Canucks Top Ten

By Kirk Pedersen

Holding steady at number one once again is Bryan Allen. There are very few surefire NHL prospects currently in the Canuck system currently, and Allen is the jewel of that now-meager crown.

Why is he #1?

Allen is the top prospect because he can provide something right now which the Canucks are in desperate need of. He’s a physical defenseman who usually thinks defense-first; which is a good attribute to have if your partner is going to be Ed Jovanovski, or Brent Sopel.

The 1998 first-round selection is slowly inching closer to becoming an impact player at the NHL-level. As soon as he is able to iron out all the kinks in his game, Allen will be given regular NHL minutes; which were something he was unable to get last season.

With the departure of UFA Scott Lachance to Columbus, Allen will all but be handed a spot on the Canuck blueline in the fall. That said, if he’s only going to play ten minutes per game, otherwise he should be in the minor leagues, getting more action. Sooner, rather than later, Allen will be ready. He represents the best shot Burke has at upgrading his defense from within.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 1.
Possible Future Upside: Big, physical, top-four defenseman.
Downside: Still might not be ready for 15-20 minutes per game.

A surprise enters the top three this time around, as we welcome 2002 second-round selection Kirill Koltsov to the mix. This enigmatic Russian blueliner has had his ups and downs the past two seasons, and slipped into the middle of round two, where he was happily snapped-up by the Canucks.

What has he done to deserve such an honour?

Very few young defense prospects in pro hockey today have the raw potential that this kid possesses. He’s a strong skater who has good speed and nice balance. Vancouver has the makings of a steal with this pick just simply because he slipped so far, especially considering the overall talent level of the draft.

Offensively, Koltsov is a dynamic young blueliner. He’s got great moves, and is an excellent puck-handling defenseman; which is something not too many Canuck defensive prospects boast of on their resumes. He’s got a good shot, and is a smooth passer. He’s an aggressive player for someone his size; which is a plus.

He’s not perfect, though. Koltsov has a real problem with discipline; often taking stupid penalties are innopportune times. His supposed attitude problems will need to be put on the back-burner if he wants to even get a look from the Canucks. Like several young players, he’d be an absolute beast if he added some extra muscle to his frame.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 2.
Possible Future Upside: Power-play quarterbacking #3-5 D-man.
Downside: Attitude problems and lack of discipline might keep that from becoming reality.

Slipping down a spot to three is 2001 first-round selection R.J. Umberger. The Ohio State forward by all accounts should’ve dropped further, but he currently represents the best potential offensive hope for the Canucks in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.

#3? What?

Of all the Canucks’ forward prospects, Umberger is the most likely to be a major offensive contributor at the NHL level; should he decide to get his act together.

On the offensive side, he’s got all the tools needed to be a solid scorer in this league. A big, smooth-moving centreman who would probably be better suited to the wing; Umberger has great hands for someone his size. R.J. is a good passer, with a hard shot that he does a good job of keeping low; and has a big body, which he occasionally uses to block the view of opposing goalies.

Like everyone, though; Umberger has his flaws. Much like a young Todd Bertuzzi, he doesn’t always play to his potential, and has been accused of taking shifts, and even games, off. For someone of his size, he should hit more often. Once he decides he wants to play in the NHL, he’ll be set.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 3.
Possible Future Upside: Top-six forward with offensive ability and size.
Downside: Needs to start caring more.

Holding steady at number four is potential-hog Rene Vydareny. The Slovak D-man had a growing season with Manitoba; and is slowly rounding into form as one of the Canucks’ better young prospects. He’ll definitely be in Manitoba next season for his third pro season. (second full)

He’s your #4 Because…?

Like Umberger, Vydareny is here on potential alone. Let’s hope he continues to move the heavy boulder that is potential, across the sea of production.

Although still very raw, Rene might have the makings of a power-play point-man. He’s a gifted skater who carries the puck well. Vydareny has a good shot from the point, and decent overall offensive awareness.

His biggest downside is that he often fails to pay attention to the defensive side of the game. As a package, his skills are (still) quite raw, and he often looks like he doesn’t know what to do with himself out on the ice. He’s not physical, and needs to get a much better understanding of the intracies of the defensive game before Rene is looked at for a promotion.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 4.
Possible Future Upside: Offensive defenseman.
Downside: Poor defensive play and lack of defensive zone awareness.

Slipping down to number five is 2000 first-round selection Nathan Smith. With all the new additions to the list, a player who provides little flare like Smith might be forgotten. Signed at the last minute in 2002, he will be stepping in to the Moose line-up next season, and can hopefully have the impact Canuck fans have been waiting for from the ‘pick’ portion of the Bure deal.

What Smith brings to the table is fairly simple: He’s an elegantly-skating centreman who projects to be a third-liner in the NHL. In his four seasons with Swift Current, Smith went from a highly-touted bantam pick to one of the league’s top two-way performers. His offensive game is refined for a player his age; with good passing skills, a decent shot, and solid hockey sense. The 20-year-old is a sound defensive player who can even play physically at times.

There aren’t too many black marks in Smith’s overall game; but the biggest is that he won’t be an offensive contributor at the NHL-level. While this doesn’t worry too many, fans would have rather seen the Canucks take a higher-risk, higher-reward player with this pick. The jury is still out on Smith.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 5.
Possible Future Upside: Third-line checking centre.
Downside: None really. He just might underwhelm fans. Don’t expect an offensive dynamo just because he was a first-round selection.

