At long last, the future is looking bright for the Vancouver Canucks.
That’s obvious thanks to Elias Pettersson bursting into the NHL this year, following Brock Boeser’s 29-goal performance last season.
But there’s even more talent on the horizon.
The Canucks picked six players in last June’s draft, including highly-touted defenceman Quinn Hughes, selected seventh overall. Hughes is off to an impressive start to his sophomore season with the University of Michigan, but it doesn’t stop there.
Many of the players selected in that draft are performing well, showing that GM Jim Benning may have had another great day at the draft table after a very impressive 2017 draft the year prior.
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Drafted: 1st round, 7th overall
Team: University of Michigan, NCAA
2018-19 stats: 11 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 13 Pts
Many Canucks fans were hoping Hughes would step right into the NHL after being drafted seventh overall, especially after seeing him make plays like this one at the World Junior Summer Showcase in August.
👀 Hughes to Norris in OT for the game-winner!!
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) August 2, 2018
The 19-year-old, however, made the decision to return to the NCAA, citing a desire to win a national championship as a major reason why.
While the case could be made Hughes was ready to take on NHL action, it’s never really a bad decision to for a prospect to get an extra year of development, especially if they’re in a winning environment.
So far, Hughes has taken full advantage.
After an impressive 29 points in 37 games with Michigan last season, the shifty 5-foot-10 defenceman is up to 13 points in 11 games this season – putting up four assists in two games against Penn State this past weekend.
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) November 18, 2018
Hughes ranks seventh among all NCAA blueliners in scoring, and he’s tops among all U20 defencemen in the league.
Hughes will almost certainly jump right to the NHL next year, and could potentially even sign and join the Canucks for a few games at the end of this season once he wraps up his season with Michigan.
Drafted: 2nd round, 37th overall
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL
2018-19 stats: 15 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 Pts
The Canucks selected a defenceman with their second pick in the 2018 draft as well, snagging Jett Woo at 37th overall.
There’s plenty to like about the 6-foot, 200-pound defender from Winnipeg, who brings a physical edge and snarl to his game, the likes of which the Canucks have lacked since the departure of Kevin Bieksa.
Simply put, players don’t like to play against Woo, whose junior coach Tim Hunter has compared to Scott Stevens.
— Moose Jaw Warriors (@MJWARRIORS) November 6, 2018
Offence will never be the main calling card to Woo’s game, but 10 points in 15 games puts him in line to improve on his 25-point season last year.
— Moose Jaw Warriors (@MJWARRIORS) October 13, 2018
Given that Hughes and Olli Juolevi are both left-side defencemen, the fact that Woo is a right-shot is a bonus for the Canucks.
Canucks fans may get an opportunity to see Woo first-hand at the World Juniors in Vancouver this year. He isn’t a lock to make the team, but he has performed well in international play in the past and Hunter is also the coach of Team Canada.
Drafted: 3rd round, 68th overall
Team: Northeastern University, NCAA
2018-19 stats: 11 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 Pts
Many fans wanted Jake Wise at this spot (drafted by Chicago one spot later), who was ranked to go in the second round of the draft, but the Canucks went another route, taking Tyler Madden in the third round.
On the surface, the similarities to Adam Gaudette (drafted in the 5th round in 2015) are striking. Both play centre, both were drafted by the Canucks, and both committed to playing at Northeastern University.
It’s still early, but so far the just-turned-19-year-old looks like he could be another mid-round gem found by the Canucks’ USHL scouting staff.
In 11 games this season, the 5-foot-11, 150-pound centre has nine points – ranking third on his team and 14th among all U20 players. Among the 13 U20 players ahead of him, only two are younger.
Wise, meanwhile, has no goals and two assists in nine games with Boston University.
Madden is shifty, quick, and skilled, able to make creative plays to find his teammates for chances. He also has a knack for deflecting pucks, with two of his four goals this season coming off deflections in front.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) November 11, 2018
It’s early, but Madden is currently on pace to outproduce Adam Gaudette’s first season with Northeastern.
Drafted: 5th round, 130th overall
Team: Tappara Tampere, Liiga
2018-19 stats: 18 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Pts
After playing 11 games in Finland’s top pro league last season, Utunen has stuck with Tappara for good this year. The 18-year-old has picked up a single assist and is a +3 in 18 games.
Though one assist may not seem impressive, simply being a mainstay on a good Liiga team is impressive in its own right for an 18-year-old defenceman. While it would be nice to see more offence from Utunen, getting consistent playing time on a good Liiga team has to be seen as a positive for a guy drafted in the fifth round just five months ago.
And for what it’s worth, Utunen was named Player of the Game in Finland’s WJC Summer Showcase game against Canada in August.
Drafted: 6th round, 186th overall
Team: Omsk Avangard, KHL
2018-19 stats: 29 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 Pts
Listed at just 5-foot-7 and 139 pounds, Artem Manukyan is the definition of a boom or bust pick. A sixth rounder is always a longshot, so you can’t help but like picks like this that swing for the fences.
The 20-year-old put up the best single season in MHL (top Russian junior league) history with 105 points in 60 games, and now he plays for Omsk Avangard in the KHL, where he is still finding ways to produce against men, despite his obvious size disadvantage.
Manukyan has 11 points in 28 games in his first full KHL season. By comparison, prized Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov has 18 points in 26 games, and is a year older than Manukyan.
While still an obvious long shot to ever carve out an NHL career, it’s encouraging to see Manukyan producing well in a professional league. He’s third in the KHL in points by U21 players.
Drafted: 7th round, 192nd overall
Team: Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL
2018-19 stats: 4-5-2, 3.57 GAA, .874 SV%
Goalies are often a long-term game, and Matthew Thiessen is no exception to that rule.
That is perfectly fine for the Canucks, who have both Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro in the goalie pipeline as well.
Thiessen, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound goalie who had an exceptional season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League last year, is now playing in the USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
His numbers may be unflattering to the eye, with a 4-5-2 record, .874 SV%, and 3.57 GAA, but it’s worth noting that plenty of good goalies have had sub .900 save percentages at the USHL level before, including Demko.
Thiessen will need to be given several years to develop through the USHL and NCAA leagues, which is to be expected of a goalie drafted in the later rounds.