As Canuck fans await the hiring of a new head coach as the first of many, many noteworthy events that could be coming within the next month or so, it is easy, and even understandable to look forward.
A new coach, best goalie ever to play for the team being traded so the next "best goalie to play the game" can replace him, and the trades of an indeterminate number makes for many, many speculations of "what is to come".
Understandable. But while that is fun and all, and many bytes will be consumed on the rosterbation that such questions bring, let's take a look back and see what Dallas Eakins or John Stevens will have to work with.
Everyone knows, down to the number in the case of some teams, that the dollars are as important at some points in the building of a team as the talent coming down the pipe. Every team does it differently, of course. For the purposes of this article however, I am going to use a team that earned the right to use the term "Big Boy Hockey" by their play in an entertaining second round loss to this years' President Trophy winners. The Detroit Red Wings have been named by our GM numerous times as his "gold standard". Even as the style of the game morphs and progresses ( and BBH is taking a big hit in at least one series so far, and is the difference in the other. It is fascinating to watch how the skill game of the Hawks can and has, to this point, overwhelmed the physical #uberdefense of the Kings. The Bruins have, meanwhile, stuck to who they are while still being so effective in transition, enabling THEIR skill to overwhelm the Penguins. )
Watching the Pens add size and "grit" and struggle is proof that a team has to be true to what they are. It is also proof that labels like Big Boy Hockey are imperfect. But what they hell, you have to do something when it looks like two of the "rivals" of your team are on a collision course for the Final.
So, in that regard, let's get down to that comparison...
It has to be said that the comparison gets off to an uneven start when you think about how the Wings have had a bunch of players that they drafted in later rounds become stars, and the spectre of Datsyuk and Zetterberg hovers over any comparison of drafts with the Wings. The narrative is that they are good at drafting when you are not, and any narrative builder worth his salt will point to the two above as his go to "neener neener". So be it. Let's just take a look at the current team with the current management. It should also be noted that Burke and Nonis left a some talent here, while the Gillis regime had to hit the ground running versus a team where the GM has seemed to be around as long as Moses in NHL MG job length terms. Never mind that several of the assistants have moved along to be the head guy on other teams from the Wings. When you are the "gold standard", there is usually a reason for it.
2008 - Them ; Well, the 1st that year was a goaltender that started in the AHL and ended up in the ECHL this season, Todd McCollum, so there is that. The 2nd pick ( 3rd round ) is a defenseman going into his senior year at Boston University ( and I will say at this point that I don't know how much stock we should put into the various stats from the NCAA. Sure, the Justin Schultzes and Tyler Bozaks of the world are examples of players that made the jump. But, there are just as many Patrick Whites littering the draft histories of the Canucks, and every other team in the NHL, truth be told ) He has 11 G, 33 P in 102 games at that level so far. It was in the 4th round that the Wings hit one of their late round homers with Gustav Nyquist, an NHL roster player making an impact this year. A 5th round centre named Julian Cayer had 12 G and 33 P in four full seasons at Clarkson University in New York, but he is 6'4" and 190 lbs. A kid named Stephen Johnston who last played in 2011 in the OHL was a 6th round pick, and a 7th rounder who was last seen tearing it up in the Swedish 3rd division in 2011 prove that even the Wings can make uninspiring picks. It should be noted that the Wings traded their 2nd round pick that year for a goaltender ( Peter Delmas, I think. Google 2008 Wings 2nd round pick and fall down a rabbit hole that includes an unexercised option in a deal for Todd Bertuzzi from Florida. Pete is now toiling in the Habs' system ) who was traded to the Kings as part of a deal for Brad Stuart
2008 - Us ; The first year for our fearless leader is well documented. Never forget that there was considerable heat in this city for the Canucks to draft Kyle Beach instead of Cody Hodgson. Ummm, yeah. The first and most apparent fact is that the Wings were drafting 30th in 2008, while the Canucks were drafting 10th overall. Nonetheless, the 1st round pick is an NHLer who led the league in sophomore scoring for Buffalo, he became a player who is basically the poster child for Big Boy Hockey for the Canucks, Zach Kassian. But the 2nd rounder, Yann Sauve, has a total of 5 NHL games ( in 2011 ). Prab Rai in the 5th, Matt Froshaug in the 6th, and the son of the goaltending coach of the time ( Ian Clark ) Morgan Clark who played 7 games at St FX in the Maritimes while going to school in 2011-12. The 3rd round pick turned into a player for the Ducks' ECHL affiliate (Josh Brittain ) and the 4th rounder is a prospect for Buffalo going to school in Minnesota named Justin Jokinen. So, no harm done there so far!
