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.

Apr 092011
 
Sergei Shirokov

Photo credit: Bridget Samuels

If Keith Ballard manages to play hero for the Vancouver Canucks in the coming months of battle for hockey’s greatest prize, then we might have a real conclusion to whether or not one of Mike Gillis’ big moves this past off-season was worth it.  However, with Michael Grabner putting up 33 goals, the most by a rookie since Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin in ’06-07, and Mason Raymond struggling after a career year last year, it’s easy to see how some Canucks fans think the move was a bit of a flop.  This is probably compounded by the fact that Ballard consistently finds himself in the AV doghouse, sitting behind six other Canucks defensemen in terms of ice time, only ahead of Andrew Alberts if we’re talking about D-men who don’t normally play for the Manitoba Moose.  That’s a bit of an oddity considering he’s the second-highest paid defenseman after Dan Hamhuis.  However, Ballard does lead the Canucks in one category: blocked shots, and his play has significantly improved lately but with only 7 points in what is widely considered the best regular season the Vancouver Canucks have ever had, it’s hard to not think what may have been if Grabner still wore an orca on the front of his sweater.

But, of course, it isn’t that simple.  The playoffs aren’t here quite yet, Grabner wouldn’t get the same sort of ice time in Vancouver as he does in Long Island, and to Ballard’s credit, someone has to play sixth defenseman minutes and it sure isn’t going to be Alex Edler or Christian Ehrhoff.  He’s part of what is arguably the deepest defensive corp in the NHL, although I still can’t explain why on earth Aaron Rome gets more minutes. Still, whether or not the trade paid off is still up in the air.

In the meantime, the Canucks may have another similar “problem” to deal with in the near future in Sergei Shirokov.  A bit of news recently surfaced involving CSKA Moscow, a Russian squad that was previously the home team for Shirokov as well as Columbus Blue Jacket Nikita Filatov.  Neither has really made a dent in the NHL as of yet and the Russian team would like them back.  Shirokov has had some success with CSKA, tallying 40 points in 56 games, before turning down guaranteed money to make the move to North America.  He’s a restricted free agent in ’11-12.

Shirokov is somewhat similar to Grabner. Both are quick players with an offense-first skill set, although Grabner arguably has a stronger offensive game and a small size advantage.  Unfortunately for Shirokov, he’s run into a Canucks team that’s heavy on offensive talent.  The Sedins, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler will be on the team perhaps until they retire, and Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson are likely to stick around at least another year so it’s hard to see where Shirokov would fit in.  Is he going to skip over Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder, the Canucks’ previous two first round draft picks looking to break into the Canucks lineup next year? Actually, I have a hard time believing those two will make the team next year unless they make the move to wing, considering the center position on the first three lines is locked up.

So what does that mean for Shirokov?  If the Canucks re-sign him, he’s unlikely to break into the top two lines unless the Canucks deal Raymond or Samuelsson this off-season.  If he does make the Canucks lineup, it will probably be as part of the bottom-six with potential to move up much like Chris Higgins or Jeff Tambellini have this year.  However, playing in the bottom-six usually means you have to have a physical element to your game, which is something Shirokov hasn’t shown us in his limited ice time with the big club this year, throwing only a single hit in his two games.  The AHL doesn’t seem to keep stats on hits but I can only assume that he isn’t throwing bonecrushers for the Moose either.  No, Shirokov would probably only be effective playing top-six with other talented players rather than the grinders.  Just ask Tamby how he’s doing on the fourth line rather than the second.

Shirokov also has the salary cap working against him.  If he’s re-signed at the same $1.3m, that’s simply a cost the Canucks can do without considering our current 3rd line wingers make $1m and $825k and we’ll need every penny to get Ehrhoff and possibly Kevin Bieksa under contract next season.

Will Shirokov go on to score 30+ in a full rookie campaign?  He has the potential to but so far, he hasn’t shown us much beyond that.  He’s a round peg finding nothing but square holes and it’s hard to see a scenario where he’ll not only fit into the Canucks system next year but thrive under those conditions.  Personally, I think Canucks fans place a little too much value on players like Shirokov and Grabner, partly because they see the second coming of Pavel Bure whenever a quick European player with hands shows up in the system.

