There’s been a lot of attention and criticism directed at the Canucks’ scouting and drafting in the Smylosphere over the last couple weeks. My favourite take came from Puck Watch, as it goes into detail regarding expected outcomes from each round of the draft and how the Canucks have compared. It’s a great read that gives some good context for the Canucks’ struggles at the draft.
It’s understandable that there would be this level of concern. After all, in this upcoming draft, the Canucks will have their highest first round pick since they selected the Sedins in 1999 and they just hired a new General Manager who has made his reputation on scouting and player evaluation.
A pick this high can make or break an organization: choose correctly and the Canucks could have a future first line forward or number one defenceman to help carry the team for years to come. Choose poorly and mediocrity will likely follow.
There’s only so much that Jim Benning can do in the month leading up to the draft, of course. Overhauling the scouting department won’t accomplish anything as the scouting is already done. At most, Benning can come in with some different criteria and move some names around on the Canucks’ draft board. Where this can make the most difference, however, is in the first round.
Consider 2008, when Mike Gillis vetoed the recommendation of Delorme and the scouting staff to draft Kyle Beach, selecting Cody Hodgson instead. Picks in later rounds are more dependent on scouts, but everyone has seen and studied the players who will get picked at the top of the draft and the General Manager has the final say.
Who will Benning choose with his first draft pick as a General Manager? As we’ve done before, here are the draft-eligible players ranked 6th overall by both the mainstream media and various prospect blogs.
These are just eight of the players the Canucks could select. Many other scenarios could play out, from Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, or Aaron Ekblad unexpectedly falling out of the top-five, to a trade up or down, to any number of other players being selected, like Nikolaj Ehlers, Haydn Fleury, or Jakub Vrana.
Jake Virtanen – Left Wing
Ranked 6th overall by Red Line Report
Virtanen is a pure goalscorer and possesses, by most accounts, the best shot in the draft, with a strong backhand to go with his lethal wristshot. He had 45 goals in 71 games for the Calgary Hitmen this season, good for 6th in the WHL and easily 1st among draft-eligible prospects. For Canucks fans eager to see a sniper, that’s all they need to hear, but Virtanen has other positive attributes. In particular, his skating is strong, with The Hockey News quoting a scout as saying, “He’d probably be a top-five skater on any team in the NHL right now.”
There are some concerns, however, over his hockey sense and ability to use his teammates, as he had just 26 assists this season. He’s also coming off a minor shoulder surgery that could, perhaps, make teams nervous to draft him. Red Line Report is also the only draft ranking that places Virtanen this high, with many ranking him in the 9-12 range and TSN’s Craig Button bumping him all the way out of the first round at a surprising 41st overall. That said, when Button put together a mock draft that took into account team needs, he had the Canucks selecting Virtanen with the 6th pick.
Draisatl is a playmaking centre with decent size and good hands. He protects the puck well and has great vision, finishing the season with 67 assists in 64 games for the Prince Albert Raiders. He tied with Sam Reinhart for the most CHL points among draft-eligible prospects with 105, combining his playmaking with a quick and accurate shot. The Hockey News drops comparisons to Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton on the young German and projects him as a first-line centre, while Corey Pronman praises his playmaking and adds that his “defence is solid” as well.
There’s not much to dislike about Draisatl, though some have noted that his skating needs improvement, particularly in his first few strides. The only reason that the Canucks wouldn’t pick Draisatl is if he’s already off the board. Most rankings have him higher than sixth, generally around the 3-5 range, with rumblings that the Edmonton Oilers, who select 3rd overall, are planning taking him.
William Nylander – Centre
Ranked 6th overall by The Hockey News
Nylander is an intriguing prospect, with many different sources suggesting that he has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft because of his high-end offensive skill. Pronman has him ranked 3rd overall and notes that some scouts have called him “an artist” with the puck. The son of Michael Nylander has been playing against men, shuttling between three different teams in Sweden this year. He clicked while playing for Södertälje in the Allsvenskan, scoring 11 goals and 19 points in 17 games, a record for an under-18 players. He also dominated the World U-18 Tournament for Sweden, with a whopping 16 points in 7 games to lead all scorers.
