Abbotsford native Jake Virtanen

Abbotsford native Jake Virtanen

NHL Draft: Who Should the Vancouver Canucks Take 6th Overall?

Jake Virtanen? Nick Ritchie? Michael Dal Colle? Or will it be Nikolaj Ehlers, William Nylander, or Kasperi Kapanen?

The Vancouver Canucks have the 6th overall pick in this year’s suddenly upcoming NHL Draft. This sounds like a good thing, until you realize there’s a reason why – the Canucks sucked something awful in 2014, dropping from potential contention to flat out of a playoff spot by March.

This will be Vancouver’s highest (or is it lowest?) pick since 1999, when the team picked up Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the second and third overall picks. The year before, in 1998, they grabbed Bryan Allen at No. 4.

I’ve done my best to break this year’s draft class into a few categories that should, at least, quarantine the ones we have a shot at from the ones we don’t, and keep the ones you might want us to pick from the ones they’ll have to reach for.

The Favourites

Jake Virtanen, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

A right-handed power forward with a slick shot, a smooth stride, and an OOMPH to his game. But why are you hearing his name so much? Because Virtanen is a local kid, from Abbotsford, B.C. He’s also the kind of player the Canucks either need right now or will need very soon, especially if they deal Ryan Kesler.

NOTE: Might be kinda cool to see Virtanen come of age in a Canucks uniform along with Vancouver’s 2013 first-round pick Hunter Shinkaruk, who Virtanen has no doubt seen plenty of while Shinkaruk was captaining Medicine Hat.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Patrick Sharp, Joe Pavelski

Sober NHL Comparable: Jarrett Stoll

Should They Draft Him?

It wouldn’t be a mistake. But they can’t do it just because he’s a B.C. boy.


Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

He skates like he’s in a water slide… he barrels down, tucks his shoulders, and uses incredible speed to blast past defenders. His numbers with Oshawa this year have been gaudy, with 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games.

Dal Colle would be a potential steal at No. 6, based on what scouts have been saying about him since the beginning of this past season. At the same time, that means he could go anywhere from No. 4 to 10, because every position outside the top three – Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, and Aaron Ekblad – is far from decided.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Rick Nash (The Good)

Sober NHL Comparable: Rick Nash (The Current)

Should They Draft Him?

Absolutely. If he’s available at No. 6, how could you resist?


Nick Ritchie, Peterborough Petes (OHL)

Ritchie’s got everything that says, sure thing. But that could also mean he’s a conservative pick.

He’s a two-way play, a hard-nosed leader. Very similar to Bo Horvat, but he plays left wing. He exploded with 74 points in 61 games this past year, and his speed is deceptive.

Ritchie’s certainly not as dynamic – offensively – as guys like Dal Colle or Leon Draisaitl, even the Europeans like William Nylander or Nikolaj Ehlers, but he’s a “hockey player’s hockey player” if there was one in this year’s projected Top 10.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron

Sober NHL Comparable: Nazem Kadri, Shawn Horcoff

Should They Draft Him?

Like I said, he’s a great pick. Not sure he’s a great pick for No. 6, but he’s a great pick.

Then again, the Canucks took Horvat at ninth overall last year, choosing the Knights stud over the more dynamic Valeri Nichushkin, who played a full slate for the Dallas Stars this year.

Should they do the same thing twice in a row, or should they take a chance on someone with a more flexible stick and a skinnier blade?


The Europeans

William Nylander, MODO (SEL)

Straight-up, if you said Nylander was the most talented player in this year’s Draft, you wouldn’t be laughed at.

The kid has explosive hands and looks like a pretty package, based on what you’ll see from his time in the Swedish Elite League. (Nylander plays with Modo, the same program that has spawned Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins, and Peter Forsberg.)

However, the fact that his resume has been all-Euro since 2012 might raise a red flag or two. With guys like Virtanen or Ritchie or Dal Colle – or Reinhart, Ekblad, or Bennett – we know they’ve proven themselves to this point, playing against other players we’re measuring them against.

Will Nylander be as elusive, as dangerous when he plays against the NHL’s best? How do we know?

Well, at the very least, it’s worth a try.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza

Sober NHL Comparable: Martin Hanzal

Should They Draft Him?

Ummmmmmm… honestly, I have no idea. Anytime I hear, ‘He’s been great in Sweden,’ I see red flags. But he’s got that trademark Scandinavian flow, so at least we’d win back some style points.

Nylander will definitely be worth it, but he might take a couple years to get there.

And it depends on the coach, too – a guy like Tortorella might not have much patience for a player of his anti-Don Cherry makeup, but someone more progressive would be excited for the talent Nylander brings.


Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

Take what I said about Nylander – that we haven’t seen him play much against North American competition – and then flip it when you think about Ehlers.

In the wake of the Drouin/MacKinnon era, Ehlers filled in admirably in Halifax – finishing just behind Drouin this year with 104 points in the Quebec major league. (Drouin had 108 points in 46 games, which is so incredible it’s disgusting, but the next highest behind Ehlers was Darcy Ashley with 80.)

Ehlers is tremendously quick with his stick and his skates, and is a nifty prospect. He’s probably a little raw, if you have 2014 tagged for his debut. But he’s a can’t miss talent.

And he’s Danish… but he’s much better than Jannik Hansen, maybe even already.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Jonathan Drouin (aggressive, I know), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Marc Savard

Sober NHL Comparable: Matthew Lombardi, Mason Raymond

Should They Draft Him?