Whether the Grabner trade will be viewed as a success or not will probably come down to how Ballard plays in the playoffs this year, but really, the Canucks had no place for Grabs so they moved him for someone who fills one of the main concerns coming out of their second round ousting the previous year, defensive depth.  Rather than having a potential 30-goal scorer sit in their system or languishing on fourth line minutes, they got something they needed in return.

The Shirokov situation is quite similar to Grabner’s so I think it’s quite likely they’ll look at a similar solution.  He’ll most likely be qualified and moved for assets we can use elsewhere.  However, unlike last year, the Canucks seem to have no real needs apart from a fourth line upgrade over Tanner Glass and a couple cardboard cutouts of players.  They are a bit thin in terms of defensive prospects past pleasant surprise Chris Tanev but bluechippers on the blueline don’t come cheap and Shirokov won’t be enough.  He’ll have to be part of the inevitable Cory Schneider deal or packaged with picks.  No GM in the NHL is stupid enough to take an unproven player and give up any real assets.

Well, that and Florida doesn’t have anyone left we could fleece them for.

Jan 192011
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

Give the Canucks credit for showing up to play this one. After a horrendous outing in Minnesota exposed their tired road legs, the excuses for a second consecutive poor performance were readymade. Instead, the Canucks vehemently defied the wishes of their bodies in Colorado, and kept up with the speedy Avalanche. They outshot the Avs 43 to 30 and picked up a well-earned point. It could have been two points, even, had the Canucks managed to push through their mental sluggishness the way they did their physical sluggishness.

Unfortunately for them, it was not so, and the mental mistakes came fast and furious. Bad penalties; bad passes; bad reads; lazy backchecks. Against a young, aggressive team like the Avalanche, that crap’s not gonna fly. Although, by getting the regulation tie, I guess it sort of did. Hmm. Okay, it did, but then, in the end, it didn’t (not unlike the Avro Arrow). Whatever. I watched this game:

