Sometimes, going off the board is the right thing to do.
Assuming they don’t trade the pick, the Canucks are going to have some very good options at tenth overall. There’s the US National Team Development Team standouts Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, and Cole Caufield; Western Canadian forwards Peyton Krebs and Alex Newhook; and don’t discount Swedish defencemen Victor Soderstrom and Philip Broberg. There’s even a chance a top-ranked forward like Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, or Vasili Podkolzin slides down.
It all depends on what happens with picks three through nine after Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko get picked first and second. At the draft, you learn to expect the unexpected. After all, no one expected Quinn Hughes to fall to seventh overall for the Canucks at last year’s draft, but surprising, off-the-board picks can throw even the most well-thought-out draft ranking into disarray.
Here’s the thing: sometimes those off-the-board picks are the right call. The Columbus Blue Jackets picking Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi at the 2016 draft is looking remarkably prescient now. And there are always players picked later in the draft that should have gone a lot higher. Erik Karlsson going 15th overall in 2008 is a great example, as is David Pastrnak going 25th overall in 2014.
Those two players, and many other examples, should have gone a lot higher in their respective drafts. A few years down the line, we might look back at the 2019 draft and wonder how some superstar didn’t get picked in the top ten.
That’s something to consider as the Canucks prepare to make their pick. If you’re looking for the best player available, which players ranked a little lower might actually be better than the players ranked at the top of the draft?
Let’s take a look at a few of those players.
Bobby Brink - Right Wing
Brink was third in the USHL in points per game, behind only Alex Turcotte and Jack Hughes. That means he was ahead of Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, and Cole Caufield.
Not only that, but Brink put up those points without the same level of teammates as those on the US National Team Development Program. He had Martin Pospisil, a fourth-round pick of the Calgary Flames, and fellow 2019-eligible prospect Marcus Kallionkieli, but that’s not the same as the elite talent on the USNTDP, and when Brink was out with injury, they struggled without him.
Brink also maintained his 1.58 points per game over 43 games, while the USNTDP players played fewer than 30 games in the USHL. When the World Under-18 Championships came around, Brink got added to Team USA and scored 6 points in 5 games.
In other words, Brink arguably deserves to be spoken of in the same sentence with the likes of Boldy, Zegras, and Caufield, who are all in the discussion to be picked in the top-10. Instead, Brink is ranked anywhere from 15 to 37.
Brink can score highlight reel goals with his slick hands, is a superb playmaker with fantastic hockey sense, and works his tail off in all areas of the game. One big issue: he isn’t big. At 5’8”, he’s just barely bigger than Caufield. The other big issue: he’s a below-average skater, which is an impediment for a smaller player.
Different scouts seem to have different opinions on Brink’s skating. Some see technical issues that are difficult to correct; others see fine technique, but a lack of strength that should come with time; others see the sloppy technique and lack of strength, but note that it never seems to hold him back from winning puck races.
In the USHL, Brink’s size and skating hasn’t been an issue; the question is whether it will be an issue at the NHL level. If he can overcome those deficiencies, his elite skill, hockey sense, and compete level could make him a steal.
Arthur Kaliyev - Left Wing
There’s a consensus that Cole Caufield is the best goalscorer available in this draft class, but if anyone else could compete for that honour, it’s Arthur Kaliyev.
Kaliyev lit up the OHL this season, scoring 51 goals and 102 points in 67 games after scoring 31 goals last season as a 16-year-old rookie. He’s still a week away from turning 18 and already has 82 goals in the OHL.
The only players in the OHL that had more goals than Kaliyev this season were 20-year-old overagers. No one else his age came even close to his goals or points. He’s just the 13th player in OHL history to record 50 goals as a 17 year old.
Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in hockey and Kaliyev makes it look easy. He creates scoring chances by finding soft spots in defensive coverage, then rips the puck into the back of the net.
Kaliyev’s release is remarkably quick, no matter how he receives the puck, and he gets a wicked amount of torque on his stick, burying the puck past goaltenders before they ever have a chance to get set after a pass. He also has a strong one-timer and a nose for pucks around the net, making him a multi-faceted goalscorer.
He’s also an underrated playmaker, with good vision and precise passing ability. It’s easy to imagine him on an NHL power play, eating opposing penalty kills alive.
Normally a player with that ability would be a surefire top-ten pick, particularly since he’s not small at 6’2” and 190 lbs. Here’s the issue: when he’s not producing offence, he’s not doing much else. Scouts constantly complain about his work ethic and compete level, as he can be completely disengaged at times. In the defensive zone, he can be a liability.
That makes Kaliyev a nightmare to project: he could be a goal-scoring winger whose coach never puts on the ice because he gives up just as much at the other end of the ice. Or, perhaps his compete level catches up to his skill and he becomes an elite first-line forward. The team that drafts Kaliyev will have to take that gamble and it could pay off in a big way.
Ville Heinola - Defence
The top Finn available in the draft after Kaapo Kakko is ranked all over the place heading into the draft. A number of rankings don’t even have him as a first round pick, while NHL’s Central Scouting ranks him third among European skaters and ahead of Philip Broberg.
