Canucks Top 20 prospects

By Matt MacInnis

The new Canucks Top 20 Prospects list includes many changes from the last edition in order to reflect the impact the 2004-05 hockey season had on the careers of those in the Canucks system. The Canucks system is notorious for lacking star power and forwards with great offensive potential. The team does have some of the best goaltending depth in the entire league, however, with three goalies in their top ten, all of whom have starting potential. The Canucks are also deep in offensively talented blueliners, although their top prospects in terms of long term potential lack anyone who threatens to be a truly imposing force in front of the crease.

Canucks Top 20 at a glance

1. Ryan Kesler
2. Luc Bourdon
3. Cory Schneider
4. Jason King
5. Kevin Bieksa
6. Brett Skinner
7. Julien Ellis
8. Kirill Koltsov
9. Alexander Edler
10. Tomas Mojzis
11. Alexander Vincent
12. Evgeni Gladskikh
13. Ilya Krikunov
14. Nathan McIver
15. Marc-Andre Bernier
16. Denis Grot
17. Mike Brown
18. Mason Raymond
19. John Laliberte
20. Lukas Mensator

Key: Rank. Player Name, Position (Rating, Previous Ranking)
Height, Weight

1. Ryan Kesler, C (6.5A, 1)
6’2, 225 lbs

When Ryan Kesler was taken in the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft it did not surprise many, but was viewed as a “safe” pick. Amidst a draft being hailed as the deepest since 1990, the pick of a relatively safe choice with perceived limited upside was not popular. Kesler was the teammate of 2002 first rounder, RJ Umberger (PHI) at Ohio State. Kesler jumped immediately to the professional ranks for the 2003-04 season, splitting time between the NHL and AHL. With the lockout, Kesler spent the entire season with the Manitoba Moose. He had a strong offensive season and displayed the excellent two-way play he was expected to produce when drafted. It was an extremely successful season for the American forward whose development clearly took a big step forward.

Kesler does not have any offensive traits that particularly stand out. He has relatively average puckhandling, passing, vision, and shooting but he is very consistent with all of these skills and tends to avoid making mistakes. He is a great skater who has a good understanding of the defensive side of the game, showing maturity for a player his age. He has the size and strength to match up with any opposition as well. Kesler will likely never be a full-time second line center, although he may float between the second and third lines at times of his career. What he looks to be on course to become is an elite checking line player who can contain the stars of the league while chipping in up to 40-45 points at his offensive peak. Kesler isn’t a prospect with a lot of shine to him, but he is the type of player that every championship team needs to have. He will likely be in the Canucks opening night line-up.

2. Luc Bourdon, D (8C, N/R)
6’2, 205 lbs

Vancouver’s first round pick in 2005, 10th overall, immediately shoots towards the top of the team’s prospect list as the player in the system who possesses the most potential. This past season Bourdon played in the QMJHL with Val-d’Or, one of the worst teams in the league, and finished with 32 points while playing in all 70 games, an impressive feat considering he logged massive minutes every night. He also represented Canada in the U18 World Championships, where he helped the team win a silver medal while being Canada’s top blueliner and was recognized as one of the best in the entire tournament. His play in the event likely influenced the Canucks’ decision to select him.

At 6’2, 205 lbs, Bourdon has good size for an 18-year-old. He is willing to be physical but does not run out of position to try to make the big hit. He is very difficult to battle with along the boards because of his grit and determination. His heart and desire to compete are big factors in his game. One of the most memorable clips from the U18 tournament was when Bourdon was hit in the leg by a shot and was badly hobbled by the after-effects. Despite being in obvious pain, Bourdon remained on his feet and in the play, holding his position until he could eventually make a change. Bourdon has good offensive abilities as well, although his numbers this past season playing with a weak offensive unit don’t truly reflect his mid-90 mph slap shot and puck moving capabilities. With top pairing upside, the verdict is still out on if Bourdon will become a No. 1 or 2 defenseman in the NHL, but either way the Canucks have a great prospect in their system with Bourdon.

3. Cory Schneider, G (7.5B, 5)
6’2, 195 lbs

Of the Canucks goaltending prospects, Schneider has the highest potential. As a freshman, Schneider played very well when he was given the opportunity to start, and certainly proved worthy of a first round selection. Schneider also served as backup to Al Montoya (NYR) for the United States at the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championships, although he did not play well in his only start against Belarus. The young American showed steady signs of progression throughout the season and demonstrated the maturity scouts raved about throughout the year.

