With the World Junior Championships just around the corner, typically it’s the season for egg nog and electrifying hockey. Over the years, Canucks fans have been treated to several of their prized prospects playing in the annual competition, but the 2010-11 competition won’t feature a single one of them.
As such, now is as good a time as ever to give a midseason report card on some of the Vancouver Canucks prospects who are playing in the minors, juniors and across the ocean in Europe. Today we’ll be starting with the lads who are currently calling Manitoba their place of residence. And the best part of this blog post? I don’t need to include a write-up on Cory Schneider for the billionth time.
Cody Hodgson – C – GP: 24 G: 10 A: 6 PTS: 16 – The crowned jewel of Vancouver kids in the system, the Markham native had a brutal start to the 2010-11 season, as the 2009 CHL MVP and 2009 WJC leading scorer was hampered by the lingering effects of his injuries from the year before. November saw the 2008 10th overall selection turn the corner as he scored at nearly a goal per game clip for a stretch; by the end of the month Hodgson was the team’s leading scorer. However, Hodgson was struck in the face by an errant high stick in practice, suffering a cracked orbital bone. The injury came at the worst of times – when the Canucks lost top-six winger Mason Raymond due to injury – as Hodgson likely would have been a callup had he been healthy. Injuries aside, Hodgson looks to be back on track as an elite-level prospect.
Jordan Schroeder – C – GP: 25 G: 5 A: 8 PTS: 13 – Ideally, a smooth transition from college hockey to the minors is a process which can take a year or two, and Schroeder seems to be no exception. The USA’s all-time leading scorer at the World Junior Championships (he played in three) has had an inconsistent season, showing flashes of offensive prowess on some nights but disappearing on others. Schroeder’s first full season with the Moose was hindered by the ankle injury he suffered a day after Hodgson’s injury. He could be sidelined for up to six weeks.
Sergei Shirokov – LW – GP: 29 G: 7 A: 13 PTS: 20 – Ironically, of the Canucks’ forward prospects, the most consistent player has been the wild card Russian who came over last season. The 24-year-old is the team’s leading scorer and has built on his 22-goal campaign last year with better playmaking this season.
Kevin Connauton – D – GP: 29 G: 7 A: 4 PTS: 11 – The former Vancouver Giant standout’s strengths have carried over from his junior days; he’s still a mobile puckmoving defenceman who can man the point on the powerplay. Unfortunately, so have his weaknesses. While new head coach Claude Noel and his staff are working on Connauton’s defensive play, the blueliner needs more work.
Billy Sweatt – LW – GP: 29 G: 6 A: 12 PTS: 18 – Signed as a free agent over the summer, the younger Sweatt brother has quietly put together a solid campaign thus far. Normally playing in a top six role, Sweatt’s blazing speed has given headaches to opposing defenders. Sweatt could spend a little more time playing in the dirty areas, though.
Lee Sweatt – D – GP: 29 G: 4 A: 6 PTS: 10 – The elder of the two Sweatt brothers has also been a nice surprise this year. Lee came overseas after playing four years for TPS Turku, Salzburg, and Riga Dynamo and may have found a nice fit within the Canucks organization. The undersized blueliner has been effective at both ends.
Eddie Lack – G – GP: 18 Record: 10-6-2 SV%: .927 – Eddie “The Stork” Lack might be the most underrated offseason acquisition for the Canucks’ system. With all due respect to the others, Lack is a project player who started the year splitting time with Tyler Weiman but appears to be emerging as the clear cut starter.
OTHER NOTABLES: C Mario Bliznak has had a minor dropoff in production since last season but has continued to be an effective checking forward . . . D Chris Tanev’s first campaign with the Moose has been underwhelming, as the blueliner plays second-pairing minutes . . . D Evan Oberg’s production has also gone south thus far and needs to rebound . . . RW Victor Oreskovich’s rugged crash-and-bang style has been effective for the Moose.