Canucks 2009-10 junior prospects update

By Jon Hagan

With 20-year-old defenseman Taylor Ellington making the jump from the WHL’s Everett Silvertips to the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings after training camp, the Canucks have seven junior prospects left in their system, all are from the CHL.

The crown jewel for the Canucks is of course Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion. He is the only OHL representative on the list. Yann Sauvé and Steven Anthony of the Saint John Sea Dogs represent the QMJHL, while the balance all play in the WHL: Kellan Tochkin of the Everett Silvertips, Prab Rai of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Kevin Connauton of the Vancouver Giants, and Vancouver’s only junior goaltending prospect, Morgan Clark of the Swift Current Broncos.

yle”>OHL

Cody Hodgson, C – Brampton Battalion
Acquired: 1st round (10th overall), 2008
18 February 1990, 6’0", 185 lbs

After being voted both the CHL player of the year and Hockey’s Future’s prospect of the year, it’s fair to say that people expected big things this season from Cody Hodgson.

And then he got injured.

What we know is that the back injury happened earlier this summer. What we don’t know is how serious it is.

Mid-September, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault declared that whenever Hodgson felt ready, the team would put him in for some pre-season games. The young center declared his readiness a few days later and was inserted into the line-up against the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 18.

Four game passed, and Hodgson didn’t do much to impress the Canucks coaching staff. It was suggested that what the Canucks were seeing didn’t warrant keeping him around. In the end, they decided to give him two more games to prove himself.

Interestingly, the day after the Canucks expressed their disappointment, it was also reported that the night before, Hodgson told the media that he was still feeling the lingering effects of the herniated disc and suggested that it may have hampered his ability to perform in the pre-season games. Later, in the same article, it was reported that Canuck GM Mike Gillis refused to allow Hodgson to use the injury as an excuse for a less than exemplary camp. "He’s been cleared to play for 10 days and we’re in a time frame now where things need to get better," Gillis told the Vancouver Sun. "He needs to show that he is ready and capable of participating at this level on a good team. We’ll see how it goes."

And it didn’t go well. On Sept. 29, Hodgson was reassigned to Brampton. At this point, the Hodgson camp fired back and said that he would not report to the Battalion until their doctors had a chance to assess the extent of his injuries for themselves. This, of course, implied that the family was not convinced the Canucks medical staff had adequately diagnosed the injury.

Issues of negligence on behalf of the Canucks medical staff aside, it’s now two months after he was originally given the green light to play and almost six weeks after being returned to junior, and Hodgson is finally skating again in practice with a hockey club. He was supposed to have his back reassessed on Nov. 15, but no word as of yet. He’s hoping to play in early December.

QMJHL

Yann Sauvé, D – Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 2nd round (41st overall), 2008
18 February 1990, 6’3", 214 lbs

The big defenseman from the Montreal suburb of Rigaud, born on the exact same day as Hodgson, gets a bit of time on the Sea Dogs power play, but first and foremost he’s the team’s top penalty killer. He won QMJHL defensive player of the week in late October, and he’s also made the roster for the CHL Super Series, which began Nov. 16. And, according to Sea Dogs’ Director of Hockey Operations, Mike Kelly, he’s also been a large part of his team’s early season success.

"Yann has been very good for us. He’s been an anchor," said Kelly. "He’s certainly been providing leadership back there on the blue line, and he’s showing a real desire to want to make sure that he’s reliable and dependable in his own end. We also encourage him to get up and support the attack as much as he can and he skates so well that he’s able to do that."

So far this year, Sauvé’s regular defense partner has been Nathan Beaulieu. Sauve has 16 points in 21 games and is +21.

As far as Sauvé’s future, Kelly seems pretty confident in the 19-year-old defenseman’s strengths and how they will affect his chances of being successful in the NHL. And he should know, as a former assistant coach with the Canucks, Kelly has some insight into what the big clubs are looking for.

"Yann’s strong. He’s a great skater. He can get himself out of trouble using his feet or using his smarts. He moves the puck pretty well and he gets up to support the play very well," Kelly said. "Yann’s got a very good chance to be a player."

Steven Anthony, LW – Saint John Sea Dogs 
Acquired: 7th round (187th overall), 2009
21 March 1991, 6’1", 205 lbs

A teammate of Sauve, Anthony is leading the Sea Dogs in goals with 12 and is second only to linemate Michael Kirkpatrick for the team lead in points with 24 in 24 games. Anthony’s other linemate is Tomas Jurco. Taking time on both the power play and the penalty kill, the Halifax native has been establishing himself as quite a prospect for the Canucks, despite being taken in the seventh round.

"He’s a sleeper pick," said Kelly. "He could turn out to be a very astute pick on the part of the Canucks."

In Kelly’s mind, if the young winger can continue to develop as he has been, he could eventually become a power forward for the Canucks, but he cautioned that getting to the NHL is contingent on hard work.

