Canucks CHL prospects update

By Matt MacInnis

For the 2005-06 season, the Vancouver Canucks have seven players playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Of these seven players, two are forwards, two are goaltenders and three are defensemen. Four of the players play in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and three in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Three of the seven players are Europeans who have come from their home countries to learn the North American style of play. Three of the team’s 2005-drafted players are now in the CHL, including No. 10 overall selection Luc Bourdon, with Val-d’Or in the QMJHL.

Key: Player, Position, Age (Drafted)
Current Team (League)

Mario Bliznak, C, 18 (Seventh round, 205th overall, 2005)
Vancouver Giants (WHL)

The slight Bliznak was the Canucks’ last pick in the recent 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and the fact that he had been selected by the WHL’s Vancouver Giants earlier in the summer certainly didn’t hurt their decision to choose the Trencin, Slovakia native. Despite posting decent number in the Slovakian junior leagues, it was his commitment to two-way play at the Under-18 World Juniors that most caught the attention of scouts. It is not expected that he will be a significant offensive contributor, but could play a steady third-line role in the future.

His season with the Giants has been as expected. Having played in 15 games this year, he has one goal and four assists for five points. He hasn’t seen tremendous amounts of ice time, and he has often struggled adapting to the different style. He is a team-worst -7 which is not helping the coaching staff to gain confidence in his play. Bliznak should improve as he plays more games in the more physical WHL and on the smaller ice surface. Hopefully his experience this year is good enough overall that he returns next year to continue to develop his game.

Luc Bourdon, D, 18 (First round, 10th overall, 2005)
Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

The Canucks biggest organizational need going into draft day was a scoring forward, but even with exotic Slovenian forward Anze Kopitar (LA) left on the board at tenth overall, the Canucks couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take the 6’2, 200 lbs defenseman from Shippigan, New Brunswick. Bourdon impressed everyone who watched at the Under-18 World Juniors where he displayed his skills, heart, and work ethic during the event. He continued to impress at the Canucks rookie and training camp where he came very close to actually making the team as an 18-year-old defenseman. He is a big, bruising-type player who can also help generate offense with his first passes, decision-making skills and booming shot.

After nearly making the team, Bourdon returned to Val-d’Or, and has slipped into many of the bad habits he had in the Q last year. The Foreurs continue to be a weak team despite a trio of solid defensemen, with eight wins and 14 losses this season. Bourdon has 19 points in just 15 games this year, a great stat for a defender, but is a dismal -11, one of the worst on the team. This figure is somewhat misleading, however, as Bourdon plays significant minutes, often with defensive partners or forward lines that are defensively deficient. But Bourdon is trying to do too much at times this year, running around the ice trying to make the big hit and score on the same shift too many times a night. Bourdon is not that dissimilar from highly-touted Dion Phaneuf (CGY), the big difference being Phaneuf has benefited tremendously from playing under Brent Sutter, widely acknowledged as one of the, if not the single best, coach in junior hockey. Sutter has a reputation of coaching a very pro-style game, and the WHL teams typically put more of an emphasis on defensive play. Playing in the Q will provide more opportunities for Bourdon to advance his offensive skills.

Julien Ellis-Plante, G, 19 (Sixth round, 189th overall, 2004)
Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

After falling several rounds on draft day, Ellis-Plante rebounded by being the best goaltender in the QMJHL, and possibly the entire CHL, in the 2004-05 season. Ellis-Plante carried the Cataractes all season long, keeping them at the top of their division for roughly three-quarters of the year before losing their top spot and eventually being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs where the young goalie appeared tired. Ellis-Plante is a lightning-fast butterfly-style goaltender. Slightly built and generously listed at 6’0 tall, he relies on his reflexes and ability to get across the crease quickly to stop the puck. He has some problems with rebound control, and performs best when seeing a lot of rubber.

The francophone is having another strong season with a 2.92 GAA (eighth among starting goaltenders) and .912 save percentage. He is expected to be one of the goalies in contention to make the Canadian World Junior team, but needs to step up his play over the next month to ensure that he makes the selection camp. Among an impressive stable of goaltending prospects, Ellis-Plante certainly holds his own in the Canucks organization, and likely will make the transition to professional hockey next season. Ellis-Plante has proven time after time over the past year that he definitely has the ability to steal points for his team, a trait the Canucks have lacked between the pipes arguably for the past decade.