He can skate, shoot, pass, and deke at an elite level, but there are concerns about his all-around game as well as with his slower start to the season. Because of that inconsistency and defensive issues, he’s ranked all over the place, from top-5 to top-10 to mid-first round. He’s a higher-risk selection, but his pure offensive talent would make him an exciting choice (and my personal preference) for the Canucks.
Dal Colle has a well-rounded offensive game, using his patience and vision to make plays and his great shot to score goals. He led the Oshawa Generals in scoring and was first in the OHL among draft-eligible prospects with 95 points in 67 games. He added 20 points in 12 playoff games Adding to his high-end skill is his size: at 6’2″ and with room to grow into his frame, he should be able to protect the puck well against bigger players in the NHL.
The one knock on Dal Colle is that he doesn’t really use his size to his advantage all the time, rarely initiating contact. Pronman, in reference to his play in the corners, uses the word “bashful” and The Hockey News quotes a scout as saying that physical play just isn’t “in his nature.” Given his offensive talent, that may not be an issue, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Kevin Fiala – Left Wing
Ranked 6th overall by Corey Pronman
Fiala led Switzerland in scoring at both the World Junior Championships and the World U-18 Championship, scoring 9 points in 5 games in the latter tournament. He’s a quick skater, who controls the puck extremely well and can both deke out defenders and dish the puck to teammates. His skill and creativity served him well in the SHL this season, as he played against men for HV71, scoring 11 points in 17 games. Pronman notes that Fiala’s points-per-game in the SHL at 17 is surpassed only by Peter Forsberg in the modern era.
With that type of high-end skill and potential to be a game-breaking first line forward, it might be surprising that Fiala is generally ranked much lower than 6th overall by most experts, generally from mid-first round to mid-second round. It’s less surprising when you notice that he’s 5’10″. Rankings that place a premium on size shuttle him further down the list and it’s true that his size makes him a higher risk than some of the other forwards expected to go at the top of the draft.
Ritchie has both size and skill, projecting as a power forward. He led the Peterborough Petes in scoring with 74 points in 61 games, with some scouts saying he can simply impose his will on a game at times. He can skate well, has a strong shot, and can drive the net with authority. He’s also a tough customer, hitting hard and not backing down when challenged
The big question mark for Ritchie is his consistency, with The Hockey News suggesting that he could be a Jamie Benn-type if he reaches his potential, but could fall well short if his effort doesn’t catch up to his ability. That inconsistency prevented him from racking up more points this season and dropped him down some rankings, though most still have him in the top-10, with Pronman placing him the lowest at 18th overall.
Kasperi Kapanen – Right Wing
Ranked 6th overall by Ryan Kennedy
Kapanen is the top-ranked European skater by Central Scouting, ahead of the more heralded Nylander. The son of Sami Kapanen played against men in the top Finnish league, scoring 14 points in 47 games. The Hockey News projects him as a two-way forward, but he has the vision, hockey IQ, and passing ability to be a very good playmaker. His main attribute, however, is his skating, as he has the top-end acceleration, speed, and shiftiness to give defenders nightmares, and he can handle the puck well at speed.
Pronman ranks him 8th overall and projects him as a potential first-line forward, but he may fall further down the draft due to an injury that kept him out of the World Juniors and his lower point totals on what was a very poor KalPa team in Finland. As a result, most rankings project him to go in the middle of the first round
Brendan Perlini – Left Wing
Ranked 6th overall by Craig Button
Like Ritchie, Perlini combines size and skill, but also has the same question marks about his consistency and effort. Perlini had 71 points in 58 games for the Niagara IceDogs and can both score and use his teammates. His strength is in puck possession, using both his 6’2″, 205 lb frame to protect the puck and his hockey sense to get to the high-percentage areas on the ice. He’s also a great skater, with good top-end speed and can finish plays with his strong shot.
It’s the consistency of effort that worries some scouts, as his play tailed off towards the end of the OHL season. Still, that combination of size, skill, and speed is incredibly enticing, particularly if you think the consistency will come with maturity.