Apr 012013

Ryane Clowe, San Jose Sharks parks himself in front of Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks.

Photo credit: sharks.nhl.com

The Canucks suffered their first loss in 6 games in a lackluster 4-0 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. It’s easy to spin the loss – one in which they allowed 3 goals in the Oilers’ first 3 shots in the first 3 minutes of the game and then couldn’t generate any sort of offensive momentum to try and at least claw their way back into the game – as “just one of those games”. But the truth of the matter is, the Canucks right now are struggling to score.

Only two seasons ago, the Canucks’ offense – their 3.15 goals per game average and 24.3% efficiency on the powerplay – was the best in the NHL. And despite a slight dip last season, their 2.94 goals per game average and 19.8% powerplay percentage – were still 5th and 4th best in the league, respectively. This season, the Canucks’ are averaging just 2.51 goals per game (19th in the NHL) and converting on just 12.8% of their powerplay opportunities (30th – yes LAST place – in the league).

With no clear sign of a breakthrough, with Ryan Kesler and David Booth still injured, and with Zack Kassian still bothered by an injured back (and re-assigned to the Chicago Wolves yesterday), something has to give. In a desperate attempt to find some sort of offensive spark, the Canucks recalled wingers Nicklas Jensen and Bill Sweatt from the Chicago Wolves on Sunday.

Drafted in the first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, tonight with be Jensen’s first career NHL game, and it sounds like he will be lining up next to the Sedins. A big body with good wheels and good hands, Jensen can score. In two seasons in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, he potted 54 goals, plus another 8 goals in 16 playoff games. In his first stint with the Wolves, he had 6 goals in 8 games, including 2 goals in 2 playoff games. He started this season with AIK in the Swedish Elite League, where he scored 40 points (17G-23A) in 50 games, before coming back to North America to play with Chicago (11GP, 2G-2A-4P).

Billy Sweatt has had to cope with injuries this season, but has been decent season with the Wolves, recording 12 goals (5th on the team) and 29 points (4th on the team) in 56 games.

With Wednesday’s trade deadline looming – tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks is the Canucks’ last game before the deadline – there is hope the Canucks can find another top-6 forward (preferably a center) to help them in the postseason. GM Mike Gillis apparently took in the Sharks’ game against Phoenix over the weekend, and the Canucks are among the teams rumored to be interested in Sharks winger, Ryane Clowe. Clowe hasn’t scored in 28 games this season, but he does have 5 assists in his last 8 games. At this point, it seems anyone who can help ignite the Canucks’ offense would be a welcome sight.

Canucks Record

19-10-6, 44 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This is the third and final meeting between the Canucks and Sharks this season; the Sharks won both earlier meetings.

The Canucks cannot afford to the come out flat and lose the game within the first 8 minutes again, like they did in Edmonton. The Sharks are beginning to find their groove and have won 4 straight games and 5 of their last 6. They’ve allowed a total of just 10 goals against in their last 6 games, and have moved to 6th in the NHL in GAA (2.68) and 3rd on the penalty kill (86.8%) – this isn’t good news for the offensively-challenged Canucks. If the Canucks fall behind early, it’ll be a tough task to try and catch up later.

Who’s Hot

Antti Niemi has won his last 4 starts. He has 2 shutouts and has allowed just 5 goals in that span.

Now in his 3rd season as the Sharks’ starting goaltender, Niemi is having a great season so far. He’s won 16 games (4th in NHL) and has a 2.13 GAA (7th in NHL) and a 0.925 save percentage (3rd in NHL).

Who’s Not

Jannik Hansen has gone pointless in his last 4 games.

Oct 232011
Chicago Wolves GM Wendell Young

Photo credit: Chicago Wolves

The Canucks’ new AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, finally won their first game of the season the other night, a 2-0 shutout of the Rockford IceHogs. To help Canucks fans learn more about the organization from the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois, we had an opportunity to ask Wolves GM Wendell Young some questions and he obliged:

CHB: You started your NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks and played your last game as a pro with the Chicago Wolves. What were your first thoughts when the Wolves and the Canucks organizations formed this new affiliation?

