3 Canucks’ First-Round Draft Targets

It was an unlucky bounce for the Vancouver Canucks in the final 30 seconds of Thursday night’s tilt against the Nashville Predators that ended their three-game winning streak, as Predators forward Ryan Johansen attempted a pass across to Viktor Arvidsson, but the puck went off of Troy Stecher’s stick and into his own net.

While the end of that winning streak is certainly meaningless at this point, one thing of importance did become clear after Thursday’s loss: the Canucks are essentially guaranteed to pick in the top-11 in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft because of their spot in the standings. With 80 points and just 29 regulation and overtime wins (ROW), they can’t pass the Philadelphia Flyers for 22nd place overall, guaranteeing them a bottom-nine finish.

The odds of the Canucks picking ninth or 10th are very high if they finish ninth-last.

I use the term ‘essentially,’ because there is still a 0.1 per cent chance that they pick 12th, as the tweet above shows. That’s only if they remain in ninth-last. If the Anaheim Ducks win on Saturday and the Canucks lose to the St. Louis Blues, the Ducks will pass them in the standings, pushing them to eighth-last. Then their odds would be as follows:

  • 6.0% at 1st overall
  • 6.3% at 2nd overall
  • 6.7% at 3rd overall
  • 36.8% at 8th overall
  • 36.0% at 9th overall
  • 7.8% at 10th overall
  • 0.4% at 11th overall

While optimists may point out that the Canucks have either a 19 or 16 per cent chance of getting a top-three selection, they’d need one of the three lottery balls to land in their favour for that to happen, something that hasn’t been kind to them in the past, having dropped spots during the lottery three straight years. I prefer to go with the percentages, which in this case say they are most likely to receive the eighth, ninth or 10th overall pick.

Let’s take a look at who the Canucks should be targeting in those slots.

Matthew Boldy – LW – USA NTDP

Boldy has size, at 6-foot-2 and 192 lbs. He has elite hockey IQ and soft hands, recording 1.25 points-per-game the past two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Plus, he is versatile. While he has mostly been a goal scorer this season — often playing with Jack Hughes or Trevor Zegras and notching 30 goals in 55 games for the U-18 team — Boldy had 47 assists in 61 games last season for the U-17 program without Hughes.

Matthew Boldy of the U.S. National Development Program
Matthew Boldy of the U.S. National Development Program blends size and soft hands (Hickling Images)

According to Bob McKenzie’s most recent draft rankings, which were released April 4 and are compiled strictly by interviewing NHL scouts, Boldy was ranked ninth. On Craig Button’s ‘Craig’s List’, released at the end of March (and feature only Button’s opinion), Boldy was ranked seventh. In mid-February, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked Boldy fifth, saying “his versatility will translate to the pro game. I don’t see any one skill holding him back now that his skating has improved.” (from ‘Wheeler: Midseason ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft’s top 62 prospects’, The Athletic NHL – 2/18/19).

Imagine adding a big, strong, versatile winger who can finish and set up his teammates. Now imagine him on Bo Horvat’s wing. Seems like a good spot to me. You can check out Boldy’s full draft profile, written by our own Josh Bell.

Related: NHL Draft Guide | 2019 Edition

Peyton Krebs – C – WHL

Krebs has played on a bad Kootenay Ice team his entire Western Hockey League career. As such, his point totals don’t do him justice, with ‘just’ 54 points last season (mostly as a 16-year-old) and 68 points in 64 games this season. Just how bad were the Ice? In 2018-19, they won 13 of 68 games and Krebs was a minus-50. In 2017-18, they won 27 of 72 games and Krebs was a minus-22.

Peyton Krebs Kootenay Ice
(Robert Murray/WHL) Peyton Krebs of the Kootenay Ice was the first overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.

There is no doubt that the lack of talent around Krebs has led to him falling down the rankings. He is 17th on Craig’s List for March and 12th on Bob McKenzie’s NHL scouts poll. Even NHL Central Scouting only has him as the eighth-best North American skater, according to their mid-season rankings.

But Kreb’s numbers this season aren’t that far off from Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades, who is projected to go higher in the 2019 Draft and plays on a much stronger team. Dach had 73 points (44 at even-strength) and Krebs had 68 points (41 at even-strength). Not much of a difference.

While Dach has more size, I think Krebs has more upside. The first overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft has all the tools to be a successful playmaking centre at the NHL level. He drives offence because of how well he skates and how he sees the ice. While Krebs is a strong stickhandler and excellent passer, it’s his hockey IQ that is simply off the charts.

Sportsnet’s Sam Consentino slotted Krebs seventh in his March rankings, saying he “works his tail off nightly [and] makes those around him better.”

Krebs was just named to Team Canada’s pre-competition roster for the upcoming U-18 World Championships, which will take place from April 18-28 in Sweden. With better players around him, including fellow WHLer and likely top-10 selection Dylan Cozens, it’s a good bet he makes a significant impact.

Victor Soderstrom – D – SHL

It’s clear the Canucks’ blue line needs to be completely revamped. Only Quinn Hughes, Stecher, and perhaps Ben Hutton are viable long-term pieces currently on the big club. The right side in particular needs help, which is where Soderstrom comes in.

If somehow Bowen Byram falls to eighth or ninth, he is the obvious choice as the top defenceman in this draft class. But let’s assume he gets taken before the Canucks have a chance to strike gold. After Byram, things get complicated in terms of options on defence. There’s Philip Broberg, who played in the second tier Swedish men’s league this season — the Allsvenskan. There’s Cam York, the USNTDP defenseman who put up a whopping 51 points in 54 games this season. Both of those players are left-handed shots. Soderstrom is not.

I am a big believer in taking the best player available, but right now Broberg and York are not viewed as significant upgrades on Soderstrom. Some have Soderstrom higher and some have him lower. If things are as tight as they appear, there’s nothing wrong with drafting for positional need.

Related: 2019 NHL Draft: Fisher’s Top 300 for April

In McKenzie’s rankings released on April 4, Soderstrom landed in the 11th spot, up from 17th in the mid-season rankings. The 5-foot-11 blueliner spent most of the 2018-19 season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), the top men’s league, where he recorded seven points in 44 games for Brynas IF. Fourteen times this season he played 19 minutes or more in the SHL, which is quite impressive for a teenager.

Soderstrom’s biggest asset is his skating ability, which is uber important in today’s game. Curtis Joe with Elite Prospects says “His vision and awareness is outstanding, allowing him to play a responsible yet dynamic brand of hockey. He’s a dangerous puck-carrier with a great shot…He’s a game-changer.”

There are indications that Soderstrom’s offensive upside isn’t as high as some may want with a top-10 selection. York, for example, appears to project as more of a point-producer than Soderstrom. But the Swede has the ability to transport the puck effectively in all areas of the ice and has already done quite well for himself in a very difficult league. I don’t think taking him in the ninth or 10th slot would be a reach at all. If a big-time forward like Zegras or Alex Turcotte slips, that’s another story. But if they’re both gone, Soderstrom may be the Canucks’ guy.