Apr 022013
 

Vancouver Canucks have acquired Derek Roy from the Dallas Stars.

Photo credit: Sportsnet

Not that GM Mike Gillis needed to be reminded of the Canucks’ lack of depth at center, but just to be sure, it was put in plain view in their 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks last night. Alain Vigneault tried Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins and his pack of gum at center. Even Henrik Sedin took some defensive zone faceoffs, which, if you’re aware of the team’s use of zone starts, flies in the face of their *ahem* process.

Gillis finally pulled the trigger on a trade this morning, acquiring Derek Roy from the Dallas Stars. In return, the Canucks sent prospect Kevin Connauton and a 2nd round draft pick to the Stars.

At 5’9″, Roy is a small center, but can provide offense for the offensively-starved Canucks. Despite his size, he’s averaged 0.77 points per game in the NHL, including a 4-season stretch with the Buffalo Sabres in which he recorded 20+ goals and 40+ assists in each one. This season, he has 18 assists and 22 points in 30 games with the Stars, including an active 4-game point streak in which he has 6 points (1G-5A). More importantly, it gives Vigneault additional options, especially with Ryan Kesler expected back in the next week.

The Canucks do give up a once-promising offensive prospect on defense in Connauton. But with the defense core of Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison and Alex Edler all signed long-term, Chris Tanev sure to re-signed to an extension this summer, and 2011 5th rounder Frankie Corrado progressing leaps and bounds this season, Connauton’s opportunity to move up to the big club was limited.

Roy is a rental player. His contract, which carries a $4 million cap hit, expires at the end of the season, and he’s expected to test the free agent market this summer. In the end, the Canucks gave up some future depth to hopefully fill a present need.

You be the judge: Was this a good trade?

Sep 112011
 

The Canucks Young Stars Tournament is about to start. Want to read about the top forwards? Already got you covered. Now it’s time to preview the best young defensemen the Canucks have to offer.

Kevin Connauton

Before I start I’ll admit that I’m already a big Kevin Connauton fan. I thought he was impressive when he was with the Vancouver Giants and he got quite a bit of well deserved attention during training camp last season. He posts excellent Twitter pics of nights at the Roxy and of winning giant stuffed pigs at the PNE.

Although he admittedly did not have an amazing season with the Manitoba Moose last year, I still held out hope that as the injuries piled up he would get the call to pack his bags and head to Vancouver. No, he wouldn’t have been the best choice, and he wasn’t, and most likely still isn’t ready to make the NHL jump, but I just like watching him play.

Maybe it’s the fact that he puts up impressive points for a d-man. During his only season with the Giants he shattered franchise records for single season points (72) and goals (24) by a defenseman. He was also the top scoring d-man and rookie in the league, which earned him a spot on the WHL’s First All-Star team and votes of his fellow players declared him to have the hardest shot in the league.

Hopefully, now that he’s had a year to adapt to the pro calibre of play, Connauton can up his game, continue to improve in his own end and shine not only in Penticton this week, but all season with the Wolves.

Sawyer Hannay

If the name Sawyer Hannay doesn’t sound familiar, that’s probably because he was the Canucks’ 7th-round pick in 2010 and he’s been playing all the way out in Halifax for the last three years.

Last season he racked up 164 penalty minutes in 58 games. According to hockeyfights.com this included 18 fights. As you’d expect, he’s good at it too, in the quick sampling I did of the available Youtube clips he seems to win a lot more often than not.


Don’t expect to see him anywhere near a Canucks roster this season, but he could liven up the tourney with a some fisticuffs. He’s currently serving a one-game suspension for taking an aggressor penalty during a Halifax Moosehead preseason game.

Adam Polasek

Hailing from the Czech Repulbic, the 6’3″, 200 lb. Adam Polsek has spent the last two seasons with the PEI Rockets of the QMJHL. He’s shown some serious promise, but more importantly, he’s quite skilled at reading plays and putting himself where he needs to be.


Yann Sauve

Yann Sauve is the only Canucks prospect playing this week who has some NHL experience under his belt, even if it is only five games.

Sauve split last season between the Victoria Salmon Kings, Manitoba Moose and the Canucks, but just a few months before he was called up by Vancouver after the team suffered yet another round of defensive injuries, there was some doubt if he would be playing at all.

Last September, when the Quebec native was crossing a street in Vancouver, he was hit by a car and suffered a concussion that kept him sidelined for three months. Fortunately, he hasn’t suffered any lasting performance issues, and put up decent minutes in 39 games with the Moose last season.


