Canucks goaltending pipeline

By Matt MacInnis

Several NHL teams have very deep pipelines of goaltending prospects, but the most underappreciated may be that of the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver has long been considered a goalie graveyard, with a parade of goaltenders through the team in the late 90s, and now, even with Dan Cloutier solidly starting for a number of years, the position hasn’t been an asset for the team.

This year, the Canucks appear to be going with Cloutier again as the starter, with 28-year-old Brent Johnson and 24-year-old Alex Auld vying for the backup job.

With the NHL ranks seemingly set for now, the Canucks possess a number of highly talented young goaltenders in their system that will look to turn this area from a weakness into a strength in the future.

Cory Schneider
Drafted: 1st Round, 26th overall (2004)

The highest selected goaltender in the Canucks system, Cory Schneider was taken in 2004 in the first round. The American prospect’s stock rose heading into the draft after an outstanding season with Phillips-Andover prep school, including posting a .960 save percentage. After carrying the United States to a silver medal in the 2004 U-18 World Championships, the Canucks selected the Boston College-bound netminder.

Splitting time in the crease during his freshman season in 2004-05, Schneider was nearly perfect in his 19 appearances, finishing with a 13-1-4 record. He had an impressive 1.90 GAA and a .916 save percentage, with one shutout, allowing just 35 goals on 417 shots. At the end of the season he was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team, and was also was named the recipient of Boston College’s Bernie Burke Award for Outstanding Freshman of the Year. The only blemish on his season was a disastrous showing in his one start at the World Junior Championships in relief of Al Montoya (NYR), a game where the entire team struggled.


Schneider is an above average sized goaltender at 6’2, 200 lbs, who appears to be much larger than he actually is. He is a technical butterfly goaltender who focuses on taking the bottom half of the net away from shooters, and uses his size and positioning very well in net. He reads the play well and has good lateral movement. His quick feet have made his dazzling kick saves a memorable characteristic of his style. He is recognized as a team leader and constantly communicates with his teammates during games. His biggest weakness is his rebound control, which will need to be improved before he makes the transition to the professional ranks.

Schneider will be the full-time starter for Boston College this season. He was invited to the USA’s World Junior Evaluation Camp during the summer and is expected to earn the starting role with that team as well, one which is among the early favorites to win gold. Schneider will have ample opportunity to develop during the season and continue to prove himself to be one of the best, and most underappreciated, goaltending prospects in hockey.

Julien Ellis
Drafted: 6th Round, 189th overall (2004)

A highly-touted prospect throughout his draft year, Ellis fell from the early rounds where he was expected to be selected to the second day of the draft and the sixth round. Ellis’ diminutive size and a poor performance at the annual Top Prospects game are typically cited as the cause for his surprising drop in draft position. What there is little said about is how he rebounded from the disappointment of draft day. Ellis took the QMJHL by storm in the 2004-05 season. He carried a weak Shawinigan Cataractes team to a playoff position, and managed to keep them leading their division for nearly three-quarters of the season. He posted four shutouts en route to a 2.41 GAA and a .921 save percentage.

Ellis did fade down the stretch as his team continued to struggle in front of him and he seemed to tire from the heavy workload. Ellis played in 59 games, totalling more than 3400 minutes. Despite faltering slightly towards the end of the season, Ellis was named the recipient of the Jacques Plante Trophy as the QMJHL’s best goaltender, as well as receiving a spot on the QMJHL’s First All-Star Team. He stole many games for Shawinigan and kept them in games in which they were badly overmatched.

Ellis is a smallish goaltender with a 6’0, 185 lbs frame. He looks small between the pipes as well, but his speed, reflexes, and technical skill enable him to be one of the best CHL goaltenders right now. He has incredible speed and gets across the crease from post-to-post faster than any other goaltender in the Q and possesses a lightning fast glove hand as well. As a smaller goalie, he has to work harder to cover the net, but his reflexes and instincts help him compensate for his size. He has some rebound control issues at times, and also sometimes pushes off too hard going across the crease and gets himself caught out of position.

For the third consecutive season, Ellis will start for Shawinigan and will likely play close to 60 games once again. He is also in the running to earn a spot on the Canadian World Junior Championship team, and could possibly capture the starting job if his play early in the season matches his performance from last season. Ellis will receive ample ice time this season to hone his skills and prove that he is ready for the professional ranks for 2005-06.

Alexandre Vincent
Drafted: 4th Round, 114th overall (2005)

Another QMJHL goalie who fell a few rounds on draft day, Vincent was available inthe fourth round of the most recent NHL Entry Draft. He began his major junior career in 2003-04 by making 30 appearances, including an 11-11-1 record with three shutouts while backing up Edmonton Oilers prospect Jeff Deslauriers. With Deslauriers graduating to the professional ranks this season, the door was opened for Vincent to take the starting job with Chicoutimi, an offensive juggernaut in the league. Despite his team’s focus on the offensive side of the game, Vincent managed a respectable 3.01 GAA and .904 save percentage.

