The Vancouver Canucks had eight players in the NCAA ranks for the 2004-05 season, and going into the year, only 2004 first round pick Cory Schneider, was a high profile prospect for the organization. However, as the season progressed, University of Denver blueliner Brett Skinner emerged as one of the best prospects for the team. Winger Mike Brown represented the United States at the World Junior Championships and John Laliberte had a solid, albeit unspectacular, year with Boston University.
Cory Schneider, G (Freshman, Boston College)
Acquired: Drafted 1st round, 26th overall (2004)
Schneider completed a near perfect rookie season at Boston College going 13-1-4 in 19 appearances, despite missing time due to the IHHF U-20 WJC and a knee injury. His only loss of the season came in the NCAA Tournament East Regional Final versus North Dakota. Schneider finished first in the nation with a .833 winning percentage. His 1.90 goals against average ranked sixth in the nation while his .916 save percentage ranked tied for 24th.
Schneider’s outstanding freshman campaign culminated with a selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. He garnered two Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors as well as one Hockey East Rookie of the Week honor this season. He also was named the recipient of Boston College’s Bernie Burke Award for Outstanding Freshman of the Year. He was a member of Team USA’s 2005 WJC squad and was recently invited to Team USA’s Junior Evaluation Camp for the 2006 IIHF U-20 WJC in Vancouver.
Schneider is a very technically sound goaltender with great agility. He is excellent down low and moves very well laterally. For such a young goaltender, Schneider has displayed some tremendous confidence and poise. Schneider has demonstrated a willingness to challenge shooters. He has excellent concentration and focus. He also possesses an outstanding glove. Schneider has great athleticism and yet is efficient in his amount of body movement. One notable area about Schneider this season was his consistency. The two areas that Schneider needs to continue to improve are rebound control and puck handling. The latter was of particular concern very early in the season.
While Schneider needs to continue developing his overall game and maturation as a player, his future looks very bright. He is set to return to Boston College this fall and will likely inherit the starting job since Matti Kaltiainen (BOS) has graduated. If Schneider’s development continues as expected he could become a Canucks starter down the road.
Brett Skinner, D (Junior, University of Denver)
Acquired: Drafted 3rd round, 68th overall (2002)
Skinner, along with sophomore Matt Carle (SJ), comprised arguably the nation’s top blueline tandem. Skinner was a key part of the Denver Pioneers’ successful back-to-back national championship teams. He finished his junior campaign third in the nation among defensemen in scoring with 40 points (4 goals, 36 assists). His 36 assists led all the nation’s defensemen and was fourth overall. He also finished third in the nation among defensemen in points per game (0.93). Skinner earned numerous awards and honors including a spot on the NCAA Frozen Four All-Tournament and All-America West Second Teams.
Skinner is an offensive defenseman who is blessed with impeccable passing and playmaking abilities. His overall play has improved steadily with each season and his numbers back it up. Skinner is a very smooth skater who transitions quite well. He has no trouble jumping up into plays or leading the offensive rush. Skinner is a tremendously smart player who sees the ice very well. He has no trouble quarterbacking the power play and is equally adept at killing penalties. He has a good, accurate shot and shoots as often as the opportunity presents itself. Skinner possesses a great work ethic and is the consummate team player. He could stand to be more physical as well as add some muscle to his 6’1/195 lbs. frame. Skinner has also blossomed into not only a mature player but also an excellent leader for the Denver Pioneers. While Skinner has continually enhanced his great hockey sense and ability to read plays, where he has really made it pay off is in his superb and sometime creative ability of utilizing his teammates to create prime scoring opportunities.
Skinner will return to Denver for his senior season this fall, where he will serve as team captain. With some added muscle and willingness to be more physical, Skinner could become a top four defenseman in the NHL down the road.
