Canucks 2009-10 AHL/ECHL prospects update

By Jon Hagan

A rash of injuries throughout the Vancouver Canuck lineup caused a depletion of the Manitoba Moose. Six players who started the season with the American League club have had stints with Vancouver.

Of the 11 prospects currently playing in either the AHL or the ECHL, six were drafted by Vancouver while the remaining five were acquired through free agency. Of these prospects, six played with the Manitoba Moose last year and five are rookies to the North American professional ranks.

Manitoba Moose (AHL)

Cory Schneider, G (23)
1st round, 26th overall, 2004

Assigned to the Moose on September 28, Schneider was recalled one month later when Canucks starting goalie Roberto Luongo was sidelined by a hairline rib fracture sustained a few days before. Schneider played 79 minutes over two games with the big club and posted a GAA of 3.80 and save percentage of .918. He was reassigned to the Moose on November 10. So far this season with Manitoba, Schneider has played 19 games with a record of 12 wins, two by shutout, and seven losses. His GAA is 2.37 and save percentage is .918, which place him 18th and 17th in the league, respectively.

Mario Bliznak, C (22)
7th round, 205th overall, 2005

Initially assigned to the Moose on September 28, Bliznak was recalled by the Canucks on October 30. He saw action in two games and then was reassigned to the Moose on November 4. Entering his second season with the Moose, the dependable young Slovak is a pivotal component of the team’s checking line and prides himself on his defensive game. In last year’s Calder Cup finals, his line was often used against Hershey’s top line of Alexandre Giroux, Keith Aucoin and Graham Mink. Bliznak is often playing on a line with veteran Mike Keane. So far he’s missed four games this year, one for a cut on his wrist that required stitches. He is currently tied for fifth on team scoring with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists). His +7 is tops on the team.    

Michael Grabner, LW (22)
1st round, 14th overall, 2006

Sent to Manitoba along with Schneider and Bliznak on September 28, the rangy Austrian winger played five games with the team, putting up six points before being recalled by the Canucks on October 14. He played nine games with the big club and tallied five points (2 goals, 3 assists) before breaking his ankle while kicking a soccer ball around after a pregame practice. The injury sidelined him for 20 games. He returned to full team practice with the Canucks on December 17 and was reassigned to the Moose two days later to get back up to speed.

It is Grabner’s third year in the AHL, and the former first rounder needs to find a way to stick in the NHL.

Michael Funk, D (22)
Signed as a free agent July 2009

Assigned to the Moose on 30 September 2009, Funk, a former second-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, now finds himself in a difficult situation: after suffering a concussion in a game against the Texas Stars in early November the defenseman has now had three concussions in a little more than a year. With his symptoms lingering for over a month, the team decided the best course of action would be for him to go home to Abbotsford, B.C. and convalesce with his family. It would be safe to assume that Funk and his family will be thinking long and hard about his future. Word is that management expects him to return to Winnipeg on Boxing Day, after which they will have a better understanding of Funk’s circumstances and how best to proceed as a team.  

Eric Walsky, RW (24)
Signed as a free agent March 2009

One of five rookies on the Moose, the Anchorage, Alaska native was signed out of college by the Canucks and assigned to the Moose on September 24. With only nine points in 28 games, the fleet-footed winger, much like most of his teammates, hasn’t really been chalking up the points. But at the first annual Manitoba Moose Skills Competition, Walsky outperformed his teammates and captured the title of fastest skater with a time of 13.46 seconds as well as most accurate shooter hitting five targets in 11.96 seconds.

Evan Oberg, D (20)
Signed as a free agent April 2009

Next to Matt Gilroy (NYR), some suggested that Oberg was the best NCAA free-agent defenseman available, and in a bid to stock their defensive cupboards Vancouver signed the Forestburg, Alberta native, cutting his college career with the University of Minnesota-Duluth short by two years. Come training camp, Oberg didn’t disappoint, and even though he didn’t make the team, Oberg did manage to turn some heads in the process. The 6’0 Oberg was subsequently assigned to the Moose on September 24. However, with the up and down season the Moose have been having, things weren’t always rosy. On a few occasions Moose head coach Scott Arniel showed his displeasure with his team’s performance by benching players, and on at least one occasion, Oberg was among them. Once after being a healthy scratch, Oberg responded by having a two-point night in a 5-1 trouncing of the Toronto Marlies on November 13. 

