NHL Draft: Canucks' biggest needs, top prospects

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Jack Rathbone is one of the top prospects in the Canucks' system. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Jack Rathbone is one of the top prospects in the Canucks' system. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

With Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Nils Hoglander, and Vasili Podkolzin leading the charge, the Vancouver Canucks are in some ways young and talented.

The entirety of their elite prospects, however, are already in the NHL and the next wave looks less impactful. Linus Karlsson could be an exception to this if his development trajectory continues. Vancouver has been rumoured to be interested in trading away current members of the core to shake things up and refuel with picks, but until that happens, the new management team will continue to fill from the edges and hope for a rebound season.

Top Prospects

Jack Rathbone - Strong with the puck, Rathbone is rounding out his game away from the puck and should make his transition to the NHL next season. When the puck is on Rathbone’s stick, he can drive play and create offense through his distribution and transitional game in each zone.

Scoring 40 points in 39 games in the AHL as a defender this season, that upside was evident. He did, however, go scoreless in nine games with the Canucks.

It’s time for the Canucks to give time to the 23-year-old and foster his development in the NHL, as the organization can’t risk losing another blue-line prospect.

Linus Karlsson - The Swedish League’s rookie of the year, Karlsson is poised to join the Vancouver organization next season after signing his entry-level deal. Originally a San Jose Sharks pick acquired in 2019 via trade, Karlsson had a breakout season as a 22-year-old in the SHL, scoring 26 goals and 46 points in 52 games.

As an older prospect, how he performs in camp will decide where Karlsson begins the 2022-23 season, whether it be in a middle-six role with the Canucks or a top-six role in the American League.

Danila Klimovich - Mined out of a weak Belarussian second-tier league, Klimovich needs time to continue his development, but his first season in the AHL was promising. He arrives at the puck with a temper, and uses physicality to assert himself, and pester opponents.

As he rounds out the finer points on North American ice, Klimovich has the potential to turn into an abrasive third-line player who impacts the game in the hard-to-define ways.

Ready to Step In

As a former University of Michigan captain, Will Lockwood brings a lot to the rink. He finishes checks and effectively separates opponents from pucks. He plays with pace and adds energy to the lineup.

What Lockwood failed to do in 13 games with the Canucks this season was register a point. He’s a strong candidate, however, to join Vancouver’s fourth line and grind out the minutes he’s given. There is offensive upside in Lockwood’s game, but his decision-making needs to catch up to the pace of play, and that is the main factor that has yet to translate.

Aside from Lockwood, Rathbone will be given every opportunity to stay in Vancouver next year.

One To Watch

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the signing of Arshdeep Bains this season. Bains was the WHL’s leading scorer, notching 43 goals and 112 points in 68 games for the Red Deer Rebels. He’s certain to start his professional career in the AHL.

Watching the continued path of goaltender Michael DiPietro is another point of interest within the Canucks’ organization. He is Vancouver’s top goaltending prospect, and although the team is set in net at the moment, DiPietro’s disastrous appearances in the NHL to date do not inspire hope. That said, the former OHL Goaltender of the Year and World Juniors gold medallist showed significant improvement in his AHL campaign and should be given another chance to step into Vancouver’s roster this coming year as need presents.

Needs At The Draft

Vancouver’s prospect pool isn’t exceptionally deep at any position. It would not be surprising to see the Canucks take a defender at the draft to address that specific need.

Outside of Hughes and Rathbone, they have few defensive prospects that factor into the future. This issue was compounded by the significant miss on 2016 fifth-overall pick Olli Juolevi, who is no longer with the organization.

There is a group of blueliners who will be available in the teens at the draft, notably Pavel Mintyukov, Kevin Korchinski, and Denton Mateychuk. By the time any defender is ready, the Canucks' core on the back end will be needing a refresh, so selecting for that organizational need now is a must.

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