Cody Hodgson still top prospect for Vancouver Canucks

By Kyle West

The Vancouver Canucks prospect pool is fairly top-heavy, with highly touted prospects Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder headlining the group. After them are several forwards with top-six potential and several defensemen with second-pairing role. Beyond that, the Canucks have a great deal of depth talent.

Despite what appears like another tumultuous fall for prospect Cody Hodgson, he remains the top prospect in the pool, followed by Jordan Shroeder. New additions to the list include 2010 draft picks Patrick McNally, Adam Polasek, and Jonathan Iilahti as well as free agent  Billy Sweatt and 2009 draft pick Joe Cannata.

Canucks Top 20 at a glance:
1. (1) Cody Hodgson, C, 8.5C
2. (4) Jordan Schroeder, C, 7.5C
3. (5) Anton Rodin, LW, 7.0C
4. (6) Sergei Shirokov, RW, 7.0C
5. (10) Kevin Connauton, D, 7.0C
6. (NR) Patrick McNally, D, 7.0D
7. (7) Steven Anthony, LW, 7.0D
8. (8) Yann Sauve, D, 7.0C
9. (11) Prab Rai, C, 6.5C
10. (9) Taylor Ellington, D, 6.5C
11. (NR) Adam Polasek, D, 6.5C
12. (NR) Billy Sweatt, LW, 6.0B
13. (12) Mario Bliznak, C, 6.0B
14. (16) Evan Oberg, D, 6.5D
15. (13) Jeremy Price, D, 6.5D
16. (14) Ilja Kablukov, C, 6.5D
17. (17) Kellan Tochkin, RW, 6.5D
18. (15) Peter Andersson, D, 6.0C
19. (NR) Jonathan Iilahti, G, 6.0C
20. (NR) Joe Cannata, G, 6.0C

1. (1) Cody Hodgson, C, 20
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2008

Three times voted the smartest player in the OHL’s eastern conference and showing remarkable poise and leadership for his junior team and for Canada at the WJC, Cody Hodgson seemed ready to assume the mantle of Captain Canuck last worn by Trevor Linden. A mature and composed young man, his will to win and hockey sense have led him to dominate the OHL scene and have stoked the fires of expectation in Vancouver.

Injuries have dampened those hopes considerably though, as a bulging disc prevented him from making any impact on the Canucks and a broken toe limited his involvement with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL to a handful of playoff games. Accusations that the effect of the injuries may have been exaggerated to deflect his inability to make the team, leveled at the player by coach Alain Vigneault, have created a somewhat acrimonious situation between Hodgson and the Canucks.

All will be forgiven however if Hodgson comes to camp in top form and proves himself. Things have not started well however as the high profile center has already been rumored to miss the beginning of Canucks training camp.

2. (4) Jordan Schroeder, C, 19
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2009

A dominant player at every level he’s taken on, the ultra-competitive Schroeder needs only a chance to shine at the NHL level before he becomes an impact player there as well. Signing an entry-level deal after the trade deadline last spring, Schroeder put up a point per game pace in the AHL playoffs and looks primed to challenge for a spot on the Canucks this year.

A smallish size center at 5’9, he is supremely well conditioned physically and compensates for his lack of height by reading the game and anticipating the play. The USA’s all-time leading scorer at the World Junior Championships, Schroeder slipped to the 22nd spot at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, an opportunity the Canucks seized with both hands and a decision the fans are prepared to applaud for many years to come.

3. (5) Anton Rodin, LW, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2009

A character player who shows great hustle and determination, Rodin outscored his more illustrious Swedish linemates at the WJC and potted two game winning goals in the tournament. Although slightly built at the moment, he plays a physical game, drives hard to the net and competes all over the ice.

Newly signed to a professional contract, he is thought to be able to benefit from a stint in the minors to build up his strength and adapt to the smaller ice. The Canucks won’t be too surprised however if he makes it very hard for them not to include him in their opening day lineup.

4. (6) Sergei Shirokov, RW, 24
Drafted 6th round, 163rd overall, 2006

A supremely talented player, Shirokov landed a spot on the Canucks opening roster last season yet was demoted after only six games. Although he appeared to handle that demotion with class, Shirokov didn’t exactly dominate in the AHL, only occasionally showing flashes of brilliance. There is an unspoken fear that he may return to Russia if he doesn’t make the Canucks roster out of training camp this year. Having turned down big money to stay in the KHL, Shirokov’s two-way contract pays him a pittance in the AHL and he appeared disinterested at times despite scoring 22 goals in 76 games with the Manitoba Moose.

5. (10) Kevin Connauton, D, 20
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2009

One of the great coups of the Canucks scouting department, Connauton was overlooked completely in 2008 and ranked in the 200 range by Central Scouting after his freshmen year with Western Michigan. Vancouver’s college scout Stan Smyl recommended Mike Gillis reach up to get him at 83rd overall in the 2009 draft and Connauton was encouraged to take the WHL route with the Vancouver Giants. That decision was vindicated in spades, as Connauton set new records for scoring by a Giants defenseman, finishing the season as the WHL’s top scoring blueliner. His booming shot proved to be a deadly asset on the power play and his first pass on the breakout made the Giants transition game click to fantastic effect.