  • Likely, neither team will be particularly happy with the way they played tonight (the Canucks were slow and sloppy, and the Avalanche let a tired road team take the lead three times) but both teams will be happy to leave the stadium with points. It’s like sports day in grade school. Everybody gets a ribbon!
  • The Canucks’ power play covers all manner of sins sometimes. Both Edler and Ehrhoff blasted PP goals from the point that gave their team the lead, and these goals were vital. Had the Canucks had to open up and play from behind for even one second in this game, their suspect defensive play would have been even more prominent, and it could have gotten out of hand.
  • It’s been a long time since the Canucks have had a sexy callup like Sergei Shirokov, so it was nice to see him play a standout game in his first NHL action this year. He scored his first career goal on a beautiful move (above), and he had a game-high six shots. But, before you get excited, consider he’s played two fewer games this month–and nine fewer NHL games. He had fresh legs. He was like Anne Bancroft on skates, his legs were so fresh. Let’s wait to see whether or not he can be a standout when the rest of his team isn’t playing on fumes, but he was a breath of fresh air tonight. Most importantly, he looked capable of creating his own offense, something Kesler’s wings have to be able to do. A good start for Shirok.
  • The other callup, Chris Tanev, acquitted himself admirably as well. He finished the night a minus-1, but it’s hard to fault him on the Luongo misplay that gave David Jones his first of two on the night. Jones was his man, for sure, but everyone in the building thought Luongo would swallow up that puck as it came off the boards. Other than that, Tanev was solid. He got on the ice for just under thirteen minutes, far more than anyone would have expected. He admirably broke up a 3-on-1 when Keith Ballard heeded Qris’s advice to step it up, pranks-wise and decided to pull the old fall-down-so-the-rookie-has-to-fend-off-a-3-on-1 routine. Funny guy, that Ballard.
  • Don’t tell the Vancouver media I said this, but here’s your proof that the star awards mean nothing: Alex Edler was named the game’s third star. Clearly, someone didn’t watch the game (probably John Garrett, who has made a living watching games, but always seems to be attending his first one). While it’s true that Edler had a standout game offensively with a goal and an assist, he played one of his worst games of the season defensively. He constantly lost his man, he bobbled pucks at the blue line, he looked dreadfully slow. Despite finishing the game even in the plus/minus category, Edler was on the ice for two Colorado goals, both on the penalty kill, and both times he got absolutely embarrassed by David Jones in front of the net. Jones isn’t a small guy, but Edler’s bigger, and the fact that Edler allowed himself to get moved right out of the play twice is unacceptable. Watch the highlight package. Colorado goals one and four are mirror images of one another, as Jones simply shades Edler into the useless area, opening up the exact same cross-ice pass. On the first goal, you can find Edler at the side of the net when the pass comes across. On the fourth goal, that’s him in the middle, lazily dropping down to block nothing, opening up the same pass and rendering himself helpless to prevent Jones from finding the rebound. A terrible game from #23 tonight.
  • Kevin Bieksa, on the other hand, played solidly. Nearly every shift, he was breaking up an odd-man rush or clearing the zone before things got dangerous. He finished with 2 hits, 4 takeaways and 3 blocked shots, and considering these three stats are typically undercounted (especially when you play for the road team), that’s one hell of a stat line.
  • Keith Ballard had a decent game as well, but has anyone noticed how often this guy falls? He’s like an ancient empire on skates. Methinks Keith “Babylon” Ballard needs to heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah.
  • Is Adam Foote a diplomat’s son? He’s clearly got some sort of immunity. Foote’s a handsy guy, but it doesn’t seem to matter who he grabs, punches, or holds–there’s never a call. He could grope the First Lady and someone would call it a smart, veteran play.
  • The referees missed some egregious offenses, but Raffi Torres sure made it easy on them, huh? Both of his penalties tonight were of the are-you-kidding-me variety, especially his second one. Who tugs on a jersey? Not since Theodore Tugboat have I seen such pathetic tugging. Skeeter and I observed that Raffi Torres has three modes: 1) skateskateskateskate 2) get puck, and 3) put puck. Unfortunately, none of the three modes is any more detailed than that, and Raffi often skimps on the details. Torres is playing some dumb hockey right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he suffers a benching in the near future.
  • Speaking of penalties, Henrik Sedin’s penalty in overtime was fully warranted. Granted, his man went down easy, but everyone knows there are a two situations where you should never stick your arm out. The first is when you’re chasing to break up a two-on-one. The second is when you’re on a school bus. That’s how you lose a limb.
  • A better performance by Roberto Luongo and the Canucks probably leave Denver with a win. He’ll get no pass tonight; he was the freshest Canuck and he should have played like it. When your star goaltender is rested and your team isn’t, you need a star goaltending performance, and the Canucks didn’t get it. The second and third goals are both ones he probably should have had. Know what else he should have had? A Bacon Mushroom Melt. It’s only ever at Wendy’s for a limited time, and it’s delicious. But now it’s gone, and who knows how long he’ll have to wait for them to bring it back? /regret
  • And finally, Jeff Tambellini was the fourth-line center tonight, and while he did a fine job (especially in the faceoff circle, where he was 5-for-6) I’m not sure I like he and Mason Raymond on that line together. They’re too tiny, and tiny on the fourth line is a bad idea, unless it’s an ironic nickname for someone huge, like Tiny, the classic character from SNES’s Clayfighter.
Jan 192011
 

If we had to search for a positive in last night’s 4-3 OT loss to the Colorado Avalanche, we can look to the play of Sergei Shirokov and Chris Tanev.

With the Canucks’ offense drying up a bit during this road trip, Shirokov played in his first NHL game this season, played on Ryan Kesler’s wing, put 6 shots on goal and scored his 1st career NHL goal. (It was a beaut too.)

With Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome injured, Tanev played in his first career NHL game and logged a relatively uneventful 12:49 minutes of ice-time, which is all we could ask for from a young defenseman.

I know it’s only one game, but the fact that Shirokov and Tanev were able to come up and step into the lineup seamlessly reinforces the idea that the Canucks now have a better pipeline between themselves and the Manitoba Moose.

We can’t attribute this to better drafting yet because, while Shirokov was a Canucks draft pick, he was drafted back in 2006 and no other draft picks since 2007 have cracked the roster yet. That said, there’s some promise there with Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder and Kevin Connauton having left the junior and college ranks last year and now honing their games in Winnipeg.

With the 2006 and 2007 drafts essentially a write-off, GM Mike Gillis was at least able to sign or trade for some players to fill the gap. If you look at the Moose roster, it’s filled with younger players with different levels of promise – Mario Bliznak, Guillaume Desbiens, Joel Perrault, Ryan Parent and Aaron Volpatti have all suited up for the Canucks this season already (Volpatti of course is still with the Canucks), and I’m sure Bill Sweatt, Lee Sweatt, Evan Oberg and Victor Oreskovich aren’t too far behind.

