2016—Olli Juolevi (selected 5th overall)
Here’s another draft pick that has polarized fans across Canucks Nation. Once again, I want to clarify that I think Olli Juolevi is a good prospect who likely become a good NHL player. At his absolute best, he could play on a level near Dan Hamhuis or Chris Tanev, both players who were number two defencemen. He won’t be aggressive, but I think he will be a quietly impressive player.
I understand why the Canucks wanted Juolevi. The team’s defence was terrible and had nothing in the pipeline at that point. Vancouver had not picked a defenceman in the first round for 11 years and maybe this was the time to do it. Juolevi, in a vacuum, is a good and reliable player.
However, the elephant in the room is his draft position and the players that Benning passed on to pick for positional need. During the 2015-16 season, I watched every game played by the London Knights. I got to watch Matthew Tkachuk and Olli Juolevi play every game. I watched them at the World Juniors and at the Memorial Cup.
Both players are very good, but Tkachuk was better. He could score goals, he would be ready for the NHL quickly and most of all, he could make plays. His “terrible” skating was grossly overblown. He wasn’t fast, but he would not lag behind in the NHL.
A team that lacked goal scoring since 2012 needed someone blessed with a lot of skill and high hockey sense. Juolevi had greater hockey sense, but Matthew Tkachuk is a more skillful and dominant player, especially below the hashmarks. He is going to score many goals for a long time in this league and it is part of the reason why I thought he was better than Juolevi.
Don’t forget about Keller
Tkachuk was the best player available at the time to me, but I see I have made a mistake with overlooking Clayton Keller. Playing in the U.S. Development Program, Keller’s draft year was the second-best season in the history of that program. Who was ahead of Keller? Auston Matthews in his 17-year-old season.
Keller oozes skill from every pore and his vision on the ice is some of the best I have seen. The one knock against him was his size. At 5-foot-10 and under 170 lbs, he was put in the same boat as Ehlers and Nylander. Once again, the NHL is learning what happens when you favour size over skill. How many more Johnny Gaudreau’s, Alex DeBrincat’s and Brayden Point’s will it take to dispel people from that notion.
Hockey sense, skill and speed are the most important attributes of hockey player in the modern NHL. Things like size, physical play and tenacity are just benefits. You don’t draft someone for their intangibles, you pick the most skilled players that are available.
Keller started off very strong, leading the rookie scoring race this season, before Brock Boeser and Mathew Barzal took over. Despite the slowing pace, I can see Keller being the best out of himself, Tkachuk and Juolevi.
This is yet another good example of why you don’t pick for position. Both forwards offered a lot of skill and goal-scoring that this team desperately needed. Sacrificing better players to address an organization need has deprived the team of yet another top six forward.