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The heart. The gut. The head.
All three emotions could come into play before the Vancouver Canucks make their first-round section at the NHL Entry Draft on June 21 at Rogers Arena.
However, the one that matters most is the head to understand where the NHL game is going and to also address the greatest positional need for the franchise.
If Jim Benning steps to the podium and believes he’s picking the best available player and also filling a development hole — whether a top-six scoring winger or top-pairing defencemen — it will be difficult to question the general manager’s rationale with the 10th selection because it’s often difficult to hit both goals with one pick.
And that’s where it could get interesting.
U.S. National Development Team left-winger Matthew Boldy, Swedish blue-liner Victor Soderstrom and versatile WHL forward Peyton Krebs should be on the Canucks’ radar. And if all three are still on the board then the heart and the gut might say Boldy, but the head may say Soderstrom.
While the buzz around Boldy is understandable — big frame and power-forward potential — there’s also something to be said for Soderstrom. He played in the Swedish Hockey League this season against men and might be on a quicker pro development curve to eventually add needed top-pairing potential.
Shane Malloy has scouted NHL prospects for more than a dozen years. He’s also the author of The Art of Scouting and was co-host of Hockey Prospects Radio on Sirius XM, NHL Network and TSN.
He understands the clamour for the Canucks to add scoring. They have struggled for years and were ranked 26th in goals per game and 22nd on the power play this season and don’t have an NHL-ready sniper in the system.
But he places a bigger emphasis on how difficult it is to build a top-calibre back end to eventually become an annual playoff participant.
“If I’m in Vancouver’s shoes, I’m taking Soderstrom. He’s a prototypical new-age defenceman and I would just keep racking up the defence because they desperately need D-men,” said Malloy, who will scout prospects at the world under-18 championship that opens Thursday in Sweden.
“You can find a goal-scorer in the second round of the draft because wingers are going to fall.
“Look, I like Boldy if Soderstrom is gone and Krebs can do it all. There’s not a bad choice there and they are considerations, but you can’t win without defence.
“Other than Jett Woo (second round, 2018), they don’t have anybody who can play at the NHL level — and I’m talking play in the playoffs one day. You have to have a top four that’s relevant and NHL playoff quality. The best case is Woo No. 4.”
That’s because of the unknown of individual improvement and when the Canucks will get back to the playoffs. It could be years. If Olli Juolevi didn’t require season-ending knee surgery in December, he would have logged NHL games this season.
Quinn Hughes has already teased of offensive potential but defending in the post-season is another animal. It’s physical and intense.
“Until he got hurt, Juolevi was playing like he was shot out of a cannon and projecting for 50 points and an AHL all-star,” added Malloy. “If he fully recovers and his confidence is good, I have no problem with him as a No. 3. But you still need more. Even with Woo at No. 4 and Quinn and Juolevi, you still need a top pairing.”
Malloy’s message is also one of asset management. He’s convinced it’s easier to secure a 25-goal winger via a trade or free agency than adding a top-four defenceman in the same manner.
“Boldy could score 25 goals and be valuable because he’s big and strong, but he’s not ready next year or probably the year after that. And with what you have to pay to get a No.1, 2, or 3 D-man in free agency or a trade just kills you,” said Malloy.
“And sooner or later, the Canucks are going to be picking out of the top 10 — maybe not next year or the year after that — but try to get a defenceman when you’re not in the top 10. Good luck. After the top 15, there are a lot of warts on players.”
THREE FOR THE SHOW
Canuck draft considerations if these players are still on the board at No.10:
(D, Brynas, SHL, 5-11, 176 pounds)
The stats: GP: 44, goals: 4, assists: 3, points: 7
Scout says: “Hockey sense. Mobility. Work ethic. Competitiveness. Not the biggest guy, but he competes well and is already playing pro in Brynas. He’s already a year ahead of his development.”
(LW, USNDT, USHL, 6-2, 192 pounds)
The stats: GP: 55, goals: 30, assists: 39, points: 69
Scout says: “Projects as a power forward who can score 25-30 a year and maybe he plays on the top line and he can probably do that, too. Definitely a top-six winger.”
(C/LW, KOOTENAY, WHL, 5-11, 180 pounds)
The stats: GP: 64, goals: 19, assists: 49, points: 68
Scout says: “He really didn’t have anybody to play with and the kid drove the bus. He had to produce against the top D-men and when top lines were against him.”
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