Canucks: Should first-round pick be in trade play amid draft uncertainty?

The Vancouver Canucks could get creative by dropping down the draft order, adding more assets

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The Vancouver Canucks covet highly touted draft prospect Axel Sandin-Pellikka.

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This isn’t surprising, but it comes with a catch.

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The right-shot Swedish defenceman is considered the premier puck-mover in the 2023 class and a recent consensus by long-serving NHL insiders suggested he’ll still be on the board when the Canucks announce their 11th overall selection on June 28 in Nashville.

Sandin-Pellikka was ranked from 11th to 15th on the big boards — and shockingly as high as fifth by TSN scouting director Craig Button — which speaks to how fast the winds of change can blow and blow up draft plans.

Which is why Plan A can turn to Plan B.

Among many options facing Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin is to pick the best player available, move down to accumulate more picks and recover a 2023 second-rounder that went to Detroit in the Filip Hronek trade.

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He could try to convince a rival GM that the currency to part with his No. 11 pick in a rich draft pool means acquiring a later selection in the first round, adding a second-rounder and even unloading a bad contract.

That’s a lot of convincing.

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Canucks wingers Brock Boeser or Conor Garland might fit in NHL draft-day trade drama between the Canucks and the Blackhawks. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /NHLI via Getty Images

Veteran NHL prospects scout Shane Malloy believes there’s merit to the prospect of the Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks swapping first-round picks to start a scenario where Vancouver could add assets, part with a problem and reduce their salary cap concerns. He explored it Monday.

He knows the Blackhawks won the draft lottery and also hold the No. 19 selection. They could send that to Vancouver to land the No. 11 pick and then sweeteners would be added depending on the level of daring.

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If the Blackhawks can be convinced to take on the remaining US$6 million owed Tyler Myers in the final year of his deal — US$1 million base and US$5 million signing bonus due Sept. 1 — then the 55th overall pick belonging to Chicago should be in trade play.

“The Canucks desperately need defencemen in their prospects pool, and although they may miss out on Sandin-Pellikka, (David) Reinbacher and (Dmitri) Simashev, they may be able to draft the next tier of defencemen in Tom Willander, Oliver Bonk or Theo Lindstein at 19th overall,” said Malloy, who has authored The Art of Scouting, appears on Hockey Prospects Radio on the Sirius SM NHL Radio Network and is working toward a PhD in interdisciplinary studies.

“And if they receive the 35th pick, it would provide another opportunity to draft another defenceman.”

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Malloy believes the Blackhawks are looking for a short-term commitment on any contract they take on.

“Finding a veteran winger to play in the top two lines with some cost certainty on a two-year term would be ideal,” added Malloy. “If the forward does not work out to their expectation, it will not hinder their tactics or cap flexibility long-term.”

That would seem to scream Brock Boeser trade. The right-winger has two years left on his extension at an annual US$6.65 million cap hit. It would also give centre Connor Bedard, the expected first-overall selection, a veteran linemate. 

If the Blackhawks take Boeser, the Canucks should land the 35th pick in exchange. Or, if they can handle more term in Conor Garland, then that’s the 44th pick.

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“The difference between 11th and the 19th pick is a tier range for Chicago,” added Malloy. “It would allow them to draft a player that could potentially be a second-line forward or a No. 3 defenceman. Their strategy is to accumulate high-level talent over quantity throughout the draft.”

Sweden's Axel Sandin-Pellikka and Finland's Lenni Hameenaho chase a loose puck during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship quarter-final hockey action in Moncton, N.B., on Monday, January 2, 2023.
Sweden’s Axel Sandin-Pellikka and Finland’s Lenni Hameenaho chase a loose puck during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship quarter-final hockey action in Moncton, N.B., on Monday, January 2, 2023. Photo by Ron Ward /THE CANADIAN PRESS

As for Sandin-Pellikka, if he rockets up the draft order in the first round, it’s understandable.

He split his Swedish season between Skelleftea (junior), where he amassed 36 points (16-20) in 31 games, and got his feet wet in the pro ranks with Skelleftea AIK (SHL), where he had five points (2-3) in 22 games.

The dynamic puck-mover isn’t big — 5-foot-11, 181 pounds — but his ample skill level projects as a No. 3 blueliner in the NHL and a power-play quarterback.

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“When you have a defenceman like this, you go out and get him because what is your roster going to look like in four years?, asked Malloy.There’s a scarcity of offensive defencemen in the NHL and that adds value. You can never have enough of them and you can find insulating guys to protect them.”

As for the other side of the argument, you can seldom solve your immediate problems on the draft floor, but you can stock a cupboard with needed assets.

The Canucks ranked 30th in a farm-systems rating report because of a prolonged penchant for trading picks and prospects to meet the annual mantra of making the playoffs.

It has failed miserably.

If not for advancing to the 2020 playoff bubble on points percentage when COVID-19 forced a suspension of league play March 12 — as opposed to regular standings and an equal amount of games played — it would have been eight-consecutive seasons without a post-season berth.

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It’s why you can argue that the Canucks need to play the long game and zero in on making a prudent pick next month.

They need positional help at centre and defence, but top targets like centres Dalibor Dvorsky of Slovakia and Ryan Leonard of the U.S.A Hockey National Team Development Program are climbing the draft board, along with Austrian defenceman Reinbacher of the Swiss-A league.

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