Top 5 Vancouver Giants to Make It to the NHL

Brendan Gallagher, CHL, Evander Kane, Milan Lucic, Vancouver Giants, WHL

Over the Vancouver Giants’ 16-season history, many of their players have been drafted by NHL teams. Not all of them have been successful once they got there (if they got there at all), but there have been a select few that have shone brightly. So without further ado, let’s begin the countdown of the top five Giants’ alumni to realize the dream of making it to the NHL.

Related: Canadian Hockey League News

5. Cody Franson

Played For: Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks

Giants Stats: 199 GP – 34 G – 85 A – 119 PTS

NHL Stats: 550 GP – 43 G – 169 A – 212 PTS

Cody Franson was a beast for the Giants during the four seasons he was with the team. He routinely led the defence core in scoring and was a monster physically as well. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he packed a punch not only with his physical play but with his slap shot too. When you saw him play, it wasn’t difficult to project that he was going to be in the NHL one day. The Nashville Predators must have seen the same thing when they drafted him 79th overall in 2005.

In his final two seasons in a Giants’ uniform, he hit double digits in scoring, culminating in a career-high of 17 during his final season in the Western Hockey League. That season also saw his team win the Memorial Cup. Talk about a perfect way to end your WHL career.

After that, he went to play with the Predators’ farm team, the Milwaukee Admirals. It didn’t take long for him to start dominating the AHL as well, as he had 11 goals and 36 points in his rookie season. He followed that up with another 11 goals and 54 points before graduating to the NHL full-time in 2009-10. His debut season in the NHL was a success as well as he put forth a solid 6 goals and 21 points in 61 games. Despite being drafted by the Predators, he only played two seasons there, as he was traded to the Leafs in 2011.

All in all Franson played a total of 550 games in the NHL with three different teams. He was last seen with the Blackhawks in 2018 before he moved overseas to play with Omsk Avangard of the KHL. He has spent the last two seasons there.

4. Andrej Meszaros

Played For: Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres

Giants Stats: 59 GP – 11 G – 30 A – 41 PTS

NHL Stats: 645 GP – 63 G – 175 A – 238 PTS

Drafted 23rd overall by the Senators in 2004, Andrej Meszaros was on the fast track to the NHL. Coming over from Slovakia at 19-years-old in the CHL Import Draft, he only had to play one season in the WHL instead of the usual three or four-season stint. Despite having a short career with the Giants, he did make a name for himself as a promising offensive defenceman. Even though he only played 59 games, he scored 11 goals and showed off his mobility and high-end puck skills.

Andrej Meszaros Buffalo Sabres
Andrej Meszaros, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those skills immediately transferred to the NHL as Meszaros was part of the Senators’ roster to begin the 2005-06 season. He ended up playing all 82 games and almost matched his output in the WHL with 10 goals and 39 points. His defensive game shone as well as he finished the season with a plus-minus rating of plus-34. He was also a beast on the power play for the Sens scoring five goals and 19 assists with the man advantage.

Meszaros went on to play another two full seasons with the Senators before being traded to the Lightning in 2008 for Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard, and a first-round pick. After three straight seasons of 30 points or more, his production dropped off with the Lightning. He only played two seasons there, and never eclipsed the 20-point mark.

Meszaros’ career took off again after a trade to the Flyers in 2010. He went on to play four seasons in the City of Brotherly Love where he eclipsed the 30-point mark twice. Then after stints with the Bruins and Sabres, he left the NHL in 2015 to play in the KHL. He spent 2019-20 in the Slovak league with Bratislava Slovan.

3. Brendan Gallagher

Played For: Montreal Canadiens

Giants Stats: 244 GP – 136 G – 144 A – 280 PTS

NHL Stats: 547 GP – 173 G – 161 A – 334 PTS

Brendan Gallagher is arguably the best player to ever suit up for the Giants. He is also one of the smallest players currently in the NHL at 5-foot-9. Although he never plays like it, as he is a menace at the front of the net and a pain in the butt to play against. He is still the Giants’ all-time leading scorer almost a decade after he finished his career in the WHL. That alone should tell you how much of a difference he made wearing the black and burgundy.

Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens
Brendan Gallagher defied the odds and became a lethal offensive force in the NHL (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite Gallagher’s accolades in the WHL, he wasn’t drafted until the fifth round by the Montreal Canadiens, most likely because of his size. However, that never held him back as he has become one of the most dangerous forwards in the NHL. In the eight seasons and 547 games he’s played, he has already scored over 30 goals twice and has never had a campaign where he’s potted less than ten. He’s quickly risen the ranks on the Canadiens to become the de facto number one right-winger and a fan favourite as well.

Related: Canadiens’ Danault Line: NHL’s Best?

Gallagher finished the 2019-20 season with 22 goals and 43 points and is poised to be a difference-maker in the play-in series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a few months’ time. Not bad for an undersized fifth-round pick, wouldn’t you say?

2. Evander Kane

Played For: Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

Giants Stats: 134 GP – 73 G – 65 A – 138 PTS

NHL Stats: 713 GP – 242 G – 215 A – 457 PTS

Like Gallagher, Evander Kane was a prolific forward for the Giants, however his goal totals were much lower due to the fact that he didn’t play as many seasons in the WHL as him. Regardless, he was very impressive at a very young age. In his first season at 16-years-old, he hit the ground running with 24 goals and 41 points. Then in his pivotal draft year, he exploded with a gaudy 48 goals and 96 points. That performance led the Atlanta Thrashers to select him fourth-overall in 2009.