Schneider has a reputation for being very poised and calm under pressure and for not allowing himself to get out of control. He’s a strong technical goalie, he faces up well against shooters, reads the play in front of him, and uses his body well to protect the net. He has good, but not outstanding reflexes, and tends to not be a flashy goalie. Schneider will return to Boston College for his sophomore year and will inherit the starting job. The extra time will certainly be a positive for Schneider. Schneider has the potential to be an above-average starting goalie for the Canucks down the road. At this point there is no indication of when Schneider will leave the NCAA ranks, and right now there is no reason to assume he will not use his full eligibility.

4. Jason King, RW (7C, 2)
6’1, 195 lbs

King never truly caught anyone’s attention until the start of the 2003-04 season when he began the year on a line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin and started to score goals at a torrid pace. He quickly slowed down, however, and by mid-season found himself demoted to the AHL. Back in the AHL for the 2004-05 year as a result of the CBA dispute, King continued to be a streaky scorer, but did not suffer an extensive period where he completely stopped to produce, unlike the previous year. Before suffering a concussion that kept him out of the latter parts of the season, King was one of the top goal scorers in the AHL.

King is a winger with powerful strides, decent overall skating, a good array of shots, and a nose for the net. He is an instinctive goal scorer who gets the puck into the back of the net but isn’t likely to produce a ton of highlight reel goals. He undeniably has the ability to produce on the second line of an NHL team and is a decent fit with the Sedin twins if he can overcome his inconsistency. Already having earned the “Mr. October” moniker similar to Brian Savage, King is going to need to produce steadily throughout the season if he’s going to stick with the Canucks. Assuming King doesn’t bomb at training camp, he should start next year in Vancouver, and, barring a big name free agent signing, should find himself with a roster spot for opening night. This is dependant upon his health, as there have been reports indicating that King isn’t entirely clear of post-concussion symptoms.

5. Kevin Bieksa, D (6B, 11)
6’1, 186 lbs

Throughout his collegiate career, Bieksa was identified as a solid defensive defensemen with fairly limited upside and almost no offensive potential. In his first season as a professional in 2004-05, he surpassed all expectations, quickly adapting to the faster-paced AHL style of play, considered before to be an issue because of his unremarkable skating, and stepping immediately into a top four, sometimes top pair, role with the Moose. In addition to being a defensive rock and an unpleasant player to try to set up against in front of the Moose’s net, Bieksa put up surprising offensive numbers with 12 goals and 27 assists for a total of 39 points. He lived up to his billing as a tough player as well, racking up 192 penalty minutes.

Bieksa is a mean and nasty defenseman. His hard-nosed, aggressive, and physical style of play is identified as precisely what the team needs. Although Bieksa does not appear to have tremendous potential as a top four NHL defenseman, many believe he is very close to being an NHL caliber blueliner right now, and may make the Canucks out of camp as the team’s No. 6 or 7 defenseman. Unlikely to ever be more than a third pairing player, Bieksa is still very likely to develop into a serviceable roster player for the Canucks, and should fill a toughness void identified as a weakness. Barring a poor training camp or a number of free agent signings, Bieksa has a good chance to being on the Canucks opening day roster. With how the Canucks defensive unit looks right now amidst the offseason moves, Bieksa could potentially be a full-time NHLer this year if he maintains his level of play through training camp, or he may spend the majority of the year in Manitoba.

6. Brett Skinner, D (7B, 12)
6’1, 195 lbs

The 2002 third-rounder had an excellent season with the University of Denver, emerging as one of the best defensemen in the NCAA. His put out impressive offensive numbers and demonstrated a vast array of skills with the puck. His defensive play showed improvement throughout the year. In 41 regular season games with Denver, Skinner scored four goals and 31 assists for 35 points. In addition to being named to the Frozen Four All-Star team, Skinner was recognized with a host of other honors to other conferences and publications’ “All Star” teams.

Skinner is often considered an offensive defensemen, but his impressive offensive stats tend to overshadow the fact that he is an excellent two-way player who takes care of his responsibilities in his own zone first, and then allows his offensive talents to shine. He is smooth skater who just needs to add a few more pounds of muscle to his frame to be ready for professional hockey. He was slated to return to Denver next year, where he was
expected to serve as the team’s captain, but it has been announced that he will make the transition to professional hockey with a year of eligibility left. He is expected to play a top-four role with the AHL’s Moose this season. Skinner has top-four potential as an NHL defensemen. How quickly he adapts to the AHL game will dictate when he will receive his first call-up to the NHL.

