Canucks 2008-09 junior prospect update

By Matt MacInnis

The Canucks have a relatively small stable of prospects in the Canadian Hockey League ranks this season, but among those are several key young players to the future of the organization.  Leading this meager list is the 10th overall pick from the 2008 Entry Draft – and a player who is already building significant expectations for the future – Cody Hodgson.

Also included in the CHL ranks this season are a pair of second-round selection defensemen and a couple late-round long shot skilled forwards that the Canucks hope will develop into late-round gems.

Hodgson is the most significant prospect in the organization currently playing in the CHL.  He came into Canucks camp with a very slight chance of making the team, but ultimately found himself being sent back to the Brampton Battalion of the OHL.  Hodgson has been dynamite at the junior level, scoring 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points in just 15 games.  Hodgson has led the team on and off the ice and solidified his spot as a blue chip prospect.  The Battalion captain simply does everything well and nothing poorly.  There are prospects with better skating, or better skill or a more impressive slapshot, but Hodgson is a great example of a player whose sum is greater than the individual parts.  He has the unique ability to get the most of his talents and consistently finds a way to put it all together.  He’s been a clutch player every night for Brampton and has been held off the scoresheet just three times all season.

His exceptional play makes him a lock for the Canadian team in the World Junior Championships this holiday season.  Overall, Hodgson has done nothing but meet – and probably exceed – all expectations thus far this season. 

After the extremely disappointing early returns of the Canucks’ 2007 first-round pick Patrick White (who had a poor freshman season and is off to another disappointing start early this season), the prized prospect is rolling through the OHL ranks and doing everything he can to show that he’s ready to make the transition to the NHL next year. 

Another prospect off to a hot start is Prab Rai.  The surprising fifth-round pick from 2008 is carrying the momentum he built last season in Seattle.  The Thunderbirds forward currently leads the team in scoring with 16 goals and 13 assists in 26 games.  The speedy Surrey native has clearly elevated his game and is doing his part to validate the Canucks’ selection.  Furthermore, Rai is putting behind him the old allegations of attitude problems.  Rai’s torrid goal-scoring pace has put him to the top of the pile among the Canucks’ most recent late-round picks.  One area of some concern is Rai’s hot or cold nature.  In his 26 games, he has nine multi-point games and 10 games where he has been unable to register a point.  Rai’s game is built on speed and skill.  He handles the puck well and uses his feet to generate offensive chances for both himself and his teammates.  Consistency remains an issue for Rai and he must become more willing to go into the high-traffic areas. 

With so few prospects currently playing major junior hockey, there aren’t many to pick from when determining the most disappointing player thus far.  However, Taylor Ellington has had the least impressive start to his season among active skaters.  Never expected to be either a star or a meaningful offensive contributor, Ellington hasn’t played poorly necessarily, but hasn’t been particularly good either.  A -2 player after 22 games played (one of the few minuses among everyday Silvertips players), Ellington has chipped in a goal and eight assists as well.  After a lackluster appearance in training camp, Ellington needs to step up with a big season in order to prove himself a worthy second-round selection.  Ellington is defensively solid with a good physical game.  His positioning is above average for the junior ranks and should round out as he matures as a player.  His agility as a skater is somewhat lacking, but sound positioning can help to overcome that.  He does a good job playing within his offensive abilities, but his puck skills do need improvement.  

Fair or not, Ellington will find himself compared to Oscar Moller (LA) and Michal Repik (FLA) as the offensively-challenged Canucks chose him or two quality forward prospects who played for junior teams in the Canucks’ backyard.  Purely for comparison’s sake, Moller is averaging half a point per game in the NHL and Repik is having a decent rookie campaign in the AHL.  A Victoria, BC native, Ellington needs to improve his overall skating and continue to get better handling the puck.  All that said, Ellington is a decent prospect with top-four potential (most likely to be a third-pairing pro) who is going to be unfairly criticized as an unpopular choice in the second round. 

The Canucks also used their 2008 second-round pick to pick up a defenseman.  Yann Sauve fell on many draft lists during the 2007-08 season because he wasn’t able to live up to expectations.  The Canucks were happy to scoop up the Saint John Sea Dog 41st overall.  Sauve has had a stellar start to his season.  He appears to have found some of the offensive game he was touted to possess with 15 points in 22 games and has a +2 rating whereas most of his teammates are minus players.  Sauve’s stepped up his physical play with 36 penalty minutes as well.  Suave has publicly spoken about his hopes to get on the Canadian World Junior team, but is likely on the outside looking in.

Many people forget how highly regarded Sauve was going into the 2007-08 season.  He fell out of the first round due to a combination of lack of offensive production and questionable decision-making with the puck in his own zone.  Obviously his numbers are up already and by all accounts his ability to make the first pass is improving.  It’s early, but Sauve is showing signs of developing into the prospect with the significant kind of potential that was expected of him earlier in his junior career.  Sauve remains a solid choice at 41st overall.

The only major junior goalie prospect in the system, Morgan Clark has done little to dispel the draft day disappointment that followed his selection.  While the Red Deer Rebels are one of the worst teams in the WHL, Clark isn’t helping the cause with a .883 save percentage and 3.78 goals against average.  Despite playing parts of the past two seasons in Red Deer, Clark has played fewer minutes and games than WHL rookie Darcy Kuemper.  There’s nothing at this point to indicate Clark is a legitimate NHL prospect.

Charles-Antoine Messier missed the first 24 games of the regular season with a broken collarbone.  After two games, he is yet to register a point.  With just two games played, there isn’t much to update on the small, but skilled, pivot.  His puck-handling skills are certainly above-average, but Messier has had real problems physically competing when matched against other Canucks prospects in rookie camps.  Whether he can excel in a league that’s more physical than the QMJHL is a real question.  Coming off a very average 2007-08 campaign, Messier needs a quality campaign to earn a contract.