Sep 072009
 

Rick Shanley has been covering Western Michigan Hockey for the Kalamazoo Gazette and on his blog since 2006. Shortly after this year’s NHL Draft, he broke the news that Canucks 3rd round draft pick, Kevin Connauton, might transfer from WMU to the Vancouver Giants. In the following Q & A, he gives Canucks fans an inside look at one of the newest Canucks defensemen.

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CHB: On your blog, you mentioned a few things about Connauton that really impressed you – “skates like the wind, hands, vision, patience” – is there an NHL player or prospect he reminds you of?

Rick: Mike Green of the Washington Capitals. I know, I know — Green is the NHL’s best offensive defensemen and Kevin is only beginning his first year of major junior. It might not be a fair comparison for Kevin, but it’s hard not to notice some raw similarities: Kevin’s combination of speed, hands and vision makes him an instant offensive threat, just like Green; both players can take the puck end-to-end or drop down to the back-door circle for a one-timer; both float along the offensive blue line very well and look for seams through which to shoot or make a play; both can even take it to the net. Short version: both players “get” the offensive part of the game. Green is 6-2, 208; Kevin is 6-1, 185 and will get thicker. Both seem bigger on the ice than they are. They’re lankier. Longer. Amazing reach. They float. They move laterally quite well, too, unlike typical north-south-skating defensemen.

CHB: One year after being bypassed in the NHL draft, Hockey’s Future calls him one of the most underrated defensemen no one is talking about. What did he bring to the WMU program and was there a particular aspect in his game that you noticed he improved the most last year?

Rick: He gave WMU a dynamic offensive weapon on the back end, which is not something the program had. In fact, the Broncos were awful at getting the puck out of their own end in the few years prior to his arrival, so his presence really helped spring WMU on the attack more often and unclog the neutral zone (the team scored 26 more goals in 08-09 than it did in 07-08, in part because of him). Where did I notice improvement? It’s hard to say. Honestly, he looked as good in game one as he did in game twenty-five. But if anything improved, I’d say it was his confidence. By the end of the season he played with a healthy swagger that was fun to watch, and he quickly became a player the Broncos relied on in key situations.

CHB: He’s transferring to the Vancouver Giants this season. How do you think he’ll adapt to the rough-and-tumble WHL?

Rick: This is where the rubber will meet the road (or the shoulder will meet the chest). The CCHA can get physical, but it is pond hockey compared to the WHL. I didn’t get the sense he was afraid of the physical part of the game; he just wasn’t required to play that way every night. He created a lot of space for himself with his skating and puck-handling skills, so he didn’t get hit much. He’s one of those “slippery” players; his vision allows him to see the ice (and any oncoming traffic) well. He’s born and bred to “run” — to skate full-throttle, to have the puck on his stick, to float. It could get difficult for him if he’s forced to change his style. If he gets clobbered in the neutral zone with the puck or finds he doesn’t have as much time and space as he did here, it might not make him as effective right away. But with his raw ability and the right coaching, he should adapt well.

CHB: What area does he need to improve on the most to eventually make the NHL?

GMs say it all the time and it’s cliché, but he’ll need to get stronger and faster. I think the raw tools are there (clearly, so do the Canucks). His decision to transfer to the WHL was good for a number of reasons, most notably his entrance into a winning program that successfully develops NHL-caliber talent. WMU does not offer that opportunity.

Sep 072009
 

Saint John Sea Dogs fans know her as BeeGee, who runs the Saint John Sea Dogs Snippets blog. Some of you Montreal fans may know her from her Habs and Habs Not blog. Today, she graciously offers her 2 cents about current Canucks prospects – and Sea Dogs players – Yann Sauve and Steven Anthony.

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Steven Anthony and Yann Sauve, Saint John Sea Dogs

Photo credit: Saint John Sea Dogs

CHB: Yann Sauve and Steven Anthony were pretty highly-regarded prospects not too long ago. What do you think of their progression so far?