7. Julien Ellis, G (7C, 7)
6’0, 180 lbs

Taken on the second day of the 2004 Entry Draft, Ellis was considered a consensus third-round pick, or higher going in. Despite the disappointment of where he was selected, Ellis bounced back with possibly the best season of any Canucks prospect. Not only did Ellis carry his QMJHL team, Shawinigan, to a playoff appearance, and nearly a divisional championship, but he was named the Q’s best goalie over overage Moncton Wildcat goaltender Corey Crawford (CHI). Ellis had an impressive GAA and save percentage.

Between the pipes Ellis is a small, but extremely quick, goalie who has outstanding reflexes and the fastest glove in the entire Q. Because he is smaller than most goalies, he relies on his movement more than most. He reads the play well and gets across the crease extremely fast. In fact he often pushes off too hard when going post-to-post and leaves the area of the net he just came from exposed. However, with more strict instruction and experience this should become less of a problem. It is certainly better to have too much speed and explosiveness than not enough. Ellis will return to major junior this season, although he likely won’t have as much pressure on him to steal every game with the Cataractes recent acquisition of Alex Bourret (ATL), who should greatly help the team’s lackluster offense. Ellis is also considered a strong candidate for the Canadian WJC team.

8. Kiril Koltsov, D (7C, 4)
5’11, 185 lbs

The Russian defenseman had a controversial year that reminded many of concerns about his attitude and coachability when he was selected in 2002. Despite starting the year with the team’s AHL affiliate in Winnipeg, Koltsov decided to return to his team in Russia, Avangard Omsk. The move surprised most as it was generally acknowledged that Koltsov was becoming more comfortable playing on the smaller ice surface, and that his defensive game was improving without compromising his offensive numbers. When he left after 28 games, he had 17 points. Back in Russia, Koltsov’s numbers were underwhelming, although Koltsov played against better competition.

The former second round pick is a slightly undersized, offensive, defender, who relies on his skating and puck carrying abilities to remain in the lineup. He is a smart passer who isn’t afraid to make a long pass. The NHL’s decision to remove the red line to enable two-line passes definitely helps Koltsov’s cause as a prospect if he indeed wants to play in the NHL, something which has been called into question by his returning to Russia this past season. Many are skeptical of Koltsov both because of his attitude and size. If he is able to focus on making the NHL and his defensive positioning improves, Koltsov could become a very effective top four defensemen in the “new NHL.” He falls in the Canucks rankings largely due to the fact that the success rate of European prospects who come to North America and then return to Europe is extremely low. It is, however, important to acknowledge that this caution may be unwarranted because of the unusual situation created by the NHL lockout in 2004-05.

9. Alexander Edler, D (7C, 14)
6’4, 201 lbs

Selected by the Canucks in the 2004 draft with a specially-acquired third round pick, he was not widely known at the time. Edler was discovered by Swedish scout Thomas Gradin, and that there were rumors that the Detroit Red Wings, a team famous for making excellent late round European picks, were also targeting Edler. Interest and even excitement grew with the 2004-05 season, when Edler excelled while playing for MoDo’s junior team. The 6’4, 200 lbs Swedish defensemen averaged nearly a point-per-game and was offensively dominant.

Edler is primarily an offensive defensemen with all around talent with the puck. He passes well, is a good skater, and his shooting ability is adequate for the NHL. The major concern with Edler is his defensive play. He is criticized for not having strong defensive positioning and for failing to use his impressive frame enough. However, he does appear to want to improve his game.

Edler was selected by the Kelowna Rockets late in the first round of the 2005 CHL Import Draft and according to Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton, is scheduled to report to the Rockets for camp. The match could not be a more perfect one for him, who will join a team renown for its defensive play who is most likely losing its star defenseman in Shea Weber (NAS). Although Hamilton assured Hockey’s Future that the team will not try to smother Edler and will allow him to play to his strengths, it is obvious that lackluster play in own zone will not be tolerated. The anticipated move to the WHL is an excellent developmental move for Edler who will benefit from being able to adjust to the smaller rink size as a junior rather than while facing stiffer competition at the AHL level. Edler is on pace to become the offensive partner of the Canucks second defense pairing sometime down the road. The 2005-06 season will be a very important year in his development.

