The Vancouver Canuks are not in a good spot right now. The team is a long shot to move into a playoff wild card spot for a playoff seed. Even if they pull off a miracle to make the playoffs, they likely turn back into a pumpkin after two or three home games.
What hurts, even more, is that the team will be out of reach for a lottery pick and likely will select outside the top ten.
The Canucks have traded their first-round picks in the past two NHL Drafts and have had some busts with first-round picks as well with Olli Juolevi (5th in 2016), Jake Virtanen (6th in 2014), Brendan Gaunce (26th in 2012) and Nicklas Jensen (29th in 2011).
On the bright side, the Canucks have also hit some home runs at the draft with Quinn Hughes (7th in 2018), Elias Pettersson (5th in 2017), and Brock Boeser (23rd in 2015).
While their current prospect pool is one of the weakest in the NHL, the team has graduated some elite prospects recently in Vasili Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Quinn Hughes, and Elias Pettersson who are all under 23 years old.
- Jack Rathbone, LD – Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round four, 95th overall by Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have had limited success drafting aNd developing talent outside the top three rounds of the draft. Rathbone was selected out of prep school and even returned for his D+1 season rather than play junior hockey in the QMJHL or USHL.
Rathbone had his sights set on the NCAA and played two seasons with the Harvard Crimson. After posting 31 points in his sophomore season in 28 games he turned pro. Partially because COVID shut down the Ivy league for the entire year, and because he was ready for pro hockey. His pro debut was very impressive splitting time between the NHL (and the taxi squad) and the AHL. He was limited to just eight NHL games but recorded three points in that stretch. His AHL numbers were far more impressive with nine points in eight games.
The Canucks added Oliver-Ekman Larsson, Tucker Poolman, and Luke Schenn in the off-season which allowed Rathbone to spend the lion’s share of this season developing and playing big minutes in the AHL where he is on pace for 43 points in 43 games.
Rathbone is an exceptional skater that makes NHL-level breakout and stretch passes. He can carry the puck up the ice with conviction combining his elite skating with his smarts and soft hands. He can run a powerplay with his vision and passing and makes good defensive reads. Quinn Hughes will be the man on the Vancouver blueline for the foreseeable future, but Rathbone gives the Canucks good depth and support. The Canucks don’t have any openings coming up on defense next year, but Rathbone should force his way into the mix.
- Michael DiPietro, G – Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round three, 64th overall by Vancouver Canucks
DiPietro had a stellar career in the OHL leading the Windsor Spitfires to a Memorial Cup Championship before finishing with the Ottawa 67’s. Now a three-year pro, the 22-year-old essentially lost the entire COVID season as he only played in four AHL games in his sophomore season. DiPietro spent the bulk of the 2020-21 season with the Canucks on their taxi squad, practicing and traveling with the team but not playing.
Now that things are closer to normal, he has spent the season in the AHL splitting starts with Spencer Martin. At six feet tall, he is small by today’s NHL standards and his AHL numbers are good, but not great with a 2.82 GAA, .904 SV%, and a 9-11-5 record. having lost a crucial year of development could be to blame.
DiPietro overcomes his size by having excellent reads, he tracks the puck extremely well and is very athletic. His lightning-fast feet allow him to make saves and zip across his crease. A big part of the position of goaltending is mental toughness and confidence and DiPietro seems to have plenty of that as well. Thatcher Demko has secured the Canucks starting position and is signed through 2025-26 but Jaroslav Halak is set to become an unrestricted free agent which may open the door for DiPietro to jump to the NHL next year.
- Linus Karlsson, C/RW – Skelleftea (SHL)
Drafted: 2018 round three, 87th overall by San Jose Sharks
The Canucks acquired the Swedish forward in a swap of prospects that sent Jonathan Dahlen to the San Jose Sharks in 2019. After spending three seasons in the HockeyAllsvenskan league, Karlsson made the move up to the SHL and was an instant success. The 22-year-old rookie posted 46 points in 52 games and his 26 goals set a new SHL rookie record, surpassing Elias Pettersson’s previous record set in 2018.
His breakout season has vaulted Karlsson up the rankings and now the Canucks will need to sign him to his ELC and bring him over to North America for some more seasoning. Karlsson has seemingly come from nowhere, but his previous season of 20 goals and 51 points in 52 games with BIK Karlskoga was a sign of things to come.
The third-round pick has some draft pedigree on his file as well. Karlsson is an offensive forward, he has good size and is more of a shooter than a playmaker. At this stage, he is far from a sure-fire top-six winger, but after the year he just had, it is now a possibility.
- Danila Klimovich, C – Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)
Drafted: 2021 round two, 41st overall by Vancouver Canucks
The Belarussian made a splash at the 2021 U18 Tournament with six goals in five games. Selected in the CHL Import draft by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the first round with the 29th overall selection, he was committed to coming to North America after having played in Belarus previously. His final season with Minskie Zubry was dominant with 52 points in 37 games, and another 14 points in 12 playoff games, leaving him little to prove in his homeland.
After the Canucks drafted him, the decision to come to North America was realized, but the Canucks assigned him to their AHL affiliate in Abbotsford as they feel with his size and skill combination, he was ready for pro hockey. In his rookie season in the AHL he is on pace for 19 points in 66 games. His numbers are not overly impressive, but for a 19-year-old adjusting to life in North America and playing in the second-best league in the world there is plenty of promise and potential.
