Canucks Add Intriguing Potential At 2021 NHL Draft

Since the Vancouver Canucks drafted Vasily Podkolzin in 2019, they have not had a new blue-chip prospect join their organization in two years. After trading their first-round pick in 2020 to the Tampa Bay Lightning for J.T. Miller and their ninth-overall pick in 2021 to the Arizona Coyotes for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland, their scouts have been forced to look for gems in the later rounds. While they have gotten lucky there with Aidan McDonough, Jack Rathbone, Mikey DiPietro, and William Lockwood, they will need to fill the cupboard with some elite first-round talent very soon.

Vasily Podkolzin Canucks Draft
2019 draft pick Vasily Podkolzin was the last Canucks prospect selected in the first round (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Once Podkolzin and Rathbone play 20 games, their top prospects will likely be McDonough, Dmitri Zlodeyev, and 2021 second-round pick Danila Klimovich. Nothing against those three players, but when you compare the Canucks’ pool to the likes of the Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators, the disparity is almost laughable.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Tracker

Having said all that, the Canucks still were able to add some intriguing talent at the 2021 NHL Draft. It was a weird year to be evaluating players, so Jim Benning and company relied on their European scouts to make most of the picks. In fact, only one of them was drafted from North America. In total, they added three Swedes, one Belarusian, one Finn, and one Canadian to the pipeline. For the first time in a long time, they stayed away from USA Hockey and the United States Hockey League (USHL), which has been their bread and butter in the past. With Judd Brackett in Minnesota now, that actually doesn’t surprise me, since his specialty was college and the USHL.

Round 2, 41st Overall – Danila Klimovich, C (Minskie Zubry, Belarus Vysshaya)

Ranked in the third round by many scouting outlets, the Canucks chose to select 2021 U18 World Championship standout Danila Klimovich with their first pick in the 2021 Draft. I absolutely love this pick, mostly because of his tremendous upside. Yes, my evaluation comes from his games in the U18s where he scored six goals in five games, but you still can’t ignore what he did there against his peers.

Klimovich has an intriguing package of creativity and skill. His shot and one-timer appear to be NHL caliber, and his compete level is off the charts. His skating doesn’t jump off the page as overly elite, but I wouldn’t call it a weakness either. His ceiling may not be that of a top-line forward, but I can definitely see him thriving on the second or third line and power play, especially with his quick release and high motor.

After he was drafted, there were concerns that Canucks scouts were evaluating his talent based on five games at the U18s. Russian scout Sergei Chibisov, who has worked with the Canucks since 1995, was more than likely able to scout him in Belarus with Minskie Zubry. Heck, he probably recommended him to director of amateur scouting Todd Harvey. No scout worth his salt would base his evaluation on five games at an international tournament. That’s just the truth.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how he develops once he starts playing for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. According to Canucks’ insider Rick Dhaliwal, that could happen soon, as his agent has stated that he wants to sign and play in North America next season. However, seeing that he is trying out for the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk right now, that may not happen. Either way, we will get to see him against tougher competition in 2021-22.

Round 5, 137th Overall – Aku Koskenvuo, G (HIFK U20, U20 SM-sarja)

Here’s a goaltender that could be molded into a superstar if put into the Ian Clark school of goaltending. Blessed with superb athleticism and a massive 6-foot-4 frame, Finnish netminder Aku Koskenvuo has the raw toolkit of an NHL starter. He should develop into a very solid NHL goaltender in the right coaching environment, which he will get in Vancouver. With Thatcher Demko manning the crease for the foreseeable future and Mike DiPietro potentially his successor, he will have plenty of time to grow into the player he has the potential of becoming.

In an interview with Canucks Army’s David Quadrelli, Clark went into detail about his process behind evaluating a goaltender, and he had great things to say about Koskenvuo.

When I look at Aku, I look at a goaltender that may be a little bit raw, a little bit green with some of the structural stuff, you know, there’s some blemishes there that we can easily transform and reorganize in his game, but some of those other areas which are much harder, he has in spades…

You can have a very tall goalie that is very uncompetitive and therefore, they’re not long…You can have a shorter goalie, that is extremely competitive, that has more length. You can have a goaltender that’s very tall but has poor flexibility for example and they lack length because the length must also be flush to the ice. When a goalie is extending their leg if they don’t have the flexibility to keep their knee flush to the ice and really seal everything down, really that length has no value…Length, to me, is a really valuable commodity in those critical moments, and Aku has that.

Ian Clark on Koskenvuo

With a resume that includes Demko, Roberto Luongo, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jacob Markstrom, I think if Clark sees NHL potential in a goaltender, that’s good enough for me. We will see how he does against North American competition when he mans the crease for Rathbone’s alma mater, the Harvard Crimson in 2022-23.

With their second fifth-round pick in the 2021 Draft, the Canucks selected 6-foot-2 right-handed defenceman Jonathan Myrenberg. The Swede spent most of his time in the J20 Nationell with Linkoping HC J20 where he put up three goals and eight points in 15 games. He’s a mobile blueliner with a hard shot but could use some work on his defensive game.

