The Vancouver Canucks should add another impact player to the organization at seventh overall in the upcoming 2018 NHL Draft. However, extracting value from the rest of the draft is critical for this rebuilding club.
Drafting after round one has generally been a strength of Jim Benning and the scouting staff. Nikita Tryamkin, Adam Gaudette, and Michael DiPietro are only some examples of good players that Benning’s staff has unearthed in later rounds.
Last year, the Canucks selected players around or just after their expected draft position. Kole Lind and DiPietro were pegged to go earlier in the draft before they fell to the Canucks, while Jonah Gadjovich was pegged right around that 45-60 mark on most boards.
With the Canucks clinging onto only six picks heading into the draft, the accuracy of those selections becomes even more imperative. Their direction will also shift depending on whether they select a forward or a defenceman at seventh overall.
Over the next couple of articles, I’m going to look at potential options for the Canucks at the draft by position. For the most part, I’m going to try and highlight guys who are listed outside of the top-31 on most draft boards.
On draft day it makes sense to look at guys who are slipping. For now, here’s a look at some guys that may be undervalued, or just a good fit for the Canucks.
In the current NHL where speed and skill dominate, does it make sense to draft a 6’7”, 220 lb. centre?
That’s what some scouts will ask themselves in case they want to take a flyer on Czech forward Jachym Kondelik. The mammoth Muskegon Lumberjack of the USHL will be snagged by one team for a decent 200-foot game, even though players of his calibre aren’t commonplace in the NHL.
If Kondelik were to play in the NHL last year, he would have been the league’s tallest forward. Although the 6’9” Zdeno Chara is still the league’s tallest player, guys like Brian Boyle, Martin Hanzal and a couple of others represent the tallest forwards standing at 6’6”.
One of the reasons bigger, taller guys aren’t as common in the NHL now is because it’s harder for bigger guys to keep up in today’s game. Velocity at this level is swiftly weeding out those who can’t skate. Thankfully for Kondelik, that shouldn’t be a problem for him in the NHL.
Kondelik has deceptive speed for someone his size, and he uses his body to protect the puck with ease in the USHL. The reason why Kondelik is ranked as a possible third-round pick is because he lacks an elite offensive ability.
During his second year in the USHL, Kondelik increased his production to 16-18-34 in 44 games. In his rookie season, he posted 7-8-15 in 43 games with the Lumberjacks.
Kondelik can hit, skate, and protect the puck, but his lack of an offensive ceiling will hold him back at the draft. He is still a raw prospect with much to learn however, and could benefit from being drafted by the right organization. It makes sense to take a look at drafting him in the third round. If he’s available in round four or beyond, he’s definitely worth taking a flyer on.
The Canucks should also consider how they want their depth chart to look like down the road. This is already a team that lacks size, and would benefit by drafting someone with size who can skate. Kondelik is also someone who could fit the mould of a fourth-line centre, especially if you have players like Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Adam Gaudette pegged ahead of him in three years time.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Canucks drafted local back in 2016, when the selected Surrey, B.C. native Jakob Stukel in the sixth-round. Would they look at drafting another Surrey native in the 2018 NHL draft?
While relevant, the Stukel comparison isn’t an astute one since the Canucks have reportedly decided not to re-sign him. Although Stukel had speed to burn and not much else, Luka Burzan represents a player with a more well-rounded game.
The 2017-18 season was a bit of a roller coaster ride for Burzan. He began the season buried in the bottom-six on a stacked Moose Jaw Warriors squad. Thanks to that, his production declined compared to his rookie WHL season in 2016-17.
Then in January, the Warriors traded for Kale Clague from the Brandon Wheat Kings, and Burzan was one of the centerpieces in that deal. I chatted with Burzan earlier this year following the trade, and he realized that his new opportunity meant more chances at producing offence.
“I was a little surprised when (the trade) happened,” said Burzan. “I didn’t think I was going to get traded, but at the same time I kind of had that feeling. I had mixed emotions when it happened, but it was a good move for me development-wise.”
He saw his production increase in Brandon while playing in a top-six role. He ended his season strong as well, with five goals and seven points in 11 playoff games.
Burzan is a responsible, playmaking centre who has a tendency to make the players around him better. While not incredibly dynamic, Burzan is one who is diligent in all aspects of the game. While once projected to be a mid-round pick in the draft, his strong playoff performance has some believing that Burzan will be a third-round pick.
He sits in a similar spot to Kondelik heading into the draft. Burzan is worth considering in the third round, but would be a good value pick in round four or later.
Now that we’ve looked at two guys who might be options in the later rounds, how about looking at some guys with higher offensive upside? One guy who fits that bill is 18-year-old David Gustafsson.
It’s been a productive year for the young centre heading into the draft. Even at 17 years old, he was one of the final cuts from Sweden’s World Junior roster. Despite the disappointment, he maintained a spot in the lineup on a strong HV71 team in the SHL, posting 6-6-12 in 45 games. Gustafsson was also one of only three draft-eligible NHL players to play 40+ games in the SHL this season. The others were Isac Lundestrom and of course, Rasums Dahlin.
Gustafsson did play limited minutes for HV71, but he made the most of his minutes with a solid defensive game and good numbers in the face-off circle. In the Loui Eriksson mould, Gustafsson also scored the majority of his goals from within a few feet of the net.
There are complaints about Gustafsson’s skating stride and offensive ability from scouts overseas. While the skating might be a concern, the fact that he goes to the net to produce offence is already an added bonus. The Canucks have already had to train guys like Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin to play this way in the NHL. Gustafsson is already a player who has this embedded in his game.
Projected to go in the second-round, Gustafsson represents a bit of a safe pick. He projects as a second or third line guy at the NHL level, and would add to the bevy of talented Swedish players that have joined the Canucks organization.
Admittedly one of my favourite players projected outside of the first-round, Jake Wise should be firmly on the Canucks radar heading into the draft. For reasons beyond his control, Wise is a player who has slipped through the cracks on draft boards.
On a USHL team that featured projected first-round picks Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee, along with possible 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes, Wise was overshadowed. It didn’t help his case that he battled the injury bug this season. He missed less than 10 USHL games but missed nearly half of the season in the USDP.
Despite that, Wise’s USHL numbers were comparable to some of his counterparts in the first round. He posted 9-19-28 in 18 games, good for 1.55 points per game. Wahlstrom, in comparison, posted 1.7 points per game in 26 USHL contests. Farabee was right around Wise’s mark with 1.53 points per game in 40 regular season matchups.
I have not seen Kravtsov play. By my accounts with NHL personnel, he is a 1st round pick. 12-24?? I think Jake Wise is a 2nd round pick. Smart, good play making centre. Has to find some quickness in his skating.— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) May 17, 2018
Whether it’s because of injuries or being overshadowed on a good team, Wise is projected to be drafted somewhere between the end of round one all the way down to round three. He was ranked 38th among North American skaters during NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, and should arguably be higher based on his performance and skill set.
Wise is exactly the type of player that fits with today’s NHL. Button’s concerns about his skating are the first I’ve heard, but it shouldn’t overshadow his top-six potential. He’s incredibly creative with the puck and he has decent speed. Injuries didn’t seem to slow him down even though he missed a decent chunk of time. If he’s available at 37th overall, he’s certainly a player the Canucks need to consider drafting.