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This week, Under Further Review recaps the NHL Draft and credits the Canucks for the selection of Vasily Podkolzin. Plus a look ahead to NHL free agency and a fond farewell to the great Dr. John.

NHL Shopping Day – As a hockey fan there is no better day on the calendar than NHL Draft day. Optimism reigns. You always want to think your team just drafted their way to the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s not always how it works out because inevitably, reality bites.

What did we learn from this year’s draft?  It’s obvious that defensemen and centers are coveted and always in high demand. How can you explain Steve Yzerman, one of the league’s most respected general managers, reaching for German defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth overall pick?  He’s the big, right-shot defenseman every team covets but there’s no way he should have been selected in that spot. Yzerman could easily have traded down and got him four or five picks later. Guaranteed Stevie Y lives to regret that one.

Five of the top ten picks were centers, three were defensemen and the two who were listed as wingers may eventually be moved to the middle. Teams are built down the middle and you better have a deep and solid back end. The draft bears that out.

Jack Hughes was the consensus first overall pick but down the road, in the playoffs, the Rangers and the Black Hawks may be very happy to have Kaapo Kakko and Kirby Dach in their lineup instead of Hughes. Size matters in the playoffs and both those guys will be able to handle the rough going. Not sure the Devils will win anything with two pint-sized centers in Hughes and Nico Hischier.

Colorado walks away with the draft’s top defenseman in Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants and the Avalanche may be a dynasty in the making.  Byram is the pick Colorado received in the deal with Ottawa for Matt Duchene. The Avs added quicksilver center Alex Newhook with their own pick later in the first round and are bursting at the seams with young talent. Their young D-corp now includes Byram, Cale Makar, Sammy Girard and Connor Timmons. The Avs are poised to dominate the Western Conference for years to come.

The other big takeaway from draft day is the rise of the US National Team Development Program. No less than nine players from the program were selected in the first round including Hughes, Alex Turcotte by the LA Kings, Trevor Zegras by Anaheim, Matthew Boldy by Minnesota, Cole Caufield by the Canadiens, goalie Spencer Knight by Florida, defenseman Cam York by Philadelphia, John Beecher by the Bruins and Ryan Johnson by the Buffalo Sabres.  That’s almost one third of the entire first round. It’s a clear indication that the USNTDP has arrived as a burgeoning pipeline of high end talent.

Best Player Available – Of course, all of this is just a prelude for the big story locally and that’s the Canucks selection of Russian bulldog Vasily Podkolzin with the tenth overall pick. If you have followed the draft rankings since early in the season, you will remember that Podkolzin was the consensus third ranked player for much of the year. He started to drop in the rankings when it was reported he was signed to play with St. Petersburg in the KHL for the next two seasons.

You have to admit the selection of Podkolzin was very ‘un-Canuck-like.’ The Canucks have not exactly made it a habit of choosing Russians. Swedes, yes. Russians, no. But I commend Jim Benning, John Weisbrod and Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett. They got this one right! Podkolzin was an absolute steal at number ten. He was the captain of the Russian World Junior team and sparkled at last summer’s Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in Edmonton. Benning was right when he said it doesn’t matter if he’s under contract and two years away from joining the team.  Any player they selected at that spot would be two years away regardless so what does it matter.  They got the best player available and he will be NHL-ready whenever he arrives. In addition to being highly skilled, he’s also got some sandpaper to his game and that’s something the Canucks have in short supply.

LA Kings General Manager Rob Blake made the most astute comment of the entire draft day exercise.  He said most of the players in the first round are very talented and most are great skaters.  But Blake said what he was looking for were players with “character and compete.” This describes Podkolzin perfectly and it’s why the Canucks may have hit it out of the ballpark with their first round pick.

July 1 Sweepstakes – The window for talking directly with NHL unrestricted free agents is Sunday.  Teams can reach out to agent’s right up until July 1 in order to test the market and the sticker prices. Needless to say, the big ticket UFA’s are going to be very expensive including the likes of the Columbus troika of Panarin, Duchene and Bobrovsky.

The Canucks should forget about the big fish and use their $30+ million in cap space wisely but aggressively. There are a number of second tier free agents that should be on their shopping list. It’s readily apparent the Canucks need help in their top six forward group and there are four players that would fit in nicely – left-wingers Marcus Johansson of the Bruins, Ryan Dzingel of the Blue Jackets, Carolina’s Michael Ferland and San Jose right-winger Joonas Donskoi. Donskoi is 26, Ferland and Dzingel are 27 and Johansson will be 29 in October so they fit well in terms of their age.

On defense, there are several veterans who are character-type guys who would add grit and stability to the back end. Winnipeg’s Ben Chariot, Vegas’ Deryk Engelland and Columbus’ Adam McQuaid are in that group. I would also check in on Carl Gunnarsson of the St. Louis Blues and Anton Stralman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Canucks would be wise to add three or four from this list rather than go big-game hunting.  Vancouver’s big problem is overall depth and this would go a long way toward filling in the multiple holes in their lineup. The Canucks have very little talent in the critical 23-28 age range and it’s a gap they haven’t been able to fill on the trade market.

Benning’s biggest issue is he has a large group of forwards with little or no value and his hands are tied when trying to swing trades.  He’s got a handful of forwards who, if put on waivers tomorrow, would probably not get claimed. That group includes Ryan Spooner, Tyler Motte, Markus Granlund, Nikolay Goldobin, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter and Sven Bartschi. The whole group is a black hole from a scoring standpoint and most of the contracts are unmovable.

