Nicklas Jensen new top prospect in Vancouver top-20

By Jared Ramsden
Photo: Former first-round pick Jordan Schroeder has developed slow but steadily over the past two years in the AHL. The forward is expected to battle for spot in the NHL over the next two seasons. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hebert/Icon SMI)

The Canucks aren't blessed with an overly deep group of prospects, but there are a few players at the top of the list that have some good potential and upside, the most notable being Nicklas Jensen. There are a lot of project-type players in the system as well, many of whom have a lot of raw and untapped potential. The strength of the organization continues to remain in between the pipes, headlined by Eddie Lack.

1. (2) Nicklas Jensen, RW, 7.5C
Drafted, 1st round, 29th overall, 2011


With the trade of Cody Hodgson, Jensen has become the organizations top prospect. It was a busy year for the highly-skilled Dane. He had a so-so second season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, recording 58 points in 57 regular season games to go along with another five points in six playoff games. He represented Denmark at the World Juniors where he recorded another half-dozen points and to finish things off, he appeared in eight games (regular season and playoffs) for the Canucks AHL affiliate in Chicago and potted another six goals.

Jensen has an appealing blend of speed, smarts and skill and with those traits, he appears to be tailor made to play the puck-possession style that the Canucks like to play. With Vancouver in need of secondary scoring, Jensen could advance relatively quickly.

2. (NR) Zack Kassian, RW, 7B
Drafted 1st round, 13th overall, 2009 (BUF)

Kassian was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline in a deal that saw Cody Hodgson go the other way. His rookie pro season had a few bumps in the road, but he excelled in the AHL (he was named to the AHL All-Star team) and played 27 games with the Sabres before being dealt to Vancouver. The Canucks acquired him for his physical presence more than anything, and while he provided that at times in the 17 regular season and four playoff games he dressed in, he appeared to have trouble adjusting to his new surroundings. However, the big and powerful winger is blessed with a tremendous amount of potential and has all the tools to become a top-six scoring forward.

Kassian should be a lot more comfortable in Vancouver next fall and if the Canucks develop and deploy him properly, a breakout season could very well be on the horizon.

3. (4) Eddie Lack, G, 7C
Signed as a free agent, April 6th, 2010

 

Another one of Vancouver's astute free-agent prospect signings, Lack didn't disappoint in his second full season in North America and continues to be a fixture as a top-five prospect for the Canucks. He played in a few less games than his rookie pro season, but his numbers this year were nearly a carbon copy of what he did the year before. He won 21 games and posted a scintillating 2.31 goals against average, .926 save percentage, and four shutouts. Unfortunately for Lack and the Wolves, they were eliminated in the first round of the AHL playoffs.

A tall and agile goaltender with cat-like reflexes, Lack appears to be ready for a backup gig at the NHL level and given the uncertainty between the pipes in Vancouver, that chance should come next season.

4. (5) Jordan Schroeder, C, 7C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2009

Though his numbers weren't eye-popping, Schroeder made slow and steady gains in his second season in the AHL. He dressed in all 76 games for the Wolves and finished tied for second on the team in goals (21) and third in points (44). While his size is always going to be a knock against him, he is blessed with a tremendous amount of natural skill and has a great feel for the game at the offensive end of the rink. He's getting close, but a little more AHL seasoning probably wouldn't hurt. Vancouver's up-tempo attack seems to suit his style of play. When he does eventually get a chance to perform at the NHL level, he's going to need to be put in a role that will suit his offensive skill-set.

5. (3) Chris Tanev, D, 6.5B
Acquired as free agent, May 31st, 2010

Tanev rode the Chicago-Vancouver shuttle a few times during the season, but towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, he quietly established himself as a regular for the Canucks and appears to have turned the corner in his development. In 34 games for the Wolves, he recorded 14 assists and he dressed for 25 regular season games with Vancouver, recording two helpers. He also appeared in all five of Vancouver's playoff games. Tanev isn't likely to become a star, but he is confident with the puck on his stick and has great hockey sense. He doesn't panic under pressure and always seems to make the right play. Tanev should find himself a regular spot in Vancouver next season as a steady third pairing defenseman.

