VANCOUVER – It says something about the pain inflicted on the Vancouver Canucks by the draft lottery the last couple of years that on Saturday, when they dropped “only” one spot in June’s selection order, it felt like a kind of victory.
It was like the dentist smiling at you and saying: “Hey, good news, only one cavity this time. Now, just sit back and relax.”
Indeed the various managers and hockey-ops executives assembled in Toronto by the National Hockey League for the televised lottery to determine draft order looked like they were waiting for the dentist’s drill and hoping at least for a little anesthetic.
The Canucks, slapped down to fifth in the draft order from second and third the last two lotteries, slipped to seventh after finishing the 2017-18 season with the NHL’s sixth-worst record.
Hey, they can handle that.
“Yeah, our luck is improving,” Canuck general manager Jim Benning deadpanned after leaving the lottery stage. “You go there knowing you’re probably going to pick seventh or eighth. But you can’t help thinking: What if you win and you get Rasmus Dahlin? You think about how good your power play would look with him at the top, playing with Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, and you get all excited. The Canucks have never had any luck at this thing; maybe this will be your year. You kind of talk yourself into it.
“And then they turn over the cards for No. 9 and No. 8 and it’s not us. And then you think: Please, let’s not be seven. Maybe we can move into the top three. And then you see your logo.”
Dahlin is the franchise defenceman from Sweden who will be selected first overall on June 22 in Dallas. The next distinct tier of prospects are forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk. The five to seven picks after that are subjective and dominated by offensive defencemen, which the Canucks need.
So picking seventh instead of sixth should not make much difference.
“I don’t think it does,” Benning said. “After a certain point, the draft kind of gets scattered. There’s a lot of players who look a lot alike from 10 to 30, so it’s a matter of preference in what you like in a player and what position. We’re going to get a good player at seven.”
Swedish prospect Adam Boqvist, Acadie-Bathurst Titan Noah Dobson, London Knight Evan Bouchard and the University of Michigan’s Quinn Hughes are all offensive defencemen rated in the second half of the top 10 by Sportsnet.
Canucks director of hockey operations Trevor Linden, who after “losing” the last two lotteries sent Benning to squirm on live TV this year, told Sportsnet this week that this could be the draft the team trades down for the player it wants.
“We’re going to have our scouting meetings in a couple of weeks and if we think we can get the player we want by trading down and getting another pick, then we’ll do that,” Benning said. “But we look at all of our options every year.
“The players we really like, we want to make sure we don’t trade out of those (draft positions). That’s what we did with Boeser at 23 (in 2015) and Pettersson at five (in 2017). We looked last year at moving down to seven or eight, but the guy we wanted was Pettersson and we didn’t want to trade ourselves out of getting him.”
The Canucks have not had a top-three draft pick since former GM Brian Burke finagled Danny and Hank Sedin second and third overall in 1999.
Dropping to seventh from sixth was, mathematically, the most likely lottery result for the Canucks. There was a 38.9 per cent chance of Vancouver picking seventh, compared to a 23.3 per cent likelihood of moving into the top three.
The last time the Canucks picked seventh, GM Pat Quinn chose brawny forward Alek Stojanov in 1991. In 1986, Jack Gordon drafted centre Dan Woodley seventh overall. Woodley played only five NHL games, Stojanov just 107.
“Don’t tell me that,” Benning said. “You’re scaring me.”
It wasn’t so bad. Quinn later traded Stojanov to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Markus Naslund, who scored more points than any Canuck in history until the Sedins passed him and whose jersey hangs from the Rogers Arena rafters.