Michael Carcone fend off an Edmonton Oilers defender in the pre-season.
Photo Credit: Peter Llewellyn – USA TODAY Sports
We’re a few years into Jim Benning’s run at the top of the Canucks, and we’re starting to see trends develop as a result. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to focus on an area of strength and look at developments made at the draft.
Vancouver’s made a point of selecting players from the USHL, and the results so far indicate they’re on their way to paydirt. The OHL doesn’t lag far behind in the Canucks’ collective scope, as they’ve mined that league on many occasions over the last three seasons. Lastly, they’re prospecting the QMJHL it seems.
Investing in the QMJHL isn’t a surefire bet. Just looking at Canucks’ development camps, and it’s a who’s who of players from the Q who’ve been passed over, sometimes in multiple drafts. That speaks to the uncertainty.
The Canucks haven’t always gone that route, though. If their record in 2016 is any indication, it might be a developing trend for the Canucks heading into their fourth draft with Benning at the helm.
This is a topic worth exploring, so let’s dive into it.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves — everything is cyclical.
The best developmental Canadian Hockey League one year can be middle of the pack or worse the next. Given the high turnover rates, the quality of players is always shifting. Still, the OHLeague usually sends the most players to the draft each June, due in large to population in density.
Their counterparts in the WHL have 20 teams and just further east in the QMJHL they’ve 18 teams.
The OHL’s led in every year since 2010, with the exception of 2015, when the QMJHL saw a spike. There were 11 QMJHL players taken in the first two round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. For context, they sent just 14 players in total at the last draft.
The Canucks have taken the following players from the QMJHL since Jim Benning took over:
Guillaume Brisebois (Acadie-Bathurst Titans) — 66th overall, 3rd round
Carl Neill (Sherbrooke Phoenix) – 144th overall, 5th round
So they haven’t spent a lot of picks in that area, and their picks align with the spike in 2015. Dmitry Zhukenov was drafted out of the MHL in 2015 and was about to enter the CHL Import Draft. There was no confirmation that Chicoutimi was going taken Zhukenov, nor would that he would report.
Looking specifically at the draft, the evidence doesn’t support the theory. But if we turn our attention to another avenue of junior player acquisition — and look at 2016 specifically — it appears they’ve begun to look there.
Development camp invites
There were no QMJHL invites during the 2014 and 2015 development camps. Looking at their 2016 camp, though, they called on three forwards from the QMJHL and three defencemen — the group accounts for half of their invitees.
That included Michael Carcone, who they signed to an ELC at the conclusion of the camp. Let’s take a glance at the top goal scorers for the QMJHL last season:
Carcone and Alexis D’Aoust were both invitees to Canucks development camp in 2016. Both rated well when using pGPS, as their production was extremely high despite concluding their D+2 seasons. Carcone was an invitee to Florida Panthers development camp the following week but declined due to his pact with the Canucks. I’ve heard the Panthers are into analytics, so it’s safe to suggest that Carcone was a target due to these numbers.
Carcone and D’Aoust’s first year of draft eligibility was 2014, and they were both passed over. They were then passed over in 2015 and 2016. 2014 was part of the lower numbers, with 17 players being selected from the QMJHL. Both saw success later in their QMJHL careers, which obviously caught the eye enough of Canucks management to have a longer look at camps.
Lucien DeBlois is the QMJHL scout for the Canucks. It’s fair to believe he’s seen these players in the past and would say that they’re worth an invite. It’s also a safe assumption that other members of the scouting staff have seen these players in the past.
It’s clear the information above doesn’t suggest it’s a trend, but something to keep an eye on going forward. It may be simply that the Canucks have a certain amount of invites and DeBlois is going to bat for these players. Something along the lines of ‘being the loudest’ voice in the room.
The Canucks have shown a track record of inviting the same players to multiple events for longer looks. Will we see players like D’Aoust again, or will they look at other QMJHL players?
As mentioned earlier, everything is cyclical, so they may not be specifically targeting players from the QMJHL, but the thought that there may be some missed players due to lower draft numbers is a fair process of reflection. When we used pGPS to look at the development camp invites, Carcone and D’Aoust rated extremely well despite finishing their D+2 seasons.
If you think that players are being missed due to the lack of scouting or players selected – then trying to exploit that market makes sense. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues, or if the 2016 development camp was just a blip on the radar.
There are some intriguing names at the top of 2017 NHL Entry draft, so maybe those players are worth keeping an eye on?