Jim Benning had himself some wingers’ delight at the podium last year.
In the 2017 draft, Benning stepped up and selected wingers Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, and Petrus Palmu. It may be early, but all three selections could currently be chalked up as wins for the organization.
Lind and Gadjovich both impressed during their draft-plus-one seasons, while Palmu continues to shatter expectations for a guy of his stature. He was named the SM-Liiga’s rookie of the year, and earned himself an entry-level deal with the Canucks.
While the organizational emphasis should be on centres and defenceman in this upcoming draft, chances are that Benning selects a winger at some point. Will any of these guys hear their names called by Benning on draft day?
The players I’ve singled out here are all projected to be drafted outside of the first round. I’m all for Benning selecting a guy at #37 who falls into the second round, just like he did with Lind and Thatcher Demko. For the purpose of this article though, I wanted to dig a little deeper.
A player in Minnesota’s U.S. high school hockey circuit, Jack Perbix checks in as a guy poised for a huge draft-plus-one season. The native of Elk River, Minnesota chalked up 61 points 25 games this season, the best mark on his team.
For comparison’s sake, Perbix’s production was comparable to 2017 eighth overall pick Casey Mittelstadt. The Buffalo Sabres product put up 64 points in 25 high school games heading into his draft year. Perbix doesn’t have Mittelstadt’s skill set or sky-high ceiling, but his production is intriguing.
One area where Perbix paled in comparison to Mittelstadt was from his USHL debut. Perbix was buried on a good team, and registered one goal and four points in 17 games. His quiet USHL debut along with playing in a league that isn’t as heavily scouted has led most to believe that Perbix will be a third or fourth round pick.
At that part of the draft, Perbix would be worth taking a flier on. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft, and stands out as a prime candidate to have a huge season in the USHL. Perbix is an excellent skater and he has a knack for finding his teammates. He’s a man amongst boys in high school hockey, and should get a chance to shine in the USHL next season.
Could the Canucks potentially add another Eriksson to the organization?
Albin Eriksson checks in as one of the most intriguing players in the draft after round one. At 6’4”, 209 pounds, the hulking Swede possesses good speed for his size along with an innate ability to produce offence.
He’s no Elias Pettersson, but Eriksson does like to dangle and stickhandle when he has the puck. It’s just one more weapon he’s able to add to his offensively-inclined tool set. Despite being a big body, Eriksson does more than just bury goals like the Garbage Goal King himself.
Although he’s not overly physical, Eriksson can play on the edge. He was given a major penalty for this hit below, and his 86 penalty minutes were fifth-most in the J20 SuperElit.
There seems to be a lot of variation about where Eriksson will go in the draft. Craig Button had him ranked as high as 29th in his rankings, but most other outlets have him as a third-round pick. The offensive upside is high, but Eriksson’s defensive game needs work. He also gets criticized for not using his teammates more, especially since he garners a lot of attention based on his size.
If Eriksson’s name is called by Benning at the draft, at least he won’t cost $6 million per season.
If this were a draft based on good names, Bulat Shafigullin would be a first-round pick. Even though that isn’t the case, some might argue that Shafigullin has flown heavily under the radar, and in fact possesses first-round talent.
To put it simply, Shafigullin scores goals. He’s all over the ice in the offensive zone, and finds a way to score from anywhere. In 22 regular season MHL games, Shafigullin had 20 goals and 36 points. His 1.64 points-per-game was second in the MHL for guys with more than 10 games played.
There are a couple reasons why Shafigullin has gone unheard of in most rankings. He wasn’t included in any international tournaments throughout the year, a hotbed for scouts when it comes to finding players for the draft. There’s also the notion that he played on a good team and was helped out by his teammates. That argument has merit, since three of the top 12 MHL scorers hailed from his club, Reaktor.
Shafigullin also had a quiet audition in the KHL, but he was reportedly playing less than five minutes per night. Not an uncommon occurence for first-time draft-eligible players.
Based on watching him play, Shafigullin has enough raw offensive talent to warrant being a mid-round selection in the upcoming draft. After scoring at nearly a goal-per-game pace, Shafigullin used the MHL playoffs to showcase his plamaking ability, with four goals and 11 assists in nine games.
There’s one more interesting comparison for Shafigullin’s stellar season: Nikita Kucherov.
Shafigullin’s points-per-game this season were better than Kucherov’s in his draft-eligible season. However, Kucherov’s stunning international debut had him on more scouts radar, whereas Shafigullin has no international experience playing internationally. Although his defensive game needs polishing, Shafigullin could definitely end up being one of the steals from the 2018 draft.
While a player like Shafigullin is firmly underrated, Finnish prospect Niklas Nordgren should be a mainstay on the radar of many scouts.
If he wasn’t on your radar by the time the U18 World Championships rolled around, then you were probably blown away by his impressive performance. Nordgren was the best draft-eligible player in the tournament with eight goals and ten points in seven games. His performance helped Finland win gold against a talented U.S. squad, which featured Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom, Jake Wise, Tyler Weiss, and Johnny Gruden.
Nordgren was the fourth-straight Finn to win the goal-scoring title at the U18, joining an exclusive group with the likes of Kristian Vesalainen, Eeli Tolvanen, and Patrik Laine.
There are a couple of reasons why Nordgren isn’t a surefire first-round pick. First off, the size bias works against his as he checks in at 5’9”. There are also critiques about his skating, although he was flying during the U18’s.
He also pales in comparison to fellow Fins’ such as Jesper Kotkaniemi and Rasmus Kupari on rankings due to his lack of success in Finland’s top league. The former two players spent nearly the entire 2017-18 season in the SM-Liiga, while Nordgren spent all of 15 games there, registering three assists in the process.
Despite some critiques about his skating, Nordgren is strong on the puck and he’s hard to knock off his skates. For a guy of his stature, he protects the puck very well, and plays a 200-foot game. He’s offensively-inclined without giving up anything on defence.
At this point, he very well could be a late first-round selection. However, most outlets have him anywhere from an early-second rounder to a early-third round pick. Although he plays similar to Palmu, Nordgren is the upgraded package. He’s a feisty player with a knack for scoring goals, despite his stature. The wing isn’t where the Canucks need the most help, but there’s a strong chance that he could be the best player available at 37th overall.