Last year’s NHL Entry Draft saw the Vancouver Canucks stock their cupboards with defensive prospects thereby addressing a conspicuous void in their depth charts. Over one quarter of Vancouver prospects on this list are now defensemen.
Four of Vancouver’s top-six prospects have either been injured, struggled, or had problems with both so far this season; but with consensus No. 1 prospect Cody Hodgson back and healthy, the Canucks top-six prospects will still give any team in the NHL a run for its money in terms of the future. But one area that seems precarious is goaltending. With the exception of Cory Schneider, the team is bereft of clear-cut prospects as both Joe Cannata and Morgan Clark missed the cut.
One quarter of the players on the list have played at least one game with the Canucks this year.
Top 20 at a glance
1. Cody Hodgson, C (8.5C)
2. Cory Schneider, G (8.0B)
3. Michael Grabner, RW (7.5C)
4. Jordan Schroeder, C (7.5C)
5. Anton Rodin, RW (7.0C)
6. Sergei Shirokov, LW (7.0C)
7. Steven Anthony, LW (7.0C)
8. Yann Sauve, D (7.0C)
9. Taylor Ellington, D (6.5C)
10. Kevin Connauton, D (6.5C)
11. Prab Rai, C (6.5C)
12. Mario Bliznak, C (6.0B)
13. Jeremy Price, D (6.5D)
14. Ilja Kablukov, C (6.5D)
15. Peter Andersson, D (6.0C)
16. Evan Oberg, D (6.0C)
17. Kellan Tochkin, RW (6.5D)
18. Matt Butcher, C (6.0D)
19. Dan Gendur, RW (6.0D)
20. Pierre-Cedric Labrie, LW (6.0D)
1. Cody Hodgson, C – Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Acquired: 1st round (10th overall), 2008
18 February 1990, 6’0", 185 lbs
It’s been a tough season for Cody Hodgson, and for everyone involved, due to his injury. But a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief on February 4th when the former CHL Player of the Year finally suited up and played his first hockey game since a September 27 preseason loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Now after 12 points in nine games for the OHL Brampton Battalion, he looks as though he hasn’t missed a beat.
2. Cory Schneider, G – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Acquired: 1st round (26th overall), 2004
18 March 1986, 6’2", 195 lbs
Cory Schneider has played in 42 of Manitoba’s 59 games this year, but last year’s AHL Goaltender of the Year has yet to crack the top ten in any of the significant statistical goaltender categories. His 2.70 is tied for 26th in the league, and his .911 save percentage ranks him 23rd in the league. Schneider was called up for two games with the Canucks.
With such a highly valued goaltender in the system, he could be used as potential trade material to help Vancouver acquire whatever they feel would be a valuable piece to their Stanley Cup run this year. With 2010 trade deadline coming on March 3, there isn’t long to wait.
3. Michael Grabner, RW – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Acquired: 1st round (14th overall), 2006
5 October 1987, 6′ 1", 185 lbs
This is Michael Grabner’s third year in the pros, and even though it may seem to some like the clock is ticking, he was playing well for the Canucks during his nine games with the team. He did gain some valuable second-line experience playing on a line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond before a freak pre-game soccer injury sidelined him for almost two months.
Grabner returned from his injury on December 17th and was subsequently reassigned to Manitoba two days later. In his first game back on December 27th, he was a solid +2 with one goal on three shots in a 4-1 win over Abbotsford. In fact, since returning, the speedy Austrian has been fairly steady. In the 24 post-injury games, Grabner has been a combined -2 while scoring nine goals on 73 shots and assisting on six others.
Only time, and the March 3rd trade deadline, will tell whether or not he’ll be able to reclaim his spot with the Canucks after the Olympic break.
4. Jordan Schroeder, C – University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Acquired: 1st round (22nd overall), 2009
29 September 1990, 5’9", 180 lbs
This season probably isn’t what the Canucks hoped to see from Schroeder. He was out of the gates far too slowly with Minnesota, and while he has picked it up, he’s way off pace and will not eclipse his rookie season point totals.
One of three Canuck prospects to play in this year’s World Junior Championships, Schroeder’s point totals were good, although maybe not as good as some anticipated them to be.
5. Anton Rodin, RW – Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
Acquired: 2nd (53rd overall), 2009
21 November 1990, 6′ 0", 176 lbs
While his three points in 28 games aren’t exactly lighting it up in the Swedish Elite League, Anton Rodin had an outstanding World Junior Championships. He put up twice as many points as Brynas teammate, and fellow 18-year-old, Jakob Silfverberg (OTT), and tied Oiler prospect Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson for second overall on the team with three goals and seven assists. Rodin’s two game-winning goals were tops for Sweden.
