Well, folks, I’m back with yet another edition of the Weekly Dose. This week, I’m going to do what I should have done a long time ago: Re-rank the Canucks prospects.
Many players have gotten better for the Canucks this season, especially in the prospect pipeline. However, many have regressed in their development. My mission, should you choose to read it; is to fairly re-rank these young men into suitable positions on the Canuck Depth Chart.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.
1. Allen, Bryan.
Bryan Allen is far and away the top Canuck prospect. The big, rugged defenseman is one of the few guys on our depth chart who could step in right away, and make an impact. He’s a lock to make the roster next season for the Canucks, as his strong skating, good hockey sense, and excellent defensive play are a welcome addition to a roster whose defensemen (Ohlund, Jovanovski, Sopel, Helmer) are offensive by nature. As far as natural ability and untapped potential go, Allen is one of the most exciting Canuck prospects to step on the ice in at least two decades.
To date, his development has been a bit slow, due to numerous injuries, and, when he got to the Big Dance, lack of playing time. However, I’d much rather see Allen play twenty or more minutes a game in Winnipeg; than be a seventh defenseman here.
Should Scott Lachance choose to leave through unrestricted free-agency, Allen will once again be thrust into a key role with the Canucks, only this time, he’ll have another full season under his belt.
As a great man once said, ‘The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades,’ and the same rings true for the big Moose defenseman.
2. Umberger, R.J.
Very little changes at the top again, as the Ohio State Buckeye centreman holds strong at number two. The Pittsburgh native stayed about the same in scoring in ’01-02, but he improved his overall game.
He’s still got all of the skills that made scouts drool the first time they saw him; the great size, the nearly-effortless skating stride, the powerful shot, the quick release. However, he’s still lazy, which reminds me a lot of Todd Bertuzzi earlier on in Todd’s career. Thankfully, Bertuzzi has made good strides to shake that ‘unmotivated’ label in recent years, and is becoming a complete player.
The player I would most compare him to would probably be Bertuzzi. Not only are they similar players, (Umberger isn’t quite as physical) but they are following similar career paths. Now, this may be a good thing, but as it stands, I think Umberger should wake up, and start playing like we all know he can. He’s got natural talent to spare, and great size.
If he can learn to throw his body around, and give 100% a little more often; we may have another Bertuzzi (This time I mean it in a good way) on our hands.
3. Smith, Nathan.
Up a spot this time is ’00 first-rounder Nathan Smith. The centreman is deep in the midst of the WHL play-offs. The Broncos, who currently lead the always-tough Calgary Hitmen three games to two, will need Smith’s quiet leadership and defensive skills to help neutralize Brandon Segal and Tyler Beechey, two of the lead-Hitmen.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when the Canucks decided to take Smith over players such as Steve Ott, Martin Samuelsson, and even Justin Williams, who was considered to be quite the wild-card. As much as I hated the selection when it was made; I’m becoming more and more surprised with what Smith can do.
There really isn’t much Smith can’t do. He’s a good skater, makes crisp passes, plays a solid defensive game, and can pitch in on the penalty-kill, too.
If he can make the transition to the next level, Smith will be a very important player for the Canucks in the future. One can only hope he’ll fare a bit better than his older brother, Jarrett. (I’m not comparing the two.)
4. Vydareny, Rene.
Hopping up a spot this time around is Rene Vydareny. It seems to me as if he’s finally settling down in Manitoba, as his stats are improving all across the board.
He’s still got excellent offensive skills, and skates exceptionally well. His defensive play still leaves a lot to be desired, especially when he’s caught up the ice. Vydareny makes a good first-pass out of the zone, and has a strong skating stride to re-join the play after the pass.
However, the biggest knock on him will continue to be that he simply doesn’t care about defense. If he weren’t a defenseman, some people would occasionally mistake him for a forward.
That said, however, Vydareny has the kind of talent that makes scouts drool; and the kind of hockey sense that makes coaches want to stick a power drill in their ear.
On potential alone, he’s number four.
5. Auld, Alex.
Auld has fallen two spots this time around not because of his own play, but because the solid play of Vydareny and Smith has pushed him down.
The tall, lanky goaltender made his NHL debut this season, backstopping the Canucks to a win over Dallas. He hung around for a few more days, and when Cloutier was healthy again; he was re-dispatched to the Moose.
