Vancouver Canucks Top 20 prospects a sign of franchise health

By Curtis Coulter

Ben Hutton - Vancouver Canucks

Photo: Vancouver’s Ben Hutton jumped up to 20 minutes a night in short order as a rookie, but should have a chance for more offensive contribution next season (courtesy of Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

10. (11) Alexandre Grenier, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2011

Alexandre Grenier remains a valuable member of the Utica Comets but his value to the Canucks may be dwindling. Grenier was given a brief call-up to the Canucks early in the season but didn’t make a huge impression in his NHL debut. Grenier will play his 200th AHL game later this season so he is definitely seasoned and should be as ready as he will ever be to make the jump to the NHL next season. At worst Grenier should receive another one-year contract this summer and a chance to fight for a job in Vancouver. His massive frame and aggressive style make him a good option for a bottom-six role.

9. (8) Ronalds Kenins, LW, 6.0B
Signed as free agent, July 2013

Ronalds Kenins was thought to be a lock to make the Canucks out of training camp this season but the infusion of youth forced the Canucks to clear some roster spots and Kenins was sent to the Utica Comets to start the season. He was recalled in December and played a few games for the Canucks but was unable to hold onto a roster spot and was returned to Utica. Injuries have played a part in slowing Kenins down a bit this year but he will be an impact player if the Comets make the playoffs. If Kenins finishes the year strong there is a good chance he will receive a contract extension from the Canucks this summer. His intensity and grit make him a good, inexpensive energy player. The Canucks may yet be able to find room for Kenins but as proven this season, he will have to outshine several others looking to earn a roster spot next season. With Brendan Gaunce gunning for that same spot it could be a tough road back to the NHL for Kenins.

8. (13) Jordan Subban, D, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2013

Jordan Subban has been a real bright spot for the Comets so far in the 2015-16 season. So much so that he moves up to eighth spot on the list. Subban currently leads the Utica Comets’ defensemen in points and is second on the team only to Brendan Gaunce, a great accomplishment for a twenty year old rookie. Given the Subban pedigree and a strong desire to succeed it is likely that Jordan will eventually get a shot at NHL action despite his slight frame. It will be his skating and puck skills that elevate Subban to the next level but his defensive game has been admirable as well so far in his young pro career. Jordan will likely never be as impactful as brother PK, but a well-rounded, puck-moving defenseman is a useful asset at any level and Jordan will eventually get his chance to show what he can do in the NHL.

7. (9) Brendan Gaunce, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2012

Brendan Gaunce moves into seventh place ahead of Ronalds Kenins and the recently traded Hunter Shinkaruk. Gaunce currently leads the Utica Comets in points after Shinkaruk’s departure and is poised for a permanent jump into the NHL. His brief two game call-up to Vancouver saw him net his first NHL goal and play close to eleven minutes a night. Gaunce will continue to help Utica push for the playoffs for the remainder of the 2015-16 season in hopes of another Calder Cup run and will very likely lead the team in scoring to close out the season. His value as a big-bodied forward with top-nine potential cannot go overlooked much longer by management and Gaunce seems to be on track for an NHL job in the very near future.

6. (3) Cole Cassels, C, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2013

Cole Cassels drops to sixth spot on the list due to the rise of Ben Hutton and the solid play of Demko and Boeser with their respective NCAA teams. Cassels had a slow start to his professional career mainly because his summer was cut short by a Memorial Cup run and a nagging injury which kept him idle until late summer. Now that he has fully healed and caught up to the pace of the AHL he is sure to improve his point contributions and smooth out his already dependable two-way game. Cassels as well as teammate Brendan Gaunce are both very versatile forwards and can play both wing and center. With the center position appearing to be pretty well occupied in Vancouver for the foreseeable future it seems likely that Cassels may be used as a winger, at least in the short term. By next season Cassels will be one of the more important players for the Comets and he should be in line for a call-up to the big club over the next couple seasons.

5. (4) Thatcher Demko, G, 8.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2014

Thatcher Demko remains a top five prospect on the list with his spectacular play again this season for Boston College. With the loaded roster at BC their season goal should be nothing short of a national title. Demko has continued to improve on what is already a very impressive skill set. His agility and mobility are pro ready while his positioning and hockey sense are also exceptional. Demko will not be rushed into the NHL, but he could end up simply forcing his way onto the Canucks earlier than expected as fellow prospects Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen did at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. If Demko does turn pro after the 2015-16 season, a year or two spent in Utica with the occasional call-up to the Canucks would be management’s preferred developmental path for Demko. Thatcher Demko is the goalie of the future for the Vancouver Canucks and that future may be very soon.

4. (5) Brock Boeser, RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 23rd overall, 2015

Boeser has exceeded expectations as a rookie with the University of North Dakota, putting up points like a seasoned veteran. His scoring touch and offensive prowess have him leading the UND squad as an eighteen year old rookie. The last time a rookie player had such an impact with UND was when Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie broke into the college ranks together with UND back in 2005-06 and had point per game seasons. To be mentioned with those two players is a great compliment and if Boeser can continue to develop his all-around game then he is sure to be a good top-six winger in the NHL in short order. With Boeser and Virtanen the Canucks have a couple really nice prospects to man the right wing position on the top two lines in coming years.

3. (1) Jake Virtanen, RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2014

Jake Virtanen slips to third spot on the list by no real fault of his own. The unexpected emergence of Ben Hutton and Jared McCann have overshadowed Virtanen’s somewhat modest start to his NHL career. Virtanen had a less than memorable WJC experience in Helsinki and after returning to Vancouver he seemed re-focused on what he needed to do to be a better all-around player. In recent weeks Virtanen has been given more opportunities as his ice-time has increased and he has not been a healthy scratch since early February. It appears that Virtanen has almost fully made the transition into being a reliable NHL player, now it will be his responsibility to get his game to the next level and become a consistent scoring threat. Another full season in the NHL should see Virtanen find his swagger and if he can maintain his high level of physicality and find the back of the net on a regular basis, he is sure to be a fan favorite as a power forward in Vancouver for the next decade or so.

2. (15) Ben Hutton, D, 7.5B
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2012

No other Canucks prospect has exceeded expectations this season more than Ben Hutton. Over the summer Hutton didn’t even appear to be on the radar as a possibility to crack the Canucks opening night roster. Hutton had other ideas however, and his play over the preseason forced management to make room for him on the team, coming at the expense of Frankie Corrado, who was claimed off waivers by the Maple Leafs. As the season has progressed, so has Hutton’s all-around game. Sheltered a bit for the first month of the season, Hutton was soon thrown into the fire when injuries to Luca Sbisa and Dan Hamhuis necessitated that he take on more minutes and greater responsibilities. Hutton was up for the challenge and rarely looked overwhelmed as a top-four defenseman and should continue to improve with more experience. The sky is the limit for young Hutton as he proves that he is willing to take on whatever role the coaches may throw his way.

1. (2) Jared McCann, C, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2014

Jared McCann moves into top spot on the list given his transition from a standout in junior to a steady NHL player. McCann came into training camp with one goal in mind, which was earning a roster spot with the Canucks. Not only did he manage to do just that, but McCann was even a capable replacement as a top six center while Henrik Sedin and Brandon Sutter were sidelined at the same time due to injuries. Playing top-six minutes for the Canucks is a far cry from what could have been another season in junior for McCann. But he earned that roster spot out of camp and didn’t let it go, and as the season has progressed McCann has begun to display a strong two-way game and maturity beyond his years. The Canucks have a real prize in McCann, and with Bo Horvat already playing like a veteran, the future of the center position for the Canucks seems to be in good hands.

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