A big reason for the Vancouver Canucks exploring their options with the fifth overall pick is the need for a top-end defenseman, but the lack of options they could have for blueliners at No. 5.
However, one thing the Canucks and their fans can feel fortunate about is where they’ll pick in the second round, and the number of excellent defense prospects that could be available at that spot.
Officially, #Canucks have following picks:
193rd (CAR 7th)
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) May 1, 2016
33rd overall, that’s a spot that could still easily amount to a high-end prospect if done right. And general manager Jim Benning has a track record in his two years with the Canucks that makes you think it will. Recently signed goalie Thatcher Demko was picked 36th overall by Vancouver in 2014. That pick turned out to be brilliant, and that was Benning’s doings.
And despite the Canucks bad rap for their lack of quality defense prospects, Benning has really done a good job at drafting blueliners in the past two years.
The first d-man he picked as the team’s GM was Nikita Tryamkin, who’s broke in with Vancouver as a unique prospect. In 2014 he also picked Gustav Forsling in the fifth round, and Mackenzie Stewart in the seventh round.
Benning and the Canucks did an even better job last June in picking draft-steal defensemen. They notably took Guillaume Brisebois (66th overall) and also picked Carl Neill (144th overall), who both are the captains of their respective QMJHL teams. Add in picking Tate Olson from the WHL (210th overall), and the Canucks landed three big, steady blueliners who all performed well in major junior hockey this season.
What’s there to go against saying the Canucks can’t continue this trend with their second round pick this year?
Quality D-Men Who Could be Available for Vancouver
It can be anyone’s guess during most draft years as to who goes where in the late first round to early second round. What should benefit the Canucks is that there’s five defensemen ranked between 23-32, among North American skaters, on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for this year’s draft. All of those blueliners should be picked about 25th overall or later, meaning there’s bound to be a handful on the board for the Canucks.
Dennis Cholowski, if available, may be the best defense option for Vancouver in round two. The 18-year-old tallied 12 goals and 40 points in 50 BCHL games with the Chilliwack Chiefs this year. He added 15 points in 20 playoff games as the Chiefs fell in the Fred Page Cup Final. According to Chiefs coach Jason Tatarnic, the Langley, BC native Cholowski plays a similar puck-moving style to Ben Hutton.
NHL scouts flocking to see Chiefs defenseman Dennis Cholowski from Langley, he’s expected to go in round 1 of NHL draft.
— NEWS 1130 Sports (@NEWS1130Sports) April 15, 2016
The next best fit for the Canucks in round two might be Lucas Johansen from Port Moody, BC, who is more likely to still be available at No. 33. The brother of Nashville Predators forward, Ryan Johansen, Lucas had a breakout year offensively with 49 points in 69 games for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, and added eight points in 18 playoff games. Like Cholowski, Johansen is a local boy playing in BC who Benning and the Canucks have had ample opportunity to evaluate.
Lucas Johansen of the @Kelowna_Rockets is emerging from brother Ryan’s shadow: https://t.co/BktbFTm8lv @naokoasano pic.twitter.com/Lvtx1cOXMa
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 3, 2016
Take your pick on whether Johansen or Kale Clague of the Brandon Wheat Kings is the most talented of draft-eligible defenseman that could be available for Vancouver.
Clague put up 43 points in 71 games this year in his first full WHL season. The 17-year-old also has 14 points in 16 games from the back-end in the playoffs, as Brandon gets set to begin play in the WHL Final against the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday.
With Cholowski, Johansen and Clague ranked as the respective 23rd, 26th and 27th top North American skaters, there’s a possibility that none are available for the Canucks by the early second round. But not to worry, as Libor Hajek and Frederic Allard, the respective 31st and 32nd ranked North American skaters, are two highly-touted defense prospects who aren’t far behind the pack.
The Czech Republic native Hajek played his first campaign of North American hockey with the Saskatoon Blades this year in the WHL. The 18-year-old totaled three goals, 26 points and 76 penalty minutes in 69 games for the Blades this season.
Libor Hajek (r.26) could be the guy I see making a big jump at the draft, a real complete two way LHD, could see him going 10-20 #NHLDraft
— Brayden Sullivan (@SullyDraftGeek) May 2, 2016
Right behind Hajek is Allard, who broke out in his third QMJHL season with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens this season. The 18-year-old racked up 14 goals and 59 points in 64 games from the the back-end. He’s regarded as a solid two-way defenseman, making his point total a bonus, which put him tied for second among all QMJHL d-men.
So if pick No. 33 is bound to be a blueliner, the Canucks will likely have their sights set on Cholowski, Johansen or Clague, followed by Hajek or Allard if none of the aforementioned are available. All are excellent prospects, but none jump off the board as projections to be number-one defensemen. But then again, the Canucks may not see any blueliners in this year’s draft who fit that mold anyway, even with Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun and Jake Bean, among others, atop the list of draft-eligible d-men.
Benning on 2016 draft: ‘I don’t know if there’s a true No. 1 defenseman’ https://t.co/4dbbXVkfG2
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 2, 2016
Even with solid defense selections at the draft in the past two seasons, the Canucks still lack in prospect depth on their blue line compared to other positions. However, with the number of defensemen who could be available and the likeliness that Benning and company will be well prepared in who they target, there’s no reason Vancouver can’t get the player they need out of picking 33rd overall.