Vancouver Canucks possess limited prospect depth in NCAA hockey and Euro leagues

By Peter Prohaska
Patrick McNally - Vancouver Canucks

Photo: Vancouver Canucks prospect Patrick McNally has been one of college hockey’s best defensemen when healthy. (courtesy of Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

 

Vancouver’s prospect pool is largely a professional group this season. Though the Canucks have looked to the United States college path as a developmental course with great success in the past (Ryan Kesler, Cory Schneider, R.J. Umberger, Adrian Aucoin), the last significant draft selection was 2009’s first round pick used on Jordan Schroeder, who disappointed as a Canuck. Boston College’s Thatcher Demko will look to reverse that trend.

Also known as a team that scouted heavily and profitably in Sweden, the Canucks have shied away from players going the junior route in Europe in recent years. For example, of 2011’s three picks out of Sweden, only Ludwig Blomstrand is still with the Canucks organization, toiling in the ECHL. This season saw only one Vancouver prospect playing over in Europe. It may not signal a change in philosophy as much as a shortage of draft picks. The organization is currently constructed to compete in the present and this group of players is slated to make an impact in a more distant future.

NCAA

Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round, 36th Overall, 2014

A second round pick is a very high price to pay for the rights to a goalie prospect. There is little question that Demko is a good young goalie, but his draft position, his Team USA pedigree, the excellence of his collegiate program, and certainly his own drive to be the best, all combine for a very high level of expectation. He will have a long summer to consider a poor game against Denver in the NCAA Tournament unfortunately, despite a 2014-15 season that showed a consistent level of good play. Demko improved his save percentage from .919 to .925, a mark that had him in the lower part of the nation’s top 20.

Boston College was a youthful squad in 2014-15, one that should return ready for a new season of championship aspirations. Demko’s goal will have to be an increased focus on the technical side of the game. While a goalie capable of using athletic ability to make saves can provide a fun audience experience, higher-level shooters will find ways to exploit him if corrections are not made. Another season of statistical improvement would be one way to assuage any fears about covering his draft bet.

Matthew Beattie, LW, Yale University (ECAC)
Drafted 7th Round, 207th Overall 2012

Matthew Beattie is not trending well as a hockey player, but seems to have academic and intellectual gifts that bode well for other forms of professional satisfaction. A dominant player at the prep level for the famous Exeter school, Beattie has had but modest success against NCAA competition, though he was part of Yale’s national championship squad as a freshman. This season, his junior campaign, Beattie tallied just three assists. He last played in the end of February, thus missing out on Yale’s NCAA Tournament game. Whether this absence was for reasons of concentration, injury, or otherwise remains unclear. Presumably he will be part of the squad again next fall.

Joseph Labate, C, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted 4th Round, 101st Overall, 2011

Wisconsin’s 2014-15 brutal season is well known by now. With a very young team, especially on the blueline that had been the Badgers’ strength in recent years, a lot of responsibility fell on senior Joseph Labate and sophomore standout Grant Besse (ANA) to win games. While Labate has never been a dominant college player offensively, his size and defensive ability often put him on the ice at important moments. The downward trend in his scoring is certainly attributable to a demoralized squad in Madison, but Labate does not provide a lot of offensive ability of his own. Though he did lead the team in shots this season, he scored just 31 goals in 150 contests during his college career. On the positive side, he is a big body who has decent skating and anticipation skills. Labate has some serious work to do before he becomes an impact player at the next level. He signed a professional try-out with Utica as Wisconsin’s dreadful season came to a merciful end, but has yet to make his pro debut.

Patrick McNally, D, Harvard University (ECAC)
Drafted 4th Round, 115th Overall, 2010

Despite some major setbacks in his college career, McNally has epitomized the dedication that hockey players should have to their teams. To succeed at the college game, a team needs a top forward, which Harvard had in Hobey Baker finalist Jimmy Vesey (NSH), a top goalie, which Harvard also had in Minnesota draft pick Steve Michalek, and a mobile defenseman who can pass the puck. McNally brought that to the Crimson, and the team struggled when he was out of the lineup in the second half of the regular season. He returned in mid-March to rally his squad for an ECAC Championship run, where his goal and two assists were the difference in the final against Colgate.

