Reviews of Canucks defensive prospects

By Kirk Pedersen

Now that the Canucks have acquired another ‘top-six’ forward, and with Andrew Cassels due back in two weeks or so, our biggest weakness is clearly on defense.

What do we have in our organization in the way of defensemen? Not too much, almost all of our NHL-calibre Defensemen are already in the NHL, and we have a lot of wild-cards. (See Komarniski, Zenith; Vydareny, Rene.) Here is the Canucks’ depth on defense, with seasonal reviews to this point for the defensive prospects.

Bryan Allen was supposed to arrive this year. He began the season with the Canucks, going scoreless, and being victimized on several plays early in the season. Marc Crawford and his assistants decided that it’d probably be best for Bryan to go back down to Winnipeg, and play for the Moose until the Canucks need him again. He’s still a top-drawer defensive prospect, and he’s on pace for a better offensive season than last year in Manitoba, but he’s not much more than a sixth or seventh defenseman on the Canucks now, even in our poor state of affairs on the blueline. More was expected out of him this season, but there’s still time to recover. But it’s better to play 20-25 minutes per game in Winnipeg, than 5-10 minutes in the NHL.
Grades Thus Far:
AHL: B+
NHL: C-

Rene Vydareny apparently still thinks that he’s in junior. The raw, apparently offensively-minded defenseman has struggled mightily in two years away from his junior team in Rimouski, resulting in an ECHL demotion earlier this season. He only had three points (2g, 1a), but improved his overall game while down in Columbia. (SC) The 20-year-old is in definite need of a quick start in his third stint with the Moose, or he will risk being sent down to the ECHL again. He has the potential to improve. He’s still very raw, and his defensive play needs a great deal of improvement, but he could be a good one.
Grades Thus Far:
AHL: C
ECHL: B

Another guy that disappoints is Zenith Komarniski.Not this year, however. He has become the second veteran leader of the Moose defense, alongside grizzlied vet Brian Chapman. While his status as a depth defenseman remains largely unchanged, he is improving his overall game with the Moose, and his offensive numbers, despite not even approaching their status in junior, are improving.
Grade Thus Far:
AHL: B+

Ryan Bonni may be is finished as a Canuck. He has regressed in his development since being a brief call-up by the Canucks in ’99-00. His skating is still poor, and his offensive totals, which were not much to brag about previously, have taken a hit, too. (18 pts in ’99-00, 11 in ’00-01, and 0 so far this season.) With his recent demotion to the ECHL, one would assume that coach Smyl has lost a bit of confidence in Bonni, 22. With the Canucks picking up much-travelled blueliner Alexei Tezikov from Anaheim, Ryan was buried even further down on the Canuck Depth Chart. Will he recover? Who knows. He could use a new start with a new organization.
Grades Thus Far:
AHL: D
ECHL: A

A third-rounder in 2000, Tim Branham has quite a mountain to climb before he is to assume a spot with the Canucks, or possibly even the Moose. So far this season, he has struggled offensively, with only eight points for the Guelph Storm, his new team. Already experienced defensemen Kevin Dallman and Rangers ’01 Draftee Fedor Tjutin have leapfrogged Branham on the depth chart of the Storm, leaving him to play on the second pairing, and often neglected from power-play time. As Dallman will be forced to vacate the OHL after this season, should Branham decide to stay for his overage year, he could easily rack up a point-per-game on the high-flying Storm offense, which features players such as top ’03 draft prospect Dustin Brown, and pint-sized centre Martin St. Pierre; both of which have torn up the league this season.
Grade Thus Far:
OHL: C

He finally broke a scoring drought which caused him to go his first twenty-six games in the AHL/IHL without scoring, but, make no mistake, Darrell Hay is having a rough go of it this season in Manitoba. For a guy that is supposed to be an offensive defenseman, his totals are laughable right now. Hay is definitely improving, especially after putting a bit of weight on this off-season, and working very hard in training camp. He needs to get more icetime with the Moose, and, more importantly, more icetime in offensive situations.
Grade Thus Far:
AHL: D-

A surprise at camp this season, ’98 fourth-rounder Regan Darby has been used sparingly with the Moose this season. The big (6’2″ 200) defenseman is not offensively-inclined (His best offensive season in junior was one in which he totalled 19 points.), but he has played decently for the Canucks top affiliate in Manitoba. Although I can’t help but think that he’d be better off in Columbia, possibly getting more icetime with the Inferno, and improving his game overall. He does have a mean streak (57 PIM in 9 games), but could be used in more of an offensive capacity in Columbia. As it stands, Darby’s future with the Canucks is very cloudy. A depth defenseman at best.

Grade Thus Far:
AHL: C