Times are changing.
They’d better be.
The Vancouver Canucks placed ninth on ESPN’s annual prospect pipeline ranking this year, up from 13th the year before. They were 15th in 2015.
Don’t raise the ‘mission accomplished’ banner yet, as a team that finishes near the bottom of the league standings in three out of four years ought to have good prospects. But it is a sign that the Canucks are starting to dig themselves out of giant organizational chasm.
Corey Pronman, ESPN’s well regarded prospect analyst, did the rankings based on players that had played fewer than 50 NHL games in their career and fewer than 25 games in any one season. That means that a player like Jake Virtanen was excluded from consideration, while Nikolay Goldobin – they were both drafted in the first round in 2014 – counted in the Canucks pipeline.
Pronman also valued elite players higher than a pile of depth prospects, which clearly would have hurt Vancouver. The Canucks are still looking for their ace prospect.
Maybe that’s Elias Pettersson at this time next year? If he surpasses expectations with his pro team in Sweden next season he could be considered an elite prospect, and the Canucks will vault up the rankings. Until then, we’ll see.
— Grady Sas (@GradySas) August 16, 2017
Still, it’s a steady rise for the Canucks, who have four prospects – Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi, Pettersson, and Jonathan Dahlen – in Pronman’s top 100 list of skaters. Vancouver’s top two goaltending prospects – Michael DiPietro and Thatcher Demko – ranked eighth and ninth among netminders. DiPietro ranked ahead of Demko, so maybe we have a goaltending controversy to look forward to in a few years?
Speaking of controversy, note that Pettersson ranked 48th – well back of Cody Glass (13th) – who the Canucks passed on with the fifth pick at the draft.
Dahlen keeps pretty company among his Canucks peers, and it’s a testament for trading veterans for young players. He was acquired by GM Jim Benning for Alex Burrows, who was an aging player that didn’t fit into the team’s long term plans anyway. Now, the 19-year-old ranks as Vancouver’s best prospect outside of their last three first round picks. Not bad.
Other players not mentioned that should give reason for optimism are wingers Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich – both second round picks this year – who both participated in the World Junior Summer Showcase for Canada this summer.
Centre Adam Gaudette (a fifth rounder in 2015) showed well at development camp in July, and is coming off an excellent second season with Northeastern where he scored 52 points in 37 games (fourth in the Hockey East Conference). Winger William Lockwood missed camp because of a shoulder injury, but after a good freshman season with Michigan (he scored 20 points in 30 games, ranking second on his team), the 2016 third rounder is also a player to keep an eye on.
Most of Vancouver’s prospects will play in junior, college, the AHL or overseas next year, but there are some that will challenge for a spot on the Canucks next season. Boeser is expected to make the team, while Juolevi, Goldobin, and Virtanen could crack the opening night lineup as well.
It will be interesting to see how defenceman Guillaume Brisebois – the draft pick selection acquired for Eddie Lack in 2015 – fares in his first season of professional hockey. He was one of the final cuts for Canada’s World Junior team last December.
Time is starting to run out for some of the team’s older prospects, like 22-year-olds Jordan Subban and Cole Cassels, both who have yet to play an NHL game. They need to prove themselves to some degree this season, or history shows that they may be on the way out of the organization soon.
The cupboard has been restocked, but there’s still more work to be done. So no, don’t plan the parade yet, but at least the Canucks appear to be trending in the right direction.