6. (6) Anton Rodin, RW, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2009

There were a few bumps along the road, but Rodin grew more and more comfortable as the year wore on. In 62 games for the Wolves, he recorded 10 goals and 17 assists. Rodin is good player at both ends of the rink, but definitely has a little bit more of an offensive bent to his game. That being said, his strong hockey sense and smarts help make him an effective player with out the puck on his stick.

Headed into his second year of AHL play, Rodin could be in line for a big bump in production. He has the skills to be a second-line player down the road. If he doesn't pan out in that role though, he should still be able to make it as an above-average third line winger.

7. (8) Kevin Connauton, D, 7C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2009

 

In his second pro season, Connauton continued to make slow and steady progress as a prospect. He lead all Wolves defenseman in scoring with 13 goals (seven of which came on the power-play) and 20 assists in 73 games. He was also named to the AHL Western Conference All-Star team and recorded the hardest shot in the skills competition at just under 100 mph. His defensive play is still a work in progress, but he was minus-three this season compared to minus-11 a year ago.

Connauton's offensive skill-set should play well at the NHL level and he's inching closer and closer to making that jump. His upside is that of a number four/five defenseman with the ability to quarterback a power play.

8. (12) Alex Grenier, RW, 7C
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2011

 

In his first full year in the QMJHL, Grenier exploded for 25 goals and 39 assists in 64 games and followed it up with a 16 more points in 17 playoff games for the Halifax Mooseheads. A tantalizing raw package of size and offensive skill, Grenier is a bit of a late bloomer as he did not step foot into junior hockey until last season when he was 19. Now 20, the next step for Grenier is to ply his trade at the AHL level which he should get a chance to do next season. He should continue to rise up the Canucks prospect ladder as he fills out his frame and learns how to use his size to his advantage. A potential second-line power-forward in the making.

9. (9) Patrick McNally, D, 7C
Drafted, 4th round, 115th overall, 2010

McNally made a big splash as a freshman for Harvard by finishing fourth in team scoring with an impressive 28 points in 34 games, en-route to being named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. He was a big reason why the Crimson's power-play clicked at just over a 27 percent clip. McNally's strengths are his skating, vision, and puck skills. He is still a little raw defensively and needs to continue to bulk up and fill out his frame, but those are things he can work on before he turns pro. McNally is still a few years away, but his long-term upside is very high.

10. (18) Joseph Labate, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2011

Perhaps one of the most intriguing prospects in the organization, Labate is far from a finished product, but he oozes talent and upside. He just completed his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin after dominating the Minnesota High School ranks in his draft year. He recorded a respectable five goals and 15 assists and appears poised for even bigger things going into his sophomore season for the Badgers.

11. (7) Yann Sauve, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2008

Sauve managed to stay healthy this year after an injury-riddled rookie pro season. He dressed in 73 games for the Wolves and recorded three goals and seven assists to go along with 78 penalty minutes and a steady plus-six rating. While he's likely not going to turn into the two-way defenseman that the Canucks hoped when they originally drafted him, he's developed into a steady stay-at-home defender. He has good size, isn't afraid to get his nose dirty and is usually in the right position. There's always hope that some of the skill he showed in junior will re-appear, but if it doesn't, he still has a future as a bottom-pairing defenseman.

12. (19) Joe Cannata, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2009

The Canucks let Cannata mature and develop at Merrimack University over the last four seasons and as a result, they have another good goaltending prospect on their hands. Cannata capped his collegiate career with a fantastic senior season, being named to the Hockey East First All-Star Team. He posted 17 wins, a 2.18 goals against average, a .925 save percentage and two shutouts. He signed an amateur try-out contract at the end of his senior season and won his one and only start for the Wolves on the final day of the AHL regular season. A technically sound goaltender with good athleticism and pose, look for Cannata to see a lot of action for the Wolves next year, especially if Lack graduates to the NHL level.

