Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NHL Draft’s status is rightfully up in the air, no one knows when or in what capacity it will be held. The only thing we know is that it will happen eventually, even as soon as June 5, whether it be virtual or in another format.
If the Vancouver Canucks end up losing the conditional pick battle, they will be without a first-round pick for the first time since 2010. That pick will belong to the New Jersey Devils, as it was acquired in the Blake Coleman trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If that happens, they will have to wait until the third round to make their first selection, as their second-round pick was also traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Tyler Toffoli. Fortunately, this draft is a deep one, so they will have plenty of options to choose from.
Canucks Have Uncovered Some Gems in the 3rd Round
The Canucks have had some success with drafting some gems in the third round in the past with Tyler Madden, William Lockwood, Michael DiPietro, and Guillaume Brisebois all looking like players that could make an impact in the NHL at some point. The only player that is not in the system anymore is Madden, and it appears that he is on the fast track to becoming a pro as soon as next season with the Los Angeles Kings. If they all make it to the big leagues, that’s some pretty good success for the third round.
Canucks Needs in the 2020 Draft
After the Canucks traded away top prospect Tyler Madden to the Kings, they were left with very little prospect depth at center ice. They now have Marc Michaelis, but that’s still not enough at a position that has historically been proven to be key to a team’s long term success, so the Canucks should definitely be looking to shore that up.
The Canucks should also be looking at improving their depth on defence. They have Quinn Hughes, but after him, it kind of drops off. Olli Juolevi still hasn’t played an NHL game and Jack Rathbone, although impressive in his college play, is still an unknown. Brogan Rafferty and Toni Utunen could become good bottom-pairing options but after that, there are no real threats to take a run at the top two pairings when Alex Edler, Tyler Myers, and Chris Tanev ultimately move on.
With all that being said, here are seven options the Canucks should be looking at when they finally make their first selection of 2020.[table id=340 /]
William Villeneuve has been a prospect to watch ever since he was drafted second overall in the 2018 QMJHL Draft by the Saint John Sea Dogs. Before he was selected, his midget coach Felix Potvin had nothing but good things to say about him. He even compared his style to Pittsburgh Penguins’ star defenceman, Kris Letang.
He wants to be the best player he can be and is ready to work to get there. As much off the ice as on it, his attitude is without reproach. He is always the first guy to want to help a teammate or the equipment manager. He truly is the type of player you want in your dressing room.
In addition to his superb work ethic and immense character, Villeneuve also has the two-way skills to go along with it. His offensive game may not be as flashy as fellow 2020 draft hopeful and Sea Dog’s defence partner Jérémie Poirier, but he is arguably the more complete blueliner. He is also a right-hand shot, which is a rarity in the NHL, so that could make him even more desirable to the Canucks. He can also transition the puck with aplomb and hammer it from the point on the power play.
Villeneuve’s first season in the QMJHL was a bit disappointing as he struggled defensively and only had 18 points in 55 games to go along with a dastardly minus-52 plus-minus rating. However, that only lasted one season, as his draft year was a different story. This past season he broke out with nine goals and 58 points in 64 games, more than tripling his output from his rookie season. His defensive game also improved as he was only a minus-5.
The Canucks do not have many defence prospects that have a right-hand shot, so they could definitely use his breadth of skills in their system. Of all the defencemen that will be available in the first two rounds of the draft, he could actually turn out to be the best of the bunch. If they do not have him high on their list, there’s something wrong.
The second defenceman on this list could become another solid NHL player in the future. Yan Kuznetsov, who was one of the youngest players in the NCAA this past season, impressed everyone with his high level of defensive intelligence and physicality. He was only 17-years-old in a league dominated by much older and much bigger players. Despite this supposed disadvantage, he thrived and is now amongst the draft’s best of the best defensively.
While Kuznetsov contributes offensively, his bread and butter is his defensive game. I’d argue his one of the best defensive players in this draft class. He uses his body to clear traffic in front of the net, he blocks passes, wins puck battles along the boards and he can deliver some big hits. His defensive awareness is among the top of this draft class and should have a big impact on where he’s drafted in the 2020 NHL Draft.Josh Bell, The Hockey Writers
Even though his defensive game is his strength, he can still move the puck and shoot it with the best of them. He may not put up a lot of numbers in the NHL, but he will be a reliable partner to whoever he plays with. With all the offensive defenceman the Canucks have in their system, they will need someone like Kuznetsov down the road. That’s why I believe he should be one of the top targets in the third round.
Let’s start with Swedish pivot Daniel Ljungman. He got on the map with his impressive performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup during the summer leading his team to a bronze medal with four goals and five points in five games. In a draft dominated by countrymen Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond, his name may get lost in the shuffle, but he has plenty of skill to potentially make a difference at the NHL level.
The biggest thing that stands out about Ljungman is his wrist shot, which he uses often. He also has great hands and deceptive speed. Historically, the Canucks have had great success with players that have donned the Tre Cronor in the past from the Sedins and Alex Edler to Elias Pettersson, and Nils Hoglander, and that’s just to name a few. European scout Thomas Gradin has probably seen Ljungman in action, and if he’s in any way impressed by his skill set, expect him to be high on the Canucks’ list.
