Marc-André Bernier, F – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 218 lbs., DOB: February 5, 1985
The Vancouver Canucks chose Bernier in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft as a potential power forward in the making. Boasting great size and excellent offensive instincts, with strength and hard work in the corners and in front of the net, they could be right in making that assumption. But, for the first three-and-a-half years of Bernier’s QMJHL career, he has more often than not shied away from the heavy-hitting aspect of the game that could help push him over the top. The first half of his fourth season was something to forget, as he struggled offensively, and hit a terrible drought of over a month – nine games – without a goal (and only scored three in 18 games). In recent weeks however, rejuvenated by a new coach and new linemates, including fellow Canucks prospect François-Pierre Guenette, he has begun playing a different game. 2005 has seen Bernier emerge as a stronger physical presence – not a dominating power forward yet, but still someone who is willing to throw the occasional hit and work hard along the boards. While the goals have not come, his all-around play has improved as of late. Bernier is at home in the slot, and possesses a very powerful shot, with deadly accuracy from the hash marks – when he gets the chance. A slow accelerator, but possessing decent if sloppy skating speed once he gets going, Bernier could probably benefit from a summer of power skating.
Julien Ellis-Plante, G – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 177 lbs., DOB: January 27, 1986
The Canucks may have had a steal late in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft when they were able to snag the highly touted Ellis-Plante with their sixth-round selection. Ellis-Plante has reaffirmed his position as one of the elite goaltenders in the QMJHL in his second season the starting goaltender, leading his Shawinigan Cataractes to the top of the West Division, in spite of a less than stellar supporting cast. Very competent but not terribly flashy between the pipes, Ellis-Plante simply gets the job done. The netminder from Sorel, Quebec currently holds the best goals against average among starting goaltenders (2.22), and boasts four shutouts along the way. The main drawback in Ellis-Plante is his lack of size. In an era where goaltenders are as large as the skaters, Ellis-Plante’s slight frame may be perceived as a problem. Despite his strong play in the first half of the season, Ellis-Plante was snubbed by the national program, and did not receive an invite to the Canadian World Junior training camp in December. If he continues his progress, and maintains his hold as one of the top goaltenders in the QMJHL, it will be hard for the national program to overlook the 18-year-old Ellis-Plante’s potential spot on Canada’s national junior team in 2006.
Francois-Pierre Guenette, F – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 184 lbs., DOB: January 18, 1984
The Canucks selected Guenette as an 18-year-old player in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, coming off a career season in which the small and shifty playmaking Halifax forward from Laval, Quebec notched 87 points. After spending a year with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Guenette returned to Halifax after a disappointing playoff series, with high expectations. He started the season very strong, picking up eight points in his first six games, the speedy centerman appeared to be on pace for yet another career season. October was a month to forget for Guenette, however, as he only notched two goals. He hoped to bounce back from that off-month, but November turned out to be even worse, as Guenette registered only one goal in that month. Looking disinterested much of the time, and unable to gel with a host of different linemates, it looked as if Guenette would languish the rest of the season. Playing on a line with fellow Canuck draft pick Marc-André Bernier and Philadelphia prospect Frédérik Cabana, Guenette has been rejuvenated, putting up a very respectable seven goals in January, and he has returned to his creative, all-out offensive game that made the Canucks draft him in the first place.
Matthew Hansen, D – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 205 lbs., DOB: January 18, 1985
Not much was expected of Hansen when the Canucks took a flyer on the large defenseman from the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds eight picks from the end of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. But since being selected by the Canucks, the North Battleford, Saskatchewan native has done nothing to second-guess the Canucks scouting staff, and has proved to be a potential steal in the making. Now in his fifth season with Seattle, the 6’4 defenseman has turned into a reliable, disciplined, stay-at-home defender for the U.S. Division-leading Thunderbirds. Generally not known for his physical play, or for his offense, though as a fifth-year player, his offensive opportunities have grown this season, Hansen has had to rely on consistent play in his own end to get by. After playing the first three months of the season without a goal, Hansen exploded offensively in January, equaling his career high for goals in that month alone, notching four goals (three of which were power play markers) and adding five assists, whilst compiling a very respectable +7 rating. During that January stretch and into February, Hansen picked up ten points in ten games. He currently leads his team in plus/minus with a +30.
Nathan McIver, D – Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 200 lbs., DOB: January 6, 1985
When the Canucks selected McIver in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, it was not for his offense. McIver, currently in his third full season in the OHL with the St. Michael’s Majors, has only notched 11 career goals. Luckily for McIver, he is very solid in every other aspect of the game. A deceivingly good skater with great positioning, he has developed into a very reliable stay-at-home defenseman for the Majors this season. Though he is not overly large, he still plays a physical game and is very mean in his own end. The Summerside, PEI native does not shy away from rough play and is definitely not afraid to drop the gloves. His lead-by-example style of play helped garner him the captaincy for the Majors at the start of the 2004 season. His leadership talent was recognized when he was chosen to play for the OHL in the Russian Selects series back in November. In the second game of the series, McIver was named the player of the game, notching a goal and delivering several solid hits on his Russian counterparts. McIver’s defense-first style of play should complement the Canucks’ contingent of offensively minded defensemen.
David Schulz, D – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 205 lbs., DOB: January 5, 1986
Schulz rounds out the Canucks’ contingent of defensive defensemen playing in the CHL. When the Canucks selected Schulz in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, scouts were worried about his sparse physical play in spite of his decent size. Schulz has begun to prove the scouts wrong this season, as his physical play has increased substantially, and he is playing a meaner game in his own end. Possessing good foot speed and great lateral movement, as well as his increased physical presence, Schulz is developing into a solid defender, and a player that – though it is still early – appears to have been worth the risk. Though his Swift Current Broncos have struggled mightily this season, Schulz has relished the extra ice time, and has begun to emerge as more of an offensive threat, notching seven goals already this season, though strong offensive play was not what was expected of him when he was drafted. Now in his third full season in the WHL, and still only 18, Schulz still has plenty of time to mature and hone his offensive and physical games even further, while playing a solid shutdown game in his own end.
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