On his shot:

So far, Myrenberg’s one of the better shooting defensive prospects I’ve ever seen. His wrist shot is a laser, ridiculously accurate from anywhere in the zone, and his one timer has some serious heat as well.

On his skating:

There’s quite a few tools that Myrenberg has at his disposal, the first of which being a solid skating foundation. He’s got great three way mobility, and deceptive edge work that allows him to gain separation with the puck.

Alex Taxman, Future Scope Hockey

Myrenberg’s game is very similar to long-time Canucks defenceman Alex Edler, except with more physicality. He’s not afraid to throw a big hit or stand a player up in the neutral zone with his size and strength. His strengths definitely lie in his skating, shot, and physical play. His vision and defensive play aren’t something you write home about, but since his hockey IQ is so high, maybe that can be fixed in time. Overall, he’s a project that will need a few seasons to mature before potentially making the jump to the NHL.

Round 6, 169th Overall – Hugo Gabrielsson, LD (Frölunda HC J20, J20 Nationell)

Versatile enough to play both sides of the ice, Hugo Gabrielsson has the makings of a top-four defenceman in the NHL. Known more for his offensive game at this point in his development, he isn’t afraid to jump up into the play and pinch down to keep pucks in. Also, don’t be surprised if you see him suddenly appear in the slot for a scoring chance too.

Despite his offensive gifts, Gabrielsson’s defensive game is still very raw. He’s also not the best skater either, which could limit his offensive gifts once he makes it to the NHL. Those two things are probably why he dropped into the sixth round.

While his offense is his calling card, his defensive game is still under development and needs continued refinement. Gap control is an issue for Gabrielsson. He doesn’t assert much man-to-man pressure. He doesn’t get in the face of the attacker when they are rushing up the boards. 

Josh Tessler, Smaht Scouting

Fortunately, his skating and defensive game can be remedied with the right coaching. His size and ability to generate offence could make him invaluable one day, especially in a league predicated on puck movement and production from the back end.

Round 6, 178th Overall – Connor Lockhart, RW (Erie Otters, OHL)

Connor Lockhart could end up being a steal at 178th overall. Ranked as high as 58th by FC Hockey, he likely dropped because of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season being canceled. As of this writing, his last competitive game was on Mar 8, 2020 against the Saginaw Spirit, nearly a year and a half ago.

Connor Lockhart Erie Otters
Connor Lockhart, Erie Otters (Luke Durda/OHL Images)

Lockhart’s rookie season in the OHL saw him record nine goals and 27 points in 57 games, which is not nearly enough to warrant a high draft selection. As THW’s own Frankie Benvenuti stated in Lockhart’s prospect profile, “a player’s development from their rookie to sophomore seasons is huge. But for Lockhart, you’d have to bust out a crystal ball to see how much better he might have been this season had it happened, and for many teams, that’s too big a risk to spend draft capital on.”

If Lockhart would have played in the U18s, or even the PBHH Invitational in Erie, maybe he could have enticed teams to select him higher. But as it is, he was drafted in the sixth round, which could end up being lucky for the Canucks. Known for his speed, creativity, and willingness to go to the dirty areas, he might turn into a very effective bottom-six forward in the NHL one day. Some may point to his 5-foot-8 stature and say he’s undersized. Though, when coupled with a high motor, that doesn’t seem to matter much these days especially when you look at the success of Tyler Johnson, Cole Caufield, and Brendan Gallagher.

Round 7, 201st Overall – Lucas Forsell, LW (Färjestad BK J20, J20 Nationell)

With their last pick of the 2021 Draft, the Canucks chose to go back to Sweden for the third time and draft left-winger Lucas Forsell. Similar to previous picks, Lockhart and Klimovich, his compete level and work ethic are two of his strongest attributes. Like most young players, he’s still growing into his frame. At 6-feet and 165 pounds, he definitely needs to do some filling out before making it to the NHL.

Playing for Farjestad BK’s 18 and 20 junior teams, Forsell put up 10 goals and 21 points in 17 games and even managed to get himself into an SHL game with the parent club. With his speed and skill, he might turn into a fringe top-six forward, but most likely a bottom-six energy player like Barclay Goodrow or Jannik Hansen if he makes it to the NHL.

Final Grade: B+

Overall, the Canucks had a very good draft considering they were left without a first-round pick for the second year in a row. They got some interesting prospects in Klimovich and Lockhart that could potentially turn into top-nine forwards and most importantly, two more defencemen to help refill their shallow pool on the blue line. Not to mention another student for Clark to mold into a superstar.

General manager Jim Benning
Jim Benning and his scouting staff did most of their homework in Europe for the 2021 NHL Draft (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the end, there’s going to be a lot of second-guessing going on in the coming years for every team. In an unprecedented draft season that saw an entire junior league get shut down and many others get delayed, steals will crop up all over the place. For the Canucks’ sake, they better hope one or two of these picks are among them.