Now that Vasily Podkolzin has graduated, the Vancouver Canucks do not have any first-round picks left in their prospect pipeline. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. While they do need to address that deficiency in the very near future, they still have prospects in their system worth following and getting excited about. Let’s take a look at five of them now.
Connor Lockhart, Center
2021-22 Team: Erie Otters (OHL)
2021-22 Stats: 36 GP – 16 G – 16 A – 32 PTS
It took a couple of weeks for Connor Lockhart to shake off the rust, but he’s running like a well-oiled machine now. After sitting out the entire 2020-21 season, there were questions as to how he would respond in his draft-plus-one year. Turns out a year off didn’t screw with his development at all. In fact, he looks more like a second or third-round pick than a sixth-round one. Since posting only two assists in his first six games, he has torn up the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to the tune of 16 goals and 30 points in 30 games. During that time, he had eight multi-point games, a hat trick and a five-game point streak too. In other words, he was on fire.
Lockhart hasn’t cooled down yet either. In fact, his longest point drought this season is three games, and that happened all the way back in November. He should change his middle name to “consistency” because that’s what he has been for the Otters all season long.
Considering the success Tyler Johnson (5-foot-8) and Alex DeBrincat (5-foot-7) have seen in the NHL, there is hope for Lockhart yet. He’s got a lot of the same attributes as them including speed, creativity and a strong work ethic. He might not have the scoring prowess as DeBrincat, but I think he could still become a productive top-nine forward in the NHL capable of putting together multiple 20-goal seasons. That could be a bold prediction, but who thought DeBrincat would become a consistent 20-goal scorer? Not many people, I can tell you that.
Aidan McDonough, Left Wing
2021-22 Team: Northeastern University Huskies (NCAA)
2021-22 Stats: 27 GP – 17 G – 8 A – 25 PTS
Another sixth-round pick on a goal-scoring bender this season is 22-year-old Aidan McDonough. Like Lockhart, he has already hit a career-high in goals and is poised to have his best campaign points-wise since his freshman year at Northeastern. With 17 goals in 27 games, he is currently four back of the NCAA leaders and is seven goals clear of the ten he scored in 2020-21. If he doesn’t go into a massive slump (which is unlikely), he will have his first 20-goal campaign in the NCAA very soon.
McDonough, who is known for his heavy one-timer on the power play and quick hands around the net, has risen to become one of the Canucks’ top prospects likely only behind another college alumni in Jack Rathbone. Being a late-round pick, that’s quite the accomplishment. He still needs to work on his skating to make it to the next level, but I expect that won’t be a problem in the end. Just look at another guy who is very similar to him in Brock Boeser. He still scores goals despite being not the most fleet of foot. Considering he’s working with a skating coach for the first time in his career this season, we might see a Bo Horvat transformation, or at the very least, an improvement that will see his ceiling increase to a top-six forward rather than just a power-play specialist.
Linus Karlsson, Right Wing
2021-22 Team: Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
2021-22 Stats: 37 GP – 18 G – 15 A – 33 PTS
If Linus Karlsson can come over to the NHL and produce as he has in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), that will go a long way to making Canucks fans forget about the success Jonathan Dahlen is having with the San Jose Sharks. In 41 games this season, Dahlen has 11 goals and 20 points. Karlsson has yet to play a game in North America. Unless something changes soon, they have lost the Karlsson-Dahlen trade big time.
Up until a few months ago, everyone was writing off Karlsson as a European prospect that would never come over to the NHL. Since Patrik Allvin was named general manager of the Canucks, that narrative has changed. Now there’s a chance he could end up in the NHL as soon as next season. With the new front office’s mandate to focus on European and NCAA free agents, Karlsson has quickly become a valuable piece in the team’s retooling effort. The hope will be that Allvin can convince him to use the out-clause in his contract to come over sooner than 2023-24.
Like most Swedes that have come through the Canucks system, Karlsson is a skilled playmaker with a great shot that appears to be NHL calibre in velocity and accuracy. He also has slick puckhandling skills and offensive awareness, not to mention character and work ethic, which is also common amongst Swedish players.
