As much as we are ecstatic that the Vancouver Canucks are on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, let’s stop for a moment and think about what would happen if they actually lost to the Minnesota Wild. The first round conditional draft pick they gave up in the JT Miller trade would be for 2021 instead of 2020.
Let’s say the Canucks lose to the Wild. Depending on the results of the lottery, the pick could be in the 15-20 range, and there are a lot of talented players ranked there. So, here are six prospects they should target if they end up having a selection in the first round along with some great insights from THW’s own draft guru Josh Bell.
Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 15th (Among NA Skaters)
The Canucks really need to add to their center ice pipeline in this draft. Beyond the recently signed Marc Michaelis, they really don’t have any potential NHL centermen coming up. By selecting Connor Zary, their depth would be significantly improved. He’s also the type of player that general manager Jim Benning has coveted in the past, so it would not surprise me if he’s actually on their radar if they end up having a selection in the first round.
Zary’s work ethic and hockey IQ are two of his biggest strengths. In fact, he models his game after Canucks’ captain Bo Horvat.
I look for myself to be a 200-foot centreman. I play with a lot of skill and smarts but I pride myself on my full two-way game. I think a guy I compare myself to is Bo Horvat, and I’ve gotten that from three or four scouts. That’s the one I kind of pay attention to a little bit more now that that’s what guys are talking about.Connor Zary
I’m sure Canucks’ fans would be pretty happy having two such players on the same team. Like Horvat in his draft year, his skating is a little suspect, but as we all know, that can be easily fixed with hard work and dedication. Lucky for Zary, that’s something he has in spades. He may not have any skills that immediately stand out, but his well-rounded game should get him to the NHL. As we’ve seen in the past, work ethic can get you very far in this league.
Zary is a player that I think really could be a top-15 pick in this draft. His first half of the season was remarkable, but he trailed off a bit as the season when on, and that’s left some lowering him on their rankings. Zary is an offensively gifted centreman and is one of those players that is extremely well-rounded, as Matt mentioned. I don’t think he’ll be a top-line guy, but he could be an excellent 2C down the road.
Dylan Holloway, C/LW, Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
NHL Central Scouting: 12th (Among NA Skaters)
With Judd Brackett moving on from the Canucks’ organization, it will be interesting to see if they continue to draw talent from the college ranks. If they do, I can’t imagine them looking past the talented pivot Dylan Holloway. Putting aside his underwhelming freshman season with the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA, he should still be regarded as a highly-touted prospect in this year’s draft.
Like Zary, Holloway has a very strong two-way game, but unlike him, he has tremendous speed. He also is a strong forechecker and never quits on a play. That’s one of the reasons why he’s such a good defensive player.
Like I said before, this season wasn’t his strongest with only 8 goals and 17 points in 35 games, but he’s bound to progress in his sophomore season. He just has too much talent not to. Even though his offensive numbers were limited this season, he still has the potential to become a top-six power forward at the NHL level. His combination of size, speed, and battle level would be a welcome addition to the Canucks’ prospect pool.
Holloway is another player that slipped down rankings this season. In his first season in the very tough NCAA, the freshman didn’t really excel in the new environment. Well, neither did the rest of the team. The Badgers were expected to be a powerhouse and kind of fell flat. Holloway, however, actually got better and better as the season went on. Let’s not forget either, that Holloway was one of the youngest players in the entire league. And he was invited to the Canadian World Junior camp. He’s going to be just fine.
Dawson Mercer, C/RW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 10th (Among NA Skaters)
As I expressed in my reasoning for choosing him for the Carolina Hurricanes in the THW Mock Draft, Dawson Mercer could also be a very intriguing pick for the Canucks. He had an impressive season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens accumulating 24 goals and 60 points in 42 games while displaying a strong two-way game. His versatility to play both wing and center is something the Canucks have valued in the past with their draft picks, so he probably is on their list already.
As you can see so far with the targets I’ve selected, the Canucks should be valuing strong two-way centermen in this draft. Mercer also falls into that category with plenty of upside when it comes to offence and defence. He’s not only a fierce forechecker and back checker, but he can also provide a lot of offence as well. In the future, he will probably be a forward that is used in all situations including at the end of the game when his team is protecting the lead. All in all, he would be an excellent pickup for the Canucks.
Mercer was a very hard one for me to place. I think he has the potential to maybe even be a top-12 pick in this class. However, I think he has a longer road to get there than those I ranked above him. Mercer has a ton of skill in his game, but he’s just a bit raw. The ceiling is high, but the floor might be a bit lower than some of these other guys. That being said, let’s not forget that he made Team Canada for the 2020 World Juniors and that’s no easy task in a player’s draft year for the Canadian team. He’s one of those guys who never gives up and is always fighting for the puck.
