We've all been here before. Waiting for the Canucks brass,
typically always after a season that ends too soon, to work with their adept scouting sages and unearth the next franchise cornerstone. The man amongst men. The puck prodigy. He who shall, on his very back, be given the saddle of "savior", and told to go forth into that dark, winter's night with his stalwart army of Canucks behind him and seek out, with his talent and raw skill, that silver chalice that has eluded the franchise for many moons and return it to the lower mainland to the cries of "hero" and "will you marry my daughter?" and, indeed, the sheer adulation of an entire Province.
So of course, before he ever steps on the ice, he's put into a jersey that rarely fits, told to commit to a dozen corny poses for posterity and then subjected to "hey, you like Vancouver right?" over and over again. Poor guy.
Let's take a look back at what the drafts gone by have looked like. The good, the bad and the ugly.
1999 NHL Draft
Hits: Daniel and Henrik Sedin. This is a no brainer and not worth discussing. Burke tossed Bryan McCabe and the first round pick in 2000 over to the Hawks in exchange for their first round pick (3rd overall) thus completing the Sedin sweep. Atlanta, with the first pick, took Patrick Stefan and Pavel Bendrl and Tim Connolly round out the top five. Yikes. Burke nailed it.
Misses: Rene Vydareny, selected in the third round, never played a game with Vancouver and only three seasons in Manitoba. Currently plays in the Czech national league. Vydareny was selected ahead of NHL regulars Niklas Hagman, Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Havelid and Mike Comrie.
2000 NHL Draft
Hits: Not much. If we stretch the definition of value razor thin, then maybe Brandon Reid (selected in the 7th round and 208th overall) fits the bill. Typically you don't expect too much from late picks and Reid was passed on by most teams because of his size (5'9''). But the Canucks took a chance and, while he only played in 13 regular season games for the Canucks, he did show up in 10 playoff games, the bulk of which was on the checking line back in 2002-03. In between his call-ups, he lead the Moose in goals, assists and points twice.
Misses: 22nd pick in the first round...you know him, you love him: Nathan Smith. Ugh, we've looked at this one already. Selected ahead of numerous quality players. Basically too infuriating to examine in detail any further.
2001 NHL Draft
Hits: 151st overall, Kevin Bieksa was taken in the fifth round, spent five more seasons between Bowling Green and Manitoba before cracking the Canucks roster in 2005. Fun fact: Of all players selected in the fifth round, Bieksa has the most games played at the NHL level. Runner-up? 134th pick from Toronto, Kyle Wellwood.
In the 7th round, Vancouver took Jason King at the 212th spot. He had great numbers in Manitoba, but it was his brief success with the Sedins (the Mattress Line anyone?) in 2003-04 that made him a popular name. He also snagged Rookie of the Month in November 2003.
Misses: Let's start at the top again! Selected 16th overall, R.J. Umberger was supposed to be the two-way center the team sorely needed back in the early part of the decade. Umberger would prove his worth with Philly and Columbus, but not in Vancouver where he played hardball with Burke and the Irishman tossed his rights to the Rangers for Martin Rucinsky. He never played for the Rangers either.
And who could forget Fedor Fedorov, selected 66th in the third round (and ahead of players like Tomas Plekanec, Stephane Veilleux and Patrick Sharp)? An underachiever and seemingly proud of it, Fedorov was given a few chances to prove himself at the NHL level, only to have his conditioning or his attitude get in the way. Burke grew tired of him too, trading him to the Rangers in 2005 for Jozef Balej. Fedorov would surface this past season in New Jersey. Guess what happened?
2002 NHL Draft
Hits: Absolutely nothing.
Misses: With no picks in the first round, Vancouver took Kirill Koltsov at 49th in the second round. He's had great success in Russia, but never suited up for the Canucks. He was selected before Duncan Keith, Matt Stajan and Jiri Hudler amongst others.
Other frowny faces can go to Brent Skinner (Rd 3, 68th overall) who is now a Thrasher and has never played a NHL game. Selected ahead of Valtteri Filppula and Matt Lombardi.
Rob McVicar, selected in the 5th round and 151 overall, was a career AHL and ECHL goalie. He appeared in only one game for Vancouver in a relief effort, playing three minutes and not facing a shot against the Oilers.
2003 NHL Draft
Hits: Selected 23rd overall, Ryan KesLORD was a slam dunk that damn near left the team a few years later when Philly tried to pry him away with a RFA offer. Though he had some stiff competition, Kesler remains a key component to the future of the Canucks and just finished his best year to date.
At 254th in the 8th round, Vancouver took Nathan McIver who has played in 18 NHL games to date. It's possible he'll make the bottom four this year, but management likes him enough to have traded pugilist Mike Brown to Anaheim to reacquire McIver this past February.
Misses: Marc-Andre Bernier was taken 60th overall in the second round and projected to be a top six power forward. Sadly he didn't mature as expected and never played a game with Vancouver. Bernier was taken two picks ahead of David Backes.
At 111th in the 4th round, Vancouver took Brandon Nolan. Nolan never played for the Canucks and became property of the Hurricanes in 2007. He missed this entire past season with a concussion. Chosen ahead of Nigel Dawes and Lee Stempniak.
2004 NHL Draft
Hits: Quite a few actually. Cory Schneider was taken 26th overall in the first round, Alex Edler was taken 91st in the third round, Mike Brown was selected in the fifth and Jannick Hansen was drafted in the ninth. Compared to previous years, this is a variable cornucopia of talent with both Schneider and Edler slated to be cornerstones of their respective positions starting as early as next season. Mike Green was selected behind Schneider in the first round so that kind of stings, but thems the breaks.
