Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning revealed his intention to draft a defenceman at the 2016 NHL Draft earlier this month.
When Jim Benning talked to Vancouver Canucks season ticket holders — and kind of the rest of the world — at the two town hall meetings this month, he revealed his intention to select a defenceman at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He later elaborated that he wants to do what is best for the club, and that he only wants to go for defence if there is no forward available that is “too good to pass up.” With updated draft lottery odds, what does that mean for Vancouver?
For the longest time this season, it looked like the Canucks could make the playoffs. They had a great start into the season and spent a long time at second in the Pacific Division. Now nearing the end of the 2015-16 campaign, Vancouver actually ranks third-last — or third in the draft lottery standings. As of today, the Canucks would have an 11.5 percent chance at picking first overall.
If they managed to do that, there would be no way around selecting Zurich Lions forward Auston Matthews. The American phenom missed eligibility for the 2015 Draft by two days and most scouts say he would have been a top-three pick last year. He tore up the Swiss NLA with 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games and will be selected first overall no matter who owns that pick.
Going into the year, Sarnia Sting defenceman Jakob Chychrun was the consensus No. 2 pick. He was still ranked second in NHL Central Scouting‘s mid-term rankings, behind London Knights forward Matthew Tkachuk, but there is little doubt that two Finnish forwards will hear their names called before Chychrun on June 24th.
Tappara forward Patrik Laine and Oulun Karpat forward Jesse Puljujarvi round out a top-three group at this year’s draft which is followed by a small, yet noticeable drop-off. Laine and Puljujarvi are the kind of forwards Benning was likely referring to when he talked about guys being “too good to pass up.”
Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi are all good enough to get at least a nine-game try-out in the NHL next season — plus, playing in Europe, they will all be eligible to play in the American Hockey League.
Now, if the Canucks end up with the fourth-overall selection, picking a D-man would certainly be justifiable. Chychrun is still up there, but a case can be made for Olli Juolevi of the London Knights (5th NA skater, NHL CSS) and Mikhail Sergachev of the Windsor Spitfires (10th NA skater, NHL CSS) as well.
Let’s take a look at scouting reports for all three players from EliteProspects.com.
"An unyielding two-way defenceman, Jakob Chychrun is a rising star with a toolbox bursting at the seams. Consistently displays elite four-way skating ability and is not afraid to throw his weight around physically. Plays with poise and composure through high pressure situations and, with the puck on his stick, can direct the play up-ice. Exhibits a particularly potent shot that works its magic on the power play and on the forecheck. Excellent first pass and uses his vision and awareness to keep the puck moving in the direction of the opposition’s tail or to a teammate with more time and space. Defensively adept at tracking the puck and staying a step ahead of the opposition. Proactive with his stick and body, exerting pressure on the opposition and forcing them to make hurried decisions.All-in-all, a well-rounded two-way defender that competes with pro-level drive and makes his authoritative presence felt at both ends of the ice. (Curtis Joe, EP 2016)"
"A competitive spark-plug, Olli Juolevi is a complete, all-around defenceman that can hem the opposition in their own end or make things difficult for the opposition at home; either way, he puts the pressure on and lays it on thick. A strong and balanced skater, he can rush the puck through the neutral zone with ease or backcheck with haste. Uses his size to his advantage, but knows his physical limits and plays within them. Instead of playing overly physical, he makes his presence felt by exhibiting his high-end playmaking ability and puck possession play. All-in-all, a well-rounded blueliner who thrives under pressure and can be trusted in all situations. (Curtis Joe, EP 2016)"
"A dominant two-way defenceman whose tenacity and competitiveness characterize his style of play. Plays with a poise and confidence that facilitates his creativity with the puck as well as split-second decision making. Naturally fluid skater who is always looking to be engaged, if not the center, of each unfolding play. All-in-all, a diligent two-way defenceman who excels at finding ways to be a difference-maker in games. (Curtis Joe, EP 2016)"
As noted before, Chychrun was the consensus No. 2 pick going into the season. A simple explanation could be his physical state coming into the league — Chychrun was “25 percent further than any other player” on the Sting, according to head coach Trevor Letowski. Chychrun followed that up with a stellar rookie season, justifying any No. 2 rank he has got.
At the time, Juolevi was playing junior hockey in Finland while Sergachev played in Russia. Both made the jump to North America in 2015 and had seasons just as good as Chychrun’s. Players in Europe’s junior leagues often get ranked lower than those in North America, because it is much harder for scouts to compare.
Related: Canucks Top 10 Prospect Rankings
Today, many scouts actually see Juolevi ahead of Chychrun, especially since Juolevi won a gold medal with Team Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championship in his hometown, Helsinki, Finland.
So, there are three very good defencemen available at the draft. If the Canucks fall to fourth, you do not need to worry about them reaching for a defenceman, because Chychrun and Juolevi might actually be the best players available after Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi.
If the Canucks end up picking in the top three, you probably have no need to worry either. Benning said he will draft a forward if he is “too good to pass up,” and Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi are exactly that.
One last possibility for the Canucks at No. 2 or 3 would be to trade down — but how often do we actually see that in happen in the NHL?
Drafting Chychrun or Juolevi instead of Laine or Puljujarvi while getting an additional draft pick in return might not be the worst scenario, but it is a move that is attached to a lot of risk that Benning might be unwilling to take. Furthermore, you really cannot go wrong with either Laine or Puljujarvi, and the Canucks would probably be best off staying where they are once the draft order unfolds.
Then again, it is Jim Benning we are talking about, so who knows.