Jun 272012
Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

1. Some fallout from the NHL Draft: Is it possible that, after the Cody Hodgson fiasco, the Canucks are doing more “background checks” on possible NHL draft picks? I found it interesting when Mike Gillis said that Brendan Gaunce has “good parents, good potential, and good leadership”. Wait, good parents? Sounds familiar.

2. You could make the argument the Canucks were ecstatic that Gaunce was available to them at pick 26. Outside of the offensive upside, there isn’t a ton separating Gaunce and Hodgson. Gaunce wore an ‘A’ for Belleville last season and is close to a lock when it comes to getting a spot on the Canadian world juniors team next winter.

3. Are the Canucks just steering clear of drafting WHL players completely? The club has now made 25 consecutive selections without taking a single WHL player. The last was Morgan Clark (2008, 7th round), and for the last ‘successful’ WHL pick outside of the traded Michael Grabner, you’d have to go all the way back to 1995 when Brent Sopel was a 6th round selection.

4. There was a rough reception for the Canucks on Day 2 of the draft, when they selected all overage players with their remaining picks. A lot of people cried uncle when the team could easily have signed the players over the summer without sacrificing picks. Perhaps the club wants to draft more mature players who could be ready in 2 years as opposed to 3 or 4.

5. How sold are you on the “draft the best player available” mentality? The Canucks certainly aren’t, given most of the drafted players could’ve been available later.

6. One team that didn’t draft the best player available was the Calgary Flames, who took Mark Jankowski when they could’ve arguably had him in the second round. Canucks fans who went through the Patrick White fiasco in 2007 know the pitfalls that can follow when a marginal prospect goes in the first round.

7. The Canucks didn’t make qualifying offers to Victor Oreskovich, Marc-Andre Gragnani or Andrew Ebbett, allowing all to become unrestricted free agents. Oreskovich and Ebbett aren’t total surprises, but steps had to be taken for Gragnani to avoid becoming a UFA in the first place, so the fact the club didn’t extend a qualifying offer is a bit shocking.

8. The problem with Gragnani is that he’s a good to great player in the AHL, but a fringe player in the NHL. Either the Canucks didn’t think he was worth a contract, or Vancouver has another defenseman coming into the system soon…

9. Also sounds like Aaron Rome won’t be returning to the Canucks. Unfortunately, the biggest impact Rome had in a Canucks uniform was for his hit on Nathan Horton which arguably cost the Canucks the Stanley Cup. Rome certainly wasn’t an impact player on the blueline during the run, but the team had been crippled by injuries beforehand so his suspension didn’t help matters.

10. With Rome and Gragnani cast out by the Canucks, who’s going to fill the void? It’s been floated around the Twitterverse that Sami Salo will be back for another year, but that still leaves a spot or two on the blueline open.

11. You can put together an opinion that Vancouver is opening a roster spot for high-profile UFA Justin Schultz to come to the Canucks, but nothing can be certain at this point. You could also argue the Leafs traded Luke Schenn so that they could free a roster spot for Schultz as well.

12. Is Toronto off the table for the Canucks and Roberto Luongo? Trading Luke Schenn, who was rumoured to be offered straight up for Luongo, certainly seems to answer that question.

13. Florida is said to be the frontrunners for Luongo now, but GM Dale Tallon questions whether or not the Cats can fit a gargantuan contract like Luongo’s into the equation, though reportedly, Florida ownership have no problems having to pay Luongo ten more years.

14. The other problem is the Canucks are said to be asking for one of Florida’s top young players: Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Dmitry Kulikov, and Quinton Howden. The first two are unlikely acquisitions, given they were top three selections in the NHL drafts the last two years.

15. Big congratulations are in order for Pavel Bure, who was elected to the HHOF yesterday. As a fan who grew up idolizing Bure as a child, the Russian Rocket spawned a generation of hockey fans in this city. And whether or not you believe he deserves to have his jersey hanging in the rafters of Rogers Arena, his place in the Hall is simply unquestioned.

