Canucks 2023 NHL Draft Target: Tom Willander

The Vancouver Canucks enter the 2023 NHL Entry Draft holding the 11th overall selection. Historically, this pick has produced some strong NHL talent, including Filip Forsberg, Kevin Fiala, Gabriel Vilardi and Lawson Crouse.

2023 NHL Draft Vancouver Canucks Targets
2023 NHL Draft Vancouver Canucks Targets (The Hockey Writers)

The hope is whoever Vancouver selects can become an impact player for the foreseeable future, with one of those possibilities being Swedish defenceman Tom Willander.

Willander’s Scouting Report

Despite being ranked 12th among EU Skaters on NHL’s Central Scoutings list, Willander has garnered plenty of attention heading into the draft. Listed at 6-foot-1, 179 pounds, the right-shot defenceman has great closing speed, is among the best at breaking out the puck in this class, and is as consistent as it gets. One of Sweden’s best players at this year’s U-18, there is no question that he is one of the best defencemen heading into the draft.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide

Latest News & Highlights

While Willander can contribute in the offensive end, it is his play in his own zone where he shines. He is very good at knocking the puck off the opposition’s stick as well as angling players into the boards rather than allowing them to drive the middle of the ice. As mentioned, he also has great closing speed, which allows him to catch up to forwards and eliminate odd-man rushes. While he doesn’t play an exciting game, he is very effective on the ice and one of those players you may not notice, but the coach raves about in the postgame press conference.

This season, Willander played a key role in Rögle BK J20’s scoring what would be the Championship winning goal during the J20 Nationell Final. He also was called up to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) side multiple times, dressing for two games during the season. Overall, he is a solid defenceman with a high ceiling that, if drafted by the Canucks, could be playing top-four minutes within the next three seasons.

Willander’s Stats

Why the Canucks Should Be Interested

Vancouver needs help in plenty of areas but none more so on the right side of their defence. They do not have any right shot defenceman under the age of 22 that project to be NHL players, and that needs addressing during the 2023 draft. Willander would not only help fill that void, but he’d also provide strong value for a team that is strapped against the cap once he makes the jump to the NHL.

Related: Tom Willander- 2023 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

As reported by Harman Dayal of the Athletic (‘What I’m hearing about Canucks’ No. 11 draft targets: Tom Willander, Nate Danielson, more,’ Harman Dayal, The Athletic, June 12, 2023), Willander was one of three players the Canucks took out for dinner at the NHL Draft Combine. Generally, this is a good indicator of who teams are interested in, as they spend the extra time getting to know the prospects away from the rink. Vancouver’s management is clearly interested and could very well use the 11th overall pick to select him.

Why the Canucks May Stay Away

The biggest reason the Canucks may stay away is that they want to upgrade their center depth with the selection. While they have shown interest in Willander, there are some very strong centers that will be available at 11 that could be too good to pass up. Both positions are areas of concern for Vancouver, so it will be a tough decision to make on the draft floor.

The 2023 NHL Draft is also set to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory, which could mean players the Canucks thought would be unavailable drop to 11th. While they may really like Willander, it could be like last season, where Jonathan Lekkerimäki dropped unexpectedly and into Vancouver’s lap at 15th. There are expected to be quite a few surprises on the draft floor this year, so the Canucks may once again be changing plans at the last minute.


Vancouver selecting Willander at 11th overall would be a great decision. He checks the boxes of what this team needs and, at worst, projects out to be a second-pair guy who can kill penalties. While it may not be the most exciting pick, it is one the Canucks won’t regret.

Sign up for our free ‘Canucks Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.