Wendell Young: I think the Canucks and the Wolves were destined to be together. It is unique that I did start my career drafted by Vancouver. Now I am part of the management affiliated with Vancouver. The two teams are very similar; they both have the same vision of wanting to win.

CHB: Did you always know you were going to pursue a management career in hockey after your playing days were over? What made you pursue this career?

Wendell Young: I really never thought I would be a part of management or coaching until later in my career. I started to realize that I could be a part of management because I love business and I love hockey. So when you combine the two it is a perfect job for me as the general manager. I control a lot of things personnel wise and I also control the business side of things

CHB: For us Canucks fans who are now just starting to learn about the Wolves, tell us a bit about the organization. From everything we’ve heard, ownership and their commitment to winning is top-notch, and the organization itself is often regarded as the gold standard of AHL teams. What is it about the Wolves that separates it from other AHL teams? How do the Wolves separate themselves from Blackhawks?

Wendell Young: First of all, from day one we have been a first-class organization. Owners, Don Levin and Buddy Meyers, made a conscious effort from the start to treat the players with respect and that is the way it has been run from the top down ever since. We are a managerial team in the American Hockey League and that’s how we treat our players. We have a premiere organization, if not the premiere organization, in the American Hockey League. Vancouver is confident that their players and assets are in good hands and are treated properly. We have a tradition of winning and we provide every asset for the players to succeed. From our practice arena, to the coaching staff and the support staff, everything is here for players to get better.

The Wolves are a different organization than Blackhawks. We do not compete against the Blackhawks. Basically, we are different in every aspect, from on the ice to off the ice.

CHB: You’ve won everywhere you’ve been: Memorial Cup as a junior, Calder Cup with the Bears as a player and with the Wolves as a coach, a couple of Stanley Cups with the Penguins, Turner Cup with the Wolves. How do you share your winning attitude, character and experiences with the young players you now manage?

Wendell Young: The big thing with winning cups is that you learn how hard you have to work. We stress hard work here. One key component besides having the talent, which we feel that we do is that the team is very close. We have bonding activities for the players throughout the year. Our core covenant in this is family first. When I say family first I mean personal families as well as wives, girlfriends, moms and dads. We feel we are a family all year and we try to bring our team together.

CHB: I remember reading somewhere that your favorite Family Guy character was Stewie. Why him?

Wendell Young: I like Stewie because he is sarcastic and that is my personality. I get told I am too sarcastic sometimes. He fits my personality, dry humor and sarcasm. Sometimes my sarcasm gets me in trouble.

CHB: The Wolves have had an up-and-down, last four years. Especially with a mostly new group of players and prospects, what are your expectations of this year’s team?

Wendell Young: As every year, the expectations are to win the Calder Cup and to be a championship team. We don’t put a team together to go to the playoffs. Our standards are that we put our team together to win a championship.

CHB: Is there a player (or players) you’d advise Canucks fans to specifically look out for and who may be ready to take their pro careers to the next level?

Wendell Young: We have an abundance of skill here and a lot of players who have potential to play at the next level. I think Adam Polasek’s competitive nature will put him into the National Hockey League. Bill Sweatt has a great chance to continue the progression up. I think the biggest name we have here is Eddie Lack. I think we have one of the best goalies in the American Hockey League. Quite honestly, he might even be better than some of the NHL goalies, he’s that good. So we have a lot of players that I think can really step it up and I think if Vancouver has a need we have their type of players.

Sep 112011

As the Canucks prospects assemble in Penticton, BC for the Young Stars Tournament, we had an opportunity to ask some of them some questions. Today, we present a one-on-one with Twitter star and forward prospect, Bill Sweatt.

Bill Sweatt

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

CHB: Give us your thoughts on how you felt last year went for you, personally and professionally.

