Rookie Brock Boeser has been a fabulous story this season for the Vancouver Canucks. But the National Hockey League team’s hockey ops staff is just as excited about what Canuck prospects are doing in other leagues.
One of them, Northeastern University centre Adam Gaudette, could be playing for the Canucks this spring. Two or three others may be ready for the NHL next fall. Here are our mid-winter top-five rankings from the deepest pool of prospects in Canuck history.
1. Elias Pettersson, C/RW, 19, Vaxjo Lakers, Swedish Hockey League
Drafted: First round, Fifth overall, 2017 draft
Season to date: 34 GP | 16 G | 26 A | 42 PTS | +18
The fifth-overall draft pick from 2017 continues to dazzle as a teenager in one of the top professional leagues outside the NHL. Pettersson has been an offensive machine. A trip to the world junior tournament, in which he had seven points in seven games to help Sweden win the silver medal, probably cost Pettersson a chance to win the SHL scoring title. But his 1.24 points-per-game leads the league. Everyone knew he could dangle and make plays with the puck, but the centre-winger has an NHL-calibre shot, too.
2. Thatcher Demko, G, 22, Utica Comets, American Hockey League
Drafted: Second round, 36th overall, 2014 draft
Season to date: 29 GP | 17-7-6 | 2.27 GAA | .929 SP
The 6-foot-4 goalie from San Diego continues to look like Cory Schneider 2.0 as he steadily works towards the NHL. The second-round pick from 2014 led his division to victory at the AHL All-Star Game last weekend after going 17-7-6 for the Canucks’ farm team, building a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage that ranked fourth in the AHL. Ideally, the Canucks wanted Demko to apprentice a full three years in the AHL, but he may force his way into the NHL lineup next fall after two seasons in Utica.
3. Olli Juolevi, D, 19, TPS Turku, SM Liiga
Drafted: First round, Fifth overall, 2016 draft
Season to date: 27 GP | 6 G | 11 A | 17 PTS | +7
The defenceman drafted fifth in 2016 has underwhelmed due to the things he isn’t. He isn’t dynamic or dominant at anything, and he isn’t Matthew Tkachuk (the player drafted after him) or in the NHL at age 19. But Juolevi continues to have a strong season in Finland, where he has six goals and 17 points in 27 games and his .630 points-per-game ranks him among the top 10 defencemen in a very good pro league. Juolevi was also one of his country’s better players at the world junior tournament, although Finland failed to play for a medal. The Canucks still believe Juolevi is going to be a top-four defenceman in the NHL.
4. Kole Lind, RW, 19, Kelowna Rockets, Western Hockey League
Drafted: Second round, 33rd overall, 2017 draft
Season to date: 41 GP | 27 G | 43 A | 70 PTS | +22
The rambunctious winger continues to pile up points in junior. He carried a 19-game scoring streak into last week and was ninth in WHL scoring with 27 goals and 70 points in 41 games. But what the Canucks really like about Lind, selected 33rd overall last June, is that there is a natural edginess to his game that complements all that skill. Lind competes, going to the net and into corners. He doesn’t back down physically. Lind projects as a top-six NHL forward and if he strengthens his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame, he could earn a spot on the Canucks next fall.
5. Adam Gaudette, C, 21, Northeastern University, Hockey East
Drafted: Fifth round, 149th overall, 2015 draft
Season to date: 26 GP | 19 G | 20 A | 39 PTS | +8
It says something about how special Gaudette is that as a fifth-round draft pick from 2015, the offensive centre still makes this top-five list at a time of unprecedented forward depth in the Canucks’ pipeline. The third-year collegian was tied last week for the NCAA scoring lead with 19 goals and 39 points in 26 games. He was considered for the U.S. Olympic team but, as a consolation prize, had to settle for being named a Hobey Baker Award finalist. Gaudette is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, has improved his skating and strength immensely since his draft, and is expected to turn pro this spring and get the chance to finish the NHL season with the Canucks.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
Petrus Palmu, RW, 20, TPS Turku, SM Liiga
Drafted: Sixth round, 181st overall, 2017 draft
Season to date: 48 GP | 13 G | 15 A | 28 PTS | +5
The biggest thing about Palmu is he is tiny: 5-foot-7. That’s why the Canucks were able to draft the dynamo 181st last June. So far in his first season of professional hockey – Palmu had 40 goals and 98 points last season for Owen Sound of the OHL – the winger looks like an actual NHL prospect. He carries 180 pounds on that short frame of his, which gives Palmu the equilibrium of a fire hydrant and allows him to play in traffic and get to goal-scoring areas. He has 13 goals and 28 points in 48 games in Finland, and could be in the AHL next season.