The Vancouver Canucks will make the 23rd selection at the 2015 NHL Draft and barring a trade, won’t pick again until the fourth round.
The Canucks own five selections at the draft, which they’ll use to supplement a large pool of prospects, but is somewhat lacking in players with star-level offensive upside.
We take a closer look at Vancouver’s prospect ahead of the draft — ranking the top 10.
1. Jake Virtanen – LW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Virtanen’s offensive production was nothing to write home about in his draft plus-one season, but he’s still the Canucks top prospect.
The physical 18-year-old winger enjoyed a tremendous level of team success, contributing on adeep playoff runs for both Calgary Hitmen (WHL) and the Utica Comets (AHL). He was also part of Canada’s gold medal winning world juniors.
Virtanen will have to produce more offence if he’s going to live up to his lofty draft slot, but there’s no questioning his high-end tools. Even at 18, Virtanen’s speed and his punishing physical game stood out at the AHL level.
2. Jared McCann – C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Though he dealt with an early-season illness and a late-season hand fracture, McCann’s offensive production exploded with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds during his draft plus-one year.
McCann has been a top-line centre for one of the best junior teams for the last couple years. In addition to his sturdy two-way game, the 24th overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft has a wicked, high-velocity wrist shot that makes him a dynamic scoring threat.
3. Frank Corrado – D, Utica Comets (AHL)
Corrado spent his second full professional campaign jumping between Vancouver and Utica.
An excellent skater who excels in transition, Corrado had something of an unlucky season. Not only was the 22-year-old defender snake bit by percentages in his 10 NHL games, but in February and March, when Vancouver’s blue line was bit by the injury bug, Corrado sustained an upper-body injury and missed out on a golden opportunity to establish himself as an everyday NHL player.
4. Adam Clendening – D, Utica Comets (AHL)
Acquired in a mid-season trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Clendening is a crafty defenceman who excels at producing offence when set up in-zone.
Whether it’s walking the puck along the blue line, changing the angle on point shots, or finding open teammates with a cross-seam pass, Clendening is a heady distributor and a dynamic offensive presence from the back-end.
Clendening’s skill set and ability to generate offence is unquestioned, but his two-way game and his foot speed could use some further development.
“The big thing we wanted him to do was play faster,” said Comets coach Travis Green of working with Clendening.
“He’s got such a high skill level and he likes to try to slow down the game, but we wanted to play fast, get our defence skating, and get the puck up the ice. He’s done that, and he’s been really good for us (in the Calder Cup playoffs).”
5. Hunter Shinkaruk – LW, Utica Comets (AHL)
Shinkaruk, 20, struggled to adjust to the AHL in his first season of professional hockey.
The skilled winger managed to score just seven goals in his first 58 games with the Comets, despite averaging over two shots a game. When Shinkaruk was bumped up to the top-line to play alongside Utica forward Cal O’Reilly in the later stages of the season the dam burst.
Over the final 16 games of the Comets’ season, Shinkaruk scored nine goals and 13 points.
Though Shinkaruk ran cold again in the playoffs, he’s a creative player and a deceptive skater who improved at protecting the puck and getting inside defenders as the season progressed.
6. Cole Cassels – C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Cassels emerged as an elite two-way centre in the OHL this season, and was a key contributor for the Memorial Cup winning Oshawa Generals.
“Cole was one of Oshawa’s best player, a go-to guy for them,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said of Cassels’ post-season performance. “He played in a shutdown role against the other team’s top lines, but was counted on to score too.”
Cassels’ two-way skills were on particular display during the OHL final, when he outdueled top prospect Connor McDavid.
7. Brendan Gaunce – LW, Utica Comets (AHL)
Gaunce was moved to the wing permanently during his first professional season, and proved his as a dependable two-way forward for the Comets during their run to the Calder Cup final.
“I thought his speed was better suited to the wing, and at centre he played a bit safe, like an old school checking centre, who maybe didn’t use his body enough,” said Green.
“I think it forced him to play a faster cycle game, and he’s really added a mean edge to his game. And I don’t mean in a dirty way, but you need that, and I felt he needed that to play in the NHL.”
8. Alexandre Grenier – RW, Utica Comets (AHL)
When asked to name a Canucks prospect that opened the organization’s eyes with their performance this season, Benning didn’t hesitate.
“Alex Grenier, I think, has come a long way this year,” said Benning. “There was a big improvement in his game. He got stronger, he’s got good hands for a big man… he was one guy that really improved.
“If he continues to improve he’s a guy that maybe come in and challenge for a spot at training camp, but that’s going to be up to him.”
Green meanwhile complimented Grenier, a third-round pick of the Canucks at the 2011 NHL Draft, for the development of his two-way game.
“He went from being a player I’d never use in the last five minutes of a game, to a guy that had two empty-net goals for us (on this playoff run),” said Green. “I think that tells you a lot about how his game has developed.”
9. Nicklas Jensen – LW, Utica Comets (AHL)
Jensen has NHL size and skill to burn, but he’s struggled to maintain a high level of performance since being picked in the first round by the Canucks during the 2011 NHL Draft.
The Danish forward was even a somewhat regular healthy scratch during the Comets’ Calder Cup run, although he bounced back and was one of Utica’s best forwards in the final.
10. Thatcher Demko – G, Boston College (NCAA)
Demko, 19, started 35 games for Boston College and starred for the United States at the world juniors.
In NCAA action, the 6-foot-4 goaltender managed a .925 save percentage, which ranked him among the 20 best collegiate goalies. Most of the goaltenders who performed better were two years (or more) older than Demko.
Demko is big and athletic, but he’s still a bit raw and will have to work on speeding up his lateral movements if he’s going to turn away shots taken by NHLers. He underwent surgery on both of his hips in May, but is expected to be ready for the start of the 2015-16 season.