Canucks Draft Picks… the Early Years — As Bad as You Thought?

Mike Bossy

could have been a Vancouver Canuck. Image source: Joe Pelletier’s Greatest HockeyLegends

By 1980 The Canucks could have won a Stanley Cup.  Imagine a team with a  back end with the likes of Mark Howe, Randy Carlyle, Larry Robinson, Rod Langway and Ray Bourque pushing pucks up to Darryl Sittler, Steve Shutt, Lanny McDonald, Stan Smyl, Barry Pederson and Mike Bossy.  By 1984, the Canucks could have added Al MacInnis to the aging blue line, and Dave Andreychuk to replace the retiring Sittler.  If they played their cards right, Patrick Roy could have backstopped the team moving forward into the 90’s.

It could have been the Canucks and not the Oilers, Canadiens or Islanders that, by 1980 were a perennial dynastic cup favourite.

The early years of Canucks drafting tell a tale of a franchise learning how to assess NHL caliber players.  Many fans lament about being burned on the initial entry draft roulette wheel which cost the team consensus number one Gilbert Perreault, but considering the names that got away, fans are probably better off questioning the team’s scouting, especially in the early years.  The list of “should have drafted’s”  in the early days is enough to fill a wing in the Hockey Hall of Fame.Consider any one of the following scenarios and how they could have changed the Canucks’ fortune.

Draft Canucks Drafts Instead of? Analysis
1970D Dale Tallon (2nd) C Darryl Sittler TOR (8th) Couple of teams passed up on Sittler, and Tallon was an all-star. Not bad, but still.. Tallon only played three seasons for the team, while Sittler is Sittler.  Here begins the team’s search for a big Centre Iceman.  B-
1971C Bobby Lalonde (17th)Larry Robinson MTL (20th)With the first pick the Canucks actually picked Jocelyn Guevreemont, a Defenceman, at 2nd overall, but for the sake of comparison, Robinson and Lalonde were both 2nd rounders. Imagine Sittler and Robinson? Guess they figured that Tallon was enough.  C+
1972C Don Lever (2nd)LW Steve Shutt MTL (3rd)

LW Bill Barber PHA (7th)Too bad the Canucks figured that Wayne Maki was good enough at LW, otherwise they would have drafted one of these Hall of Famers.  Clearly the Lalonde pick wasn’t working for them.  Lever, a loyal Canuck, but no HOF’er. B+1973RW Dennis Ververgaert (3rd)RW Lanny McDonald TOR (4th)

LW Bob Gainey MTL (7th)Man, the Habs and the Leafs really had this Hall of Famer thing figured out, or the Canucks really didn’t.  Credit Vervegaert though.  He was ok.  B1974LW Ron Sedlbauer (23rd)

D Harold Snepsts (59th)LW Mark Howe (25th)I guess the Canucks figured that lightning couldn’t strike twice and avoided the son of “Mr. Hockey”.  Howe eventually converted to a D-man, Sedlbauer converted to a fourth liner.  Credit the Canucks in picking up Harold Snepsts really late in this draft. B-1975RW Rick Blight (10th)There are no Hall of Famers from the class of the ’75 NHL draft, and the available talent was weak.  This was the best pick for the Canucks.Rick Blight was the best pick the Canucks could have made in this really weak draft year.  He was a top scorer for the Canucks for a handful of years.  Sadly, Blight took his own life in 2005.  RIP Rick Blight, forever a Canuck. B1976D Bob Manno (26th)D Randy Carlyle TOR (28th) The Canucks give away a first rounder, and then decide Bob Manno is a better D man than a young kid oozing leadership in Randy Carlyle who wins Norris trophies, team captaincy, plays 1000 games and wins a Stanley Cup as a coach.  Carlyle would have helped more than the flakey Manno. Oh, and here’s another fine Toronto pick.  D1977LW Jere Gillis (4th)

D Jeff Bandura (22nd)RW Mike Bossy NYI (15th)

D Rod Langway MTL (36th)One crack at Bossy, and two at Langway, with needs at wing and D.  Gillis was a waste of a pick and Bandura was lucky to play even one game in the NHL while Gillis was a disappointment.  Loads of talent in this draft.  Another HOF pick for MTL and Bossy wins four cups on Long Island.  D1978C Bill Derlago (4th)

