Jun 272011

When the NHL announced it was the Canucks’ turn to make the first of two 4th round picks, the fans in Minnesota, as they had done all weekend long, booed. At least, they did until the Canucks used the 101st overall pick to select Minnesota kid, Joseph LaBate. (And even then there were still some boos.)

4th round, 101st overall: Joseph LaBate, C, USHS – Holy Angels

Consistent with their MO this weekend, the Canucks selected another big kid with the 101st overall pick; LaBate, a center, is 6’4″.

From the Minnesota Hockey Prospects website:

Has the combination of size and speed that drives scouts giddy. LaBate is a mature player that has developed nicely over his high school career. Is capable of getting dirty and playing a physical game or can step it up a notch and play with finesse. Has great one-on-one skills, having the ability to carve into a defense, picking apart every weakness.

LaBate has a cannon of a shot, which he is able to bury from outside the slot. LaBate shows no ill effects of a broken leg that made him miss most of the Midwest Elite League. As LaBate advances to the next level he must work on protecting the puck as he’s prone to turnovers.

From Red Line Report:

Huge, but physically under-developed center has a massive and athletic frame to grow into. He’s tall and reed-thin right now, but will ultimately fill out to a 210-plus pound monster. Very good in front of the net and has excellent anticipation, always knows where the puck is going. Has a heavy shot with a quick release. Uses his wide base in the corners and (in) front of the net to gain and hold space in prime real estate and to protect the puck while getting his shot away. Outstanding puck-handler with soft, quick hands for such a big man-child. Has fine hockey sense in all three zones, but is raw in many aspects, such as defensive coverage and faceoffs. Already has a long stride, but must gain strength in his Bambi legs. He’s all about projection at this point, but his long-term upside is sky-high.”

LaBate is headed to the University of Wisconsin next season.

Jun 252011

With their second pick in the 3rd round, the Canucks went back to the QMJHL, selecting Alexandre Grenier, a big right-winger who spent last season with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Ramparts.

3rd round, 90th overall: Alexandre Grenier, RW, Halifax Mooseheads

It’s clear that Mike Gillis wants to add some size in the system. At 6’5″, 200 lbs., Grenier is a beast.

From Dan Sallows:

Along with having excellent size and reach, he is a good skater, with nice hands, good puckhandling skills, has a tremendous release, adept hockey sense and vision, and plays an overall complete game. So much so, that Québec head coach Patrick Roy would rely on Grenier in several key situations late in the season.

Some scouts call him a classic late-bloomer. He was born in 1991 so he’s older than most draft picks. The Halifax Mooseheads traded for him after last season, and while he is eligible to play in the AHL next season, they expect him to stay in Halifax and be a large contributor as an overager.

Jun 252011

Entering day 2 of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Canucks had the 60th, 90th, 120th, 150th, 180th and 210th picks. They then traded the 60th pick for the 71st and 101st picks. With the 71st pick, the Canucks selected goaltender David Honzik.

3rd round, 71st overall: David Honzik, G, Victoriaville Tigres

At 6’2″, 209 lbs, David Honzik is a big, athletic goaltender. After a bit of an adjustment period, Hoznik got better as the season went on. He saved his best for the QMJHL playoffs. In 5 second-round games against the eventual Memorial Cup champions, Saint John Sea Dogs, he averaged 39 saves per game and recorded a 0.911 save percentage.

The 13th-ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting, some scouts have compared Honzik to Nashville Predators goalie, Pekka Rinne, and consider him to be a sleeper pick.

From Dobber’s Hockey:

Another goalie that isn’t getting enough press heading into the draft is Victoriaville’s David Honzik. A Czech import with a 6-foot-3 frame, David also came on strong for his team late in the season. His soaring confidence was a major reason why he experienced more success as time went on, as he became more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting.

More importantly, this season was the first time he ever had a legitimate goalie coach. That structure, along with constant and consistent reinforcement on almost a daily basis went a really long way in improving his game.

During the regular season, you can see the result of his blossoming confidence in his ability to win games despite giving up a lot of goals. He was 3-0 in December, 4-2 in January and then 3-0 again in February. Honzik capped his rookie season by going 5-4 in the playoffs and posting a .919 save percentage, which was second in the QMJHL playoffs to only Maxime Clermont (.927).

Ultimately, Honzik is just at the tip of the iceberg in regards to his potential. He’s already building a reputation for having a very quick glove, and he’s still athletic despite being a bigger goaltender.

From Red Line Report:

Next up is huge Czech David Honzik, who took a while to adapt to the North American playing style with Victoriaville in the Quebec League. Come playoff time, though, he was a force who stole a few games and nearly a series against the eventual Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs. He finally began to trust his superior athletic gifts and allow his natural instincts and competitiveness to take over.

