Five Canucks draft candidates to target with 15th-overall pick

Team White’s Conor Geekie of the Winnipeg ICE breaks in on net during the 2022 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in Kitchener, Ontario on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (CP/file)

VANCOUVER – Rich Strike has a better chance to win the National Hockey League draft lottery than the Vancouver Canucks. And he’s a horse.

The 80-to-1 winner of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby had better odds of winning than the Canucks, whose draft-lottery chances were actually about 200-to-1. Alas, there was no incredible burst through the field down the home stretch for the Canucks, who finished Tuesday’s draft lottery where they started, with the 15th pick in July’s NHL Draft.

The Canucks’ lottery record remained unblemished; Vancouver has never moved up the selection order for the draft. But they have never missed on a 15th-overall pick.

Of course, in 52 years, they’ve also never had the 15th pick of the first round. But at least there’s no negative baggage attached.

“I think there is a lot of good players in the draft,” Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Tuesday of the 2022 class. “I don't think there is a lot of difference between, I would say, maybe four, five and down to 15, 16. Obviously, we know that with time there might be some good players being picked after (15). I think our staff is pretty excited about picking 15th.”

Allvin should be excited, too. Not only will this draft be his first in charge of the Canucks, it will be the first time in 10 years that Allvin is involved in selecting anyone in the top 20.

As he was building his career through the scouting ranks with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Allvin was accustomed to scouring mid- and late rounds for hidden gems because his team annually traded away its top selections in pursuit of more Stanley Cups.

The July 7-8 draft in Montreal will also mark the first time since 2019 that Vancouver has chosen in the first round. Previous GM Jim Benning traded away the Canucks’ last two first-round picks in deals that brought J.T. Miller from Tampa and Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson from Arizona.

“Wherever you are, you're always prepared for any scenario,” Allvin said. “If you don't have a first-round pick, the pressure is on you to find players outside the first round. Regardless where you're picking, my challenge to our amateur staff is to make sure you have the list in order and ... hopefully, we find players outside the first round.”

He said he believes in picking the best player available, regardless of position.

“The reality is that most of the players we’re picking now (are) going to play maybe two, three-, four, five years from now, and our team could have changed and our needs could have changed,” he said. “I don't think you can ever have too many good players in one position.”

It’s true that the Canucks’ needs could change, but also obvious that what they need now – and in the next couple of years – are right-side defencemen. Unfortunately, few of them project to be first-round picks this summer and the best ones, Czech David Jiricek and Slovak Simon Nemec, will be long gone by Vancouver’s turn.

Like most teams, the Canucks can never have too many centres. They are organizationally weak at this position beyond the NHL trio of Miller, Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson. And both Miller and Horvat have contracts that expire in 2023.

With this in mind, here are five potential draft targets who could be available to the Canucks at No. 15.

Conor Geekie, C, 63 GP 24-46-70 pts, Winnipeg, WHL

The six-foot-three power forward projects as a two-way, middle-six centre in the NHL. Seattle Kraken forward Morgan Geekie’s younger brother is NHL Central Scouting’s fifth-ranked North American skater, and could go in the top 10. But Geekie is expected to slide toward the middle of the first round, where his combination of size and skill would provide excellent value.

Marco Kasper, C/W, GP 46 7-4-11 pts, Rogle, Sweden

The Austrian forward spent most of the season playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League, where he was not overmatched physically. As with Geekie, Kasper's game has a power element to it. At the junior level, he was a point-per-game player for Rogle, the club that produced Canucks 2019 second-round pick Nils Hoglander.

Jiri Kulich, C, GP 49 9-5-14 pts, Karlovy, Czech Republic

Kulich is a bit of a first-round wild card, having shot to prominence at this spring’s under-18 world championships. The well-rounded centre led the tournament with nine goals, seven of them on the power play. Belarusian Danila Klimovich used the same stage to elevate himself last year and was picked 41st by the Canucks.

Brad Lambert, C/W, GP 49 4-6-10, Pelicans, Finland

One of the most dynamic skaters in the draft is also one of most debated. Once viewed as a sure-fire top-10 pick, Lambert seemed to regress in his draft season, scoring just four goals for two teams in Finland’s Liiga. His intensity was inconsistent and he fell to 10th from fifth in Central Scouting’s European rankings. But Lambert’s skating is explosive and potential, enticing.

Pavel Mintyukov, D, GP 67 17-45-62, Saginaw, OHL

The Russian was the top scoring defenceman in the OHL. He is a strong, fluid skater with excellent puck skills who projects as player who will help an NHL power play. Alas, he shoots left, as do nearly all the defencemen projected to be picked in the middle portion of the opening round. But Mintyukov is an exciting, dynamic prospect.

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