• Devin Holmes-Smith

1st Round and Late Round Draft History for the Flames, Canucks and Maple Leafs.

With the Leafs, Flames, and Canucks eliminated in each of the first three playoff rounds respectively, both fans and management have been looking forward to the offseason. Round 1 of the 58th NHL Entry Draft will take place virtually, on Tuesday, October 6th at 5 pm Mountain Time followed by rounds 2-7 on Wednesday, October 7th starting at 9:30 am MT. Free agency starts Friday, October 9th at 10 am MT.

Most fans are interested in the first round of the draft and rightfully so. This is where teams have the best chance to pick a potential franchise-changing player. In 2015, Travis Yost of TSN claimed 80 percent of players drafted in the opening round play 50 or more games in the NHL.

Let’s look back at the first round picks of the past five years from our three favorite teams:

Vancouver Canucks

Jim Benning has done very well in the first round with selecting future NHLers Brock Boeser (2015), Elias Pettersson (2017) and Quinn Hughes (2018).

Pettersson started his NHL career winning the Calder Trophy with 66 points in 72 games then went on to put up another 66 points in just 68 games this year. One characteristic that separates Pettersson from other players is his undeniable willingness to win. Combined with his skill and vision, Pettersson is a force to be reckoned in the NHL.

Another young star of not just the Canucks but the NHL is Quinn Hughes. The older brother of 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes arguably had more of an impact in his rookie year than Pettersson, showing off his smooth skating, hockey sense and great defensive play, not to mention eventually taking over the No. 1 power play unit from Alex Edler. Hughes put up 45 points in 68 games, leading to his nomination for the Calder Trophy. Vancouver’s future is bright in building around these two young superstars.

The jury is still out on 2016 first round pick Olli Juolevi. Defencemen usually take more time to transition to the NHL than forwards do but Juolevi needed surgery for a torn meniscus which stunted his development. He has taken steps this past year to show upper management he can be a full time NHLer and might be able to crack the roster next season.

Vasili Podkolzin will stay in the KHL for the 2020-21 season and is expected to make a big impact on the Canucks roster in 2021-22. His net-front presence will be a big asset to the already dynamic Canucks power play and, with his playmaking ability, can potentially help solidify the top six.

Calgary Flames

The Flames have only had three opening round draft picks in the past five years: Matthew Tkachuk (2016), Juuso Valimaki (2017) and Jakob Pelletier (2019).

Some Flames fans won’t let Canucks fans forget about Benning passing on Tkachuk in the 2016 draft. Tkachuk is a player you would love to have on your team but hate to play against. He pushes opposing players’ buttons and lives rent free inside their heads – just ask Drew Doughty. What separates him from other pests around the league is his play with and without the puck. Tkachuk has instilled trust of his head coaches by playing the tough minutes, shutting down other teams’ top line while still finding a way to put up points. This potential future captain wants to win but most of all hates to lose. That attitude is what drives teams to win with players like Tkachuk.

Valimaki has been injury prone since going pro with the Flames organization. He suffered a high ankle sprain in November 2018 and in the 2019 offseason he suffered an ACL injury. The Flames are still high on Valimaki and continue to see his potential to become a solid top four defenceman.

Pelletier is cut from a similar cloth as Tkachuk – a hard nosed playmaker and good 200-foot player. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pelletier stays for a few games at the beginning of the year to get a feel for the NHL before being sent down to become captain of the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QMJHL to finish his final year of junior.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Lastly the Maple Leafs had first round picks in four of the past five years. Mitch Marner (2015) and Auston Matthews (2016) have turned around the Toronto franchise. Marner is a dynamic playmaker posting a 0.97 points per game since entering the league. Matthews is a pure sniper scoring 158 goals in just four seasons. Together being massive contributors to the Leafs success, they have been compensated with a collective cap hit of $22.527 million (US).

Timothy Liljegren (2017) has only played 11 games for the Leafs since being drafted 17th overall. He is only 21 but has not shown he can be relied upon as an NHLer and his trajectory is now a 5-6 defensive pairing player. It’s hard not to write off a young defenseman but the next two years will be big for him to show he can be an impact player for the Leafs.

With no first round pick last year (2019), Rasmus Sandin (2018) is the most recent first rounder for Toronto. Sandin made his NHL debut this past season – playing 28 games – and has shown smooth skating ability and the potential to become a good first-unit power play option. To make that next step he needs to work on his play in the defensive zone. If Sandin can do that, he could become a top 4 defenceman in the next few years.

2020 Entry Draft Picks

Vancouver has no first or second round picks this year. Last off season, the Canucks traded, controversially, their first pick in a package deal to Tampa Bay for JT Miller and their second pick in a trade deadline deal with Los Angeles for Tyler Toffoli. They do have their own third, fourth, fifth and sixth picks as well as Anaheim’s seventh.

Calgary has one pick in each of the seven rounds including Edmonton’s third round pick from the Neal/Lucic trade and San Jose’s fourth which has been bounced around between Montreal, Buffalo and finally Calgary for Michael Frolik.

Toronto has a whopping 11 picks this year, adding Pittsburgh’s first round pick in a six-player swap that included Kasperi Kapanen, their own second, fourth and sixth, Vegas’ fourth and fifth, Carolina’s and Colorado’s sixth picks and lastly San Jose’s, St. Louis’ and Winnipeg’s seventh round picks.

Every team, of course, leans heavily on their amateur scouting to make sure they hit on as many picks as possible. With the Canucks not picking until the third round and the Maple Leafs having nine picks after the third round, here are some important players picked from in rounds 4-7 spanning the past two decades (from 2000), showing how important Amateur Scouting is:

Vancouver Canucks

Calgary Flames

Toronto Maple Leafs

Looking at these picks, the majority of them have one thing in common. Brian Burke knows what that is…

"We don't draft based on skill, that's the second thing to us. We think you have a better chance of succeeding if you bring in character people than if you don't."

When drafting players, skill is sexy but they have to have character.

More to come before the 2020 Entry Draft, on late round picks. Stay tuned…

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