A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
*programmer’s note – the organizational rankings inadvertently overlooked the trade of Adam Clendening from Vancouver to Pittsburgh. That move is enough to bump Pittsburgh from 20th to 12thas we view Clendening as a top 100 NHL prospect and Pittsburgh did not surrender any prospects to acquire him. The deal also dropped the Canucks down a few spots to 13th, just below the Penguins.
Prior to shaking up the front office, including the axing of several key scouting decision makers, the Vancouver Canucks had rebuilt what had been a moribund organization into a factory of future NHL contributors. Although the system still lacks much in the way of high end defensive prospects, they are heavy with top nine forwards, including some with first line potential, as well as owning one of the better netminding prospects in the game.
- Jared McCann, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-0”, 179. 24th overall, 2014
- Brock Boeser, RW, Waterloo (USHL) 6-0”, 192. 23rd overall, 2015
- Cole Cassels, C, Oshawa (OHL) 6-0”, 178. 85th overall, 2013
- Jake Virtanen, LW, Calgary (WHL) 6-1”, 208. 6th overall, 2014
- Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (Hockey East) 6-4”, 192. 36th overall, 2014
- Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, Utica (AHL) 5-10”, 181. 24th overall, 2013
- Nicklas Jensen, RW, Utica (AHL) 6-3”, 202. 29th overall, 2011
- Frank Corrado, D, Utica (AHL) 6-0”, 190. 150th overall, 2011
- Guillaume Brisebois, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL) 6-2”, 176. 66th overall, 2015
- Jordan Subban, D, Belleville (OHL) 5-9”, 175. 115th overall, 2013
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Ronalds Kenins, LW, Utica (AHL) 6-0″, 201. UFA: Jul. 30, 2013
- Alexandre Grenier, RW, Utica (AHL) 6-5”, 200. 90th overall, 2011
- Andrey Pedan, D, Utica (AHL) 6-4”, 207. Trade: Nov. 25, 2014. Originally: 63rd overall, 2011 (N.Y. Islanders)
- Brendan Gaunce, C, Utica (AHL) 6-2”, 207. 26th overall, 2012
The Canucks organizational depth chart features two blue chip two-way centers among its top three prospects. First up is 2014 first rounder Jared McCann. Mobile and effective at both ends of the ice, McCann is a modern embodiment of the possession game. In addition to his smarts, he does not lack for skills. The Greyhound has high end vision and makes crisp passes all around the zone. What sets him apart however, and suggests the ability to be a top-six center, is his elite wrist shot which has both power and accuracy. His slapshot is also a weapon, although not to the same extent. He could stand to improve his top end speed, but he makes up for any long-range shortcomings with a strong first few steps. McCann should be a member of the Canadian team at this year’s WJC.
Joining McCann as a future middle-six, two-way center for Vancouver is Memorial Cup hero Cole Cassels. While the son of former longtime NHL’er Andrew Cassels had a reputation for dirty play and ugly stick work, at his best he is a shutdown beast at center ice, something he displayed in the OHL finals as he managed to nullify Connor McDavid for long stretches. Cassels has also greatly increased his offensive output since being drafted, finishing well above one point per game in each of his two post-draft seasons with the Generals. His most notable offensive attribute is his passing touch, as he can hit tape from clear across the width of the ice, even if he has to saucer it to get there. Cassels will make his professional debut this season.
Another pivot of note, one for whom expectations were very high when he was drafted, but whose star has dimmed considerably in the past three seasons is former first rounder Brendan Gaunce. Although a point per game producer as a draft-eligible, Gaunce never raised his game before aging out of the OHL. While his first pro season was not a complete failure, any time a first round forward fails to eclipse 30 points without any time off, it’s hard to pass. He still demonstrates a responsible, two-way game, but more was and remains expected.
Moving to the wings, the top ten features four former first rounders who each still project as solid to better offensive contributors in the NHL. As a testament to the laws of diminishing expectations, as we descend in the rankings, each subsequent winger is older than the last one. The player for whom the bloom is still clearly on the rose is 2015 first rounder Brock Boeser. The young leading scorer from the USHL last season is very strong on the puck and can be electric in the offensive end. He plays the game with a sniper’s mentality and has great instincts for positioning, whether it be for shooting or passing to a better positioned teammate. He will require at least two seasons of college at North Dakota before being ready to try his hand in the pros.
