ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The Vancouver Canucks needed to get bigger, better and deeper with eight selections in the NHL entry draft, and they needed to select a goaltender.
It was a matter of who and when.
When three stoppers went before their second-round selection Saturday, the Canucks sent the 60th pick to the Wild so the division rivals could draft Minnesota native winger Mario Lucia and send the 71st and 101st picks to the Canucks.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners then selected QMJHL goalie David Honzik of the Quebec Remparts with that third-round pick based largely on his 6-3 size and potential. That was the plan after Swedish stopper Magnus Hellberg went 38th overall to Nashville, U.S. national development team goalie John Gibson — interviewed several times by the Canucks — went 39th to Anaheim and Chris Gibson went 49th to the L.A. Kings.
Honzik started slowly and was 17-12-1 last season with a 3.54 goals-against average and .884 save percentage.
But he is expected to play for the Czech Republic in the world junior tournament.
“It’s always important to get a goaltender in every draft and he had a far better second half once he got acclimated,” Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said of Honzik. “We wanted a big forward who could skate (first-round pick Nicklas Jensen) and that got us out of the Gibson picture. He got taken and we went to our next big kid. We thought he’d be there and we got an extra pick for it.”
The next big kid was Alexandre Grenier, a winger who will turn 20 next QMJHL season after 24 points in 31 games. He has an upside and the 6-foot-5, 200 pound frame that the Canucks thought was just as vital. After selecting smaller first-round forwards Jordan Schroeder and Cody Hodgson the previous two years, it was imperative that the club became bigger as it became better.
The Canucks appear to have that in Jensen, Grenier and Minnesota high school centre Joseph Labate, who was selected 101st overall in the fourth round.
“We got three guys that skate well that are big players,” said Gillis. “We were looking to add size and speed and we got Jensen and targeted the other two. When you can add eight players it’s pretty good. You expect a few to emerge to become good players. And if you keep them all, you’re just broadening your talent pool.”
Labate is a 6-4, 180-pound native of Minnesota who overcame a broken foot and managed 27 goals and 22 assists in 25 games last season and also had 42 penalty minutes. He also had to overcome a chorus of boos when introduced because that hate-Vancouver thing is still alive and well here.
“I’m not really sure where it started,” he said. “Whenever Vancouver would play it was a packed house and Bertuzzi was such a tough player, that definitely brought it. I don’t think I even booed Vancouver. They were really good games to watch and I watched the Stanley Cup final and really like Kesler.”
Labate also plays a physical game and believes the University of Wisconsin will provide the proper platform to make the leap to pro. It’s a long way from being pulled around on a sled by his father, who also played high school hockey, on an outdoor rink when he was just 1 1/2 years old.
“I’ve played hockey ever since I could remember and I need three years to be ready, maybe two,” he said of playing for the Badgers. “With my work ethic and skills, I can definitely make that happen. Draft day is so unpredictable. I’m just thrilled.”
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