The Vancouver Canucks go into Tuesday’s National Hockey League Draft lottery almost certain in what their result is going to be: Drafting 15th.
But at that spot in the draft, you’re unlikely to find a player on the caliber of even Vasily Podkolzin, picked 10th overall by former general manager Jim Benning in 2019. There are always diamonds in the rough in every draft, but more and more the best talent always goes in the top 10.
The draft lottery, which starts at 3:30 pm PT on Tuesday and can be seen on Sportsnet, now features just two draws and a limit on how far a team can move up — 10 spots max — the Canucks are almost certain to remain in the 15th overall draft position.
Based on how the balls are distributed across the 16 teams in the lottery, the Canucks have a 0.3-per-cent chance of winning the first draw and moving up to fifth overall. They have a 0.8-per-cent chance of winning the second draw and moving up to sixth overall.
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Vegas comes into the lottery as the only team with worse odds than the Canucks, though just barely. They have just over a one-per-cent chance, combined, of winning either draw. If they were to manage that, it would drop the Canucks down one spot in the order to 16th.
Whatever the result, there’s little doubt the Canucks will actually use their first-round pick this year. They haven’t drafted in the first round since 2019 as Benning, desperate to get his team into the playoffs, went on to twice trade his first-round pick, first in the JT Miller deal in 2020 and then last summer in the trade with Arizona that netted defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and winger Conor Garland.
It’s become rather repetitive in that new GM Patrik Allvin has inherited a very thin prospect pool from old GM Benning, who himself inherited a thin prospect pool from his predecessor Mike Gillis. Benning, of course, was hired to fix the drafting.
Allvin faces a similar task.
How the Canucks got to their current mediocre prospect pool is different from how things were when Benning arrived. Gillis’s scouts, headed for the most part by Ron Delorme, simply missed too often. (It didn’t help that the year before Gillis showed up, not a single 2007 Canucks draft pick from that Delorme-directed draft played an NHL game, led by the immortal Patrick White.)
Benning misfired on two of his first three first-rounders — winger Jake Virtanen was, to most observers at the time, picked too high at sixth overall in 2014 as was defenseman Olli Juolevi at fifth in 2016 — but his last three in Elias Pettersson ( 2017), Quinn Hughes (2018) and Podkolzin (2019), have proven to be home runs.
There was some success outside of the first pick, too, with Jared McCann, Gustav Forsling (both from 2014) and Adam Gaudette (2015) all having played more than 200 games in the NHL, a total that is usually said to show a pick was successful. Of course, all three of those players now play elsewhere — Forsling never played a game in Vancouver — which is the other big part of the Benning story, that being the dispatch of young players in trades.
“The Canucks prospect pool rates as one of the weaker systems in the league for equal parts a lack of depth and high-end talent. Some of this is outside of the amateur department’s control, as the team has traded significant draft capital in the past two seasons and had to make do with a handful of late-round picks in back-to-back drafts, but it can hardly be said that they’ve made the most of what’s available to them either,” EP Rinkside editor-in-chief JD Burke said. “The system has some nice support pieces on the way in Jack Rathbone, Danila Klimovich and perhaps even Aidan McDonough, but that’s about it.”
Rathbone, one of three 2017 draft picks still in the organization along with Pettersson and Mike DiPietro, is certain to be given every opportunity to make the team full time next season. Klimovich struggled to stay in the Abbotsford lineup at times this American Hockey League season while McDonough is going back to Northeastern University for one more year.
What the Canucks could use in the system is more Podkolzin-quality prospects, ready to leap to the NHL in a year’s time. But they don’t have such a player. And assuming the Canucks do pick at 15 this year, a Podkolzin-quality player is unlikely to be discovered in that spot.
“You’re probably looking at a middle of the roster player from about 12th overall on this draft right up until maybe 25-30. Think a second-pair defenseman or a high-end middle-six forward. There isn’t that much high-end talent in this class, but it has a lot of depth,” Burke said.
The Canucks will almost certainly pick the best player available at 15, Burke’s colleague Cam Robinson, Elite Prospects’ Director of Film Scoutingsaid, though he also suspects they have an eye towards a defenseman, given the paucity of blue-line prospects in the system.
“I have a suspicion that if a top D isn’t around, that they go off the board,” he said.
He listed lanky defensemen who have put up points in junior hockey like Kevin Korchinski, Owen Pickering and Pavel Mintyukov as options.
His off-the-board picks are defenseman Calle Odelius, plus talented forwards like Nathan Gaucher and Liam Öhgren.
If the Canucks do win one of the draws, both Burke and Robinson agreed that the Canucks would be getting a good player, but it’s unlikely they’ll have a repeat of 2017, when Pettersson was underrated by teams ahead of the Canucks because of his slight frame, or of 2018, when Hughes fell for unclear reasons.
“At five or six, I think they pray that Simon Nemec or David Jiricek are there for the home-run right-hand defenseman,” Robinson said. “Both are very realistic at that spot.”
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