Vancouver Canucks’ Top 10 Prospects

The excitement for the prospects and young players has hit a fever pitch in Canuck Nation. For good reason too, as the Vancouver Canucks have one of the top prospect pools in the National Hockey League right now.

Looking through the list, there is a lot to like about the players in it, as this is the deepest pool the team has had in a decade. So Jim Benning and Judd Brackett have done something right with the rebuild, even though it has been frustrating to watch. Regardless, the future is bright and we can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Quinn Hughes Vasily Podkolzin Nils Hoglander

For this list, players will have less than 25 games played in the NHL and be under 26 years old before Sept 15, 2019. So with those rules in place, Adam Gaudette and Elias Pettersson have graduated out of the “prospect” class.

With the depth the Canucks currently have in their prospect pool, I felt a top ten was not enough. The excitement won’t end with this piece. Stay tuned for the 11-20 ranked prospects in the near future. Enough with the preamble, let the countdown begin!

10. Zack MacEwen (C)

Acquired: Undrafted free agent signing

2018-19 Teams: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

2018-19 Stats: 69 GP – 22 G – 30 A – 52 PTS / 4 GP – 0 G – 1 A – 1 PT

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) plus call-ups to the Canucks

MacEwen had an eye-opening sophomore season in the American Hockey League, more than doubling his goal output from his rookie campaign. He became a key part of the Utica Comets’ offensive attack and even earned a call up to the parent club where he played four games, tallying a single assist.

Zack MacEwen Utica Comets
Zack MacEwen, Utica Comets (Couretsy Utica Comets)

MacEwen has defied all the odds and is now poised to become another undrafted free agent to carve out a career in the NHL. When he was finally called up at the end of last season, I was excited. As I followed what he was accomplishing in the AHL, it brought back memories of Alex Burrows, another undrafted free agent that was able to prove doubters wrong and make the NHL. MacEwen’s size, hands, and physical game are tailor-made for the bottom-six and should fit in nicely on an energy line with players like Antoine Roussel and Tyler Motte.

Projection: Third-line forward capable of playing on the second line when needed

9. Kole Lind (RW)

Acquired: Second Round (33rd overall), 2017 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

2018-19 Stats: 51 GP – 5 G – 12 A – 17 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) plus call-ups to the Canucks

After a dominant Western Hockey League career, where Kole Lind tallied 224 points in 204 games, he began his professional career in the AHL. Lind’s first pro season was a rocky one, to say the least. He made the Utica Comets out of training camp in 2018-19, which was expected. However, the season would go downhill from there as he didn’t score his first professional goal until Jan 16.

Despite the disappointing professional debut, I am still placing him in the top ten. This is because Lind is a notoriously slow starter. His rookie seasons have always been the low point in any league he has played in.

Kole Lind
Kole Lind of the Kelowna Rockets (Marissa Baecker/www.shootthebreeze.ca)

If you go back to his days in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMHL) with the Saskatoon Contacts, he only scored 21 goals in his rookie season. He more than doubled it with 45 goals the next season. Then more recently in the WHL, he only scored 14 goals in his first season for the Kelowna Rockets. He followed it up with 30 goals the next year. I think it’s safe to predict that he will do the same for the Comets this coming season.

Lind has all the tools to succeed in the NHL, possessing good hockey sense and vision. As the season progressed, and injuries woes were behind him, he started to show more of what made him a top draft pick in 2017. If he can reproduce the magic of the past, we will see a different player this coming season.

Projection: Second line right-winger, capable of filling in on the top line

8. Michael DiPietro (G)

Acquired: Third Round (64th overall), 2017 NHL Draft

2018-19 Teams: Windsor Spitfires (OHL) / Ottawa 67s (OHL)

2018-19 Stats: 21 GP – 11 W – 2.32 GAA – .920 SV% / 17 GP – 12 W – 2.51 GAA – .897 SV%

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

To say Michael DiPietro had an interesting year would be an understatement. When all was said and done DiPietro had been traded, played in his first NHL game, won a silver medal, went on an amazing winning streak and finally sustained an injury that ended his season. Talk about a full year! Despite all the twists and turns, DiPietro came out stronger for it.

Michael DiPietro Windsor Spitfires
Michael DiPietro, Windsor Spitfires Superhero Night (Dave Jewell/THW )

He was thrown to the wolves (or Sharks in this case) when he was forced into his first NHL start when the Canucks didn’t have a goalie to turn to in place of the injured Jacob Markstrom. DiPietro’s debut did not go well, as he was shelled for seven goals and was never pulled in the game. Those types of games are difficult for even the most experienced of goaltenders, and he was experiencing it as a raw, untested rookie. A 19-year-old prospect should not have been put into this situation, period.

It could have been disastrous, but DiPietro dusted himself off and finished the year strong going on an amazing 12-0 postseason run before getting injured in the Ontario Hockey League Final. This is a testament to DiPietro’s mental fortitude, which is an asset for an NHL goaltender.