Jun 242011

I’ll be honest. I didn’t think Nicklas Jensen would last to the no. 29 pick. I didn’t even consider it.

Going into the draft, Jensen was ranked 21st by NHL Central Skating, 22nd by International Scouting services, 24th by TSN and 19th by The Hockey News.

Already 6’2″ and 188 lbs., he’s a power forward-type with good hands and good skill. He’s known as a smart hockey player too, which I’m sure GM Mike Gillis liked.

Jensen, who plays for the Oshawa Generals, just finished a fairly productive first season in the OHL. He recorded 29 goals and 58 points in 61 games. He added another 7 goals (team lead) and 11 points in the OHL playoffs.

Here are excerpts of what some of the experts wrote about him.

From NHL Central Scouting:

Nicklas has adjusted very well to the OHL. His puck-handling and play-making ability are excellent. He has an excellent wrist shot that he gets off quickly.

From TSN:

Scouts love his size/skill combo, has the physical attributes to be a top-line power winger.

From True Hockey:

The 6-foot-3, 185 pound right winger is recognized as a strong two-way forward with a lethal combination of great shooting skills and smooth skating. He is projected to develop into a playmaker at the NHL level because of his vision and ability to find his linemates in tight areas. One area that scouts criticized early in the season was his lack of consistency from game-to-game. Although he will need to round out that aspect of his game, there is no doubting his potential based on his play as of late.

Jun 242011

Some random Friday musings as we eagerly await the NHL Entry Draft:

  • There’s a lot of chatter leading into tonight’s NHL Entry Draft. The Canucks are said to be entertaining offers for their first-round pick (29th overall) and goaltender Cory Schneider to either move up the draft or to acquire a player that can help them win now.
  • If they keep their pick, the Canucks have shown interest in top-ranked goaltender, John Gibson, and Vancouver Giants defenseman, David Musil.
  • There were rumors yesterday linking the Peter Stastny to the Canucks. Here’s the thing: Stastny has a $6.6 million cap hit. While Stastny would give the Canucks a much-needed top-six player, he would also become the team’s highest-paid player. Mike Gillis has done a good job of managing their cap hierarchy and this move would go against this. From Colorado’s perspective, they’re a team already $20 million under the salary cap floor (after trading John-Michael Liles to the Leafs this afternoon) and 13 players signed. It’s hard to see them letting Stastny go without taking on additional salary. Keith Ballard, perhaps?
  • The Avs aren’t the only team under the cap floor. Florida is $30 million under with 11 players signed. Carolina is $17 million under with 12 players signed. Phoenix is $17 million with 15 players signed. There aren’t a lot of quality UFA’s. Performance bonuses will help these teams get to the cap, but I think there will be some crappy players who are going to get paid good.
  • As good as Eddie Lack was in the AHL last season, is anyone else uncomfortable with a Luongo-Lack goaltending combo should the Canucks trade Cory Schneider?
  • How do you describe the Flyers’ roster overhaul from yesterday? If Paul Holmgren didn’t think Mike Richards and Jeff Carter could help lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup, why did he sign them to 12 and 11-year contracts, respectively? At least Holmgren did good to at least get Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, the no. 8 overall pick and a couple of other mid-round picks in return.
  • Some somewhat good news for Canucks fans: Mike Gillis announced today that Dan Hamhuis had successful surgery today, and there is a possibility he’ll be ready for the start of training camp.
  • Gillis also said the Canucks wouldn’t be making any announcement about their new AHL affiliate until next week, but the TEAM 1040 is reporting that it will be with the Chicago Wolves. If true, this is interesting in a couple of ways. First – and this is obvious – Blackhawks fans hate the Canucks so it’s unclear if the Canucks prospects will get any attention in enemy territory. Similarly, the Abbotsford Heat, the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate, located in Canucks country are costing Abbotsford taxpayers half-a-million dollars a year. But also, the Canucks’ success with the Manitoba Moose was largely due to the excellent relationship they had with each other. That sort of relationship doesn’t build overnight. The Wolves are an independently-owned AHL franchise, much like the Moose were. I don’t think it’s any secret that the Canucks’ long-term preference is to own their AHL affiliate. It’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between the two moves forward.
  • Andy Strickland mentioned in a recent post that the Canucks may place Keith Ballard on waivers and eat his contract in the minors if they can’t move him. It’s hard to believe that Ballard is that bad, but if Canucks brass think he is, know that Acquilini is more than willing to stash salaries in the minors if it means fielding a better roster in the bigs.
Jun 222011

At 29th overall, you can be sure that the Vancouver Canucks certainly aren’t expecting to draft the next Taylor Hall or John Tavares. But historically, there have been some good players drafted 29th overall in previous drafts; like Mike Green in 2004 or Steve Downie in 2005. The organization will consider themselves lucky if they snag someone of that calibre, but the most important thing to remember is that whoever it is likely faces two to three years of development before making a ripple in the NHL pond.