Evander Kane has translated his success with the Giants into an 11-season NHL career (THW Archives)

Kane didn’t return to the WHL to finish out his eligibility, as he made the Thrashers out of training camp at the beginning of the 2009-10 season. It didn’t take long for him to make a mark either, scoring 14 goals and 26 points in 66 games. His speed, tenacity and physical play have been on full display ever since, as he’s played 713 games in the NHL with three different teams. He’s never had a season with less than ten goals and has eclipsed the 20-goal mark seven times. He has also been a wrecking ball on the ice racking up 1,607 hits over his 11-season NHL career. Off the ice, he’s also a strong personality and anti-racism advocate, recently founding the Hockey Diversity Alliance with Akim Aliu.

1. Milan Lucic

Played For: Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames

Giants Stats: 133 GP – 39 G – 48 A – 87 PTS

NHL Stats: 958 GP – 206 G – 315 A – 521 PTS

Finally, we get to the most successful Giant to ever suit up in the NHL, Milan Lucic. Despite not putting up a ton of offensive numbers in the WHL until his final season, he was probably the biggest presence of all. At 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, he was a force every time he made his way onto the ice. In his first season with the Giants, he was known more for his fists, then his goal-scoring ability. Though, that quickly changed in his draft year as he exploded for 30 goals and 68 points. He became one of head coach Don Hay’s go-to players as he could change the game with a goal, fight, or big hit.

Milan Lucic Bruins
Milan Lucic became a menace in the NHL with the Boston Bruins (Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)

Lucic was a key player in the Giants’ run to the Memorial Cup scoring 7 goals and 19 points in the WHL playoffs and two goals and seven points in the Memorial Cup tournament. His emergence in the WHL made him hard to ignore in the 2007 draft as the Bruins took him in the second round. It was almost perfect, as he could have been the poster boy for the “Big Bad Bruins” of the 70s.

Lucic went on to play eight seasons with the Bruins, where he accumulated 139 goals and 342 points. He also was a warrior in the playoffs, posting 26 goals and 61 points in 96 games, including a Stanley Cup win in 2011. His physicality and willingness to drop the gloves haven’t left him either as he has posted hit totals of over 200 eight times and over 100 penalty minutes three times. His stint with the Bruins may be the best we will ever see from him as he’s slowed down since then. After he signed the massive seven-year, $42 million contract with the Oilers in 2006, he has only scored 20 goals once and has failed to hit double digits in the last two seasons.

Related: Calgary Flames: Milan Lucic’s Decline

Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers
Lucic didn’t find much success with the Oilers after leaving the Bruins in 2006 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lucic is now with the Flames toiling mostly in the bottom six as a grinder and occasional offensive threat. Nevertheless, he remains one of the biggest successes to come out of the Giants’ prospect factory. He has already eclipsed the 500-point mark and will probably play over 1000 games in the NHL, which is something not every player drafted in the second round can boast about. In the end, despite his recent downward spiral offensively, he will go down as one of the NHL’s all-time best power forwards.

Honorable Mentions

  • Lance Bouma (357 GP – 30 G – 46 A – 76 PTS): He was a fan favourite with the Giants and former team captain as well. Selected in the third round by the Flames in 2008, he ground out a solid NHL career as an effective bottom-six energy player. His best season came in 2014-15 when he scored 16 goals and 34 points. He doesn’t have an NHL contract right now, but he is back in North America as a part of the AHL’s Ontario Reign after plying his trade in the Swiss League in 2018-19.
  • Mark Fistric (325 GP – 4 G – 30 A – 34 PTS): Despite not living up to the lofty first-round pick status the Dallas Stars thrust upon him, Fistric did have a relatively solid NHL career. The majority of his success came with the Stars as he played 257 games for them. He was known more for his physicality than anything else, racking up more than 100 hits in four straight seasons. He went on to play three more seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks before retiring shortly after getting his contract bought out.
Former first-round pick Mark Fistric was a solid stay-at-home defenceman for the Stars (bridgetds/flickr)
  • Kevin Connauton (314 GP – 27 G – 49 A – 76 PTS): The former third-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks has created quite the name for himself as a solid depth option in the NHL. Despite not living up to his projection as a point producer, he still has two seasons with ten or more goals to his credit. He is now with the Colorado Avalanche after spending his last four campaigns with the Coyotes. His mobility and physicality have served him well as he approaches his eighth season in the NHL.
  • Gilbert Brule (299 GP – 43 G – 52 A – 95 PTS): He was a high first-round pick in 2005, but never could live up to that status. He ended up playing for three different NHL teams, with his best season coming in 2009-10 with the Oilers when he had 17 goals and 37 points. Unfortunately, injuries hampered his development and he could never parlay the success he had in the WHL to the NHL. He is now playing in the KHL with Kunlun Red Star.

NHL Success Has Followed the Giants

Overall the Giants have been able to produce some solid NHLers over the years. In fact, two of the top five on this list are still prominent figures on their respective teams as Gallagher and Kane are both top-six wingers, scoring 20-goals regularly.

The Vancouver Giants have produced their fair share of NHL players over the years (whl.ca)

As for their current roster, the Giants have six players drafted by NHL teams in Milos Roman (CGY – 2016), Alex Kannok-Leipert (WSH – 2018), David Tendeck (ARI – 2018), Eric Florchuk (WSH – 2018), Bowen Byram (COL – 2019), and Trent Miner (COL – 2019). Time will tell if any of them will translate their WHL career into NHL success. One thing is for sure, it will be exciting to watch as the Giants continue to develop the next generation of NHL talent.


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