While the Vancouver Canucks did make a splash at the draft with nine picks and a trade that saw second-line scoring winger J.T. Miller come to town, not a single one sets up shop on the blueline. We watched one too many disastrous defensive blunders last season not to wonder why that might be the case.
The Canucks’ nine picks this year were actually a bigger haul than they’ve had since all the way back in 2003, when they used the first of 10 picks to select Ryan Kesler at 23rd overall (and, unfortunately, no one else who made a significant NHL impact).
If we really want to talk about historical drafting patterns, it was the first time since 1976 that they didn’t select a single defenceman.
So what does the current defensive situation look like going into next season? The biggest punching bags for defensive mistakes in Del Zotto, Gudbranson and Pouliot are all not returning to the Canucks, and they’re expecting some new players to step up and fill those spots–especially when they’re still relying on perennially injured players like Chris Tanev and Alex Edler, excellent contract aside.
The Canucks have used their top draft pick to nab a high-level defensive prospect in two of the three previous years. Quinn Hughes already proved that he could fit in on the power play immediately at the tail end of last season, but will next year finally see the emergence of 2016 top-five pick Olli Juolevi?
Juolevi’s development has been seriously affected by a major knee surgery, but he’ll be given every opportunity to make the team.
The Canucks also signed a pair of college free agents at the end of last season in Josh Teves and Brogan Rafferty. They have a pretty good track record with college players, but will they really be impact players on a team looking to turn things around? To take the next step, there needs to be something a lot better than the revolving door of guys who played on last year’s third pairing.
Even if everything works out perfectly, the decisions made at the draft still stand out as questionable. The team only has four defencemen under contract that don’t have at least a game of NHL experience. The stockpile of defensive prospects really could have used another boost.
The team is also running into yet another serious logjam at the forward position. The need for scoring wingers was almost as big as the need for impact defencemen, but one of the six picks spent on wingers could probably have been used elsewhere.
Looking at the depth chart for next year, there doesn’t seem to be a logical place for players like Mikael Granlund, Brandon Sutter or Nikolay Goldobin.
This is where you’d expect trade talks to come in, swapping out some of those forwards for defence. Rumours have tied the Canucks to some big names like Shayne Gostisbehere and Tyson Barrie, but there appears to be yet another confounding decision on the horizon if a Tyler Myers sighting at the Blue Water Café with the Canucks’ top dogs signifies anything.
Fans have been accusing the Canucks of trying to skip on a rebuild and rush back to the playoffs for a while. The Miller trade signifies that they’re gambling a lot on this year, since they deferred the conditional pick sent to the Lightning to 2021 should they miss the cut for a franchise-record fifth straight year.
If the $6-million Loui Eriksson deal taught us anything, it’s that overpaying in free agency isn’t the best way to solve your problems–especially with major contracts looming for Pettersson and Hughes.
The team have clearly recognized that there was a major issue on the back end, and are taking steps to deal with it. So why were they historically deficient in that area at the draft?
Free agency opens in a week’s time, and all shall be revealed then.