VANCOUVER — This week’s draft in Montreal is not only the National Hockey League’s first in-person talent lottery since 2019, but also the first one in three years in which the Vancouver Canucks possess a pick in the opening round.
“I better hope my suit fits because I've got to go up on stage now,” Canucks director of amateur scouting Todd Harvey joked in an interview. “It's nice to have one (in the first round). It's been hard that way the last couple of years watching players getting taken off the board and not having a chance to make a pick, so it will be good. We're working to make sure we get the guys we want.”
There are quite a few to choose from, as Harvey said the first round may not be as star-studded as some drafts but there should be talented players available well into the 20s and beyond. The Canucks select 15th, having kept their streak intact at the draft lottery by never moving up in the order.
This draft is especially significant to the Canucks because it is their first under new general manager Patrik Allvin, who built his career in amateur scouting with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford.
Harvey is one of the key survivors from the Jim Benning era, having earned the trust of his new bosses while working closely with assistant GM Cammi Granato.
“It's a different philosophy coming from this regime,” he said. “I think that the communication has been really good. They've laid out a plan that they're looking for and the scouts have been putting in the work to make sure that we check all the boxes on the player that's going to be a Vancouver Canuck.
“Hockey sense is a big trait for us. Obviously, being competitive is a big part of it and we want some speed and skill. But you want people that are good people and that are there to win. At the end of the day, that's what we're all looking for — guys that want to win and be competitive and be part of the Vancouver Canucks.”
• First round (15th overall)
• Third round (80th overall)
• Fourth round (112th overall)
• Fifth round (144th overall)
• Sixth round (176th overall)
• Seventh round (208th overall)
Potential first-round targets
Marco Kasper, C/W
From: Rogle, Sweden
Games played: 46
The Austrian forward spent most of the season playing in the Swedish Hockey League as a 17-year-old and was not overmatched. At six-foot-one, he has impressive speed and power and was not intimidated competing against men. He plays a direct game. At the junior level, he was a point-per-game player for Rogle. Ranked fifth among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Kasper may not make it to No. 15 but will be hard to pass up if he does.
Conor Geekie, C
From: Winnipeg, WHL
Games played: 63
Seattle Kraken forward Morgan Geekie’s younger brother projects as a slightly better skater, but with the same power elements in his game as a robust, two-way centre. Conor’s combination of size and skill has him fifth in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, but he is expected to slide a little due to his skating (and possibly Morgan’s modest NHL achievements so far). Geekie may prove to be a steal as a second- or third-line NHL centre.
Lian Bichsel, LD
From: Leksands, Sweden
Games played: 29
The six-foot-five Swiss is a throwback defenceman, an imposing hitter who loves to compete. He was perfectly comfortable physically playing against men in the SHL. Bichsel skates well for his size and has decent puck skills, but a limited offensive ceiling at this stage. But two or three years from now, he could be an excellent fit on the Vancouver blue line when smaller defencemen Quinn Hughes and Jack Rathbone are driving play and Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn are likely gone.
Ryan Chesley, RD
From: USNTDP, USHL
Games played: 26
Chesley isn’t expected to go as high as 15th but is an enticing prospect who might be had nearer the bottom of the first round, which could allow the Canucks to trade down if they really want the right-handed defenceman — a rare species in this year’s first round and an organizational need for Vancouver. Chesley has a heavy shot and is highly-skilled and highly-mobile. He also competes. He may be the best right-side defenceman in the draft after elite prospects David Jiricek and Simon Nemec.
Liam Ohgren, LW
From: Djurgardens Jr., Sweden
Games played: 30
Less flashy and, importantly, less fleet than his star linemates, draft-eligibleJonathan Lekkerimaki and Noah Ostlund, Ohgren still outscored both on their junior team and has NHL strength and competitiveness in addition to impressive offensive skills. He managed only two points in 25 games for Djurgardens’ senior team, but Ohgren plays in hard areas and is built with the same sturdiness as Bo Horvat. Like the Canucks captain did, he will need to add a step to meet projections at the next level.
Last year's top pick: Danila Klimovich
Without a first-round selection last year, the Canucks under the previous regime took a mighty swing in the second round when they selected Klimovich from Belarus with the 41st pick.
The 210-pound winger, who shot (literally) to prominence at the world under-18 tournament, is a high-risk, high-reward prospect – unrefined but big and talented. Playing as a raw 18-year-old in the American Hockey League last season, Klimovich had eight goals and 18 points in 62 games for the Abbotsford Canucks. The learning curve was steep for the teenager, but the organization feels much progress was made towards turning the winger into a pro.
Looking at the age and makeup of the Vancouver roster, the only places the Canucks appear strong two to three years from now are in goal and on the left side of defence.
Lots can happen in that time, of course, but for now the biggest needs are on the right side of the blue line and at centre. But there is so little coming soon from their AHL team — defenceman Jack Rathbone and goalie Spencer Martin may be the only graduates next fall — the Canucks can’t go wrong by just drafting the best players available, regardless of position.