Towards the end of November, Oberg was again a healthy scratch, but this time for making a rookie mistake. He misplaced his passport prior to a road trip. This effectively prohibited the defenseman from going along with the team thus precipitating the need to call up Taylor Ellington from the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL to fill in his spot. Oberg missed three games as a result. He currently has nine assists in 29 games to go along with his plus/minus of -7.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie, LW (22)
Signed as a free agent in 2007

Reassigned to the Moose on September 24, Labrie injured his shoulder on November 4 in a game against the Norfolk Admirals. He missed 13 games, but shook off the rust, scoring a goal in his return to the line-up against the Milwaukee Admirals on December 5 on a line with Bliznak and veteran Mike Keane. Labrie’s bread and butter is being physical and he needs to play that way game in and out to be noticed, but based on his 20 penalty minutes over the course of 22 games, he may not be doing that.

Sergei Shirokov, RW (23)
6th round, 163rd overall, 2006

The Russian winger, who seems to be admired by his teammates as much for his attitude as for his talent, has logged a lot of travel time between Manitoba and British Columbia so far this season. After leading all Canuck players in preseason scoring with seven points in four games, he played three games with the big club, registering no points and a -4 before being reassigned to Manitoba on October 8. Just over two weeks later, on October 25, he was recalled again by the Canucks after putting up a point a game in each of his 10 games with the Moose. He was then reassigned October 30.

The slick winger played just over four seasons with CSKA Moscow, leading the team in scoring in his final year. In this his first season with the Moose, the 5’10 Shirikov is leading the team in goals (11) and points (21) and he’s had four multi-point games. 

Matt Pope, C (25)
Signed as a free agent July 2009

The Langley, B.C. native is eager to get the new-year started and to put the old one behind him. After a reasonable camp, Pope, a former 30 goal scorer in the ECHL, was assigned to the Moose on 28 September 2009. The accepted thinking was that he could pot 20 to 30 goals in the AHL this year, so he was started on the number one line. Unfortunately, things began to go south in a hurry. After playing nine games for the Moose, which saw him do nothing offensively he found himself scratched three times, and then to add injury to insult, he suffered a high ankle sprain in an overtime loss to the Milwaukee Admirals on October 24. So now he’s behind the eight ball, so much so that in an interview with the Winnipeg Sun, head coach Scott Arniel jokingly said, “I don’t even remember him.” Pope knows the score, but is eager to prove himself and to get another chance. It would seem that the forward is not without confidence as he went on to suggest in the same interview that scoring 20 goals before the season is up is a definite possibility.

Victoria Salmon Kings (ECHL)

Taylor Ellington, D (20)
2nd round, 33rd overall, 2007

After five seasons with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, Ellington made the jump to professional hockey in 2009-10 with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL. He was recalled by the Moose on November 25 and got the opportunity to play in two games before being reassigned on December 3. In the two games with Moose, he was kept off the scorecard. In 20 games with the Salmon Kings, Ellington has tallied nine points and his plus/minus of +6 is second best on the team.

Dan Gendur, RW (22)
7th round, 206th overall, 2007

Cut from the preseason roster on September 16 and reassigned to the Salmon Kings, Gendur played in eight games for Victoria, registering four points. He was then reassigned to the Johnstown Chiefs on December 11 by Vancouver where after three games he’s posted two assists. But things ground to a halt for Gendur when it was announced that he’d broken his thumb in a December 16 loss to Reading Royals and would be out four to six weeks as a result.

Last season, the fleet-footed winger represented Victoria at the ECHL All-Star Game. In the fastest skater competition he posted a faster time (13.816 seconds) than any of the other times recorded in the other leagues’ All-Star Games.