2001-02 Season Previews: From Smith to Bell.

By Kirk Pedersen

Hello, and welcome to my third installment in a four-part series of season previews for the Vancouver Canucks and their youngsters. This week I will take a look at the possibilities this season for: 2000 First-rounder Nathan Smith, 1996 First-rounder Josh Holden, 1996 Third-rounder Zenith Komarniski, and 2000 Third-rounder Thatcher Bell.

I’m not completely finished updating all of the site’s profiles, so please bear with me while I do so, as my previous ones are very poor in quality, and will be fixed in the very near future. (I just thought I’d add that in, for those of you who are growing frustrated with my profiles of players.)

I’m ready to start exploring, join me, won’t you?

The first player I will be talking about this week is a former Sherwood Park (Alberta) Midget player by the name of Nathan Smith. Nathan Smith was the Canucks first selection in the 2000 Draft. (23rd Overall) The pick was obtained from the Florida Panthers in the now-infamous Pavel Bure deal/fiasco of 1998-99. He put up some good numbers for Swift Current last season, scoring 90 points, (28g, 62a) in 67 games. However, he is not thought to be much of a scorer at the NHL-level.

A former first-round draft pick in junior by the Swift Current Broncos, when he was first drafted, I’ll admit that I had little knowledge of the Strathcona, Alberta native. I had known that he wasn’t too much of a scorer, and that he’d throw his hat in to the now-impressive group of young centres we had, which included the likes of Artem Chubarov, Mike Brown, and Josh Holden, not to mention Henrik Sedin, half of the twin crown jewels of our system. All of which were thought to be legitimate NHL players in the future. Smith is a hard worker on the ice, who pays attention to his defensive responsibilities, as well as his offensive ones. This coming season will be his final year of junior eligibility, so expect Smith to turn up his play a notch or two, especially offensively.

I’m still not too sure about this pick. In retrospect, players such as Brad Boyes and Justin Williams are very enticing. Both of them have more offensive potential than Smith, and both are top-3 prospects on their respective teams already. (Although Williams played a full season, despite injuries. So it’s unlikely that he’s still considered a prospect because of the amount of games he played) Going into the Draft, he was ranked #13 among all North American skaters, which normally translates into the spot where he was taken, but I’m still not sure. The jury is still out on this pick, and it will most likely continue to be until Smith shows he will be a good player at the minor-pro level, first. I have a lot of confidence in Brian Burke and his team, and I hope they made the right choice. Time will tell.

Smith has good raw abilities, which include his skating, passing, and checking. I think he will amount to a very good third-line checking centre, who can pick up some points here and there, as he will more than likely be stuck behind players with more offensive ability, such as Brendan Morrison, and Henrik Sedin. With the Canucks depth at centre in the minor-pro ranks, he’s not really a top prospect yet, as many players are ahead of him. He could be a good pest on the third line, too. He works very hard, and likes to harass the opposition. He’s also got good size, which is a very important asset at the NHL-level. I have him projected as a second-to-third-liner, who could probably score a decent amount of points, considering his ability. The hardest part is ahead, and that will come after next season; adjusting to the pro game.

Will: Probably score quite a bit in his final season of Junior.
Can’t: Justify his first-round selection, yet.
Expect: A solid NHL’er.
Don’t Expect: A pile of points at the NHL-level.

Here I was, sitting in my living room, with my eyes glued to the television. It had been an exciting day at the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, with many potential superstars being taken, with one rock-solid Defenseman in Chris Phillips going #1 to the Senators, and a fellow D-man, Andrei Zyuzin going #2, they looked as if they’d battle it out for years to see who was better. The Islanders saw a future Mike Bossy in J.-P. Dumont, and the Capitals were salivating at the prospects of former Barrie Colt Alexandre Volchkov.

However, the only one of that top four to make a big NHL impact, scoring-wise has been Dumont, who, after failing to come to terms with the Islanders, was dealt to Chicago, and then dealt to Buffalo, where he is flourishing. Phillips has become a decent defensive-minded Defenseman, but the hopes of stardom for him appear to be subsiding. Zyuzin is still an enigma, and despite a solid season this past year in Tampa, his potential remains unfulfilled. As for Volchkov, he now is back in Russia, after refusing an ECHL demotion from the Edmonton Oilers, the club who tried to rescue his floundering NHL career one season ago.

Why all this mindless chatter? Well, the anticipation had me bouncing off the walls. If these four teams could get future stars, why couldn’t the Canucks? Right? Right??

