July 31-in-31: Vancouver Canucks
The 31-in-31 Summer Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in July we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft, notes from their development camp, and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up, the August 31-in-31 Series will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all summer long!
As the hosts of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, there was a lot of external and internal pressure to have a successful weekend. Of course, the expectation that the club would provide a welcoming and positive environment for the visiting organizations and media members was present, but also far easier achieved than putting on a show for the fans.
In the weeks and months leading to the big weekend, rumours abounded that Jim Benning was one of the more active General Managers – checking in on ways to move up, move down and fill some immediate needs on the team’s roster. However, as the first round began rolling, the Canucks were quiet. They decided to hold onto their selection at 10 and select Russian forward, Vasily Podkolzin. When asked about the selection, Benning implied the club had a trade ready to slide back four or five spots and accrue an additional second-round selection, but they couldn’t pass up on the potential of Podkolzin.
Day Two comes fast and furious and Vancouver was delighted to land another first-round talent at pick 40 when Nils Höglander fell into their laps. Around the time that pick was happening, word began to spread that the team had acquired winger, JT Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning. It took some time to get the final details, but the club paid a sizable price for the 26-year-old. They moved their 72nd overall pick and a conditional 2020 first-round selection. The conditions being, if Vancouver misses the playoffs in 2019-20, they hold onto the pick and give an unprotected 2021 first to the Lightning.
Miller, who makes 5.25M for four more seasons, immediately steps in as the clubs second-best wing option behind RFA, Brock Boeser. There is a ready-made gig for him either flanking Boeser and Elias Pettersson on the top unit or next to Bo Horvat on the second line. The cost isn’t as low as one would have hoped when dealing with a team in cap troubles, but Benning is betting on his team to take sizeable steps forward.
26-year-old, JT Miller is coming off a down goal-scoring year but maintained his average point-per-game pace
This despite his SH% dipping 4% from the previous three years, and losing around three minutes per night https://t.co/NsXH4eeuZk
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) June 22, 2019
Later in the day, The Canucks traded down in the draft, swapping their sixth-round pick for a seventh-round pick to bring in Francis Perron from San Jose. The 23-year-old recorded 47 points (18-29-47) in 63 games for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate last season. He adds scoring punch to the Utica Comets.
Round One, 10th overall – Vasily Podkolzin, RW
As mentioned above, the Canucks appeared armed and ready to either move up or move down in the first round. Rumours were abuzz that they had an arrangement with Detroit to jump up to sixth overall if Alex Turcotte was available. He was not. When their turn to select came, Podkolzin was the last in their tier and they took him. Evidently, the organization is not afraid of the ‘Russian Factor’ with Podkolzin sticking around SKA for two more seasons.
The upside on Podkolzin is massive. He plays a skilled, tenacious and abrasive style that when put together leads to elite results. We witnessed those results at the Ivan Hlinka to begin his draft-eligible campaign and the World Junior A Championships part-way through the year. He powers his way to the net with ferocity and has the skillset to finish from all around the offensive end.
Statement: Vasily Podkolzin enjoys powering his way to the net.
Evidence: Exhibit A pic.twitter.com/YJ5OzA7X0T
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) July 25, 2019
The questions around Podkolzin are whether the offence will come along. He has the goods but failed to put up consistent results in the three leagues he played in as a 17-year-old. However, the fragmented route of his year very likely played a role.
While Podkolzin prefers the right-wing, he’s a natural left-shooter. This can open up a possibility of him finding a permanent home next to Pettersson and Boeser down the line. The other option that sees him locking up a partnership with Horvat on a second line that would be a nightmare matchup for opponents. Either scenario is positive for his fantasy upside – but in different ways. For multicategory leagues, Podkolzin is a top-five asset from this draft – regardless of which top six lines, he lands on. In points-only setups, his pure ceiling keeps him in that realm but more so if he can buddy up with Pettersson.
Round Two, 40th overall – Nils Höglander, LW
The Swedish winger has spent the last two season primarily playing professional hockey. As a 16/17-year-old, he skated 34 games in the Allsvenskan where he recorded three goals and seven points in 34 contests. When playing against U20 competition in the Superelit, he tallied 14 goals and 22 points in as many games. This past season, he spent the entirety of the campaign playing for Rögle of the SHL. Playing third line minutes, the 5’9 forward scored seven goals and 14 points – not an unsubstantial amount for a 17/18-year-old.
