It should be a very busy offseason for Jim Rutherford, Patrik Allvin and company as they try to shape the Vancouver Canucks into a perennial playoff and Stanley Cup contender. They have a great core led by Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes, but questions surrounding the extensions of both Horvat and Miller have made the future a bit murky (from ‘How should the Canucks approach extension talks with Miller, Boeser and Horvat?’, The Athletic, 6/6/22). As such, trade rumours have refused to go away, especially when it comes to Miller and Boeser. Specifically the former, as the 6-foot-1, 218-pound American who led the Canucks in scoring with 99 points, recently came up in connection with the New Jersey Devils and their second-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft.
Related: THW’s FREE 2022 NHL Draft Guide
To further fuel that speculation, in an episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek reported that the Canucks questioned Juraj Slafkovsky, the presumed selection after first-overall favorite Shane Wright, about his ability to play center. Now, why would they ask that, if they weren’t looking to acquire the pick? Though, as both insiders said, it could just be due diligence for the future or the age-old “covering their bases”, so maybe there’s no story here. That being said, it’s still interesting to talk about since the Canucks have been connected to the Devils in the past. So without further ado, let’s see what they could be getting if they end up acquiring the pick, and by extension, the Slovakian sensation known as Slafkovsky.
Canucks Need an Elite Talent Like Slafkovsky in Their System
As I have said a few times in previous pieces, the Canucks need everything under the sun when it comes to prospects. Right now their top homegrown prospect at forward is a battle between Danila Klimovich, their second-round pick in 2021 and Aidan McDonough, their seventh-rounder from 2019. While on defence, it’s Jack Rathbone, who was a fourth-round selection back in 2017. Long story short, they desperately need an injection of elite talent.
To date, the new front office led by Rutherford, Allvin, Cammi Granato and a revamped player development staff of Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Mikael Samuelsson and Mike Komisarek has added over-ager Arsheep Bains and former Colorado Avalanche 2020 draft pick Nils Åman to their prospect pool. Not a bad start by any means, but definitely not good enough to boost their farm system into the ranks of the elite. So, really, there shouldn’t be any surprise to see rumors of the Canucks poking around the expected second-overall pick at this year’s draft.
Slafkovsky’s Elite Toolkit
Slafkovsky is a supreme talent that would instantly become the top dog in the Canucks system. Nothing against Klimovich, McDonough or Rathbone, but they are not Slafkovsky. Ever since his coming-out party at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, he has wowed everyone with his size, power and goalscoring ability en route to a total of 10 goals and 17 points in 16 games spread out between the Olympics (7 goals) and IIHF World Championship (3 goals, 6 assists). All while competing against men who either play or have played in the NHL in the past. Quite impressive for an 18-year-old, wouldn’t you say?
The 6-foot-4, 218-pound left winger isn’t ranked as the consensus second-overall pick, ranging from 6th overall by Recruit Scouting to 3rd overall by Sportsnet, but many speculate he will end up being selected there when the dust settles. In fact, Corey Pronman of The Athletic went so far as to rank him ahead of Wright for first overall. Here is what he had to say about the talent Slafkovsky possesses.
“Slafkovsky has all the assets you’re looking for in a top NHL forward. He’s a 6-foot-4 winger who can beat opponents with speed and skill. He possesses outstanding puck skills and can put pucks through legs and sticks at a very high rate. Slafkovsky can use finesse, or power and quickness to get around defenders. Slafkovsky can also set up and finish plays well. Physically, he won’t run over guys but his compete is good enough. He projects as a top-line winger with the potential to pop and become a true star in the NHL” (from ‘NHL Draft 2022 top 127 prospects: Juraj Slafkovsky leads Corey Pronman’s list’, The Athletic, 5/31/22).
Slafkovsky actually sounds a lot like Miller, the guy they might trade to the Devils to get the opportunity to draft him. He is three inches taller than him, though, which will make him more of a menace to play against when he makes it to the NHL level. Suffice it to say, he would be a huge difference-maker alongside players like Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat. Just for a second, imagine a top line of Vasily Podkolzin, Elias Pettersson and Juraj Slafkovsky running around the offensive zone. Magic is all I have to say about that potential trio.
Another Draft Floor Deal with the Devils?
It’s rare to see any of the top-10 picks move on the draft floor. The last time the Canucks were involved in a deal like that was back in 2013 when they traded up-and-coming goaltender Cory Schneider to the Devils for the ninth-overall pick which eventually became current captain Bo Horvat. That’s now nearly a decade ago. While the Canucks did trade their ninth selection last season to the Arizona Coyotes, that transaction was consummated the night before the first round, so not a deal completed on the draft floor with Gary Bettman stepping up to the podium and uttering the exciting words, “we have a trade to announce”.
The Canucks have the pieces to possibly convince the Devils to part with their third top-three pick in the last three years, but it would probably have to be substantial. At the very least, Miller would have to be involved, maybe even their own 15th overall pick. Some people in the Twitterverse believe that’s too much and that a swap of Miller and the second-overall pick would get the job done, but seeing that the former is already 29-years-old with no guarantee beyond next season, the Devils might judge that as weighing towards the Canucks’ side. On the other hand, general manager Tom Fitzgerald could see Miller as the piece that puts them over the top when it comes to playoff contention. So, maybe a one-for-one does work out?
In any case, the Canucks will have to give up something big. Whether it is Miller or a combination of the 15th overall pick and possibly Boeser or Conor Garland, the cost will end up being steep. Having said that, when will Rutherford and Allvin have another chance with a prime trade chip like Miller, who is coming off a monster year statistically, in their arsenal? They might be better off pulling the trigger and reaping the benefits of a player that could put up similar numbers for multiple seasons, rather than just one. After all, Slafkovsky is going to be a perennial 30-40 goal scorer and record 80-90 points in his prime. Those types of players don’t grow on trees, especially ones that have already shown they can play against men and dominate at the young age of 18.
Could the Canucks find themselves stepping up to the podium on July 7 and selecting the big Slovakian at second overall? It definitely could happen, considering the smoke around the two teams at the trade deadline and the recent reports of Vancouver sniffing around Slafkovsky’s abilities. But what would the trade look like? Will it be a one-for-one deal, or something bigger? Sound off in the comments below.
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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.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.