The NHL Entry Draft has always been important for the long-term success of a franchise but never has that been more true than the NHL's current iteration. The salary cap isn't keeping up with sky-rocketing salaries and teams are forced to use entry-level contracts just to compete. Go through the 30 NHL teams bottom-six forwards and 5/6 defensemen and see how many names you recognize.
GMs used to be much more gung-ho about trading picks for proven veterans. But now the situation has flipped. Veterans that aren't snapped up on July 1st face major paycuts and can be had for minimal financial and term commitment. The one-year, $1 million deal is becoming more popular for older players looking to play their way back into relevance.
Does your team draft well? My team hasn't for a long time. Vancouver has gotten lucky a few times in the past couple decades but arguably their greatest pick was actually 113th in 1989, for one Pavel Bure. This was a very unorthodox pick of course as Russian-NHL relations were even worse then than they are now, but Bure remains their most exciting if not greatest draft pick to this day.
Canuck fans were elated to hear that incoming GM Jim Benning was a 'draft guru'. Boston certainly had a talented enough group to crush our Stanley Cup dream so he seemed legitimate. A few months down the road however and fans aren't so excited. His odd signings and trades have done little to ease fan tension after a miserable and downright embarrassing showing in the playoffs. the most popular move so far has been the decision to bring the 'flying skate' retro jersey for one night.
But Benning is about the draft, and even though the best prospect Vancouver has (Bo Horvat) was drafted by the previous regime, there is still time before judgement can be fully made. Jake Virtanen was an exciting pick, both for his raw talent and the fact that he's local. How his development turns out is also years away from a conclusion.
That's why articles like this are so fun. We get to use hindsight to pore over the stats of every single draft pick. The real genius would be to find the magic formula of how a player performs in Junior translating to the NHL. Whomever figures that out will break the NHL, (if they have a good cap guy of course).
So lets put on our 20/20 goggles and hindsight the crap out of the mostly bad decisions Vancouver has made in the past 15 drafts!
15 2001 - R.J. Umberger (16th)
Brian Burke was the Canucks GM at the time and couldn't get a deal done with the highly touted prospect. Burke had offered Umberger less money than Kesler got in the same situation and that didn't sit well. For a few hundred thousand the Canucks were forced to trade a promising first-rounder for journeyman Martin Rucinsky. Umberger didn't exactly set the world on fire and actually ended up like the journeyman he was traded for, but it still looked bad at the time.
Re-Draft: R.J. Umberger
Umberger actually has the most career games and points out of anyone else picked after him in the first round so it was a pretty shrewd pick in hindsight. Burke's mis-handling of the situation is what could have improved. The Canucks got very little out of Rucinsky, and Umberger could have provided years of his solid versatile play or at the very least a better trade return after he had prove his NHL worth.
Mike Cammallerri was still on the board but didn't get picked until #49, which would have been wayyyyyy off the board for the Canucks.
14 2002 - Traded pick
To Vancouver: Trevor Linden, 2002 cond. 2nd round pick (Denis Grot)
To Washington: 1st round pick in 2002 (Boyd Gordon)
The Canucks brought back their favorite son and future President with this trade and didn't seem to lose too much in the process. Linden provided about the same production Gordon would have and had the added morale boost as a bonus.
Re-draft - Trade for Linden!
The next best bet after Gordon was Alex Steen (679 GP, 429 pts), a great player any team would love to have (except for Toronto for some reason). But this is Vancouver and Trevor Linden we're talking about. He had some productive seasons as a bottom six player with boatloads of leadership, and he even led them in playoff scoring one year. Steen is good, but not good enough to regret this trade.
13 2003 - Ryan Kesler (23rd)
Kesler was the heart and soul of Vancouver for years. He provided the win-at-all-costs killer instinct they had lacked for years. His work against Nashville in their 2011 Stanley Cup run was masterful. He led by example with his hard-nosed play, but unfortunately also contributed to Vancouver's reputation as whiny divers.
