Barring any trades, the Vancouver Canucks will be selecting 9th, 41st, 73rd, 137th, 140th, 169th, 178th, and 201st in the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft. By the end of the festivities, they will have added eight more prospects to their pipeline and hopefully plugged some holes in their overall depth chart as well.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
One of the Canucks’ biggest needs are on defence, primarily players that have the skillset to play effectively with young stars Quinn Hughes and Jack Rathbone. As it stands right now, Jett Woo is probably the best equipped to partner with one of them, namely Rathbone, since he’s already shown tremendous chemistry with the Massachusetts native in the AHL.
Hughes, on the other hand, could be breaking in a new running mate next season after spending most of 2020-21 with Travis Hamonic. As of this writing, Hamonic’s future with the Canucks is a little foggy as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) on July 28. He is also 30-years-old and like Chris Tanev before him, is not a long-term solution for the dynamic blueliner.
This year’s draft is chock filled with defencemen that could turn into a future partner for Hughes down the road. Considering he is still only 21-years-old, that selection could join him when he’s 24 or 25 and supplement his game when he’s just entering his prime. The same could be said for Rathbone, although I believe Woo will be the ultimate ying to his yang when all is said and done. So, since the first three rounds usually produce the most NHL defencemen, I looked through those rounds and selected three blueliners that could partner effectively with Hughes one day.
First Round – Simon Edvinsson
Projected to go as high as second and as low as 13th, hulking Swedish blueliner Simon Edvinsson may not be available when the Canucks come up to the podium. Although considering the broad range of where he’s supposed to be selected, he could potentially fall into their laps just like Hughes did back in 2019. Favorably compared to Norris Trophy winner and former first-overall pick Victor Hedman, he could be a sweet consolation prize for the teams that do not land one of the big three of Owen Power, Luke Hughes, and Brandt Clarke.
From his 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame to his mobility and elite hockey sense, Edvinsson has all the tools to become an elite top-pairing defenceman that is relied upon to play in all situations.
Edvinsson already has a pretty well-rounded game. Yes, he could use some work on his shot, but for the most part, he has a pretty complete game. When he figures out how to put all of his tools together, he’ll be a force for whichever team drafts him.Alex Hobson, The Hockey Writers
As for the potential fit with Hughes, while Edvinsson is not a natural right-side defenceman, his ability to think the game at a high level should allow him to switch sides and supplement his partner’s pure offensive style. He is also one of the best two-way defencemen in the draft, as Dobber Prospects’ Alexa Potack exclaims in her evaluation of him.
Edvinsson possesses one of the strongest two-way defensive games in this draft class and his variety of skills presents him as a player that is incredibly mature for his age and experience.
With Edvinsson by his side, Hughes should be free to jump into the play and do his thing without worrying about what his partner is doing. Also, with veteran Alex Edler retiring in the next couple of seasons, the Canucks will need to replace their Swedish presence on the blueline, just like Elias Pettersson and Nils Hoglander are doing right now with the Sedins out of the picture. If all goes well, he could be knocking on Edler’s door in the record books in a decade or so too.
Second Round – Evan Nause
When you look at the attributes of Evan Nause’s game, it screams the ideal partner for Hughes. Since his respective debuts in the USHL and QMJHL, he has shown a propensity for tremendous poise, consistency, and defensive awareness in the vein of former Canucks Dan Hamhuis, Willie Mitchell, and Chris Tanev.
A favourite of THW’s Peter Baracchini, he could actually become even better than those defencemen I just mentioned. Just read this excerpt from his prospect profile and tell me he couldn’t be the best possible fit for Hughes.
Nause’s game is simple but he’s very effective, playing a very strong two-way game. He has great poise and vision with the puck as he never panics. When there’s pressure in his own end, he circles back to evade an attack. He always takes the time to assess his options and always makes the right play. He has the ability to make a strong first pass as well as long breakout passes to connect with his teammates to push the play forward quickly.
Hughes was at his best when he was with Tanev, a no-nonsense defender who always made the right play under pressure. The lack of panic and ability to be the calm in the storm is what really stood out for him, and that’s exactly what permeates Nause’s game every time he steps onto the ice. He is also 6-foot-2 and is not afraid to get physical along the boards and in front of the net. Overall, he’s just a strong defender capable of being the perfect complement to a pure offensive defenceman like Hughes. Oh yes, he’s also homegrown from nearby White Rock. Just another reason why he should be high on the Canucks’ list for the second round.
Third Round – Nolan Allan
Another defenceman who shone at the 2021 U18 World Championship, Nolan Allan’s strengths lie in the defensive zone. Even though he ended up scoring during the tournament, he doesn’t normally get on the scoreboard very often. Similar to Tanev in stature at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, he does a lot of good things in his own zone to prevent scoring chances, then has a good first pass to move the puck crisply out of danger. He also isn’t afraid to throw the body, as evidenced in this clip from the U18s.
His defensive game is fairly refined and that is his safety net. If the offensive game never truly comes through, his defensive presence and ability to thwart chances should be a trait that NHL teams look at and can project to the next level.Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects
Allan is basically the definition of a safe defender. He doesn’t risk blowing the zone on an offensive chance and he rarely jumps up into the play unless there’s zero danger in doing so. He also can block shots, play the penalty kill and make life miserable for forwards coming into the goal crease. Sounds like the perfect partner for a high-risk defenceman like Hughes, doesn’t it?
Canucks Should Be Focused on Defence in 2021
With Rathbone, Hughes and Juolevi now in the NHL, the Canucks next wave of defence prospects consist of Woo, Joni Jurmo and Viktor Persson. All three have a good chance of making it to the show one day, but they still need to reload the pipeline with more talent. The best farm systems have multiple layers of potential for each position and the Canucks are lacking in a few areas, mainly down the middle and on defence.
While this year’s draft is not regarded as being a strong one overall, it does have a lot of defencemen with varying levels of potential. Players like Hugo Gabrielsson, Roman Schmidt, and Ethan Del Mastro could all be available after the fourth round and with any luck, could become steals like Rathbone. As it is with most prospects, especially when it comes to defencemen, it will be a few years before we find out. But if any of them are like Rathbone, they will be well worth the wait.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.