The Vancouver Canucks currently have five players playing in the NCAA ranks: three forwards, one defenseman and a goaltender, who happens to be one of their top prospects overall.
Cory Schneider, G, 19 (Boston College)
Drafted: 1st round, 26th overall (2004)
The 6’2, 195 lb native of Marblehead, Mass. has been one of the best goaltenders in the entire NCAA this season for Boston College. The sophomore has appeared in 18 games, posting a record of 13-4-1. He is among the leaders in the nation with a .929 save percentage and a 1.89 goals against average. He’s also tied for third in shutouts with four already. He has started all but three games this year for the team, all of which occurred while he was representing Team USA at the World Juniors in Vancouver. Schneider played well at the tournament, but clearly not up to his top ability. Much like the entire US team, he did under-perform slightly, although it was a marked improvement from his disastrous appearance at the 2005 tournament.
Schneider uses his big frame to his advantage to make the saves look easy. He is rock solid positionally and is well known for being extremely calm between the pipes. He keeps himself square to the puck and doesn’t allow himself to get caught out of position. He rarely gives up bad goals, but has proven the ability to come back after they do happen. It may be his demeanor off the ice that is the greatest indication of how far he could go. He is remarkably mature and well spoken off-ice. There is no question that Schneider has the abilities to be an NHL starting goaltender. He has the physical tools and the ability to handle the pressure. He has had some gaffes in big spotlights, which is somewhat concerning, but his maturity should carry him through any difficult times.
Mason Raymond, LW, 20 (Minnesota Duluth)
Drafted: 2nd round, 51st overall (2005)
Despite being drafted a year later, Raymond is roughly six months older than Schneider. The 6’0, 185 lbs winger is playing his first season in collegiate hockey after a few years in the AJHL and has immediately become an impact player for Minnesota Duluth. After 25 games the Cochrane, Alberta native leads the team as a freshman, with eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points. Unfortunately Raymond’s efforts haven’t been enough to keep the Bulldogs out of the bottom half of the WCHA standings. His strong start to his NCAA career is a great sign, but it is important to recognize that he is 20 years old.
Raymond has speed to spare. He’s an extraordinarily fast up-and-down skater with excellent side-to-side movement, quick hands and a solid hockey sense that includes good playmaking talents. He is unselfish and makes good choices in the offensive zone. Raymond told HF earlier this season that it is his mental game that is really coming along in collegiate hockey, speaking of the impact that Coach Scott Sandelin has had on his game.
“Coach has taught me to understand that each night is a battle, a war and that on any given night anyone can win, especially playing in the WCHA. He’s helped me to understand the mental preparation of going into the game and being prepared for any kind of outcome.”
Raymond’s good start has proven that he has future second-line potential and has improved the likelihood of him reaching that level.
John Laliberte, RW, 22 (Boston University)
Drafted: 4th round, 114th overall (2002)
Now a senior, Laliberte has had his best offensive season of his collegiate career to date and currently has a point-per-game average for the first time in the NCAA. In 20 games this year he has seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points. He also has a +6 rating with eight penalty minutes. He has excelled on the power play, though, scoring five of his seven goals with the man advantage.
He has always been touted as a checking line-type of player and he continues to develop into the type of player who should be able to make the transition from the NCAA to the minor pro ranks easily, similar to how Mike Brown has been able to adapt this season playing for the Manitoba Moose. He has great wheels and a very strong upper body. He plays along the boards well and is aggressive. He likely will develop into somewhat of a pest at the professional level. His puck skills are decent, but unremarkable as a whole. It will be his speed and strength that will get him into a Canucks uniform if he ever makes it. He may have third line upside.
Andrew Sarauer, LW, 21 (Northern Michigan)
Drafted: 4th round, 125th overall (2004)
After journeying through the BCHL, the Canucks took a major leap of faith when they selected Sarauer in the fourth round of the 2004 draft from the Langley Hornets. At 6’4, 205, he’s a monstrous player and uses his size well along the boards and in front of the nets. However, there has to be obvious concern about his offensive production this sophomore season for him. He has just five points in 17 games, although the team is winning, currently sitting second in the CCHA standings behind only Miami.
If he’s going to make it, this 21-year-old needs to improve everything, especially his skating and his puck skills. Sometimes he tends to overthink and passes the puck in a prime shooting area. He needs to be more assertive and commit himself to working on his weaknesses. As the saying goes, you can’t teach size, and Sarauer has an abundance of that but clearly needs work if he’s going to get offered a contract. At this point, it’s tough to see him spending any less than the full four years at Northern Michigan unless he rapidly develops next season.
Chad Brownlee, D, 21 (Minnesota State)
Drafted: 6th round, 190th overall (2003)
Brownlee has never been much of an offensive defenseman, and that hasn’t changed this season, as he’s managed to compile one assist all season long in 15 appearances. The junior has picked up 24 penalty minutes thus far.
Much like Sarauer, Brownlee has a long way to come in the rest of his time in the NCAA. A purely defensive d-man, he needs to get bigger and stronger and develop his movement. The good news is that he is touted to have a great work ethic, which is the No. 1 necessity for a player who needs to make significant improvements. The reality of Brownlee is that he likely will play out his career in the minor pro ranks.
Of the Canucks’ five NCAA prospects, three of them likely have legitimate NHL potential. Schneider has the makings of a starting goalie in the big show, and possibly that of a star, while Raymond could develop into a nice second line winger with fantastic wheels and Laliberte may become a depth line winger.
The team also has a pair of players in the CJAHL currently in Matt Butcher and Kris Fredheim, both of whom should be in the NCAA next season.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.