The Vancouver Canucks have a number of talented young forwards on the roster and in the pipeline, but outside of Elias Pettersson they have very few at the center position. After a deep playoff run last season, Vancouver expected to continue as a contender for years to come. Instead, they took a major step back this season. The thin silver lining is that they have the opportunity to address their greatest prospect need with a top ten pick – and plan to do just that.
In his first round mock draft, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler also included some hints from league sources that influenced his decisions. The most detailed report pertained to the Canucks and their hopes for the No. 9 overall pick. Wheeler writes that the Canucks are expected to take one of William Eklund, Mason McTavish, or Kent Johnson with the selection, assuming at least one is still available. While all three have played wing as well in their young careers, they are primarily considered centers and Johnson and McTavish are largely expected to stick at center at the pro level.
In Wheeler’s mock, he has Eklund – the consensus top player of the group – and McTavish already off the board by the time Vancouver picks. However, that shouldn’t be a problem. Wheeler believes that Johnson, the most natural center of the group, is considered to be the Canucks’ top choice for their pick. Johnson may need to fill out his frame and work on his physical compete level, but his talent is obvious. The University of Michigan is natural puck-mover and play-maker with some of the best puck skills in the draft class to go with smooth skating and great vision. Once Johnson grows into his frame and develops more two-way sense, he should be a perfect fit down the middle. If he falls to Vancouver, Wheeler notes it would be another instance of an incredibly skilled but lanky, physically immatures player going later than he probably should to the good fortune of the Canucks. It worked out nicely with Pettersson and the team would not hesitate to take the chance again.
If Johnson is gone by No. 9, as are Eklund and McTavish, the Canucks could still target the center position with U.S. National Team Development Program standout Chaz Lucius, another versatile forward who could line up down the middle in Cole Sillinger, or a natural center and preseason top pick candidate Aatu Raty. The team will have plenty of options to address their biggest development need in the first round, before addressing their current roster over the rest of the off-season.