Misses: Andrew Sarauer (4th RD, 125th), Julien Ellis (6th RD, 189th) and David Schulz (8th RD, 254th overall) never made an impact at the NHL level.
2005 NHL Draft
Hits: Luc Bourdon, 10th overall in the first round, was projected to be the blueliner to build around. We know the rest of his story, but suffice it to say that his impact is sorely missed.
Taken in the 2nd round, 51st overall, Mason Raymond is currently the fastest player on the team and was a Young All Star this past season. While he spent some time in the press box, was given ample playing time as the season rolled along and had his first taste of the playoffs this past spring where his PK skills, of all things, matured rapidly. Great things are expected of Raymond going forward.
Misses: Of the remaining picks (Alexandre Vincent, Matt Butcher, Kris Fredheim and Mario Bliznak) only Butcher is considered a potential prospect and even that's a bit of a stretch. You'll see Bliznak in camp too and it's possible he can make the jump with a strong showing.
2006 NHL Draft
Unknown: Optimistically speaking, Michael Grabner (1st RD, 14th overall) is a hit if he can make the NHL this year. He's been knocked in the past few years for not having a complete enough game and questionable conditioning when training camp starts. If Grabner can make the Canucks roster, his speed and offensive upside will be clutch. However, if he's sent to Manitoba again, then guys taken after him like Patrik Berglund, Simeon Varlamov or even Milan Lucic (though he was selected deeper in the second) will sting just a bit more.
Daniel Rahimi (3rd RD, 82nd overall) is another one who could make the jump into the bottom four on the blueline, but this upcoming training camp will have to a great one. Last year he pulled in a poor performance and spent the rest of the season with the Moose. While his game may be maturing, only time will tell if he's an NHL'er. The Canucks brass still has faith in him.
Sergei Shirokov (6th RD, 163rd overall) has been in Russia and, more recently, tearing it up in the KHL since he was selected. He just made news recently in that he may have inked a two year deal only to have the KHL step in and dispute it. Either way, Shirokov could be a valuable addition if he can parlay his offense and quickness for Vancouver. Jury's out, we'll see.
2007 NHL Draft
Unknown: It's still early to figure out if Patrick White, selected 25th overall in the first round, is going to be a Nathan Smith or a late bloomer. The year he was drafted White was named the Associated Press Minnesota High School Hockey Player of the Year, named to the Associated Press First Team All-State, a Minnesota Mr. Hockey Finalist and named to the St. Paul Pioneer Press First Team All State. Since then however, he's strung together a 10 and 16 point campaign respectively for the University of Minnesota. We'll see what condition the youngster comes to camp with this year, but if he's a bust, then the fact David Perron was selected one spot behind him is another giant miss with the first pick.
Selected in the second round and 33rd overall, Taylor Ellington is a Willie Mitchell-type player slowly in the making. This past March he inked a three year entry level deal based primarily on his steady improvement at the WHL level. He'll join McIver and maybe Rahimi as guys to watch on the blueline for training camp. Elsewhere in the second round, the Kings drafted both Oscar Moller and Wayne Simmonds who are already playing at the NHL level.
NHL 2008 Draft
Unknown: Cody Hodgson, taken in the first round and 10th overall, has all the talent you could want. Many fans are expecting him to be a lock for the team next year but, if you're read this far, you'll know that it's never a sure thing with Vancouver's first rounders so until Hodgson cuts his teeth and makes a definitive impact with the Canucks, he'll remain an unknown. Fun fact: Hogdson is one of two guys selected in the top ten last year who didn't make an immediate jump to the NHL. Ignoring Nashville's Colin Wilson who is still in college, the rest all suited up: Stamkos, Doughty, Bogosian, Pietrangelo, Schenn, Filatov, Boedker and Bailey. Now maybe keeping Hodgson down another year was a smart move for his maturation, but the ball is in his court come September.
Selected 41st overall in the second round, Yann Sauve is another project that needs perhaps two more years before he's NHL-ready. Prab Rai (5th RD, 131st overall), Mats Froshaug (6th RD, 161st overall) and Morgan Clark (7th RD, 191st overall) are all still too young to make a judgement call.
If you weren't convinced drafting is vitally important and you've ignored the casual correlation between Detroit's strength at both the draft table and in the playoffs for two decades now, then hopefully your keen eye noticed that many of the players selected behind our duds or selected near our still-developing players are property of either the St. Louis Blues or Chicago Blackhawks, two teams we know very well now and will only get better in the coming seasons as a result of their astute picks. Both had to tank for a few seasons to get the high picks, but they made the right choices in the middle rounds too.
In a way, this is the hardest day for the GMs, virtually betting the farm on the future development of teenagers. Keep in mind what some of the guys and gals over at PPP have been discussing here and here: only 39% of first rounders move on to play 200 or more NHL games, and if they do, they're only averaging 185 games played and a paltry 84 points. It gets worse after that: 5.5% of guys picked after the second round eventually play 200 or more NHL games. That's a pretty damn narrow margin for error and, interestingly, it shows how valuable those late round picks can be since, statistically, they're almost as valuable as a fourth round pick.
Maybe what makes a good draft is if you snag two guys who eventually even make it to the NHL level. If that's the measuring stick, then Nonis hit for the cycle in 2004. Vancouver's draft record is spotty at best, but a few right moves tomorrow could save this club as early as one to three years down the line. Gillis did decent in his first year at the helm, so let's see what he can follow it up with.
Now it's your turn. Having seen how the past decade has worked out for the Canucks, who do you think we need to take in the first round in about 24 hours time?