NHL Draft: Canucks could choose heightened hockey savvy in ‘safe pick’ Owen Pickering

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Pickering has been a strong defenseman this season (WHL) with 33 points (9-24) in 62 games for the less successful Swift Current Broncos, who finished fifth in the Central Division with a 26-35-5-2 record .

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Owen Pickering is no stranger to danger.

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Whether it’s the raging Red River causing concern over annual flushing floods in its small, levee-protected community of St. Adolphe in southern Manitoba – or defending a multitude of Opposition scoring chances for the struggling Swift Current Broncos this Western Hockey League season – he handled both with considerable aplomb.

It’s not the kind of maturity you’d expect on or off the ice from a National Hockey League draft prospect who continues to develop his emergent game and grow into his towering executive who stands just over 6. feet 4 inches. That’s why the Vancouver Canucks, who desperately need to strengthen their rear end, will consider Pickering with the 15th overall pick on Thursday in Montreal.

Other coveted defensemen Pavel Mintyukov and Kevin Korchinski could be missing when the Canucks announce their picks — and there’s a tempting left winger to ponder in power forward Liam Ohgren — but Pickering’s confidence and potential pique curiosity.

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Pickering returned from the Under-18 World Championship in Germany in early May amid an evacuation flood warning. He was the power-play quarterback for Team Canada, which lost a quarter-final game in overtime to Finland, but this spring second round was even more amazing.

“We almost got evacuated,” Pickering told Postmedia. “Another foot of water and the town would have been evacuated. It was quite scary. I have never experienced anything so bad. My parents told me about very severe flooding and Red River floods every year. It’s just something to get used to. »

A diversion for Pickering came from playing baseball with Team Manitoba, including four years at the Triple-A level, and excelling in nearly every school sport. And his ability on the mound was an early indication of advanced athletic ability.

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“I was nine years old and I was doing curves in there and had a fastball as well,” Pickering recalled. “Other guys would just throw pitches. I was kind of like the man throwing those curveballs.

Owen Pickering #42 poses for a headshot at the 2022 NHL Scouting Combine on June 2, 2022 at LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo, New York. Pickering started skating at age four and the first time was not one for memory banks.

“I just lay down on the ice and pouted, but I got it pretty quickly,” Pickering said with a laugh. “I’ve always believed in myself, but if you had told me a year ago that I was a potential first-rounder in the NHL Draft, I would have told you that you were crazy. Now that’s not a dream. I can achieve this.

Pickering was just 5-foot-7, 131 pounds at age 15 when he became the Broncos’ ninth-round bantam draft pick.

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“I was so excited that I was chosen and I was so grateful to Swift Current for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to play in the WHL at 16,” he recalled. “I didn’t care that I was the 177th pick. A lot of teams have had the chance to take me and you can get some motivation from that.

Pickering now weighs 180 pounds and when he weighs at least another 20, it’s not hard to imagine where his presence and game might be. That’s what the Canucks have to consider. He’s been a solid player this season with 33 points (9-24) in 62 games with the worst-performing Broncos, who finished fifth in the Central Division with a 26-35-5-2 record.

Pickering became his club’s best defender and regularly faced top lines with little support.

“I had a huge year developmentally,” said Pickering, who had nine points (2-7) in 23 games as a raw rookie in 2020-21. “I wanted to establish myself this year as an excellent defender and the coaching staff gave me great confidence. My game has improved and I have become more mature as a player because you have to learn when you play 30 minutes and travel.

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“I watch a ton of hockey – sort of a hockey nerd – and I watch the best defensemen and try to model my game on them. I turned 18 in the middle of last year (January 27) and I’m a long way from where I want to be. Physical strength is the most important thing for me.

Pickering topped prospects at the Draft Combine in Buffalo this spring by lasting 15 minutes and 30 seconds in the MaxVO2 test that measures oxygen consumption and heart rate at maximum load.

“He’s not a draft – he’s a guaranteed No. 3 defenseman in the NHL,” said Shane Malloy, longtime NHL prospect scout, author of The Art of Scouting and working on a Ph.D. interdisciplinary development. “His hockey sense is his best attribute, which is very good overall and especially defensively.

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“His skating and competition is also very good and his skill is above average, a 35-point projection 35-40 at best. I have him in my top 15 and I think he’s a safe choice at No. 15.”

There are also financial considerations in choosing a potential second-pairing defender, as opposed to a second-line centre.

“From an asset management standpoint and from a purely economic standpoint, it’s so difficult to acquire a No. 3 defenseman in the NHL,” Malloy said. “In free agency, you pull up a Brinks truck to pay for it. And in a trade, you have to cut off your right arm to get it.

“The cost of value is high. If you can get one in the draft, you’re going to get it because of how many top-four defenders you need. For me, it’s a no-brainer. »

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