Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi went to Vancouver with the fifth overall pick of the 2016 NHL draft.
With many believing the Canucks aren’t sure if they’re coming or going, they made savvy moves this off-season on both the draft floor and in free agency. While there will be much more needed to truly alter the course of this franchise, any step in the right direction cannot be overlooked – and the summer of 2016 is no exception.
2016 Draft Recap
5th Overall – Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights (OHL)
Scouting Report: A cerebral defender who sees the game extremely well. A fluid skater, forward and backward. Good size, and uses to his advantage, but not a bruiser. Offensive instincts are good, but may not translate at the highest level of competition. A safe defender who has top-pairing potential.
Analysis: With the first defender chosen in the draft, the Canucks have secured themselves what was a sorely needed asset – a safe, young blueliner with a high ceiling. With the Blue Jackets shocking the First Niagara Centre by selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi, a great many draft list projections were torn asunder. Is it possible Edmonton may have chosen Juolevi over Dubois? Possibly, but the truth is we will never know. However, by selecting Juolevi, the Canucks have potentially established a cornerstone for their future prosperity.
64th Overall – William Lockwood, RW, US National Training & Development Program
Scouting Report: Slightly undersized forward who could add a few pounds. What he lacks in size, though, he makes up for with heart and tenacity. With good speed and aggression, he lays it all out on the line. His numbers haven't been great, but he has the natural skill that could have him turn a corner in short order.
Analysis: A reach, overall, but there is upside in this young man. With Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser already slotted into the depth chart on the right side, Lockwood will have a bit of time to refine his game. Committed to the University of Michigan, Lockwood can be brought along relatively patiently and where he may see greater ice-time than most freshmen. Overall, this is a player with boom-or-bust potential.
140th Overall – Cole Candella, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Scouting Report: A player who is neither huge nor small, and does nothing extremely well nor poorly, Candella is a raw player who will get the chance to grow. A strong candidate to spend his overage year in the OHL, Candella has enough potential to be a contributing player in the future. He made good strides over the past season, and will be looked upon to continue his progression next season.
Analysis: Candella will join a prospect pool with potential opportunity. With Olli Juolevi and Jordan Subban likely to be on the main roster in the next season or two, and Nikita Tryamkin possibly NHL-ready, there will be jobs available. Provided Candella can impress enough to earn himself an NHL contract, his development trajectory will put him in a spot to get a spot on the Utica roster.
154th Overall – Jakob Stukel, LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Scouting Report: One of the fastest skaters in the draft, this young man can absolutely blow by defenders. Compounded by the fact that he is capable of scoring at key opportunities, this is a player who, frankly, is surprising to have fallen this far. It must be noted, though, that his overall game needs a great deal of refinement. That said, if his overall game becomes sharpened he could become a legitimate find in the sixth round of the draft.
Analysis: Speed kills, and that’s the thought process behind a selection like this. In the modern game, the ability to get around the ice in top gear is a crucial asset – and this is one area where Stukel is more than capable. The next two seasons will be crucial for the speedy forward – if he can take his game to the next level, which is a reasonably sized “if,” he could emerge as a very useful player.
184th Overall – Rodrigo Abols, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Scouting Report: A very raw pivot with lots of room to improve. Has a massive frame, and while this doesn’t make him a bruiser, he knows how to use it to his advantage. Will be a project to be rounded into form over time, but could become a useful forward with size sometime down the road.
Analysis: While Lockwood gives offensive acumen and character, and Stukel brings speed, Abols brings the size and strength you want up the middle of the ice. While he will take some time and his upside is limited outside of a checking line center, he could become a valuable net-front presence with the right organization while causing fits for opposing defenders.
194th Overall – Brett McKenzie, C, North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Scouting Report: A center with good size but is more likely to develop into a winger at the professional level, McKenzie is a long-term project. Work that will be needed includes his faceoff prowess, defensive positioning, and using his size effectively. As are many picks at this point in the draft, he is a longshot to emerge as a pro.
Analysis: A bit of a reach selection at this point, McKenzie has much he will need to do to become an impact professionally. Centers with size are of value at all levels, though, and if he can learn to use his growing frame in a more advantageous manner, he may find himself as a fourth-line winger at some point down the road.
Free Agent Signings
Loui Eriksson will help the Canucks where they need it most – goal-scoring:
The big addition on July 1 for the Canucks was the addition of skilled offensive winger Loui Eriksson, formerly of the Boston Bruins, signing him to a six-year, $36-million contract. While there are some who may question the addition of a player on the wrong side of 30, particularly to a big-money and long-term deal, Eriksson undoubtedly makes the Canucks a better team. Coming off a fantastic season where he had 30 goals and 68 points, the native of Gothenburg, Sweden can contribute at both ends of the ice –putting the puck in the net, and even killing penalties. This should help alleviate some of the offensive pressure on the Sedin twins, as well as opening space for young Bo Horvat.
Though not quite as marquee, the Canucks also added Philip Larsen to the fold, signing him to a one-year deal worth just over $1 million. Though not as coveted, Larsen enjoyed a strong season in the KHL last season playing for Jokerit Helsinki, where he posted 11 goals and 36 points in 52 games. As a right-handed shot, the 26-year-old Dane should see time on the blueline, particularly on the power play, where it’s expected he will play a key role. As he struggled with the smaller ice surface and physical elements of the North American game during his first stint in North America, one can only hope he is more prepared this time around.
Development Camp Notes
The Canucks hosted their prospects development camp from July 1 to 8, first in Vancouver, followed by time at Shawinigan Lake on Vancouver Island.
While many Canucks faithful, as well as many who would consider themselves quite the opposite, would profess that the organization is bereft of legitimate bluechip talent, fears may well have been allayed. While names such as Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, and newly drafted Olli Juolevi proved to observers that they are talent that is close to (if not completely) ready for NHL duty, other names staked their claim.
While the NCAA world was abuzz about Boeser’s accomplishments, 2015 fifth-round selection Adam Gaudette seemed to fly under the radar with a strong season as a member of the Northeastern University Huskies. Finishing just outside the top 10 in league scoring, Gaudette may not project to become an offensive threat at the top levels, however director of player development Stan Smyl was impressed by the intensity the young man brings in all areas of the game.
Another important note from camp was the emergence of Michael Carcone, a 19-year-old member of the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL last season. Scoring 47 goals, Carcone earned himself an invite to camp to show off the talent and mitts to put up such gaudy numbers. The young forward did not disappointment, as he displayed fine skill during camp scrimmages and providing a glimpse of hope for an organization in Vancouver that struggles to score. The effort paid off on July 15, when Carcone signed an entry-level contract with the club and, now at age 20, will be eligible to take on an offensive role with the Utica Comets next season.
While there are some who believe the slow and measured approach is best, there are other media outlets who believe that now may be the time for the Canucks to land a blockbuster. This article, posted on July 31, 2016, outlines five potential blockbuster trade candidates.