That's the thing, the draft truly is a crap shoot. I detailed the 2008 picks just to show that the Wings and Canucks look pretty similar in successes. Let's run through the other years more briefly. I'll just list the league they are in now and their prospects for NHL playing time as we go along, to try and pick out the diamonds from the cubic zirconias of the world.
2009 - Them
No 1st round pick for them, perse.The Wings were picking 29th that season, and traded Carter Ashton, the 29th pick, for the 32nd pick, Landon Ferraro, and a Czech named Andre Nestrasil at 75th in the 3rd round. He's a big forward currently percolating in the minors, but Landon Ferraro looks like a good player, and the Wings had both he and their own 2nd round pick that year, Thomas Tatar have leading roles in the AHL playoffs to date. The rest of the guys, just click the link provided above. None of the names jump out...yet.
2009 - Us
Let us take a bit more time with this year, as it is one of the few in recent memory where the Canucks had a pick in every damn round! The Canucks were picking 22nd that year, and took Jordan Schroeder. While he definitely has the skill to play BBH, the size is a common narrative from just about anyone pondering the Canucks going forward. I like him. I think he has the skill, and in his 31 games this past year, he showed a defensive responsibility ( +4 ), and, to my eye at least, an ability to be an effective checker along the boards. The 2nd rounder has basically been given up on now, as Anton Rodin is headed back to Sweden. I get that he had the skills to warrant at least being in that realm as a pick. But he has to be called a bust. Kevin Connauton (3rd round ) will ply his trade in Dallas next year as the price for Derek Roy, but Jeremy Price ( 4th ) put up good numbers in four years at Colgate University before just getting started on the blue line for the Wolves this year. Peter Andersson ( 5th ) was thought enough of after playing well for the Wolves this season to be brought up as a Black Ace this year, so he is not just a "prospect", and the 6th round pick, Joe Cannata, actually sat on the bench for the Canucks this year, while getting his feet wet in the Wolves' net. Personally, I like the game of Steve Anthony, who was acquired from the Coyotes in a swap of picks that year, was the 187th pick, and just caught my eye at the Young Prospects the last time it was put on.
I'm going to give the Canucks this year, just on the number of players. Apart from the first two picks, it should also be noted that everyone else picked this year was at least 6' 1", so maybe they at least gave a thought to size! Both the 1st picks for the Wings were the same size as Rodin anyhow. So, it's not all size. Will sometimes matters more than skill, something the Canucks missed taking into consideration with their erstwhile 2nd rounder.
I am breaking it here, because this was also around the time that it seemed that the Big Boy Hockey style was just getting started. The archtype, the Hawks of 2010, were not strictly a "Big Boy Hockey team" when they won the Cup in the next year. Even though Dustin Byfuglien showed exactly how effective that style, mixed with natural size, can be, especially in the playoffs, that was in the future. It was the Penguins and their mountain of skill a year after the Wings were the last team to win the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same year.
We now know that the 2010 Cup team was as deep as any Cup winner in recent memory, and their example was quickly noticed by other GM's. Devastating skill mixed perfectly with the size needed to both protect it, and punish opponents physically while still being able to play the game is the essence of this style, and while the Hawks showed how depth and size that has some skill to boot is so effective in the playoffs, it took the next years' team and the one to follow to solidify that narrative around the league. But, at the time, it was just how skilled the last two Cup winners had been, and the problem that ended up being a bigger influence on the game, the epidemic of defensemen with concussions, was just a well intentioned rule change being proposed.
In Part Two, we'll focus more on the players both teams have drafted since then, their size relative to their skill, how they might fit into that shifting narrative, and who might be the ones on both teams to grab a spot next year, when everyone is going to have to trim salary, and young players will have the chance to play for both the Canucks and the Wings.