Vancouver Canucks: The 2019 draft could signal the rebuild’s end

ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 19: Team Leopold forward Jack Hughes (21) looks on during the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game between Team Leopold and Team Langenbrunner on September 19, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. Team Leopold defeated Team Langenbrunner 6-4.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 19: Team Leopold forward Jack Hughes (21) looks on during the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game between Team Leopold and Team Langenbrunner on September 19, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. Team Leopold defeated Team Langenbrunner 6-4.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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With so much time invested in this rebuild, the Vancouver Canucks have assembled several pieces. If fortune goes their way, the end is in sight at the 2019 draft.

What’s this? A little Vancouver Canucks optimism from me? As much as I disagree with how we are getting there, the Canucks are in some form of a rebuild. It may not be efficient and is full of avoidable mistakes, but a transition is happening.

That’s where this year becomes important. Most of us have written off the season on the assumption that the fourth consecutive year of pain-fifth if you felt the Canucks were better off tanking in 2014-15-will pay off in the form of a high draft pick.

During the 2015-16 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs bottomed out and won the draft lottery to select Auston Matthews first overall. Leaf fans will never admit this, but Patrik Laine was a lot closer to Matthews than he was to the next group behind him. There are similarities between the top two players in 2016 compared to 2019, which is why we are putting on our hypothetical caps on and exploring the opportunity the Canucks have with a top two selection.

Laine and Matthews are elite first-line talents and were the final pieces that replaced the expectation of losing with winning. Being gifted someone similar could be essential for the Canucks and that is the point being made here.

Is this really the end?

Looking at this season, Jack Hughes was supposed to sit in that number one spot and he could likely be there on draft day. However, he is not alone anymore in consideration for first overall. Kaapo Kakko is grabbing everybody’s attention early, nearly registering a point-per-game pace in Liiga.

Now, it’s early, but for the time being it does not seem like the gap between the two players is very wide. It took Laine about half a season to bridge the gap with Matthews, so the draft years are not identical. But the point of the matter is that top pick for Toronto effectively ended their rebuild.

Were the Maple Leafs a perfect team after? Of course not. Their defence is still a work in progress and their Achilles’ Heel. Toronto has defensive prospects on the way, but their forward group with the newly signed John Tavares will have to do much of the heavy lifting for now.

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But since Toronto is often used as a point of comparison by myself and others, the Canucks can follow a similar path. By building up their forward group, the Canuck will not have to perpetually rely on mediocrity to acquire high end talent at the draft. The defence won’t be completely rebuilt, but this is a fair compromise, given the time wasted in trying to compete for the last five years. If ownership wants that fast rebuild, this is how you get there.

Throughout this rebuild, successes have largely skewed towards forwards. They have extracted very interesting top six talents in Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser and definitely have a future franchise player in Elias Pettersson.

There are a list of things that the team lacks for the future, but one of the biggest talking points is an elite, number one centre. That player is not Bo Horvat. I’m sorry, I like him a lot, but Horvat does not have the ceiling to fulfill that need. Pettersson could be that guy.

I used to be very hesitant in handing him the top line centre role, but the preseason helped soften some of those concerns. It’s a small sample and we will have to see how he holds up after a full NHL season, but early results have been very good.

Canucks can’t go wrong with a top two selection

I know Canucks fans want to see the Hughes brothers united in Vancouver. It would be the perfect story to have one pair of brothers pass the torch to the next generation. And don’t get me wrong, I would love to have Jack Hughes on this team. I have no issue with moving Pettersson to the wing in that scenario.

But, with Pettersson in the lineup, you can justify adding an elite player like Kaapo Kakko to his wing. With either player, you would have most of the top six constructed and slot in the temporary stop gaps until the right prospects arrive.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s good enough to become a legitimate playoff team instead of a pretender. Hughes and Kakko can both step into the NHL for the 2019-20 season. All of this is highly dependent on luck, which is not something the Canucks are rich with.

But I think the point stands. We are at a place where most of our top six can take shape with just one more elite piece. I would prefer two, but we can’t be greedy here. Although, becoming Stanley Cup contenders is another story. However, you should be aware of something. Most of us on Team Tank will start cheering for wins again if this happens. It wasn’t hard to convert angry Leafs fans after Matthews arrived.

Next. Bo Horvat is starting off well with the media. dark

Why? Because the games became watchable. There replacement level players and awful contracts were moved out or made to go away. The organization learned to get over themselves and brought in people willing to take real steps forward instead of clinging to the old way of doing things. Is luck a big factor? Sure. But we also want to see a competent plan in place. Something a little more than draft and develop because every team in this league does that. Deliver on something meaningful and the trust will be earned back from our section of the fanbase.