For the first time since 2019, the Vancouver Canucks left the NHL Draft having added a first-round talent to their prospect pool. It was a desperately needed opportunity to inject youth and bluechip potential into the system.
The odds are stacked against the Canucks for mining an impact player from the 2020 and 2021 drafts because of their limited picks, so hitting on this year’s class is a must. The club made six selections, adding a winger, three defencemen, a centre and a goalie.
How did Vancouver fare with that haul? The Athletic enlisted the help of draft experts, including EliteProspects’ Director of Film Scouting Cam Robinson, Shane Malloy of Hockey Prospect Radio and the author of “The Art of Scouting”, and EliteProspects’ Editor-in-Chief J.D. Burke. You can also find colleague Corey Pronman’s analysis of Vancouver’s picks here. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki, RW, Djugårdens (SHL)
Height, weight: 5-foot-11, 172 pounds
2021-22 statistics: 26 GP, 7G-2A-9P
Strengths: Excellent shot. Tremendous hands/puckhandling ability. Above-average vision and hockey sense.
Weaknesses: Size. Limited to the perimeter, according to some scouts.
Cam Robinson: I like it. I was a little lower than most were, we at EPRinkside had him at 18; I personally had him at 17. But it’s funny, I usually give players that are super young (relative to the draft class) a little bump for that age. And for whatever reason, I don’t think it was conscious, I didn’t give him that bump. His skill level — he’s got a rocket of a release, very, very good hands. He’s a good skater.
(He’s) soft skill, but the fact that he played half the season in the SHL in an offensive role because that’s basically the only role he can play, it is very promising. The Canucks need high-impact, high-skill players, and I think he was quite clearly the most skillful player, with the highest ceiling left on the board. There were a couple guys left that I would have liked that have a higher floor and could maybe bring a more well-rounded game, but it’s hard to get goals, and this kid’s going to score goals.
A ton of teams liked him high. I heard Detroit had a tough decision to make between (Marco) Kasper and him at No. 8, so he could have gone much, much earlier, but this is definitely a ceiling, upside pick.
J.D. Burke: Maybe a bit rich for my blood — my critique would be that he’s a bit one-dimensional — but with the offensive upside, the shot and the hands, he could be a top-six player and feature on the power play. He was a reasonable pick at 15.
Shane Malloy: I thought it was very good value at that spot. What it brings is a different dynamic to the Vancouver Canucks in terms of yes, he is a primary goal scorer and he’s a sniper by his playing style, but I think from Christmas onward, he showed much more of a dual threat. His playmaking, his vision, he started to understand that when he uses the give-and-go and he starts moving the puck more effectively, it opens up more time and space for himself.
He started to realize “Oh, I can actually increase my goal-scoring opportunities by being more of a playmaker and not waiting for people to set me up, I’m going to be part of the setup process” and that helped his overall game because he started to realize how to create offence and not just be the recipient as the sniper.
With his skating, he doesn’t have that power through his core yet. Once he gets stronger, you’ll see him be a little more elusive and power away from defenders so that’ll make him more dangerous again.
For me overall, be patient, he’s probably going to need three years, but when he does, he’s got the hockey sense and he’s not a big guy, but he’ll go get pucks too.
Elias Pettersson, D, Örebro HK, SHL
Height, weight: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
2021-22 statistics: 17 GP, 0G-1A-1P
Strengths: Excellent in-zone defender. Mobile four-way skater. Defends the rush well. Good size and physical play.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve puck-moving ability/deception on puck retrievals. Limited offensive upside.
Burke: Good in-zone defence, can skate, can move the puck OK. Pretty limited offensively, but that was a solid pick. The mean potential with his physical play is nice too. The size, skating combo can be uncommon to find at that point in the draft, especially to use it in the SHL. That’s no small feat. He held up physically, made smart plays with the puck and really proved himself in a tough environment. I’d say that augurs well for what he could do at the NHL level.
You got someone that has a high likelihood to play, and if you can do that on Day 2, whether it’s Round 2 or 3, that’s always a win.
Robinson: I like this one too. I had him No. 45 on my board. Just a sturdy, smart — we can call him a two-way defenceman, but he leans more on the defensive side of things, which is good. He can step up into open ice and lay a hit, he has a good stick, good four-way mobility. He’s got sneaky second-pair upside as kind of a non-descript player that people won’t talk about much, but he’s going to get the job done.
He’s 6-foot-2, around 185 pounds, and he plays a robust (physical) style already. You’re going to imagine he’s going to play at 205, 210 and that physical nature is only going to continue to grow with him.
Making smart outlets (is something for him to work on). In this day and age, you need to move the puck. At this point in time, he makes very straightforward passes, which is fine, but when you’re facing some of the speed NHL forwards are going to bring down on you, you need to have some deception on your puck retrievals. You’re going to need some head fakes, be able to cut back and punch your way out of trouble at times. I can see him getting into a little bit of trouble with that unless he can add a little bit of dynamism to his skating.
I like the pick though. I think there’s very good value there.
Malloy: I think he’s going to end up being a third-pair defensive defenceman. What I like about his game is his four-way mobility — he can skate. He’s going to be lanky, he’s got range and he can take away time and space. He is an uber competitor, he likes banging bodies, he likes clearing the net and not giving guys body position down low. You know when you don’t notice a defenceman? When he’s good, he’s that.
Those two players (Lekkerimäki and Pettersson) have the best chance of playing in the NHL. Everybody else is really a moonshot and you’re hoping that maybe one of them can break through, but the probability’s pretty low.
