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.

Feb 152011
 

To add injury to insult, the Canucks lost another defenseman to injury in last night’s 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Andrew Alberts is out with a broken wrist; the Canucks have placed him on LTIR and called up Yann Sauve to replace him.

If you look at the list of walking wounded, it includes Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Keith Ballard, Lee Sweatt, and now Alberts – that’s a better group of defensemen than some teams have in the lineup. If Sami Salo, who limped off the ice after the game, joins that list I’d dare say it’s one of the best group of defensemen in the league. (edit: According to AV, Salo should be okay.)

I’m not quite sure how to describe this run of injuries on the Canucks’ blueline.

The words ridiculous, comical and cursed come to mind.

If you can think of better words, please feel free to share.

Jun 022010
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 242008
 

The Crazy Canucks podcast crew were guests of the Vancouver Canucks in suite 519 last night. Needless to say, it was an excellent experience and it gave John, Rebecca, Dave, Alanah and I all an opportunity to meet the team’s marketing group and brainstorm on potential partnerships this season. (Plus, the popcorn was damn good.)

It also gave me a chance to form some first impressions on the Canucks.

  • I don’t know if it’s the players or their system, but the Canucks looked faster in their first two preseason games. They made a lot of plays off the rush – quite impressive really.
  • Jannik Hansen should make this team. A lot of the hype has been on Cody Hodgson and Michael Grabner thus far this preseason, but after a couple of seasons with the Moose, Hansen looks like he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. Good speed, good two-way play, decent hands and very versatile. If you remember his brief appearance in the 2007 playoffs, he did fine on a checking line with Ryan Kesler. Last night, he was on a scoring line with Henrik Sedin and Michael Grabner and didn’t look out of place. He also made a helluva move to get the puck to Grabner on Grabner’s game-winning goal.
  • Michael Grabner showed a lot of top-flight upside. He has speeds, he has hands and great offensive instincts. Really, the only question mark on Grabner is if he can showcase those, not only on a game-by-game basis but on a shift-by-shift one.
  • It’s easy to see Cody Hodgson’s upside. He sees the ice well and has very good poise for an 18-year old. I’m sure I’ll have more on him as the preseason goes on.
  • Yann Sauve reminds me of where Luc Bourdon (RIP) was in 2006. He obviously has some upside but just has to learn to put it together. He was regularly out of position tonight and would benefit from going back to junior plus a couple of years in the minors.
  • I was really impressed with the Alex Burrows-Ryan Johnson-Darcy Hordichuk line. Not just because of Hordichuk’s goal but also because they did well as a checking line. This bodes well for the Canucks if Ryan Kesler somehow manages to work his way to one of the top two scoring lines.
  • Steve Bernier put in a Pierre McGuire monster performance. If he plays big and aggresive every night like he did last night, the Canucks may have the power forward they’ve been looking for for the last two years.
  • I liked Lukas Krajicek’s play. Very solid kinda like before his injury last year. If he keeps this up, the Canucks will have some big decisions to make on defense.
%d bloggers like this: