Canucks Draft Preview: Long wait looms this weekend

Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin speaks to the press prior to their NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres at Rogers Arena. (Derek Cain/Getty Images)

VANCOUVER — For the third time in the past five NHL Drafts, the Vancouver Canucks don’t have a first-round pick on Friday. They also don’t have a second-rounder in Las Vegas, leaving the Canucks with a top pick of No. 93 in Saturday’s third round.

But for the first time, this is seen as the cost of doing business for a franchise that won the Pacific Division this season and finally is back in a position to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

When they were without first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, the Canucks swung for the fences at those drafts by claiming players who had first-round size and skills but required a lot of development. Defenceman Joni Jurmo (drafted 82nd overall in 2020) is already out of the organization and winger Danila Klimovich (41st in 2021) looks only slightly closer to making the NHL after three challenging seasons with the Canucks’ top minor-league team.

The profound difference for the Canucks in this weekend’s draft, besides their 109-point regular season, is a hockey operations department largely rebuilt by president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin since 2021. Amateur scouting director Todd Harvey is a holdover from the Jim Benning era, but he now reports to assistant GM Cammi Granato and, according to Rutherford, has transformed as a manager.

What also has changed is a clearer, more broadly understood, ideal about what traits the Canucks value most.

“Well, we want to play fast, right?” Harvey told Sportsnet last week. “We want competitive people. These kids are going to have roadblocks, they’re going to have ups and downs. It’s the kids that persevere to get through those roadblocks that are going to get a chance to get to the NHL.

“We kind of look for a player that that fits our mold. Obviously, we want skilled players; that’s the name of the game. But we also look for good, character people.”

Players drafted in the third round and beyond who eventually become NHL regulars are like found money for NHL organizations. They’re a bonus. But there’s more pressure on Harvey’s scouts to find those players in a draft when Vancouver doesn’t have first- and second-round picks.

This year’s first-rounder was surrendered to the Calgary Flames in the blockbuster rental acquisition of centre Elias Lindholm in January, while the second-round selection was given to the Chicago Blackhawks at the start of last season in the Jason Dickinson trade that provided some cap flexibility.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job here in the last couple of years of finding some guys who maybe weren’t top picks that might have a chance to play,” Harvey said. “We’ve got to keep doing that. I get what you’re saying, that we don’t have those high-end picks in the first or second round. But we’re putting pressure on ourselves to still find guys that are going to be valuable players.”

DRAFT PICKS

POTENTIAL ROUND 3 OPTIONS

Jack Pridham, RW, West Kelowna, BCHL

Ranked 65th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Pridham produced 48 points in 54 games in the BCHL and will be playing next season at Boston University as a teammate of 2023 first-round Canucks pick Tom Willander. Pridham is regarded as a smart player whose platform is built on strong, superior skating.

Christian Humphreys, C, USNDT

The five-foot-11 centre from Pittsburgh was a point-per-game player in the powerful U.S. development program. He has high hockey-IQ, two-way chops and potentially a higher offensive ceiling than what he has shown among higher-ranked teammates. Humphreys was 71st in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North Americans.

Gabriel Eliasson, D, HV71 Jrs, SWEDEN

The six-foot-seven defenceman is among the many mid-round wildcards who could be claimed significantly higher or lower than where Vancouver picks. He has Tyler Myers’ height, but nothing close to the Canuck’s offensive ability. But Eliasson is a wrecking ball on the ice, mobile for his size, and constantly in search of contact.

Alexander Zetterberg, C, Orebro Jrs, SWEDEN

There may not be two players in the draft more physically different than Eliasson and Zetterberg, who is just five foot seven. But like the towering defenceman, tiny Zetterberg is an intriguing wildcard. He is an offensive dynamo and one of the best skaters in the draft. He is ranked 30th among European skaters, one spot behind Eliasson.

LAST YEAR’S TOP PICK

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Selected 11th overall by the Canucks in 2023, Tom Willander had a solid, though unspectacular, freshman season at Boston University as the defenceman began his unconventional path towards the NHL from Sweden. An excellent skater with strong defensive instincts, Willander still managed 25 points in 38 games as Macklin Celebrini’s teammate at BU. And with Lane Hutson graduating this past spring to the Montreal Canadiens, Willander’s role in Boston should expand during his second season of college hockey. If Willander continues to develop and get stronger next season, he could be an NHL candidate in 2025-26 although at least one year in the American Hockey League is more likely.

ONE BOLD PREDICTION

Until July 1, the Canucks still own exclusive rights to highly regarded, impending free agents Elias Lindholm, Nikita Zadorov and Dakota Joshua. If the apparent standoffs in contract talks aren’t solved this week, look for Allvin to add another draft pick of two by trading negotiating rights. The Canucks won’t get back in the top two rounds doing this, but they could add another at-bat or two in the middle or later rounds.

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