By Jason Kurylo, CanucksCorner.com
In the sixth episode of the podcast, Chris “Grease Is My Favourite Musical” Withers gives us the lowdown on the one member of the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks who used to wear a Canucks jersey – a guy who used to get all the NHL’s bad haircut press before Patrick Kane and Scott Hartnell came along – a guy who reportedly only sleeps two or three hours every night – a guy who was traded (along with shiny new championship ring) on June 23 to the Atlanta Thrashers: Brent Sopel.
Sopel was taken 144th overall, in the 6th round of the 1995 NHL entry draft. You’ll get a few more tidbits of info about the thinly-scalped gent wearing number 5 in your Blackhawks program in the podcast, but here’s some information about the Canucks draft history, followed by a few bits of evidence that the Canucks do not necessarily suck at this whole draft thing.
The year of the Sopes
Vancouver’s first pick in the 1995 entry draft didn’t come until the second round; the Canucks took Chris McAllister 40th overall — yes, another brilliant draft decision by the Left Coast brain trust of General Manager Pat Quinn and President, um, Pat Quinn. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. Quinn took Trevor Linden in the 1988 draft after having sent Patrick Sundstrom to New Jersey for goalie Kirk McLean and forward Greg Adams the year previous. Those three players would all figure prominently in the 1994 Cup final run. Still, the ’95 draft was not one for the Canuck scrapbook. How many of these names do you recognize?
The Vancouver Canucks at the 1995 Entry Draft
Round 2, 40th overall: D Chris McAllister
Round 3, 61st overall: LW Larry Courville
Round 3, 66th overall: LW Peter Schaefer
Round 4, 92nd overall: D Lloyd Shaw
Round 5, 120th overall: LW Todd Norman
Round 6, 144th overall: D Brent Sopel
Round 7, 170th overall: C Stu Bodtker
Round 8, 196th overall: RW Tyler Willis
Round 9, 222nd overall: G Jason Cugnet
Interestingly, another Canuck would be picked 144th overall just two years later. He would also win a Cup with another team. His name? Matt Cooke.
A questionable history
Anyway, the Canucks have long dealt with a reputation for drafting poorly. In 1990, Vancouver drafted Petr Nedved over Jaromir Jagr; okay, at least Nedved scored 300-plus goals and added more than 400 assists in his 16 NHL seasons – heck, he’s still an active player in the Czech elite league. But how about this genius move? We took Shawn Antoski 18th overall. Nineteenth pick belonged to the Winnipeg Jets, who took none other than Keith Tkachuk. Next? The New Jersey Devils swaggered up to the draft podium and casually drafted the young man who would only become the best goaltender of all time: Martin Brodeur.
There’s sun behind that cloud
As mentioned, Matt Cooke and Brent Sopel were both solid Canucks who went on to win Cups in Pittsburgh (2009) and Chicago (2010), respectively. Sighing wistfully as notorious Canuck draft pick Cam Neely (9th overall, 1983 draft) and Boston Bruins Hall of Famer is made the B’s new President and Grand High Public Relations Poobah, however, doesn’t need to be Vancouver’s end-all, be-all. In fact, if we take a quick look down the current roster, the solid come-up-through-our-own-system guy isn’t so much the exception any more.
Cory Schneider, Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder haven’t had their chance to break into that roster just yet, but here are a few Canuck picks that are making waves… as Canucks. Maybe, just maybe, when the draft takes place June 25–26 in Los Angeles, Mike Gillis can build on this altogether more successful tradition.
Case in point: the Sedins. Brian Burke may be a barrel-chested blowhard, but the man did one hell of a dance at the 1999 draft to secure the numbers 2 and 3 spots; he took Daniel Sedin, then his brother Henrik. To this day, the twins garner a lot of attention, and some ridicule. But Henke, with his Art Ross trophy in hand, should eliminate a lot of those “Vancouver can’t draft” snickers.
Case in point: Kevin Bieksa. Can you believe this guy was a fifth rounder? We got the square-jawed D-man 151st overall in the 2001 draft. When he’s on his game, he’s as good a number two defenseman as anyone could ask for.
Case in point: Ryan Kesler. Yes, the man of the big contract, the man of the US Olympic near-miss, the man who should be the next Canucks captain; that man was a Vancouver draft pick, taken in the first round, 23rd overall in 2003. Let’s hope his shoulder heals up right nice during the off-season, because Kess might just be lifting a 35-pound silver trophy next spring.
Case in point: Alexander Edler. With Matthias Ohlund gone via free agency, and Willie Mitchell injured, Edler stepped up to play big minutes this year. He then stepped up to throw some massive open-ice bodychecks against the Kings in the first round of the playoffs. If his game keeps elevating like this, the Canucks defensive core will look good for a long time – he’ll also be everlasting proof that trading for Roberto Luongo was not the only good move made by Brian Burke’s lackey-cum-replacement, Dave Nonis.
Case in point: Jannik Hansen. He went late in the draft – way late, in fact. Hansen was chosen 287th of 291 picks in 2004 (the year Ovechkin and Malkin went 1-2, in case you’re interested). The Big Dane is a great fourth-line winger who plays a gritty game and has a knack for big goals.
Case in point: Mason Raymond. A second rounder in 2005, Raymond is fast. No, I mean fast. The good thing about this one is that he’s also got some hands. (Unlike some previous speedsters like, say, Brandon Reid.) On nights he and Kesler click, they get the opposition blueline running around – it’s a beautiful thing. Now the question is, can Raymond produce at a more consistent clip? The follow-up question is, will Mike Gillis sign him, ship him or let him go?
Case in point: Michael Grabner. Another quickfooted forward, he’s still a little green to hold up as a lasting example of draft goodness. That said, he scored an impressive hat trick just 17 games into his NHL career and will no doubt learn how to play night in, night out at this level. This 2006 first rounder will get at least another season to show Gillis what he can do.