Karlsson has been hard to ignore this season in the SHL. After a breakout campaign in 2020-21 that saw him record 20 goals and 51 points in 52 games for BIK Karlskoga in the HockeyAllsvenskan, he has transitioned perfectly to the SHL with 33 points in 37 games so far. His 18 goals are also good for third in the SHL, five behind Max Veronneau and Patrik Karlkvist’s 23. Finally, he only needs to score seven more to break Elias Pettersson’s rookie record for goals. Not too shabby, if you ask me.
Dmitri Zlodeyev, Center
2021-22 Team: MHK Spartak Moskva (MHL)
2021-22 Stats: 12 GP – 13 G – 12 A – 25 PTS
Since joining MHK Spartak Moskva in the MHL, Dmitri Zlodeyev hasn’t stopped scoring and racking up points. He’s over two points per game and already has four two-goal games and eight multi-point games. In fact, he’s only been held off the scoresheet twice since his debut at the beginning of January.
Zlodeyev’s head coach is also trusting him with a lot of ice time as he has eclipsed 20 minutes in all but two of his games. If you didn’t know any better, you would think he was a defenceman with the number of minutes he’s been seeing.
Zlodeyev has the tools to become a solid third-line center in the NHL that can play in all situations and be a leader in the dressing room. At 19-years-old, he’s already being noticed by his country as a future star as he was named an alternate captain at the truncated 2022 World Juniors. Known for his work ethic, quick shot and developing two-way game, he is turning into an absolute steal who the Canucks managed to get in the seventh round of the 2020 Draft.
The more Zlodeyev grows and shows what he’s made of, you can’t help but wonder if TSN’s Craig Button was on to something when he projected him as an elite offensive number-one center and compared him to Patrick Kane and Steve Yzerman.
Four exceptional attributes; skating, puck skills, processing speed and imagination work in seamless coordination to make a big impact on the game.
Zlodeyev might not hit the massive heights Button projected for him, but he could still become an elite two-way center that plays everywhere and is relied upon in key situations. With how the Canucks’ center depth looks right now, even if he just turns into a player like Manny Malhotra, I think they will be happy. Although, I have this strange feeling he will turn out to be a lot more.
Viktor Persson, Right Defenceman
2021-22 Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
2021-22 Stats: 43 GP – 3 G – 18 A – 21 PTS
Viktor Persson’s first foray into North America has been a successful one so far. Another late draft pick of the Canucks in 2020, the now 20-year-old has quickly become a leader on the Blazers’ in his first season with the team.
Speaking on the Western Centric Podcast, co-captain Logan Stankoven had great things to say about him and his growing presence on the team. “…the thing that stands out the most is how great a skater he is…He’s obviously got a bomb from the point too…I think he’s got a promising career ahead of him.”
Like Stankoven stated, Persson’s strengths lie in his mobility and shot from the point. The fact that he’s a right shot too will make him a valuable commodity when he gets to the NHL, especially with how thin the Canucks are in that department right now. It will be interesting to see if he turns pro like Alex Edler did after one campaign with the Kelowna Rockets in 2005-06 and debuted with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Manitoba Moose shortly after. Nevertheless, Persson is turning into a key prospect for the Canucks as they continue to rebuild their defence into a unit capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
Canucks Need To Add More High End Skill To Their Prospect Pool
Regardless of how much these five late-round draft picks are impressing in their respective leagues, the Canucks still need to focus on adding more blue-chippers to their prospect pool. With the 2022 Draft two rounds deep in talent, at the very least, they need to hold onto their first-round pick this year, if not acquire more. After missing out on players like Dylan Guenther, Cole Sillinger and Matt Coronato in the 2021 Draft, and Jack Neighbours, Jacob Perreault and Brendan Brisson in the 2020 Draft, they are behind the eight ball when it comes to burgeoning young talent.
If the Canucks hope to have sustained success after the careers of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser enter the twilight years, the prospect pool has to be addressed soon. They might get lucky with a few late-round picks in the meantime, but that won’t last forever. Even the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have built their success on the later rounds have had their share of first and second-round picks driving the attack. It’s time for the Canucks to focus on their prospects and stop trading their future away for what appears to be a quick fix.