At least Benning has finally publicly recognized that this may be the perfect time for the Canucks to use their cap space to absorb a bad contract or two. It’s probably his best avenue for improving the team. He doesn’t have much in the way of tradeable assets so it may be his best option for adding useful pieces to the lineup or future draft picks.

Don’t Rain on this Parade – I guess we should not have been surprised to see two million people turn out on Monday for the Raptors Championship Parade. It was truly amazing and the players had to be overwhelmingly impressed. It may not sway Kawhi Leonard’s decision on whether to stay or go but the memory will last a lifetime.

I was also very impressed with how the crowds celebrated on the night they won the NBA title. No arrests. Very little damage. Smart move by Toronto Police to place old cars at the end of the blocks so if anyone wanted to jump up on vehicles, it was no big deal. Vancouver could learn something there.

Zion’s World – The NBA has a new poster child in Zion Williamson who was the first overall choice in this week’s NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans. The NBA has become a position-less league at times, and Zion is the ideal position-less player.  He can basically play and defend all five positions. He can play center if teams go small.  He can bring the ball up the court if necessary.  At 6’7”, he plays like a guy who’s 7 feet. He’s a point forward in transition which is so important in today’s game. (See – Kawhi Leonard)  What’s not to like?  Zion is a great rebounder and shot blocker as well as an underrated passer. There’s nothing he can’t do although he will need to improve as a shooter. The guy is a 280 pound man-child!

From a Canadian perspective, it was a landmark draft as four Canadians were selected in the first round and six overall.  RJ Barrett of Duke led the Canadian contingent.  He went third overall to the New York Knicks and seems more than prepared for the bright lights of the Big Apple. At 6’7” and 208 pounds, Barrett has the perfect build for a two guard or small forward. He was a consensus first team NCAA All-American as a freshman and led the ACC in scoring while setting an all-time ACC freshman scoring record. Barrett is a tremendous rebounder and passer but it’s his high basketball IQ that will make him a special pro.  He’s great in transition so his game should transfer well to the NBA.  He’s a solid person and has the mental makeup to handle New York. Critics try to claim his outside shot is suspect but his stroke is fine and will only improve considering his tremendous work ethic.

Barrett was followed to the podium by Hamilton’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17th overall), by the Pelicans; Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke (21st) who will, ironically, join the Grizzlies in Memphis and Burlington’s  Mfiondu Kabengele (27th) who heads to the Los Angeles Clippers. In the second round, the Knicks added another Canadian to join Barrett in Oakville’s Ignas Brazdeikis while Ottawa’s Marial Shayok was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Unbridled Optimism – The Seattle Seahawks wrapped up their mini-camp last week and will now take a break until training camps open. There’s a huge amount of optimism around the team after their 10-win season a year ago.  Two strong drafts in a row have helped turn the roster over and all of a sudden, the Seahawks have one of the youngest rosters in the league and a new window for Super Bowl contention.

What concerns me is the fact the team has lost three All-Pros in key positions, two of which may be headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  In the course of one year, the Seahawks have said goodbye to franchise icons Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Doug Baldwin plus their leading pass rusher in Frank Clark. Yes, they have replenished the roster with a ton of young talent but those guys are not easily replaced, both in the starting lineup and in the clubhouse. Anyone who has read Under Further Review with any regularity knows I am bullish on the Seahawks, but until they find quality replacements, it’s hard to talk Super Bowl. They need some of the first and second year players to step forward and fast!

Can You Say That Again – Here’s a few leftover malapropisms for you –

A senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: “I’m going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes.”

Bill Peterson, former Florida State football coach:
“You guys line up alphabetically by height. And you guys pair up in groups of three, and then line up in a circle.”

Chuck Nevitt, former North Carolina State basketball player, explaining to Coach Jim Valvano why he appeared nervous at practice: “My sister’s expecting a baby, and I don’t know if I’m going to be an uncle or an aunt.

Frank Layden, former Utah Jazz president, on a former player: “I asked him, ‘Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?’ He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care.'”

Describing his ability to drive to the basket, former NC State basketball great Charles Shackelford: “I can go to my left or right, I am amphibious.”

The Best of Times – Anyone who follows sports knows that this time of year is just about as good as it gets. Over the past few weeks, we have been witness to the Montreal Grand Prix, the Raptors run to the NBA title, the Blues 50-year quest for the Stanley Cup, the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Pebble Beach, the Women’s World Cup of Soccer and this week, the NBA and NHL Drafts. It’s heaven for any sports fan!  Enjoy it now because once the NBA and NHL free agency season is over, there’s a huge lull until NFL training camps open in six weeks. So you better get into baseball or better yet, throw some steaks on the BBQ and forget all about sports for a while. See you next week on the eve of the NHL’s free agency feeding frenzy.

Goodbye Good Doctor – We leave you this week with a tribute to the great Dr. John who died on June 6 at the age of 77. He was all things New Orleans and will be greatly missed.

Born in New Orleans, Mac Rebennack worked as a session musician for more than a decade before showcasing his own music – a unique blend of blues, rock and funk. His debut album, 1968’s Gris-Gris, was released with the name Dr. John, the Night Tripper. Dozens of albums followed. He was probably best known for the 1973 hit “Right Place Wrong Time.” Dr. John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Here’s a collection of performances from the David Letterman Show from 1982 to 2008.