2002-03 season previews: Prospects No. 1-5

By Kirk Pedersen

A preview of #1 ranked prospect (Bryan Allen), all the way to my #5 (Nathan Smith).

Since getting his feet mildly wet with the Canucks in the past two seasons, Bryan Allen has been hungrier than ever to try and prove himself worthy of a full-time spot with the Canucks. This big, rugged, OHL-grad knows that he will not just be handed a spot; and with the departure of Scott Lachance, that job could be his.

As far as skills go, Allen is a mortal lock to make the Canucks. At 6’4″ and well over 220 pounds, he’s a good bet to be a Brendan Witt-esque bruiser. The key element of his game is the imposing physical presence he provides in the defensive zone. He’s a fearsome hitter who takes the body with authority, while still staying in the play. He’s very strong, and easily pushes opposing skaters to the outside with that strength; which was the attribute of his that impressed me the most during his previous Canuck trials; and should he continue to show it, he’s a shoe-in.

Why should he make the club?

With Murray Baron slowing down considerably over the past season-and-a-half, the time for Allen is now. With Jovanovski, Ohlund, and to a lesser extent Sopel carrying the offensive load from the back-end this season, Bryan could be exactly what the Canucks need. A solid, physical, stay-at-home defenseman who knows his limitations and plays within them. He has nothing more to learn in the AHL, and will be a valued member of the Canucks this season.

Kirill Koltsov is the number two prospect, and disappointingly, he will spend this season over in Russia.

This speedy defenseman has just about the entire package. An incredible combination of great wheels, good offensive instincts, and, despite his size, a good physical presence.

The perfect player, right? Wrong. The enigmatic Russian is an undisciplined player who often takes dumb penalties. His attitude in the past has also been called into question. That said, Koltsov might be an integral part of the Canucks future on defense. If he wants to be.

He will spend this season back in Russia with Avangard Omsk, where he will likely finish up his career in Russia for the time being. He could arrive in Vancouver or Manitoba in time for 2003-04.

Number three prospect R.J. Umberger will not be joining the Canucks at any level this season. This big centreman is a lock to lead the Ohio State Buckeyes in at least a few offensive categories this season. He’s got good size and strength, and is a smooth skater for someone that tall.

However, Umberger is not a solid defensive player, and this is a part of his game that needs work. His zone coverage is adequate; but still not up to par for someone who projects to be a decent two-way performer.

Going in to what could be his final season of major college hockey, Umberger is on the verge of dominating this level. His teammates, including Scott May and David Steckel, should pick up some more slack this season, and allow the Pittsburgh native to pick up his own game.

After a great showing in rookie camp, and later training camp, Rene Vydareny has spent the month of September turning heads throughout the Canuck organization.

The smooth-skating Slovak displayed a very high skill-level during both camps and will definitely get some consideration if some injuries are to occur on the roster. His offensive skills are unquestioned. The way he leads a rush up the ice is definitely something to watch; his excellent vision of the ice allows him to make tape-to-tape passes on the fly. His shot isn’t bad, either; Vydareny does his best to keep it low, and accurate.

However, after spending his days as a youth playing forward, Vydareny’s defensive game still needs a little bit of polish. His defensive zone coverage isn’t yet up to par for an NHL defenseman, so he will need to work on that before being a force in not only the NHL, but the AHL, as well. The youngster is not a physical defenseman, but he could stand to get a little bit stronger so he can push players to the outside better.

Vydareny will likely be on call from the beginning to the end of this season for the Canucks. After his excellent camp, his stock is on the rise. Still, he is very raw, and extra time in the minors will do nothing but help.

Checking in at number five is everyone’s favorite target, Nathan Smith. After being sent to the minor-league camp, he should have some motivation to succeed; although it was never in doubt that he would eventually be sent there.

This season in Manitoba, the ’00 first-round selection will likely be eased into an important role. However, with Smith’s strong skating ability and above-average offensive instincts, it shouldn’t be long before he’s able to partake in that larger role. Smith is also an excellent checker, who does a great job of hounding his man.

There really isn’t much of a problem with Smith, he does a lot of things well; but a lot of fans will be underwhelmed by him. He does not have a single facet in the game that he dominates in. He’s not an imposing physical presence, doesn’t have great strength, and won’t be an offensive dynamo; but what Smith will be is a good, checking line centreman.

He will spend at least the next season in Winnipeg, with the possibility of a promotion in the event of a trade. He hasn’t played well enough to garner a spot yet, and the Canucks have several players who are of similar styles in the organization. He’s in a numbers game, and will need to wait.

All in all, the Canucks’ top-five look pretty solid for this season. Of them all, Bryan Allen is easily the most advanced prospect, and he is more or less assured a spot on the club come opening night.