Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, we’ll focus on the Vancouver Canucks draft Boom and their Draft Bust.
Vancouver Canucks Draft Boom and Bust
Other picks have played more games, and other picks have scored more points. But the 2001 fifth-round Vancouver Canucks draft pick Kevin Bieksa is hard to beat in either interviews or Superman punches.
Bieksa was drafted into the OHL, but decided to go the college route at Bowling Green instead. It was a good choice for him, as he remained for four years developing his hard-nosed, high-scoring game. He was an “Honourable Mention” for the CCHA All-Academic Team twice, and he won the coaches pick as the team’s best player. Most importantly, the fans named him their top ‘grinder’ – a big part of his professional career.
It didn’t take long for the 23-year old Bieksa to adapt to the professional game. In his first pro season in Manitoba, he scored 12 goals and 39 points in 80 games – his scoring came along with 192 penalty minutes. Opponents were quick to notice whenever he was on the ice. Much the same thing would happen in Vancouver with the Canucks. After splitting the 2005-06 season between Vancouver and Manitoba, he averaged over 24 minutes of ice time in 81 games in 2006-07. His 12 goals and 42 points led the defence, and his 134 penalty minutes led the team.
Other Notable Booms
The best twitter handle in the NHL (@Hockey_Gaud) has other virtues, too! The Vancouver Canucks draft pick was 149th overall in 2015, getting his first taste of NHL hockey in 2017-18. Adam Gaudette‘s five games were cautious, and he netted zero points. The next season was split between Vancouver and Utica and he broke his NHL goose egg with 12 points in 56 games. This year has been a different story. He’s over any shyness he had, embracing a third-line role with gusto. Tremendously fun to watch, the 23-year old Gaudette has added scoring to a suddenly-dangerous second power-play unit. Four of his twelve goals were scored on special teams, and he reached 33 points before the season ended. Not bad for someone getting less than 12:30 per game.
There is a temptation to type “2004” and walk away. Four solid NHL players came out of that draft from just seven Canucks picks. There’s a Jennings winner and All-Star goaltender (Cory Schneider, 26th overall); current defensive leader and All-Star (Alexander Edler, 91st); and a 400-game tough guy (Mike Brown, 159th). But they get overshadowed by dartboard pick Jannik Hansen. The ninth round doesn’t even exist anymore, but the 187th overall pick worked his way from Denmark through Sweden, Portland, and Manitoba to carve out an eleven-year NHL career. He went into corners like an out-of-control lawnmower, often at the expense of his own health. His agitating style worked, and he finished his career with 626 NHL games, 109 goals and 256 points.
The first Vancouver Canucks draft pick of the century is also their biggest bust. It’s strange to think of teams deliberately choosing a player who isn’t known for their offence in the first round, but Nathan Smith was projected as a solid, two-way centre. His selection would mean fewer fireworks, but more stability. After all, the team drafted Henrik Sedin the year before, so a complementary player would be perfect!
In his second year with the Swift Current Broncos, Smith scored 21 goals and 49 points in 70 games, matching up against opponent’s best players. Next season he rocketed to 90 points, and the pick was looking much better than in his draft year. Soon, the 6’2″ centre joined the Manitoba Moose and… didn’t do much. Over the next five years, he would play four games in Vancouver and 393 in Manitoba. He would solidify himself as a reasonably productive and defensively reliable AHL player. While he didn’t manage a single point in the NHL, he did play 26 games with three different teams.
Which is a fine professional career: sometimes late first-round picks (23rd overall in 2000) simply don’t pan out. Except the next ten picks after Smith included: Brad Boyes (822 NHL games, picked 24th overall), Steve Ott (848, 25th), Brian Sutherby (460, 26th), Justin Williams (1264 games so far, 28th), Niklas Kronwall (953, 29th), and Nick Schultz (1069, 33rd). So there’s probably room for some regret there.
Other Notable Busts
Patrick White is the name that is inevitably spoken when the topic of lousy Vancouver Canucks draft picks comes up. The pick is remembered (and criticized) as being “way off the board” but it wasn’t as huge a stretch as that. White chose to stay with his hometown high school team, which raised some eyebrows. But while there he won multiple All-State nominations and was runner up for the state’s Mr. Hockey Award. He had promised to go to the University of Minnesota’s excellent program, so it seemed like a reasonably safe pick at 25th overall. Unfortunately, the program was good enough to leave him with minimal ice time, and he never played a professional game in North America. The picks immediately following White were St. Louis Blues star David Perron and current New York Ranger Brendan Smith.
After a solid year in Denmark’s men’s league as a 17-year old and one more in the OHL, Nicklas Jensen was the first Vancouver Canucks draft pick of 2011, taken 29th overall. At 6’3″ and a powerful skater, it was hoped he would grow into a power forward position. Visions of a taller, more skilled Jannik Hansen danced through more than one scout’s head. He split his first professional season between Sweden and the AHL, with a shaky adjustment to North America. He improved next year, but going on multiple game scoreless streaks followed by four points in five games would keep him in the minors. Finally, in 2017 he went to Jokerit of the KHL where he’s doing quite well. His six points in 31 NHL games wouldn’t hurt too much if the next player chosen wasn’t Rickard Rakell…
Let us know if you think there’s anyone else we missed!