Heinola posted attention-grabbing numbers in the Finnish Liiga, tallying 14 points in 34 regular season games, then following that up with 4 points in 7 playoff games. What stands out is that he outscored Miro Heiskanen at the same age, and Heiskanen is already in the NHL two years after he was drafted, playing significant minutes for the Dallas Stars and putting up12 goals and 33 points.
Heinola was also productive in international competition, with 4 points in 5 games at the World Under-18 Championships, then two more points at the World Juniors.
That kind of production cannot, and should not, be ignored. If Heinola has the kind of skill to thrive as a 17 year old in one of the top men’s leagues in the world, then he should have the skill to thrive in the NHL as he grows and matures.
The key for Heinola is his intelligence. You might think of him as the polar opposite of Philip Broberg: while Heinola’s skating, skill, and shot don’t stand out in the same way as Broberg, he has incredible hockey sense and an intelligent, creative style that makes players around him better.
Heinola is calm and poised with the puck and is a superb passer, whether it’s breakout passes from his own end or distributing the puck on the power play. Though he’s a left-hand shot, he typically played on the right side at even-strength, then switched over to the left side on the power play to more easily pass the puck.
In the offensive zone, Heinola is at his best when he’s smartly attacking soft areas on the ice, slipping down low to create a passing lane or shooting option that otherwise wouldn’t exist. While he doesn’t have a deadly shot, he has a quick release that makes goaltenders take him seriously as a scoring threat, which then opens up passing options.
Heinola’s hockey sense showed up in the defensive zone as well, with smart positioning to mitigate his lack of size — he’s 5’11” — and good reads and anticipation.
What’s exciting about Heinola is that there’s still a lot of room for his game to grow. He’s still raw in some areas, particularly defensively, and needs coaching to address some of his flaws, but he has the hockey sense and intelligence to take that coaching and become a strong top-four defenceman.
Spencer Knight - Goaltender
The top-ranked goaltender at the 2019 draft might seem like an odd choice, but the Canucks still have some uncertainty at the position. Jacob Markstrom has solidified his number one role in the NHL, but Thatcher Demko is still untested at the NHL level and Michael DiPietro is promising, but still has a long way to go. Adding a blue chip goaltending prospect to challenge for the number one role in a few years’ time might not be the worst idea.
Now, the Canucks shouldn’t draft according to need, but what if the best player available is a goaltender?
Spencer Knight is expected to be the first goaltender to get picked in the first round since Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012, and for good reason. Knight is about as polished and technically-sound as first-time draft-eligible goaltenders get and he has the mental makeup to go with it. He’s calm, confident, and even-keeled.
At the age of 17, Knight faced NCAA competition with the US National Team Development Program and stood tall, both literally and figuratively. The 6’3” Knight had a .913 save percentage with the program and was even better against his peers at the World Under-18 Championship, with a .936 save percentage.
“He doesn’t let his size serve as a crutch, though, and his movement is as precise and controlled as a goaltender half his size,” says Cat Silverman in her profile on Knight for NextGen Hockey. “He makes his saves look boring, which is a good thing.”
To go with his abilities between the pipes, Knight also takes pride in his puck-handling. He frequently acts as a third defencemen, disrupting the opponents’ forecheck and creating new breakout options for his teammates.
Given his impressively-polished game, mental strength, and proven ability to play against tough competition at a young age, Knight could make a quick transition to the NHL. It might sound far-fetched for the Canucks to pick a goaltender at tenth with so many other needs in their system, but if they manage to acquire another first-round pick in a trade, don’t be surprised to hear Knight’s name get called.
Cam York - Defence
Speaking of the US National Team Development Program, the top defenceman from that team could be an option for the Canucks at tenth overall.
Cam York was a facilitator for the USNTDP’s top forwards, calmly and efficiently moving the puck up ice from the defensive zone or setting them up on the power play. He finished the season with 65 points in 63 games, then followed that up with 11 points in 7 games at the World Under-18 Championships.
“York is one of the most efficient defensemen in this draft class,” says his profile from Hockey Prospect. “His efficiency is a by-product of his hockey-sense and skating ability.”
York is a smooth skater with stupendous vision and anticipation, who thrives with talented players that anticipate the game as well as he does. York whips the puck around with authority and confidence, which is well-earned because he so rarely makes a bad play. To go with his passing, York has a plus shot, whether hitting a one-timer from the point or firing a wrist shot through traffic.
On the breakout, York is superb, equally capable of rushing the puck up ice with his skating or hitting a forward in-stride with an outlet pass.
Defensively, York makes great reads and uses his elite skating to close gaps, relieve an opponent of the puck, and quickly turn the play back up ice. His stalwart defensive play, combined with his puck-moving ability, suggests he could have a future as a top-pairing defenceman if he hits his ceiling.
The question with York is how much of his success can be attributed to playing on such a stacked team. Would he have the same number of points without the likes of Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, and the rest? Should he have had more points given the quality of his teammates?
The one criticism of York that I’ve seen is that he can be too passive. Instead of aggressively asserting himself and taking over a game, he’s content to play a secondary role and facilitate the excellence of those around him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might be the difference between becoming a number one defenceman and being a solid second-pairing guy.
There are some scouts who see him as the second-best defenceman in the draft behind Bowen Byram, while others suggest he won’t be able to bring the same level of offence to the NHL that he did with the USNTDP, so have him further down their rankings. The question is, where do the Canucks have him ranked?