With Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette, Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind, and Thatcher Demko in the fold, there’s been been a lot of hype surrounding Canucks prospects in recent months.
Except something’s missing. Where are the defencemen?
The Canucks have been searching for a dynamic blueliner, ideally right-handed, to quarterback the power play for quite some time.
They drafted Olli Juolevi fifth overall in 2016 and signed NCAA free agent Troy Stecher the same year. But right now, it looks like neither will be able to fill that important role on the man advantage – even if both will play in the NHL for many years.
Consensus No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin would obviously be the answer to the Canucks’ prayers, but the likelihood of getting him is remote. Here are three other top offensive defencemen that will be available at the draft in June.
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1. Adam Boqvist, Brynäs IF (SHL)
Adam Boqvist might just be what Vancouver is looking for.
Boqvist, ranked second among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, is known for his game-changing offensive ability. He’s an extremely dynamic skater who loves to join in on the attack.
“Boqvist started off the season with a fantastic Ivan Hlinka tournament in August, where he was one of the top players and brought himself into the top-three conversation,” says Dennis Schellenberg, European head scout for Future Considerations. “He possesses good shooting tools, a quick release and good shot power, along with great puck-moving skills and high hockey IQ.”
In 23 games for Brynäs IF’s under-20 team this season, the 17-year-old scored a whopping 14 goals and 21 points.
And defensively, Boqvist does a decent job as well – despite being listed at just 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds.
“He’s not the biggest guy,” Schellenberg says. “But he shows good tenaciousness in board battles and doesn’t shy away from physical contact.
“I like his active stick that he uses to attack puck carriers aggressively.”
Unfortunately, though, there are some question marks about Boqvist’s play. While he has excelled at every junior level, he’s struggled in a very limited role with the pro club this season.
In 13 games with Brynäs, he has no goals and just one assist. On loan to Almtuna IS of the second-tier Allsvenskan, things didn’t go much better. There, Boqvist had two points (0-2-2) in seven contests.
“Against men, he played ok but not dominant offensively,” Schellenberg says about his SHL viewings of the Swede. “He didn’t dare to play a risky game and didn’t go for long outlet passes or jump in on rushes, something that he does frequently against junior-level players.”
Still, Boqvist’s skill set is very intriguing and could well land him a high spot on the Canucks’ draft list.
2. Quinn Hughes, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Like Boqvist, Quinn Hughes is an excellent skater who likes to play a dynamic and skilled offensive game.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, he is even smaller than the Swede, but his offensive upside is why he’s ranked as the best North American defenceman by NHL Central Scouting.
Hughes can change the outcome of a game all by himself, thanks to his skating, puck skills, and smarts.
In 2016-17, Hughes had 53 points (10-43-53) in 65 games with the US National Team Development Program, and played an important role in Team USA’s gold-medal efforts at the under-18 world championship.
This year, he played an equally big role as an underaged player at the world juniors, and currently sits at 18 points (3-15-18) in 27 games with the University of Michigan.
But, Hughes has weaknesses too.
While many were amazed by his offensive prowess displayed at the 2018 World Juniors, others were more focused on his risky style of play. Hughes is very confident in his abilities, but risky plays at the offensive blue line can quickly lead to odd-man rushes or breakaways against.
In the defensive zone, Hughes has some work to do as well. But with his ability to control the game from the backend, he is all but guaranteed to get picked in the top 10 of the draft.
3. Ty Smith, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Next up is Ty Smith of the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. While he fits right in with Boqvist and Hughes in terms of size, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender plays a very different type of game.
Smith is a prototypical two-way defender, who isn’t overly dynamic in the offensive zone, but simply plays a very intelligent all-around game, making few mistakes.
Rather than carrying the puck himself on every breakout and dangling around opponents, Smith likes to create chances for his teammates by playing smart, accurate passes.
“Thanks to his speed and offensive acumen, he is always a player who is a threat to push the pace from the back end, whether it be the long pass to a streaking teammate or going for a skate through the neutral zone,” says Justin Froese, Western head scout for Future Considerations. “He provides a level of unpredictability rush to rush that keeps opponents on edge.”
But, while he might not be as dynamic offensively as Boqvist or Hughes, he certainly knows how to contribute. Smith is an extremely smart player who distributes the puck well in the offensive zone and has an arsenal of hard, accurate shots, allowing him to quarterback the Chiefs’ power play.
So far this season, Smith has 56 points (9-47-56) in 53 games with Spokane.
Defensively, he looks promising as well.
“As accomplished as he has looked offensively, I have little concern about his defensive game as well,” says Froese. “He does take the occasional risk, but there are very few uncalculated decisions and mistakes for him to be faulted on.
“Thanks to his ability to recover and read play, he is often one of the more accountable players on the ice and can shift his focus quickly.”
On the downside, without that elite offensive skill, some scouts don’t see more in him than a solid top-six defender at the next level. Smith came in 14th on NHL Central Scouting’s list among North American skaters.
Still, Smith’s ability to make an impact in all three zones of the ice could cause his name to be called early.