Daimon Gardner, C, Warroad High (USHS-MN)
Height, weight: 6-foot-4, 201 pounds
2021-22 statistics: 30 GP, 45G-38A-83P
Strengths: Robust physical game, good size. Good board play and some decent two-way details.
Weaknesses: Lacks dynamic skill set. Doesn’t have enough tools to drive a line in higher leagues. Disappointing USHL production and couldn’t land a major junior-league roster spot for next season
Burke: I like the skill. I don’t think he really had a chance to show it in the USHL. Obviously a project pick. He’s going to go to Chilliwack next season, goes to Clarkson and it could pay off, but it’s going to take two, three, four years before we know how that one will look.
Robinson: I don’t mind it. I had him in the 50s so again, for me, that’s good value just purely on what he could become. Our USHL scout Daniel Gee really, really liked him and put him on my radar early in the year. I watched him in high school hockey and he’s just a dominant force. The size played a huge role in that.
When he moved up to the USHL, often when these kids parachute in, they don’t get a big role. They’re on a team that’s already established, they’re coming up from high school hockey. You don’t want to mess up the chemistry and so he kind of ended up getting bottom-six minutes and not too many offensive opportunities. He still got to the middle of the ice, he still got his shot off, it just didn’t translate to points. He got moved to another club and that team was basically doing him a favour to get him more minutes and they got him a few more, but it was the same sort of thing.
Very much a project pick. Going to the BCHL with the Chiefs next year because he’s 18 years old, but he’s not ready for the NCAA yet. What we’re looking for is some big numbers in Chilliwack next year. We want to see him really assert himself in all situations. If he’s not a dominant player next year, we’re going to have some concerns.
Malloy: He’s a big, power forward style and he’s raw. When you’re playing high school, you’re playing such low competition. He needs time — can you turn that raw ability into something? Can his hockey sense handle that level of processing (at the higher level)? Could he be a fourth-line centre for you? Maybe, so that’s worth a swing as a project.
Ty Young, G, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 183 pounds
2021-22 statistics: 6W-9L-3OTL, .899 sv%
Strengths: Good size. Nice lateral quickness.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent play, unheralded track record.
Most of our evaluators aren’t goalie experts and didn’t have much to say. Canucks amateur scouting director Todd Harvey noted that Ian Clark was involved in making this pick so that’s always a good sign.
Robinson: He took over the ball a little bit when (Tyler) Brennan got injured. He helped Prince George get into the playoffs. He’s very, very young for this crop and he has good size. I leave the goaltenders, especially the mid-to late-round ones to the guys who know goaltenders.
Obviously, Ian Clark likes this player so there’s something to work with and that’s usually how you find these guys is they’re going to be under the radar, a little underappreciated, and then those who know, see what they like.
Jackson Dorrington, LD, Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
Height, weight: 6-foot-2, 192 pounds
2021-22 statistics: 41GP, 3G-8A-11P
Strengths: Strong physical presence.
Weaknesses: Skating, low pace of play. Limited puck skills. Hockey sense isn’t very high.
Burke: Limited speed, limited puckhandling. He can move the puck, maybe projects as an in-zone defensive defenceman, but the lack of scoring is obviously not ideal. I think they left some talent on the board with that pick. But he’s going to a place in Northeastern that has worked well with players who can’t quite skate as well as you’d like, so hopefully, they can iron that out.
Robinson: That was the biggest meh pick for me. He showed some good things, and I trust my buddy Mitch Brown and he said after a couple viewings that this could be a top-three or four-round player, but low pace is an issue. He can hit. He can play in-zone defence. We’ll see about his rush defence because that’s the name of the game in today’s NHL is that almost anyone can play in-zone defence, but if you can’t defend the rush, then that’s going to be a big problem.
I think this one has a pretty low likelihood of hitting, but we’ll see.
Malloy: Raw project. Hockey sense is problematic. Skill set isn’t great. That’s a guy where you ask, “What does he have?” and he’s big. He’s got size. The Canucks don’t have a lot of size so could he provide that? That’s what he brings and the rest I don’t know because he’s so raw.
Height, weight: 6-foot, 201 pounds
2021-22 statistics: 68GP, 5G-34A-39P
Strengths: Good passer, above-average shot, decent mobility.
Weaknesses: Pace of play with his decision-making
Burke: I know that Lauren Kelly, our OHL scout, thinks highly of Kudryavtsev, sees him as a high-upside pick. Good hands, can move the puck, skates well. Pretty good pick for where they took him.
Robinson: I like this one. I think he might have the highest likelihood of success out of all their Day 2 picks, minus Elias Pettersson. Former really high selection in the CHL import draft. The lustre came off a little bit this year. The skills didn’t really pop. The numbers didn’t really pop. But he has good skills across the board.
The biggest thing with him is playing with pace and he doesn’t right now. In order to become a viable NHL prospect, he needs to increase his pace, add a little bit more change of gears when he’s moving the puck, throw in a couple head fakes before he moves the puck so he’s throwing people off guard when he’s transitioning on retrievals, but I do think there’s a chance.
In our guide’s metrics, it gave him about a 13 percent chance of being an NHLer, which in the seventh round is pretty high. He’s a good passer, has an above-average shot, he has decent feet, he just doesn’t use it all that much. His skating is good. He just plays at a lower pace. He’s calculated, which is OK at this level, but we saw it didn’t result in much offence. That’s something you can teach a player — if you can skate but you play a low pace, you can work with that.
(Photo of 2022 Canucks draft pick Elias Pettersson: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)