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NHL Draft: The Vancouver Canucks Scouting Conundrum

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Every NHL draft is a crapshoot, just ask the Vancouver Canucks. Outside of a John Tavares, Connor McDavid, or Auston Matthews‘, there’s more than 200 draft picks each year who will never consistently play in the big show. Of course there are guys like goalie Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg’s 5th round pick in 2012, #130), Brayden Point (Tampa’s 3rd round pick in 2014, #79), or Kevin Bieksa (the Canucks 5th rounder in 2001, #151), who surprise everyone. Those guys are the classic diamonds in the rough. They’re out there, it’s just that in 2021, it was harder than ever to really find them.

Yes, like any other year, it will take a few seasons to discover who emerges, but this year, the Vancouver Canucks and the rest of the NHL were truly flying blind. The Covid-19 pandemic limited games for players and very much limited travel for scouts. Talk to any one of them and they’ll adamantly profess that it’s very difficult to discover a player’s important intangibles, those possessed by the likes of Point and Bieksa, by watching video.

It was no different for the Europeans. The Central Scouting Bureau’s head scout for Europe Janne Vuorinen told VHN via the Hockey Wanderlüst newsletter, that access to players was limited based on a limited number of games. Most of the multi-nation tournaments, a staple on the European scouting circuit, were canceled. Crossing borders was non-existent; all of his driving was within Finland, back and forth from Helsinki to a select number of rinks. This affected a population whose best players make up 30% of the NHL.

Domestically, one has to feel for the draft-eligible players who never had a chance to play this past season. The Vancouver Canucks drafted one of them in Connor Lockhart, taken in the 6th round at #178. How the heck is anyone supposed to know how this kid will develop without recent development? Lockhart previously played for the Erie Otters, and while many of the high-end OHL’ers were able to hop the pond and latch on with pro’ teams in Europe, he and most others were left without a squad. Imagine if this young man pans out in a big way, it’ll be like Henrik Zetterberg – Part II (Detroit’s 7th rounder, #210 in 1999).

In discussing the Canucks and their other picks, one immediately has to cross back over the Atlantic. Apparently, the foreign crapshoot was more appealing. Vancouver took a hot-headed Belarussian forward, Danila Klimovich, in the 41st slot in the 2nd round. The first of their two 5th-rounders at #137 was a Finnish goalie, apparently never a bad idea, Aku Koskenvuo. Three picks later they chose a tall right-shot, Swedish defenceman Jonathan Myrenberg, who scouts refer to as having solid two-way play and an above-average shot. For a fifth-rounder! Before Lockhart in the 6th-round at #169 came another Swedish defenceman, this time a lefty, Hugo Gabrielson, and then in the 7th round, yet another Swede, at #201, Lucas Forsell, a right-shot left-winger.

Were the Sedin boys plucking these names out of a hat? In 2021, more than ever, they might as well have been.

(Editor’s note: I wondered initially if Klimovich was related to Sergei Klimovich, a player I saw in the minor leagues in the late-90’s while doing play-by-play for the Idaho Steelheads. They’re not related. Sergei was a 2nd round pick of the Blackhawks in 1992. But here’s the point of the curiosity. Sergei played one NHL game, two penalty minutes, no points. There are four NHL’ers in history who played a grand total of one NHL game and scored a single NHL goal in that game, one of them being referee Dean Morton. I’m curious how many players in history have duplicated Klimovich’s feat: one NHL game … one minor penalty.)

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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