In 2014, with the sixth pick of the draft, the Canucks selected a bruising power forward from the WHL in Jake Virtanen. While Virtanen disappointed to an extent with his failure to increase his scoring rate in his first post-draft year, his tools still excite as he is incredibly fast, with soft hands and superior strength for the junior ranks. He can play with the subtlety of a bulldozer, although the WJC Gold medallist has the skills to play a trickier style. Like Bo Horvat last season, Virtanen will receive the opportunity to break camp as an NHL’er.
The first round winger taken in 2013 was Hunter Shinkaruk, who differentiates himself from Boeser and Virtanen by being less of an imposing presence on the ice. Although his first year in the AHL did not see him produce much more than the aforementioned Gaunce, Shinkaruk demonstrated a more advanced all-around game, as he was willing to engage in puck battles with bigger players and showed above average skating ability when carrying the puck. He still needs to add more strength to increase the effectiveness of his game, but his instincts with the puck are already above average and he can create a lot on the rush with his high level vision. Expect much more production in his second go-round with Utica.
Going back to 2011, the Canucks used a first round pick on Danish power forward Nicklas Jensen. While he has yet to stake his claim to a full time gig in the NHL, he has shown steady improvement in the AHL and I expect him to lose his prospect eligibility this season. Like many others in the system, Jensen is a responsible and energetic two-way player, who already looks like a solid option on the PK. He has a quick stride that gets him to top gear very quickly. He uses his size and strength to gain better positioning, as he will lower his shoulder to increase his leverage when engaging with a defender. His wrist shot is also at least average.
Another forward of note in the system is former third rounder Alexandre Grenier. A late bloomer with a big shot and an even bigger frame, Grenier has come a long way since being drafted four years ago, taking a very circuitous route to his present standing on the cusp of reaching the NHL, including one year in the Austrian professional league and a season spent largely in the ECHL. In a best-case scenario, he could eventually work his way into a role not too dissimilar to that lately filled by former Canuck Zack Kassian.
Ronalds Kenins is also worthy of mention as an undrafted free agent from Latvia who was discovered playing in Switzerland and got 30 NHL games in his first season in North America. Although he excelled in neither offensive production nor the possession game, his intense style of play is endearing and will earn him a few more seasons of grinder line duty with the Canucks.
Although the trade of Adam Clendening to Pittsburgh removed the top blueliner from the system, there are still a trio of defensemen who are all worth keeping tabs on. Foremost among them is Frank Corrado, who is also the closest to being ready, as he already has 32 NHL games (including playoffs) under his belt. A puck mover and power play QB at the AHL level, he has struggled in the possession game in spite of decent protection during his NHL stints. The Canucks enter the 2015-16 season with Corrado penciled in on the third pairing.
Another blueliner of note is 2015 draftee Guillaume Brisebois. An agile skater who is a very good puck distributor, Brisebois’ most notable characteristic is his brain. A captain of an admittedly horrible team as a 17 year old, he plays within his abilities and takes the safe route far more often than most teenagers. It will be interesting to see how he can perform with better teammates, although it might take a trade for him to get that chance this year.
While not nearly as talented as his bigger brothers Pernell or Malcolm, Jordan Subban has established himself as a bonafide prospect during his final season with the now defunct Belleville Bulls. Although well undersized, the youngest Subban is very mobile and is a slippery puck carrier. He has a quick release on his snap shot, although it is not the most powerful offering. His first passes are clean whether sent to short or medium-range targets. Although his game is not (cannot be) overly physical, he maintains good gap control when opponents try to enter the zone on his side. He will be challenged by the professional game this year.
A final defender worthy of notice is Lithuanian Andrey Pedan. A big man with plus mobility and agility, the Canucks picked him up in a minor trade with the Islanders last November. While he has more brawn than skill, the overall toolset is enough to warrant future callup consideration.
With two NCAA seasons already under his belt as the starter at one of the top programs in the county in Boston College (alma mater of former Canucks goalie Cory Schneider), it is easy to forget that Thatcher Demko is still only 19 years old. Easily one of the top ten goaltending prospects in the game, he actually improved his save percentage from his freshman mark of .919 to .925. Although he still has work to do in recognizing danger – particularly when attempting to handle the puck – his fantastic lateral agility and ideal stopper’s size suggest a future NHL workhorse netminder.
If the Canucks’ system has one weakness, it is the lack of high end/high probability blueline contributors in the system. If there is a second weakness, it is the relative lack of players ready to contribute now as the higher end prospects all need at least one more year of seasoning in juniors/AHL/NCAA and in some cases, three or four years. Those blemishes aside, the Canucks have done well to spruce up what had been a poorly producing system. Canuck fans can only hope that the work of the last few years will not go to waste with the recent front office changes. If the moves of this summer – after the purging – are any indication, this position may be very temporary.