Going into next season, the undersized athletic goalie will be competing for a spot with the Comets with Richard Bachman, Zane McIntyre, and Jake Kielly. His confidence doesn’t seem to be affected after the debacle that was his NHL debut, which was a stroke of luck in my opinion.

Projection: Back-up goaltender or part of a 1A/1B tandem

7. Tyler Madden (C)

Acquired: Third Round (68th overall), 2018 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: North Eastern University (H-East)

2018-19 Stats: 36 GP – 12 G – 16 A – 28 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: North Eastern University (H-East)

Tyler Madden burst onto the scene in 2018-19 and has emerged as one of the top prospects on the Canucks. Son of former NHLer John Madden, he has opened the eyes of scouts and Canucks fans with his two-way game and surprising offensive upside. Projected as a checking line center when he was drafted in 2018, Madden has shown that he could be much more than that when he finally reaches the NHL. He is yet another potential steal who is appearing in this top ten list.

Tyler Madden of the Central Illinois Flying Aces
Tyler Madden as a member of the Central Illinois Flying Aces (Hickling Images)

Created in the mold of his father, Madden has a lot more offensive potential then he did. His dad even made sure to mention that he could be a better player in the NHL than he was.

I know he has a better shot than I did, way better hands and better vision, He just has more overall skill and the ability to make plays than I ever did.

John Madden

I am excited to see what he can do in the NHL, but we will have to wait at least a year, as he is going back to North Eastern in the fall. But at this time next season, we could be talking about him challenging for a top-nine role on the Canucks. That’s exciting for a third-round pick only ever expected to be a checking line center.

Projection: Second line center

6. Olli Juolevi (LD)

Acquired: First Round (fifth overall), 2016 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

2018-19 Stats: 18 GP – 1 G – 12 A – 13 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL), frequent call ups to the Canucks

Olli Juolevi and the next player on this list could be swapped, but I believe Jett Woo will ultimately be a more well-rounded defenseman in his prime. As for Juolevi, he has traveled a tumultuous road to the NHL. Infamously drafted in 2016 ahead of Canucks fans’ pick Matthew Tkachuk, he has been unfairly placed under a microscope throughout his development.

With every game he does not play in the NHL, the scrutiny will inevitably intensify. For it to lessen, Juolevi has to make an impact in training camp this coming season. I still believe he can be a solid top-four defenseman for the Canucks. His calmness and ability to make a good first pass out of the defensive zone is an asset the Canucks need to have on their blue line in the future.

Olli Juolevi Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Olli Juolevi (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Major injuries have also hindered his development. His most recent injury limited him to only 18 games in his first professional season. Before the injury, he was racking up the points in the AHL with 13 points in those 18 games. If his season would have continued, I firmly believe he would have continued on an upward trajectory. A call up to the NHL could have been in the cards as well. He may never live up to the lofty expectations of a fifth-overall pick, but his skills are still first-round worthy. Mark my words, he will become a key part of the core in the future.

Projection: Second-pair defenseman able to step into the first pair if needed

5. Jett Woo (RD)

Acquired: Second Round (37th overall), 2018 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

2018-19 Stats: 62GP – 12 G – 54 A – 66 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Continuing the trend of strong performances this past year, Woo was no exception. More than doubling his output from 2017-18, he was a dominant force in the WHL for the Warriors. Combining physicality and mobility, Woo showed why he was selected high in the second round in 2018. Looking at his progression now, it’s hard to believe he was still available for the Canucks to select.

Another masterful pick by Benning and Brackett, Woo will compete for an NHL job on the blue line this coming season. But most likely, he will return to the WHL for his final season and join the Comets when his junior season ends. He will also be a strong candidate to join Team Canada for their World Junior Championship push for a gold medal.

Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors
Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors (Marc Smith/Moose Jaw Warriors)

Woo is another promising defenseman the Canucks have in their pipeline. Coupled with the top pick on this list, the future is bright for the blue line going forward. I believe Woo will be a solid top-four defenseman in his prime and be a key part of the core moving forward.

Projection: Top pairing defenseman

4. Thatcher Demko (G)

Acquired: 2nd Round (36th overall), 2014 NHL Draft

2018-19 Teams: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

2018-19 Stats: 16 GP – 8 W – 2.58 GAA – .911 SV% / 9 GP – 4 W – 2.81 GAA – .913 SV%

Projected 2019-20 Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

Demko has finally arrived in the NHL and it’s looking good. Stuck behind Anders Nilsson and his one-way contract for most of last season, Demko paid his dues in the AHL with the Comets. An injury during training camp almost derailed his season but after visits to specialists, he finally got back onto the ice.

This resulted in a collective sigh of relief from Canucks fans and management alike. Currently the next in line after Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks could not afford to lose him to a career-ending concussion. It would have also been a massive blow to a player who has worked hard to make an impact and begin a career in the NHL.

Now that the concussion scare is behind him, Demko will continue to focus on his ultimate goal of becoming a starting netminder with the Canucks. The potential is there for the 23-year-old, as we saw a more confident and athletic goaltender be displayed with every start he made in the NHL.

Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko
Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

This was made possible by the trade that sent Nilsson to the Ottawa Senators. I believe this was key in moving Demko’s development forward. He had to play in the big leagues, and experience NHL caliber shots and see the speed that the players play at. Nilsson was not cutting it as the backup, so it was the perfect time to see what the Canucks had in Demko.

The results so far are positive. In 2019-20, he will continue to push Markstrom for starts and likely form a 1A/1B tandem with the 29-year-old Swede.

Projection: Number one goaltender, bordering on elite

3. Vasili Podkolzin (LW)

Acquired: First Round (10th overall), 2019 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)

2018-19 Stats: 3 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: St. Petersburg SKA (KHL)

This selection was a difficult one, as we won’t see Vasili Podkolzin for another two years. But this list is a projection of potential, and I believe he has a tonne of it. Consistently ranked in the top-five all year by scouting services, Podkolzin could end up being one of the steals of the 2019 Draft. In fact, two of the top three selections on this list are potential steals, and they both came from the same draft year. But I digress.

Podkolzin has the skills many players dream of having: size, hands, and the unwillingness to back down from anything. THW’s own The Old Prof even called him a bulldog. This is a very accurate description, as he plays the game with reckless abandon, which makes him very difficult to play against. The Canucks need this type of player on their team, especially with the amount of small, finesse forwards that they have in their system.

Vasily Podkolzin of SKA St. Petersburg
Vasily Podkolzin of SKA St. Petersburg (photo courtesy SKA)

When Podkolzin’s contract is over in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), he will be more than ready to jump right into the NHL. Potentially on a line with either Brock Boeser or Nils Hoglander and Pettersson. Imagine the havoc that line could create.

In the meantime, he will continue to hone his skills in Russia playing against bigger and stronger players. In two years, the Canucks will have a high-end player join their team on an entry-level contract. It will be like signing a top free agent without a massive financial commitment. Not many teams can do that.

Projection: First line left-winger

2. Nils Hoglander (LW)

Acquired: Second Round (40th overall), 2019 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Rogle BK Angelholm (SweHL)

2018-19 Stats: 50 GP – 7 G – 7 A – 14 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Rogle BK Angelholm (SweHL)

Hoglander is another potential steal that shows up on the top ten list. When I graded the 2019 Draft for the Canucks back in June, he was without a doubt the most intriguing prospect to be selected. Already known as a fitness nut, Hoglander showcased another skill by riding a unicycle while juggling. Now that prospects camp is over and he has skated with the other Canucks prospects, I am even more intrigued. When I watch him skate and handle the puck, it makes me even more excited for the future. Look out NHL, the Hoglander – Elias Pettersson train is coming!

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Nils Hoglander training at Canucks Prospects Camp

His hands and edgework are prominent in this video, as he displayed the many reasons why the Canucks were so high on him on draft day. If all goes to plan, Hoglander could be in the NHL when he turns 20 and will become the second young Swedish sensation to grace the ice of Rogers Arena, and we all know who the first one was.

As for this coming season, the slick Swede will return to Swedish Hockey League and attempt to dominate the same way Pettersson did in his draft plus one year. By this time next year, I will probably be writing about him trying to make the Canucks out of training camp.

Projection:First line left-winger

1. Quinn Hughes (LD)

Acquired: First Round (seventh overall), 2018 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: University of Michigan (Big-10) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

2018-19 Stats: 32 GP – 5 G – 28 A – 33 PTS / 5 GP – 0 G – 3 A – 3 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

I don’t think this selection will come as a surprise to anyone. Quinton Hughes is the top prospect on the Canucks. When he was drafted in 2018, I was as excited as anyone. Projected by many to go to the hometown Detroit Red Wings, I never thought Hughes would be available when it came time for Benning to make his first-round selection. But he was there, and he was smart enough to select him.

When he finally made his debut in the NHL at the end of last season, he showed everyone he was worth the wait. It is not a stretch to say that Hughes transformed the Canucks defense overnight. From the minute he stepped onto the ice and handled the puck for the first time, to the insane first NHL point, everyone knew he was going to be something special.

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Quinn Hughes’ first point in the NHL

By the end of the season, Hughes showed continued improvement in his decision making, formed a formidable three-on-three line with Pettersson and Boeser and showed why he should be one of the first options on the first powerplay unit. Not bad for a five-game NHL debut.

The expectations will be high in 2019-20. But we will still have to remember that he is only 19, and he is a defenseman. He has tremendous talent and potential, but he will make mistakes and we have to be okay with that. The patience will pay off in the end, as I believe he has the potential to be a perennial 50-plus point defenseman in his prime. Hold onto your hats everyone, the future is going to be a heck of a ride.

Projection: Top-pairing defenseman, with elite upside


So there you have it, the top-ten Canucks prospects. For the first time in a long time, the list is littered with talent at every position. It’s an exciting time to be a Canucks fan, so let’s get the 2019-20 season going already!