The Vancouver Canucks’ plan to get younger without going into a total rebuild is in full effect. Gone are veteran wingers Chris Higgins and Brandon Prust, waived and assigned to the farm in Utica. Taking up the extra minutes are youngsters such as Sven Baertschi and recently acquired Emerson Etem. Add in Bo Horvat, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen and the Canucks have a very respectable group of forwards aged 23 or younger. With up and comers such as Brendan Gaunce and Brock Boeser knocking at the door, the Canucks seem to have most of the answers to their future needs developing in-house.
Several Canucks prospects have exceeded expectations so far in their early careers while a few others have taken a step back in their development. Here is a closer look at the Canucks mid-season Top 20 Prospects.
20. (20) Anton Cederholm, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2013
Anton Cederholm was one of the defensemen edged out of a spot on the Utica blueline to start the 2015-16 season. Assigned to the Kalamazoo Wings instead, Cederholm has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to get the call up to Utica. The rookie pro has been hanging in there with the veteran defensemen down in Kalamazoo and Cederholm seems to have a good grasp on what is expected of him on a night to night basis. Cederholm’s time in Kalamazoo playing top four minutes has likely been as good as or better for his development than fighting to stay in the lineup and playing far fewer minutes in Utica would have been. If he continues to improve all-around he should be a lock for a job in Utica next season.
19. (NR) Alex Friesen, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 172nd overall, 2010
Alex Friesen has been a steady and reliable player for Utica over the past few seasons and he finally earned a call-up to the Canucks in mid-February, making his NHL debut. He played just under twelve minutes but was a minus two in the lone game he played as a Canuck. Friesen is now back in Utica where he will help the Comets make their push for the playoffs. His tenacity and feistiness make him an attractive asset despite his small stature but with so many other young forwards gunning for roster spots next season it may be hard for him to secure an NHL job. He is a valuable player to the Utica Comets however, and he may be retained for another season to act as a veteran presence for the farm team while adding some depth for the Canucks.
18. (NR) Ashton Sautner, D, 6.5D
Signed as free agent, March 2015
Ashton Sautner was a bit of a surprise to start the 2015-16 season. The undrafted rearguard edged out a few other players to remain with the Comets, while some were assigned straight to Kalamazoo of the ECHL. Sautner is another project type prospect but his steady play has proven that he is willing to learn and improve any way he can. Sautner will remain with the Comets for the foreseeable future but if he can continue to climb the depth chart he may get his chance at a call-up to the big club sometime over the next season or two.
17. (18) Kyle Pettit, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 156th overall, 2014
Kyle Pettit has enjoyed great team success during his time with the Erie Otters but has not been able to put up solid scoring numbers. Now twenty years old, Pettit will play out his junior career and hope that the Canucks saw enough good things in him to offer him an entry-level contract. Pettit is a good faceoff man and is extremely sound defensively, but with the lack of offense in his game there may not be enough in the total package to get him to the highest level.
16. (17) Nikita Tryamkin, D, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2014
Nikita Tryamkin is now in his fourth season with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and has continually shown signs of progress. The next step is to get the hulking Russian over to North America so he can learn to play on the smaller ice-surface. Tryamkin is a pretty good bet to receive an entry-level contract this summer and if that happens he is sure to be suiting up for the Utica Comets next season. Still a few years away from an NHL job, the Canucks will be hoping Tryamkin can evolve into a punishing shut-down defender.
15. (NR) Adam Gaudette, C, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 149th overall, 2015
Adam Gaudette comes onto the list in the fifteenth spot due to his strong play as a rookie with Northeastern University. Gaudette finds himself among the team leaders in most statistical categories – third in goals and fifth in points – a remarkable feat for an 19-year-old playing against mostly men in their early twenties. Gaudette will continue to improve during his time with Northeastern and should earn himself an entry-level contract at some point. In Gaudette, the Canucks have a potential middle six forward, if he continues to work hard and evolve his two-way game.
14. (NR) Mike Zalewski, LW, 6.0C
Signed as free agent, March 2014
Mike Zalewski wasn’t even a member of the Canucks to start the 2015-16 season but managed to earn a contract with the Utica Comets. His strong play earned him a new NHL contract for the remainder of the 2015-16 season and a brief call-up to the Canucks in late January. Now back in Utica, Zalewski continues to play important minutes for the Comets as he tries to earn another contract for next season. If re-signed, Zalewski should be in the mix for a bottom-six role with the Canucks once again next season and at worst he has proven to be a good depth option.
13. (16) Dmitry Zhukenov, C, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2015
Dmitry Zhukenov continues to rise up the list and moves into the thirteen spot. Since his arrival in North America for the start of the 2015-16 season Zhukenov has been producing at a near point-per-game pace for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Zhukenov has displayed some fine offensive instincts and playmaking ability but he still needs to beef up his frame a bit before he takes a step to the next level. As a European draftee, Zhukenov will be eligible to return to junior next season or turn pro and join the Utica Comets, but it remains to be seen which direction the Canucks will choose to take with the talented young Russian.
12. (14) Guillaume Brisebois, D, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2015
As the captain of the Titan, Brisebois was determined to lead his team to a better finish in 2015-16 than the last place finish that the Titan produced in 2014-15. Brisebois and company have managed to get the team out of last place and has them currently holding a playoff spot in the QMJHL. Whether the Titan make some noise in the playoffs or not, the 2015-16 season should be considered a success as the Titan become relevant in the QMJHL once again. Brisebois will likely return to the Titan again for the 2016-17 season and try to lead the team deep into the playoffs. Brisebois is looking like he has top-four potential and if he continues to improve his all-around game there will be a spot waiting for him in Utica once he wraps up his junior career. With a little bit of minor league seasoning the Canucks will have a solid two-way defender in Brisebois one day.
11. (12) Andrey Pedan, D, 6.5C
Acquired via trade with New York Islanders, November 2014
Andrey Pedan is another prospect on an expiring contract that will be looking to have a strong finish to the 2015-16 season. His all-around game continues to improve and Pedan is finding his name on the scoresheet a lot more often this season as well. He was given a call-up in late November and made his NHL debut but spent more time as a healthy scratch during his month long stint in Vancouver. Now back in Utica, Pedan is addressing the deficiencies in his game and playing important minutes as the Comets push for the playoffs. Given the uncertain future of the Canucks’ defense group it seems likely that Pedan will still be around to battle for a roster spot this fall. His big frame and nasty attitude make him a good candidate for a physical defenseman role with the Canucks.