Bill Sweatt: I think it went pretty well. I got sent down in the exhibition games part of the preseason. And then I just developed, went down there in the AHL, developed my game. Realistically, I knew I was probably going to have to play down there for a year or a little bit just to get used to the pro game because I came from college. And I went down there and did that. We had a great coaching staff. They taught us a lot of things. They really helped me develop my game, both in the offensive zone and the defensive zone.

CHB: What made you sign in Vancouver last year?

Bill Sweatt: When we were starting to look at all the different teams – the interest level, the prospect line, see where I could possibly fit in the future – and that was one of the big reasons I signed the deal. It wasn’t so much for the first year, it was for the second and third year, you know when some of these guys’ contracts are coming up, do they stay or not stay, and then you step into some of those roles that become available. It wasn’t so much salary. It was more like when guys become unrestricted free agents, you know, they can sign there, they can not sign there. Basically, just look in the future, not just the first year but down the line as well.

CHB: You’re quite active on Twitter, and more specifically, #MMDM. Tell us a little bit about this initiative.

Bill Sweatt: It’s a thing my agent started. It’s called “Make My Day Monday”. You go out, and on Mondays, you do a good deed. I usually to do a charitable donation to a different charity every week. It’s just a nice thing to do. Be a professional, be giving and caring to others kinda thing.

CHB: And is it just you and a couple of people?

Bill Sweatt: It started out with just my agent and his players, and now it’s grown so that other people just do it. It’s actually gotten pretty big. It’s actually kinda exciting.

CHB: What was the best thing that you did?

Bill Sweatt: There was a time last year when every week I would ask my followers what charity, what means a lot to you and they would say this charity and why. And I would just pick the best one I would thought for that. I think they’re all equally as good. As long as you’re helping out and doing something for everybody else.

CHB: What part of your game do you feel you improved on the most last year?

Bill Sweatt: Learning the pro game. Because where I came from in college, I came from (playing on) an Olympic-sized rink. Learning how quicker everything is and how it happens faster on a smaller sheet, playing better and possessing the puck down low, getting a lot better on the boards and by the defensive zone where you’re catching the puck fully in the middle of passing it or chipping it past the ‘d’.

CHB: What goals have you set for yourself this season?

Bill Sweatt: My goal is to at least get a couple of games in the NHL. I feel like, last year, I was new to everything and I didn’t know what to expect. I had a good tournament here last year and then a decent main camp, but you can see that it just wasn’t quite there. Got sent down to the A, started off slow, and then really started to get going after 5 or 10 games. And then became a pretty good player on that team and a top-end player. And so that’s why I think that this year it’s realistic now to… I could, I’m shooting to play a couple of games in the NHL. That’s my goal.

CHB: And finally, the best nickname on the team?

Bill Sweatt: I usually call Schroeder either “Smalls” or “Tum Tum” from 3 Ninjas.

Sep 082011

For the second year in the row the Canucks are hosting their Young Stars Tournament in Pentiction. This year they will be joined by prospects from the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets.

Whether you’re making the trip to scout the potential Canucks in person or following along at home, I have your prospect primer right here.

Today we have some top forwards to watch:

Steven Anthony

In March, the Canucks signed Steven Anthony to a 3-year entry level contract. With a Memorial Cup win under his belt, the 20 year-old is setting his sights on the AHL this season. After recording 60 points and an impressive plus-35 in the regular season he missed most of the post season due to a knee injury. He did still score 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists) in the 14 games he played.

Darren Archibald

The Canucks may have found an incredible steal when they signed Darren Archibald last December. With his size, toughness and scoring ability it’s hard to see why he was overlooked by the entire league for so long.

The 6’3″, 210 lb., 21-year-old scored 41 goals and 25 assists in the OHL last season. Now, admittedly I do have a soft spot for players who make the NHL without getting drafted, but despite some inconsistencies earlier in his junior career there is no reason to believe that Archibald can’t make an appearance on the Canucks fourth line at some point this season.

Keep an eye on him in Penticton and he just might show you something special.