6. Sergei Shirokov, LW – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Acquired: 6th round (163 overall), 2006
10 March 1986, 5’ 10", 175 lbs
Currently second on the Moose in scoring, and for the most part, Sergei Shirokov hasn’t looked out of place in his first professional North American season. However, after starting 2010 at close to a point a game pace with five goals and six assists in 13 January games, it does appear as though he seems to have hit a bit of a wall, as February has proven to be far less fruitful. In eight games so far, the speedy winger has potted only one goal on 14 shots.
Earlier in the season, he was called up and appeared in six games with the Canucks; but his point production went the opposite direction of his promotion, and he was held off the scoreboard. He only managed four shots and was a -4 in his brief tenure.
On a more positive note, he was named to the PlanetUSA All-Star Team for the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic, and scored two goals on two shots in the game. In a nice move, the Russian Hockey Federation invited Shirokov out to Vancouver to take in some of the Olympic action on February 21 and 22nd. It will be interesting to see if being around players of that ilk will impact Shirokov’s play in any way.
7. Steven Anthony, LW – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Acquired: 7th (187th overall), 2009
21 March 1991, 6’1", 205 lbs
Earlier on in the season, it was apparent that Anthony was using his body more so to protect the puck than he had in previous years. He was driving to the net, and taking punishment doing so. He was also seeing time in all situations, and played particularly aggressively on the PK. He was leading the team in goals and was second only to linemate Michael Kirkpatrick for the team lead in points.
Fast forward three or so months, Kirkpatrick is second on the team with 73 points and Anthony’s 39 points looks like he hasn’t even budged.
Consistency seems to be an issue with Anthony, but considering he’s Vancouver’s second youngest prospect in the top 20, if he’s as coachable as Mike Kelly says he is, with proper tutelage, the winger should be able to turn it around.
8. Yann Sauve, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Acquired: 2nd (41st overall), 2008
18 February 1990, 6′ 3", 209 lbs
Getting tons of time on the Sea Dogs penalty kill, this newly-turned 20-year-old seems to struggle somewhat clearing the puck out of his zone. His confidence with the puck in his own end is questionable. However, he does seem to possess great puck movement while on the power play. He currently has 32 points in 54 games, making this his most offensive season in junior.
9. Taylor Ellington, D – Victoria Salmon Kings (ECHL)
Acquired: 2nd (33rd overall), 2007
31 October 1988, 6’0", 200 lbs
The Victoria native played his junior career with the Everett Silvertips, and holds the record for most games played with the team. Issues of a less than admirable work ethic were quickly resolved after a meeting with Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, and he seems to have straightened his level of play out. Ellington is turning into a solid defensive prospect for the team.
He is the youngest defenseman on the Victoria roster, and was called up for 13 games with the Moose this year assisting on two goals and posting a plus/minus of -5.
10. Kevin Connauton, D – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Acquired: 3rd round (83rd overall), 2009
23 February 1990, 6’1", 196 lbs
After playing one year in the NCAA, the Edmonton native made the jump to the WHL this past season, and what a jump it’s been. He’s at the top of the league in rookie scoring and tied for first in point production for defensemen in the dub.
The second of Vancouver’s prospective defensemen to turn 20 this month, Connauton is a bit more of a one-dimensional player. His bread and butter is on the power play. Recently declared as having the hardest shot in the Western Conference as voted on by 45 players, management and broadcasters from the 10 clubs in the Western Conference of the WHL, Connauton uses it with great effectiveness as 15 goals and 28 assists with the man advantage will attest. Of some concern is the fact that this total accounts for almost 70 percent of his overall production of 63 points.
Connauton is poised to break Brent Regner’s (CBJ) single-season point total of 67 points for a Giants defenseman, and should be able to do it in fewer games.
11. Prab Rai, C – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Acquired: 5th (131st overall), 2008
22 November 1989, 6’0", 183 lbs
On a Seattle Thunderbirds team with 13 players posting double-digit negative plus/minus, and a league lagging, woeful offense (only Prince George has fewer goals), Rai has posted a considerably solid -5, and is in the league’s top five for goals and goals on the power play. He also has two short-handed goals.
A very capable skater, Rai is an overage player set to try and make an impact next season, and should be able to provide some much-needed offense to the Manitoba Moose.
12. Mario Bliznak, C – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Acquired: 7th round, 205th overall, 2005
6 March 1987, 6′ 0", 185 lbs
Never thought of as an offensive threat, the Slovakian is proving his worth as dependable two-way center. He is a hard-working, capable skater with efficient acceleration that helps him to pucks quickly, and he’s got a knack in the faceoff dot. Another year of seasoning, and he might be able to crack the Vancouver line-up as a solid penalty killer and defensive specialist on the fourth line.
