Canucks AHL/ ECHL prospect update

By Matt MacInnis

The Canucks AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, sit tied for sixth in the Western Conference with a 16-11-2-1 record.  The team is doing well considering it is relying heavily on many younger players, even professional rookies, to generate secondary scoring for the team while losing many of its most talented players to the NHL club due to injuries and scoring issues at that level.

Considering the challenges faced by the team, the Moose have had a stellar start to their season and will likely improve as the season progresses and some of the team’s younger players get more adjusted to the faster pace and bigger opponents in the American League.  Individually for the Canucks’ prospects, there have been mixed results. Some players are having stellar years while others, such as highly-touted top prospect Cory Schneider, have had a dismal and concerning start to their professional careers.

Goaltenders

Between the pipes there have been two very distinct stories.  Drew MacIntyre, picked up by GM Dave Nonis in an astute move last pre-season, has been very good.  In 18 appearances, MacIntyre has posted a 2.30 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.  His 12-5-1 record also includes a shutout.  He also earned a call-up to the NHL when Roberto Luongo was suffering from an injury, although he only saw 27 minutes of action during the brief stint. 

On the other hand, the Canucks top prospect, Cory Schneider has had an extremely disappointing start to his pro career.  Hailed as the goaltending future for the Canucks since his selection in 2004 – although that has changed since the acquisition of Luongo – Schneider was completely dominant during his three years in the collegiate ranks.  It has been a difficult transition for the Marblehead native, who has an unimpressive 4-7 record and a dismal .875 save percentage and 3.42 GAA.  The move from college to pro hockey is often a challenging one, even for top prospects, so it is too early to sound the alarm bells.  That said, it is always better for a player to start well than get off the ground slowly as Schneider has to date. 

Defensemen

Unfortunately for the Moose, they lost a player perhaps their best defensemen just two games into the season as Alexander Edler was called up to the big club and is likely there to stay for the rest of his career.  The big, smooth-skating Swede has been extremely impressive and is showing signs of developing into a legitimate No. 1 defender in the future.

Another one of the Canucks top prospects for the future is 2005 first rounder Luc Bourdon.  After a mediocre season last year, Bourdon had a decent showing in training camp but was ultimately assigned to the Moose.  He had a respectable start to the year in Winnipeg and then found himself called up to the Canucks where he performed capably in limited action during nine NHL games.  In total with the Moose he’s been stellar, scoring eight points in 19 games, although his offensive contributions have come to a halt recently.  Bourdon’s improved play has certainly renewed some expectations for his future.

Nathan McIver has continued to show that he is a steady, reliable defenseman who will drop the gloves when necessary.  His +3 rating with four points and 51 penalty minutes in 21 games are all good numbers that have matched his on-ice performance for the most part.  Fellow fringe prospects Jimmy Sharrow, Shaun Heshka and Zack Fitzgerald have all done was is expected of them this season.  Sharrow and Heshka have put up 11 and 10 points respectively, while Fitzgerald has supplied some additional muscle for the team – something that has become increasingly important with Mike Brown spending more time than expected with the Canucks.  Former third-round pick Daniel Rahimi has seen limited action in the AHL, just eight games, and is clearly having some difficulty getting used to the pace of professional hockey in North America.  His skating is a major concern and will need significant improvement if he is going to become an effective player.  Fortunately he has the size and strength to overcome some of his deficiency. 

Forwards

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season thus far among the forwards has been the strong play of Colby Genoway who has 24 points in 29 games thus far, including nine goals which matches his total for the entire 2006-07 season.  Genoway is showing signs of returning to the form which saw him post 61 points in his first AHL season with the Hartford Wolfpack.  Just 24 years old, Genoway may still have some limited potential as a true NHL prospect if he can prove that last year was an anomaly and he’s a consistent and capable scorer at the AHL level.

Ryan Shannon and Jannik Hansen, both of whom have seen time in the NHL this season, have had mixed success with the Moose.  Shannon missed 18 games due to a knee injury but has posted seven points in 11 games.  Hansen, on the other hand, considered by many to be the Canucks best all-around forward prospect, has been unable to find his touch in the AHL, scoring a very disappointing five points in 14 games.  For someone who the organization hopes can step into an offensive role with the big club in the future, these numbers are a source for concern. 

Two players which also contributed significantly to the offensive load while with Manitoba have been Mason Raymond and Jason Jaffray, both of whom are currently with the Canucks.  Helping to supplement their absence has been Brad Moran and rookie Michael Grabner.  The swift-skating Austrian has had a decent start to the year, netting seven goals and assisting on 10 others for 17 points in 30 games. 

Juraj Simek and Pierre-Luc Labrie, both newcomers to the league, have provided some depth support while learning the ropes of pro hockey.  Both players are long-term projects with Simek needing to work on his two-way play although he is a very talented player, and Labrie’s skating requiring improvement before he can hope to play at a higher level.  The fact that the undrafted Baie-Comeau native is even playing in the AHL this season has to be seen as a positive on its own. 

Oft-injured Rick Rypien has played eight games with the Moose this season plus seven more with the Canucks.  He’s provided the tenacious fore-checking and grit that is generally expected of him, while continuing to struggle with the offensive side of the game.  Health remains the top issue with Rypien, who has demonstrated during his various NHL stints that he likely has the tools to be a fourth liner.  Current Canucks tough guy Mike Brown played in 17 games before getting his call-up to the NHL.

Supplementing the Canucks prospects are a host of veterans including former Canuck Mike Keane, Jozef Balej (who had 13 points in 16 games before suffering a significant knee injury that will possibly end his year) and a string of other call-ups from the ECHL ranks.

ECHL players

The Canucks have three prospects (four if you count Rahimi who has played nearly equal numbers in both leagues) that have played essentially full time with the Victoria Salmon Kings, including goaltender Julien Ellis.  The former Shawinigan netminder has been named a starter for this year’s ECHL All-Star game and has performed very strongly thus far in 2007-08.  His 2.68 GAA and .922 save percentage have guided him to a very impressive 10-2-2 record this season.  Despite his very strong play, Ellis has shared time in net equally with Billy Thompson.  Ellis seems to be ready for a shot at the AHL, but with two strong AHL goalies ahead of him, Ellis may be forced to bide his time and continue to force an opportunity by maintaining his strong play.

Marc-Andre Bernier, a former second-round selection, continues to toil as a mid-level player in the ECHL and does not appear to be developing significantly.  His 11 goals and seven assists in 27 games are similar levels from his performance last year.  Bernier likely will settle in to a secondary scoring role in the ECHL.

2006 training camp standout Patrick Coulombe has played 18 games in the ECHL, contributing seven points and a solid +8 rating.  Size and defensive zone coverage continue to be major hurdles for the young defender who certainly has good puck skills but ultimately may simply lack the bulk needed to physically compete with NHL-sized forwards.