Alex Friesen

20-year old Alex Friesen also played his final season with the Niagra Ice Dogs last season, finishing fourth in team scoring with 66 points (26 goals – 40 assists). That stands out, not only as a career high but also as a testament to the steady progress he made through four years in the OHL. Although he does handle the puck well, what caught my attention was his physical play. He already has an impressive list of fight cards at hockeyfights.com and this hit on Taylor Hall means that Oilers fans won’t need to come up with their own reasons to hate on him.

Friesen won’t be ready to make the NHL jump this season, but he is an incredibly hard worker and should be worth keeping an eye on in the next few years.

Nicklas Jensen

18 year-old Danish boy Nicklas Jensen was selected by the Canucks in the first round of this years draft. And not just so fellow countryman, Jannik Hansen, would have someone to talk to in the locker room.

After being named Rookie of the Year in the Danish league (which, to be fair, isn’t saying all the much when coming from a country that has produced a grand total of seven NHLers…ever), Jensen was drafted by the Oshawa Generals. He spent last season there – his rookie season in the CHL – and recorded 58 points (29 goals – 29 assists) in 61 games.

A combination of quick skating and nice hands made the kid a tough guy to defend against in juniors, but he’ll need to grow into his 6’2 frame before turning pro. He could prove to be entertaining to watch in Penticton, but Danish Canuck fans will have to make due with Hansen for the time being.

Jordan Schroeder

Some people have viewed first round pick Jordan Schroeder as a potential draft bust, but I think it’s much too earlier to call it just yet.

After receiving a lot of attention at his first NHL training camp last September, Schroeder was set to have a promising season with the Moose. He recorded 3 assists in his first game of the season. Unfortunately, he suffered a high ankle sprain in December, sat out 16 games and was never the same afterwards. He recorded just 28 points in 61 games, plus another 6 points in the postseason.

With Vancouver appearing to be looking for some size and grit this season in seems unlikely that Schroeder, who weighs in at 180 and is listed as a generous 5’9, will crack the starting roster, at least not this season.

Bill Sweatt

Bill Sweatt joined his brother Lee as a potential Canuck last preseason after failing to sign a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the summer. Although he didn’t crack the NHL in his first attempt, I was prepared to like him before he even rolled into town. Not only did he provide another brotherly connection on the Canucks roster, he also managed to piss off Toronto fans before he even hit the ice, adding a bit of zest to his background (late in the season he was still getting the occasional angry tweet from Toronto haters).

Sweatt excelled in Manitoba last season, recording 46 points (19 goals – 27 assists) in 80 games, good enough to finish second in team scoring. This will be Sweatt’s second Young Stars tournament, so he’ll be coming in with more to prove this time around, especially if he wants to see more than the three NHL games big brother Lee played last season.

Prab Rai

Local boy Prab Rai received a lot of attention at last years prospect camp. Not only does he hail from Surrey, but should he ever make the jump to the NHL, he’ll be only the third player of East Indian descent to do so (after Manny Malhotra). A solid back story was further enhanced by the fact that the kid could actually play some hockey.

Rai has some serious speed on the ice and handles the puck well, although he tends to stay away from high-traffic areas. Rai hoped to spend the 2010-11 season with the Manitona Moose, but a nagging back injury essentially lost him his rookie season.

If he has made a full recovery he could stir up some excitement this season. After all, everyone loves cheering for a home town boy.

So what do you think? Any chance we’ll be seeing any of these guys on Vancouver ice? Let me know!

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.

Nov 302010

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.

Oct 042010

[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]

Bill Sweatt, Vancouver Canucks

You won’t receive a lot of argument here if you say that this preseason was relatively boring. With a stacked roster, the Canucks had few openings. And of the players fighting for those jobs, no one stood out more than the others.

Still, some players managed to move themselves up or down the Canucks’ depth chart. Alex Bolduc and Guillaume Desbiens look like they’re going to make the team’s opening night roster, while Shane O’Brien and Darcy Hordichuk played their way down to Manitoba.

In an otherwise uneventful preseason, who did we think made the biggest impression?