His 24 goals and 72 points in 69 games could be a long-standing record in the Giant’s clubhouse, while Connauton looks to continue his remarkable progression in the AHL, having signed a three-year entry-level contract this summer.

Connauton is an offensive defenseman with great puck-moving ability, but he needs to improve his play away from the puck. Expect to see him to play the 2010-11 season with Manitoba of the AHL.

6. (NR) Patrick McNally, D, 18
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2010

The Long Island native is finishing up a sterling academic career at Milton Head in Boston and was named the top defenseman of the New England Prep School circuit. An Islanders fan, McNally models his game on smooth-skating power-play quarterback Mark Streit.

He seemingly always wants the puck on his stick and loves to create offense from the blue line. A smooth and elegant skater, he takes special instruction from Russian skating coach Yuri Nikiforov in the summers, the same coach who works with Alexei Kovalev. Although not overly small at 6’2, 180 pounds, McNally is expected to get bigger and stronger in the coming seasons.

Scheduled to join Harvard in 2011, McNally has scholastic sports in his blood as his father was a football player for Columbia.

7. (7) Steven Anthony, LW, 19
Drafted 7th round, 187th overall, 2009

Once touted as the next big thing to come from the same Halifax hockey school that produced Sidney Crosby, Steven Anthony was a top pick in the QMJHL draft and was counted on by the Saint John Sea Dogs to be their franchise player. Sadly, at this point it looks like a story of wasted talent as Anthony continues to drift through the motions. Blessed with good size and exceptional hands, the Canucks decided to look past his early results in the Q and hope that he would recover some of his zest for the game. This past season however, Anthony scored fewer points than in his draft year, with just 41 in 61 games. At 6’2 and over 200 pounds he has the size to be an imposing physical presence but plays much smaller than he is.

Likely to return to junior, he will need a massive resurgence of form to be considered a viable prospect.

8. (8) Yann Sauve, D, 20
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2008

Still grieving from the untimely death of top prospect Luc Bourdon in a motorcycle accident, the Canucks organization breathed a sigh of relief when the news that Yann Sauve’s car accident this summer was not as serious as first believed. Sauve had just signed his three-year entry-level contract when news of the crash in Vancouver came out. Latest reports have Sauve missing some time from training camp but making a full recovery and being able to start his pro career in 2010. A solid defensive specialist with size, Sauve is believed to have untapped offensive potential. A frequent partner of defenseman Simon Despres (PIT), Sauve posted seven goals and 29 assists in 61 games while playing a shutdown role for the St. John Sea Dogs.

In the QMJHL playoffs this season, he scored well beyond his regular season pace with five goals and 15 points in 21 games. While the Canucks are hoping he can continue that offensive pace into his professional career, the defenseman’s value as a shutdown defenseman is what the organization considers most important.

9. (11) Prab Rai, C, 20
Drafted 5th round, 131st overall, 2008

Hoping to make his professional debut, Indo-Canadian Prab Rai brings his own cheering section from Surrey, BC to training camp in Vancouver. Playing for a contract, the playmaking center may yet be returned to the WHL as an overage player. The speedster was touted as one of the fastest skaters in the draft when he was selected however his game seems to have hit a plateau. Scoring 20 goals with Seattle of the WHL in his draft year, after demanding a trade to get more ice time, Rai followed up with 25 goals last season, but the exact same amount of points. The turning point in his development may have been getting crunched with an open ice hit midway through his draft season. Since then Rai has been more of a perimeter player and shown a reluctance to get into the dirty areas of the ice.

10. (9) Taylor Ellington, D, 21
Drafted 2nd round, 33rd overall, 2007

The first year of Taylor Ellington’s professional contract was spent in his hometown of Victoria, but he can be forgiven for hoping not to see as much of BC’s capital city this year. Assigned to the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL, the defensive specialist put in the same steady performance he has provided throughout his career to date.

Promoted to the AHL for 19 games, the next step in his development will be to secure a regular spot with the Manitoba Moose. Solidly built and safe as a house in his own end, Ellington will never catch the eye with spectacular offensive play, which is exactly what the Canucks are expecting from this defensive specialist.

11. (NR) Adam Polasek, D, 18
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2010

A new entry on the depth chart, 2010 draft pick Polasek has exciting upside for a fifth rounder. Solidly built and a fluid skater, he has embraced the more physical hockey in his rookie season in the QMJHL.

Suiting up for the PEI Rocket last year, Polasek showed he has some offensive punch to his game, firing home 13 goals and 41 points in 66 matches. An energetic presence in the dressing room, Polasek seems to enjoy the physical aspects of the game, dishing out punishing bodychecks and clearing the crease with enthusiasm. A defensive specialist for the Czech national junior team, Polasek may take on a more offensive role at the WJCs this year if selected.

12. (NR) Billy Sweatt, LW, 21
Signed as a free agent in 2010

Stolen away from under Brian Burke’s nose, former Blackhawk’s prospect Billy Sweatt was added to the Canucks roster of prospects when Maple Leafs GM Burke dithered on signing the free agent after acquiring him in a trade with Chicago. Unable to come to terms with the speedy winger, the Leafs allowed Vancouver GM Mike Gillis to reunite him with his older brother Lee, also signed as a free agent this summer.