When it came time for the Canucks to step to the podium, I had began a chant, ‘Holden!, Holden!, Holden!’. The Regina Pats star was one player whom I had watched on TSN, (when they used to show junior hockey a lot) and I was very impressed with his package of talents. He could score, he could play gritty, he was full of tenacity on the ice, and loved to hit. When the Canucks called his name, I jumped up and shouted ‘Yes!’. However, to this day, my confidence in Holden is very much shaken, and I still wonder if he will ever be a full-time NHL’er at all.

Josh has very good skills across the board. He’s a good skater, he still plays a gritty game, which has resulted in a lot of injuries in the past, he has a goal-scorer’s mindset, and is a very good goalscorer at that. So, why isn’t he in the NHL yet? Holden is a very inconsistent player, he may go on a tear for a month, but soon after, he’ll return back to earth, and hit the wall like a bug on a windshield. He has had confidence problems in the past couple of years, largely due to major injuries, which have kept him out for extended periods of time. Those injuries are a by-product of his style of play. He needs to become more committed to making his game better, and I really hope that he puts in the time to do that.

Holden is a very talented player, and it’d be a shame to see that talent go to waste. He’s still an enigma, and one of the few Pat Quinn-era Draft choices left in the organization. I hope he steps it up. He isn’t one of Crawford’s favourites, so if he doesn’t step it up, he could very well just be waived, or traded, but I hope he makes the team this year. He remains a survivor from one of the worst first-round draft classes ever.

Will: Score at a minor league level.
Can’t: Take his game to the next level, yet.
Expect: Holden to be one of the first call-ups.
Don’t Expect: Much playing time.

Later in the 1996 Entry Draft, the Canucks selected a defenseman from the Tri-City Americans by the name of Zenith Komarniski. What a strange name, I remarked to myself. His name had stuck out in my head because it was the same name as a TV Manufacturer. It turns out he can play, too. I didn’t think much of his offensive abilities, although he had only played 42 games in his draft year, he did put up 26 points, (5g, 21a) which isn’t too shabby, but not that great, either. The book on his was that he was an offensive defenseman, but he needed to get stronger, and mature a bit before that title would completely fit him.

Over his three years of minor-pro in the Canucks organization, he still has yet to show the offensive spark that he displayed in his junior days in Tri-City. Zenith is a good skater who uses his strong stride to his advantage when bringing the puck up the ice. He handles the puck very well for a defenseman, and, as previously stated, had a very good junior career offensively, but, so far, he has been unable to build upon that at a professional level. If he can re-add some offensive punch to his game in the coming season, the hard-shooting blueliner might be promoted.

Unfortunately, Zenith may skate fast, but he doesn’t necessarily think as fast as he did in junior. He needs to adjust his game accordingly to match the speed of the NHL, which is really his only major flaw. I heard that he had a bit of an attitude in junior, but I don’t think that has surfaced since he turned pro. He would also be well-advised to give his defensive game a little spit-shine.

If he can re-capture his offensive fire, Zenith could be a Canuck this season, but not right away.

Will: Play a two-way style.
Can’t: Play at NHL speed.
Expect: Hard work to get his game back to what it was in Tri-City and Spokane.
Don’t Expect: Another regression in development.

The top ranked QMJHL player by Hockeysfuture.com for the 2000 Entry Draft was Rimouski Oceanic centre Thatcher Bell. Another player with an unusual name, Bell was thought of as a major talent going into the 2000 Draft. He had a very good offensive season with Rimouski in his draft year, racking up 69 points (26g, 43a) in 53 games played. He improved again in his third season with the Oceanic, despite playing less games. He had 59 points (27g, 32a) in 46 games in the Q.

Bell has excellent skating skills. He is a fast skater, and uses his speed well. He gets a lot of ice time on special teams because he is also very adept at killing penalties, in addition to his obvious offensive talent on the power play. He works very hard on his game, always trying to fix his mistakes, which is a very good asset. He is always willing to learn ways to improve his game from his coaches. He’s a tenacious forechecker, which is aided by his excellent wheels. He is a solid playmaker, as evidenced by his assist totals, and a very good puckhandled, as shown by his goal totals.

As per a lot of junior players, Thatcher Bell needs to add some muscle to his slight (6’0″, 188) frame. If he doesn’t add some bulk, he will probably be knocked around pretty good when he reaches the AHL with Manitoba, which will most likely be after next season.

He has some serious talent, and could be a real player in the future for the Canucks. However, the Canucks have a lot of centres in their system, so a switch to the wing could be beneficial.

Will: Score, a lot. Especially in the offense-oriented QMJHL.
Can’t: Play in the NHL yet.
Expect: Gaudy scoring numbers.
Don’t Expect: 200 PIM.

Well, folks, that’s it for this article, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Thank you to all of the people who read my work, and send in your comments, good or bad, they are all very much appreciated.(However, I prefer good!)
For Hockeysfuture.com
I’m Kirk Pedersen.