Jun 222012
Brendan Gaunce, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: The Pipeline Show

The Vancouver Canucks ignored all the trade chatter and whispers on the draft floor in order to take centre Brendan Gaunce of the Belleville Bulls with their 26th overall pick.

What the Canucks are getting:

A solid two-way centre with faceoff ability who can play all forward positions. Gaunce has been a leader with the Belleville Bulls and should be on a shortlist for Canada at the next World Juniors. Gaunce isn’t a physical specimen by any means, but at 6-2 and 201 pounds is willing to go into the corners and engage in physical battles if necessary. The knock on Gaunce is that there are questions about his offensive upside, so most scouts have him pegged as a third-line centre. Gaunce’s skating stride is also suspect, as his first step is rather sluggish. But if Gaunce can improve his stride, he can be a very tenacious forechecker for the Canucks down the road.

Call me, Cody?:

There are a couple similarities between Brendan Gaunce and one-time Canuck Cody Hodgson. On top of the fact the two are both from Markham, their skating strides when drafted out of junior are similar, but both are hard-working players with leadership qualities.

Other notes:

We shared some of the scouting reports on Gaunce earlier this week.

In drafting Gaunce, the Canucks passed on a few other prospects: Henrik Samuelsson, a rugged crash-and-bang winger, and Brady Skjei, a smooth-skating defenseman from the U.S. National Development Program. The Canucks also could’ve opted for Matthew Finn, another defenseman from the OHL’s Guelph Storm, or Ludvig Bystrom, a Swedish defenceman who hails from Ornskoldsvik (aka The Canuck Factory).

Jun 192012
Tom Wilson, Plymouth Whalers, NHL Entry Draft 2012

Photo credit: Sportsnet

The last time the Canucks drafted 26th overall in the NHL Entry Draft was in 2004 when they drafted a certain red-headed goaltender, Cory Schneider.

Schneider was the fourth goalie drafted that year, behind Al Montoya (6th overall, New York Rangers), Devan Dubnyk (14th, Edmonton Oilers) and Marek Schwartz (17th, St. Louis Blues).

It’s not likely the Canucks will draft another goalie with the 26th pick this year; in fact, since that 2004 draft, only 10 other goalies were picked in the first round.

As we approach draft day on Friday, the consensus seems to be that it is weak and unpredictable. There are some top-end talent in the first few picks, but after that, all bets are off.

Given their organizational depth and the general direction of the league, chances are Mike Gillis and company are looking for some big players up front. Big players who can skate and score.

Here are some of the guys who may fit that mold and what the experts are saying about them.

Thomas Wilson, RW, Plymouth (6’4″, 195 lbs., shoots right)

TSN: His skating continues to improve and he gets to the necessary places so as to create the literal and figurative impact in the game. Very good sense and he doesn’t run around aimlessly and his puck skills should not be underestimated because with the room he creates, he also can finish.

The Hockey News: The Plymouth Whalers power forward uses his big frame to punish his opponents and create scoring chances. And if someone doesn’t like it, he’s happy to drop the gloves.

The Scouting Report: Wilson is one of the biggest forwards in this draft and has developed into a true power forward. He’s an imposing winger who plays a gritty brand of hockey that has certainly caught the eye of NHL teams. He can change the complexion of a game when he engages physically and he has the ability to create a lot of space for his linemates through effective cycling.

Future Considerations: He skates very well for his size, wins the little battles along the boards, and in front of the net where he has a knack for scoring, and plays a solid north and south game. He is your prototypical power forward that can change the course of a game with a goal, a big hit, or a fight and holds the same potential to be an impact player in junior and at the pro level.

Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville (6’2″, 215 lbs., shoots left)

TSN: He is smart and plays the game well both with and without the puck. He makes plays and because he’s smart he gets scoring chances and an improved shot can make him that much better offensively. He works without the puck and is also capable of playing on the wing which adds a component of versatility to his game.

NHL.com: A scout said if he were building a team from ground-up, Gaunce would be his first pick.

