Canucks Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff





1

The Vancouver Canucks are ranked 23rd in
Hockey’s Future’s most recent Organizational Rankings and did not have a single
prospect included in HF’s Top 50 Prospects.
The team does have a number of highly skilled prospects in the system,
but many of them are under-sized or lack consistency. The team also turned one of its most glaring weaknesses, a lack
of strong goaltender prospects beyond Alex
Auld
, into strength after the 2004 draft with the selections of Cory Schneider and Julien Ellis. The team also
has a number of checking line players in the system, headlined by the team’s
top prospect, Ryan Kesler.

 

Top 20 at a Glance

 

1. Ryan Kesler

2. Jason King

3. Alex Auld

4. Kirill Koltsov

5. Cory Schneider

6. Ilya Krikunov

7. Brett Skinner

8. Evgeni Gladskikh

9. MA Bernier

10. Tomas Mojzis

11. Kevin Bieksa

12. Julien Ellis

13. Fedor Fedorov

14. Alexander Edler

15. Brandon Reid

16. Mike Brown

17. FP Guenette

18. Brandon Nolan

19. Denis Grot

20. John Laliberte

 

Player Name, Position, (Previous Rank)

 

1. Ryan Kesler, C, (2)

 

Kesler has done nothing but impress the Canucks
organization playing with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL this year. Most believe Kesler had a spot in the
Canucks line-up going into training camp, and he was expected to play on the
team’s third or fourth line to further develop his defensive prowess. He received a lot of criticism last season
for failing to put up significant points at any level. Playing professional hockey in what should
have been his sophomore season, Kesler had 11 points in 33 games in the AHL and
had just five points in 28 games playing in the NHL. His strong all around play has silenced most of those critics as
he is averaging just below a point per game with the Moose this year, scoring
18 goals, 18 assists in 39 games.

Kesler also has an impressive +17 rating.

 

When he was drafted, many felt the Canucks had
reached too far to take Kesler, a teammate and linemate of a prior first round
pick, RJ Umberger (PHI). Umberger ultimately clashed with then GM
Brian Burke and was eventually traded, leaving just Kesler with the team. Kesler has played as advertised
however. Not expected to be a huge
scorer despite being a first round pick, Kesler is showing signs of developing
into an elite checking forward. Kesler
is a speedy forward with tenacious forechecking abilities, and is expected to
be a leader for the Canucks in the future.

There is some assumption he will take the role of Trevor Linden when
Linden eventually retires.

 

2. Jason King,
RW, (NR – Change in HF eligibility criteria)

 

The young Newfoundler has played himself into the
second spot on the Canucks prospect chart as a result of his ability to put up
big numbers in the AHL as well as a fast start last year in the NHL. King currently leads the Manitoba Moose in
goals (21) and is tied for the team lead in points (41). King has continued to struggle with
consistency with the Moose, an issue that has followed him throughout his
professional career, but when he has played well, he has been the best
offensive player on the team. He has
struggled offensively moreso of late but has continued to play a solid
all-around game.

 

King rose to prominence in the Canucks organization
when he made the team out of training camp in 2003 and starting playing on the
second line with the Sedin twins. He
was one of the team’s top scorers after 20 games but then faltered and almost
ceased entirely to produce. He was sent
down to the Moose and other than sporadic call-ups throughout the second half
of the season, did little else with the Canucks. He continues to work on his all around game as most feel he
brings little to the team when he does not have the puck. King does, however, have the ability to
score a lot of goals in a short span.
If King ever resolves his consistency problems he will become an
excellent fit for the Sedins on the Canucks second line. If not, he will frustrate Canuck fans for
years to come with his sporadic play.

 

3. Alex Auld, G, (1)

 

Auld falls from the top spot on the Canucks Top 20 as
a result of losing ice time with the Moose to veteran Wade Flaherty. Auld missed some time while playing in the
Spengler Cup, and when he has played, he has been very strong. Auld has a 15-4-1 record, a GAA of 2.16 and
a .924 save percentage. If Flaherty
were not playing fairly well in his starts, Auld would certainly be seeing more
ice time.

 

Auld is a tall goalie who uses his size to his
advantage. Not blessed with tremendous
reflexes, Auld plays the angles well and tries to deflect shots into the
corners. The Canucks organization was
so impressed with his play last season that he was chosen over season-long
back-up Johan Hedberg to start in the playoffs against Calgary when Dan
Cloutier went down to a knee injury.
Auld has the capability to be a starting goaltender in the NHL, and when
the lockout ends it appears that he is destined to push Cloutier for
starts. If Auld continues to play this
well, the organization may quickly find itself with two goalies sharing the
starting load at the NHL level.

