The Weekly Dose: The Hot Five

By Kirk Pedersen

No other Canuck prospect has matched the forward momentum of Kirill Koltsov. The Canucks’ first round pick in the 2002 draft, he has nine points (3g, 6a) in 24 games for Avangard Omsk this season. Not too shabby for a 19-year-old who fell into the depths of the second round because of a poor season the year before.

Koltsov’s skill-set is very similar to that of well-travelled defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh. A smooth, graceful skater with good speed, he can rely on this to get out of jams when caught pinching. His offensive skills are excellent, with a good first pass, an accurate wrist-shot and clever playmaking skills. Defensively, he could use a little bit of work, though. An aggressive player physically, Koltsov is prone to taking silly penalties if incited by an opponent, which can put his team at a disadvantage. Should he decide to add a bit of muscle to his 5’11”, 190 pound frame, becoming a more effective defensive defenseman isn’t out of the question, but he could stand to work on his play in his own end.

Tools-wise, the only Canuck prospect who can compete with Koltsov is Fedor Fedorov; both of whom are gliding up the rankings this month. The potential to be a top-4 NHL blueliner is there for Koltsov, and if his start with Avangard is any indication, he should have no difficulty settling into an NHL role.

Stepping up a spot to number two is 2001 first-rounder R.J. Umberger. Now in his junior campaign with Ohio State, the young Pittsburgh native is taking on a leadership role with the Buckeyes. After being drafted, Umberger has been developing a more complete game, and has been working on his flaws, rather than filling up the net.

At 6’2″ and over 200 pounds, Umberger will be a welcome presence on the Canuck roster someday; adding size and skill to the centre position. He’s a powerful, graceful skater, which is a bonus, considering his size. His offensive skills have never been called into question, as to many, he looks like a prototypical power forward, good size, above-average strength, and soft hands. Defensively, he’s pretty much average, but could make a decent penalty-killer someday. Getting more involved physically would definitely be a bonus and cement his status as a power forward, but that can be added later.

In a perfect world, Umberger could stay at Ohio State for one more season and complete his education, but the allure of pro hockey is strong. Expect R.J. to be under contract and playing for the Moose next season.

Sliding in at number three is Brandon Reid. The diminutive forward is beginning to show the immense offensive potential demonstrated when he was in junior. What a difference a year makes; at this time last season, Reid was rotting away on the Manitoba bench, not getting any solid ice-time, and feeling the dust collect on his shoulders.

Flash forward a year, and the speedy centreman is getting first-line minutes and power-play time for the Moose, who are looking like a lock for an AHL play-off spot. His offensive skills are quite impressive: a good shot, excellent wheels, smooth, crisp passer, and an intelligent playmaker. Defensively, Reid is surprisngly above average, with good awareness, and a never-give-up attitude; as well as being a good leader who prefers to lead by example.

Reid tops the list of my potential call-ups for the Canucks in ’02-03. He’s a hard-working, honest player who has deserved every single point he’s gotten since turning pro. Who knows, he may just provide some additional offensive spark for the club.

Making a leap to spot number four is Fedor Fedorov. Unranked and forgotten before camp, Fedorov has proven a lot of doubters (including myself) wrong. Making the Canucks out of camp is an accomplishment for any player, much less one who only had ten previous games of professional experience (not counting his UHL stint) going into camp. Fedorov had a fantastic camp and his stock rose.

In his brief stint with the Canucks, you could see how good Fedor could be. He’s a very flashy, powerful skater with good speed, a solid offensive player with good hands, and above-average hockey sense. Defensively, a bit more effort is required on his behalf. His own-zone coverage is below-average, and he often looks lost in the defensive zone, just gliding around.

But all Fedorovs are not created equal. With as much potential as he’s got, his ceiling appears to be that of a second-or-third-line forward.

The final player in The Weekly Dose’s Hot-Five is goaltender Alex Auld. The 21-year-old is slowly rounding into an above-average AHL goaltender for the Moose. Splitting time with free-agent signee Tyler Moss, Auld has been recieving advice from the vet on positioning, and it appears to have paid off.

A very tall goalie at 6’4″, Auld uses his size to his advantage quite well. In both a Kirk McLean-esque stand-up technique or a butterfly style, Auld is an effective ‘keeper because of his height. He does a good job of challenging shooters, giving them even less to see over his shoulders. He handles most lower shots very well, and still has a decent glove-hand. He’s pretty much average across the board, with few hiccups in his skillset.

It’s too early to tell if Auld will be able to handle the rigors of a full-time starting job in the NHL, but he’s looked solid at times, and average at others this season, his second professional season. Goaltenders tend to mature later; and with time, Auld should become a starter somewhere; but likely not a workhorse.