A second round selection by the Blackhawks, Sweatt was a standout for the US junior teams and progressed nicely through a four year stint at Colorado College. Improving his offensive production every year with the Tigers, he finished his senior year with 15 goals and 33 points in 39 games. With a three-year entry-level contract in his pocket, Sweatt will likely start his pro career with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.

13. (12) Mario Bliznak, C, 23
Drafted 7th round, 205th overall, 2005

Resigned as to a one-year deal in the summer, Bliznak has to prove to Canucks management he has what it takes to play in the NHL. A Memorial Cup winner with the Vancouver Giants, Bliznak carved out a niche as a high energy checking line center with the Manitoba Moose. His offensive upside is limited with only 28 points in 76 games last year but his enthusiasm and energy make him a valued teammate. A relentless forechecker who is defensively aware, Bliznak needs to force himself into the Canucks plans as a fourth line forward this year.

14. (16) Evan Oberg, D, 22
Signed as a free agent in 2009

Recalled for a cup of coffee with the Canucks last season, Oberg leveraged his strong play as an AHL rookie with the Manitoba Moose into a stronger position on the depth chart. An undersized and undrafted defenseman, the 6’0 Oberg still weighs barely 170 pounds and will continue to struggle to clear the crease. Where he does excel however is in reading the game and distributing the puck up ice.

Signed as a free agent after two years with the University of Minnesota Duluth, Oberg was the top-scorer on the Moose blue line last year with 26 points in 70 games.

15. (13) Jeremy Price, D, 19
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2009

Coming of an impact freshmen season with the Colgate Raiders of the ECAC, Price will look to continue his strong two-play. Leading the team from the point on the power play, Price fired home six goals and was the shot leader with the man advantage. He also saw plenty of time on the penalty kill and led the team in blocked shots.

At 6’1 and closing in on 190 pounds, the mobile defenseman needs to work on his panic threshold, although this may be a result of freshmen jitters. The Milton, Ontario native was a regular scorer in the CJHL, with 12 goals and 41 points in his draft year.

For 2010-11, expect Price to rejoin Colgate and improve upon his freshman totals.

16. (14) Ilja Kablukov, C, 22
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2007

A gifted playmaker with size, Kablukov continues to elude Canucks management. Their attempts to bring him over to North America were foiled again as he has signed a new three-year deal to stay in Russia. His recent success in the KHL is encouraging for the Canucks, who still hope to see him in Vancouver at some point, but until he is ready to challenge for a place in the NHL, it is unlikely to see him take a pay cut to play in the minors. Still his combination of size and talent makes him an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on.

17. (17) Kellan Tochkin, RW, 19
Signed as a free agent in 2009

Undrafted in 2009, the Canucks signed Tochkin as a free agent and then watched with satisfaction as he improved his all around game. His 28 goals were an improvement on his totals of the previous season, but in the larger picture Tochkin solidified his plus/minus at plus-25, played with more of a physical edge and killed penalties.

The 5’10 winger will need to continue to improve his skating and agility but will come to camp this year eager to prove the doubters wrong. A strong training camp could see him progress to the AHL, but another year in the W might be on the cards.

18. (15) Peter Andersson, D, 19
Drafted 5th round, 143rd overall, 2009

Newly signed to an entry level contract, the lanky defenseman will have time to fill out his frame while adapting to the rigors of professional hockey in North America.

Penciled in for a starting role in the AHL, Andersson has shown himself to be a reliable defensive presence playing against the men of the Swedish Eliteserien. At 6’3 and 195 pounds he has a projectable frame for the NHL and although he is not likely to develop into an offensive defenseman, he has a good first pass and reads the play well. Andersson will be welcomed into a camp with a sizable Swedish contingent and given plenty of time to develop in the minors.

19. (NR) Jonathan Iilahti, G, 18
Drafted 6th round, 175th overall, 2010

The Canucks new top goalie prospect, Iilahti came from nowhere in 2010. Slated to be the backup at the Under 18 tournament, an injury to Finland’s starter Sami Aittokallio (COL) gave him a chance to shine and he ran with it. Displaying quick reflexes and a calm demeanor, Iilahti backstopped Finland to the bronze medal and then continued to grow in confidence with his club team Espoo Blues Jr. In 10 playoff games, his .921 save percentage caught the eye of more than a few scouts and had some predicting he would be taken as early as the third round.

20. (NR) Joe Cannata, G, 20
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2009

Despite having his statistics drop off slightly from his freshmen year, Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata still saw plenty of the puck and did very well in keeping it out of his net. Making 633 saves in only 24 games, an increase on the barrage he dealt with in his freshmen year, Cannata posted a .902 save percentage and a 3.04 goals against average. Reasonable stats, but after being named defensive player of the year as a rookie with an incredible 2.35 goals against average and .918 save percentage, expectations were higher.

Like most goaltending prospects, it will take Cannata several years to become a proficient starting netminder. Expect him to finish out his collegiate career before pursuing the pros.