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 owned seven picks early in each round. That changed after trading the second and fourth-round selections to the Florida Panthers, but who knows what will happen on draft day to get those back. 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.
Since Vancouver is missing their early second and fourth-round selections, the later rounds get even more important. One potential steal is OHL North Bay Battalion forward Justin Brazeau.
Name: Justin Brazeau
Position: Right Wing
Height, weight: 6’4”, 194 lbs
Team/League: North Bay Battalion, OHL
Stats (from eliteprospects.com):
NHL CSS Ranking: 179th (North American Skaters)
Risk, Reward: 1/5, 2.5/5
NHL-potential: Bottom-Six Winger
Draft Range: Seventh Round
“There’s just something there that intrigues me about Brazeau’s game and his overall potential. He was a quiet player in the early stages of the year, and while he maintained his role on the fourth line, he took his game to new heights. Filled with potential and has the ability to make an impact. He has the size and smarts to be an impactful depth power forward that has a nose for the net. Brazeau will need to spend time in the gym and work on his core strength and skating, but his commitment will pay off for himself and the team that lands him.” (Future Considerations Draft Guide)
Justin Brazeau is a player you might not have heard of, even if you are a fan of the Ontario Hockey League. Which definitely qualifies him to be considered a potential ‘diamond in the rough’. Brazeau is a raw talent who will need a long time to develop, but he can definitely be more than a bottom-six player if everything goes wright.
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Being a two-way power forward with great height at 6-foot-4, one could assume that Brazeau’s big strength — quite literally — is his physical play and puck protection. However, that is not what makes Brazeau valuable to his team. The right winger has a great understanding of the game, which might not be noticeable when you watch the game as a fan, but it is extremely noticeable when you just pay attention to him.
Brazeau gets in position very well, starting when his team has the puck in their own zone. He constantly offers himself as a passing option for the breakout and separates from his opponents to get open. In the offensive zone, he gets into open passing lanes or simply parks his body in front of the net. Following a turnover, he is quick to transition to the forecheck, and he has good positioning on the backcheck as well. Whether he is in the neutral zone or on defense, Brazeau finds ways to constantly interrupt the opposition’s pass attempts and force turnovers.
His 13 points in 65 games are certainly due to his usage on the bottom line. Brazeau won’t score highlight-reel goals, but he likes to stand in front of the net, screen the goalie and get to rebounds. A player for the dirty work, Brazeau could become a valuable player on a bottom six.
As seen in the image above, Brazeau sticks out with his size. Weighing in at 194 pounds, he should also be heavy enough to dominate physically on the junior level, but physicality is actually one of his big weaknesses. Brazeau needs some time in the gym, more confidence to use his body, and some good coaching to become the physical force he could be. Once he gets to that point, he will be a huge step closer to the NHL.
The missing physicality becomes apparent in many situations. Brazeau loses puck battles along the boards and in the corners, he gets knocked off the puck when he tries to drive to the net, and he isn’t too hard to push away when he is screening the goalie.
Another weakness is his skating. Brazeau gets around the ice decently, but he needs to improve his top speed and add some power skating to his summer schedule. He also needs to work on his starts and stops and balance. A strong-skating, physical power forward is much more likely to make the NHL than a lanky, weak, below-average skater.
Justin Brazeau has a lot of raw skill and the size to succeed. Adding some upper and lower-body strength to his body will work wonders. He tries to play a power-forward game but doesn’t succeed because of missing strength, making him more of a two-way player for the bottom six — which was his role with the Battalion this season.
Still, if he spends the next few summers in the gym and in the rink working on his skating, he could be a big-time steal in the seventh round. It is hard to judge how far strength can take him, but a player with his hockey sense and skill should be able to play a top-six role in the OHL once he is able to drive to the net like a Pierre-Luc Dubois. There is nothing Brazeau does not need to work on, but he has all the tools to make the big leagues one day.
In the seventh round, there is zero risk if the Vancouver Canucks — or any other team — decide to select him. He might become a bottom-six grinder, he could become a middle-six power forward, or he could never make it to the pros. Whichever scenario turns out to be true, there is no risk connected to a seventh-round pick.