The Weekly Dose: The (new) Hot Five

By Kirk Pedersen

Welcome to the Weekly Dose’s second re-ranking of Canuck prospects for 2002-03. In this update, readers may notice some big changes in the rankings, but the amount of room at the top has shrunk.

Claiming the top spot yet again is defenseman Kirill Koltsov. This is really a no-brainer. So far this season, the young Russian has made a lasting impression.

Once he reaches the NHL, Koltsov will no-doubt be an effective offensive defenseman, but what about his defensive play? Hopefully, by the time he hits the shores of Vancouver, his two-way play will have improved as his defensive prowess is not yet NHL-level. His skating is very strong, and will definitely help him secure an NHL job, Vancouver or another city.

In five years or so he can be a fourth defenseman for the Canucks. The Avangard defender’s offensive skill is excellent, and his ability to join the rush will only help things, but we shall see if his defensive play improves enough between now and October for him to warrant a spot with the Canucks for 2003-04.

Holding steady at number two is R.J. Umberger. The Ohio State Buckeye is absolutely busting at the seams to get out of college and try the ranks of professional hockey. The big Pennsylvania native has been on quite the streak over the past two months, and could be pushing for the top spot on this list at the next update.

For his size, Umberger is great on his feet. He has a powerful, quick stride, and covers a lot of ground in a minimal amount of time. Offensively, he’s a creative centreman who is more of a goalscorer than a set-up man. His defensive play, as well as his physical involvement in the game could both stand to improve, and with enough seasoning, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Down the road, he will be a second-liner; although a shift to the wing could be beneficial for his development as a player, and would give him a leg-up on many other Canuck prospects. His ceiling could be 45-60 points.

Checking in at number three is, once again, Brandon Reid. The pint-sized centreman is leading the Manitoba Moose in scoring, and improving his overall game while doing so. The soon-to-be 22-year-old forward is being used in many different situations, and so far, there hasn’t been a negative blip on the radar.

Skill-wise, Reid is a shifty little waterbug who has great moves and a bevy of offensive skills. For such a small player, he gets involved in all aspects of the game; even throwing his (slender) weight around when needed. Defensively, Reid is not perfect, but he’s a solid two-way guy.

With his hard-working, go-get-’em style, Brandon Reid is a shoe-in for the NHL someday. His role will likely be on the third or fourth line on a club, providing a spark and great speed off the bench. Twenty goals and 40 points while adding intangibles seems like a reasonable forecast.

Up a spot to number four is goaltender Alex Auld, who is enjoying his second professional season. So far this year, the former North Bay Centennial has snatched the starting job away from minor league vet Tyler Moss, and as a result, his overall game has improved.

Auld is a very tall man, and as such, uses it well to his advantage, taking up much of the net at 6’4. As a result, he can go down a lot more often than a smaller goaltender. Auld is an aggressive goalie who likes to come out and challenge the shooters as they creep in. However, he adjusts his play to suit the situation very well. If a shooter is closer to the net, he’ll back in.

Auld can be a starter in the NHL. Although, he will be the type of starter who will need a good back-up who can play thirty games per season.

Finishing off this week’s new Hot Five is another goaltender, Lukas Mensator. The diminutive Czech goaltender is in the midst of a solid first season in North America, with the OHL’s Ottawa ’67’s. Despite the notable handicap of not being able to speak english and having a teammate (Karol Sloboda) work as a translator. His play has spoken for itself, so far.

Mensator is an athletic goalie who plays a rather acrobatic and unusual style; but as long as it keeps pucks out, I doubt the ’67s are worried. He’s a quick little guy with great reflexes and a fast glovehand. A competitor, he has great drive and works very hard to improve his game. He’s still a bit inconsistent, which can be fixed. He could be another Arturs Irbe if he can stand up to the rigors of an 82 game schedule.