Mike Brown, RW (Sophomore, University of Michigan)
Acquired: Drafted 5th round, 159th overall (2004)
Brown literally made his presence felt on the Wolverines roster this season. Not surprisingly, he led Michigan in penalty minutes with 95. He missed games during the season due to his appearance with Team USA at the IIHF U-20 WJC in North Dakota and a bout with mononucleosis back in January. Brown finished the season with eight points (three goals, five assists) in 35 appearances.
Brown is a hard-nosed, energetic forward who thrives on the physical side of the game. He is never one to back down from a challenge. He can often be the perennial thorn in the opposition’s side. Brown is an outstanding skater with a good burst of speed. He is very solid defensively and has been a regular on the Wolverines penalty-killing unit. Brown possesses a great work ethic. He is smart and sees the ice very well. One of Brown’s best and perhaps underrated attributes is his willingness to sacrifice his body, whether it is in blocking shots or taking hard checks. He drives to the net hard and often. He has good passing skills. He moves well through traffic. Brown also possesses a good, hard shot. He plays with a great deal of determination and battles fiercely for both the puck and space on the ice. Brown, in all likelihood, will never become a top scorer but nevertheless it is an area that he could improve in.
Brown will return to Michigan this fall for his junior season. He could conceivably have a future in the NHL as his team’s resident tough guy. His intense, ultra-aggressive style is one of his greatest assets and along with his other abilities, is sure to make him an attractive commodity for a team looking for more toughness. He’s not a guy who possesses star quality, but he could be a reliable third liner.
John Laliberte, RW (Junior, Boston University)
Acquired: Drafted 4th round, 114th overall (2002)
Laliberte enjoyed a stellar season at Boston University this season. Nowhere was his presence more evident and noticeable than on the Terriers power play. He finished the season second on the team in scoring with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 40 appearances. He co-led the Terriers with seven power play goals. Laliberte enjoyed his first career multi-goal game back on February 7th in the Terriers’ 2-1 win over arch-rival Boston College in their Beanpot Tournament semi-final game. The performance also earned Laliberte his only Hockey East Player of the Week honor this season.
Laliberte is a prime example of a checking/defensive forward. However, this season he has proven that he can be an offensive force as well. His defensive play is outstanding. One area where Laliberte really excels is his outstanding and very aggressive play along the boards and in the corners. Equally good is his ability to grind things out. He can be a very difficult player to play against. He possesses excellent upper body strength. He’s a very smart player who anticipates quite well. He possesses very good passing skills. He skates well with powerful strides. Two areas where Laliberte has made vast improvements in are his play around the net and following the plays around it. He has become quite an opportunistic player who has demonstrated the ability to not only following up on rebounds but finishing the play (with a score) as well. Laliberte is also using his 6’2/200 lbs. frame more effectively and efficiently. This has paid off particularly in his ability to create chaos in and around the opposition’s crease area.
Laliberte will return to Boston University this fall for his final collegiate season. If Laliberte can continue to do (and improve) his overall game as well as make a quick transition to the rigors of the pro game, he could have a legitimate shot at the NHL after a stint in the minor leagues.
Andrew Sarauer, LW (Freshman, Northern Michigan University)
Acquired: Drafted 4th round, 125th overall (2004)
The Langley, BC native saw action in 25 games during his freshman season at NMU. He amassed just seven points (three goals, four assists). Two of his three goals came on the power play.
Sarauer is has very good size and uses it quite well. His play around the net is especially good, whether it in providing screens in front of opposing goaltenders or protecting the puck. Sarauer is a powerful skater. He is defensively responsible and is willing to block shots. Sarauer possesses a great work ethic and has shown a willingness to battle hard for pucks. The areas where Sarauer could use improvement are in shooting more often and better decisions with the puck. He tends to take the pass-first-instead-of-shoot approach that has led to some missed opportunities.
While there are many facets of his game that still need developing, Sarauer could become a quality defensive-minded forward down the road. It is still too early to tell whether or not he has any shot at a career in the NHL in his future. With the departure of some key forwards due to graduation, Sarauer will likely see an increased and expanded role on the Wildcats roster this fall. His upside is a third liner.
