both the successes and the failures. Hopefully this will help us get a better picture of how well Gillis drafted in comparison to other teams that had a similar selection of picks and draft position.
First Round – Cody Hodgson
Whatever the issues between Cody Hodgson and the Canucks, it should be clear by now that he is, at the very least, an NHL player set to have a long career. He had a fairly successful first season as a number one centre for the Buffalo Sabres, though his ascent to the top line was helped by the Sabres’ atrocious depth at centre.
While I dearly wish that Hodgson had avoided his back injury and had a better development path with the Canucks, it’s clear that he was a successful pick.
The two picks ahead of Hodgson have also established themselves in the NHL. Mikkel Boedker played the full season with the Phoenix Coyotes immediately after being drafted, though he spent some time in the AHL in the next couple seasons. He’s coming off his most successful season, scoring 26 points in 48 games. Josh Bailey also made the jump straight to the NHL and scored 19 points in 38 games last season.
The Canucks dodged a bullet when the Islanders picked Bailey, as the 11th overall pick, Kyle Beach, has yet to play a single NHL game and has been thoroughly average at the AHL level. The Canucks looked set to select Beach with the 10th pick until Hodgson fell into their laps. Tyler Myers, on the other hand, won the Calder as the best rookie in 2010, though his play has trailed off since then and he earned fans’ ire with his lack of preparation heading into this past season.
The Hodgson pick seems about in line with similar picks: Boedker, Bailey, and Myers all contributed sooner, but Hodgson performed better offensively than Boedker and Bailey once he got into the lineup and is worlds better than Beach.
Second Round – Yann Sauve
It’s tough to figure out exactly what happened with Yann Sauve. While his development was derailed by injuries, Sauve still got into 5 games with the Canucks in 2010-11 and didn’t look out of place. Then, over the next two seasons, Sauve fell down the Canucks’ depth chart. While it’s still possible that Sauve will make the NHL as a sixth or seventh defenceman, that appears to be the limit of his upside. It’s entirely possible that the Canucks won’t re-sign him as a restricted free agent this off-season, though I personally believe they will.
Sauve compares favourably to the two players picked ahead of him, Eric O’Dell and Aaron Ness. Neither has established themselves in the NHL and may end up as career AHLers, with O’Dell yet to play a single NHL game. Just one pick before O’Dell, however, is Roman Josi, who is now a top pairing defenceman with the Nashville Predators.
The two picks immediately after Sauve are also young defencemen with strong careers ahead of them: Patrick Wiercioch and Justin Schultz. Canucks fans are very familiar with Schultz, but less so with Wiercioch, who scored 19 points in 42 games for the Senators this past season. Schultz is obviously the more impactful player and looks like he’ll be the Oilers’ number one defenceman for years to come, but Wiercioch is still in the lineup, which is more than can be said for Sauve.
It’s worth noting that Sauve was ranked well ahead of both Schultz and Wiercioch by central scouting, but this is still a miss for Gillis.
Fifth Round – Prab Rai
The Canucks didn’t have third or fourth round picks in 2008 (the third round pick went to the Ducks as part of an odd compensatory trade when the Ducks signed then Manitoba Moose head coach Randy Carlyle, while the fourth round pick went to Los Angeles as part of a trade for — sigh — Brent Sopel). Their next pick, in the fifth round, saw them take a chance on WHL prospect Prab Rai.
So there, everyone who claims the Canucks don’t draft WHL prospects.
Rai had plenty of speed and a dash of skill and managed to score 41 goals in 67 games in his over-age year with the Seattle Thunderbirds, tied for seventh in the league. He hasn’t been able to translate that to professional success, unfortunately, complicated by missing the entire 2010-11 season, which would have been his first as a professional, with a serious back injury. He has played exclusively in the ECHL since and again has missed significant time with injuries.
The players selected around Rai haven’t seen much success either, however. None of the three players drafted ahead of Rai — Greg Pateryn, Joel Champagne, and Jerome Flaake — were signed by the team that drafted them, though for Pateryn it was due to a trade and he played three games with the Montreal Canadiens this past season. Champagne played the full season in the ECHL, while Flaake never left the German league.
