There’s always the power of prayer.
If you’re the Vancouver Canucks’ hockey operations department, how else do you prepare for the lottery draft on Saturday? Tarot cards? A psychic? After all, the draft simulator can drive you nuts.
With a 12.1 per cent chance of securing the first overall pick when it’s revealed on Hockey Night in Canada, only the Colorado Avalanche have a better shot with 18 per cent odds. The Canucks also have a 35.2 per cent chance of picking in the top three, but they could also fall three spots to No.5. Their odds for the second through fifth picks are 11.8, 11.3, 34.0 and 30.7 per cent, respectively.
Last year, the Canucks slipped from third to fifth, and despite a dire need to improve their scoring and compete level chose defenceman Olli Juolevi over feisty winger Matthew Tkachuk. This year, regardless of where they pick, there are at least five centres that merit consideration to eventually bolster the first line.
And while they’re not of the Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid instant-impact vintage, there’s plenty of punch and potential in centres Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Cody Glass, Gabriel Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, Martin Necas and centre/winger Elias Pettersson.
The curveball in all this is if the Canucks slip to fifth again. They might look at continuing to bolster their back end — especially with Nikita Tryamkin bolting back to the Kontinental Hockey League — and draft one of the two top-rated defencemen in Timothy Liljegren and Cale Makar. A potential first-pairing defenceman is more valuable than a projected second-line centre and acquiring a blue-chip blueliner on the open market or in a trade is extremely costly.
Then again, the Canucks must address their first-line succession plan. Henrik Sedin will be 37 next fall and has a year remaining on his contract. Twenty-two-year-old Bo Horvat has surpassed Brandon Sutter and while there are centres on the horizon in Jonathan Dahlen and Adam Gaudette, they don’t have that first-line dynamic.
As much as draft pundits will predict what the Canucks should and shouldn’t do in the first round — especially if they target a centre — Shane Malloy knows what they could land. He’s the author of The Art of Scouting and co-host of Hockey Prospects Radio on Sirius XM, NHL Network Radio and TSN Radio.
Malloy recently returned from scouting the Under-18 world championship tournament. Here is his take on centres of attention for the Canucks:
1. Nolan Patrick (Brandon, WHL, 6-foot-3, 198 pounds)
The stats: GP: 33, G: 20, A: 26, PTS: 46
The skinny: “My only concern with Patrick is you have to make sure the sports hernia is not going to be a long-term issue. But other than that, I have no concerns. I know speed and skill are in vogue in the NHL, but size matters and he’s going to end up playing at 215 or 220 pounds. When you can produce and play in traffic like he can, can you envision having Nolan Patrick as a No. 1 and Bo Horvat as a No. 2 down the road?”
2. Nico Hischier (Halifax, QMJHL, 6-foot, 174 pounds)
The stats: GP: 57, G: 38, A: 48, PTS: 86
The skinny: “He’s very intelligent and what I like about him is that he’s an efficient player. The plays he makes are NHL transferable and at a real high percentage. What he does best is that he changes his speed based on the situation and attacks the neutral zone and offensive zone at different angles consistently. It throws forwards and defencemen off on how to gap control him because he can make plays at speed. But he’s going to need time (to fill out) and you can’t bring him into the NHL now because he won’t survive.”
3. Cody Glass, (Portland, WHL, 6-foot-2, 179 pounds)
The stats: GP: 69, G:32, A:62 PTS: 94
The skinny: “He’s the most efficient and productive 5-on-5 player in the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) for this draft. Over 70 per cent of his points come 5-on-5 and that’s exceptionally good. You put a big star beside that when you start to grade levels of work. And 45 per cent of his points were on the road and that’s excellent. He needs to fill out, but his dad is 6-foot-5 and built like a truck and his brother is 6-foot-7.”
4. Gabriel Vilardi (Windsor, OHL, 6-foot-2, 193 pounds)
The stats: GP: 49 G:29, A:32, PTS: 61
The skinny: “It’s what style of centre do you want? Vilardi is going to play a power game. His first two or three steps need to be quicker and better to create time and space, but he’s big and solid.”
5. Martin Necas (Brno Kometa, Czech, 6-foot, 167 pounds)
The stats: GP: 41, G:7, A:8, PTS: 15
The skinny: “He can handle the pace but needs time to get stronger, but it’s his ability to play at speed and make plays at speed. That’s a skill set that’s underappreciated and he’s already playing against men.”
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Casey Mittlestadt (Eden Prairie, Minn., USHSW), Elias Pettersson (Timra, Sweden).
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