The Weekly Dose: Prospect surprises and disappointments

By Kirk Pedersen

Some Canucks prospects have risen to their new challenges, while others have bit the dust and fallen behind. Below are the Canuck prospects and a dissection of their seasons to this point.

One youngster who will be moving up sooner, rather than later is the enigmatic Kirill Koltsov. By all accounts, Koltsov has played like someone who had something to prove this season with his Russian club team, Avangard Omsk. Once again, he is showing the skills and desire which made him a hotly sought-after prospect in the months leading up to the 2001 draft; of course before his failure to declare eligibility.

Two goals and eight points might not be too impressive in many leagues, but it’s a cause for rejoicing for many Canuck prospect watchers; as one of the Canucks’ major prospects is making a push in the right direction. For those of you just joining us, Koltsov was a second-round selection by the Canucks this past June, and has really began to get his act together since being drafted. His skating, which was always a strong point in his game, is as good as ever; with blazing speed, and excellent balance. His other offensive skills, including his shot, are also on the uprising, as, according to most observers, he has looked more confident with the puck, and is making better decisions.

Defensively, Koltsov has been slowly improving, but at times still looks like another Sandis Ozolinsh out there. He’s not big enough to be a physical presence or intimidator on the ice, but Koltsov could still develop into a competent defensive player; he’s only nineteen years old. <p>

Things could very well change between now and the end of the Russian season, but with the mediocre starts of other Canuck prospects, Koltsov stands out so far.

One guy who seems to be coming into his own this season is 2001 first-rounder R.J. Umberger. The 20-year-old Ohio State U. Buckeye has ten points in nine games this season, which might not be saying too much, but his overall game has improved a great deal, and he’s begun to take more of a leadership role in his junior season. OSU is climbing up the rankings slowly but surely, and the Canucks’ draftee looks to be a part of that ascension.

Hopefully, if everything goes to plan, Umberger will suit-up for the Moose next season. His skills haven’t changed; as he could be the big, power centreman whom the Canucks desperately need right now. Almost a shame he’s not two or three years older, isn’t it? Being a strong skater with good overall mobility and great hands will definitely aid this young Pittsburgh-native wherever he goes.

Developing that physical killer-instinct is a must. Not all bigger players are going to be physical behemoths, but if he could fill this need, Umberger could be the best Canuck draftee in recent memory. All of the raw skills are there, it’s just that the production has yet to catch up with them.

Brandon Reid is beginning to blossom this season with increased icetime and responsibility from Coach Smyl and the Moose organization. He currently stands in second place in Moose scoring, trailing only surprising fourth-year man Ryan Ready. With Steve Kariya overseas playing in the Deutschland Cup, Reid can easily emerge as the Moose’s top offensive threat this season.

The main thing which has impressed me about Reid this season was that he came to camp like a man on a mission. He was determined not to be buried on the improving Moose depth chart. Even though this is just the beginning of the season, his performance to date makes one wonder how effective he could be if given an NHL opportunity.

With the new obstruction regulations installed in the NHL, smaller players like this little Quebecois C/W will have an easier time fighting through checking and getting more points. Case in point: Anaheim winger Stanislav Chistov. While the two players aren’t comparable in terms of skill level, both are smallish players with good wheels who can and will be more productive now that the era of the clutch-and-grab is drawing curtains.

There really isn’t any one overly-remarkable facet of Ryan Ready’s game, but his numbers this season have been nothing short of excellent to date. Going into this season, most Moose fans would’ve been happy with a repeat performance from Ready, who had racked up more than twenty goals and fifty points in the previous year.

A born leader, Ready is one of the assistant captains for the Moose, at the tender age of 24. A strong, two-way forward, Ready is one of those guys who will need to rely on a strong work-ethic to make the NHL full-time. His skills are pretty average across the board, with decent skating, average puck skills, and above-average defensive skill. With several of the Canucks’ third-and-fourth line forwards (Cooke, Chubarov, Letowski, Linden, Langdon) struggling to make an impact so far this season, there may be room for Ready on the Canuck roster sooner, rather than later.

While his NHL-potential may be that of a fourth-line plugger, Ready is a guy who could provide hard work an energy to just about any club this or next season. Possibly a fair NHL comparison would be to former Calgary Flame and current Nashville Predator winger Clarke Wilm; but with more offensive flair.

Tomas Mojzis, the Czech defenseman, is in his final season of junior as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Picked up by the Canucks in exchange for (now) Baby-Leafs scoring leader and Canuck washout Brad Leeb, the young Defenseman wasted no time in making his mark on the Canuck organization.

After a solid rookie camp and training camp, Mojzis was sent back to Seattle, where he continues to play currently. A tall, lanky, smooth-skating defenseman, Mojzis really has yet to even scratch the surface of his potential; be that in the NHL or otherwise. Offense appears to be his forte, as he’s a good puck-carrier who spots teammates well with his passes. He’s an intelligent player who is not often out-foxed by the opposition. Defensively, Mojzis could stand to be a bit more physical and put better use to his size, but this can be adjusted with time.

Why the Canucks haven’t tendered an offer to Mojzis yet is curious. Whether or not he has NHL-potential will be determined within the next season or two.

Two players have been disappointing so far this season among Canuck prospects; and the big one, sticking out like a sore thumb is 2000 first-round pick Nathan Smith.

If was known that Smith wasn’t going to be a big scorer in the pros, but a mere two points so far this season is laughable for someone of his talent. While it’s still far too early to pass judgement on Smith’s season so early, he’s not off to a sterling start with new coach Stan Smyl, who has elected to sit him a couple of times; much like what happened with Brandon Reid last season early on.

Being glued to the bench won’t help the development of any player; much less a former first-round selection. To get a little more ice time, perhaps it may be in Smith’s best interest to take a demotion to the club’s ECHL affiliate in Columbia, SC. Other prospects down there such as Justin Morrison, are prospering a great deal under that system, and it’d be a clever way to get the youngster some quality ice time, and build his confidence back up, as he’s buried on a veteran-laden Moose club.

After having an excellent training camp, many observers had Rene Vydareny pegged as a future cornerstone for the Canuck defense. However, so far, those plans have not come to fruition.

The basic skills are still there: a beautiful skater with great balance and lots of jam; good offensive skills, including a crisp first-pass, and usually-intelligent playmaking decisions. Defensively, his -12 rating thus far should tell you all you need to know. He’s regressed defensively, often looking out of position and uncomfortable in certain situations, which spells trouble if he makes it to the NHL.

Vydareny is a fantastic prospect, and for the third year in a row, he’s off to a sluggish start. Perhaps another demotion to the ECHL is likely? He recovered last season, and could again this season.