RW Stan Smyl (40th)Ken Linseman PHA (7th)In fairness to the ‘Nucks, how do you pass up a kid who scores nearly a hundred goals in one season of Junior?  Derlago injured his knee then was traded to the Leafs who reaped his best years.  The Leafs traded him because of his lack of work ethic, and Derlago’s career ended.  Linesman played a solid 15 years in the league and scored over 800 career points.  Smyl, meanwhile, was a steal at the 40th pick and an all-time Canuck, so, a good draft for the team.  As a side note, future Canucks GM was drafted in the first round but also had his career cut short due to injury.   A-1979RW Rick Vaive (5th)D Raymond Bourque BOS (8th)

LW Michel Goulet QUE (20th)The Vaive pick is actually quite a good one.  Can’t fault the scouts if the GM decides to trade him a year later for Dave “Tiger” Williams.  Still, do the Canucks have something against Quebecers?  How do you pass up on one of the greatest players of all time?  It’s not as if the team had an abundance of offensive defenseman. Rest of picks yield nothing, and Vaive plays 47 games as a Canuck. D1980D Rick Lanz (7th)

D Doug Lidster (133rd)C Barry Pederson BOS (18th)In fairness here, the Canucks just missed on a couple of players drafted ahead of Lanz like Denis Savard, Larry Murphy, and Paul Coffey, but considering their abominable trade of Cam Neely for Barry Pederson a couple years later, wouldn’t it have made sense to take a kid they already liked in Pederson?  It’s not like they had a lot of centres kicking around.  Lidster redeemed them, but the team had multiple opportunities to draft guys like Bernie Nicholls, Jari Kurri, Brent Sutter, Andy Moog and Steve Larmer in this deep draft.  C-1981D Garth Butcher (10th)

RW Jean-Marc Lanthier (53rd)

G Wendell Young (73rd)

F Petri Skriko (157th)

G Frank Caprice (178th)D Al MacInnis CGY (15th)

D Chris Chelios CHI (40th)

G Mike Vernon CGY (56th)

G John Vanbiesbrouck (72nd)Pretty simple choice here.  Butcher and fellow draftee at 11th D Randy Moller did one thing well.  Kill people.  Al MacInnis put the puck in the net.  The Canucks drafted a guy whose nickname was “The Strangler” over Hall of Famer MacInnis or Chris Chelios.  They had one pick in two rounds to pick either   I could have picked this one. As for the goalies, well, considering the Canucks identified a goaltending need this draft, wouldn’t it have made more sense to take one of Vernon or Vanbiesbrouck at 53rd?  Lanthier and Young hardly played an NHL season.  Skriko was a terrific pick, but does not redeem a bad strategy.  C+1982D Michel Petit (11th)C Dave Andreychuk BUF (16th)

D Gary Leeman TOR (24th)With only one pick in the first two rounds again, the Canucks avoid a 6’4 220 lbs. Centre with soft hands, and a gifted young offensive defenseman.  Petit played a long career as a journeyman depth defender.  D1983RW Cam Neely (9th)

RW Jay Mazur (231st)C Brian LawtonMIN (1st)

RW Sergei Makarov CGY (231st)We won a draft!  Finally, the Canucks draft a Hall of Famer!! Picking Mazur when teams were beginning to draft veteran Russians like Makarov was folly.  Just think how good it would have felt to have Larionov, Makarov and Bure on the same line?  Anyway… .we nailed it!  Cam Neely!  Way better than Brian Lawton.  Why did we trade him for Barry Pederson again? A 1984D J.J. Daigneault (10th)

LW Jeff Rohlicek (31st)

D Jeff Korchinski (115th)

D Jim Agnew (157th)RW Gary Roberts CGY (12th)

D Kevin Hatcher WAS (17th)

G Patrick Roy MTL (51st)

RW Brett Hull CGY (117th)

LW Luc Robitaille LA (171st)Apparently Canucks scouts didn’t get past the letter ‘J’ in the scouting reports.  This is the year Canucks brass is always fond of saying “but lots of teams passed up on these players!” True.  But there’s Montreal drafting another hall-of-famer, and Calgary with a third straight strong year of picks.  Also, if the intention was to trade Neely, then why not grab young Gary Roberts?  Strategy again.  D Total average score 1970-1984:  C

Next week:  The Middle Years and how Burke changed everything.