Canucks Should Consider Trading Down at 2017 NHL Draft

Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning announces Jake Virtanen (not pictured) as the number six overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning announces Jake Virtanen (not pictured) as the number six overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks have good chances of winning a top-three draft pick this year, but they could also end up moving back a few spots.

In 2016, the Vancouver Canucks seemed destined for a top-three draft pick. After finishing 28th in the league standings in the 2015-16 season, fans had big dreams — Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine on the top line. That would have been great.

Today, we know none of that happened. The draft lottery saw Vancouver dropping to fifth overall. Matthews is a 40-goal scorer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Laine tallied 36 for the Winnipeg Jets. The Canucks, meanwhile, finished 29th in the league — worse than last year.

On the bright side, the Canucks will have a 12.1 percent chance of winning the first-overall pick and a 35.3 percent chance of picking at least third overall. The worst that could happen would be another drop to fifth.

So far so good. Why would they trade that pick?

I want to make one thing clear here before you feel fooled later on: If the Canucks stay in the top two, they should simply pick Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier (you can check out their player profiles here and here), whichever one is left after the Colorado Avalanche’s selection. If they drop to third or further, however, they should seriously shop their pick.

The Canucks have stated they want to look for a top-line centre as well as an offensive defenceman at the 2017 draft. What if they could get both, and get them early?

Available Players

At this point, scouting services have established two tiers at the top. Patrick tops every major service’s rankings as the No. 1 because of his consistent play over the past three years. Hischier follows as No. 2 on every major ranking, as he had an absolutely outstanding 2016-17 campaign. Grant McCagg, who is in frequent contact with NHL scouts, even has Hischier at No. 1 in his rankings on (although his rankings may be trying to generate exposure for his new site more than anything).

Behind that, however, opinions are divided.

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While have American forward Casey Mittelstadt at three, Mittelstadt is only fifth on ISS Hockey‘s rankings and seventh on Future Considerations and ISS Hockey have Gabriel Vilardi at three, McKeen’s have Michael Rasmussen heading the second tier of first-round prospects.

Other examples include Elias Petersson, ranked fifth by and 16th by ISS Hockey, or Martin Necas, ranked sixth by and 10th by everyone else.

Then there are potential surprise picks like Cody Glass, whom TSN’s Craig Button has going to the Vegas Golden Knights third overall in his recent mock draft but who’s ranked anywhere between seventh and 16th by the major scouting services.

Long story short, if the Canucks fall out of the top two spots, they will have a large pool of players to choose from. Especially if you factor in the top defencemen Cale Makar, Timothy Liljegren and Miro Heiskanen, who are all potential top-five picks as well.

There are at least 10 players who could go off the board third overall and, if you do the math, it’s clear that some of them will still be available later on.

Trading Down

You may argue that top-10 picks rarely get traded. If they do, it usually happens at the trade deadline before teams know where they will actually end up. Plus, if there are so many players of similar quality available, teams won’t feel the need to invest picks to pick higher, right?

Well, one could argue in the other direction as well.

If a team picks fifth or seventh or tenth, but has one player they particularly like and want in their organisation, they know very well that the given player might not make it to their slot. So, to make sure they are guaranteed to get him, they have to move up.

But if the Canucks feel somewhat indifferent about, say, Vilardi, Mittelstadt, Glass and Pettersson, they might be happy to get an offer to move down to fifth or sixth and get an additional pick on top.

GET YOUR DRAFT FIX: 2017 NHL Draft Profile Overview

There are more than a few writers and analysts who have created models valuing NHL draft picks, and they have all come to similar conclusions. Looking at the model created by Eric Tulsky in 2013, the third-overall pick has approximately the same value as, for example, sixth and 30th.

Transferring that to the 2017 draft, the New Jersey Devils are a trade partner that could work. The Devils are slated to pick fifth and also own the 36th selection. According to Tulsky’s model that is a fair trade, or at least one that matches draft-pick deals executed in the past. The Canucks might even be able to snag a late-round pick as well.

Now, with the 33rd and 36th selections, the Canucks have two early shots at either another forward or the offensive defenceman they want. Options here include Henri Jokiharju (check out his player profile here) and Conor Timmins.

The Decision

Decisions like this one are never easy. Even if the decision is made, you still need to find a trade partner who’s decided to move up, and one who owns the necessary draft picks to execute the move.

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For a team to trade up, it takes a lot of trust in the scouting staff. Moving from 20th to 16th, like the Arizona Coyotes did in 2016 to draft D-man Jakob Chychrun, is risky enough. The move might have worked out for the Coyotes, but doing the same thing in the top-10 or even top-five range is much more risky, mostly due to the higher price.

Furthermore, the Canucks must decide what players they would use an early first-round selection on. If they only have one or two players besides Patrick and Hischier that they like, they won’t risk missing out on them.

If they like all or at least two or three of Mittelstadt, Vilardi, Glass, Petersson, Necas, Rasmussen, Liljegren and Makar to an equal extent, however, they should definitely consider it.

The Canucks don’t just have one hole to fill. They need prospects on every position, and they don’t own enough picks to stock up quickly. If they miss out on the top-two players in this year’s draft, they should make an effort to improve their prospect depth.

Next: 5 Things We Learned from 2016-17

Plus, Vancouver isn’t unlikely to finish in the bottom three again next season, but the 2018 draft promises to have some elite talent available at the top. Andrei Svechnikov, Rasmus Dahlin, Joseph Veleno, Brady Tkachuk, Ryan Merkley and Quinton Hughes are only a few of the names that could end up being elite NHL players; and aside from Svechnikov, they all fulfil Vancouver’s centre-defence wishes.

So, a trade down could certainly help the Canucks and won’t be their last shot at a first-line centre or top-pairing defenceman.