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2018 NHL Draft: 4 Defencemen the Canucks Could Target After Round 1

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Let’s be honest, these selections are most vital based on the Canucks needs.

2018 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship
Mike O’Leary #19 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish flips over Scott Perunovich #7 of the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs during the championship game of the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Championships on April 7, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Let’s be honest, these selections are most vital based on the Vancouver Canucks needs.

I previously spent some time looking at possible options for the Canucks at centre and on the wing after round one. If you haven’t read them yet, go give them a thorough read-through so you can disagree with everyone I highlighted.

Now that you’ve read them both thoroughly, disregard everything I said. That’s because what the Canucks desperately need to do is focus on finding capable defencemen. Finding good blueliners, or players in general after round one isn’t easy. Still, the Canucks have been able to unearth guys like Nikita Tryamkin and Gustav Forsling. You could also argue that Guillaime Brisebois was a decent find in round three, even if his potential is that of a third-pairing guy.

Although Benning has found some decent depth defenders in later rounds, he has drafted guys like Cole Candella, Carl Neill, MacKenzie Stewart and Kristoffer Gunnarsson in later rounds. While picks like the Stewart and Gunnarsson ones seem short-sighted, it’s unrealistic to think that the Canucks are going to hit home runs on all their late-round picks.

The top of the 2018 draft is notably defence heavy, but there are some interesting names out there in the later rounds. For this article, I’m looking at guys who are generally out of the top-31. A lot of intriguing players that are fringe first-rounders aren’t included. That means the likes of Ryan Merkley, Rasmus Sandin, Calen Addison, K’Andre Miller, Mattias Samuelsson, Johnathan Tychonik, Nicolas Beaudin, Alexander Alexeyev or Nils Lundqvist won’t appear on this list. They may appear on another though. Stay tuned.

Ty Emberson

I’ll say that with the four defenders on this list, none of them would be a great value pick at 37th overall. My belief is that out of that glut of defenders listed above, one is likely to fall to them early in the second round. It would be a reach to select any of these players at #37, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t decent prospects.

Of this bunch, Ty Emberson is least exciting player, but he could potentially have the biggest upside. There are two reasons for this logic.

The first is that Emberson is one of the youngest players to enter the draft this year. He isn’t Adam Boqvist young, but he’s born in late May 2000 (feel old yet?) which pushes him towards the younger end of the spectrum.

Emberson also played on a stacked USNTDP team in the USHL this season. Nevermind the array of talented forwards, but Emberson played behind the likes of Bode Wilde, K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelsson on defence. He posted almost identical point totals to the three defencemen, but is projected as a third or fourth round pick, rather than a fringe first-rounder.

Ty Emberson stats.
Some basic stats for Ty Emberson and his USHL teammates on defence.

Part of this is because Emberson is a good all-around player, but he lacks an elite ability in one area of the ice. Still, he posted good numbers depsite playing lesser minutes in the USHL. He’s also got lots of room to grow, and should play a big role alongside Miller at the University of Wisconsin next season.

Axel Andersson

Over the last couple of drafts, we’ve heard a lot about defenders who fit the “new NHL.” Many of these defenders are undersized, but they make up for it with quickness and agility. These blueliners also possess a better offensive game compared to some of their lumbering counterparts.

While Andersson isn’t necessarily small at 6’0”, 180 pounds, he does play the game with quickness and offence. The right-shot defenceman was second in points in the SuperElit among draft eligible blueliners, with the undersized and unknown Axel Berqvist finishing ahead of him. He also got some notoriety playing alongside Boqvist at the U18 World Championships.

He’s certainly not a physical defenceman by any means, but Andersson does a decent job of using his quickness to evade forecheckers. With a keen hockey sense, he makes a good first pass, giving his teammates a chance at creating offence.

Andersson also possesses something that no Canuck defender currently has: a powerful shot. He’s also not afraid to shoot the puck either, firing the biscuit on net 2.5 times per game on average. His lack of dominance at this level does push him further down draft boards, although Andersson has been projected from being an early-second to a fourth-round pick. A good projection for him looking forward is a third-pairing guy with some offensive upside.

Filip Kral

Predicting where a player like Filip Kral will end up is challenging, but there’s no denying his offensive upside.

Even though he jumped right into the WHL from the Czech Republic, there wasn’t much of an adjustment period for Kral. He registered nine goals and 35 points in 59 games as a rookie with the Spokane Chiefs. With his stellar performance from the blueline, he ended up as their rookie of the year.

There are a couple of reasons why there isn’t as much fanfare about Kral heading into the draft. Adjusting to the North American game seemed difficult at times for Kral, as he could be pushed off the puck rather easily in his own end. He was also overshadowed by 2018 first-round lock Ty Smith, who amassed more than a point-per-game in Spokane.

However, there’s no denying his offensive tools and sublime skating ability. A 6’0”, 168 pounds, there’s still lots of room for Kral to fill out and improve his defensive game. For my taste, give me the guy with skill and a high offensive ceiling any day. The defensive side of the game can still be taught, and surely Kral could use another season or two to adjust to the North American game.

Scott Perunovich

Every draft has a couple of overagers who start making headlines. On defence, guys like Sean Durzi and Joey Keane in the OHL should be selected by teams after being passed over last year.

Scott Perunovich however, has already been passed over twice in the draft. Does it really make sense to pick a 19-year-old defenceman who’s already been passed over in 14 rounds at the draft?

The story of Perunovich is a curious one, but there should be little doubt that he will be selected at some point in 2018. During his first draft eligible year in 2016, Perunovich registered 68 points in 25 U.S. high school hockey games in Minnesota. Somehow, he ended up slipping through the cracks.

For his second year of eligibility, Perunovich played on a bottom-feeder team in the USHL, and his -37 was an eyesore for those old school scouts.

During this last season of hockey, Perunovich has enjoyed an absolute breakout season. Playing as a rookie defenceman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA. Perunovich posted 36 points in 42 games. He was named the NCAA men’s hockey rookie of the year, while leading his team to a championship title.

With a combinations of great speed and good offensive instincts, there’s no way that Perunovich slips through the cracks for a third time. Whoever selects him in the middle of the draft is going to get a decent puck-moving player with a glowing upside.