His departure from Vancouver turned ugly. After a disastrous season with Coach Tortorella, Kesler viewed the franchise as a sinking ship and the 'heart-and-soul' was unceremoniously ripped out. After ten great seasons, he quickly tarnished his image and legacy.
Re-draft - Corey Perry
Kesler was a great competitor for Vancouver but Perry is a franchise. His uncanny combination of goal scoring, physicality, and leadership is the envy of every other GM. And although Kesler played a gigantic role in eliminating Nashville in 2011 perhaps Perry could have put them over the top and finally brought a Cup to Canuck-land.
All speculation of course, but that's half the fun!
12 2004 - Cory Schneider (26th)
Schneider soon became the most highly touted backup in the league and it was assumed that he would take over for the beleaguered Luongo. This situation was completely bungled by inept GM Mike Gillis however, and Schneider was shockingly traded to Jersey for the pick that drafted Bo Horvat.
At the time it seemed like a shocking underpayment for a potential franchise goaltender, especially one that was in line to replace Martin Broduer in the Garden State. The Canucks eventually dealt Luongo as well and went from having two elite netminders to none in a hurry.
Re-draft - Corey Schneider
There isn't a clear-cut better option than Schneider in the first round, with Mike Green coming closest.
Bo Horvat's emergence in the second half of his rookie season has this pick and eventual trade looking like a stroke of genius. Horvat looks to be the future number-one center in Vancouver for years to come and has the leadership skills to boot. He's everything the fans wanted out of Cody Hodgson.
Horvat is too good to mess with this timeline; best Mike Gillis move to date!
11 2005 - Luc Bourdon (10th)
Bourdon tragically passed away before he could fully realize his NHL dream. It would be quite inappropriate to treat him as a commodity that could be 'upgraded' at this point so instead I'll just honor his memory. If you're not into that, the list resumes after this entry with Michael Grabner, Vancouver's 2006 pick.
The boy from Shippagan New Brunswick (pop. 2,500) was a local hero and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal called his province 'Luc Bourdon Country'. He was a symbol for young Acadians growing up in remote Canada that dreams can come true.
Bourdon didn't have it easy. At the age of nine he was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, restricting the future elite athlete to a wheelchair. Even though he was forced to miss an entire season he still showed up to every single game. He was able to resume playing with hard work and medication.
He would go on to win two Gold Medals and a tournament all-star award for Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Once drafted by the Vancouver he anonymously donated $10,000 to a children's hockey charity that helps poor families afford hockey gear. This was only revealed after his passing.
Skate on Luc, you are still missed.
10 2006 - Michael Grabner (14th)
Grabner always oozed potential (and he still does). His explosive speed and penchant for scoring breakaways reminded Canuck fans of Pavel-lite. He was traded along with another first-rounder and Steve Bernier for Keith Ballard and spare parts. The Islanders scooped Grabner up on waivers and he's been there ever since.
The Canucks coach at the time Alain Vigneault generally kept Ballard out of the top-four and even scratched him for the playoffs. He was never able to replicate his previous success. Grabner on the other hand has been plagued with injuries and inconsistencies. He's one of those strange players who scores many more goals than assists, which is usually a red flag. When healthy, he's exciting to watch and his surprise goals could turn the tide.
Re-draft - Claude Giroux
Philadelphia struck gold at no.22 with their current captain Giroux. Only Toews and Backstrom have more points out of their draft class. The Canucks would have loved the luxury of Giroux and the Sedins anchoring their two top lines. As the Sedins decline, Giroux also could have taken the top-line responsibility off their Swedish shoulders, retaining a potent two-pronged attack.
9 2007 - Patrick White (25th)
The Canucks chose a terrible time to go wayyyy off-the-board with this pick. White was ranked much lower than his shocking first-round selection and it showed. He's yet to play an NHL game and looks to never do so.