Auld was recently, along with Alfie Michaud, named to the Moose’ play-off roster. I’m not sure whether or not he’s the #1; but I do question the Moose’ reasoning for placing Michaud above seasoned AHL play-off veteran Martin Brochu. Gutsy call by Smyl and Carlyle to go with two inexperienced ‘tenders. If nothing else, Auld will gain more valuable experience.
He started the year in the ECHL, as the Moose already had two perfectly serviceable goaltenders in Alfie Michaud and Eric Fichaud on staff. With Fichaud’s retirement, and the crashing-and-burning of Martin Brochu in the NHL; Auld stepped into the Moose line-up, and since, hasn’t really looked back.
He’s got good technique, good reflexes, and a relitavely good glove-hand. His great size (6’4″) helps him cover most of the net, even when down on his knees. While I don’t think he’ll ever be a top-five goaltender in the NHL, the potential is definitely there for a starter. And for a second and third round picks; Brian Burke wants to get his money’s worth.
6. Reid, Brandon
Up one spot from my previous ranking (Yes, I know.) is speedy Quebecois centre Brandon Reid. Reid is finishing his first pro season well. After being stapled to the bench at the beginning of the season by coach Smyl, Reid has rebounded nicely.
For a smaller player, who is just adjusting to his first year in the pros, Reid has done a good job in solidifying his future as a professional player. He’s put up respectable totals of sixteen goals, seventeen assists, and thirty-three points. However, with guys like Reid, you have to eventually ask yourself: ‘Are we just going in circles?’ What I mean by this is: Is he another Steve Kariya? Only time will either confirm or deny my suspicion; but until then, Reid’s play and levelheadedness has impressed me.
I’ll admit that my giddy assumption that he’d be a number-one centre for the Moose this season was about as close to hitting the mark as a blind archer; but, with some hard work in bulking himself up (He can’t really do much about his lack of size.) in the off-season might help Reid contend for a top-line job at either centre, or on the wing.
7. Gladskikh, Evgeny
Possibly the biggest steal the Canucks have had (I don’t want to jinx him, hence the word possibly) from the depths of Russia since Igor Larionov, (Bure is left out here because of questions about his eligibility.) Evgeny Gladskikh rockets up two places in this ranking to lucky number seven.
The Russian left-winger is a strong skater, but not overly speedy, he’s an excellent stick-handler, and has a bullet wrist-shot which often finds the top corner of an opponent’s net. He has developed well in the Mettalurg system, and is learning to become more apt defensively; which was already a strong skill of his.
I hope he can come over next season, but most experts are saying that he’ll spend at least one more season in the Russian Superleague before attempting to make the jump to the NHL, or even the AHL. Wait and see.
Special Thanks To: RussianProspects.com for aiding my search for information on Gladskikh.
8. Barrett, Nathan.
Before I get ripped for this selection, anyone who leads a league in scoring, regardless of age, should be in the top ten of a prospect list. That doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that I like Barrett, but he deserves to be higher.
The WHL’s leading scorer in 2001-02, Nathan Barrett helped lead the Lethbridge Hurricanes back to the play-offs for the second straight season. He teamed with Detroit pick Tomas Kopecky and former Vancouver Giant Jeremy Jackson to provide a lot of fire-power for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, they were wiped out in four games by the powerful Red Deer Rebels.
This, of course, beckons the question: Should the Canucks bite the bullet and sign Barrett? This is my opinion: Absolutely not. A guy in his overage year is expected to have a huge season, that’s why many players go back; to have one last hurrah as a dominant hockey player, before sinking into the depths of the minors. Now, I know that might sound a little unfair, but, think of it this way: Vancouver’s first-round selection in ’00 was Nathan Smith; who will have a larger impact on the Canucks’ future: Smith, or Barrett? That I’ll leave up to you. My answer is obviously Smith. He’s done a lot to improve his game over his time in the WHL since being drafted. He deserves first-round money. Barrett was drafted as a 19-year-old, had a big year as an overager, and now wants first-round money.
My advice to Barrett is the following: You’re a good player, but you’re also an overage player; take what you can get.
9. Bell, Thatcher.
If it weren’t for his five-goal performance against Halifax on March 26, Bell would be a lot lower on the depth chart. As I mentioned in my last article, he’s probably not going to be signed by the Canucks when the time rolls around just before the draft, but he’s putting on a good show so far. Bell has eight goals, and four assists in five games thus far, with Rimouski down three games to two to the Mooseheads.