10. Tomas Mojzis, D (6B, 10)
6’1, 195 lbs

Acquired back in 2002 in a trade with the Maple Leafs in exchange for Brad Leeb, Mojzis has progressed nicely since entering the Canucks system. The 23-year-old Czech defender started to find his all-around game this year. Despite being relied on in a mostly defensive role on a pairing with Joe DiPenta with the Moose, Mojzis still posted 30 points in the regular season, while playing in 80 games.

An excellent skater with a good shot who makes a good first pass out of the defensive zone, Mojzis’ improved defensive play gives him a very good chance to play in the NHL at least part-time in the upcoming season. He needs to be physical on a more consistent basis as he tends to go a few games from time to time without instigating contact enough. If this component of his game can become steadier, it will increase the likelihood of him sticking with the NHL club. As of right now it appears that at least two defensive prospects will make the team out of training camp, and Mojzis is one of the players with a legitimate shot.

11. Alexander Vincent, G (7C, N/R)
6’4, 195 lbs

The Canucks fourth round pick in 2005, Vincent was projected as a late first round pick by some draft prognosticators. However, he fell dramatically on draft day. His frame will likely remind many familiar with the system of Alex Auld, but size and defending the bottom half of the net well are about all the two have in common. Vincent has extremely good reflexes and athleticism, especially for a 6’4 individual. His mental game needs to develop as he demonstrated in the 2004-05 season, particularly in the playoffs, that a bad outing can really knock him off his game and distract his focus.

Vincent is a very good, albeit very raw, goaltending prospect. He will return to Chicoutimi for the upcoming season and should continue to face the high number of shots that accompany a run-and-gun style of team that lacks a great defense. He is expected to be relied on to play the bulk of the games with the Sags, and hopefully with more experience he will become a more mature and focused goaltender. Vincent has the potential to develop into a starting goalie at the NHL level if he can match his mental game to his outstanding physical attributes. Because of the log-jam in the Canucks system with impressive goaltending prospects, it is reasonable to assume that Vincent will remain in the QMJHL for the next two seasons.

12. Evgeni Gladskikh, LW (7D, 8)
6’0, 175lbs

The small Russian winger probably had the best season of his young career in the RSL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. Despite the fact that the team had Patrick Elias and Petr Sykora playing for them, Gladskikh still managed to put up nearly the same numbers as he did the year before. His final season stats were 11 goals, 12 assists for 23 points in 42 games played. That put him just ten points behind Evgeni Malkin (PIT), who also appeared in ten more games than Gladskikh, who missed some time due to injury.

Gladskikh is a shifty, undersized winger who has the attributes of a sniper. He has a very quick release and is strong on breakaways and in shootout situations. His ability to handle the puck is great and he anticipates where the loose pucks will end up. He likes to try to slip behind the defense, a trait which will likely make him more successful with the red line being taken out of the NHL. He is now 23 years old and a decision needs to be made on him soon as to if he wants to be a Canuck or if he is content to play in the RSL. There have been some rumblings about him potentially coming over to play for the Moose for the upcoming season but nothing is confirmed right now. There is no doubt that, especially with the rule changes, Gladskikh has it in him to become a second line player, but he will need to show the commitment to play in North America and find a way for his defensive deficiencies to be overshadowed by his offensive production.

13. Ilya Krikunov, C (7D, 6)
5’11, 176lbs

Playing with Voskresensk Khimik, a team that had a number of NHLers and former NHLers playing with them for parts of the season, the undersized Russian pivot scored 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 59 games. Although his numbers did see a small rise over the previous year, his stats did not show the type of progression that one would hope from a developing young player. However, the fact that he was able to maintain his roster spot despite the influx of NHL-calibre talent does show a level of confidence which his RSL team officials had in his abilities. He finished fifth in points on the team, and all four players ahead of him have NHL experience.

Krikunov is a talented forward. He’s got good speed, puck handling skills, and very impressive vision. He is, however, very small by NHL standards and there do not appear to be any signs indicating that he has plans to come to North America. With the NHL-IIHF agreement in jeopardy, if the Canucks can’t assure he will get a spot with them and not be demoted to the AHL, it seems unlikely that Krikunov will want to leave his Russian team. If he does play in the NHL, Krikunov will likely be a second line player. The opening up of the game with the removal of the red line will certainly help make the transition easier, although he needs to become comfortable with the increased physicality of the NHL game. Because of extraneous factors, it is fairly unlikely that Krikunov will play for the Canucks.

