Watching the Manitoba Moose play the Abbotsford Heat this past weekend, I can’t help but think how far along the Canucks’ farm team has come in the last couple of years.
To recap, the Moose played a pair of back-to-back, weekend games against the Heat. They lost the game 2-1 in the shootout on Friday night, and won 3-1 on Saturday night. In both nights, the Moose dictated the play and the Heat kept it close largely because of their goaltender, Leland Irving.
Probably the most noticeable improvement is in the number of higher-level prospects on the team. This weekend, the Moose’s first line consisted of Cody Hodgson, Sergei Shirokov and Bill Sweatt. By the third period on Saturday, Jordan Schroeder had replaced Shirokov on this line. While the jury is still out on the speedy and skilled Sweatt, Shirokov has already had a cup of tea on the Canucks’ top two lines, and Hodgson and Schroeder are expected to get there at some point soon in their careers. (As a point of comparison, when I went to watch the Moose in Winnipeg last season, Marco Rosa centered the first line. And if I remember correctly, Mark Cullen centered the first line the year before that.) Hodgson, in particular, was by far the best forward on the ice. I think I share most Canucks fans’ sentiments when I say it’s only a matter of time before he makes it to the big show.
On defense, Kevin Connauton is continuing to develop and Lee Sweatt looks capable of playing the pro game despite his small stature. As a side note, Chris Tanev wasn’t as prominent this weekend as he was in Canucks training camp, but after just 19 games, it’s too early to label him as anything.
My point in all this is that, for the first time in a few years, there appears to be some legitimate NHL prospects on the farm. And top end prospects too. Certainly, it’s a far cry from the days when Jason Jaffray was expected to be able to play on Markus Naslund’s line.
In a tweet, Mike Gillis himself indicated how pleased he was with the kids’ development on the farm.
Watched Moose game this wknd. Pleased with how our young players played, style of play the coaches utilized and number of canucks fans.
The last notable group of prospects to make the jump from the Moose to the Canucks included the likes of Kesler, Burrows, Bieksa, Edler and Hansen. If this keeps up, maybe it won’t be too long, maybe in a couple of years, until the next group, this time including Hodgson, Schroeder, Sweatt, Sweatt, Connauton and Tanev make the jump as well.