Staying put at sixth is mighty-mite Brandon Reid. The small centreman had a productive first season in the pros. Reid’s season didn’t really get started until after the new year; when coach Smyl decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to allow the kid to play. He finished the season with forty total points (including play-offs) in sixty-seven total games. Not too shabby for someone considered by some to be too small for even the AHL game.

Offense is where Reid really shines. He’s got fantastic wheels; which were among the best in the entire AHL as a rook. As demonstrated in his tenure in the QMJHL, Reid has great hands and a nose for the net. After being given one season to get used to the AHL, he should improve a great deal next season.

His biggest weakness is something he cannot prevent; that being his lack of size. As a result, he has to be somewhat of a perimeter player. Look for his numbers to improve next season as he will have a whole season under his belt.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 6.
Possible Future Upside: If all goes well, possibly on the second or third line.
Downside: Lack of size will probably relegate him to checking-line duty.

Down a couple of spots since my last rankings, goaltender Alex Auld is at number seven. The tall, lanky goaltender has just finished his first pro season. After an injury in camp, Auld missed the first couple months of the season; stagnating his development. Auld began the season with Columbia of the ECHL, posting good numbers in limited action before being promoted to the Moose, where he spent most of the season. However, he proved that he was not ready for a starting job at the age of 21; so minor-league vets Alfie Michaud and Martin Brochu took over.

Auld is a tall goaltender who, when he stands up, can cover most of the net with his frame. He does a good job of staying square to a shooter, and is rarely caught out of position. He handles most shots quite well, but is often beaten low.

One thing he could do to improve his overall game is possibly learn to read the play better; which comes with more experience. One other tiny thing he could also stand to improve upon is his play in close; he is often beaten high.

Auld will be the starter for Manitoba next season; this being the largest responsibility he’s had to undertake in his hockey life. Martin Brochu and Alfie Michaud have been released and Tyler Moss has been signed. Moss will be used as the back-up. This is Auld’s chance to prove that the faith instilled in him by Canuck brass was worth it.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 7.
Possible Future Upside: #1 Goaltender.
Downside: He’s not ready yet. Could step in as the back-up in a season or two.

Rumbling, fumbling, and stumbling down to number eight is Evgeny Gladskikh. This Russian winger was expertly dug out of one of the deepest parts of Russia by scout Sergei Chibisov.

Gladskikh has a lot going for him. This kid is a smooth-skater with good acceleration and balance. Offensively, he’s an excellent stickhandler who has shifty moves and an excellent shot. On defense, he’s solid, and does a good job covering players in the zone.

There aren’t many flaws in his game; but if he had an offensive explosion in the Super League next season, he’d be in for a big payday from the Canucks; a club that usually never overpays for anyone. He still needs another season in Russia before he’ll be ready for NHL competition; but when that happens, you might be surprised with what you see. His skill set is similar to that of Artem Chubarov; but Yevgeny probably has better offensive awareness.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 8.
Possible Future Upside: Second or third-line winger.
Downside: Won’t be in North America next season.

Stepping in at number nine is Vancouver’s “other” second-round selection in 2002, Denis Grot. The Russian defenseman, who will likely play in the Superleague next season with Lokomotiv before taking a shot across the pond in North America.

Similar to a lot of players in the Canuck system, Grot is a solid all-around player with few major weaknesses. He’s a good skater with a smooth and fluid stride; with good balance and nice speed. Offensively, Grot is an intelligent player who is always looking up the ice for an open man; not to mention the fact that he’s got a good shot. He’s not overly physical, but Denis will easily get the job done at the NHL-level once he adds some more muscle.

Grot is a player with few overall weaknesses, but one thing the Canucks should probably watch out for with him is the fact that he missed time last season with some back injuries; and nothing can drop a player in a draft like a bad back; especially at such a young age. That said, Lokomotiv’s doctors will take care of it next season if the ailments return. Grot’s overall upside might not be too great, either; he likely projects to about a #4-6 defenseman with the Canucks in the future.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 9.
Possible Future Upside: #3-6 two-way Defenseman.
Downside: Back injuries are a cause for worry if they re-appear next season.

Last, but definitely not least in my top ten ranking is another 2002 draftee of the Canucks; he being smurf-esque goaltender Lukas Mensator. A small, butterfly-style goaltender who has drawn comparisons to Arturs Irbe, Mensator will (hopefully) be coming over to North America to play for the Ottawa ’67’s next season.

There’s a lot to like about this youngster. He’s got very quick reflexes and is an acrobatic goaltender, which is definitely exciting to watch. Mensator also has a fast recovery-time, which will only benefit him in the long-run. Despite his lack of size, he’s tough to beat up high, as he’s got an excellent glove-hand.

Mensator isn’t very big at all, barely reaching 5’8″. Should he decide to come over to North America for this coming season, the smaller ice surface will take some getting used to; but Vancouver will not rush him along. His playing of rebounds could also stand to improve a bit.

Of the three goaltenders Vancouver selected in the ’02 draft, Mensator has some serious potential; but small goaltenders are dime a dozen.

HF 2002-03 Preliminary Ranking: 10.
Possible Future Upside: #1 Goaltender.
Downside: Small