#WHLAlumni: Lower Mainland a generational source for WHL & NHL talent


If you’re used to the hockey scene in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, this week’s 2019 National Hockey League Draft won’t be out of the ordinary.

While the event has brought top-tier players from around the globe to the region, the area wasn’t suffering from a shortage of homegrown talent in the area to begin with.

Instead, it serves as a chance to reflect on the growth of the game in the region thanks to the Vancouver Canucks as well as Western Hockey League teams in the region throughout the years from the Vancouver Nats and New Westminster Bruins to the present day Vancouver Giants.

Along the way, the Canucks were able to draft and develop a few of those elite WHL players, retaining Western Canadian talent on their team as they turned into homegrown legends.

While it may not be the most recognizable name in terms of Canucks lore, Jim Hargreaves was the first WHL player ever to be selected by the Canucks in a NHL Draft. The 18th-overall selection in that year’s draft, an early second-round pick, Hargreaves came to the Canucks via his hometown Winnipeg Jets. The NHL portion of his playing career lasted 67 games, but still saw him score his first and only goal during the 1972-73 NHL Regular Season.

The Canucks have also been graced with legendary names in their organization, using their top pick in the NHL Draft on a WHL player 12 times, the highest being when they snagged a young Medicine Hat, Alta. native by the name of Trevor Linden second overall in 1988. Currently sitting fourth overall for most points in a Canucks’ uniform, one could easily infer that the pick was well used at the time.

Linden’s pick followed a 10-year pattern where the Canucks managed to secure the rights to a top-end WHL star. In 1978, the Canucks went with a local player of sorts in New Westminster Bruins forward Stan Smyl. Though his origins were in Alberta, Smyl’s career was nearly all played in the area with three full seasons in the Western Canadian Hockey League before playing 896 regular season games in a Canucks uniform and staying on as an assistant coach for eight more seasons after that.

Five years later, the Canucks once again stuck close to home to make their pick, choosing Portland Winterhawks forward Cam Neely ninth overall. Though he’d eventually move onto the Boston Bruins after three seasons with Vancouver, the Comox, B.C. product will forever be linked to the region.

In the present day, former Calgary Hitmen forward and Langley, B.C. product Jake Virtanen was selected sixth overall by the Canucks at the 2014 NHL Draft, already appearing in 210 games to date as his career continues to blossom.

WHL talent from the Lower Mainland have also cultivated success throughout the NHL.

As a winner of six Stanley Cups and a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Glenn Anderson has had nothing short of an incredible career, which featured time in the WCHL and WHL with the Bruins and Seattle Breakers; respectively. Though he never played for his hometown Canucks, he helped keep the Stanley Cup in Western Canada, playing a formative role in the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty of the 1980s.

The last WHL player to be selected first overall also calls the Lower Mainland home. Burnaby product Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was taken by the Oilers first in 2011 and has already appeared in 539 NHL regular season games to date, amassing an impressive 382 points (147G-237A).

After getting the chance to represent his hometown Vancouver Giants during his WHL playing days, Milan Lucic has spread his wings beyond the area, winning a Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Boston Bruins in addition to an 890-game NHL career that has seen him also play for the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers.

Still pursuing Lord Stanley’s mug are numerous Lower Mainland products, including Ryan Johansen and Mathew Barzal. Both first-round selections in the NHL Draft, the former Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbird; respectively, have found individual success in their NHL careers to date.

In 592 NHL regular season games, Johansen has tallied 406 points (130G-276A) between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators. While Barzal just recently completed his second full season with the New York Islanders, the Coquitlam product has already registered 147 points (40G-107A) in 166 NHL regular season games.

Whether they find a home with the Canucks or pursue their hockey dreams beyond the area, there’s no denying that ever-growing link between the game of hockey and the Lower Mainland.

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