Canucks upgrade in draft

The Canucks upgraded their talent pool, the Panthers paused before choosing D Aaron Ekblad and the Oilers pocketed Viper F Liam Coughlin.

The Canucks upgraded their talent pool big-time, the Panthers paused before choosing defenceman Aaron Ekblad and the Oilers pocketed Vernon Viper forward Liam Coughlin.

Just a quick summary of the NHL entry draft which ended Saturday in Philadelphia.

Nobody was sure whether Florida, holding the No. 1 pick in the amateur lottery, would use the pick or trade it for two or three players.

Panther GM Dale Tallon stepped up to the stage and said with “with the No. 1 pick, the Florida Panthers pick from the Ontario Hockey League … ” and then said nothing and smiled. After about five seconds, he ended the speculation and said Ekblad’s name.

Ekblad, a dynamic big body with the Barrie Colts, said he had trouble breathing as Tallon created tension with the delayed announcement. He played top-four defensive minutes for Canada in the World Junior Championships and rang up 23 goals and 53 points with the Colts.

Craig Demetrick of Vernon, a scout with the Panthers, is high on the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Ekblad, the second blueliner in the last 18 years to go first overall. Coincidentally, the last time the Panthers had the No. 1 pick, they chose Ed Jovanovski, who went on to become the team’s captain and franchise leader.

“He is a man-child,” Demetrick told The Morning Star, moments after the selection. “Big, strong and mature beyond his years. Fabulous talent, but even a better person and character. We are very excited to have selected him.”

The Dallas Stars grabbed 5-foot-10, 180-pound Swift Current Bronco d-man Julius Honka at 14 in the first round. Vernon’s Dennis Holland, sporting a cool green tie, was smiling for the TSN cameras with Honka pulling on a Dallas jersey.

“He’s an offensive-minded defender that is a powerplay producer,” Holland told me. “He plays much bigger than his size, is strong on his skates and he’s very competitive. He has a big shot from the point with the ability to get pucks through and on net.”

Vernon’s Marty Stein, who scouts for the Red Wings, was elated with Detroit’s pick at 15 – American Under 18 star Dylan Larkin.

“He’s a centre from Ann Arbor who played on the U.S.A. development team and is going to play at Michigan in the fall,” said Stein. “He was rated the best skater in the draft. A hard worker with skill who (coach Mike) Babcock will love.”

Stein stood by Colorado head coach Patrick Roy and was amazed at just how big a man the former Habs’ net detective is in person.

“I’m surprised Ozzie (former Wing goalie Chris Osgood, of Vernon) did as well as he did in his fight at centre ice,” chuckled Stein.

The Canucks Saturday morning acquired right wing Linden Vey from the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in exchange for the 50th pick.

Vey, 22, played 18 games for Los Angeles this season and had five assists. He had 14 goals and 34 assists in 43 games for the Manchester Monarchs in the American Hockey League. Vey was a fourth-round pick (No. 96) by the Kings at the 2009 NHL Draft.

The Canucks shook up the NHL draft meetings early Friday by trading star centre Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks for centre Nick Bonino, defenceman Luca Sbisa and the 24th and 85th picks in the entry draft.

“I just spoke with Babcock re the Kesler trade,” said Stein. “He said he wants the best player in any trade and he likes Kesler.”

Reading between the lines, Babcock figures the Ducks won that swap. The Canucks, however, have a thin farm system and very little depth past the Sedin twins. Bonino bagged 49 points and Sbisa should be a fourth or fifth d-man. Kesler’s best years are on his resume so it made sense for GM Jim Benning to get some assets for him now.

Vancouver held the sixth pick Friday night and plucked Calgary Hitmen right winger Jake Virtanen.

Virtanen had the highest overall grade from the on-ice testing that was performed at the CHL Top Prospects Game, placing first in the 30-metre forward sprint (3.92 seconds) and the 30-metre backward sprint (4.55 seconds).

He’s a power forward who models his game after Rick Nash of the Rangers.

“We’re kind of identical players,” saud Virtanen on his draft bio. “He likes to take the puck to the net. I think I’m a little more physical than that, I like to throw the body around.”

Stein saw Virtanen play in the Dub, where he supplied 45 goals, and liked what he saw.

“He has good size, skates well and has the ability to change the pace of a shift. Has some grit to him. Played well for the Hitmen. He can score and has a great shot.”

A six-foot, 208-pounder from Abbotsford, Virtanen has dual Canadian and Finnish citizenship – his father’s native country is Finland.

My beloved Oilers grabbed big centre Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders with the third overall pick and took Coughlin in the fifth round, 130th overall.

Ottawa did not have a first-round choice, choosing Swedish d-man Andreas Englund at No. 40.

“He’s a big (6-foot-3) strong defensive d-man,” said Vernon’s George Fargher, of the Sens’ scouting staff. “He’s a physical shutdown guy who competes well.”

Fargher said U.S. high schooler D Miles Gendron, who Ottawa nabbed in the third round, is a highly skilled, smooth skating player. Gendron will play for Penticton next season.

Men’s league helps Massie fund

They raised $1,715 at the fourth annual Doug Massie Memorial Co-Ed Two-Pitch Tournament last weekend at the DND.

Teams took to the diamonds dressed as super heros and villians and the Vernon Senior Men’s 35 + League held their 12-team tournament in conjunction with the costume-filled event.

“If it had not been for them, we would not have been able to raise so much, for Doug’s memorial fund,” said tourney organizer Heather Savitsky. “They were so great in buying tickets for the 50/50, toonie bat draw, beer and tickets to the eight prizes I had for the raffle draw this year. They also donated $250 to the Memorial fund They will be joining in with us again next year.”

Savitsky says next year’s fifth Massie Memorial tourney will be the last.

“I’m hoping we will reach the goal I set out in my mind when I first started the tourney four years ago which was to raise $10,000. We are so very close to reaching it after four years.”

Doug was a highly popular soccer and slo-pitch player who died Aug. 20, 2010 of a brain aneurism, at the age of 51.