At 6’4’, 195 lbs, Vincent has great size and follows the recent trend of NHL teams drafting taller goaltenders. A butterfly goaltender, he is extremely difficult to beat down low, but needs to work on his timing and coverage of the upper half of the net. He is very agile and has good reflexes, surprising traits for such a large netminder. The mental side of his game needs refinement. He has shown that he can get flustered and put off his game by a bad goal, and doesn’t have a demonstrated history of stepping up the quality of his play in big games.

He will once again be the starting goalie in Chicoutimi this season and should play around 50 games, barring injuries. Chicoutimi will once again have an offensively dynamic team that will depend on Vincent to hold the fort in their own zone. One of his most impressive attributes is the fact that he backstopped a team to the QMJHL semi-finals at the age of 18, and will very likely help the Sags return to the same level this season. Vincent is a talented young goaltender who has playoff experience and success already at this early point in his career.

Lukas Mensator
Drafted: 3rd Round, 83rd overall (2002)

The tiny Czech was a third round pick back in 2002 in a case where the Canucks perhaps reached. Since draft day, Mensator has had a tumultuous career. After posting a 26-8-5 record in his draft year with a .900 save percentage and 3.06 GAA, Mensator seemed poised to have an even stronger 2003-04. He saw more action the next year, appearing in 50 games, but saw his goals against average rise to 3.34 with a significantly weaker Ottawa 67s team, including a personal record of 18-22-7.

His major junior career done, many believed he would be playing in the AHL in 2004-05. But the NHL lockout ensured Auld would remain with the Moose, and the signing of Wade Flaherty locked up the two AHL spots. Rather than return to the OHL as an overager, or play in the ECHL, Mensator elected to return home and play for Karlovy Vary HC of the Czech league. In 13 starts with the team he was just 3-7-3, although he did earn a shutout and have an impressive .919 save percentage. He ended up spending much of the year playing for a number of minor league Czech teams, although he finished admirably in the lower tiers.

Mensator plays a style similar to former Canuck Arturs Irbe. The very small goaltender relies on speed and technique and unlike many goalies today, needs to be proactive to stop the puck rather than just allowing it to hit him. He has problems filling the net and is often beatable upstairs. He is aggressive, though, and gets out of his crease to cut down the angle on shooters and limit how much of the net they can shoot at.

Mensator will spend the next season trying to secure a full time starting job in the Extra-League. At this point he either needs to prove himself in Europe in hopes of re-attracting the Canucks’ attention to him, or make the transition to back to North America. It is evident the small goalie has talent, but it needs to be developed properly. He could be an NHL backup if he improves his skills, but he needs to get into a secure situation to make that happen.

Rob McVicar
Drafted: 5th Round, 151st overall (2002)

The 22-year-old made his professional debut in the 2003-04 season, spending time with both the Moose (AHL) and Columbia Inferno (ECHL). In 29 games between the two leagues, McVicar put up a 15-8-4 record with a total save percentage of .909 and a GAA around 2.75, all very respectable statistics for a first-year professional goaltender.

McVicar played in 34 games in 2004-05 for Columbia with a 14-14-2 record. While splitting time with Mike Minard, he managed a .920 save percentage, 2.37 GAA, and three shutouts. He started one game for the Moose, which he lost, giving up three goals on 42 shots.

McVicar appears destined for another season in the ECHL with Flaherty still with the Moose and one of Auld or Johnson seemingly destined for the AHL as well. Barring a trade, McVicar will continue to develop in the ECHL, although he appears to be on the right path to become a full-time AHL goaltender in the future. In time he could be the right type of veteran AHL goalie to pressure younger prospects to excel in order to earn their playing time. Although he likely will never be an NHL goalie, he still could become an important part of the developmental system.

Conclusions

Auld is no longer a prospect according to Hockey’s Future’s guidelines. The 24-year-old goaltender is currently battling Johnson for the backup position and whoever wins the job will like see upwards of 25-30 starts with the Canucks this season. Auld has the capacity to develop into a solid 1A/1B type of goaltender capable of equally sharing the starting duties, and depending on how this camp and the upcoming season go, this could potentially be the situation in 2006-07.

The Canucks possess three prospects with starting potential in Schneider, Ellis, and Vincent, and all three goaltending prospects are coming off extremely good seasons. Schneider and Ellis will be heavily relied on this year. Expectations are extremely high for both of them to continue to play as well as they did this past year.

The only issue the Canucks may have coming up is finding enough room for their young goaltenders to play. The Canucks have recently demonstrated a desire to get their NCAA prospects out of college before they graduate, most recently this offseason with Mike Brown and Brett Skinner. Julien Ellis will be leaving the QMJHL after the next season or two (as will Vincent), and it is very probable that Schneider will have outgrown the collegiate ranks around the same time. Having too many ready goaltending prospects is a good problem to have for the team.




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