Just a few prospects for the Vancouver Canucks from their recent draft.
1. Olli Juolevi - London Knights
While I'm not sure I would have drafted Juolevi as high as Vancouver did, there's no denying that he's a terrific NHL prospect. His game is built for the way the NHL plays today. Speed, quick decision making, strong positioning. His ability to start the breakout must have really caught the eye of Canucks' scouts. He just doesn't make mistakes with the puck. He was so good for the Memorial Cup champion Knights, and WJC Champion Finland this year. So the question is? Is he NHL ready? Quite frankly, I think he could play in the NHL next year and not embarrass himself. But I don't think it would be the right choice. Look at the issues that Pittsburgh has had with Olli Maatta from rushing him to the pros. A year of patience can go a long way. If Juolevi is returned to London he'll have another year to get stronger, to improve his play in his own end (like his ability to win battles in the corners and become a dominant one on one stopper), and to gain confidence in his offensive abilities (particularly his point shot). If he's back in the OHL, he's a 50 point player and a key cog on yet another strong London team (although not likely Memorial Cup strong). If he's in the NHL, he's probably a 20 point guy like Ristolainen and Maatta were in their first years.
2. Cole Candella - Hamilton Bulldogs
There's no way that the Canucks get Candella in the 5th round if he doesn't miss the second half of the season with a fractured wrist. In the first half of the year, the Bulldogs were in a tough spot and Candella was asked to play a larger role than he should have been. Due to injuries, Hamilton needed Candella to be the team's number one defender, which is a lot to ask of a 2nd year player. Needless to say, Hamilton wasn't a great hockey team then. Yet, Candella was looking better and better each week. As his confidence grew, the improvement in his game became extremely noticeable. But then the wrist injury occurred. A smart two-way defender, Candella can impact the game at both ends. He makes a smart first pass, but is also a solid positional defender. In the 2nd half, Hamilton was a much better team and if Candella had remained healthy, there's no doubt in my mind that he would have continued to improve and been an impact player. Next year, the Bulldogs will have a very veteran laden team with a lot of talent. Candella will be counted on to be a top 3 defender and will see time in all situations. Healthy, I think he is a candidate to have a 40+ point season (essentially what he was on pace for this year without the injury).
3. Brett McKenzie - North Bay Battalion
Another pick I was a major fan of. Couldn't believe McKenzie didn't get drafted last year. But he came back this year and really used that as motivation to improve. Under the tutelage of Stan Butler, McKenzie has developed into a terrific two-way center. Thing is, his offensive game has more potential. He's got a great shot and release and he has more skill with the puck than one would believe. As he gains the confidence to play with the puck on his stick and take chances offensively, we could see a big jump in production. This is especially true when you consider the fact that only 8 of his 53 points were on the powerplay (although he did have 5 shorthanded goals). Next year, he'll be the most likely candidate to replace Mike Amadio as the team's top offensive option and he could easily be a point per game player (and a 35 goal man).