The draft is the most important time of the year for NHL teams.
This year’s edition will be taking place June 22 and 23 in Dallas, though won’t know the winners and losers for many years.
That’s because outside of the first round, the draft can be a crapshoot.
Look no further than the Vancouver Canucks recently. Players who barely deserved a mention when they were picked in the later rounds have carved out NHL careers.
Adam Gaudette, who looks to have a bright future, was a fifth-round pick by GM Jim Benning in 2015. Also picked in the fifth round, Gustav Forsling (2014) and Ben Hutton (2012) have turned out to be better than expected.
While busts can be found anywhere in the draft, finding NHL players in the first, second, or even third round is relatively easy. Finding them beyond that is a much more difficult challenge.
Here are the best late-round draft picks (players picked in the fourth-round or later) in Canucks history.
*Note: For the purposes of this list, we will consider the player’s entire NHL career, not just the contributions made for the Canucks. The list is shown in reverse chronological order.
The Canucks decided to take a flier on a gritty defenceman out of Bowling Green State University in the fifth round in 2001.
It paid off. Kevin Bieksa scored one of the most famous goals in team history in 2011, but his contributions extend much further than that.
Bieksa blossomed into a top-four defenceman with a rare combination of skill and toughness. He scored more than 40 points in a season three times in an 808-game career that’s not over yet.
Undersized, Matt Cooke slipped to the sixth-round in 1997, despite scoring 95 points in 65 games with the Windsor Spitfires in his draft year.
It wasn’t long after before he made his debut in the NHL during the 1998-99 season. Cooke became a reliable penalty killer and effective body-checker, with a decent scoring touch for a third liner.
He would go on to become one of the most hated players in the league for his borderline hits, but that overshadowed how effective a player he was.
Cooke went on to score 398 points in 1046 career games, and won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009.
Nicknamed “Wild Thing,” the Canucks never knew what they had in Scott Walker until he was gone.
A defenceman in junior, the Canucks turned Walker into a gritty fourth-line winger. He was snapped up by the Nashville Predators in the 1998 Expansion Draft, and that’s when his career took off.
Playing 829 games with Vancouver, Nashville, Carolina, and Washington, Walker scored 20+ goals in a season on three occasions. His career finished with 397 points in 829 games, with 1162 penalty minutes.
Known for his big shot, Adrian Aucoin still owns the Canucks record for goals in a single season by a defenceman. Aucoin scored 23 times in 1998-99, but was traded away for Dan Cloutier the next season.
He went on to become more than just a power play specialist, developing into a minute-munching defenceman with the New York Islanders. He averaged 29:01 of ice time back in 2002-03, and topped 28:54 and 26:38 in 2001-02 and 2003-04 as well.
Pavel Bure wasn’t your usual sixth-round pick.
Because of complications with the Soviet Union in those days, teams assumed Bure was ineligible for the draft in 1989. The Canucks thought they might be able to prove otherwise, so they snagged him 113th overall.
Bure would have been one of the top picks that year, but instead the Canucks got him late. He went on to become a Hall of Famer.
Another Russian who would go on to the Hall of Fame, Igor Larionov was picked in a round that no longer exists today.
Larionov was 24 years old and already a legend in Russia when Vancouver picked him in the 11th round. Stuck behind the Iron Curtain, they didn’t know if he would ever step foot on North American soil.
He did, playing his rookie season four years later in 1989. His best year as a Canuck was in 1991-92, when he scored 65 points in 72 games.
The playmaking centre went on to play in the NHL until age 44, but just saw three seasons in Vancouver. He won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.
Petri Skriko didn’t have a long career, but the Finnish winger piled up points, albeit in a high-scoring era.
Skriko was the shining light in a dark period of Canucks hockey, scoring 30+ goals in four straight seasons during the 1980s, including 38 for the Canucks in 1985-86. He led the Canucks in points twice, and sits 15th all-time in franchise scoring, ahead of notable players like Greg Adams, Cliff Ronning, and Alexander Mogilny.
A seventh rounder out of Colorado College, Kamloops’ Doug Lidster went on to play 10 seasons for the Canucks. He played 897 games with the Canucks, Rangers, Blues, and Stars before retiring in 1999.
Lidster is fifth all-time in points by a Canucks defenceman, and still holds the club record for points in a single season by a blueliner, scoring 63 in 1986-87.
He went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Rangers, against Vancouver in 1994.
Patrik Sundstrom is probably best remembered for what he fetched in a trade, not what he did on the ice.
The deal that sent him to New Jersey in exchange for Kirk McLean and Greg Adams is one of the best in Canucks history, though it overshadows what was a productive career by the high-skilled Swede.
Sundstrom scored 91 points for the Canucks in 1983-84, which is the highest-scoring season by a Canuck not named Sedin, Bure, Mogilny, Naslund, or Bertuzzi. He wound up scoring 588 points in 679 career games with the Canucks and Devils.
Dirk Graham never played a game for the Canucks, instead signing with Minnesota four years after he was drafted. A good two-way forward, he became the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks and scored 20+ goals six times in his career.
He ended his career with 489 points in 772 games.