The key with Hoglander is his puck-skills and offensive prowess is surpassed only by his motor. The work ethic is loud and proud with the Bockträsk-native. He’s also not one to lack confidence. Despite playing the limited role on the big club, he wasn’t shy about trying out some tricks in his bag as evidenced by his ‘Michigan” lacrosse-style goal.
— C More Sport (@cmoresport) January 23, 2019
Hoglander represents another player with a very solid ceiling, albeit not to the same extent as Podkolzin. Chief Amateur Scout, Judd Brackett spoke about how nervous Vancouver was as their 40th overall pick neared that Hoglander would be gone. They were thrilled to add him to their pipeline.
The 18-year-old has two more years on his deal with Rögle but could potentially be convinced to cross over to the American League after his 2019-20 season concludes.
Round Four, 122nd overall – Ethan Keppen, LW
After moving their third-round pick in the deal to land JT Miller, the Canucks had the 102nd pick but decided to slide back 20 spots and add the 175th overall selection as well. At 122 they landed on the power forward, Keppen.
Stuck plying his trade in the hockey wasteland that is Flint, Keppen managed to produce 30 goals in 2018-19 and was one of the most impressive even-strength and primary point producers for first-time eligible OHLers. His go-to weapon is his shot. It boasts accuracy, weight, and can be released quickly. He put 3.13 shots on goal per game last season on a club that was continually buried in its own end.
According to Jeremy Davis’ pGPS model, Keppen possesses a 34.7 percent chance of becoming an NHL player with a 6.7 percent chance of clicking at a top-six rate. That pretty well matches up with the eye test. The skating lacks some explosiveness and that will likely be the key factor in keeping him from becoming a serious offensive contributor. However, Keppen has a very real upside as an energy player capable of chipping some offence – likely in the form of goals.
Round Five, 133rd overall – Carson Focht, C
In round five, the club selected overage centre, Carson Focht. The 19-year-old pivot played in all-situations for the Hitmen of the WHL. His 26 goals and 64 points in 68 contest sat second on the club. Focht plays an honest, straight-forward game. He won’t wow you with his offensive creativity or speed, but his motor is good and he finds himself on the right side of the puck more often than not.
Focht was invited to Canada’s World Junior Summer Selection Camp. He’s a long shot to make the squad but even being considered is a nice feather in his cap.
Round Six, 156th overall – Arturs Silovs, G
With their first of three sixth-round picks, the Canucks took Latvian netminder, Arturs Silovs. The 6’4 goaltender was very strong at the most recent U18 World Championships, often facing 40-50 shots a game and holding the fort. His 0.918 save percentage in five games was fifth-best among starters.
Silovs is a long- term prospect – as most goaltending prospects outside of the first round are. He was selected 11th overall in the most recent CHL Import Draft and it is expected that he’ll cross the pond and lace them up for Barrie of the OHL in 2019-20. Having him develop in North America should prove a bonus for the Canucks to have their player development staff get their mitts on him.
Round Six, 175th overall – Karel Plasek, RW
Another pick and another overaged player selected. This time the Canucks went with slight and slippery Czech product, Karel Plasek. Plasek split his draft-plus one campaign between the U19, second, and top professional leagues in the HC Kometa Brno organization. He was far too good for the junior league, recording 10 goals and 15 points in 10 games. His 29 contests in the top league saw him skate primarily in a depth role but continually created offensive chances when on the ice. He was one of the top U19 performers at the Champions Hockey League tournament for his club, trailing only Samuel Fagemo, Aleksi Heponiemi, and Rasmus Kupari in points by a teenager.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) November 11, 2018
Plasek will return to his club team for 2019-20 with an eye towards a full-time top-six role. Adding weight to his frame will be item number one on the checklist before crossing the pond and giving the American league a twirl.
Round Six, 180th overall – Jack Malone, C/RW
With their third and final sixth-round selection, the Canucks went to the USHL and selected big-bodied forward, Jack Malone. Malone is a sturdy forward who has shown capable at both the wing and centre ice slots. He witnessed his offensive production explode in his second USHL season. He found quick success next to Sabres fourth-rounder, Brett Murray who led the league in goals and was second in points. Malone is off to Cornell University in the fall to begin his collegiate career. He’s a raw player with nice upside and a good motor.