14. Nathan McIver, D (6.5C, N/R)
6’2, 200 lbs

The defensive stalwart had a very strong final junior season playing for the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL. He scored a career high 26 points (4 goals, 22 assists) in 67 games and compiled 160 penalty minutes. Despite finishing with a -1, he was among the best on his team in that statistic. Throughout the junior season, McIver demonstrated his very strong defensive play, his willingness to drop the gloves, and his hard-nosed, gritty style of play. The St. Mike’s captain was probably the brightest spot on a team that was disappointing and failed to make the OHL playoffs.

McIver is a pure defensive defender. He’s got NHL size at 6’2, 200 lbs, and if he continues to gain muscle mass he could develop into a true bruising-type defenseman at the NHL level in a couple of years. Although he’s not a huge guy, he is willing to drop the gloves with any challengers, a trait which will certainly endear him to Moose fans next season and perhaps Canucks fans down the road. He’s an aggressive defenseman who punishes the opposition in the corners and in front of the net. He is expected to be leaving the OHL now and should debut with the Moose in 2005-06 unless he has a very poor training camp. Canucks GM Dave Nonis has said that he really liked what McIver brings to the table and that he believes he will be a fan favorite at every level he reaches. Much like Bieksa, McIver isn’t likely to ever become more than a third pairing defenseman.

McIver will most likely play with the Moose this season, barring a disastrous training camp which conceivably land him in the ECHL.

15. Marc-Andre Bernier, LW (6.5C, 9)
6’3, 218 lbs

After bouncing between the Halifax Mooseheads and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles the last year, Bernier was back with Halifax for 2004-05. He began the season struggling a bit offensively and at times was relegated to the third line. As the season went on his numbers and play gradually improved, and his increased output helped the Mooseheads have an outstanding second half of the season, and the team quickly surpassed the rival Moncton Wildcats, who were crippled by injuries at the same time. Bernier ended the season with 27 goals, 23 assists, the exact same totals he had the year before with Cape Breton despite playing eight more games this season.

Bernier has a pro physique at 6’3, around 220 lbs and possesses an NHL caliber shot, with a booming slapshot that, probably tied with Adam Pineault (CLB), was the hardest in the QMJHL’s Maritime Division the past year. Furthermore, between the face-off dots he has good accuracy with his shot. He tends to be more erratic when shooting from the outside. He is a decent passer and an unselfish player in the sense that he knows when it’s best to give up the puck. Many of the top shooters in the Q have a tendency to shoot from everywhere on the ice, but Bernier rarely got caught up in his own specialty. The biggest concern about Bernier is the fact that he does not use his size enough. Although he is not averse to some grinding along the boards, he was not nearly physically dominant enough with big, hard, bodychecks for a player of his size in a league that has the reputation of being soft and small. If Bernier is able to get more physically aggressive, he may one day be a good linemate for the Sedins with his big body, ability to cycle the puck, and booming shot. Bernier will play for the Moose next season and likely will land a spot on the top two lines unless the team signs a number of veterans.

16. Denis Grot, D (6.5C, 19)
6’0, 180 lbs

Grot was once again the odd man out with Lokomotiv, skating only one game during the 2004-05 season before being loaned to the RSL bottom feeder Sibir Novosibirsk. With Sibir the young defenseman’s ice time increased drastically and he played very well in a mostly defensive role. As the season came to an end, Grot was recalled from Sibir, but then again sent to the High League (Russia 2) playoff contender Amur (Khabarovsk). There the Vancouver Canucks second round pick finished the season in impressive form, getting a lot of ice time and seeing his role being shifted from strictly defense to some power play time and participation in the opponent’s end of the ice. Amur made it all the way to the semifinals of the High League playoffs, barely missing the cut for a promotion to the Russian Super League (Russia 1).

Grot is slowly developing into a two-way game that will help him develop into a NHL player. He is a very smooth skater with relative good speed and makes a good first pass out of the defensive zone. There have been improvements in his defensive game as he is relied more and more in crucial situations as well as on the penalty kill.

