The Vancouver Canucks are using the final games of the season to improve their lottery odds, but that will not simplify their draft decisions.
A recent three-game winning streak through games against the Pacific Division’s top teams forced the Vancouver Canucks down the 2016 Draft Lottery standings. They responded with big losses against two of the worst teams in the division, 2-6 against the Edmonton Oilers and 3-7 against the Calgary Flames, but that will not make draft day any easier.
In other words, if Vancouver ends up being one of the lottery winners, picking in the top three of the draft, they will select one of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. Picking Matthew Tkachuk fourth overall would also be possible. If they fall out of the top four, they will go for a defenceman, namely Jakob Chychrun or Olli Juolevi.
Unfortunately, that plan sounds much easier than it really is.
Going into the season, Matthews was the consensus No. 1 prospect with Chychrun being a close second.
As the season went on, the Finnish duo Laine-Puljujarvi did not only make their way into the early first round, but they passed Chychrun in most rankings and now form a top three with Matthews that is followed by a rather large drop-off in talent.
Now that the season is coming to a close, things are changing once more.
While the consensus No. 1 pick Auston Matthews is enjoying an early summer break, Patrik Laine is lighting up the Finnish Liiga playoffs. So far, Laine has five goals and seven points in nine postseason games, and he is making sure everyone knows he is no less talented than Matthews.
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At 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, Laine combines outstanding size with good skating, great hands and an elite shot. He drives the net, uses his body, and projects to be an elite power forward at the NHL level.
Laine had 17 goals and 33 points in 46 regular-season games for Tappara this season, his first full year at the professional level.
Matthews, on the other hand, is an elite offensive centre who will be able to jump into the NHL and make a difference starting next season. Frequently labelled a generational talent, he is likely still No. 1 on most scouts’ lists.
Behind that duo, we have Puljujarvi, another pro winger who is having an outstanding season with Liiga club Karpat Oulu. He, too, is thriving in the playoffs, where he is currently facing Laine’s Tappara in the semi finals.
One of Laine’s big advantages over Puljujarvi, who boasts a similarly impressive frame at 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, is his elite-level shot and release. However, Puljujarvi’s three goals in six playoff games show he knows how to score.
In Game 4 of the Liiga semi-final match-up, Karpat took a 2-0 lead, Laine tied the game up with two tallies, before Puljujarvi got the game-winner for Karpat — to tie the series at two. The draft in a nutshell.
Related: Picking Defence at 2016 NHL Draft
This year’s top three could be Matthews-Laine-Puljujarvi, it could be Matthews-Puljujarvi-Laine, and it could be Laine-Matthews-Puljujarvi. At the end of the day, every team in the top three will have to face a tough decision.
Then you take a look at the North American No. 1 skater, Matthew Tkachuk, and his 30 goals and 107 points this season, and you know it does not get any easier behind the consensus top three. Add Chychrun and Juolevi to the mix, and you might just want to make someone else decide for you.
That said, picking between Tkachuk, Chychrun and Juolevi is in no way easier than making a decision on Matthews, Laine and Puljujarvi.
Whether the Canucks pick first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth, they will have an extremely tough decision to make.
Benning’s plan sounded easy, but it certainly is not.