However... In one of the few shrewd trades the Canucks have managed to pull off, they dumped White and Daniel Rahimi for talented defender Christian Erhoff! The 'Hoff would lead Canucks defensemen in scoring and help them to their last Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2011 before leaving as a UFA. Pretty sweet trade indeed.
Re-draft - David Perron
With the very next pick, St. Louis grabbed David Perron at 26th. Although he has had his own injury problems, Perron is still an ultra-skilled forward who can play either wing. His first trade to Edmonton was mostly salary-cap motivated and his second trade to Pittsburgh was all about Edmonton's extra-long rebuild. Pittsburgh has even more forward depth this season so it remains to be seen whether he benefits from less defensive pressure or loses out on ice-time.
8 2008 - Cody Hodgson (10th)
Cody Hodgson looked to be a real gem for Vancouver after winning accolades in junior and showing offensive promise as a Canuck. Some even pegged him as captain material. Therefore it was quite a shock when he was traded to Buffalo for the unknown Zach Kassian.
It turns out that then-Canuck coach Vigneault did a masterful job of protecting Hodgson's defensive weaknesses, deploying him almost exclusively in the offensive zone and against weaker competition. Hodgson hasn't outgrown his defensive liabilities but then again was anyone playing great defense in Buffalo these last few years? He's currently signed to the 'Nashville Center Reclamation' contract of one year, for a million bucks. Hopefully he can learn from Mike Ribiero and resurrect his still-young career before it's too late.
Re-draft - Erik Karlsson
Two-time winner of the Norris Trophy and he's only 25. Every team would love Karlsson but only one team got to draft him, and they won't be letting him go any time soon.
The Canucks haven't had a number-one defenseman since.....I don't even want to think about it. Edler has shown flashes and Hamhuis is solid but they are not franchise players. Stanley Cup winning teams almost always have that killer defender on their roster. Now Ottawa just needs the rest of the team around him.
7 2009 - Jordan Schroeder (22nd)
The Canucks knew the 5-foot-8 Schroeder would be a risky pick. But it was the injuries and inconsistent play that ultimately ended his time as a Canuck. Schroder signed with Minnesota but has failed to make a larger impact than fourth-line winger. The skill is there but he has yet to put it all together.
Re-draft - Simon Depres
Many would look at Ryan O'Reilly (33rd pick) but I'm perfectly fine without him. O'Reilly should have a great post-hockey career as a player agent with the tough negotiations and inflated contracts he's pulled off. I predict O'Reilly is the next Mike Richards in a few years time.
Back to Depres. Not a flashy pick, but the kid is a quality defender with a minuscule cap hit. Pittsburgh bloggers criticized Penguins' management for only getting Ben Lovejoy in return while Anaheim bloggers praised Fowler/Depres as the best tandem in the playoffs. Sure Fowler is a total stud, but it takes two to tango.
Quality defensemen are incredibly scarce in today's NHL and I'm sure any team would love to pay Depres $900K to play on their top pairing.
6 2010 - Traded Pick
To Vancouver: Keith Ballard, Victor Oreskovich To Florida: 25th 2010 pick, Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner
Who won this trade? The easy answer is the New York Islanders after they snagged Grabner off the waiver wire. He was the best player in the deal then and now. At the time, Canuck fans were miffed to give up on the speedy Austrian as well as a first-rounder for a guy that couldn't crack their top-four. Although Grabner still hasn't taken the next step, it would be nice to see him wearing a Canuck jersey.
Re-draft - Justin Faulk
Faulk has turned into a great offensive defenseman with room to grow. His defensive coverage isn't quite up to par but we'll cut him some slack as he's played for the Hurricanes the past four years. The Canucks lacked puck-moving defensemen in this year's playoffs and were badly punished for it. Faulk is a player they could really use.
5 2011 - Nicklas Jensen (29th)
The Canucks picked a great year to do so well and pick so low. The 2011 class has its share of productive players but lacks star power.