J.J.: IMHO, the Sweatt brothers improved their stock considerably this preseason. What Lee lacks in size, he makes up for in speed, smarts and the ability to make the right play and move the puck quickly out of the zone. He’s smaller than the prototypical NHL defenseman, but he showed that he’s not scared to mix it up with the big boys in the corners. Billy obviously has big-league skill and big-league wheels. What he lacks is big-league finish. Much like Mason Raymond did a couple of years ago, hopefully Billy can work on this in Manitoba. I think he’s played himself into consideration to be one of this year’s first call-ups.

Richard: The Canucks have so much depth they don’t need to look at prospects to fill holes this year. That said, Victor Oreskovich’s play in the preseason and the way he’s used his size is something that’s definitely moved him up. The Canucks have lacked bottom-six size for years and Oreskovich, when he eventually makes the team, will be a welcome fit.

Chris: I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Andrew Alberts of all people has helped himself find his way into the 6th or 7th defensive spot. He’s shown that if given the appropriate number of minutes (say five or six.. okay.. maybe a few more), he’s a relatively decent addition to the blueline. If he were ever able to figure out what the word discipline means, and maybe understand how to better use his size in a manner that doesn’t draw the attention of the zebras, he’d be a beast of a player to see in front of you.

Sean from Nucks Misconduct: Alexandre Bolduc and Tanner Glass were terrific. They have earned roster spots. I liked Peter Schaefer more and more as preseason went along, but we shall see what Gillis and company have planned for him soon enough. Brendan Morrison played so well and it’s unfortunate he didn’t make the squad. But, management knows best. I still like the team moving forward.

Sep 172010


To hear Ed Willes (Vancouver Province) talk about it, the recently-concluded Canucks Young Stars Tournament was an exercise in futility.

Add it all up and the consensus is it would be a stunning upset if anyone from this camp, other than Schroeder, opened the season with the big team. There are some intriguing figures. There are some projects who, in time, might make the NHL. But, in the absence of Cody Hodgson, there was no big news to come out of the Okanagan and that made the whole affair somewhat forgettable.

While Willes is right that the none of these prospects (well except maybe for Jordan Schroeder) seem poised to make the team this season, I don’t think things are as bleak as he makes it out to be. While it’s true that there don’t seem to be any blue-chippers among this prospects group, there are a few who stood out this week and played reasonably well.

Kevin Connauton showed the skill that made him the highest scoring defenseman in the WHL last season. The defensive side of his game is already better than it was at this same time last year, and if he can work on it further in Manitoba, he could turn out to be one of the Canucks’ better offensive d-man prospects since… Kiril Koltsov? (Okay, since a long time ago.)

Chris Tanev played with good positioning and poise. When he got beat, he also showed enough speed to get back into the play. He was probably the Canucks’ best prospect at this tournament, and along wtih Connauton, could legitimately challenge for a roster spot in a year or two.

Eddie Lack was solid in the three games he played and stopped 84 of the 92 shots he faced (.920 save %). With Cory Schneider slated to spend the entire season in Vancouver, Lack should get more seasoning with the Moose.

Up front, Schroeder, Bill Sweatt, Prab Rai and Aaron Volpatti all showed glimpses of being able to play the pro game, and all will probably be counted on – along with the like of Cody Hodgson and Sergei Shirokov – to lead the rebuilt Moose roster.

Yes, these guys are projects but, IMHO anyway, seem like better projects than some of the ones we’ve seen in recent years. (Nathan Smith and Marc-Andre Bernier anyone?)

And like Willes himself admits, the good news is that the Canucks can field a damn good team for the next couple of years and this gives them time to develop the kids properly on the farm. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

In this salary-capped NHL where drafting is crucial and teams need some of their younger players (read: cheap players on ELC), it’s fair to ask why the Canucks won’t have many (or any) of their recent draft picks in their opening night lineup. But remembering that Mike Gillis’ program has only been in place for three drafts and off-seasons and given how he has built his current roster, I don’t think it’s fair to sound the alarm bells because 20 and 21-year olds haven’t cracked this Stanley Cup-contending team yet. It’s one thing to panic when 32 out of 34 draft picks bust like they did between 2000 and 2003. But seeing how some of the guys are still developing and getting better – at least seeing by how they played this week – I don’t think it’s necessary to throw Gillis’ program under the bus just yet.