"He’s got very good offensive instincts, a very good shot, he’s a good skater, and he’s very coachable," said Kelly. "He has to work to become that type of player, but that’s the way it is in junior. You continue to work to be the type of player that’s going to help you become a pro."

Kelly speaks very highly of both of the Canucks’ Sea Dogs prospects.

"In today’s game you have to be able to skate, and obviously, both are very capable. They’re both very strong on the puck and I think they both have excellent upsides."

WHL

Kellan Tochkin, RW – Everett Silvertips
Acquired: Signed as a free agent
15 February 1991, 5’10", 176 lbs

The Silvertips’ first-round selection in the 2006 WHL Bantam Draft was overlooked by all 30 teams in the NHL entry draft, but Canuck management saw something in the diminutive forward that they couldn’t let get away.

"They saw the skill that I have in the offensive zone," said Tochkin, signed as a free agent. "They also saw that I’m a hard worker."

And that work ethic has begun to pay dividends in an area of Tochkin’s game long considered suspect.

"My biggest shortcoming is for sure my skating, although it’s getting better," said Tochkin. "I worked with Canucks strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi a bit last summer and he’s given me a program to work on — things I can do after practice that will help improve my leg power.

"With the number of games that we play in the Canadian Hockey League, it’s really tough to focus on something like skating for long periods of time," Tochkin continued. "That’s why the summers are so crucial. Last summer I made great strides in my skating. I’m noticing now that I’m beating guys to loose pucks. I’m winning more battles just because of my skating, and this summer is going to be huge."

Kellan currently sits second in team scoring with 21 points in 19 games, followed closely by linemates Tyler Maxwell and Byron Froese (CHI). He’s getting ample power-play time, but he’s chomping at the bit to prove himself on the penalty kill as well.

"When I was up in rookie camp we played against the (Univ. of Alberta) and the Oiler prospects, I did a lot of penalty killing and I loved it," said the winger.

However, with a league-low 43 goals against, the Silvertips won’t be changing much about their penalty kill just yet.

"The chance isn’t there yet because I think our PK is third in the league," Tochkin added with a laugh. "So I’m going to let them keep doing what they’re doing, and maybe sometime down the road I’ll get a chance there."

Kevin Connauton, D – Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 3rd round (83rd overall), 2009
23 February 1990, 6’1", 185 lbs

After playing one season in the NCAA with Western Michigan, the Edmonton product felt that a switch to the CHL would better serve his future.

"When I started talking with the Vancouver Canucks, they thought that development-wise, with an organization like the Giants, it would work out better for the long run and give me a better chance to play pro," Connauton said in an interview with Hockey’s Future. "A lot of that is because of the more NHL-like schedule. They are also big believers in (Giants head coach) Don Hay. He has great track record with putting guys into the pros, so we just laid out all of the options and at the end of the day made the decision to go to Vancouver. And I’m happy I did."

And the Giants are happy that he did too. As of Nov. 15, he’s tied for fourth in league scoring by defensemen with 22 points in 24 games.

Prab Rai, C – Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 5th round (131st overall), 2008 
22 November 1989, 6’0", 183 lbs

While Prab and his brother might be the first ice hockey players in the Rai family, they’re certainly not the first hockey players. Their dad, Bubby, took part in the 1984 Olympics representing Canada on the field hockey pitch. He also competed and won gold at the Pan-Am games.

No doubt it was Bubby’s athletic experience that led him to believe his Prab would not benefit with the ice time he was getting in Prince George, so he pulled him from the team in December 2006. Eventually, Prab was traded to the Seattle Thunderbirds, and he finished the season with 19 points in 38 games. Not really exceptional, but better than the five points in the 24 games he played with the Cougars.

Fast forward to the following season: Rai had 65 points in 72 games with a plus/minus of +32 (11 better than teammate Thomas Hickey) and the season after he recreated the same point total in 11 fewer games. This season, Rai is a point per game player and tied for the lead on his team with 22 in 22.

Morgan Clark, G – Swift Current Broncos
Acquired: 7th round (191st overall), 2008
17 February 1990, 5’11", 160 lbs

There has been some criticism that Clark was drafted by the Canucks simply as a nod to his father Ian’s position within the Canucks’ organization as goaltending consultant. But Morgan Clark is determined to show Canuck brass that he was a good pick.

"My dad had a lot to do with me being drafted because he taught me everything I know today about goaltending, said Morgan. "I also know that an NHL franchise would not waste a draft pick on someone they did not see potential in, which they obviously see in me."

Good point.

So far, after 19 games, Clark has won 10 (tying his previous best) and posted a goals against average of 3.20 and a save percentage of .898 all while playing the second most minutes he has in his junior career. Stellar numbers? Maybe not, but at least the trend is in the right direction.