The Vancouver Canucks will have to deal with a level of uncertainty when it comes to who they might select in the 2021 NHL Draft next month — but that isn’t all that out of the norm for this season.
This year’s draft is the definition of uncertain. That uncertainty envelopes and compounds for teams the farther down the draft board you pick. With varying opinions and a lack of consensus, the variance between teams’ draft lists can be immense.
With added layers of complexity caused by a global pandemic, scouting has pushed heavily into video, with scouts making it out to see players in person whenever the possibility arrives. With limited viewings and prospects playing in extraordinary situations, the complexity compounds.
Because of these reasons, a scenario presents where the Canucks could walk away from the draft with a player they ranked much higher than ninth overall. This piece will examine some players who could be available come July 23.
Brandt Clarke (HC Nove Zamky, Slovakia)
Birthplace: Nepean, Ontario
Size: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Stats: 26 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 PTS
What happens when a team is able to select the best available player and it also meets a massive organizational need? Celebration? High-fives? The answer is probably all the above.
Clarke is a 6-foot-2, right-shot defender, who played in Slovakia for HC Nove Zamky, putting up 15 points in 26 games against professional players.
If the Ottawa-born defender is available at ninth overall, the Canucks will essentially add a cerebral defender who processes the game at lightning speed, while blending together plus-handling, vision, and the decision making to heighten his already proficient passing ability. It’s a match made in heaven for a team that is missing a high-end right-shot defender in their system.
Clarke’s ability to activate off the blue line, manipulate defenders through the slot, and create offence through layered passing and shooting is key to why he is such a valuable player. Watch some of his activation sequences below; see how Clarke processes teammate positions and strings together positive actions:
The blend of physical tools, handedness, and hockey sense will lead to translatability for Clarke.
The one area where Clarke struggles to fully leverage is his skating. While he is fairly dynamic on his edges, allowing for plus-lateral mobility, he is very knee-knocked and lacks a lot of lower-body strength.
Is there a possibility that Clarke drops to the Canucks because of this deficiency? Probably not, but nobody expected Quinn Hughes to be available at seventh overall three years ago either.
William Eklund (Djurgardens, Sweden)
Position: Left winger
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Size: 5-foot-10, 176 pounds
Stats: 40 GP, 11 G, 12 A, 23 PTS
Another player that would represent a relative best-case scenario is Swedish winger William Eklund.
Eklund had a wonderful season for Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) producing 23 points in 40 games — good for seventh in scoring on his team. Those are extremely impressive results when you consider he did this in a professional league as a draft-eligible player.
By conventional standards, he stands undersized at 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds, but he really doesn’t play like a small player. Eklund has an extremely high motor, making him ever-involved during his shifts. He forechecks like a maniac, pushes pressure constantly, and always finds ways to get involved. What makes him special is how he blends skill with that motor to push details.
Eklund is a plus-puck handler who looks to manipulate constantly. What stood out in my viewings was his vision and ability to find teammates through heavy layering. Watch as Eklund completes defensive stops, uses eye-line and body manipulations to feed false information, and magnetizes attackers to put his teammates in better positions.
The overwhelming blend of hockey sense and skill will most likely have Eklund selected before ninth overall, but if the chips fall a certain way and teams feel that his game won’t translate at his size, he could be available to Vancouver.
Imagine a line that has Eklund and Vasily Podkolzin on the wings — wouldn’t that be fun?
Kent Johnson (Michigan, NCAA)
Birthplace: Port Moody, BC
Size: 6-foot-1, 167 pounds
Stats: 26 GP, 9 G, 18 A, 27 PTS
There is a real scenario where Kent Johnson, a Port Moody-born, 6-foot-1, 167-pound forward, could be the best available player on the board at ninth overall.
The Michigan Wolverines star scored 27 points in 26 games on a powerhouse NCAA team that included 2021 top-five candidates Owen Power and Matt Beniers, along with a litany of already highly-drafted prospects.
Johnson, who absolutely tore up the BCHL in 2019-20 with 101 points in 52 games, possesses a plethora of eye-popping offensive tools that could do damage as he translates to higher leagues.
When carrying the puck, small-space handling, plus-passing ability, and limitless patience dominate Johnson’s most successful shifts. There were so many scenarios this season where he absolutely embarrassed over-committing defenders, converting high-danger chances after their preemptive actions.
Watch as the local product literally has the puck on a string in the video below:
Johnson’s stock is somewhat indecisive around the scouting community and could really go anywhere in the top 10.
The individual offensive skill set is so impressive but what happens to his inside-pressure handling when better defenders and faster players are introduced? How will Johnson’s development scale as he gains strength relative to his frame?
