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.

Dec 302010

[Jon Häggqvist is a writer for the Swedish newspaper, Allehanda, in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. With the lack of Canucks prospects in this year's World Junior Hockey Championships, Häggqvist kindly contributed this post to CHB to update us on 2009 2nd round draft pick, Anton Rodin.]

Anton Rodin, Vancouver Canucks

Anton Rödin was born in Stockholm, capital of Sweden, and spent his first hockey years playing for a club called Hammarby. When he was ten years old his family moved north to Gävle and since then Anton has represented Gävle’s pride: Brynäs. His parents moved to a house very close to the home of Jakob Silfverberg, an Ottawa Senators prospect, and who, just like Rödin, was born in 1990.

It sure was a lot of prestigous games on that street back in the day, and Rödin and Silfverberg has excelled side by side through the years.

Yesterday I spoke to colleague Daniel Sandström, who is a sports writer at Gävle Nyhetsbyrå. Since I live in Örnsköldsvik – Näslund’s town! – my main focus is on Modo Hockey, and I figured I could use some real expertise when I was putting this post together. Sandström follows Brynäs almost every night and I asked him about Rödin.

“Anton is not a very forward guy off ice”, Sandström said. “But I have been noticing that he is taking more place in the locker room this season. Just like he is doing on the ice”.

You should have in mind that Anton, who recently turned 20, is only playing his second season in SEL, the top league in Sweden. Some prospects become superstars overnight, but for most of them it takes time to adapt to senior hockey – both on and off the ice. Anton is taking it step by step and is on the road to becoming a really good player.

Last season he didn’t get much ice time (only eight minutes per game, often in the fourth line) and was somewhat struggling to take the first important step into the big league. Now he has taken that step – and this year the coaches are putting more trust in their young star. Nowadays, Anton partners with veteran Andreas Dackell, who was once a player for Ottawa and Montreal, and that has been good for his development.

“It has actually been positive for both Anton and Andreas”, Daniel Sandström said, pointing out the fact that older players sometimes seem to age backwards when playing side by side with youth. In November, SEL took a break while the Swedish national team was playing in the Karjala Tourament with Finland, Russia and Czech Republic. Rödin didn’t make it to Team Sweden, but I guess he capitalized on the game recess in every way because he has been playing great since then, working his ass off out on the ice and putting up points for himself and for his team.

Brynäs has won a lot of games lately and Anton has really been a part of that.

“But one thing you can remark on is that Anton hasn’t scored that many goals. And he has missed tons of chances”, Sandström said.

So there’s one thing he has to work on before he moves to Canada – his accuracy.

That and his physical game. Anton is not afraid of getting into heat – he jumps in head first if he has to – but he sure could use another pound or two.

In 31 games this season Anton has three goals and 14 assists. 17 points is actually more than okay in the SEL, but as a junior Anton was among Sweden’s best in scoring and as you probably have seen in the WJC he has a bunch of offensive skills. In the SEL, that side hasn’t really come out yet. You get a glimpse of it here and there, but it feels like there is a lot of potential there that is waiting to be realized.

I’m sure it will. Maybe not this season, but definitely in a year or two. And I’m sure he will be an important part of the future Canucks.

Jun 022010

The lack of Canucks news was starting to get so boring and sad that I was about to write my story of a hockey playing giraffe in blog form. But all of a sudden we have signings of players coming out of our ears! I guess Gillis has moved on from the eating a pint of ice cream and throwing darts at a picture of Dustin Byfuglien stage of grieving.

Anton Rodin: A Swede! Our Swede supply was getting dangerously low if you ask me with just four. He was drafted last year in the second round. I remember reading a bunch of scouts saying he was one of the steals of the draft.

Cory Schneider: I still say he’s trade bait but it looks like he’ll be Luongo’s back up and hopefully get to start a bunch of games. He deserves it.

Peter Andersson: Another Swede! That’s six! He’s a big, dreamy defenceman who’s supposed to be a good skater and move the puck well.

Lee Sweatt: An American free agent defenceman who was playing in Finland and the KHL. A very solid 5’9″ who likes to hit and shoot the puck.

Yann Sauve: I adore Yann so very much. I saw him drafted live in Ottawa and he was incredibly gorgeous in a suit. He’s also a wonderful skater and likes to hit guys into the boards like it’s going out of style. Oh and his accent makes me coo. If/when Shane baybee/Mermaid leave I would very seriously consider getting a Sauve jersey.

Chris Tanev: Another defenceman! It’s defencemen overload. He played college hockey in Rochester as half of their top shutdown pairing. A right hand shot.

Things will definitely be picking up now that the draft and free agency are fast approaching.

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