Nicklas Jensen’s transition to SEL among top Vancouver Canucks’ prospect storylines in 2012-13

By Larenzo Jensen
Brendan Gaunce - Belleville Bulls

Brendan Gaunce will once again be expected to lead the way for the Belleville Bulls heading into the 2012-13 season. (courtesy of Leon T. Switzer/ Icon SMI)

The Vancouver Canucks organization used the 2012 draft to augment their forward talent levels. Already well-stocked on the back end and between the pipes, forwards with grit and size were added to help balance out the positional depth. With that said, many of the interesting stories shaping up for this season come from players that have already spent time in the team's developmental system.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Zack Kassian, RW, Chicago Wolves (AHL)

Regardless of whether he is to ply his trade with the Canucks this season or their AHL affiliate, Zack Kassian is the club's top pro prospect. At 6’3”, 214 pounds, he gives the Canucks size and power, characteristics that have been in short supply in the organization. Due to the lockout, the team assigned him to Chicago to continue his development. He should play significant minutes for the Wolves and will look to fine-tune all aspects of his game with a focus on improving his consistency.

Bounce Back
Yann Sauve, D, Chicago Wolves (AHL)

Sauve is a big, strong defenseman that plays good positional hockey. He is also another prospect that brings meanness and physicality to the Wolves' lineup. Once projected to be a sound two-way defenseman, his puck-handling ability and offensive contributions left something to be desired in his second pro season. In 73 games, he scored three goals and nine points. With some new, talented players joining the Wolves this season, it is hoped that Sauve can start to fulfill the untapped potential shown prior to being drafted 48th overall in 2008.

Offensive Breakout
Jordan Schroeder, C, Chicago Wolves (AHL)

The diminutive pivot continued to improve on the score sheet for the Wolves, and there is no reason to believe that he should regress this year. Schroeder was one of the Wolves' most consistent players last year and now has another year of experience playing against men in the AHL. His ability to read the play, speed to get into position, and high hockey IQ should help put Schroeder among the top point-producers for Chicago.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville Bulls (OHL)

With Nicklas Jensen choosing to play in the SEL this season, Gaunce takes the spotlight as the top junior prospect. In the 2011-12 campaign, Gaunce nearly doubled his offensive totals from the 2010-11 season, finishing the year with 68 points in 68 games. The defensive aspects of his game have always been a strength, as has his attention to detail in his own zone. His burgeoning shot and faceoff skills add up to what is becoming a very complete package, providing further evidence of why the Canucks were happy to find him available at 26th overall in the 2012 draft.

Unsigned for 2013-14
David Honzik, G, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)

This season will be a crucial one for Honzik, following his offseason acquisition by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. The big, athletic Czech goaltender lost the starting job over the course of the 2011-12 season with Victoriaville. It will be a test of character and mental composition to put his disappointing season behind him, and focus on beating out Philippe Trudeau and Alex Bureau for the starting position with the Eagles. He has the physical tools and athleticism, but his technique will surely be scrutinized as he fights for a pro contract.

Offensive Breakout
Frank Corrado, D, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

Though the fast and spirited defender had a slight dip in offensive production last season, there were promising signs such as his huge spike in his plus-minus rating. After a combined -26 rating in his first two seasons in Sudbury, Corrado led the club last season with a +26 rating. With constant defensive combination changes and a premium put on defensive responsibilities, Corrado was not in the best position to loosen up and play as offensively as he might have liked. His tenacious play still earned him an "A" on his jersey as an assistant captain. Hopefully more stability with the defensive corps will allow him the freedom to exhibit his excellent puck-moving ability and first outlet pass.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Patrick McNally, D, Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)

The Harvard sophomore was a finalist for ECAC Rookie of the Year honors due to his excellent offensive abilities. An above-average passer, with strong puck-rushing acumen, he must continue to learn the defensive aspects of the game to round into a complete player. A key component to Harvard’s power play success, his mobility and quickness are nearly NHL-ready. If he can learn to use his 6’2” frame in a more imposing manner, he has the potential to have an even better second college season.

Offensive Breakout
Joseph Labate, C, University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)

Also entering his sophomore season, Joseph Labate has nothing but opportunity in front of him. With strong hockey sense, a 6’4” frame and long reach, this net driving power forward has the tools in place to improve upon his 20 points in 37 games in 2011-12. He needs to improve his first few strides and add bulk to his lanky build, but he is part of a program at Wisconsin that has produced a number of NHL players. Look for the Badgers to use him more frequently this year, improving his chances of having a productive season.

Unsigned for 2013-14
Jeremy Price, D, Colgate University Raiders (ECAC)

Entering his senior year with the Raiders, Price has progressed steadily throughout his tenure at Colgate University. Each season he has improved on previous offensive totals, but more impressively, he has developed into a better defender. He has been named one of the team's three captains for the 2012-13 season and will continue skating on the top pairing and both special teams units for the Raiders. At this point, one would expect Price to continue his upward development, secure a pro contract, and play for the Wolves in the 2013-14 season.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Nicklas Jensen, RW, AIK IF (SEL)

Jensen decided it was in his best interests to develop against men in the Swedish Elite League next season. With the Canucks unable to assign the 19-year-old to the AHL level, the club has supported his decision to make the transition to the pro game. Now a short walk from the main arena in Stockholm, the smooth-skating puck wizard will hone his craft with AIK. It will be interesting to see how the Canucks prized Danish forward stacks up against the larger, stronger competition in Sweden’s Elitserien league. He has averaged over 17 minutes per game through his first three regular season contests and should be a big part of the AIK offense this season.

Bounce Back
Henrik Tommernes, D, Frolunda HC (SEL)

In the 2010-11 season, Tommernes was Frolunda’s leading scorer amongst defensemen with 20 points through 47 games. He only managed 14 points during the regular season last year but the offensive-minded defenseman cranked it up for the playoffs, scoring a goal and four points in six games. The knock on the blueliner is his lack of physical play and defensive abilities, particularly when checking in tight quarters. If the Frolunda coaching staff can target these deficiencies, Tommernes’ game will be more complete and should help improve his production.