Now that the draft lottery has come and gone and the Vancouver Canucks have dropped in the order once again, the discussion has turned to who they should select with their 10th overall pick.
The Canuck Way will be doing a series on potential draft selections for the Vancouver Canucks in the weeks leading up to the June draft, but I would like to make an exception for one player that has been generating plenty of buzz in Canuck-land since the lottery: Victor Söderström.
As soon as the results of the lottery became known, plenty of pundits and fans alike began jumping aboard to Söderström to Canucks hype train. TSN’s Craig Button projected the Canucks to select the Swedish defenceman in his immediate post-lottery mock draft, and The Province’s Ben Kuzma described him as a “prototypical, new-age defenceman.” However, I am not yet sold on Söderström as a fit for the current rebuild, and I can explain why.
When analyzing a potential draft pick, it is important to consider whether the player (a) is an exceptional talent compared to his peers, (b) fits any particular organizational need, and (c) supersedes any other organizational need. When it comes to Söderström, my answer to all three questions is no.
Söderström is best described as a stay-at-home defenceman. He is not known for his offensive gifts, posting just four goals and seven points for Brynäs IF of the Swedish Men’s Hockey League (SHL) in 2018-19, according to eliteprospects.com. While his right-handed shot is considered to be accurate and efficient, it is not particularly powerful or dangerous. Should the Canucks select the Swede, he would likely peak at no more than 25 points per season.
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Where Söderström is said to be talented is in his own zone as well, best described as a stay-at-home defencemen, but the numbers backing up this assessment are worrisome. This past season, his rookie year in the SHL, he finished -11. While it is not uncommon for rookies in any league to put up less than stellar numbers, Söderström’s defensive numbers were last among SHL U20 defencemen, suggesting that significant improvement is necessary.
The real strength in Söderström’s game is his transitional play. He is excellent at carrying the puck out of his own zone and into that of the opposition. He is a great skater, excelling on his edges, and with a hockey IQ through the roof. All-in-all, Söderström projects to be a solid top-four defender in the NHL, with a list of comparables including Cam Fowler and Jared Spurgeon. Admittedly, I have no complaints about his transitional game, but this brings me to my next question: do the Canucks need him?
Over the past few years, we have grown accustomed to assuming that that the team’s top priority is rebuilding its defensive core. These past two seasons have most definitely made it clear that the current D-core is not up to par, but this perspective has obscured the fact that our defensive future is actually pretty solid. We have Quinn Hughes leading the bunch, looking like a franchise defender after the hot start to his career. Troy Stecher elevated his game this season, handling heavy minutes and power play time, showing that he can be part of the defensive core for years to come.
In the pipeline, Jett Woo’s draft-plus-one season for the Moose Jaw Warriors was exceptional, and he looks as though he is ready to step into the NHL within the next year or two. While Olli Juolevi no longer has the top pairing potential of 2016, he can still develop into a second-pair d-man. Furthermore, both Stecher and Woo are right-side defencemen, creating a top-four of Hughes-Woo and Juolevi-Stecher in just a few years.
Even if one of these guys fails to pan out, the core is still strong. On the Canucks, Söderström’s offensive and defensive play resembles that of Juolevi and Stecher, and his transitional play is similar to that of Hughes and Woo. If anything, the Canucks need more defensive scoring, there is no particular need for him to slot in, especially if it would force either Stecher or Woo to be bumped or traded.
With a core like this, the Canucks have greater priorities than defence. One of the Canuck Way’s takeaways from the 2018-19 season was that the Canucks need secondary scoring and highly skilled wingers to play with Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, beyond just Brock Boeser. General manager Jim Benning did a good job with his midseason trades for wingers Tanner Pearson and Josh Leivo.
Both slotted into the lineup perfectly and produced well, with Pearson scoring nine goals in his nineteen games after the Trade Deadline. In all likelihood, both Pearson and Leivo will be part of this offensive core for a long time, but there is no guarantee that these hot stretches were more than blips on the radar. Antoine Roussel and Jake Virtanen both had breakout seasons, but the sustainability of their play is highly questionable.
After the fourth overall selection, the 2019 draft class is considered to be highly level and open-ended. A plethora of forwards are projected to go in the top-15, and even if players like Trevor Zegras and Peyton Krebs are taken by the time the Canucks reach the stage at Rogers Arena, the likes of Arthur Kaliyev, Kirby Dach, Alex Turcotte, and many more could very well be available.
The Canucks need offence, and this year is a golden opportunity that Benning and co. would be remiss not to seize. Selecting a non-franchise defencemen like Söderström would just be a huge missed opportunity, and in a short amount of time, the Canucks could be ridiculed for their selection, just as they were for drafting Juolevi over Matthew Tkachuk.
I have nothing against Söderström personally. He most likely will make a good NHL defenceman. His style of play just doesn’t fit with the Canucks’ rebuild. We have already built up a solid defensive prospect pool, but at this point, selecting a player of his style in the first round would be counter-productive. In any other year, I would say yes, but this time around, the Canucks should opt for scoring above all else.