Alexander Edler, D, 19 (Third round, 91st overall, 2004)
Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

The selection of Edler caught most draft-watchers by surprise as the massive Swede wasn’t on many lists. But with rumors that another team was interested in Edler, the Canucks traded to acquire the pick they used on the Ostersund native. Edler is a large defender with a 6’4, 200 lbs frame with very strong skating abilities and great puck-moving skills. The downside of Edler is his defensive positioning and physicality, both of which are sorely lacking and need significant improvement before he will be ready for the AHL.

Edler made his first appearance with the Canucks this summer at their rookie and training camps, where he showed his weak defensive play. After a fairly poor camp, however, he reported to his junior team, the Kelowna Rockets, and quickly established himself as an offensive threat. After 21 games, Edler has 21 points, leading the league in scoring by defensemen and is third among all rookies. His defensive play has come along fairly slowly, however, but he is finding a way to contribute to his team as he develops, and that is a positive sign. Despite his issues, Edler is showing that he has solid NHL potential and is adjusting to the North American style of play, which is exactly what was expected of him this season.

Jannik Hansen, RW, 19 (Ninth round, 287th overall, 2004)
Portland Winter Hawks (WHL)

A hail-Mary type of pick among the final choices of the 2004 draft, Hansen has been heralded as a Danish player with a slick scoring touch. An unknown commodity before this season because of the relative obscurity of his home league, Hansen has come to the forefront with his strong start this season in the WHL.

Despite playing in only 15 of his team’s 17 games due to a suspension, Hansen is tied with Peter Mueller (2006) in overall rookie scoring with 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists). One of the biggest concerns with young players is that they are often very streaky scorers. Hansen, however, has registered at least a point in all but two of his games this season. Hansen is showing that he definitely has the raw offensive skill set to develop into a NHL player. He is definitely rising up the organizational depth chart.

David Schulz, D, 19 (Eighth round, 254th overall, 2004)
Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

Schulz turns 20 in the first days of 2006, which could make his fourth WHL season his last year in the junior league. Schulz has limited upside, with little offensive ability and some mobility issues. Despite his 6’3, 203 lbs frame, he sometimes does not use his size and strength quite as much as you’d like for his type of player, and this has been evident at times early this season. One concern with Schulz is that he may have been an early bloomer and may not have much potential left in him.

Schulz has five points in 19 games this year and 20 penalty minutes. He also has a -1 rating on a team that has more positives than negatives. Schulz needs to have a strong final three-quarters of the season to instill confidence in the organization enough to offer him a contract; otherwise he may find himself cast off as an unrestricted free agent.

Alexandre Vincent, G, 18 (Fourth round, 114th overall, 2005)
Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

Another example of a player the Canucks selected who slipped on draft day, Vincent was hailed as a possibly late first round pick by some draft pundits. A huge goalie at 6’4, 200 lbs, Vincent plays a very similar style as current Canucks backup Alexander Auld, although he appears to be faster and further along at this early juncture than Auld. Vincent plays the QMJHL-staple butterfly style and uses his size to not only take away the lower half of the net, but a significant part of the top half as well. Rebound control and his ability to bounce back after a weak goal are the biggest issues surrounding Vincent.

Vincent has not been the full-time starting goaltender this year in Chicoutimi, having shared time with Sylvain Michaud (NYI). This is the second straight year that Michaud has received more ice time than his more highly touted counterpart, as long year he played the lion’s share of the minutes after Christmas over J.P. Levasseur (ANA). When he has gotten into the lineup, Vincent has played very well, posting a 1.98 GAA and .937 save percentage in his nine appearances. He also has a 6-2 record thus far this season. Although the Canucks undoubtedly would like to see their draft pick starting full-time, the competition can only help to push Vincent, and with Ellis-Plante and Cory Schneider also with the team, he’d better get used to it.

The Canucks have a strong group playing in the CHL this season, bolstered by both what appears to be a solid 2005 draft, and the decision of Edler to play for the Rockets. Bourdon’s play to date has been under-whelming, but he has a history of stepping up his play to the level of competition, so big things are expected from him at the upcoming World Juniors. With his smart decision making and bruising style of play, he should quickly become a favorite of Brent Sutter’s. Ellis-Plante, Edler, and Bliznak are all hopefuls to make their national teams.

Overall it has been a good start to the season by the Canucks’ CHL prospects. Hansen, Vincent, Ellis-Plante and Edler have come out of the gate very quickly, as has Bourdon, although expectations for him were raised because of his NHL training camp. Bliznak and Schulz have been average to mediocre, but the early struggle was expected for Bliznak.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.