McNally, along with several other Harvard athletes, lost part of the 2012-13 season due to an academic scandal. The University and NCAA have yet to determine whether these players will be eligible for another season of play. A returned McNally, among others, would be a boon for the resurgent Crimson, who will get Jimmy Vesey back for his senior season.  

Ben Hutton, D, University of Maine (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th Round, 147th Overall, 2012

Ben Hutton had a very impressive college career as an athlete and as a scholar for Maine, before signing a first contract with the Canucks in March. His sophomore year in particular, in which he was a Second Team All-American after leading all collegiate defensemen in goals, earned him a lot of consideration from the Canucks organization. He and fellow junior Devin Shore (DAL) led the charge for the Black Bears over the past two seasons. Though Hutton’s point totals were down this season, despite once again having over 100 shots on goal, the junior was a key player for Maine in a somewhat trying campaign.

After going pro, Hutton scored in his first professional game with Utica. One hopes it is sign of good things to come. Hutton’s game is somewhat one dimensional at this juncture, but with his size and offensive ability, he is capable of carving out a significant pro career.

Mike Williamson, D, Penn State (Big Ten)
Drafted 6th Round, 175th Overall 2013

Penn State is a newcomer to NCAA Division 1 hockey, with its first season having come in 2012-13. It is a building program in a Big Ten conference that features several traditional powers. Mike Williamson brings pedigree out of a well-known Spruce Grove AJHL program and has helped provide some experience to the Nittany Lions as the program builds.

Unfortunately, Williamson has experienced some injury issues that have limited the defenseman to 43 games over two seasons. Penn State currently lacks some of the high-end talent that rivals such as Michigan and Minnesota are able to recruit, and Williamson is not a player who is going to provide offense on his own. He does provide a steadying presence with good size and a fully healthy junior season in 2015-16 could get his name back into the prospect discussion.

Europe

Nikita Tryamkin, D, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (KHL)
Drafted 3rd Round, 66th Overall, 2014

It was not a great season for Tryamkin and his squad who were thrashed as the eighth seed by Ak Bars Kazan in the first round of the KHL playoffs. Tryamkin, however, continues to gain great experience as young professional in a tough league. Tryamkin has had the physical size at 6’7 to deal with playing grown men, and is now developing into a more skilled player.

While the point totals from playing on a middling team do not seem that impressive at this stage of his career, Tryamkin has now played in over 140 KHL games at just 20 years of age. Defensemen in particular need the experience of game action to grow as players, and Tryamkin has been getting plenty of it. With another year on his current KHL contract, Tryamkin is still not of much interest for Canucks fans, but he remains a very intriguing prospect. If he can add shooting ability to his physical presence and overall defensive ability, Tryamkin might one day be an impact NHL player as an intimidating and able blueline presence.

Prospect of the Month
Hunter Shinkaruk - Vancouver Canucks
The Utica Comets are poised for a Calder Cup run, and indeed the bulk of Vancouver’s prospect group is growing in experience at the AHL level. Rookie Hunter Shinkaruk, the 24th overall pick of 2013, is an important part of this developmental process. The 20-year-old was an incredible junior talent for Medicine Hat before a shoulder injury impacted his second post-draft season. Shinkaruk struggled with inconsistency early in this season, not always getting the top-six minutes to which he was accustomed. However, the patience and attention to growing a more well-rounded game has paid off for the youngster and the Comets. He scored goals in four consecutive games to close out March and has continued the scoring streak as his team jockeys for playoff position. 26 points in 68 games is not great production but on a team with several veterans as well as other youthful talent, it shows his ability to make the most of his opportunities.