He got the call for two games with the parent club already this season and was a -2.
13. Jeremy Price, D – Colgate Raiders (ECAC)
Acquired: 4th round (113th overall), 2009
26 September 1990, 6’1", 190 lbs
The only right-handed shot of the bunch among the defensemen on the list, Jeremy Price, a native of Milton, Ontario, has put up 11 points in 31 games and has improved on his plus/minus from earlier this year and is now +2. He continues to lead the team in power-play shots with 33 and is tied for third on the team with 22 blocked shots.
On the negative side, Price seems to be a bit panicky with the puck. He needs to calm down, be poised, and look for a pass rather than just advancing it north-south or unloading it on his partner.
14. Ilja Kablukov, C – Moscow Spartak (KHL)
Acquired: 5th round (146th overall), 2007
18 January 1988, 6’2", 183 lbs
Despite purportedly having great hockey instincts, Kablukov’s meager output of 29 points in four years seems to be a clear indicator that he doesn’t have enough offensive upside to continue being considered as viable a prospect as he’d been regarded in previous editions of this list. However, that said, his lack of production hasn’t stopped the Spartak coaching staff from moving him to the team’s No. 1 line with Kirill Knyazev and Roman Lyuduchin to see if that would spark him. Reports are that he has been effective on face-offs, winning close to 60 percent.
15. Peter Andersson, D – Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg (SEL)
Acquired: 5th round (143rd overall), 2009
13 April 1991, 6’3", 194 lbs
The third Canuck prospect to play in the World Juniors this year, Peter Andersson was one of the youngest players on the Swedish junior team. He is the third youngest of Vancouver’s top 20 prospects, and he is also the youngest player on Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League, the team he is signed with until the 2011 season.
Andersson is a fairly sound defenseman with good wheels. He’s got the height and soon the weight should follow. One more year in the SEL should be the perfect thing to help him continue to develop his game before coming to North America.
16. Evan Oberg, D – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Acquired: signed as a free-agent in 2009
16 February 1988, 6’0", 165 lbs
A great free-agent acquisition by Vancouver, Oberg provides the Canucks with much-needed defensive depth and was given the opportunity to play in one game this season with the big club. With 18 points in 51 games, he nudges out other Moose defensemen in scoring.
Aside from his offensive instincts, Oberg’s value stems from his ability to make a good first pass and to effectively read plays as they develop.
Arguably, if he can pack on some more pounds, it will only increase his effectiveness in maintaining the puck as opposing players will find it more difficult to separate him from it.
17. Kellan Tochkin, RW – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2009
15 February 1991, 5’10", 176 lbs
The overlooked winger is not a great skater, but is slowly improving. As of mid-February, Kellan Tochkin’s number of goals so far (23) has already surpassed his previous best of 20 in a season. His total number of assists has gone the other direction, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to surpass the 74 points he put up last season. Unless he can round out his game, his hands probably won’t be enough to carry him in his pro career.
18. Matt Butcher, LW – University of North Michigan Wildcats (CCHA)
Acquired: 5th round (138th overall), 2005
1 January 1987, 6’2", 205 lbs
Butcher suffered through some minor injury issues this year, limiting him to only 20 games so far with the Wildcats. Since coming into the NCAA, he was never expected to have any significant offensive potential, and that won’t change for him as a pro. Butcher is a blue-collar worker whose forte is a grinding style of play. He should be able to translate his college role into becoming an effective checking-line forward in the AHL.
19. Dan Gendur, RW – Johnstown Chiefs (ECHL)
Acquired: 7th round (206th overall), 2007
21 May 1987, 5′ 11", 195 lbs
Gendur, a former WHLer whose 84 points in 2007-08 is the second-best point total in Everett Silvertip history, seems to be having trouble producing at the professional level. He is in danger of slipping into obscurity with the Canuck organization. Demoted in early December to the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs (not an affiliate), Gendur has only managed to post four points, all assists, in 13 games. The team’s struggles certainly play a role, but Gendur will need to fight through this adversity.
20. Pierre-Cedric Labrie, LW – Manitoba Moose (AHL)
Acquired: signed as a free-agent in 2007
6 December 1986, 6′ 2", 218 lbs
The Baie-Comeau native must play a physical game in order to be effective. His skating is a weakness, and his bread and butter will be in the cycling game and in parking himself in front of the opposition’s net collecting rebounds. He knows, and accepts his role, and can be a valuable fourth line and physical presence with the Moose. However, he will not likely ever see any time with the Canucks.