Hockey Costs

Canucks’ dire need for defensive depth should guide NHL draft strategy

“You have to be patient with your draft model. (The Canucks) have no choice,” says prospect scout Shane Malloy. “If they expect those draft classes to be ready in two or three years, they are wrong”

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Jack Rathbone is a top prospect for the Vancouver Canucks.

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He is expected to be a third pairing next season and that would be comfort to a National Hockey League club desperate to support their long-term backline through better selection and development.

Rathbone, 23, was a fourth-round pick in 2017, who turned his patience with injuries into performance this season with American Hockey League affiliate Abbotsford. He quickly left the zone without a card, jumped into the game and had 40 regular season points (10-30) in just 39 games.

His 1.03 points per game and 19 power-play assists ranked him fifth among league defensemen, and he was also named to the AHL All-Rookie Team. This screams the future quarterback of the NHL’s second power play unit.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there is no other defensive prospect on the horizon. Among the top 10 considerations, Viktor Persson had a strong rookie season in the Western Hockey League but went from No. 9 to No. 10, Jett Woo went from No. 4 to No. 8 while Joni Jurmo remained at No. 6. Jacob Truscott didn’t make the cut and Toni Utunen was unsigned.

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There’s no quick fix to bolstering the guard with the 15th overall pick in the 2022 draft. When the Canucks’ new hockey operations department takes to the podium on July 7 in Montreal, a trio of defensemen should pique their interest.

Pavel Mintyukov from Saginaw (OHL), Kevin Korchinski from Seattle (WHL) and Owen Pickering from Swift Current (WHL) bring different dimensions. And if they’re still on the draft board, they deserve to be seen as the best player available who can also fill a pressing need.

Russian defenseman Pavel Mintyukov, pictured in action for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, is ranked in the zone the Canucks will pick 15th overall in the July draft. Photo by Postmedia News Files

Longtime NHL scout Shane Malloy is the author of “The Art of Scouting” and is working on a PhD in interdisciplinary development studies. He believes the Canucks should hoard defensemen. Especially without a second-round pick (47th overall) who went to Arizona in the Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade last summer and was later traded to Minnesota.

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“The biggest need is defense and honestly it’s not even close,” Malloy said on Wednesday. “If I was leading the Vancouver draft and there’s a consolidation (of players), I take the defenseman first and every time. And because they don’t have that second-round pick, I would seriously look at the Russian and European defensemen and those going to college in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds.

“These players may have warts and things to work on and you need more time for them to develop. They can’t be in the American Hockey League at 20. You don’t want that. No matter how talented they are, it’s a baptism of fire and a real challenge. At the earliest, it’s 21 or 22 for the AHL.

“You have to be patient with your model project. They (Canucks) have no choice. If they expect these draft classes to be ready in two or three years, they are mistaken. It will not arrive.”

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The Canucks have some interest in left wing Liam Omgren, who can also play center and has 58 points (33-25) in 30 games this season for Djursgardens of the Swedish junior loop. They might also like center Marco Kasper, who last season was split between Rogle BK Junior and Rogle BK Angelholm of the Swedish Hockey League. He had 24 points (13-11) in 58 games.

However, Malloy measures the long-term value of a player who projects himself as a No. 3 defender against one who could develop as a second-line centre.

“I take the defender every day,” Malloy said. “Look how much it costs to trade for a No. 3 defender or get one in free agency? It costs you an arm and a leg, so to get one in the draft, you don’t even think twice.

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Mintyukov, is a 6-foot-1 1/2, 192-pound raw left-hander. The native of Moscow, Russia is good in transition, defends well and anticipates in the offensive zone. He has 62 points (17-45) in 67 games this season and could go anywhere from 10th to 20th.

Korchinski is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw. The Saskatoon native is calm, plays smart, with transition passes from strip to strip spawned by good point work. He has 65 points (4-61) in 67 games this season with the Thunderbirds.

Pickering is a 6-foot-5, 179-pound left-handed draft who moves well and uses reach and range to turn into good offensive instincts. He had 33 points (9-24) in 62 games this season with the struggling Broncos.

“Would I take Pickering in the first round? Yes, I would,” Malloy said. “But the other two have greater upside potential. The floor for all three is roughly the same, but the ceiling for Mintyukov and Korchinski is higher due to their attacking potential.

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“Mintyukov could go back to Russia and play a few professional years before coming. So there is a bigger potential lead in its development.

“With Pickering, you have to weigh the value of a good player on a bad team and have to play against the top lines all the time and not be isolated from the attacking group. That’s what you get with players from the US National Team development program like defensemen (draft prospects) Ryan Chesney and Seamus Casey who play with two of the best lines in the entire USHL.

“You have this isolation up front and it’s not that these players are defensive, they’re offensive and always have the puck. Pickering doesn’t have that on the same level. You have to change the measurements of how you value this.

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