The Vancouver Canucks received meaningful
contributions to their team from three prospects or rookies in Ryan Kesler,
Kevin Bieksa and Alexandre Burrows.
Kesler and Burrows played physical roles on the bottom six forwards for
the team while Bieksa played half the season helping the team out in front of
its own net. While Bieksa and Burrows’
contributions were pleasant surprises, Kesler’s lack of offense throughout the
season was disappointing, although his play improved throughout the
season. Several other rookies also made
brief appearances in the NHL for the Canucks.
Kesler, C (Age 21) – Although technically not a rookie due
to the 28 games he played for the Canucks during the 2003-04 NHL season, this
season was his first full season in the big show. Kesler played on a wide variety of lines during the course of the
season in a number of different roles.
However, he spent most of his team on the bottom two lines in a
checking-line role and getting some penalty kill minutes. Later in the season, when it became clear
that the “West Coast Express” line of Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison and
Markus Naslund was not playing to the best of their abilities, Kesler got some
minutes playing with both Bertuzzi and Naslund, mostly apart, but occasionally
Despite scoring 30 goals in 2004-05 in the AHL,
Kesler failed to show impressive offensive prowess this season, scoring just 10
goals and 23 total points. His shot was
weak and inaccurate and his offensive instincts did not shine through. As the season went on his overall play
improved. He became increasingly
physical and drops the gloves several times, including a fight with Flames star
Jarome Iginla. Overall Kesler’s play
left a lot to be desired and there is no question that he needs to demonstrate
greater offensive flair if he hopes to be more than a third liner and penalty
killer. The outlook for Kesler is not
clear at this point. It is clear he is
an NHL-caliber player and will play in the league for a long time. However, it is up to him to determine if his
role with the Canucks will be as a checker or a scorer. With the Canucks failing to make the
playoffs, Kesler will join Team USA at the World Hockey Championships.
Bieksa, D (Age 24) – Bieksa went into training camp with
mixed expectations from observers and a clearly uncertain spot within the
organization. After his outstanding
professional rookie season in the AHL during the lockout, Bieksa established
himself as a bona fide prospect. The
Canucks had several positions available on their blue line when the year began
and it was speculated that Bieksa could take one of them with a strong
camp. Unfortunately for him he never
got the chance as a leg injury kept him out of most of camp and the start of
the season. Bieksa eventually broke
into the line-up on Dec. 19 and stuck with the team for the rest of the season,
although he did not appear in a game after April 3. Bieksa played on the second and third pairings during the season
depending on how injuries were affecting the team’s defensive corps.
Bieksa played solidly all season, providing reliable
defensive zone coverage and physicality in his own zone. His north-south speed proved to be better
than expected, although his turning could use some refinements to make him
slightly more mobile. In fairness to
Bieksa, the same could be said of 90 percent of the defensemen in the NHL. Bieksa showed a willingness to jump up in
the play at times and also demonstrated good judgement in doing so. His efforts did not yield great result,
however, as he managed to earn just six assists in 39 games played. Bieksa is all but guaranteed a spot on the
Canucks third pairing next season thanks to his strong play when he was in the
Burrows, LW (Age 25) – Burrows got the call to join the Canucks
on Jan. 2 and stuck with the team for the rest of the year, appearing in 43
games, scoring seven goals and five assists for 12 points. He also received 61 minutes in penalties. Burrows has good speed and demonstrated an
aggressive and intense style of play.
After scoring four goals in his first 12 games in the NHL, he scored in
only one of his remaining 31 games (the exception being a notable one, a hat
trick in a 7-4 win over the Kings). The
third goal never actually touched Burrows, but was not changed.
To be effective, Burrows has to play at a high level
of intensity that is nearly impossible to maintain over the course of a full
season. Because he is not particularly
big at 5’11, 190 lbs, he also runs the risk of accruing injuries due to his
frenetic and physical style of play.
And there is the problem of Burrows having poor hockey sense and very
limited offensive talent at this level.
Burrows has been a 30-goal scorer in junior and the ECHL, but clearly is
not able to put out anything resembling those stats at the NHL level.
Rypien, C (Age 21) – Rypien appeared in just five games
with the Canucks between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31, a stretch where the Canucks went
1-4, losing every game by just one goal.
His stint in the NHL came to a crashing halt when he slammed into the
boards and broke his ankle. He was out
of action until his return to the AHL on March 12 but did not return to the
Canucks line-up. Rypien scored a goal
in his first-ever NHL game, but his style of play is to be an aggressive and
relentless forechecker. He tallied one
point in five NHL games, as well as four penalty minutes. Undersized at 5’11, 170 lbs, Rypien relies
on speed and heart, much like fellow Canucks rookie Burrows. Due to his size and limited skill set, Rypien
faces a significant uphill battle to get back to the NHL. His ceiling is limited to playing limited
minutes on the fourth line.
Balej, RW (Age 24) – Balej played his first, and only,
game as a Canuck this season on Dec. 4, registering an assist on a Kesler goal
early in the third period. While in the
AHL, he suffered a freak accident when the end of his stick was driven into his
body causing him to miss the rest of the season with internal injuries. His future is uncertain.
Smith, C (Age 24) – Smith played just one game this
season, a 3-1 win over Chicago on Nov. 22.
A number of other depth players within the organization saw longer
stints in the NHL than him this season which likely signifies that he will be
unable to reach the NHL on a full-time basis with the Canucks.
McVicar, G (Age 24) – McVicar played two minutes during a
5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 1.
McVicar does not show signs of NHL potential and will likely struggle to
more than an ECHL goalie.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate
without permission of the editorial staff.