The Vancouver Canucks have done a fine job of re-stocking their prospect pool over the last few seasons and the good scouting and smart drafting has finally begun to bear fruit. Former CHL stars Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann are all now full time NHL players. The wisdom of having Virtanen and McCann in the NHL this season could be debated but they should play important roles for the Canucks for many years to come. Here is a look at the Canucks prospects currently playing in the junior ranks of North America.
Dmitry Zhukenov, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Acquired: 4th Round (114th Overall), 2015
Zhukenov left his homeland of Russia to join the Sagueneens after they selected him tenth overall in the 2015 CHL import draft. Since his arrival in Chicoutimi, Zhukenov has been learning to play the North American style. Lining up at center or on the wing, he has been able to produce points at a steady rate so far in the early QMJHL season. A very good October saw Zhukenov produce ten points in twelve games and he is currently at nearly a point per game clip so far in November. The Canucks will have plenty of opportunities to monitor the young forward’s progress this season and the hope is there that he will emerge as a dynamic scoring threat.
Guillaume Brisebois, D, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Acquired 3rd Round (66th Overall), 2015
Brisebois was named team captain once again and is the undisputed leader of the Titan. His hockey smarts and skill set have made him a well-rounded defenseman for the Titan and is used in all situations. In the early going of the QMJHL season Brisebois has produced a decent number of points but more importantly has continued to be a strong defender for the young Titan team. After a last place finish in 2014-15 the Titan have managed to improve their overall standing so far in 2015-16 but still have a long way to go to be a contender in the QMJHL. Brisebois was selected to play in the CHL Canada Russia series in mid-November and was a strong member of the QMJHL squad as they tangled with some of the best young talent from Russia.
Carl Neill, D, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Acquired 5th Round (144th Overall), 2015
Neill was a surprise invite to the Canucks’ main training camp but was cut before the preseason games were played. Back in Sherbrooke, Neill has produced offense so far in 2015-16 at a rate far exceeding previous seasons. At near a point per game, Neill has surprised many with his output so far. He clearly possesses some skill and has improved as a skater, but he will have to continue to improve his decision making and defensive zone awareness if he is to earn an entry level contract with the Canucks. Adding a bit of a mean streak to complement his ample frame and engaging opponents more physically would go a long way to improving his standing within the organization.
Kyle Pettit, C, Erie Otters
Acquired 6th Round (156th Overall), 2014
Another surprise invite to the Canucks main camp, Pettit was cut before the preseason games began and was returned to Erie. He is currently in his fourth season with the Otters and has been trying to break out offensively. Pettit has played a strong defensive game ever since his rookie campaign back in 2012-13 but has struggled to put up big numbers. His point totals have improved every season since his rookie year but not to the point where he can be considered a consistent scoring threat. So far in 2015-16 Pettit has averaged close to a half point per game, similar to last season’s production rate.
In all fairness to Pettit, he has had some other highly skilled centers such as Dylan Strome (ARI) and Connor McDavid (EDM) occupying the top six center roles and limiting Pettit’s offensive opportunities. However, his strong face-off skills and defensive acumen have made him a reliable penalty killer and shut-down center which are very positive attributes for a young player. Pettit’s size and strength coupled with his strong defensive game should take him to the next level, but if he cannot produce more offense he may be limited to a checking line role if he is to ever make it to the AHL and beyond.
Tate Olson, D, Prince George Cougars
Acquired 7th Round (210th Overall), 2015
Olson attended the Canucks main training camp but was an early cut and subsequently returned to Prince George to suit up for the Cougars once again. In the early part of the 2015-16 season Olson has been producing points at a much higher rate than in previous seasons, which is a good sign for the young prospect. As with most late round selections, Olson is considered a long-term project and will have to improve his defensive skills as well as continue to improve his passing and skating. If he continues to trend upward as he has so far in the young 2015-16 season, then Olson should be in consideration for an entry-level contract at some point with the Canucks.
Vancouver Canucks Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects
The Canucks introduced nine rookies into the pro ranks to start the 2015-16 season. Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton all jumped straight into the NHL to start the season and look to be staying put. Ashton Sautner, Jordan Subban, Evan McEneny, Cole Cassels and Mackenze Stewart all started the season with the Utica Comets. Anton Cederholm started the season with the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL where McEneny and Stewart have recently been demoted to get more playing time.
With all the youth suddenly flooding the Canucks pipeline it is difficult to pick one prospect that stands out above the rest. Aside from the trio of McCann, Hutton and Virtanen the one prospect that has made a strong case for himself is Hunter Shinkaruk. So far in the 2015-16 season Shinkaruk is averaging over a point per game and is very close to scoring a goal per game. His strong start even earned him a brief call-up to the Canucks in mid-November where he played his first regular season NHL game. Now back in Utica, Shinkaruk should continue to produce points at a high rate while working on his deficiencies. A permanent NHL job appears to be in Shinkaruk’s near future.
In US college hockey the Canucks have two high profile prospects in Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko. Boeser has been a bit streaky as an 18-year-old rookie with the University of North Dakota but hasn’t looked out of place, firing shots on goal at a terrific rate and maintaining a point per game pace. Demko has been absolutely phenomenal so far posting six shutouts in twelve games. Averaging just over one goal against per game along with a brilliant .956 save percentage, the Boston College junior has fans in Vancouver calling for his services sooner than later. Demko is the goalie of the future for the Canucks and he could force his way into the NHL as early as 2016-17 if he continues to dominate the NCAA as he has been.
Vancouver Canucks Prospect of the Month
The Vancouver Canucks have been trying to get younger recently without going into a full rebuild and have managed to do just that with the introduction of Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton as full time NHL players for 2015-16. Of this group it has been Jared McCann that has stood out so far in the 2015-16 season. McCann has outperformed veteran forwards such as Radim Vrbata as well as fellow youngsters Virtanen, Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat and has earned the coach’s trust. McCann has quietly become the front-runner in the eventual replacement of Henrik Sedin as the number one center on the team and is the Canucks Prospect of the Month for October/November 2015.