The Vancouver Canucks have been successful in finding great first-round picks in the past five NHL Drafts. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Brock Boeser are all examples of just how great of a job the Canucks have done. Over their 50 years in the NHL, the team has drafted players in the first round who’ve finished their careers as some of the greatest players to put on the team’s jersey.
5. Mattias Ohlund
When Mattias Ohlund left the Canucks in free agency to join the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2009 offseason, he was the franchise leader in points for a defenseman. The Canucks drafted him with the 13th-overall pick in the first round of the 1994 NHL Draft. He played his first game for the team in the 1997-98 season, where he finished second in Calder Trophy voting. He played 11 seasons with the team, scoring 93 goals and 325 points, both of which were team highs for defensemen until Alexander Edler passed them recently.
He represented Sweden at the Olympics on three separate occasions, winning gold in 2006. In 2016-17, the Canucks inducted Ohlund into the Ring of Honour and his former teammates praised him for his leadership and defensive play. Players like Alex Burrows and Victor Hedman credit the Swedish defenseman for being a leader and a mentor for them during their careers. Ohlund is also seen as an underrated defenseman by his countrymen, since blocking shots and throwing hits were a big part of his game and not highlight-reel plays.
“To be honest, I think he’s a little underrated back home because he left early,” Sedin said. “Maybe he’s not regarded as highly as [Nicklas] Lidstrom and those guys, but he’s a top-five defensemen all time [in Sweden]. Maybe his numbers don’t stand out as much, but his defensive play and the things he did to help the team win always stand out for me.”
4. Ryan Kesler
Ryan Kesler has had a rocky relationship with the Canucks fan base. The team drafted him with the 23rd pick in the 2003 draft. The American center from Michigan spent his first few seasons as a checking line center, a part of his game that stayed with him throughout his career. He rose to become the team’s second-line center in the 2008-09 season, scoring 26 goals and 59 points in 82 games.
His rise from a checking line center to one of the best two-way centers in the league was linked to the rise the Canucks saw. As Kesler improved, the team did as well. In 2008-09, the team won 45 games, and in 2009-10, the team improved by winning 49 games, while the center scored 25 goals and had 75 points. The following season, the Canucks recorded a franchise high in wins with 54, while Kesler scored a career-high 41 goals and added 73 points. The Selke Trophy is awarded to the forward who excels most in the defensive aspect of the game. He finished the 2008-09 season third in Selke Trophy voting, second in 2009-10, and finally won the award in 2010-11.
After 10 seasons, the Canucks traded Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks following the disastrous 2013-14 season. He had asked for a trade since he did not agree with the direction the team was going, which created a rift between the forward and the fan base. The fan base was bitter towards him while he played for the Ducks, but since he has retired, he has made amends with them. This was highlighted at the Sedin retirement night when the two-way forward received cheers from the fan base. He can look forward to being added to the team’s Ring of Honour in the future.
3. Trevor Linden
The Canucks drafted Linden with the second overall pick in the first round of the 1988 NHL draft. He made a big splash in his rookie season, scoring 30 goals and finishing with 59 points in 80 games. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting in his rookie season and scored 30 or more goals six times in his career. He played 16 seasons with the Canucks, scoring 318 goals, 415 assists, 733 points in 1,140 games played. He is third in all-time franchise goals, assists and games played. His 733 points are fourth all-time for the team.
In 1991-92, Linden was named the captain of the Canucks at 21, becoming the youngest captain in the NHL. He remained the captain for the next seven seasons. The highlight of his first tenure with the team came in 1993-94 when he led the team to the Stanley Cup Final, scoring 12 goals and 25 points in 24 games. The Canucks traded him in 1997-98 to the New York Islanders, a trade that still benefits the team to this day. He returned to the team in 2001-02 to play a different role with a new core, mentoring young players like the Sedin twins. He retired after 19 seasons in the NHL in 2007-08 and became the second player in franchise history to have his jersey retired.
2. Daniel Sedin
Daniel follows Henrik as the best first-round pick in franchise history. He leads the franchise in the most goals (393) and is second in assists (648), points (1,041) and games played (1,306). The Canucks took him with the second-overall pick in the 1999 NHL Draft. He also played 17 seasons with the Canucks and is remembered mostly for being the goal scorer of the two. Along with the franchise goal record, he owns the record for the most even-strength goals (255), power-play goals (138), game-winning goals (86) and overtime goals (16).
Daniel followed Henrik’s Art Ross winning season with one of his own, scoring 40 goals and 104 points. In 2017-18, Daniel hit the 1,000-point mark in his last NHL season. He became the 87th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000-point milestone, after Henrik and Sidney Crosby. The twins have set a great example for the young players who had the opportunity to watch and play along with them.
“Obviously it’s really cool, the smile on [Daniel’s] face there,” Canucks rookie forward Boeser said. “It gives you goose bumps down your whole body. I kind of had chills there. It was obviously a really special moment for him, and to be a part of it is obviously a great honor.”
1. Henrik Sedin
Henrik and Daniel are the two best players in franchise history as they lead in almost all statistical categories. Henrik finished his career first in assists (830), points (1,330), and games played (1,070) for the Canucks. Drafted with the third-overall pick in the 1999 NHL Draft after his twin brother, he turned out to be one of the best first-round picks in franchise history. He played 17 seasons for the franchise he was drafted by and is remembered mostly for being the set-up man for his linemates. He had the second-most assists since making his debut in 2000-01 behind Joe Thornton.
Henrik is the only Canuck to win the Hart Trophy in franchise history, which he did in the 2009-10 season. That same season he won the Art Ross for his 113-point season, which is the most points for any Canuck player in a season. The following season he was named the 13th captain and led the team to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in franchise history. In the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, Henrik passed Markus Naslund as the franchise scoring leader with his 757th career point.
In the 2016-17 season, he passed the 1,000-point mark, making him the 85th player to reach that achievement and the 38th player to do it while playing on one team. He and Daniel became the fifth and sixth players to have their jerseys retired by the franchise in 2019-20.
More Great First Rounders on the Canucks
Over the past 10 years, the Canucks have drafted well in the first round. They drafted Horvat in 2013, Boeser in 2015, Pettersson in 2017, and Quinn Hughes in 2018. All four have proven to be great picks, while players like Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi still have time to prove themselves. Last season they drafted Vasily Podkolzin, who the Canucks took with the 10th-overall pick. He was ranked fifth in The Hockey Writers‘ 2019 NHL Draft Consensus Final Rankings.
First Rounders Are Corner Stones for the Franchise’s Success
The Sedins have been two of the greatest players in franchise history, winning major awards and reaching milestones that no other Canucks have reached before. Linden set the standard on how a great player represents himself on and off the ice. Kesler was the heart and soul of the greatest Canuck team of all time and led with his two-way play. Ohlund became one of the greatest defensemen in franchise history while flying under the radar. All five of these players have set the bar for how future first-rounders should play while wearing a Canucks jersey.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.