 

4. Kirill
Koltsov
, D, (3)

 

Koltsov has made headlines for all the wrong reasons
over the past several weeks as he has left the Manitoba Moose in order to
return back to Russia to play for Avangard Omsk. Koltsov was playing well before suddenly departing from the
Moose, tallying 17 points in 28 games, and registering 42 minutes in
penalties. His defensive play was
improving and he appeared to be getting more comfortable playing on the smaller
North American ice surface. The
decision to return to Russia has once again sparked questions about Koltsov’s
attitude and character, concerns which made him fall to the second round in his
draft. GM Dave Nonis has said he
believes Koltsov received poor advice from his agent.

 

Koltsov is a smooth skating defenseman
with good puck skills and has confidence handling the puck. A bit under-sized for an NHL defenseman,
Koltsov’s positioning is acceptable, although he still gets caught out of position
sometimes when pinching in at the offensive blue-line. He must get stronger to cope with NHL
forwards, and needs to adjust further to the North American ice surface. There appears to be little benefit in returning
to Russia. So far in three games with
Omsk he has not registered a point, but has 10 penalty minutes. Koltsov has top four defenseman potential.

 

5. Cory
Schneider
, G, (5)

 

Schneider remains in the fifth slot on the Canucks
prospect chart as a result of King’s return to the list. In his first season in college, Schneider has
done everything that can be expected of him.
Playing with the high profile Boston College hockey team, Schneider’s
early play forced the coaching staff at BC to give him a role splitting the
starting duties in net, very uncommon for a freshman. He has a 7-4 record, complemented with a 1.77 GAA and an
impressive save percentage of .927.

Schneider was also selected to be a part of Team USA’s World Junior
Championship team, where he served as a back-up to Al Montoya (NYR). Schneider
struggled in his only start, against Belarus.
He was pulled from the game and the US eventually lost to the underdog
Belarussians.

 

At 6’2, 195 lbs, Schneider is a decent sized goalie
who looks much bigger than he is in the crease because of his good
positioning. He is hailed at a goalie
who is very cool in net and does not get flustered by a bad goal, although that
has come into question with his short appearance at the WJC. Before this year Schneider’s accomplishments
were questioned by critics who felt he faced low quality shooters in the high
school ranks. These concerns have
mostly been silenced by his strong start to his collegiate career. Schneider will likely spend at least two
more years at BC. He will compete with
Auld for the starting job in four to five years.

 

6. Ilya Krikunov, C, (4)

 

Krikunov falls two slots from fourth. While his numbers are still strong, they
have not improved despite playing with several current and former NHL
players. The small center has developed
far better than his seventh round, 242nd overall selection would
indicate. He has shown his ability to
play well on the bigger ice surface but has to prove he can perform to the same
level on the smaller ice and with the more physical level of play. After 40 games, Krikunov has 16 points.

 

He is a strong skater with decent scoring
abilities. Krikunov’s niche is in his
outstanding playmaking abilities and offensive vision, which make him a threat
every time he touches the puck in the offensive zone. His lack of size, strength, and defensive awareness make him a
liability in the defensive zone and are all hurdles he must overcome to be
useful in the NHL. Turning 21 in
February, Krikunov still has several years to develop before him coming to
North America becomes an urgent situation.
His skill set is equivalent to a second line center, if he ever puts on
a Canucks uniform, considering all the current issues with transferring players
from the Russian Super League.

 

7. Brett Skinner, D, (7)

 

Skinner remains in seventh on the Canucks list, but
that does not mean he has not had a good season and is not progressing. The Canucks third choice (68th
overall) in 2002 is emerging as a force on the blueline for the Denver
University Pioneers, scoring 21 points in 21 games thus far. The 21-year-old stands 6’1 and currently
weighs around 200 lbs. His offensive
game has thrived this season although reports indicate that he occasionally
tries to make unnecessarily pretty passes that often result in the play going
the other way. Regardless, Skinner has
had a strong season thus far with Denver.

 

Skinner is a primarily offensive defenseman who
should easily be able to add a few more pounds of muscle to make him strong
enough to battle with professional forwards in his own zone. Skinner makes a great first pass out of his
own zone and handles the puck with confidence in the offensive zone. He does not have a great shot, but that has
not hindered his performance quarterbacking the Pioneers’ power play. Skinner appears to be on a path to serve as
a second-pairing defenseman and possibly an NHL quarterback on the power
play.