Below is a list of players who could find themselves wearing Canuck colours this Friday. Vancouver’s organizational needs for a steady defenseman or a scoring winger, along with their current drafting position, were taken into consideration when writing this list.

Jamie Oleksiak, Defenseman, Northeastern University: The number you need to know with Oleksiak is 6’7″, the height of this mountainous blueliner. He’s got an NHL-sized body, which bodes well for a team looking for defenseman capable of stepping in as soon as possible. Scouts have compared Oleksiak to a poor man’s Tyler Myers, and the Toronto native skates remarkably well for someone of his stature. It’s hard for the Canucks to say they own a big and nasty blueliner in their system, and Oleksiak could be it. ISS Ranking: 19th

David Musil, Defenseman, Vancouver Giants: Aside from the fact Musil has a B.C. connection, the defensive blueliner reminds me a lot of Bryan Allen when the Canucks drafted him in 1998. Musil is a defenseman who plays a simple yet effective game in his own zone; the numbers for the Giants speak for themselves (62 games, 25 points), indicating he won’t be an offensive dynamo anytime soon, but the Canucks have survived this long without one; they can continue to do so if they draft Musil. ISS Ranking: 17th

Tomas Jurco, Right Wing, St. John’s Sea Dogs: When’s the last time the Canucks have drafted a Slovakian in the first round? I’m not sure it’s ever been done before. So why now, and why Tomas Jurco? There’s absolutely no question that Jurco has some of the silkiest mitts among his draft class; his YouTube videos will speak for themselves. And for an organization which could use some more skill, Jurco offers it in spades. He’s been close to a point-per-game player in his two seasons with the Sea Dogs. ISS Ranking: 34th

Ty Rattie, Left Wing, Portland Winterhawks: He put up strong numbers for the ‘Hawks this year (61 games played, 79 points), but observers say that his skating is the thing which separates him from fellow WHL stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sven Bartschi. Rattie is still a skilled forward, but until his size and speed catch up to the NHL pace, he’s a project player at best, one which will require five years of seasoning. ISS Ranking: 22nd

Victor Rask, Centre, Leksand: At about this time last June, Rask was being ballyhooed as a potential top-10 selection in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately for the smooth-skating Swede, his stock has since plummeted to the point where something think he might slip out of the first round altogether. Rask didn’t get much chance to shine with Leksand in the SEL due to a lack of ice time, which has sucked the confidence out of scouts. If the Canucks feel like making a bold move, they could easily try trading down for an extra pick to steal this crafty Swede who most believe still has a path to the NHL laid out before him. ISS Ranking: 28th

Matt Puempel, Left Wing, Peterborough: A former OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year, Puempel netted 34 goals last year and 33 goals the year before. He’s a proven goal-scoring winger, something the Canucks need more of in their system. Puempel was ranked 10th among all skaters at the start of the season and even drew some comparisons to top-ranked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after a strong showing at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. His stock has fallen a bit since though, especially after suffering a hip injury, one that required surgery, late in the season. It didn’t help that the Colts had the second-worst record in the OHL. ISS Ranking: 30th

Tyler Biggs, Right Wing, USA U-18: At 6’3″, 205 lbs, Biggs definitely lives up to his name in size alone. What he lacks in offensive upside, he makes up for in character and leadership – both traits Mike Gillis values highly – and he’s not shy in using his big body to get in the dirty areas. In various mock drafts, I’ve seen Biggs taken anywhere from the middle of the first round to middle of the second round. ISS Ranking: 8th

John Gibson, Goaltender, USA U-18: GM Mike Gillis made a comment about Gibson, this draft’s top-ranked goaltender, which seems to indicate the Canucks’ interest in him. Given the time and effort to develop goaltenders and the number of them who may be had in the open market, there may not be a lot of value on drafting goaltenders, especially with a high draft pick. But the Canucks don’t have much in terms of goaltending prospects after Cory Schneider and Eddie Lack; they have Jonathan Iilahti and Joe Cannata in the system, and neither are poised to make an impact. ISS Ranking: 1st (goaltenders)

Jun 212011
Eddie Lack

Photo credit: theahl.com

Now that Vancouver Canucks fans have (we hope) managed to begin the healing process from the emotional rollercoaster of the 2011 Playoffs, it’s time to shift the focus to the 2011 Draft, where the building blocks for future success are put in place.

