The Canucks’ drafting strategy

Heading into the 2010 NHL entry draft, who knows what Mike Gillis has up his sleeve.

The Canucks GM probably had one eye fixated on the Chicago Blackhawks’ run towards the Stanley Cup and the other eye focused on what his team didn’t have that the Hawks did. For the second time in four years the Canucks lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion and the patience of Vancouver fans is wearing thin.

What are Gillis’ priorities? Is it finding a way to re-sign restricted free agent Mason Raymond? Or is the third-year general manager assessing whether or not to bring back unrestricted agents Willie Mitchell or Ryan Johnson? Or, dare I say it; is he cooking up a trade to improve his roster?

Perhaps what’s on the mind of Gillis and his associates is how to approach the upcoming draft. While the 2010 class of prospects isn’t an overly strong one in comparison to previous years which has seen superstars emerge in the span of a year or two, there’s no questioning the value of a first-round draft pick.

Traditionally, the Vancouver Canucks have had marginal success when it comes to picking in the first round. Here’s a list of Vancouver’s last ten first-round draft picks:

  • 2000: Nathan Smith
  • 2001: R.J. Umberger
  • 2002: Traded to Washington along with 3rd round pick in 2003 for Trevor Linden and 2nd round pick in 2002
  • 2003: Ryan Kesler
  • 2004: Cory Schneider
  • 2005: Luc Bourdon
  • 2006: Michael Grabner
  • 2007: Patrick White
  • 2008: Cody Hodgson
  • 2009: Jordan Schroeder

Outside of Ryan Kesler, few of those names bring much applause. Umberger has solidified himself as an NHL pro, but not one of his games played has been in a Canuck uniform. Nathan Smith and Patrick White were utter disasters, and due to an unfortunate tragedy the club lost Luc Bourdon. It seems the Canucks are about to find out what they have in Cory Schneider and Michael Grabner, whereas Hodgson and Schroeder are just scratching the NHL surface now.

While some NHL clubs tend to address their positional needs in the draft, some teams have simply entered with the mentality of picking the best player available. The Nashville Predators, who have built their playoff-contending teams through the draft and not via free agency, have an overwhelming array of talented defensemen and few forwards to accompany them.

In the two drafts that Gillis has taken part in with the Canucks, the first round has demonstrated his desire to select the best player available.

Perhaps no draft was more evident of Gillis’ strategy than last season. With Cody Hodgson (a centre) selected the June before, a lot of fans were clamouring for a defenseman to don a Canucks jersey in 2009. But by drafting another centre in Schroeder, it was indicative that Gillis and his scouts are willing to draft outside their organizational needs in order to take someone they believe to have exceptional potential.

This off-season, the Canucks’ need for defensemen is even more apparent. With the Canucks currently slotted in the 25th spot of the entry draft, there are an abundance of defensemen available in that range and some already have NHL size and optimistically could find themselves on the roster within two years.

Once again, however, the 2010 class isn’t exactly a terrific one and outside of the first few selections, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will go next. The Canucks, who have a window of success which could close within the next five years, could easily package their 25th overall pick in order to acquire immediate help.

There really is no telling what Mike Gillis has up his sleeve. Despite the fact he stated on the TEAM 1040 that the Canucks would “be active on July 1” when unrestricted free agency opens, the general manager alos knows that the entry draft is a time for a franchise to build their team for the future.

Matt Lee

Matt Lee has been a Canucks follower and a prototypical Canadian for years; it started on the streets by playing road hockey before and after Vancouver Canucks games and it's brought him here. After graduating from SFU with a BA in Communications and a minor in History while serving as the student newspaper's sports editor for two years, Matt is now a student at BCIT's Broadcast Journalism program in hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster.

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