 

8. Evgeni Gladskikh, LW, (6)

 

The Russian sniper, selected 114th overall
in 2001, falls two spots as he has struggled at times in the RSL. Playing once again with Magnitogorsk Metallurg,
the team has had just one NHL forward for the overwhelming majority of the
season, so Gladskikh’s ice time should not be too greatly impacted by the
lockout. The team does possess some
other great prospects, however, including Evgeni
Malkin
(PIT) and Alexei Kaigorodov
(OTT). Gladskikh has 14 points thus far
in the RSL season, but has missed the past few games with Metallurg, reportedly
injured.

 

Gladskikh is a pure goal scorer with soft hands and a
bullet of a wrist shot. He’s a hard
worker and continuously strives to improve himself in practice. He has good awareness that cannot be taught,
and has a knack for finding himself in the open ice with a rebound on his
stick. Although he is under-sized by
North American standards the wizard stick-handler rarely gets shoved around by
larger opponents. Gladskikh is
precisely the type of exciting goal scorer that the Canucks will need when
Markus Naslund seemingly inevitably returns to Sweden. Although not near the superstar Swedes skill
level, Gladskikh may be who the Canucks replace Naslund.

 

9. Marc-Andre
Bernier
, RW, (8)

 

Down one spot, mostly due to the re-appearance of
King on the list, Bernier has had an average season thus far with the Halifax
Mooseheads of the QMJHL. A second
round, 60th overall, pick, Bernier has a lot of expectations on
him. Bernier, like much of his QMJHL
team, started the season slowly but has picked it up as of late, moving up the
standings, and closing in on their division leader, the Moncton Wildcats. Bernier has just 16 goals and 11 assists for
27 points in 38 games, but has played remarkably better over the past ten
games. If he continues at his recent
pace, he should finish with similar totals to his 27 goals and 50 points from
the previous season.

 

Bernier is a big body with a howitzer of a
slap-shot. He is good at finding enough
space in the offensive zone to unleash his powerful slapper, and fights well
for position in front of the net.
Bernier has good speed for his size (6’3, 218 lbs), but many often
consider him a slow skater. In reality
Bernier has a slow first step but good acceleration that enables him to keep up
with the pace of play. Bernier’s top
end potential figures in between a second or third line player. It is difficult to say where he will play
next season. He has not been
outstanding in the Q this year, and that probably does not warrant an AHL
contract. However, it will likely
depend on the overage player situation in Halifax.

 

10. Tomas Mojzis, D, (9)

 

The Czech defender struggled quite a bit in his first
AHL season last year, but appears to have rebounded well and learned from the
experience. Mojzis already has 14
points this year, just three shy of his total from last year and is clearly
more comfortable on the professional game.
With his confidence returned, Mojzis is an improved player.

 

Acquired in a trade for Brad Leeb, this is certainly
one of Brian Burke’s successful trades.
A bit hesitant to join the rush at times, Mojzis does not always
showcase his impressive skills. In
order to make the NHL, Mojzis is going to have to convince the Canucks
organization that he is strong enough offensively as his defensive game is not
going to get him there alone. His
biggest struggle is going to be consistency.
At his best, Mojzis is top-four material, but if he can’t get things
together, he will float between a depth defender and a farm hand.

 

11. Kevin
Bieksa
, D, (16)

 

Bieksa is one of the biggest risers in this edition
of the Canucks Top 20. In his rookie
year with the Moose in the AHL, Bieksa was expected to play third pairing
minutes and serve a purely defensive capacity, although he had managed solid
numbers in college with Bowling Green.
Bieksa has adjusted to the AHL extremely quickly, and has 20 points in
40 games thus far, as well as 94 PIM.
He has moved the puck well and kept the vision of the team’s goaltenders
clear.

 

He plays much bigger than he actually is. Although an effective physical force in his
own zone, Bieksa is 6’1, 195 lbs, but is stronger than his weight would
indicate. He has good puck poise, and
often generates his offensive stats simply from making the safe play and moving
the puck forward. Skating is Bieksa’s
biggest weakness. He has neither NHL
acceleration nor average turning abilities.

However, he has slowly improved them with the Moose and has been able to
play very well at the AHL level with these deficiencies. Bieksa moves up five spots based on his
immediate adaptation to the professional game.
His upside remains likely as a third pairing defenseman, but his
likelihood of reaching it has increased.

