PENTICTON, B.C. — As the Vancouver Canucks rebuild, there is so much focus on high-end prospects like Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin, it’s easy to overlook the secondary wave of scoring prospects the organization has assembled.
Friday, Kole Lind was impossible to miss.
Drafted 33rd overall last June, near the top of the second round and 28 places after the Canucks selected Pettersson, Lind was the best Canucks prospect when Vancouver beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 here on the opening night of the Young Stars Classic tournament.
The winger from Shaunavon, Sask., and the Kelowna Rockets had two assists and an empty-net goal as the baby Canucks fairly dominated the Jets, outshooting Winnipeg’s prospects 39-20. Vancouver was deprived a blowout win only by Jets goalie Mikhail Berdin.
Boeser is the only elite Canucks forward prospect in this tournament, which is like a four-day “home” game for Lind, who plays his junior hockey less than an hour’s drive north up the shore of Okanagan Lake.
He looked comfortable on Friday, displaying the puck poise and playmaking savvy that encouraged the Canucks to draft him.
Lind’s challenge — two or three years from now — will be finding a home on a Canucks team that has a small handful of talented forwards in the pipeline ahead of him.
This is the same logjam that other second-tier forward prospects like Jonah Gadjovich, William Lockwood, Adam Gaudette and Zack MacEwen must navigate.
“I was really happy getting drafted here because (the Canucks) are definitely in a stage where I feel I can fit in sooner rather than later,” Lind, 18, said. “Hopefully I’ll be ready for the NHL soon.
“Being from Saskatchewan, I cheered for the Canadian team that was doing the best and most of the time, when I was growing up, it was the Canucks. So I cheered for them. And being out in Kelowna, I watch the Canucks a lot and my billet family are big Canuck fans so I pretty much had to cheer for them.”
Lind had a few Kelowna friends cheering for him on Friday.
“I thought he was really good tonight,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “He’s smart. He’s really smart and reads the play well. He’s got good hands and a good release on his shot. But he’s really smart — that’s the biggest thing.”
Brett McKenzie, another point-per-game junior drafted in the seventh round in 2016, had a pair of assists for the Canucks. Gadjovich, Benning’s other second-rounder from June, Griffen Molino and defenceman Jalen Chatfield had Vancouver’s other goals.
Thatcher Demko had a solid night in the Vancouver net.
But nobody was better than Lind, who rocketed up draft boards last season by scoring 30 goals and 87 points in 70 games in Kelowna.
Impressively, 24 of his goals were at even strength, as were 60 of his points.
Statistically, there are similarities between Lind and Portland Winterhawks forward Cody Glass, the elite prospect who had 32 goals and 95 points last season in the Western League and was chosen sixth overall by the Vegas Golden Knights — right after Benning drafted the less-trumpeted but more-talented Pettersson.
Glass is six-foot-two and 178 pounds. Lind is listed at 6-1 and 178.
At No. 33 in the draft, Lind could be a steal.
Or he may never play because, besides the strong competition for NHL employment, there’s a lot he needs to work on in his game and his conditioning.
But just as Pettersson possesses skill that is difficult to teach, Lind has his offensive vision and poise.
“Growing up, I was always a guy kind of leaned on (to score) and that’s the kind of guy I want to be on a stage like this,” Lind said. “I like to make plays and score goals. Whatever’s open is what I try to do. But this summer, Vancouver really preached me about being a 200-foot player — being a guy who can be relied on in the defensive zone as well. So I worked on little things in that part of my game this summer.
“This year is definitely another development year for me in Kelowna, to go back there and make strides and hopefully have another good team that makes a playoff run. We kind of expect that every year. From there, I don’t know where I’ll go. But wherever (the Canucks) think is best for me, I’ll go there. Wherever they think I fit in.”
His fit was perfect on Friday.