Greetings, my friends; and welcome to the first of a two-part epic miniseries (You know, a lot like ‘Trailer Park Boys’) of Canuck prospect season wrap-ups!
This season was one of forward progress, backward-progress, injuries, and advancement for many Canuck prospects. The prospect who made the most progress this season was centreman Artem Chubarov.
After spending much of the season as the #2 prospect on the HF Vancouver depth chart, your lazy editor decided to promote him to the ‘graduated’ section of the page. The defensively-minded centreman recieved a lot of praise in his tenure with the Canucks/Wings series remarked that Chub was ‘the best Canuck on the ice’. High praise, indeed.
His skill-set consists of the following: decent size, which at times he’s not afraid to use; but he’s not a very physical player at all. Chubarov has good skating talent; a smooth stride, and average speed. His puck-skills still need a bit of work, though. His stickhandling still needs work; as he often loses the puck when he gets up to full speed; but this can be corrected with some hard work. Speaking of hard work, Chubarov is one of the hardest-working Canucks on the ice; something that coach Crawford no-doubt enjoys watching.
Okay, so my future prediction for sixty-points for Chubarov in the future was about as reliable as SCUD missile; but don’t let that sour you on his current, and future value to the Canucks. His defensive skills are definitely near the top of the Canuck roster, and they will be what keeps him at the NHL-level for years to come. His target for points should be around thirty per season; that, coupled with his fine skill on the defensive side of the ice will make him invaluable to the Canucks in a third-or-fourth line mode.
For all of the forward momentum Artem made this season, in making the club full-time; in providing some offensive spark when he could; in playing sound defensively; in taking a spot away from Harold Druken (for the time being); he wins the very prestigious, and highly sought-after Don Lever Award for Best Improvement in 2001-02 prospects. Even though he was moved to the ‘graduated’ list, Artem deserves this award. Congratulations, Mr. Chubarov.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, the review shall begin.
This season was supposed to be a big one for Bryan Allen. Not a ‘big’ season as in fifty goals of one-hundred points, but a ‘big’ season as in ‘I’m going to make the NHL full-time this time.’ Unfortunately, that hasn’t panned out just yet. The big defenseman had a good season in Manitoba, when he made improvements in his overall game. His zone coverage is better, he’s a trifle quicker; and his offensive game is slowly, but surely, getting a little better. He’ll never be an offensive player, but his game could someday be at the calibre of a Derian Hatcher, with fewer points, but better offensive instincts.
2001 first-round pick R.J. Umberger had a forgettable season in ’01-02. The Pittsburgh native’s statistics slipped a bit from his first season as a Buckeye; indicating that either he was bored with college hockey, or that opponents were beginning to figure him out. Personally, I’m hoping that it is the former rather than the latter. The big centreman still has yet to really dominate at any level; and he still hasn’t begun to bang and crash like most players with his excellent physical crudentials do. At 20, Umberger is reaching a crossroads; should he stay for the duration of his college career, (There were rumblings last season that he was going to jump ship and go to the WHL.) or will he go pro now? He’s still very much a project for the Canucks, but Umberger could probably quit school (Not that I’m ever going to encourage someone to do that.) and step right into the Manitoba line-up. Before he makes any type of impact at all, Umberger will need to work harder out on the ice, and begin to use his physical gifts to his advantage. He’s ranked this high on potential alone, not production. This next season, whether he stays in college or goes pro, will be a very important one for him.
One player who was playing for a contract this season was Nathan Smith. A first-rounder in 2000, Smith was injured early on this season with Swift Current of the WHL, and never really rebounded. Offense-wise, his scoring stayed about the same as ’00-01, but in fewer games. The injury destroyed any chance Smith would’ve had at any major WHL awards. Smith is still unisigned, and the Canucks have less than two weeks to tender him a suitable offer, or he will go back into the draft, likely going much lower than his original position.
If it were up to me, Smith would definitely be signed. His offensive prowess more than likely won’t translate to the NHL or possibly even the AHL level, but he’s a great skater; a good face-off man; and a very-compitent defensive centreman. In addition to all of this, Brian Burke is far too stubborn to admit he’s made a mistake on a draft pick a mere two years after drafting him, much less one that he obtained in the infamous Pavel Bure deal. Smith is a good player; nothing earth-shattering or outcome-changing, but he will be a decent player, and someone the Canucks should sign.
At position number four, defenseman Rene Vydareny holds steady. The enigmatic Slovak had a learning season in 2001-02. By this I mean that the youngster began to learn the intracies of the defensive game. An offensive blueliner by trade, Rene still needs to become a lot more proficient defensively before he’s considered for a call-up at any time. He multiplied his point total in ’00-01 by fourteen this past season. (Although one point isn’t hard to increase upon.) Despite his dilligent improvements on the defensive side, he still needs a ton of work over there. His offensive game is excellent, but his defensive shortcomings will always keep him from getting enough icetime to put up the points. If Vydareny can become one of the top-three with the Moose next season, look for some exponential improvements from the young defenseman. Otherwise, with his very young age, he’s bound to improve sooner or later.
In his first professional season, Alex Auld missed a good portion of time with an ankle injury, which seemed to have sent his development in a backward direction. The big goaltender was acquired at a rather steep (2nd in ’01, 3rd in ’02) price, and so far, hasn’t been worth the price of admission. After getting over his injury, Auld was dispatched to Columbia of the ECHL for a few games, and after playing very well down there, he was promoted to the Moose. Later on, he had one (very stellar) start with the Canucks, versus their Western Conference counterpart, the Dallas Stars. In his time in Manitoba, Auld was named to the play-off roster, and despite not playing, he gained some play-off experience. At the beginning of this season, I’d figured that Auld could challenge for a back-up spot with the Canucks. Now, however; it seems as if he’s going to take a couple of seasons.
Brandon Reid had a solid debut season as a professional. The speedy centreman became a key member of the Moose’ play-off run down the stretch; developing some consistency to go with the speedy swagger he had in junior. The diminutive young forward was nailed to the bench for the first month of the season; which was the same fate that many players under-25 suffered under coach Smyl. Once he was given a fair chance to produce, however; Reid shone. Next season, he may be given a real shot to be a top producer with the Moose; if Smyl decides he deserves the required icetime to reach that goal. Reid could be a major scorer at the AHL-level, but only time will tell if he can play in the NHL.
The final prospect I’m going to talk about is Russian left-winger Evgeny Gladskikh. Picked in the fourth round in ’01, from one of the deepest parts of Russia; very few expected to hear much from the Mettalurg forward this season. They were wrong; Gladskikh finished the season with eleven points, which was an improvement over last season’s total of eight; and improved his all-around game a great deal. “Evgeny has probably the best stickhandling skill I’ve seen in twenty years,” quipped one Russian observer. While he’s not the most offensively-talented guy on his club, Gladskikh could probably score forty or more points if given a full NHL schedule to work with. He’s a very strong skater, has excellent vision of the ice, and plays a sound defensive game. If you’re looking for a comparison of sorts, Artem Chubarov is a comparable player, but Gladskikh has better hands. Things are looking up for this youngster. I can’t wait to see him in camp; maybe ’03?
Well, my friends, that’s all for part one of my Canucks Prospects in Review article. See you next week with the conclusion.
For Hockey’s Future.com,
I’m Kirk Pedersen.