- Aidan McDonough, LW – Northeastern University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2019 round seven, 195th overall by Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have not had a prospect hit that was selected past the fifth round since Jannik Hansen in 2004. That may change with McDonough who the Canucks selected 195th overall in 2019. Since his draft, McDonough has been developing with the Huskies, slowly but surely improving each season.
He hit the ground running in his freshman season with 27 points in 31 games. He improved that 0.87 Point per game production to 0.95 as a sophomore and to 1.03 last year as a junior. During his term with the Huskies, he has won two Beanpot Tournaments, and led the Huskies to a 2021-22 Hockey East Championship.
The Canucks tried to sign him to his ELC following the season, but he has decided to return for his senior season. McDonough plans to use the extra season to improve his skating, become more physically, and chase an NCAA Championship.
- Jett Woo, RD – Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round two, 37th overall by Vancouver Canucks
Jet Woo stock has been on the decline since the Canucks selected him 37th overall, just outside the first round in 2018. In his final season in the WHL, he was traded from Moose Jaw to the Calgary Hitmen where his point totals declined by 20.
Last year was his rookie pro season in the AHL and the COVID season was shortened to 28 games, and as a rookie, he posted only five points. This season is more of a normal year, but injuries have limited Woo to just 32 games so far, and he is on pace for 10 points.
Woo has lost some development time to be sure since becoming a pro player, but he still plays a game that could translate to the NHL. He is a mobile defender but lacks NHL level offensive upside or vision and is best suited when paired with a player like Jack Rathbone. Woo can play the role of defensive defenseman and support his partner’s offensive tendencies.
Woo has a big-time point shot but the hallmark of his game is his ability to deliver spectacular and devastating open-ice hits. With the draft capital invested in Woo by the Canucks, he should be on the shortlist for a recall to the big club if the team falls out of the playoff race or earl next season.
- Joni Jurmo, LD – Jukurit (Liiga)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 82nd overall by Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks took a swing on the hulking and swift skating Jurmo with their 2020 third-round selection and first of the draft. Jurmo has been up and down since his draft. His 6-4 frame is intriguing, to begin with. The fact that his skating ability is his best asset makes him even more enticing.
He is an offensive defenseman that likes to join the rush and carry the puck up the ice. He has good puck skills and a solid shot. His reads are a concern as he can let a play die and be caught deep in the offensive zone.
His D+1 season began in the U20 with JYP in Finland and after four games he had as many points. Too good for the U20 level he was called up to the Liiga and was used sparingly and was held pointless in 20 games. It was a disappointing showing in the Liiga, even for an 18-year-old.
This is his D+2 season and he has moved to a new team in Jukurit, and his deployment has been sporadic, but overall increased. His play has improved as a result, and he has ten points through 50 games. Jurmo is signed through the 2022-23 season in Liiga, and Jurmo has a lot of development ahead of him to find consistent offense and round out his defensive game.
- Will Lockwood, RW – Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)
Drafted: 2016 round three, 64th overall by Vancouver Canucks
After playing four years in the NCAA with the Michigan Wolverines the Canucks signed Lockwood with some expectations. Lockwood played his rookie season in the AHL in 2020-21 during the Pandemic in Utica and posted 11 points through 24 games. He was even recalled to the NHL for a two-game cup of coffee.
This is his sophomore season, and his production has improved slightly to 25 points in 46 games. He has again been recalled to Vancouver where he has three more games in the NHL and is yet to record a point. His ice time in the NHL has been limited playing an average of 9:17 as he has been used sparingly.
After four full NCAA seasons and now two years of pro-development under his belt, the 23-year-old is essentially a finished product and needs to establish himself quickly as a bottom-six player that plays with intensity and can deliver some hits. Nine hits in three games may not be enough to win an NHL job. The clock is ticking.
- Connor Lockhart, C – Erie Otters (OHL)
Drafted: 2021 round six, 178th overall by Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks rolled the bones and selected a player that did not play a single game in his draft year due to the OHL shutdown. Lockhart posted a 27-point rookie season in the OHL in 57 games after being selected third overall by the Otters in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. Now that the OHL has resumed, Lockhart is the only NHL drafted prospect on the Otters, who are near the bottom of the league overall, and is on pace for a 49-point season with 20 goals and 24 assists through 57 games.
Lockhart is an undersized offensive player; he has quick hands and despite his stature is aggressive on the forecheck. Lockhart is a prospect that if he adds some strength and continues to develop could work his way up the Canucks depth chart. Look for him to make a big improvement to his offensive totals next year as a fourth-year player in the OHL and then see what he can do at the pro level.
- Viktor Persson, RD – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Drafted: 2020 round seven, 191st overall by Vancouver Canucks
Another potential seventh-round find here, and the Canucks really need one or two of these to hit. In Persson the Canucks have a big, mobile right-shot defenseman. After his draft, the plan was to bring him to North America, but the pandemic spoiled those plans, and Persson was limited to 31 games between three leagues in Sweden.
This is his D+2 season and he made his North American debut in the WHL with Kamloops. On pace for 31 points in 65 games, his game has been impactful, but his offensive production has been inconsistent with several stretches of multi games without a point.
Persson may not play a flashy offensive game, but he skates very well, is smart on both sides of the puck and can blast it from the point. His upside in the NHL may be limited to a bottom pairing that can move up temporarily, but for a seventh-round draft pick, that’s found money.