Last year the Vancouver Canucks had several of their top prospects playing in the NCAA, including Cory Schneider and Mason Raymond. This year the team has just four young players playing collegiate hockey with one more (Taylor Matson) committed to playing with Minnesota next year.
The four prospects include three forwards and a defenseman. The group also includes a first rounder and three late-round picks, one of which is no longer considered a realistic NHL prospect.
Matt Butcher, C
Northern Michigan, Sophomore
Drafted: 138th overall, 2005
After what many considered a dismal freshman season where Butcher scored just four points (no goals) in 40 games, he has had a significantly better year to date. After 28 games, Butcher sits third in team scoring with six goals and 12 assists for 18 points. Half of his goals have come on special teams, with a pair of power-play goals and one short-handed marker.
At 6’2, 205 lbs Butcher has good size and used it very well as a junior player in the BCHL. It was not surprising that he initially had a difficult time adjusting to the collegiate ranks as he plays a power game and the significant size difference between junior “A” and NCAA players would have had an impact. Butcher seems to be back on track and is performing decently, although his team has struggled with a poor 10-15-3 record. His respectable numbers this year are a positive sign and indicate that he cannot be declared a bust yet. His pro upside is limited to checking lines.
Kris Fredheim, D
Colorado College, Sophomore
Drafted: 185th overall, 2005
At 6’2, 183 lbs the Campbell River, BC native is one of the few “BC boys” in the Canucks system. Having grown up in the same small community as Rod Brind’Amour and just two hours away from current Canucks stalwart blueliner Willie Mitchell and Wild prospect Clayton Stoner, the organization is hoping Fredheim will be the next North Island NHLer. Fredheim appeared in just 23 games last season, but has already played 21 games with the Tigers in 2007-08 scoring four points.
A lanky defender with good reach and a strong shot that he hasn’t been effectively been able to use at the college level yet, Fredheim has been steady this season. Solid in his own zone, Fredheim’s offensive abilities are a little lacking but he has a long time to develop and hone those skills. Fredheim needs to add some size and strength over the next couple years in order to help him prepare for professional hockey.
Andrew Sarauer, LW
Northern Michigan, Senior
Drafted: 125th overall, 2004
Sarauer is an oft-forgotten prospect in the Canucks system, mostly because he has limited potential as an NHL player. The senior has scored just four points in 25 games this season, numbers which are typical of the big winger, who has put up seven, five and 10 points in previous seasons.
At 6’4, 205 lbs, Sarauer is a big player who has not been able to physically dominate contests the way one would hope a forward of his size would. Sarauer’s hockey career may not continue after his collegiate eligibility and he almost certainly will not receive a contract from the Canucks organization.
Pat White, C
Drafted: 25th overall, 2007
A surprising pick at 25th overall last year by the Canucks, White has certainly failed to capture attention with his three goals and three assists in 30 games with the illustrious Gophers program. Although White has appeared in every game this year for his team, he has not played a prominent role in many of them. The Gophers are a solid team with a history of not giving significant roles to first-year players unless they are real can’t-miss players. Despite that, the organization cannot be pleased to see a first-round selection putting up mediocre statistics, even if it is early into the development of a player who is admittedly a long-term project.
White has decent size at 6’1 and a little less than 200 lbs, but his frame has room to grow further and build more upper body strength. The Grand Rapids, Minnesota native is a skilled and creative playmaker who will do more setting up than finishing on the ice. He handles the puck very well along the board and in traffic, but like all young players, must continue to improve his skills throughout his collegiate career. Because White is so young and played such a limited role with the Gophers this season, it is very difficult to project the future for him. Right now it is apparent he needs much more time in the NCAA to hone his skills and develop his all-around game. He is nowhere near ready for the professional ranks and the organization will have to be extremely patient with him.