Similar to the fine work nucksandpucks is doing counting down the top seasons in franchise history, over the coming weeks I will be profiling the top 10 Canucks draft picks of all-time. Researching this series has taken me down some dark alleys, such as the Wikipedia page of the team's draft history. Truthfully though, for a franchise often criticized for its performance at the draft, the Canucks have had their share of gems over the past 42 years...they just didn't always hold on to them for very long. Players on this list were selected based on both their impact on the franchise and their contributions to the game of hockey in general, with slightly more emphasis given to the former.
#7: Cam Neely
Drafted: 1983, round one, 9th overall
Seasons with the Canucks: 3
Reason for Leaving: As if you could forget..."Bam-Bam Cam" was traded to the Boston Bruins along with a 1st round draft pick (Glen Wesley) for Barry Pederson.
This is one the Vancouver Canucks organization has never been able to live down. After his short tenure with the Canucks as a young player, Cam Neely would score 50 goals three times with the Boston Bruins and become the defining power forward of his generation, eventually earning an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005. In my opinion Neely's credentials were not strong enough to earn that induction, but he made it in because of the former point: he literally created a new category of player. When people throw around terms like "playmaker", "sniper", or "mobile defenseman", there are a number of players who might initially come to mind; when someone says "power forward", nearly everyone immediately thinks of Cam Neely.
...He also scored 50 goals in 49 games one year, which is pretty decent (only one guy has scored 50 in fewer games and you've probably heard of him).
Let's take a look at the situation surrounding the Cam Neely-for-Barry Pederson trade. Was it as bad at the time as hindsight has made it appear?
When he was drafted 9th overall by the Canucks, Neely was coming off a hugely successful junior career with the Portland Winter Hawks. In 1983, Neely put up 120 points and 130 PIMs for the Hawks, then added 20 points in 14 playoff games to help lead Portland to their first Memorial Cup win. It was the type of dominating performance — both on the scoresheet and in the penalty box — that Neely would become known for later in his career (read: not with the Canucks).
Despite looking like a sure bet, Neely was unable to gain any confidence or favour with the coaches at the start of his pro career in Vancouver. He was stuck behind Stan Smyl and Tony Tanti on the depth chart, and head coach
Alain Vigneault Tom Watt was unimpressed with Neely's defensive efforts (may I remind you he was 20 years old at the time?).
Meanwhile, over in Beantown, Barry Pederson had emerged as a star for the Bruins after a prolific junior career with the Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Cougars. Four years older than Neely, Pederson had already scored over 100 points twice (something Neely never did even in his heyday), after posting 44 goals and 92 points in his rookie season. He was a two-time All-Star by the time he was 23, and for a team like the Canucks who weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut at the time, a player of his calibre was very appealing. As we all have seen over the past several years with the likes of Steve Bernier and Taylor Pyatt, the development of a big, skilled forward is always a bit of a windy road, and rather than wait and see what they had in Cam Neely, Canucks management decided they'd rather acquire an established offensive star like Barry Pederson.
There was only one issue: in the summer of 1984, Pederson was diagnosed with a benign tumour in his shoulder. This would require a couple surgeries, and he only played 22 games the following season. He would play a full campaign in 1985-86, but he wasn't the same player he was before the surgeries. He registered 76 points in 79 games, which is far from bad, but was still 40 points fewer than his last full season total.
Where the Canucks saw a star forward who just needed time to find his form again after a serious surgery, the Bruins saw a player who's best days were already behind him, and in the summer of 1986 traded Pederson to Vancouver for Cam Neely. The latter turned out to be true, and to compound the Canucks' mistake, Neely became that rare big man with skill who put it all together.
But let's be honest, the trade wasn't exactly a fleecing by Boston at the time. Neely's career high in points to that point was 21 goals and 39 points in his second season. There was absolutely no guarantee — or even that many strong hints — that he would turn into a three-time 50-goal scorer. Had he not panned out, history would likely look upon Barry Pederson in a much more favourable light, too, because there was a time when he was a heck of a player. Canucks management made a fairly common move in trading an unproven asset for a proven one, and ended up losing. Big time.
But it's all in the past, and Vancouver's trade karma ended up evening out with the Alex Stojonov/Markus Naslund deal. At least it proves one thing: the Canucks scouts knew what they were doing when they drafted Cam Neely.