13. (NR) Henrik Tommernes, D, 7D
Drafted 7th Round, 210th overall, 2011

A late bloomer, Tommernes caught the eye of the Canucks last year and was drafted by the club last summer late in the draft proceedings as a 20-year-old. He just completed his second full season in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda, compiling five goals and nine assists in 44 regular season games and turned it up a notch in playoffs recording four points in only six games. Tommernes is blessed with great mobility and skating skills for a defenseman and has a decent set of offensive skills. He's solid, yet unspectacular defensively, but his high hockey IQ helps him in that regard. Another year in Sweden is likely in the cards for Tommernes, but he should be ready to turn pro for the 2013-14 season. A hit-or-miss type of prospect, Tommernes is one to keep a close eye on.

14. (14) Adam Polasek, D, 6C
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2010

Polasek just completed his first full season as a pro with the Wolves, recording a goal and eight assists in 46 games. His plus-eight rating was one of the best marks on the team as well. Solidly built at 6'2 and just a shade over 200 lbs, Polasek doesn't really have any standout traits. He enjoys playing a physical brand of hockey and is solid in his own end. While he's never likely going to be a big point producer, he moves the puck well and has a good all-around skill level. Think of a Roman Polak-type defender as a comparable. A steady and dependable bottom pairing defenseman.

15. (16) Alex Friesen, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 172nd overall, 2010

Friesen returned to the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs for his over-age season and put up some solid all around numbers. The well-rounded forward scored 26 goals and 45 assists in 62 games while boasting a spectacular plus-39 rating and 106 penalty minutes. His strong play has carried over into the playoffs as well where he has continued to score at over a point-per-game pace. He is undersized, but he more than makes up for that with a high effort and compete level each and every night. He plays with a lot of energy and as his high penalty minute totals attest, he excels at getting under the oppositions skin. He'll need some AHL seasoning, but he has the requisite skill set to eventually evolve into a pesky bottom-six forward at the NHL level.

16. (11) David Honzik, G, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2011

Honzik had a bit of a rough go at it this year and slightly regressed, which explains his slip down the rankings. He was outplayed most of the season by the younger Brandon Whitney. He still managed to dress in 43 games for Victoriaville, however he didn't do enough to take the Tigres number one job and run with it. Goaltenders often take a long time to mature and develop so while his season was a bit disappointing, there is no need to panic. There is still a lot to like about the big and athletic Czech goaltender and with the depth the Canucks have at the position, they can take their time with him.

17. (10) Billy Sweatt, LW, 6C
Signed as a free agent, August 19th, 2010

Though his numbers dipped slightly in his second pro season, Sweatt still had a solid season for the Wolves, posting solid numbers across the board. He had 16 goals and 34 points to go along with a steady plus-nine rating. Sweatt's calling card is his speed. His good defensive aptitude combined with that high-end speed makes him an effective penalty killer. While he's likely never going to be a high-end offensive player, he has the makings of evolving into a top-notch, two-way third-line forward.

18. (15) Steven Anthony, LW, 6C
Drafted 7th round, 187th overall, 2009

Anthony started his professional career in the ECHL with Canucks secondary minor-league affiliate in Kalamazoo. He only played in 34 games but managed to put up a respectable eight goals and 12 assists. More of a playmaker than a scorer, Anthony has good size, but he is still very raw at this stage in his development and is a long ways away from realizing his full potential. The Canucks hope he can make the jump to the AHL next season.

19. (17) Jeremy Price, D, 6C
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2009

Price set a career high in points with 23 in his junior season for Colgate and in fact led all Red Raiders defenseman in points. A high-scoring blueliner in the Ontario junior ranks before beginning his collegiate career back in 2009, Price has slowly but surely matured into a much more well-rounded defenseman. At this point, it appears likely that Price will return to Colgate for his senior season next year and will then turn pro in 2013-14.

20. (NR) Ludwig Blomstrand, LW, 6.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, 2011

Blomstrand split time this year between Djurgardens junior and senior club. He broke out offensively with the junior club, scoring 31 points in 41 games, which in-turn resulted in 18 games with the senior club in the Swedish Elite League. Blomstrand's bread-and-butter are his size, speed and work ethic. He's also not shy about getting involved physically. All of those traits seem to add up to the resume of a potential checking line/role player with a modicum of skill once fully developed. The Canucks will likely continue to let him mature in Europe for another season or two before bringing him to North America.