The Vancouver Canucks depth chart this year shows a definite preference for puck-moving defenseman, with free-agent Chris Tanev as well as 2010 top draft selection Patrick McNally both skilled offensive players. The 1-2 punch of Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder makes for a strong showing at the center position, however there are few skilled wingers to complement them. The Canucks hope free agent signings from the college ranks such as Aaron Volpatti and Billy Sweatt can retain the scoring touch they showed in the NCAA.
The most skilled winger on the Canucks depth chart is Sergei Shirokov, an elusive skater with superior puck-handling skills. Having made the Canucks out of camp last year, Shirokov started this year with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and has scored once in the early games. While no one can question his talent, his commitment to continue riding the bus in the AHL will be closely scrutinized all season.
No such concerns exist with hard-skating Billy Sweatt however, a rookie pro who was signed as a free-agent after four productive years with Colorado College.
Aaron Volpatti showed a fair bit of pugnacity in his training camp with the Canucks and his rough and ready style earned him more than a few admirers. A B.C. native, Volpatti scored 17 goals in his senior year at Brown University and also tallied 115 minutes in penalties in just 37 games.
The enigmatic Steven Anthony has sparked hopes of resurgence after a strong start to his season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. Anthony was once thought to be a “can’t miss” talent but his dismal returns of 19 and 18 goals the past two years has taken the shine off his star. With five goals in his first eight games for the powerhouse Sea Dogs there is renewed hope he may yet begin to fulfill his potential.
A subdued showing in pre-season and a pointless start to the season in the AHL ensures the whispered doubts about Cody Hodgson can still be heard. His hockey sense and commitment to a sound two-way game will ensure he gets the chance to become a valuable player for the Canucks, however those who were hoping he would be a dominant player by now can’t help but worry about Hodgson’s slowed progression.
The livewire Jordan Schroeder meanwhile continues to produce at a point-per-game clip in the AHL and his superior speed and conditioning may yet enable him to leapfrog Hodgson on the Canuck’s depth chart.
Russian Ilja Kablukov remains on the radar for the Canucks, however the skilled pivot has seemingly little interest in coming to North America at the moment. Prab Rai has yet to make his professional debut this year due to injury so the jury is still in deliberation as to whether he can progress from sometime perimeter player to consistent impact scorer.
Checking-line center Mario Bliznak is a tireless worker but it appears Alex Bolduc has won the NHL job he was striving for.
Niagara Ice Dogs center Alex Friesen has exploded out of the gate to begin the season, scoring 16 points in 11 games, and the stocky center with quick hands could rise quickly up the Canucks depth chart.
A high-energy winger with good speed who crashes the net fearlessly, Anton Rodin needs just to add a bit of bulk to his frame to become the type of player the Canucks need to complement their two star centermen.
Winger Victor Oreskovich has made an explosive start with the Moose and has over 50 NHL games with the Florida Panthers under his belt.
Kevin Connauton is the star project for the Canucks organization, a high-powered offensive defenseman with a booming shot who can quarterback a power play. Having scored four goals in his first four games with the Moose, there is a strong belief he can continue to produce the same type of offense from the back that saw him set new club records for scoring by a defenseman with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL.
Evan Oberg was last season’s top scoring defender however he will be hard pressed to retain that title with Connauton and others competing for his ice-time. The slightly built Oberg plays a stylish game but will need to work hard on positioning and continue to add some bulk to his 170 pound frame.
Free agent Chris Tanev got a long look in the Canucks training camp and the signing from Rochester Institute of Technology looks to be a pass-first player who is blessed with a solid 6’2 build.
Yann Sauve is already at ideal NHL size standing 6’3 and weighing in at 220 pounds, however the newly signed professional is still recovering from an off-season car crash and has yet to play a game this year.
Harvard bound Patrick McNally is another of the next generation of defense prospects for the Canucks who can move the puck with authority.
Czech defender Adam Polasek will get plenty of playing time in the QMJHL while lanky Swede Peter Andersson is taking a regular shift in the Swedish Elite League. Jeremy Price is in his sophomore year with Colgate University while Taylor Ellington is starting the year in the ECHL with the Victoria Salmon Kings. Sawyer Hannay has been typically pugilistic thus far in his season with the Halifax Mooseheads and the 6’4 crease-clearer will likely drop the gloves many more times before the season is out.
Eddie “The Stork” Lack is off to a flying start in his AHL career, allowing just six goals in his first three games with a sparkling .943 save percentage. He has also been unbeaten in shootouts and has drawn the Winnipeg crowd to its feet at times with the quality of his saves. His performance in limited action last year gave some small hint that he was capable of sustaining this type of excellence over the long term, so his early returns have to be considered a pleasant surprise.
Joe Cannata is entering his junior year at Merrimack College and needs a strong campaign to stay in the reckoning as the Canucks top goalie prospect, as Lack and Finn Jonathon Iilahti are threatening to upstage him.
Iilahti will contend for the starter’s position with Finland’s WJC entry and is a regular with the Espoo Blues this year.