 

12. Julien Ellis, G, (18)

 

Ellis is the biggest riser, moving six spots from 18
to 12. Ellis was the “other” goalie the
Canucks took in the 2004 draft but his spectacular play with the Shawinigan
Cataractes (QMJHL) has drawn more attention to him. Ellis has been one of the top goaltenders in the QMJHL this year,
challenged really only by 20-year-old Corey
Crawford
(CHI), playing with Moncton.

Ellis has a 2.30 GAA and a .928 save percentage. He ranks second in goals against average
among league starters, trailing just Crawford, who plays on a superior team and
leads the Q in save percentage, just edging Crawford. Ellis is tied for second in appearances, and is the reason that
Shawinigan has given up the third fewest total of goals all season.

 

The general consensus is that Ellis fell to the
Canucks in the sixth round as a result of his size and a poor performance at
last year’s Top Prospects Game. Other
teams’ concern is the gain of the Canucks who have another potential starting
goalie. Ellis is a lightning fast
goaltender with outstanding reflexes.
He gets square to the shooter well when he has a chance to set up and
gets from post to post very quickly.

One issue he has is when sliding cross-crease he often slides too far
and gets caught out of position. His
rebound control could use some work as well.
He is used to facing a high number of quality shots and is a workhorse
in net. He definitely possesses the
material to be a starting goaltender who can win games by himself.

 

13. Fedor Fedorov, LW, (13)

 

Fedor Fedorov remains static in the Canucks Top 20
based on his raw skill level rather than his attitude and actions. However, the clock is ticking on Fedorov,
who has hung around for a long time already based on the potential the Canucks
see in him. When he’s not working on
his singing career with his older brother, Sergei, Fedorov plays with Spartak
Moscow in the RSL. In 13 games the
23-year-old has seven points, but has been scratched several times. The Spartak team has seen a lot of player
turnover this year, and is backstopped by everyone’s favorite Russian goalie, Andrei Medvedev (CAL).

 

Fedorov’s assessment hasn’t changed since he was
drafted for the first time in 1999 by Tampa Bay. Fedorov has great size and skill but floats around the ice and
often does not appear to be putting any effort into games and practices. Punished last year for violating several
team rules with the Moose, there is nothing to indicate his attitude issues
have been resolved. However, in limited
games with Spartak he has offensively produced. The issue remains if he can put aside everything else and just
play hockey. If so, Fedorov is an NHL
scoring line caliber talent. With every
passing year, however, this becomes more unlikely.

 

14. Alexander
Edler
, D, (NR)

 

The young Swedish defenseman debuts on the Canucks
Top 20 in the 14 spot. When he was
picked by the Canucks in the 2004 draft most people had to take a double-take at
a name that nobody recognized. Edler
has went from being an unknown to a solid defensive prospect for the Canucks
over the past half a year. Born in the
same Northern Swedish town (Pitea) as Mattias Ohlund, Edler plays a somewhat
similar game to the current Canucks star.

After playing last season with a Tier II team, Edler is currently
playing with MoDo’s U20 junior team. 20 games into the season, Edler is
averaging nearly a point-per-game with six goals, 13 assists. Edler might be playing on in the SEL if he
belonged to a weaker team. MoDo’s
defense corps is filled with AHL and SEL veterans, and Washington Capitals
prospect Oscar Hedman.

 

At 6’3, 194, Edler is very lanky, but the 18-year-old
has several years to fill out before the Canucks think about bringing him
across the pond. He has good skating
for his age and frame, and has a reputation for throwing big hits against the
boards. Edler has a solid all around
game, and is clearly demonstrating his offensive skills with the MoDo junior
team right now, but will need to impress critics at every new level he reaches
en route to the NHL. Edler remains a
promising prospect, and may be a diamond in the rough, but he is very rough
right now.

 

15. Brandon
Reid
, C, (12)

 

The prolific scorer was a risk when taken in the
seventh round out of the QMJHL, and remains as enigmatic today as he was on his
draft day. The pint-sized pivot has not
grown much over the past few years and elected to play for the Hamburg Freezers
(DEL) rather than spend another season with the Manitoba Moose. He has 37 points in 35 games with Hamburg,
but the fact remains that he chose not to remain in the AHL, which logically is
the nearest he could be to the NHL.