Chad Brownlee, D (Junior, Minnesota State University Mankato)
Acquired: Drafted 6th round, 190th overall (2003)
Brownlee has established himself as one of the leaders on the young Mavericks team this season. He has also become one of the team’s most reliable defensemen. He finished the season with two points (one goal, one assist) in 36 appearances. Brownlee finished third on the team in penalty minutes with 60.
Brownlee is a defensive defenseman who doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game. One of Brownlee’s greatest attributes his is aggressive, in-your-face style of play. He is one to never back down from a challenge. He has a great work ethic. He possesses great skating ability and his transitioning is quite good. He also possesses very good passing skills. At 6’2/195 he has good size, but he could use a bit more weight. He is solid in one-on-one situations and plays well along the boards. He also reads plays well. While he possesses some great puck skills and a hard shot, he could stand to shoot the puck more. An area where he has shown marked improvement this season is clearing bodies out from his team’s crease area. His decision-making in the defensive zone has also continued to improve.
Brownlee will enter his senior season at Minnesota State this fall, where he will serve as an assistant captain. Brownlee is likely to be destined for the minor pros, but if he can continue to improve and elevate his game, he could make it to the NHL as a sixth or seventh defenseman.
Matt Violin, G (Senior, Lake Superior State University)
Acquired: Drafted 8th round, 247th overall (2002)
Violin’s final year at LSSU didn’t quite go as planned. Ankle and knee injuries plagued much of his senior season. He only saw action in just 12 games, posting a 4-4-3 record. Violin also posted a respectable .913 save percentage and a 3.01 goals against average.
Violin possesses a great work ethic along with tremendous composure under pressure. He faces a lot of shots and doesn’t get rattled easily. Violin possesses the ability to stay very focused and follows plays quite well. He also possesses a great glove. He is solid on his angles and moves well laterally. He tends to play deep in his net and could be more aggressive in challenging shooters.
Violin is likely destined for a minor pro career. After an outstanding freshman campaign at LSSU, Violin has not been able to better it during the remainder of his collegiate career. Injuries and inconsistency were two factors that contributed to his average overall play during much of his collegiate career. It is most likely that Violin will be playing for the Canucks’ affiliate in Columbia next season.
Matt Gens, D (Senior, St. Cloud State University)
Acquired: Drafted 9th round, 278th overall (2002)
Gens enjoyed perhaps his greatest collegiate season this year. He established himself as arguably SCSU’s top all-around defensemen. The greatest improvement he made to his game was his leadership and offensive contributions. Gens was one of only three Huskies players to play in all 40 games this season. He finished second among defensemen in scoring with 18 points (3 goals, 15 assists). Gens also finished second on the team in plus/minus (+8) and penalty minutes (52).
Gens is a defenseman who possesses very good puck skills. He is very solid in the defensive zone and good in one-on-one situations. He doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game. He possesses a very good low, hard shot. He follows plays and skates well too. At 6’0/180, Gens needs to continue to bulk up. While he has shown that he can deliver some solid checks, he doesn’t necessarily always finish them. Gens made great strides this season to be more physical and become a more-rounded player. As a result it has helped SCSU in areas such as the power play.
Gens is likely to become a career minor pro player. While he has shown some great skills and talent during four years at SCSU, it hasn’t quite him the standout player that NHL teams look for. Next seasons Gens will either serve as a depth defender with the Moose or spend most of his time with Columbia if he received a contract.
Matt Violin and Matt Gens have played their final games as collegiate players and if they receive contracts, both are likely to play for Columbia in the ECHL. Schneider hopes to shine in the role of a full-time starting goalie, and the team will hope Skinner can build on his excellent season to emerge as the player they dreamed would become when they selected him. Beyond those two it is a fair group at best, and they will need strong years to prove themselves to the Canucks brass.
Matt MacInnis contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.