BeeGee: Yann will be starting his 4th season with the Sea Dogs this fall and Steven Anthony will be playing his third year. Last season was a disappointment for the entire team and there were ups and downs throughout the year that also affected the play of these two Canucks prospects. Both players have steadily improved in their scoring chances and production. They seem to be on a steady course towards reaching their hockey goals. Last January when our top center Chris Diddomenico and defenseman Alex Grant were traded it meant others had to step and help fill the gap left by their departure. Anthony was one of the centers who responded and Sauve now shares as one of the top two defenseman with Simon Despres.

CHB: Which NHL player or prospect do they remind you of and why? What are their biggest assets?

BeeGee: There’s really not anyone that instantly comes to mind who they seem to model. However there are some similarities I’ve noticed between Anthony and Andrei Kostitsyn of the Canadiens although Andrei is a left winger, Both Anthony and Kostitsyn have a wicked and accurate shots but they often pass instead of shooting the puck. I think Steven improved that somewhat in the latter part of the season. He is a good skater and has a very accurate shot. Steven is a playmaker at heart.

Sauve reminds me a little of Roman Hamrlik in size and defensive play. They are both big and strong and can be hard to play against. They both can get into trouble when they have the puck. Yann can score goals but his biggest asset is behind the blue line.

CHB: Gerald Gallant has just been hired as the Sea Dogs’ coach. How do you think this change will benefit Sauve and Anthony?

BeeGee: Sea Dogs fans are hoping the old hockey cliche – “a strong defence produces a great offence” will be the result of our new coaching changes this season. Gallant who was a defensive forward and who coached in the NHL will bring a different approach and dimension to the Sea Dogs game. The Sea Dogs won 4 out of their 6 pre-season games, which is a good start. Sauve had 1 goal and 1 assist and Anthony had 1 goal and 2 assists. Only time will tell how this change will turn out, but they should do well under the Gallant team coaching system. Both players have a goal to play in the NHL and Gerard Gallant knows what it takes to get there. So we’re hoping he can push the right buttons to get the best from them and all the Sea Dogs.

CHB: What are your expectations of the Sea Dogs – and specifically Sauve and Anthony – this upcoming season?

BeeGee: In Saint John we are cautiously optimistic about this coming season. We’ve seen many changes behind the bench and with hockey operations. There will be several new faces on the team including two European imports that are highly-touted. We’re expecting a better season and a playoff position that goes beyond being swept in the first round. Sauve and Anthony will continue to grow in their game and mental toughness. I think they will be become better with the different hockey experiences they’ve been having, such as the Canucks training camps. Each year they have improved their stats on the team and barring injury, they will surely continue to improve their game.

CHB: What do you think Sauve and Anthony need to work on in order to take the next step (i.e. AHL and evenutally the NHL)?

BeeGee: Both players need to continue to work hard. Sauve needs more work on his two-way game (puck handling). Anthony needs to have more confidence in his scoring ability and to shoot the puck more. Steven Anthony and Yann Sauve are two young men that we in Saint John are proud to have on the Sea Dogs team. They are great ambassadors for the game on and off the ice. Wherever their hockey careers take them, they will always be Saint John Sea Dogs to us.

Sep 072009
 

Nick Patterson covers the Everett Silvertips for the Everett Herald. While covering the Silvertips’ preseason, he took some time to answer our questions regarding Canucks prospects, Kellan Tochkin and Taylor Ellington.

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Kellan Tochkin and Taylor Ellington

Photo credit: Everett Silvertips

CHB: After leading all WHL rookies in scoring 74 points, what are yours (and the Silvertips’) expectations from Kellan Tochkin?

Nick Patterson: It’s interesting because although Tochkin led the team in scoring, he was thought of more as part of a unit than as an individual. He teamed with fellow 17-year-old rookies Byron Froese and Tyler Maxwell to form a young and dynamic line, and it almost became impossible to mention one without the other two. Therefore, I don’t think the expectations (and pressure) are as high for him individually in Everett as one might think. The expectations for that line, however, will be to become a top No. 1 unit — provided new coach Craig Hartsburg keeps them together — and Tochkin would be expected to accumulate the most points among the trio.

