Canucks fans have been looking towards the future for several years now. With limited success at the NHL level, the growing and improving prospect pool has been one of the few sources of positivity and optimism.
In 2019, the future of the NHL will be coming to Vancouver en masse. First, British Columbia will host the 2019 World Junior Championships, with games split between Vancouver and Victoria. And on Wednesday, it was made official: the 2019 NHL Entry Draft will be in Vancouver.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson joined Canucks president Trevor Linden at Rogers Arena on Wednesday to confirm that Vancouver will be the “centre of the hockey universe” come July, 2019.
That’s according to Bettman, who hyped up the impact of the draft coming to Vancouver, from the “$8-10 million” that will be poured into the local economy, to the prospects hosting hockey clinics for kids.
“We also believe that when the NHL family brings an event to a city,” said Bettman, “there should be a sense of permanence to our visit, so there will be a legacy project created in collaboration with local organizations to create a meaningful social legacy for the region.”
It’s unclear what that will look like as yet, but Bettman promised further details as the draft gets closer.
The 2019 draft will kick-off the 50th Anniversary celebrations for the Canucks, as the 2019-20 season will be the 50th season in the NHL for the Canucks, as long as you include the season lost to the 2004-05 lockout.
Mayor Robertson seemed most excited about the synergy of the two big events taking place months apart.
“We’re going to see the whole future of hockey between the draft and world juniors,” he said. “All the great young players in the world will be spending time a couple times in Vancouver, which is exciting for our city and exciting for the future of hockey globally.”
After Vancouver hockey fans will get a close-up look at some of the best prospects in hockey at the World Junior Championships, with the possibility that the Canucks will be picking one or two of them a few months later. Odds are that the Canucks will once again be looking at a top-ten pick after the 2018-19 season, which will create some excitement heading into the draft.
“Part of the deal with Gary is that we do get the first overall pick in 2019,” joked Linden.
As Bettman protested, “I must have missed that,” Linden insisted, “It was in the fine print!”
Will the Canucks look to create some additional excitement in front of their hometown fans by making a splash at the draft?
Previous teams have certainly done so when the draft has come to their city, either making a significant trade or at least ensuring that they would have a plethora of picks to give their hometown fans plenty of opportunities to cheer.
When the draft was in Chicago in 2017, the Blackhawks made two trades to move around the draft, making nine picks in total, including four in the first three rounds. In 2016, the Buffalo Sabres had a top-ten pick to use in front of their fans, and ten picks total.
2013 saw one of the biggest splashes for a hosting city. As Canucks fans are well aware, the New Jersey Devils traded a top-ten pick to the Canucks for Cory Schneider, providing a real replacement for Martin Brodeur.
The Devils also made some moves later in the day, trading down in the second round to add a third-round pick, and adding a seventh round pick by trading a 2015 seventh round pick. In total, they only made five picks, but the biggest story of the day was the acquisition of Schneider.
In 2012, the hosting Pittsburgh Penguins made a huge splash, trading Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package that included Brandon Sutter and the eighth overall pick, which they used to select Derrick Pouliot. They also traded for an additional third-round pick on draft day, and made nine total picks in front of their fans.
At this time, the Canucks have their base-level seven picks for the 2019 draft. Unless the Canucks truly surprise everyone next season, one of those picks will be at the top of the draft. Will they look to acquire more picks like past hosting teams?
“Certainly in this market, there’s never been a bigger focus on the draft than there is now,” said Linden, which is nearly an understatement given the focus of late on adding picks. “Our goal, obviously, is to build a young, fast team that can compete for a championship again. To be able to continue that journey and to include our fans is really, really fantastic.”
This marks the third time that the draft has come to Vancouver, with the most recent coming in 2006. At that draft, the Canucks did make a splash in the days leading up to the event, acquiring Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers in a blockbuster deal.
After that kind of trade, the Canucks could afford a quieter draft. They only picked two players in the first five rounds after trading away several picks in the previous season for immediate help, like Sean Brown and Eric Weinrich. The made five picks overall and turned up one NHL player in Michael Grabner at 14th overall, though Sergei Shirokov got a cup of coffee with the Canucks as well.