Canucks draft well, but can’t afford to sit still

Watch as the Vancouver Canucks select Brock Boeser with the 23rd pick in the NHL Draft.

As megadeals percolated in the heavy, humid air of Sunrise, Fla. on Friday evening, the Vancouver Canucks were wallflowers overgrowing on the sidelines.

A heavily-anticipated and complicated three-dimensional deal involving Kevin Bieksa and the San Jose Sharks reportedly hit a snag, the Canucks failed to land hometown hero Milan Lucic (though they admittedly tried), and the club will go into day two of the draft with one more NHL-level netminder than they have space for.

Meanwhile, as they waited for the draft to snake around to their 23rd overall selection, the Canucks watched an inconvenient irony unfold: On a day intended to distribute talent as fairly as possible among the NHL’s 30 members, all of it seemed to spill over and congeal in Vancouver’s division.

The already extremely young and talented Calgary Flames landed extremely young and talented defenceman Dougie Hamilton by way of a lopsided trade with the Boston Bruins. The already heavy and imposing Los Angeles Kings added perhaps the heaviest and most imposing forward in hockey in Lucic. And the Edmonton Oilers, perpetually awash in young talent, added a generational young talent at the apex of the draft, and a recent top-five pick in a trade to boot.

“(Our) division got better for sure,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said following the selection of promising forward Brock Boeser. “We’re going to work and make calls.”

It’s not enough to keep making calls though. Surely the Canucks have made plenty this past week. If this Canucks side is going to keep up with the rising Albertan tide and the three California kaiju, what Benning and the Canucks need is a phonecall (or two) that ends with the answer they’re looking for.

They still have time to make those deals. Yes, the lower mainland’s communal pipe dream of watching former Vancouver Giant Milan Lucic play for the home side will go dormant until roughly this time next year when he hits unrestricted free agency, but the club can still deal Bieksa and move a goaltender for draft picks on the second day of the draft. Neither of those expected transactions was ever likely to net a pick in the first round anyway.

And if the club can add a mid-round pick or two and carve out some flexibility under the upper-limit of the salary cap prior to July 1, this could yet prove to be a successful weekend for the Canucks.

A lot of how this weekend is viewed will hinge on the development of Boeser, who didn’t play for a big-name CHL program and didn’t compete in the world junior championships. While he’s essentially an unknown in the Vancouver market, he’s an impressive prospect.

The Minnesota-born Boeser is thick and heavy and talented. On a Waterloo Black Hawks team that also featured probable top-60 draft pick Thomas Novak, Boeser managed 35 goals and 68 points in 57 games.

“We said we were going to take the best player and we believe he has the opportunity to develop into a top-six forward for us,” said Benning.

“He’s got good size and he protects the puck,” Benning added. “He plays a pro-style game already.

“I don’t like comparing players, but he plays a style of game like Joe Pavelski. He’s strong on the puck and has a good release on his shot and he goes to the areas where goals are scored.”

That’s a lofty comparison proffered by the Canucks executive, but perhaps it’s not entirely without merit. Back in his first-time draft eligible campaign, Pavelski scored 69 points in 60 games for the exact same USHL team Boeser played for.

Vancouver’s newest prospect has modeled his game after a different USHL alumnus though: Kyle Okposo.

“Just a two way guy, strong on his stick, good with the puck,” Boeser told the media following his selection. “He scores, good shot.”

Okposo is actually among the very short list of USHL players comparable to Boeser, based on his size and USHL production at a similar age. Gritty Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader is another.

Boeser has the promise and the projectable physical tool kit to perhaps develop into an impactful NHL player somewhere down the line. He’s a long-term investment though; he’s committed to the University of North Dakota — one of the NCAA’s top programs — and intends to go there.

“I want to go to college, school is important to me and I think North Dakota’s a good development path,” Boeser said following his selection on Friday. “I want to get a college degree, I know it’s not just hockey your whole life.”

On Day 1 of the NHL draft the Canucks selected an impressive young man, a young man who represents a decent bet to develop into a productive NHL contributor in a few years time. In the near-term Vancouver’s business is unfinished. There are still moves to be made, surpluses to liquidate, and salary cap space to actualize.

And none of that can be accomplished if the Canucks remain on the sidelines.

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