CHB: Tochkin wasn’t drafted in his first eligible draft season, but shined in Canucks prospect camp enough to get the Canucks to sign him to an entry-level contract. Two things: Why do you think Tochkin wasn’t drafted? What impresses you most about him (i.e. what is it about him that probably led the Canucks to sign him)?

Nick: My understanding is that Tochkin was a very polarizing player among the scouting community. Some loved his offensive abilities, while others believed his modest physical attributes would prevent him from ever being an effective pro. It’s those physical attributes — small and a below-average skater — that probably kept him from being drafted. But Tochkin has about as good a passing vision of any player who’s come through Everett, and I’m sure that’s what the Canucks were looking at when they signed him.

CHB: Taylor Ellington finished his WHL career as an overager with a career-high 32 points and career-worst -20. Do you think Ellington has the game to make it in the pros?

Nick: I think Ellington can make it in the pros, certainly in the minors, as he has decent size, his skating is OK and he’s willing to play a physical game. However, he’s not a highly-skilled player, so he’s never going to be more than a stay-at-home defenseman. My guess is he’ll need a couple years in the minors to adjust to the pro level, but he’s a dedicated guy who should be willing to put in the work necessary to raise his game.

CHB: What does Ellington need to work on to make it in the pros?

Nick: Even though he’s going to be a stay-at-home defenseman, Ellington is still going to have to improve his puck skills, particularly making sure his first pass is always on the tape. And even though he’s a pretty strong guy, he’s going to have to get stronger in order to play his role against fully-mature opponents.

CHB: What were Ellington’s biggest contributions to the Silvertips organization?

Nick: Ellington’s always going to be remembered in Everett as the guy everybody liked. He was a great teammate because he’s a goofy, happy-go-lucky individual who gets along with everyone. As a player he’s a perfect illustration at how much a player can improve over five seasons in the WHL. There were times as a 16-year-old when you wondered whether he was ever going to figure out the mental part of the game. But he got better every season, and despite an ugly plus/minus was very deserving of being named the team’s co-MVP last season, as he logged a ridiculous number of minutes against top offensive players.

Sep 072009
 

This off-season, the Canucks invited Michael Ward to training camp. Pete Choquette, a hockey writer for Bolt Prospects, takes a few minutes to answer our questions and help Canucks fans get to know more about the former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick.

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Michael Ward, 2007 NHL Draft

Photo credit: NHL.com

CHB: Tampa Bay chose not to sign Michael Ward only two years after drafting him, and after Ward had a pretty good season in the QMJHL. What was the Bolts’ reason for not signing him?

Pete: If I had to guess, the Lightning likely didn’t see much offensive upside at the next level in Ward and were potentially scared off by his inconsistent physical play, which I think is a function of him possibly just not having an NHL body. 34 points for a 19 year old in the QMJHL isn’t exactly world beating production. When the old Lightning scouting staff drafted Ward there was a hope that he could blossom like Paul Ranger did as a late round draft pick, but I don’t think Ward ever possessed the skill level that Ranger did, even though he’s got wheels that are in the ballpark of Ranger’s.

CHB: What kind of player do you think Ward could be in the NHL? (i.e. Is there a particular NHL player or prospect you could compare him to?)

Pete: If he makes it to the NHL, he’s going to be a bottom pair stay-at-home type guy. Physically, I’d say he’s a bit like Lukas Krajicek. Long, gangly, good skater, not much offense. He’s probably going to be a bit more physical than Lukas, but that’s like saying someone’s going to be dryer than the rain.

CHB: What are the strongest parts of Ward’s game?

Ward’s biggest asset is his mobility. I’d also say he’s got one other thing going for him in that he just turned 20 less than a month ago, so he’s a young 20 with some time to develop.

CHB: What part of his game does he need to work on to make the pros?

Pete: He needs to get bigger. He was playing at around 195 lbs in junior at 6’2″ and he was getting overpowered by bigger juniors because of it. It’s going to be tough on him as a pro if he doesn’t get up to 205-210 lbs at a minimum. Once he does that, he needs to be physical more consistently and you’d like to see him use his wheels to jump into the play a little more.