Yes, just know what you’re getting.

If you love what the Sedins bring and you want to find a guy who continue fractions of that eyes-on-the-back-of-the-head style, than Ehlers is your guy.

But like Nugent-Hopkins or Savard, you have to know he’s not going to run anyone over in a playoff series.


Kasperi Kapanen, KalPa (FIN)

Truth be told, you’re not going to find any intelligent analysis of Kapanen from me. I know about him for the same reason you would know about him: YouTube, and Bob McKenzie

I know TSN’s guys had Kapanen pegged as a potential Top 3 pick at the start of the past year. I don’t think he did anything (necessarily) to justify his drop to the back half of the Top 10 (where Craig Button has him right now)… he just plays in Europe, so while Bennett and Draisaitl and Dal Colle and Ritchie have been rising, Kapanen has fallen off because he’s not on our TV.

He’s definitely skilled… but which first rounder isn’t?

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Tomas Plekanec, Saku Koivu

Sober NHL Comparable: Nikita Filatov, Damien Brunner

Should They Draft Him?


If they draft Kapanen, it means they for some reason picked him over Ehlers and Nylander, and probably over one of Dal Colle, Ritchie, Draisaitl, or Virtanen, and there’s really no reason why they’d do that unless they know something nobody else does.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Kapanen, from what the naked eye can see. But is he the guy you want at sixth overall, your best potential pick in 15 years?

Doubt it.


The Heavyweights

*Expect these three to go from fourth to sixth, but one or two could be available for the Canucks are sixth…

Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

He’s German, and he’s efficient.

A big body with strong puck control and presence. Doesn’t get knocked off the play and has a lethal shot. He’s a leader and a wizard offensively, so far. He’d also be a terrifying Calgary Flame, so hope he doesn’t fall to the Flames at No. 4.

I don’t wanna say he reminds me of Pavel Datsyuk, but there you go… I just did.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, Vladimir Tarasenko, Gabriel Landeskog

Sober NHL Comparable: Magnus Paajarvi

Should They Draft Him?

If a guy is called a heavyweight, then… yes, the Canucks would be wise to draft him at No. 6.

(Although, personally, I get more stimulated by the idea of Ehlers or Dal Colle in a whale sweater.)


Sam Bennett, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Okay, I’m very well aware that Bennett is a potential first overall pick. A potential first overall pick…

But there’s a good chance that anyone not named ‘Ekblad’ could fall out of the top three, and that means I have to write about him.

Few of us know a lot about Bennett, because he sort of came on strong at the end of the season to threaten Ekblad and Reinhart for the throne. He’s 2014’s Tyler Seguin.

Basically, Bennett brings a lot of speed, serviceable hands, and a nose for the net. Like Ritchie, he’s a Canadian fan’s wet dream. Hard to see him going No. 1, again, but if Edmonton or Calgary somehow pass on him – and never underestimate the New York Islanders’ ability to screw up an easy choice – or if the Canucks can work a trade and climb a spot or two, Bennett’s a high-profile name who’s earned the praise.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: Jonathan Toews, James van Riemsdyk, Patrick Marleau

Sober NHL Comparable: Chris Higgins

Should They Draft Him?

Yes. Duh. Watch this TSN video below, and you’ll see why he’s climbed so high, so fast…


Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

I won’t spend a lot of time breaking down Reinhart’s game, because you’ve definitely heard a lot about it – if you’ve been listening – for two years.

Like Bennett, it would be a shock to see Reinhart fall anywhere close to sixth. But, if the trade winds are blowing, don’t put it past [Insert GM Name Here] to chase the North Vancouver kid, to at least try and keep him in the Lower Mainland.

He’s a cerebral playmaker. I don’t think he’ll ever individually live up to being a No. 1 pick – if he is one – but he’ll be a Cup champion, and isn’t that the point?

Reinhart also had 36 goals and 105 points this past season, appearing in only 60 games for Kootenay. So he’s the production to match his poise.

NOTE: Unlike Bennett or Draisaitl – or Ekblad, for that matter – I don’t see Reinhart fitting in well in Edmonton or Calgary. The Oilers have enough talented forwards already, a bunch of guys addicted to passing the puck and not enough shooters. And the Flames have Sam’s older brother Max in their system. Contrary to what Dallas has done with the Benn boys, the brother tandem isn’t always a smart play. You want a prized pick to be hungry, not complacent or too comfortable.

Hopeful NHL Comparable: A short Joe Thornton

Sober NHL Comparable: Sam Gagner? I dunno, Gagner’s better than ‘sober’ and Reinhart’s pretty unique. I’m sick of these NHL comparisons, anyway.



The Others

Brendan Perlini, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

“Big, strong winger who can shoot the puck and skate like the wind.”

That was Bob McKenzie’s summary of Perlini, and that’s definitely what you’re gonna get. He could go anywhere from No. 7 or 8 to outside the Top 10.

Haydn Fleury, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

It’s hard to get excited about a defenceman and that’s certainly the case with Fleury, who’s short of Ekblad in the way his first name is short of how it’s normally spelt.

But Fleury is a big defenceman and a blue chip prospect – a great skater who patterns himself after Jay Bouwmeester and could certainly become so don’t become him. So don’t be upset if you live in Nashville, Phoenix, or Washington and your team ends up with him at the back of the Top 10.

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