Hopefully this season will give him a fresh and healthy start to work with.

And what has he learned from last season? As he told Ian Walker of the Vancouver Sun, “To look both ways before crossing the street”. At least the kid has a sense of humor about it.

David Honzik

David Honzik is the only goalie officially associated with the Canucks coming to Pentiction this week. He was drafted by the Canucks in the third round this summer.

Some observers weren’t particularly impressed with his stats with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL last season (3.54 GAA,  .884SV%), but a closer look shows that those stats were skewed by an inconsistent start to the season. Once February hit, however, Honzik just took off, carrying his team through the first round of the playoffs and earning comparisons to a certain Pekka Rinne.

Even Honzik himself was at a bit of a loss to explain his improved performance.

“Sometimes I have luck because I’m pretty big in the net,” the 6’2 Czech Republic native told Patrick King. “Pucks just hit me. Sometimes I don’t understand how (I) stop pucks too.”

While the Canucks and the Wolves are pretty much covered as far as goalie talent goes, it will be interesting to see in Honzik can figure out what he did to stop some pucks in the Spring and bring it out this Fall.

So what do you think? Anyone I didn’t list that you’ll be keeping an eye on?

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.

Sep 172010
 

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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 082010
 

I won’t call Canucks top prospect Cody Hodgson a diva like my friend Richard did a few months ago. I won’t label him a bust like some Canucks fans already seem to have. However, I will say that this is perhaps the most important year of his young career so far.

Hodgson’s 2009/2010 season was as disappointing as his 2008/2009 one was impressive. In 2008/2009, he was the CHL Player of the Year, a gold medalist with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, and the Canucks best, most highly-touted prospect in a long time (arguably ever). Last year, he suffered a serious back injury (in the offseason) and a broken toe (just before the playoffs) and played in only 24 games.

I think it goes without saying that a good 2010/2011 season will go a long way in proving he is still one of the top prospects in the NHL than, say, another Pat Peake.

What’s caused some consternation among Canucks fans is how Hodgson seems oddly detached from the rest of the Canucks organization. Mike Gillis has been able to convince almost every other Canucks player to buy into his program. That is, every other Canucks player except for Cody.

Shortly after drafting Kevin Connauton, the Canucks suggested that he leave the Western Michigan Broncos early and play in the WHL. Connauton signed with the Vancouver Giants, who owned his rights, and he went on to break the Giants’ franchise record for points in season by a defenseman and lead all WHL defensemen and all WHL rookies in scoring.

After the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers’ season ended, the Canucks convinced Jordan Schroeder to turn pro. Schroeder impressed in his short stint with the Manitoba Moose and finished with 15 points (7 goals-8 assists) in 17 AHL regular season and playoff games.

I realize this is a small sample, but at least in Connauton’s and Schroeder’s cases, you can’t argue that Gillis and the Canucks didn’t prescribe programs that were good for their development.

Which brings us back to Hodgson.

Cody caused quite a stir when he decided to stop training with Canucks Director of Player Development, Dave Gagner. Instead, he spent this summer training under ex-Leaf Gary Roberts’ training regimen, and in fact, he missed the Canucks summer prospects camp so he could complete it without interruption. He’s dictating his own destiny and that’s certainly his right. It is odd though that the team’s top prospect is the one guy that doesn’t follow his team’s development program.

This isn’t to say that this is a good or bad thing. At the end of the day, Hodgson’s performance at the main camp will determine whether or not he made the right decision to go against Gillis’ grain. At the end of the day, it will be up to him to prove that he belongs in the pros, whether it’s in the NHL or the AHL.

His first step will be on Friday when he flies in for his physical.

Sep 162009
 

The Vancouver Canucks reduced their training camp roster by seven players today.

Dan Gendur is going to the Manitoba Moose. Steven Anthony (Saint John Sea Dogs), Prab Rai (Seattle Thunderbirds), Morgan Clark (Swift Current Broncos) and Kellan Tochkin (Everett Silvertips) are going back to their junior teams. Nolan Toigo and Dusty Collins were released.

No big surprises here, though I was hoping to see Tochkin and Anthony in a preseason game or two. But then again, with so many more roster decisions to be made before October 1st, I understand that it is best that the Canucks see more of those who had realistic shots at making the team.

[update: 09/16/2009 9:14 PM]

The Canucks made further cuts in the afternoon, sending Kevin Connauton back to the Vancouver Giants and releasing Marco Rosa.

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