Part of this is due to good scouting and another part is due to improved player development. But just as important is that the Canucks were able to plan ahead and ensure that they have the right contracts to the right players in place to allow them to shuttle players back and forth.

What’s resulted is that the Canucks now have different options to call up different players depending on need – one of Gillis’ priorities at the start of the season. Shirokov and Jeff Tambellini are actually good examples of this. Whereas the Canucks used to call up a Jason Jaffray to center the second line with Markus Naslund on the wing – aka trying to fit a square peg in a round hole – they can now call up an offensive player to fill and offensive role.

No, the Canucks’ pipeline isn’t quite as good as Detroit’s yet, but it’s encouraging to see progress made.

Jan 172011
 

After a period of relative stability and good health, it looks like the Canucks are getting bit by the injury bug again.

The Canucks lost Aaron Rome and Alex Bolduc to injuries against the Washington Capitals on Friday night; according to Jason Botchford (Vancouver Province), Rome is expected to be out for 2-3 weeks and Bolduc is expected to be out a bit longer than that.

But also, the Canucks lost Andrew Alberts to a suspected shoulder injury during last night’s loss to the Minnesota Wild. Chris Tanev, who was recalled earlier as a seventh defenseman in Rome’s absence, may in fact draw in the lineup when the Canucks face the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

A couple of thoughts:

While the roster decisions on defense is pretty cut-and-dry – and no, I don’t expect Sami Salo to miraculously be able to play right away – the decisions up front isn’t as clear.

For starters, I doubt the Canucks want to keep rotating Jeff Tambellini and Tanner Glass as their fourth line center. That said, the next few natural centres on the depth chart – Cody Hodgson, Joel Perrault and Stefan Schneider – are all injured, though Hodgson was finally back on skates this week. Jay Grossman tweeted that Sergei Shirokov, Grossman’s client, has been recalled by the Canucks but while Shirokov has played great for the Moose, he isn’t a natural centre.

More from Botch:

The Canucks will temporarily fill his spot and are expected to recall a forward from Manitoba this week. Maybe it will be Sergei Shirokov or Viktor Oreskovich. But Vancouver will look for ways to do better. A name getting some traction locally is Islanders centre Zenon Konopka.

When pressed on it, GM Mike Gillis dropped this:

“Well, Cody (Hodgson) is supposed to play this week, we’ll see how he does.”

Hodgson has missed nearly six weeks of action since being clipped by Lee Sweatt’s stick; I doubt the Canucks would call him so quickly after his return.

Which kinda leads to Konopka.

Konopka is an intriguing possibility. First, his $600,000 cap hit is fairly close to Bolduc’s $500,000 so fitting him under the cap won’t be an issue. (Because they’re not using all of Salo’s LTIR exemption right now, the Canucks actually have enough cap room for Konopka’s even if Bolduc doesn’t go on LTIR.) But also – and more importantly – he can play. With the Isles, Konopka averages about 10 minutes of ice-time per game and is a regular on the penalty-kill. He currently leads the league with 143 PIM, but has only taken 14 minors in 43 games. And the kicker? He’s ranked 5th in the league in faceoff percentage (58.8%).

It’s not clear on Botch’s piece whether Konopka was a player the Canucks are rumored to have interest in or if he’s just a name someone on the beat randomly tossed out as a possible, more permanent replacement on the fourth line. At the very least, it’s good fodder for discussion.

Sep 282010
 

Only a week-and-a-half before the start of the regular season and the Canucks announce new roster cuts, Cody Hodgson keeps his linemates for at least one more game, Sergei Shirokov has a new training plan, Roberto Luongo has a sore groin, Keith Ballard has a new hip, and Raffi Torres has a new lease on life.