There really isn’t much to say about Bell this season, besides the fact that he’s been injured early, and injured often. When he has played, he’s added another scoring threat to the already potent Rimouski line-up.
He’s very fragile, and will also need to learn some new moves, if he wants to conquer AHL defensemen. I’d only reccommend the Canucks sign him if he was willing to go for a bargain-basement price, as all of his injuries have made him a very much unknown quantity. He’s another guy that Canuck fans will have to put on a wait-and-see basis.
10. Komarniski, Zenith.
In most likely his final ranking as a Canuck prospect, Zenith Komarniski cracks the top-ten. A former top junior prospect, Komarniski still has yet to become the dominating defensemen the Canucks had in mind when they selected him with the 75th pick in ’96.
If nothing else, the man who shares a name with a TV company has matured into a leader on the Moose blueline. The one element still missing from his game, however, has been the offensive talent, which he displayed an abundance of in junior. It seems to have vanished. And, without that offensive flare, his chances of becoming an NHL-regular are vanishing, as well.
He’s still a smooth-skater, has a powerful shot from the point, and is getting better defensively by the day. He’ll be an important cog in the Moose’ machine in the play-offs.
11. Brown, Mike.
A frequent healthy-scratch for the Canucks, “enforcer” Mike Brown has done pretty much nothing since his call-up. But, hey, if you can get by doing nothing; more power to you!
To the best of my knowledge, Brown really hasn’t improved any particular skill in his set this season. His skating is still below average, his hands are still non-existant, although a lack of icetime anywhere near the net might be to blame for that. His fights have been okay, definitely nothing to sway me from thinking he’ll be an average goon, but all of these skills could improve with the aid of Father Time.
Even though he’s not playing, Brown is still taking a roster spot away from someone who has played well enough to deserve it. Players like him are being weeded out of the NHL, so he’d better develop his skills, and quick.
12. King, Jason.
Stagnating this time around is Jason King of the Halifax Mooseheads. The sniper, who scored 63 (!) goals this season, in his overage year, was picked late by the Canucks in ’01. He’ll probably (I hope, anyway) be signed by the Canucks before camp. Mp>
King, who is somewhat of a late-bloomer, tore up the Q this season, with the Mooseheads, who are one of the more dangerous offensive teams in the already high-scoring Quebec league. He’s got good size, and a bit of speed to burn, which are good things to have if you’re anyone; but are especially useful if you’re a sniper like King.
He’s also a good passer, solid on the power-play, and has decent hockey-sense. I think that if the Canucks choose to sign him, he’ll spend a bit of time in the ECHL, getting acclimatized to non-QMJHL hockey, which is often a shellshock for players coming out of that league. Nowhere to go but up.
13. Morrison, Justin
The big winger from L.A. broke into the pro ranks this season after a four-year tour of duty with Colorado College. Many experts expected Morrison to struggle through his rookie year of pro, and they were mostly right.
He’s put up respectable numbers of nine goals, eight assists, and seventeen points in his freshman campaign with the Moose. With the likely influx of new blood next season, Morrison had better get in gear if he wants to make the Moose again next season.
14. Branham, Tim
Here’s a guy that probably couldn’t have hoped for a worse season than he had in ’01-02. Branham was all ready to have a solid overage year in the OHL, when Fedor Tjutin, a prospect for the NY Rangers decided to come to North America. Tjutin immediately supplanted Branham in nearly every offensive situation, and doing a fantastic job at it.
Tim is another guy that I wouldn’t expect Burke to go hard after. I’m just going to assume that he’ll throw a meager offer at Branham, and when you’ve had a season like he’s had, you shouldn’t expect more than table scraps, anyway. Aside from possibly Bryan Allen not making the team full-time; Branham’s lousy season was the biggest disappointment for me out of all the Canuck prospects this year. I hope he signs, though.
15. Fedorov, Fedor
The final ranked prospect of my final ranking before the end of the year is Fedorov. I’ll tell you, he’s here on potential alone, most definitely not production, as he’s gone for the year, and has been for several months now. He’s got good tools, and could probably be a solid third or fourth liner for the Canucks in the future, which is about all we can hope for right now.
Fedor’s got good speed, a hard shot, and good determination. However, he’s one of many who will need to work very hard to maintain the roster spot given to him before he was injured. The next two years will determine whether or not this pick was a horrible blunder, or a success.
Well, friends, that’s it for this report. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
For Hockey’s Future.com,
I’m Kirk Pedersen.
Happy Easter to You and Yours from HF Vancouver.