Johnson is a player on a longer development track and there could be major dividends in selecting the hometown kid.
Mason McTavish (EHC Olten, Switzerland)
Birthplace: Zurich, Switzerland
Size: 6-foot-1, 207 pounds
Stats: 13 GP, 9 G, 2 A, 11 PTS
Mason McTavish is a Swiss-born Canadian forward who ended up playing overseas in Switzerland after the OHL delayed and eventually cancelled their season.
Sitting at an already projectable size at 6-foot-2, and 207 pounds, McTavish captained Team Canada to gold at the U-18 World Championships, scoring 11 points in seven games.
Trough occupying high-pressure and high-traffic areas, McTavish can leverage his frame to attack rebounds, shift to open space to unleash a deadly one-touch snap shot, and find open teammates, especially on the transition.
The maturity of his game is immense.
There’s a ton of value in his defensive game as well. McTavish occasionally frequented the penalty kill unit for EHC Olten. He is proactive, occupies passing lanes well, and leverages his size on opponent slot attacks on box-outs.
Watch the mechanics of McTavish’s shot and note his pin-point placement — as well as tons of layered passing, examples of manipulation, and off-puck movement to produce offence.
If McTavish is available at ninth overall, you are getting quite a compelling player that possesses an immense amount of translatability on a shorter development track.
If anything is going to drop the Zurich-born forward, it will probably be his skating ability. His pace is average, edge work could be more dynamic, and he lacks an extra gear of explosiveness through his side-to-side push offs.
Luke Hughes (USA U-18, NTDP)
Birthplace: Manchester, New Hampshire
Size: 6-foot-2, 184 pounds
Stats: 38 GP, 6 G, 28 A, 34 PTS
Not turning 18 until September 9, and standing at 6-foot-2 and 176 pounds, Luke Hughes is not only young for this draft, but he has room to grow. He also represents a tantalizing option to unite another high-end brother combination in Vancouver.
The Michigan-born, left-shot defender put up near point-per-game numbers while playing on the United States National Development Program Team before injury ended his season.
Haven’t seen this out there yet. My understanding based on a conversation with a well-placed source is that top #2021NHLDraft prospect Luke Hughes is going to be out for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. The phrasing was “several torn ligaments in his foot.”
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) March 21, 2021
Hughes presents as an uber-confident rush attacker who possesses mechanically high-end skating ability, size, and some ability to blend handling to beat defenders one-on-one. While he attacks into pressure too often and misses some of the hockey sense that his brother Quinn Hughes possessed at the same age, Luke Hughes was still an overwhelming attacking force this season.
Hughes constantly rotates at the top of the point while exerting sustained pressure, manipulating through faked shots, pushing a volume of lower-quality lobs on net, while activating deeper through his opponents slots.
Watch his one-on-one attacks and sustained cycling below:
While the youngest Hughes brother can be inefficient offensively, and could leverage his physical tools more in the defensive end, the potential blend of his physical tools and skill based tools are hard to ignore. He won’t create the same high level of offence Quinn can off the half walls, but he probably can become a more projectable defender who exploits power and speed rather than more cerebral, dexterous actions.
A couple of Hughes brothers comprising the Canucks’ left-side defence would be a fun timeline.
Simon Edvinsson (Frolunda, Sweden)
Birthplace: Kungsbacka, Sweden
Size: 6-foot-4, 198 pounds
Stats: 10 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS
Simon Edvinsson towers over competition at 6-foot-5, possessing the projectable frame that general managers look for when building out their defence corps.
The Swedish-born defender spent time in J20, HockeyAllsvenskan and the SHL, most notably outputting eight points in 20 regular season and playoff games in Sweden’s relegation league.
When you watch Edvinsson, the most notable thing about him is the blend of his size and aggression as a defender. He possesses functional mobility and the reach that can surprise puck carriers while defending and attacking in transition.
As a player that is extremely under developed, there are noticeable issues with some parts of his game — particularly his decision making and the compounding of mistakes that follow. Watch some of his sequences below to get a feel of what we are working with:
It’s fair to come away with mixed feelings about the Frolunda defender. On one hand, you have a player with extremely projectable physical skills who is trying to always play aggressively. On the other hand, he really does struggle with processing and decision making. The hope is that with proper development, habit coaching, and maturity, you could end up with an impact top-four defender — one that learns to rein it in at the right times.
While Edvinsson’s range realistically sits near the ninth overall pick, I question if teams picking before Vancouver will let such a rangy defender slip that far — especially if you consider the value he might bring if he reaches his potential.