Jensen has only managed 24 games and just six points with the big club. He has shown flashes of offensive skill but as years go by he has started to slip down the prospect depth chart. The future is not looking bright in Vancouver for Jensen.
Re-draft - Brandon Saad
Saad was picked 14 spots later so this would be a crazy pick for the time, but time has proven Saad is a truly impact player. He's tied (with Ondrej Palat) for third-most points of his draft class and has already won a Stanley Cup at the tender age of 22.
Another decent pick would be Columbus' Boone Jenner, who has notched a respectable 46 points in 100 games.
4 2012 - Brendan Gaunce (26th)
One of the six 2012 first-rounders who still haven't hit the NHL ice, Gaunce could finally see some time this year. His previous offensive potential has been downgraded slightly, but he could still emerge as a useful two-way center with the ability to play wing. His AHL Utica Comets went with experience in the playoffs (strange for a developmental team) but when he got his chance he was a useful contributor. The Canucks are trying to rebuild on the fly and could really use another breakout rookie.
Re-draft - Tanner Pearson
Pearson was passed over in the draft twice by Vancouver before the Kings grabbed him with the last pick in the first round. He made up for lost time and soon found himself the owner of a shiny Stanley Cup ring while riding shotgun with Jeff Carter.
3 2013 - Hunter Shinkaruk (24th)
The Canucks might have a small problem with their AHL program. They have insisted that creating a 'winning culture' at the NHL and AHL level is a high priority. This is why Ryan Miller was signed to a luxurious contract instead of allowing the team to rebuild with a better draft pick. This is also why life-long AHL vets are continually put ahead of young prospects like Shinkaruk and the aforementioned Gaunce and Jensen. Of course this is all speculation and time will be the ultimate judge on their developmental methods. The only thing for sure is that the Canucks need at least one of these guys to emerge as a top-six player.
Re-draft - Hunter Shinkaruk
The next 56 picks have produced a total of 73 NHL games so it's still too early to tell if Shinkaruk could be improved upon. He was actually ranked 6th among North American skaters so the Canucks were ecstatic that he fell so far. The league keeps getting younger and the Canucks are (sort of) rebuilding, so Shinkaruk should have every chance over the next two years.
2 2014 - Jake Virtanen (6th)
This was a fan favorite pick. Virtanen is a local kid who skates fast, hits hard, and scores goals. In the past we've seen plenty of prospects who are able to physically dominate Junior yet struggle against the tight NHL defense. Virtanen appears to have a fantastic work ethic and will to succeed, but it's still impossible to tell. After seeing Horvat take the big step last season, fans are already dreaming of Virtanen lining up beside him on their new young gun line.
Re-draft - Jake Virtanen
This was the right call for the Canucks. William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers may have more upside and skill but the fans craved Virtanen. Everything about his game is crowd-pleasing. Unless he's a total bust and Nylander/Ehlers are the second coming of Gretzky/Lemiuex, this was the right pick.
1 2015 - Brock Boeser (23rd)
Brock Boeser was a bit of a surprise pick. Although he was third in USHL scoring there were many prospects ranked ahead of him still on the board. Canucks GM Jim Benning has been lauded for his drafting ability and after several questionable trades this could be a defining pick for his Vancouver tenure.
Boeser projects to be a complementary forward with all-around skills. He's also not afraid to be physical and his power style could make him a real fan favorite.
Re-draft - Anthony Beauvillier
Sure he's 5-foot-10 but scouts also throw around the words 'low center of gravity' when describing him. Martin St. Louis is another short player with a low center of gravity who did quite well.
Beauvillier oozes skill and a fire that can't be taught. He leads by example and is simply stunning with the puck. He fell further than expected and the Canucks may have made a mistake not grabbing him. They might be scared off from smaller players not working out in the past but I'll take the shorter stocky guy over the clumsy big guy or taller string bean. These are exaggerations of course but Beauvillier looks to be a gem.