Personally, if I were the Lightning, I would’ve signed him simply because I think the Lightning need some warm bodies on defense. Once you get past Wishart, Mihalik, and Quick they’ve got very little on the blueline in the minors, and they’ve only got Barberio now coming up from junior in a year. That said, I’d be surprised if Ward pans out to be anything more than a minor league depth player.

Sep 072009
 

Sarah Vital has been a big Mathieu Schneider fan for 16 years, and even has a blog – The Unofficial Mathieu Schneider Homepage – dedicated entirely to the new Canucks defenseman. In the following guest post, Sarah tells us more about the man they call “Schnieds” and what we should expect from him.

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Any unmarried person over the age of 30 has experienced the “if he/she is so great, why is he/she still single” conundrum. The same unease comes with “journeymen” in the sports world. If he’s so great, why has he bounced around so much? But much like the totally awesome over-30 single person, there isn’t really an answer why Mathieu Schneider has bounced around so much. Is it that people just don’t “get” him? Does he just have bad luck? I wish I knew. But after following his career for going on 16 years, what I do know is that he has always had, and still has, loads to offer.

First, the shortcomings. Never the fastest or the strongest, defensive play has never been his strong point. Mathieu plays best when paired with a defensive-minded defenseman, or at least a quick skater who can get back into position. He can be prone to giveaways, and doesn’t always make the best defensive positional decisions. He will take loads of risks and pinch in on plays, sometimes when it is best to have a defender stay back. He’s been known to take some ill-timed penalties, but mostly interference-related calls when he tries to get back into a play he’s been beaten on.

Statistically, after reaching career highs with Detroit in 2005-06, his offensive production has fallen a tad. The game has changed a lot, and his role on teams has been changing. Last year in Atlanta, he had one of the worst few months of his career. He was brought in to be a mentor for young Zach Bogosian (which, judging by the comments Bogosian has made, he did exceedingly well), but beyond that, his role was never defined. And his unsettled role was reflected in a terrible season.

Then came the trade to Montreal, where he was brought in to help the team’s weak powerplay. He had an immediate offensive impact on the team’s powerplay, and in only 20 games, matched his offensive numbers in Atlanta. Most notably, in fewer than half the games, he had more than twice the powerplay points. In fact, if he maintained the pace he had with Montreal for an entire season, he would match the production of his Detroit years, and possibly have a career year.

His utilization in Montreal was about as perfect as his utilization in Atlanta was awful, and Vancouver would be better for following Montreal’s lead and save him for powerplay duty. The man advantage has always been his specialty, and as the game gets bigger and faster (and he doesn’t), powerplay quarterbacking is where he continues to excel. In his career, 53% of all of his points have come on the powerplay. The majority of those points are assists, but the goals he scores from the point are something. Mathieu likes to shoot and he still has a rock of a shot. He probably misses the net a lot more than he actually hits it, but even those shots provide key rebounds his teammates can bang home.

Finally, at this point, you’ve noticed that he’s old. Not an article has gone by this year where he hasn’t been referred to as “40 year old Mathieu Schneider”. Yes, he’s 40, the 3rd oldest player on an NHL roster. He was drafted 2 months before Sidney Crosby was born. He played his first NHL game over a year before Steve Stamkos was born. And he has been a bit injury prone throughout his career, usually missing 15 games or so a season do to injury. But he’s had a serious year-round commitment to conditioning and fitness for most of his career. He spends the summer working out with famed training T.R. Goodman (best known as Chris Chelios’ trainer). The man is in amazing shape. He logged an average of just under 21 minutes per game last season, and has been known to play upwards of 25 minutes. If he’s kept to fewer minutes (mostly on the power play, or short even-strength shifts), there is no reason to expect him to perform any different than a player 10 years younger.

So have fun with Mathieu. Don’t look to him to be a magical cure or “missing piece”. Keep expectations reasonable and just enjoy what he brings – powerplay numbers, years of experience, veteran leadership, a good quote or two, and a quick and easy smile.

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