Emil Andrae, D, HV71 (SHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 15th (Among EU Skaters)
In addition to their need at the center ice position, the Canucks also require more depth on the defensive side of the ledger. Emil Andrae certainly fits the bill on what they need more of from their blueline.
Since Quinn Hughes came and revolutionized the defence core, it has become clear that they need more of what he’s providing right now. If they can begin to build the core around his particular set of skills, their backend should be a formidable force for years to come.
Andrae has all the tools of a modern defenceman from his mobility, smarts, and excellent vision to his superb puck skills and ability to get his shot through to the net. He is on the small side at 5-foot-9, but as we have seen with Hughes, his other skills should be able to make up for that. Most impressively, he’s a very physical blueliner and surprisingly strong defender for his size. It will be interesting to see how he transitions his game to the SHL next season, but just looking at his overall offensive skills and hockey sense, that transition should be quite seamless.
I have Andrae as the third defenseman on my board, after the two big boys in Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson. While he’s undersized, he’s an excellent skater and his hockey sense is borderline elite, which greatly makes up for his smaller stature. He has good top speed, but it’s his four-way mobility that really stands out. He’s creative on his feet and has an ability to quickly shift in any direction. And yet, he’s solid in his own end too through great positioning and an active stick. He’s one of my more intriguing defensive prospects in the draft.
William Wallinder, D, MODO (SHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 14th (Among EU Skaters)
Knowing the Canucks’ propensity to lean towards the small country of Sweden, defender William Wallinder is most definitely somewhere on their list. In addition to having a great name, he is also a big body on the backend. At 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, he is already a hulking presence on the ice and he’s still growing into his frame. Not only that, but he’s also a great skater and can move the puck up the ice with the best of them.
Unfortunately, his defensive game is not the strongest as he sometimes is more interested in jumping up into the play than defending his own zone. On the bright side, that can easily be taught through coaching and development, which he seems to be very open to.
Despite an obvious disinterest in defending sometimes, Wallinder has shown the ability to defend the front of the net on the penalty kill and be aggressive in the defensive zone. He has all the tools to become a very effective top-four defenceman in the NHL, and if he can be more consistent in the defensive side of the game, the Canucks could be getting the next Alex Edler on their blueline.
At one point, I had Wallinder as my third-ranked defender. I dropped him a bit as he does have some red flags in his game, especially in his own end as Matt mentioned. He almost coasts sometimes while defending, which you definitely don’t want to see. But, he’s a great skater – especially for his size – thanks to a powerful first few steps and a great looking stride. There’s a lot of potential in Wallinder, but there’s some risk to him as well. A big defender that can skate? Usually worth the risk.
Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 16th (Among NA Skaters)
Finally, we have Halifax Mooseheads’ defenceman, Justin Barron. The more I researched him, the more I kept thinking, Chris Tanev. Now Barron probably has way more offensive potential than him, but his style really reminded me of him. He’s smart, safe and never seems to be in the wrong position. Now don’t tell me that doesn’t remind you of someone. If he becomes even half the defensive force Tanev turned out to be, I think any team would count themselves lucky to have selected him.
Barron had a rough season battling health issues, which led to a drop in production from 41 points in 2018-19 to 19 points in 2019-20. Despite this, he remains an intriguing selection in this year’s draft. The fact that he’s such a well-rounded defenceman at such a young age should be enticing just on its own.
At 6-foot-2, Barron already has the right size to succeed in the big leagues. Couple that with his mobility and strong first pass, he could very well be the perfect complement to a slick offensive defenceman like Hughes or Cale Makar. With Tanev potentially leaving the Canucks as soon as this offseason, they could use an ere apparent in their pipeline.
Before this season, there were many who thought Barron could have been the second-best defender in this class. Some even thought he could be the best at one point. But this season, he didn’t look like it. After a big 2018-19, I hoped for a big step forward, which just didn’t happen. Granted, the team wasn’t great this season and Barron had a blood clot that took him out of the game for a long period of time. How much did that hinder his entire season? Again, this is a player with a very high ceiling, but he’s got a long road ahead. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him prove my ranking wrong and have a big 2020-21 season though, and I hope he does. There’s a chance that Barron could be a big steal in this draft.
Canucks Could Benefit From Losing
Now don’t get me wrong, I want to see the Canucks succeed in their play-in series against the Wild. Though it definitely wouldn’t be the end of the world if they left the festivities early on.
The first round this year is stacked with potential game-changing forwards and defencemen that could further the pursuit of becoming a perennial Stanley Cup contender. Obviously, winning is always better, but if losing has a silver lining, it’s the fact that the young core of stars got a taste of playoff hockey while the Canucks still get to add elite talent to their deep prospect pool. We will just have to see what happens when it all hopefully gets going on July 30.
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer 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.