Possibly my favourite GIF of him is this one, battles on the boards, uses his body to hold off the defender and then rifles a shot over the goalie’s shoulder. This is why many people have said they want Jack to shoot more!#BigGIFguy #WeekendOfMalone pic.twitter.com/EWeOMEiqek
— Chris Faber 🤙🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) July 21, 2019
Round Seven, 195th overall – Aiden McDonough, LW
In the seventh round, Vancouver went back to the USHL and selected 1999-born winger, Aiden McDonough. The 19-year-old is something of a late bloomer. He tore up the prep circuit in his draft year but was passed over. 21 goals and 42 points in 50 USHL contests in 2018-19 were enough by the big-bodied forward to hear his name called.
McDonough is taking the exact same route as Adam Gaudette.
Thayer Academy → Cedar Rapids → Northeastern https://t.co/Bzr2Dvgr2O
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) June 22, 2019
Round Seven, 215th overall – Arvid Costmar, C
With their final selection of the weekend, Vancouver selected skilled center, Arvid Costmar our of Sweden. The silky playmaker was one better U18 producers at the J20 SuperElit level and took a spin with Linköping of the SHL for four games. Costmar played in a depth role for his country at the U18 and Ivan Hlinka tournaments, not quite having the speed and skill to demand top time, but not exactly fitting a traditional bottom-six role.
The Canucks held their Development Camp immediately following the draft last month. Outside of Podkolzin who wasn’t given clearance by his club team to participate, all the big-name prospects were present and accounted for. Hoglander stole much of the spotlight at the event with his explosive acceleration in drills and scrimmages, and his lightning rod puck skills. It was quite evident that he was a professional amongst several amateurs.
Here are the invitees who attended:
4 – Goaltenders: Arturs Silovs, Matthew Thiessen, Michael DiPietro & Jake Kielly.
8 – Defencemen: Brogan Rafferty, Ethan Frisch, Jett Woo, Josh Teves, Lucas Peric, Mitch Eliot, Paul DeNaples, Toni Utunen.
14 – Forwards: Adrian Elefalk, Aidan McDonough, Carson Focht, Darien Craighead, Ethan Keppen, Henry Bowlby, Jack Malone, Karel Plasek, Keegan Stevenson, Liam Finlay, Linus Karlsson, Nils Hoglander, Tyler Madden & Will Lockwood.
Before the acquisition of Miller, the Canucks re-signed Alex Edler to a very team-friendly two-year contract at 6M per. They then went shopping in July. The club added right-shot blueliner, Tyler Myers for five years and 6M per They continued to build their backend depth by signing Jordie Benn for two-years and 2M per and Oscar Fantenberg to a one-year deal at 850K. They then added some more sandpaper to the top nine by signing Micheal Ferland to a four-year contract worth 3.5M per season.
Incoming: JT Miller, Tyler Myers, Micheal Ferland, Jordie Benn, Oscar Fantenberg, Justin Bailey, Zane McIntyre, Tyler Groavac, Francis Perron
Outgoing: Ben Hutton, Ryan Spooner, Derrick Pouliot, Markus Granlund, Brendan Gaunce, Derek Dorsett, Michael Leighton, Luke Schenn, Tanner Kero, Evan McEneny, Yan Pavel Laplante
The club is quite clearly in a much better position to push for a playoff spot than they were a season ago. Their blueline is in better shape with Edler returning, Myers providing depth on the right side, Quinn Hughes stepping in on a full-time basis, and Benn anchoring a bottom pair. The forward group is more skilled and feisty with the additions of Miller and Ferland. Add in another year of development for Petterson, Boeser and Horvat and there are reasons for fans to be excited.
However, the club sacrificed their cap flexibility in adding many of those pieces, as as well as a first-round selection – potentially in an extremely deep draft. Not ideal for a club that has been in the bottom of the league for half a decade. That said, at some point, you need to bet on your team. Jim Benning is doing just that. As he enters the final year of his contract, his swings needed to be large. Now he must hope the pieces can come together.
.. and hope they can move Loui Eriksson and his albatross of a contract elsewhere, of course.
Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson
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