With a 3-0 loss to Anaheim on Wednesday night, Vancouver’s third straight game without scoring a goal, the Canucks are officially eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoffs contention. They may have unofficially been out of the running for the past few months, though the final nail in the coffin was hammered at the end of this three-game road trip.
But while fans of the team won’t be looking forward to the Stanley Cup this summer, there will be another prize on the way that could one day help the Canucks get there.
Already with an unprecedented collection of youth (as Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre wrote about earlier this season), Vancouver will add another top-level prospect in the early stages of the 2018 NHL Draft. After finishing in a bottom three spot in the league the past two seasons, Vancouver has whiffed on draft lottery luck and picked fifth overall in both 2016 and 2017. As they continue to sink lower in standings with a 2-6-2 record in their past 10, Vancouver could at least guarantee itself a top-four pick by finishing last overall.
In that scenario, they’d also have approximately a 48.1 per cent chance of picking within the top three.
While we don’t yet know exactly where the Canucks will select in Round 1, we can look at the players who could be available at the top end of the draft. Even if Vancouver doesn’t end up with projected No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin, there are other high-end prospects who will likely have a lasting impact in the NHL.
1. Rasmus Dahlin, D
This is the guy everyone is talking about. Dahlin is in line to be the first defenceman taken at the top of the draft since Aaron Ekblad in 2014.
When asked on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver about the prospect of being chosen by the Canucks this summer, Dahlin replied: “That would be sick. We will see.”
There’s been a ton of focus on the production of Canucks prospect Elias Pettersson in the SHL this season, as the fifth-overall pick from last summer not only led the league in scoring but set a new points record for an under-20 player in the league. This has allowed Dahlin to fly under the radar in terms of where his season ranks on the all-time list.
With 20 points in 41 regular-season games, Dahlin finished with the fifth-best season ever in the SHL by a defenceman under the age of 20. Even more incredibly, of the four players ahead of him, only one had his big SHL season in the first year of being eligible for the NHL draft: Victor Hedman, who had 21 points in 43 games. If you go by points-per-game average, the two are even at 0.49.
Dahlin is a shifty and creative defenceman, who says he still needs to work on his defensive game and bulk up physically. That’s normal for a 17-year-old player. He scored six points in seven games for Sweden at the world juniors, a huge impact in what’s generally a tournament owned by 19-year-old players. And though he went to the Olympics for Sweden, he got into just two games and saw very few minutes.
Next, Dahlin could join Sweden at the world championship before his name is called at the NHL draft. Whether Vancouver is able to land him first overall or not, Dahlin is expected to step right into the NHL next season.
2. Filip Zadina, RW
In our first draft rankings of the season, Zadina came in at No. 6 as he moved from the Czech Republic for his first taste of North American hockey. But after strong showings at the Top Prospects Game, world juniors, Five Nations Tournament, and being the second-highest rookie scorer in the QMJHL (79 points in 55 games), Zadina has been ranked No. 2 by Sportsnet for the past two months.
Zadina is the latest star to come out of the Halifax Mooseheads system in the QMJHL. Developing on a team that has produced two of the past five No. 1 overall picks (Nathan MacKinnon in 2013, Nico Hischier in 2017), and a few other top-10 picks (Jonathan Drouin, Timo Meier, Nik Ehlers), Zadina is on track to become a top-line sniper in the NHL if all continues to go well.
With 42 goals in 55 QMJHL games this season, he’s tied for fifth in the entire league, but when you account for goals-per-game average, he moves up a spot.
“When he gets time and space with the puck, he makes plays at ease,” Mooseheads defenceman and projected first-rounder Jared McIsaac told Sportsnet in January. “He’s got a really good shot, one of the most lethal shots in our league, maybe even the CHL.”
The few games he’s missed have been due to the world juniors and a two-game suspension for the play below.
3. Andrei Svechnikov, RW
After starting the year ranked No. 2 in Sportsnet’s NHL draft rankings, Svechnikov has slipped behind Zadina to No. 3 but not because of his own play. Unlike the other top prospects in this draft, Svechnikov did not play a significant role for his country at the world juniors, but still managed five assists in five games. At the Top Prospects Game in January, Svechnikov was bested by Zadina, two goals to none.
But at the recent Five Nations Tournament in which the Russians finished with a 2-2 record, Svechnikov was tied for the lead in goals (four) and points (eight).
What’s especially amazing about Svechnikov’s second year in North America is how he’s stood out from the pack in scoring despite missing significant time for international tournaments and because of a hand injury that forced him out of action for two months in the first half of the season. With 66 points in 41 games, Svechnikov has an 11-point lead in the rookie scoring race. His 37 goals are tied for 11th in the OHL, with a per-game average better than anyone ahead of him.
Since returning from his injury in December, he has 52 points in 31 OHL games, including a nine-game stretch in which he recorded at least two points each time he hit the ice. Since Dec. 8, Svechnikov’s been held pointless just three times.
Another winger with a powerful shot, the six-foot-three, 184-pound Svechnikov says he watches a lot of Auston Matthews and, like the Maple Leafs’ top young centre, the Russian could also move right to the NHL after being drafted.
“I think if there’s one (Canadian Hockey League) player right now who can step into an NHL lineup it would probably be [Svechnikov],” NHL Central Scouting’s Karl Stewart told NHL.com earlier this month. “He’s big and his shot is so powerful. He just drops the shoulder and turns it on; you can’t stop him. His shot bides him so much time and space that defenders have to play up on him, but he has the skill to dance around you. He’s a magician on the half-wall on the power play.”
4. Brady Tkachuk, LW
Brother of feisty Flames forward Matthew, there’s some who believe Brady is the better of the two. With 28 points in 36 games for Boston University this season, Brady is the highest-scoring NCAA player who is in his first year of NHL draft eligibility.
Tkachuk was a star at the world juniors for the Americans, finishing sixth in tournament scoring with seven points in six games. He was the top producer among draft eligibles there, too, finishing one point ahead of Zadina.
Consistently ranked in the 4-5 range in Sportsnet’s draft lists this season, the area Tkachuk needs to improve most on is his skating, which sounds similar to Matthew in his draft year. Brady plays with the same kind of edge as his 57 PIMs this season, and 73 in just 24 USHL games last season, attest. He says he wants to bulk up more, as young players do, but Tkachuk is already six-foot-three and 200 pounds.
A late birthday (Sept. 16), Tkachuk barely missed the cutoff to be eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
5. Adam Boqvist, D
A sub-six-foot defenceman with excellent foot speed and ability to create offence, Boqvist isn’t at the level of Swedish counterpart Dahlin right now, having spent most of his season in the Swedish junior league, but the potential is sky high.
Boqvist is currently on loan to Almtuna in the Allsvenskan, but spent 25 games in Sweden’s under-20 league earlier this season. His 14 goals rank second all-time by a player under 18-years old in that league, behind only Lars Johnsson, the seventh overall pick in 2000. His goal number as a junior ranks ahead of Hedman and Erik Karlsson and, as you see in this graphic below from eliteprospects.com, he did it in far fewer games (granted Hedman was just 16 at the start of his season).
The issue the Canucks would be faced with if they held a top-three pick would be deciding between taking one of the elite shooting wingers, or fill an organizational need, where Boqvist would fit. Conventional wisdom would suggest you always go with the best player available, especially this early in the draft, but Boqvist’s huge upside at least gives pause for thought.