The Vancouver Canucks have a very deep prospect pool right now with Vasili Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, and Jack Rathbone leading the way. They even have some potential gems that were drafted in the later rounds who could surprise everyone by becoming solid NHL players. Last year’s draft had three such players that could do that in the coming seasons.
C Carson Focht
Acquired: Fifth Round (133rd overall)
2019-20 Stats: Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – 61 GP – 32 G – 24 A – 56 PTS
Carson Focht was not among my favorite picks when the Canucks walked away from the 2019 Draft. In fact, I said he wasn’t a good choice in my recap last year. Well, I can’t tell you how happy it is to be proven wrong. In a little over a season, he has transformed from a questionable pick to a potential steal.
Focht finished the 2019-20 season second only to Ottawa Senators’ prospect Mark Kastelic’s 38 goals and wore an “A” on his sweater as well. His hard work and determination were on display all season long as he became one of the Calgary Hitmen’s leaders and breakout stars. He even won the club’s Fan Favourite Award at the end of the season.
By all accounts, Focht has improved immensely from his first season with the Hitmen. He not only has scored goals but has displayed a solid all-around game as well, something his coaches have taken note of.
I think he’s really developed that competitive game…You know, he’s a pretty intense competitor and just overall, he takes a lot of pride in his faceoffs. He plays centre ice and has really done a good job of becoming a good penalty killer for us and played in all kinds of situations for us. So I think from when he got here at 17, he’s matured a lot.Hitmen assistant coach Trent Cassan (from ‘Calgary Hitmen player faces adversity in hopes of a career with the NHL’, Calgary Journal, 11/12/19)
Focht may not become an elite goal scorer in the NHL, but his two-way game, faceoff abilities, and penalty-killing prowess should get him a job on the third and fourth lines. Over the past two seasons, he has taken over 1600 faceoffs and won an average of 52 percent of them. If he can move that success over to the pro game with the Utica Comets and eventually the Canucks, he could become a very valuable player in the bottom-six.
LW Aidan McDonough
Acquired: Seventh Round (195th overall)
2019-20 Stats: North Eastern University (NCAA) – 31 GP – 11 G – 16 A – 27 PTS
Aidan McDonough joins fellow prospect Focht as yet another dark horse from the 2019 Draft. Selected all the way down in the cellar of the seventh round, he has climbed into the Canucks’ top-ten prospects and has become one to watch in the coming seasons.
Playing for North Eastern University in the NCAA as a linemate of former Canucks’ prospect Tyler Madden, McDonough turned heads with his elite shot and tremendous finishing ability. Amongst his freshman cohort, he finished sixth in points behind first-round picks Cole Caufield (37 points) and Alex Newhook (42 points) which is pretty impressive considering he was a seventh-round pick. When asked about it by Canucks Army’s Chris Faber, his confidence shone through.
Yeah, I mean, to be in that company with those guys is really cool and I think this year I wanted to prove to myself that I’m just as good if not better than those guys that are really highly touted and highly drafted, I think I’m a pretty good player in my own right.
He also knows how to be a clutch performer, as he was a key player in North Eastern’s third-straight Beanpot championship. He finished the final game with four points and set up Jordan Harris’ double-overtime game-winner as well. Like Focht, his head coach had nothing but praise for him after the game.
Big game and Aidan has played really well the whole year…He missed all of training camp. Missed the first three or four games. He’s found really good chemistry with him and Madden and Grant Jozefek… He plays the game the right way. He’s got great details and habits and he’s a goal scorer but he can make a play too. You saw that here today.Jim Madigan (from ‘BEANPOT: Locals lead Northeastern to third consecutive crown’, The Enterprise, 2/11/20)
McDonough joined Adam Gaudette in winning the Beanpot championship as he won it during the 2017-18 season. Maybe he will follow in his footsteps and join the young core of the Canucks in the near future?
McDonough seems to have all the tools to become a solid bottom-six contributor at the NHL level. It will interesting to see how he performs without Madden feeding him the puck, but since he will be North Eastern’s top-line left-winger, he should get a pretty good centerman to work with. However, with the apparent chemistry he seemed to have with him, he may see a bit of a drop in production. Regardless, he remains a prospect to keep an eye on in 2020-21, whenever the NCAA season ultimately gets going.
C Arvid Costmar
Acquired: Seventh Round (215th overall)
2019-20 Stats: Linköping HC J20 (SuperElit) – 29 GP – 26 G – 24 A – 50 PTS
Keeping with the theme of the 2019 Draft, Arvid Costmar was another interesting pick in the final round. Selected 20 picks after McDonough, the Canucks may end up with two unearthed gems when all is said and done.
Costmar did not play a lot with the big club in 2019-20, but he did dominate the SuperElit league with 50 points in 29 games. So much so that he was added to the U20 Selection Camp for the 2021 World Junior Championship. Now that we know that it will be held in the Edmonton bubble in December, we can expect him to fight tooth and nail to get on the team after he was not even considered for the 2020 squad.
The Canucks have had tremendous success in the past with their Swedish prospects, so don’t count Costmar out when it comes to making it to the NHL. He has all the offensive and defensive skills to succeed as a solid two-way center in the mold of Sami Pahlsson who was a seventh-round pick himself back in 1996. Costmar may have more scoring upside, but he’s very much like Pahlsson in his two-way game, consistent work ethic, and play away from the puck.
Costmar will be fighting once again for a spot with Linkoping in the SHL, hoping to get more games and more ice time with the big club. He was not in the lineup for the first game of the season against Hoglander’s Rogle BK on Saturday, so that does not bode well for the future. The best he can do is work hard and prove that he belongs in the lineup every time he gets the chance to play.
Later Rounds Could Prove Fruitful for the Canucks
The 2019 Draft could become one of the most impactful drafts in recent memory. From Podkolzin and Hoglander at the top to Focht, Costmar, and McDonough towards the bottom, the Canucks could walk away with some solid NHLers when all is said and done. All of them look to have NHL pedigree and are progressing nicely in their respective leagues.
The Canucks are going to need as many prospects to hit as possible, given that they will have to use a lot of their salary cap on Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. As a result, they won’t have much flexibility to sign free agents or have other big contracts on the books. Players with entry-level contracts will be more valuable than ever in the coming seasons. So even if one or two of Focht, McDonough, or Costmar can become solid contributors in the bottom-six, they will be deeper and better off for it.
There are positive signs that all three could end up making it to the NHL at one point. The probabilities are usually low for picks past the third round, but sometimes a diamond is uncovered and you get steals like Jannik Hansen (ninth round), Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round), and Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round) who come in and become productive, long-term NHL players. The draft is an interesting game of roulette, maybe Lady Luck visited the Canucks in 2019. With what we have seen so far, it sure looks like that could be the case.