Sep 182010
 

The CHB crew are up here in Penticton for Canucks training camp. The 58-man camp kicked off today and here are some things I noticed from day 1:

  • Eddie Lack looked good. The 6’5″ goaltender is the tallest of those checking into camp and covered a lot of space in net. Given Cory Schneider is likely going to be Luongo’s back up, Lack looks poised to take that starter’s position with the Moose.
  • Billy Sweatt (Canucks fans’ newest favourite Twitterer – follow him at @billysweatt) looked very good out there. He’s got great speed and seemed to always have the puck stick to his stick. He reminds me a lot of Mason Raymond from a few years ago. He doesn’t have any finish but if he can work on that aspect of his game. The kid could have a big year on the farm.
  • The Canucks bottom-six looks like it’s going to get bigger this year. Malhotra, Torres and Oreskovich are all upgrades on some of the players that filled bottom-six roles last year. The Canucks needed to get bigger and Gillis has done a god job of bringing in players that meet that requirement with sacrificing skill and speed. Torres looks mean, Malhotra looked good in some face-off drills, and Oreskovich was skating very well for a guy of his size. He also managed to plaster Billy Sweatt along the boards. The guy is going to bruise and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he made the Canucks fourth line.
  • Brendan Morrison was getting feisty when he had to. It was clear he’s here to take his PTO to the next level and the general buzz in the locker room is that he’s going to make this team. He brings a lot of leadership to the table and I’d go as far as say that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was given an ‘A’ if he makes the team.
  • Peter Schaefer, the other interesting invite to camp, didn’t look out of place. After training with Peter Twist for the last year, he seems as quick as ever.
  • On defense, Lee Sweatt and Dan Hamhuis looked particularly good. At one point, Sweatt, who loses four inches to Hamhuis, laid him out, picked up the puck and fired a laser under Louie’s glove. I know it’s just training camp, but it still looked good.
  • Hodgson skated with the Canucks C group that took no contact. This group included Alex Burrows Prab Rai, Steven Anthony and Shawn Weller amongst others. Jordan Schroeder, the other prospect everyone has their eyes on was almost invisible. He skated with the Canucks A group in the morning and was barely noticeable.
  • Sergei Shirokov continues to fly under the radar. He was out and skating, but without the hype surrounding him last year he just quietly did his thing without standing out.
  • After watching Andrew Alberts skate today I’ve come to the following conclusion: For a big guy he can skate really well. He’s a perfect number six or seven defenseman, however the Canucks moved him up to the fourth and fifth spot last year which placed him out of his comfort zone and amplified his flaws. His size would be a huge attribute to the blue line if we weren’t so stacked but he really didn’t look as bad as on the ice as he did last year.
Jan 132010
 

Last night I had the chance to watch the Moose play as they came to town to take on the Calgary Flames affiliate the Abbotsford Heat. One thing I was looking forward to seeing was Sergei Shirokov play. I was all over the kid in the pre-season, and foolish enough to think he was ready to play on the Canucks roster this season. Brian from Canucks Corner put me in my place, but after watching Shirokov play last night things make a little more sense.

I like many others was wondering why players like Desbiens and Grabner were being called up over players like Shirokov but after watching the Moscow talent play last night there are certain facets of his game that need addressing before he’s ready for the NHL. I think the biggest concern at the moment is Shirokov has no defensive responsibility. His back check doesn’t exist and almost every shift he was on the ice, if the Moose had possession he was wandering off by the Heat’s blue line waiting for the stretch pass or a chance to cherry pick. The difference was when you saw the way Grabner approach the play he not only backchecked but he wasn’t wandering waiting for that breakaway chance rendering himself completely ineffective otherwise.

That’s the only major issue I saw with Shirokov last night but one that made sense. For a small guy he’s going to have to fight to make this league, but he’s strong on the puck, he can skate and he’s got a wicked shot. Several times his shot handcuffed the Heat goaltender unfortunately though neither resulted in a goal. Shirokov was in on two of the goals though picking up two assists on the night and assisting on Nycholat’s game winning goal in overtime after the Moose clawed back from down 2-0 at the end of the first to win 4-3 in OT.

It’s clear Shirokov’s still learning the North American game and he’s got a little way to go. Next year depending how the free agent market pans out there’s a good chance we might see him in the lineup. That said, the best place for the 23 year old Russian is the Moose and it’s great that he’s leading the team offensively and showing he can put up points. That’s the best way to show he can show he’s ready to head up to the big leagues. Through 39 games played with the Moose he leads all Moose regulars in goals, points, shooting percentage, and plus/minus and is 2nd in shots power play goals and short handed goals. He’s proving he can lead that team offensively and with that will come his development and understanding of the game.

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