Teigan Zahn was picked immediately after Rai by the Blackhawks, but went unsigned and was drafted again in 2010 by the Lightning. He played the bulk of last season in the ECHL. Phillipe Cornet was next, drafted by the Oilers. He’s seen some success at the AHL level and got into two NHL games in 2011-12. You have to go nine picks after Rai to find a quasi-legitimate NHL player in Mark Olver.
While Rai has disappointed, other teams picking at this point in the draft were not able to pick up NHL talent either.
Sixth Round – Mats Froshaug
Froshaug impressed in the Swedish Under-20 league in his draft year, but was unable to make inroads into the Swedish Elite League and headed back to Norway. While the Canucks appeared interested in bringing him over to North America to play in the AHL a couple years ago, they never signed him to a contract and no longer hold his rights.
Ahead of Froshaug were Grant Rollheiser, who became an NCAA backup goaltender and played in the ECHL and CHL last season, Brett Hextall, who has at least been able to stick in the AHL in the Coyotes organization, and Luke Witkowski, who signed with the Lightning after finishing his NCAA career and will likely play in the AHL next season.
Picked after Froshaug was Jonathan Carlsson, who returned to Sweden after one season in the AHL and ECHL. Next was Teemu Hartikainen, who performed well enough in the AHL to get several opportunities with the Oilers, but was unable to stick and has signed in the KHL for next season. After that came Nick Crawford, who has been good in the AHL in the Sabres’ organization
Hartikainen looks like the best pick of this bunch, though Witkowski, Hextall, and Crawford might still make the NHL. While sixth round picks are a crapshoot and it might have been a different story if Froshaug had given the AHL a shot, a couple other teams were able to get marginally better results at this point in the draft.
Seventh Round – Morgan Clark
The son of then goalie coach Ian Clark, Morgan was a longshot even in 2008. The Canucks were gambling on some unseen potential rather than tangible results. Clark had a few more fairly mediocre seasons in Junior, eventually finding his way to the QMJHL, where he had a decent year with the Rimouski Oceanic. He then left the mainstream hockey world, heading to the CIS to play for St. Francis Xavier University, prioritizing his education. It’s entirely likely his hockey career will be over once he finishes school.
In the seventh round, you basically take chances and hope to get lucky. Even by that standard, however, Clark wasn’t a good pick. Andrew MacWilliam, selected three picks ahead of Clark, headed to the NCAA and got signed by the Maple Leafs this year after completing his education. Tim Billingsley, two picks ahead of Clark, also went the CIS route and likely isn’t headed anywhere with his hockey career, but just before Clark came Matt Bartkowski, who has seen spot action for the Boston Bruins over the past few seasons and has played seven games in the playoffs this year.
Joe Gleason was next after Clark and he also went the NCAA route, though it remains to be seen if he’ll get a contract offer from the Blackhawks now that his college career is done. After him came Jordan Bendfeld, who was on his second go-around in the draft after getting picked two years earlier by the Coyotes. He split time between the ECHL and AHL last season. After that was Drew Daniels, who spent three years in the NCAA but played last year in the CHL.
There’s a wide array of results there, but the most intriguing of the bunch, including Bartkowski, were all defencemen who went into the NCAA. Those years spent developing in college also gave the teams that drafted them the opportunity to evaluate them to see their potential. Bartkowski proved himself quickly and left Ohio State University after two seasons to play professionally.
Clark was just too much of a longshot to be worth even a seventh round pick, with the additional baggage of looking like nepotism with his father on the coaching staff.
What complicates the 2008 draft is that three of the Canucks’ five picks lost essentially entire seasons to injury during crucial stages of their development. Still, it’s telling that other teams were able to get better results drafting in similar positions in three (arguably four) of the five cases. The only clear win was Cody Hodgson.
While time will tell if Gillis has improved in his drafting since his rookie year, 2008 has to be considered a disappointment.Tags: 2008, Cody Hodgson, NHL draft, prab rai, Yann Sauve