After Bo Horvat and Adam Gaudette, the Canucks don’t really have any significant sizable assets down the middle. Enter Jack Finley. The 6-foot-5 budding power forward could end up being the answer to the center ice conundrum. The son of former NHLer Jeff Finley, he has everything he needs to become a successful NHL forward. He has the bloodlines, the size and the overall two-way skill to not only survive in the show but to thrive as well. He also never rests on his laurels and is fully committed to becoming an NHL player, which is half the battle.
Being a professional hockey player is his number one goal. That really impressed me with how focused, determined and goal oriented this young man is.Spokane Chiefs head coach Manny Viveiros
The Canucks need more size, skill and physicality at the center ice position, and Finley could be the one to provide it. He is a bit of a long-term project but in his prime, he could turn out to be a steal in the third round. He is already improving on his quickness and even though he may not be the fastest player on the ice, he will be the most physical in the offensive zone. That alone could be the ingredient you need to win a playoff series or two.
Brett Berard may be small at 5-foot-9, but he has a whole mess of skill in his arsenal. He’s fast, shifty, and can handle the puck with the best of them. If he was 6-foot-1, he would definitely be a first or second-rounder. The Canucks have not shied away from small, finesse forwards in the past, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that they could have an eye on Berard in the third round. They also seem to enjoy selecting players from the US Development program or the college circuit, so I would say he is probably on their board as a potential pick.
Berard also has the work ethic and character the Canucks appear to look for with their draft picks. With his high motor and shifty nature, he could be this year’s Petrus Palmu. That may not be saying much, as Palmu has not made an impact in the NHL yet, but Berard most certainly has the tools to become a good bottom-six scoring option if he makes it to the show. His puck handling abilities are strong and he has shown the ability to be a solid five-on-five skater as he had the most even-strength goals on his U18 team. Of his 16 goals he scored this season, 12 of them came at even-strength.
Berard was also only a few days away from being eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, so his level of production was quite impressive as he was younger than almost all the players he was playing with. That bodes well for his future as he continues to develop his overall game.
Tristen Robins’ second stint in the WHL was a banner one, as he put up 33 goals and 73 points in 62 games. This was after a season where he only potted nine goals and 25 points, so to say this was a better season for him would be a massive understatement. That performance vaulted him from an unknown to a potential third-round pick. As a centerman, this should put him squarely in the Canucks’ crosshairs.
Robins may be a little undersized for the position at 5-foot-10, but like most smaller forwards, he makes up for it with an impeccable work ethic and a motor that never quits. He also has a heck of a wrist shot and is a solid playmaker, which should add to his value as a potential offensive player in the NHL. He may not have an elite quality to his game, but overall, there are not many weaknesses, and that could be the difference between an NHL forward and a journeyman in the AHL. As such, the Canucks should still take a flyer on him if all the above players are not available.
This will be Yevgeni Oksentyuk’s second go-around in the NHL draft after being glazed over in the 2019 iteration. After going unselected, he decided to take his talents over to the Ontario Hockey League and the Flint Firebirds. That may turn out to be the best decision of his life, as he exploded to the tune of 33 goals and 78 points in 58 games. He actually ended up leading the team in all statistical categories including penalty minutes, which probably made his debut in North America that much sweeter.
As evidenced by his numbers in his rookie season in the OHL, Oksentyuk is no slouch offensively, as he possesses an elite shot, solid vision and creativity, and of course, a relentless work ethic. He is rather small at 5-foot-8, but you wouldn’t know it by how he plays. Surprisingly, he also did the amazing lacrosse move which has become a little bit familiar after seeing Nils Hoglander and Andrei Svechnikov execute it twice this season.
He is a smaller winger but he doesn’t play like one. He invites physicality and generally sets the tone himself. He isn’t afraid to work the puck to the dirty areas of the ice and win puck battles. He is a relentless forechecker and is impressive along the boards considering his size. Oksentyuk is a puck retrieval machine.Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects
The Canucks could use some more rabid puck hounds after recently losing two of their best in Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen. If Oksentyuk can translate his game to the NHL, he could be one of the missing ingredients in the bottom six one day. The playoffs are where these types of players thrive, and the Canucks do not have enough of them in their system right now.
Now with the disappointment of last year in the rearview mirror, Oksentyuk will look forward to finally getting his name called on draft day. The Canucks could be the one calling it, as he has a lot of skills they covet, including the fact that he can play down the middle if need be. Benning and his scouts have favoured versatility and maturity in the past, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him don the Orca whenever the draft occurs.
Even though the Canucks probably won’t have a pick in the first two rounds of this year’s draft, they could still walk away with a solid addition in the third round. As previous third rounds have shown us, it’s not always a crapshoot when you get to the later rounds. NHL players can still be found if you do the right scouting and of course, have a little bit of luck on your side.
It’s always easy to see NHL potential throughout the draft but in the end, any player, no matter where they are selected, could potentially make it to the biggest stage in hockey. Work ethic and determination are the ingredients to every successful player, and if the Canucks choose a player with those things, anything can happen. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long to find out who that player will be.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout 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.