The Vancouver Canucks are preparing for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft — and so are we.
Unfortunately, the 2015-16 season was cut short for the Vancouver Canucks, which means we have a long offseason ahead of us. Canucks GM Jim Benning and his staff will use the time to prepare next season’s roster, and the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will certainly play an important part in that process.
Vancouver started off strong in the fall of 2015 but ended the season with a thud. Thanks to their abysmal 28th rank in the league standings, the Canucks own seven picks early in each round. Benning did a great job in his first two years at the job and another successful draft could certainly help boost the rebuild.
Here at The Canuck Way, we will do our best to prepare you for the upcoming event by profiling as many draft-eligible players as we possibly can. Keep in mind that we are not saying these are players the Canucks are targeting. Instead, these are players that we think the Canucks could or should have interest in.
With all eyes on top-three prospect Jesse Puljujärvi, we want to take a look at another promising prospect from the Kärpät Oulu organization — junior forward Janne Kuokkanen.
Name: Janne Kuokkanen
Height, weight: 6’1”, 179 lbs
Team/League: Kärpät Oulu U20, Jr. A SM-Liiga
Stats (from eliteprospects.com):
NHL CSS Ranking: 20th (European Skaters)
Risk, Reward: 3/5, 3.5/5
NHL-potential: Top-Six Forward
Draft Range: Late Second to Third Round
"Quick footed Finn pivot who drove the offensive attack for his nation at the U17s. Capable of holding onto the puck under pressure, Kuokkanen shows an ability to wait for soft spots to open and teammates to arrive. His competitive approach will certainly draw suitors. (McKeen’s Hockey, 2015)"
Janne Kuokkanen is a flashy forward whose understanding of the game is outstanding. The Finn always knows what to do with the puck and it seems like he has a plan before the puck even gets to him. He uses his vision to set himself and his teammates up for scoring chances, always waiting for the right time to make a play.
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Although he has 22 goals this season, Kuokkanen is a playmaker more than a scorer. He sees the ice very well and has a powerful, accurate pass that allows him to distribute the puck to his linemates.
Kuokkanen has smooth hands that help him get around defencemen and control the puck in tight spaces and under pressure. Even when he is pressured along the boards or in the corners, he finds a way to get a good pass off to a teammate.
Furthermore, Kuokkanen is aware of his defensive role, backchecks well, and uses his hockey IQ, positioning and an active stick to break up passing lanes.
At 6-foot-1, 179 pounds, Kuokkanen is not afraid of physical play. However, he does not exactly enforce it, to say the least. He doesn’t care much about being hit, but you won’t see him get very physical in the defensive zone.
A good skater overall, Kuokkanen could be more balanced on his skates, which would allow better puck protection in the corners and would certainly help the physical aspect as well.
Offensively, Kuokkanen seems a little afraid to use his shot. His wrist shot seems powerful and accurate but he could use it much, much more often. Instead, he opts for the pass whenever he can.
Janne Kuokkanen played two professional games this season. One in Finland’s second-tier league, scoring a goal and an assist, and one in the first-tier Liiga, scoring two goals. So, he can clearly produce at the professional level, even though two games are an extremely small sample size.
Looking at the NHL or even the AHL, however, his physical play might really be a concern. I don’t know the reasoning behind keeping him in juniors rather than letting him get professional experience in the second-tier Mestis or even the Liiga, but physicality might have been a reason here, too.
But, Kuokkanen is a terrific offensive player who will likely make the jump to the pros next season. Physical play can be learned and improved, and his frame is decent, so that should not hinder him from having a great professional career.
The Vancouver Canucks are all set at centre — and if they won the draft lottery, they most certainly would be — but by the time Kuokkanen could be NHL-ready, a lot will have happened. So, if GM Jim Benning wants to go for the best player available, Kuokkanen could be the one in the third round.