Given that the 2011 crop has, for some time, been viewed as a generally weaker class than previous years, perhaps the Canucks would be best served to once again parlay their first-round selection in order to acquire the talent needed to win right now. But seeing as how the club already forked over their top pick last season along with Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier, perhaps its in the best interests of the organization to keep the 2011 draft choice and not gut an already thin prospect pool.

In the mean time, let’s get a sense of just where exactly the Canucks are at when it comes to their top prospects.

Centres: Unquestionably, this is the Canucks’ biggest strength. With Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler expected to play out the next five years of their career in Vancouver (and likely more), Vancouver doesn’t really have a need for some top flight talent down the middle. Because of the team depth at centre, Tony Gallagher of The Province recently posed the question of top prospect Cody Hodgson’s future with Vancouver, but don’t buy the notion just yet. Despite the fact Manny Malhotra is the team’s unequivocal third-line centre, Mike Gillis also noted that Malhotra also plays wing, which would allow Hodgson to potentially slot in the third line.

Jordan Schroeder, drafted in 2009 in the first round, is another intriguing player that oozes as much talent as he does mystery. On occasion with Manitoba last year Schroeder looked like an elite-level prospect but on others looked completely invisible. It’s clear he’s still a few years away from seizing any chance at getting into NHL action.

Wingers: Anton Rodin and Sergei Shirokov remain atop the Canucks’ winger rankings, with the latter finishing the season as the Manitoba Moose leading scorer (22-36-58). Shirokov’s brief audition with Vancouver this year was much better than the year prior, as he scored his first NHL goal in a two-game callup. However, the small winger still is a little fish in a Canuck pond, where the team needs for elite scoring wingers may be too demanding for him.

As for Rodin, he’s grown both physically and mentally, acclimating himself to the Swedish Elite League since beginning his tenure with Brynas in 2009. It’s argued that the next step for Rodin’s career would be to make the trek to North America, but it’s unknown if he will commit to the move just yet. (Editor’s note: Farhan Devji reported about a month ago that Rodin is indeed North America-bound, but I haven’t seen any official confirmation from the team yet. – J.J.)

The Canucks also recently signed left winger Steven Anthony, who played for the Memorial Cup champion St. John’s Sea Dogs. Anthony, who was once compared to Sidney Crosby not too long ago, only realized this season that success on the ice comes with hard work. The tantalizing prospect has so much skill but needs to up his compete level in order to achieve it.

Bill Sweatt is the other notable winger in the franchise prospect pool, finishing second in Moose scoring. Sweatt is still a few years away from making a major contribution, however.

Defense: Kevin Connauton entered 2010 as Vancouver’s most intriguing defensive prospect, and for stretches of the season carried over some of the offensive flare from his Vancouver Giants days which made him so highly regarded. Unfortunately, Connauton’s mobility has been an issue all season, resulting in a blueline-worst minus-11 rating. He’s still learning the professional game and needs more time.

Connauton was instead overshadowed by the steady play of Chris Tanev, who appeared in a handful of regular season games with Vancouver as well as a few playoff games over Keith Ballard. Tanev never panics in his own end and makes a smart outlet pass nine times out of 10, which is why the Vancouver coaching staff like his future with the big club. Of all defensive prospects, Tanev is the likeliest to earn a spot next year.

Meanwhile, Yann Sauve and Lee Sweatt continue to develop their skills in the AHL; both missed significant time due to injuries this season, which has stunted their professional growth. 2010 draft pick Patrick McNally just finished his first season with Harvard University.

Goalie: Eddie Lack is undoubtedly the prospect who made the biggest noise this season in the AHL. Lack was the team MVP on many nights and the sole reason the Moose made it to the North Division Final. “The Stork” arrived with little hype but all season long was so effective at taking away the bottom half of the net, forcing snipers to try and beat him glove side, which Lack has recently mastered as well. If the Canucks do decide to part ways with Cory Schneider, few would be hesitant to see Lack fill the backup void. He’s been that good.

Organization Direction: At this point it becomes simply a “best player available” approach for the Vancouver Canucks. Despite their strength at the centre position, there’s little to suggest the Canucks won’ take a centre in the first round if that’s the best player available. With the team’s “win now” approach, the club could very easily swap Hodgson or Schroeder or even both if it means acquiring the kind of immediate talent to put the team over the top. That said, it’s evident the team would love to draft a winger with scoring ability or a physically mature defenseman who has a quick learning curve.

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