In recent years, the NHL Entry Draft has been the most exciting part of the Vancouver Canucks season. Sure, October always starts with promise. And sometimes November keeps that pace going. At some point though, it starts to wane, usually dropping to dreadful monotony by January.
But the draft has been where the Canucks have been able to garner some enthusiasm of late—constantly picking in the top 10 will do that.
This year’s affair was no different, as the Canucks came out of Dallas with six prospects, a couple of which have fans understandably excited.
Let’s find out who was a part of Vancouver’s haul this year.
7th Overall – Quinn Hughes, D, 5’10, 170 lbs., University of Michigan (NCAA)
The cynics will say he’s too small. Everyone else will say he’s got elite level escapability, something that’s absolutely essential for a top defencemen in today’s NHL. Hughes is elusive, quick and dynamic. He should give the Canucks the true power play quarterback they’ve lacked for years.
He’s already played against pros at the World Championships and proved himself capable.
Michigan assistant coach (and former Canuck) Bill Muckalt had this to say about the Orlando native:
“Never coached a kid who has the uncanny ability to spin away from players. He has so much poise and moxie on the blueline.”
Hughes should have gone earlier, but some renegade picks by the Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes led to him being available to the Canucks at the number seven slot.
37th Overall – Jett Woo, D, 6’0, 205 lbs., Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
The Canucks went after another rearguard in the second round, biting on the defensively minded Woo, who provided Moose Jaw with a heavy presence along the blueline. He’s not the offensive talent Hughes promises to be, but with 25 points in 44 games this season, he’s got some potential.
Before a shoulder injury derailed his season Woo was largely thought to be a first-round pick.
“Bit of a throwback defenseman with the ability to throw the big hits but he's more than that,” said Canucks director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett. “He plays with a real assertive edge, an assertiveness to his game we like.”
It’s more of a traditional pick for the Canucks, but Woo is the type of player many successful teams employ on the backend.
68th Overall – Tyler Madden, C, 5’11, 152 lbs., Tri-City Storm (USHL)
As many teams do in the later rounds, the Canucks chased potential with Tyler Madden. The feisty forward was not the consensus pick, as many were imploring the team to take fellow USHL forward Jake Wise.
Wise, for what it’s worth, produced more points in less games than Madden and was taken with the very next pick by the Chicago Blackhawks.
But the Canucks defended picking Madden, who is the son of three-time Stanley Cup winner John.
Canucks fans will no doubt be watching how both forwards progress through their careers.
130th Overall – Toni Utunen, D, 5’11, 169 lbs., LeKi (Finland)
Brackett told Sportsnet 650 that “pretty early on we identified a strength in the draft as defensemen, and an area for us to improve.”
It makes sense then that in the fifth round the team selected Utunen. The Finn is definitely a project, as he’s several years away from competing in the NHL and most recently found himself in Finland’s second league.
He also captained Finland’s U-18 team at the World Championships and the Canucks obviously like his leadership capabilities. The team is hoping he develops into a strong two-way rearguard and with 12 points in 28 games against grown men this year, that’s not a bad bet.
186th Overall – Artyom Manukyan, RW, 5’7, 139 lbs., Avangard Omsk (KHL)
The undersized forward (Brackett insists he’s a little bigger than his listed weight) was a homerun swing for the Canucks. An overage prospect, Manukyan dominated the MHL (the Russian junior league) before having a tougher time at the KHL level.
The Russian put up two points in 24 games in the country’s top league, but scouts have noted that his speed is his biggest asset. In the changing NHL, it’s not a bad bet to throw the chips on a player with remarkable speed and see what happens, even if he’s smaller than many middle-school children.
192nd Overall - Matthew Thiessen, G, 6’2, 191 lbs., Steinbach Pistons (MJHL)
“Technically sound, calm, excellent demeanour” is how Brackett describes Thiessen, the latest addition to the Canucks’ crease.
Thiessen will go back for another year of junior hockey in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where he guided the Pistons to a championship.
After that, the Altona, Manitoba native will go to the University of Maine, and Brackett is happy that he’s going to take his time developing, especially for a position that is typically tougher to master for prospects than other spots on the ice.
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