The Hockey Writers: Brendan Gaunce is a meat-and-potatoes type of player willing to enter the gritty areas and engage in puck battles. His defensive awareness, positioning on both sides of the puck and faceoff prowess earn him tough minutes as a shutdown option. Offensively, Gaunce plays a power game complemented by above-average passing skills and an ability to unleash a hot wrist in tight quarters.

Hockey Prospectus: Gaunce is a bulking two-way power forward who can also finish and distribute the puck at a high level. He is a really smart hockey player with tremendous instincts and vision on the ice. Even though he’s an aggressive checker, he also has the ability to pull up along the side boards, control a power play and be a very effective distributor.

Martin Frk, RW, Halifax (6’0″, 204 lbs., shoots right)

TSN: Martin is a goal scorer. He wants to score, is hungry to score and is that player who is lurking for the chance to score. He plays a straight ahead game and is more of a shooter. He has a good shot and can beat goaltenders with it down the wing and it’s a heavy shot.

MyNHLDraft.com: Frk’s commitment and drive has been questioned at times during his time with Halifax however it is quite clear when he is motivated he is the best player on the ice. This guy has an NHL shot and can shoot holes through the net. He already has a body that can withstand the physical punishment that the NHL offers and as well has a magnificent skill set to compliment his big body presence.

The Hockey Writers: A typical high-risk, high reward prospect, Frk could turn out to be an early second-round steal if he is developed properly by the team that drafts him.

Dobber Prospects: Frk is one of the top draft eligible players coming out of the QMJHL this year. Durability and consistency concerns could see him fall in the draft. He struggled once he returned, but started to produce during the last quarter of the season. His biggest asset is his booming shot, which might be among the best in the entire 2012 draft. He has a nasty, gritty side and is very strong on the puck.

Tomas Hertl, C, Slavia (6’2″, 198 lbs., shoots left)

TSN: He takes a cerebral approach which finds him in proper position on the ice but always ready to take advantage of opportunity. He forces opponents into mistakes without the puck and when he gains the puck, his awareness, vision and puck skills allow him to threaten offensively. He is a very good passer but given the opportunity to shoot, he can be dangerous.

NHL.com: Big and skilled, and already a star in the Czech league.

The Hockey News: Ice awareness and his ability to make plays are Hertl’s strongest assets.

Hockey Prospectus: Hertl is a gifted puck-handler who is above-average to plus in that area with good creativity and hand-eye coordination. He has a nice frame and is pretty hard to strip the puck from in the cycle game due to his hands and puck protection abilities. Hertl’s physical game is pretty solid all-around as he is strong, with a good sized frame, will go to the net, and doesn’t mind getting a little chippy.

Scott Laughton, C, Oshawa (6’0″, 177 lbs., shoots left)

TSN: He has excellent hockey sense and is capable of playing any situation in the game. He is smart defensively. He is smart offensively. He can adjust to different circumstances and excel. He leaves himself in strong position on the ice so he’s always ready to make the appropriate play for the situation.

OHL Prospects: I’ve said it before, but Laughton reminds me a lot of Mike Richards at the same age and I think there’s a chance he’s put himself in conversation for the back end of the first round.

The Hockey Guys: Despite competing heavily for ice-time on a veteran filled Generals’ team, Laughton proved that his strong two-way responsible game and tireless work ethic was too impressive to limit his minutes. As a true character player, Laughton has commendable offensive skills highlighted by above-average puck control and protects the puck exceptionally well. His vision and knack for reading his opponents is what makes him such a well-balanced pivot at both ends of the rink.

The Scouting Report: With no shortage of offensive firepower in Oshawa, Laughton’s minutes are not what they would be on other teams and he sees less powerplay time as a secondary option. With that being said, Laughton did show flashes of his offensive upside during the second half of the season while continuing his strong two-way play. Laughton isn’t an overly big player nor is he going to blow you away with speed, but he competes hard and is a strong checker.

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