Vancouver Canucks: An excellent prospect pool is not everything

Sweden's Elias Pettersson (C) is congratulated by teamates after scoring a goal during the group A match Sweden vs France of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 7, 2018. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Sweden's Elias Pettersson (C) is congratulated by teamates after scoring a goal during the group A match Sweden vs France of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 7, 2018. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images) /

The Canucks have a great prospect pool. Of that there is little doubt. However, that by itself is not enough. Prospects are important, but they are not the only thing a team needs to look for.

Of the few things Jim Benning has going for him, time and time again the prospect pool gets placed on a pedestal. The Vancouver Canucks have a great prospect pool. I have never said otherwise. It definitely is a top-10 pool in the league and if Elias Pettersson were to not graduate to the NHL this season, I could see the argument for the top five.

I get it. With all the losing over the last three years, this is what gets fans excited. Hope is what will put people in the seats and it can feel like everyone is far too negative. Prospects are that glimmer of positivity and perhaps you don’t want to any negativity in your life. Maybe it’s a good time to turn back now.

All kidding aside, the prospect pool is a good thing about this team. However, I’m of the opinion that your prospects are not where the work ends. If anything, it’s only the beginning. Thanks to how the draft works, the worst teams get to pick near the top each round. Of course the lottery muddles things in the first round, but finishing last means picking first in each successive round (assuming you still have your league-assigned selections).

Prospect pools can help form your future core. It can also be squandered by poor management. Since hockey fans tend to have shorter memories, why don’t we look at a few top prospect pools from the past and see how they have done today?

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Assembling the pool

Building a good prospect pool is not difficult when the team sucks. But, you still have to give credit to all of the amateur scouts that have shaped this pool for the last four years. I will give Jim Benning credit where it is due: the first round, where every General Manager in this league does their work at the draft.

There are only two Canucks selections from Benning’s first four drafts firmly on the team, both who were found in the first round. Two more selections play for other NHL squads and we are waiting on the hopefuls from the last two drafts.

I guess we need to figure how much time is appropriate to judge a prospect pool. Let’s use six years. By then, the prospects you acquired first are around 24 years old (entering prime years) and that length of time is sufficient to build up a decent team.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the same source to rank prospect pools then and now, but the point is not to see the change in ranking. We just want to look at where the top five from 2012 is today. And perhaps that may shed some light on where 2024 could go for the Vancouver Canucks.

2012 to the present

Hockey’s Future may not be around anymore, but luckily, their old rankings have been archived. This site was famous for providing information on prospects, ranking their abilities and determining tiers of players.

People used to know what a generational player was, but that definition has been muddied to the point that every team’s top prospect can seem like one of those. However, that’s a discussion for another time. Don’t worry, Canucks fans are from the first group to incorrectly state that their prospect is generational. There’s a certain team out East that is guilty of this too.

In the fall of 2012, Hockey’s Future ranked these teams’ prospect pools in the top five:

  1. Minnesota Wild
  2. Florida Panthers
  3. Edmonton Oilers
  4. Ottawa Senators
  5. St. Louis Blues

What a time 2012 was. The Oilers still had all three of their players taken first overall. Minnesota had a scary future blue line and top six and Jacob Markstrom was a top prospect. As Jason Botchford says, “Life moves fast.”

That list isn’t all doom and gloom. Florida looks poised to be much better next season, despite Dale Tallon’s efforts to dismantle everything for his petty ego. St. Louis made some rebuilding moves last season and have a pretty deep pool, even though they lack a Pettersson-level prospect.

But look at the other three franchises. All three poorly run by terrible managers and one of them has the best player in the NHL. Looking specifically at the Oilers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wasn’t even part of the pool since he graduated to the NHL. And if Oscar Klefbom is moved, every prospect listed in their top five at the time will be gone.

Ottawa is in a dysfunctional mess thanks to poor management and terrible ownership. That team is being bled for assets, left, right and centre. And Minnesota just makes you feel bad. Their prospects made the NHL, but they are still a mediocre team. Why? Poor management that was complacent, passive and unable to add game-breaking talent to the lineup.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

If you were wondering, that’s the fate I fear the most from this group of Canucks. Vancouver certainly has better high-end talent, but they aren’t exactly deep in it either. That is the largest reason why I put a warning on bragging about the Canucks’ future. It will get better six years from now. But how much better will be the key.

I have said this before. In goal, the Canucks are fine. It’s far too early to award Vezina trophies to Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro, but I’m not as worried about what we have in net. The Canucks could still use game-breaking talent for their future top six and having an insurance number one centre is still a good idea. Defence will continue to be a struggle until the team learns how to stop wasting assets on terrible pros. Having one potential game-breaker in Quinn Hughes and a very good prospect in Olli Juolevi is not enough.

There is so much more to constructing a team than building the prospect pool. You can see how those five teams are not at the top of the league at the moment, yet Canucks fans expect their team to be exactly that by 2024. I don’t want this team to be mediocre; to see our younger stars peak as a second round playoff team.

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But that’s what in store if we don’t come back down to Earth. Ultimately, a good team is built on several moving parts. You can’t draft your way out of poor management. Properly assessing your team and adding exactly what they need is a critical skill. None of the managers from those top five pools remotely had that. But hey, as long as the team continues to be awful, we can keep adding good players to the pool. I think fans deserve a good team on the ice, but I guess we just have to keep settling for a theoretical one.