Sep 122010

As the Canucks Young Stars tournament goes underway in Penticton today, there’s no shortage of players to keep an eye out on. In fact, this group of Canucks prospects may be the deepest in recent memory and more than a few have a legitimate shot at moving on to main camp next weekend.

Besides the usual suspects – Jordan Schroeder, Kevin Connauton, etc. – here are three players I’m particularly interested in.

David Fischer, D

Fischer was the Montreal Canadiens 2006 first round draft pick (20th overall), selected only 6 spots after Michael Grabner and 2 spots before Claude Giroux. He is 6’4″ and 207 lbs., and is a right-hand shot defenseman. Back then, he had a pretty glowing scouting report:

The tall defenseman skates strongly with a wide base. He does not rush the puck up the ice often, but he can hit the breakout pass and rarely makes a mental mistake. Fischer often stepped up to a position on the half-board for power plays and did not seem out of place fore checking and handling the puck as a forward. Fischer’s strength is that he plays a steady game and makes the players around him better.

After spending four unspectacular years at the University of Minnesota, the Habs decided to relinquish his rights and instead take the compensatory 2nd round pick (50th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Certainly, his stock has fallen, and in fact, some scouts seem to have written him off already.

On the other hand, the Canucks are probably hoping that Fischer was simply a victim of a poor University of Minnesota program – remember Jordan Schroeder had a forgettable 2009/2010 season under Don Lucia as well – and that, at only 22 and with proper coaching, he could still fulfill some of his potential since being named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey in 2006.

Fischer is attending the Canucks prospects camp on a tryout basis, but with the Canucks sitting close to the 50-contract limit, he’ll have to play out of his head to earn a contract. That said, the Canucks are short on defensive prospects and Fischer may well take this opportunity to resurrect his career.

Bill Sweatt, LW

Sweatt had an interesting off-season. After being originally drafted by Chicago, the Blackhawks traded him – along with Kris Versteeg – to the Leafs. The Leafs didn’t sign him, lost his rights, and Mike Gillis swooped him and signed him to a 3-year entry-level contract. And on top of all that, he started a Twitter account.

Simply, Sweatt has speed to burn – check these two draft year articles from Hockey’s Future (here and here) – and according to a couple of posters from HF Boards who had regularly watched him play in Colorado College he was smart, good on the PK, responsible defensively and played with a lot of energy. He used his speed to create scoring opportunities, and in fact the knocks on him are his lack of size and that his hands haven’t caught up to his feet.

Maybe he’ll be another Brandon Reid, or then again, he could turn into another Mason Raymond. Let’s hope for the latter.

Taylor Ellington, D

Only 21 years old, it’s probably too early to label Ellington a bust. However, the fact is that he didn’t dominate in his last year – playing as an overage player – with the Everett Silvertips, had trouble adjusting to the pro game during a brief stint with the Manitoba Moose, and ended being demoted and spending most of last season with the ECHL Victoria Salmon Kings.

It’s not exactly the kind of progress you want to see in a high second round draft pick, especially one who was drafted when guys like Oscar Moller and P.K. Subban were still on the board and selected only a few picks later. Even former Moose coach, Scott Arniel, didn’t mince any words in his evaluation of Ellington’s first foray into the pros:

“I’m not going to lie to you — he’s got a ways to go,” said Arniel, now head coach of Columbus. “I don’t know if he was getting mixed messages coming from junior or from the Canucks that he was a shutdown penalty-killing defenceman. It got so into his head that he didn’t worry about puck skills and he got running around trying to make hits.

“He’s got to settle down and let the play come to him. He’s got to make that first good pass and he struggled with it. It comes with confidence. When he keeps it simple, you don’t notice him.”

Ellington’s not a bust yet, but he needs a good camp to change that perception.

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