While Grot is not usually prone to making mistakes, he needs to continue to be vigilant in improving his defensive play to a level where he can play on a regular basis with Vancouver. He tends to turn the puck over when he tries to stickhandle out of dicey situations. While he isn’t shy about using his body, Grot lacks that valuable mean streak that helps many defensemen play on that edge. Another minor concern is whether Grot can overcome some nagging back injuries that have plagued his last couple of the years. Grot’s development has been bumpy over the past few years and it will need to smooth out and become more consistent over the next one to two years for him to have a chance at an NHL career. He’s a long shot prospect who many felt had taken a step back because he was bouncing around, but reports from Russia are very positive about this young defender.

17. Mike Brown, RW (6B, 16)
6’0, 200 lbs

A fifth round pick in the 2004 Draft, Brown returned to the University of Michigan this year for his sophomore season and continued to perform the same way he did in his freshman year. 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 an energetic type of player who plays a hard-nosed, gritty, style of game. He plays the role of the best extremely well, and much like current Canucks Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu, is a great aggravator, who can take opponents off their game and draw penalties. He doesn’t have much in the way off offensive upside, but he is a professional quality skater with good speed and a tremendous work ethic. He kills penalties for the Wolverines, likes to throw hits, and has no qualms about sacrificing his body to block shots. He will fill a third or fourth line role on all pro teams he plays for, but could fill an important depth role in Vancouver in three to five years.

18. Mason Raymond, LW (7D, N/R)
6’0, 175 lbs

Raymond played the 2004-05 season with the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL, where he was among the most offensively dominant players in the league, scoring 41 goals and 42 assists in 55 games. At the RBC Cup, Raymond had 10 points in five games. He was chosen by the Canucks with their second round pick in the recent 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Raymond is described as a good all-around offensive player who has particularly impressive playmaking skills. His skating ability is NHL quality, and this may become particularly important if the rule changes are as dramatic as many believe they will be for the game. He is described as having excellent hockey sense and having really good decision-making abilities. At 170 lbs, Raymond obviously needs to bulk up quite a bit, roughly 20 lbs, in order to play in the NHL, but reports indicate he has not done much weight training in the past, so with proper guidance from the Canucks gaining muscle mass shouldn’t be too difficult. Raymond is set to debut with Minnesota Duluth this season, playing his first competitive hockey outside the AJHL. Soon to be 20 years old, it is difficult to forecast how long he will stay in college. At this point he looks to have a reasonable chance at developing into a second-line player, but that will require a lot of positive development. A successful freshman season at Minnesota Duluth will go a long way.

19. John Laliberte, RW (6C, 19)
6’2, 200 lbs

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.

20. Lukas Mensator, G (6C, NR)
5’10, 170 lbs

After two seasons with the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, Mensator made the decision to return to the Czech Republic. This past season he appeared in just 13 games with Karlovy Vary HC of the Czech Extra League, finishing with an unimpressive 3-4-3 record. He posted one shutout and a 2.97 GAA. He finished with a .919 save percentage. Considering he began the season as the team’s third-string goaltender, getting ten decisions in itself is somewhat of a moral victory. He was eventually demoted to Karlovy’s farm team, IHC Pisek of the First League, where he played 14 games with the last-place team. The organization then moved him to First League rival Mladá Boleslav, where he was able to play in some meaningful games. In 31 games at the First League level, between his two teams, Mensator finished with a 15-11-5 record, including five shutouts, a 2.50 GAA, and an impressive .928 save percentage.

Despite the fact that he seems unlikely to return to North America, this deep into the Canucks system, Mensator’s talent and strong place as a very young player in the Czech leagues make him worthy of a ranking at this level. If he does return to North America, Mensator could perhaps evolve into a backup goaltender.

Conclusion

The Canucks also have several other prospects with the potential to at least appear in the NHL over the course of their career. Gritty fourth line potential forwards such as Brandon Nolan deserve honorable mentions for the top 20 list. Europeans Jannik Hansen and 2005-drafted Mario Bliznak, both of whom will be debuting in the WHL in 2005-06 could earn their way onto the next Top 20 with strong CHL rookie seasons. The Canucks have plenty of players with second line/defensive pairing potential, but many of them are longshot prospects. Beyond Bourdon, none of the Canucks skating prospects have top line potential. The Canucks prospects system will continue to be ranked in the bottom half of HF’s Organizational Rankings.


Eugene Belashchenko, DJ Powers and Guy Flaming contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.