 

Reid is a shifty pivot who often gets the “waterbug”
tag to describe his movements on the ice.
He has good vision and knows how to use his wingers. He possesses a good scoring touch as well
and is a good bet when one on one with the goalie. Things have been downhill for Reid after he played in nine
playoff games in 2002-03. Expecting an
NHL roster spot was his the next year; Reid performed poorly in camp and spent
nearly the entire season in the AHL.
Reid made it clear that he had no intention of returning to the AHL this
year, signing with Hamburg in early July.

 

16. Mike Brown,
RW, (20)

 

Brown moves to No. 16 after being named to Team USA
and having a solid tournament on a greatly underachieving team. Brown was asked to fill a checking role and
did so well, playing as one of the Americans’ most consistent players. Playing at the University of Michigan in his
sophomore season has just five points, putting him on pace to fall below his
point total from his freshman season.
He has, however, played well in the capacity of a third line checker,
being used in all situations and often as a shadow.

 

Brown is a simple player who plays a simple
game. He keeps the opponents off their
game with his forechecking and physical play.
Not graced with an abundance of pure talent, Brown is a hard worker who
earns his keep. At 6’1, 210 lbs he has
NHL size, but his top end potential maxes out as a third liner.

 

17. François-Pierre Guenette,
C, (14)

 

Although FP has 34 points in 43 games, he has had a
poor season. He has often been
criticized for floating and not seeming to be giving his full effort. He has been juggled with numerous linemates
and only recently seems to have picked up his play. The raw statistical numbers are not bad, but considering Guenette
scored well over a point per game last season, this year’s numbers are a major
disappointment for the over-ager.

 

Guenette has every skill you would hope for from a
top-two line type of player. Before
this season his consistency was considered one of his greatest assets. Guenette turns 21 on January 18, and this is
his contract year. Guenette’s QMJHL
eligibility expires entirely at the conclusion of this season, and he must sign
a professional contract in order to keep playing. A little on the light side, FP needs to build some more muscle
mass to deal with the NHL game and schedule.

If the lockout has not ended by the start of next season, FP will likely
get offered a contract from one of the Canucks affiliates, but he may need to
continue his recent play in order to earn a spot on the Moose in 2005-06.

 

18. Brandon Nolan, RW, (10)

 

In his second year of professional hockey Nolan has
not demonstrated any offensive improvement over last year, although it is a
positive indication that he has managed to stick with the Moose all
season. He re-entered the draft in 2003
and was picked 111th overall.

Nolan has played slightly better in his own end and shows a strong
desire every night.

 

A strong puck handler and passer, Nolan has been a
scoring line player his entire career.
However, it appears unlikely he will be able to establish himself as an
offensive player professionally, but his hard work has made him able to adjust
to a depth role. Nolan shows up almost
every night and will need to continue to enhance his defensive zone coverage if
he is to don a Canucks jersey. Nolan is
a third line player barring an enormous jump in his development.

 

19. Dennis Grot, D, (11)

 

The Russian blueliner plummets down the rankings this
time due to struggles to remain on in a RSL line-up. After failing to earn a roster spot with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl,
Grot was sent to Sibir Novosibirsk. He
has remained in the line-up recently.
In 14 games he has one assist.
The entire lack of any offensive production is a problem for Grot, who
initially was considered an offensive minded defenseman with power play
quarterback potential. If this year’s
results are an indication, that prognostication may be very inaccurate.

 

The 6’0, 172 lb defenseman was taken in the second
round, 55th overall in 2002, and has failed to live up to the
expectations that follow such a high selection. Although he is willing to lay the body, Grot hardly has a mean
streak, and tends to lose control of the puck when trying to stickhandle through
traffic. Grot must turn his game around
and generate more offense if he expects to play in the NHL. At this point Grot has the potential to be a
third pairing defenseman, which, if that remains the case, means it is unlikely
he will come to North America.

 

20. John
Laliberte
, RW, (NR)

 

Picked by the Canucks in the fourth round in 2002
Laliberte has exploded offensively this season with 18 points in 20 games,
although he has a -2 rating. He gained
some weight over the offseason to 200 pounds, which has helped to make him a
stronger player on his skates. This
season Laliberte has shown more creativity and has found a way to get into the
open space at the right time. It is
difficult at this point to project if Laliberte expects to return to Boston
University next season or if he hopes to net a professional contract and play
in the AHL or ECHL.

 

Matt MacInnis, Sean Keogh and Guy Flaming contributed
to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.