Canucks Top 20 prospects

By Matt MacInnis

Top 20 at a glance

1. Luc Bourdon, D
2. Cory Schneider, G
3. Michael Grabner, RW
4. Kevin Bieksa, D
5. Jannik Hansen, RW
6. Alexander Edler, D
7. Jesse Schultz, RW
8. Julien Ellis, G
9. Mason Raymond, LW
10. Alexandre Vincent, G
11. Daniel Rahimi, D
12. Kirill Koltsov, D
13. Juraj Simek, RW
14. Mike Brown, RW
15. Matt Butcher, C
16. Rick Rypien, C
17. Sergei Shirokov, LW
18. Nathan McIver, D
19. Kris Fredheim, D
20. Denis Grot, D

1. Luc Bourdon, D
Acquired: 10th overall in 2005 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Val-d’Or Foreurs and Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)

Luc Bourdon is the Canucks top prospect and is the player the organization is looking to build its blue line around. At 6’2, 205 lbs with good skating and hockey sense, Bourdon is the complete package, and it appears that the Canucks intend on bring him into the NHL this season. Bourdon has demonstrated the skills to be both a very good two-way defenseman or to focus more on his own zone. While playing most of his junior career in Val-d’Or, Bourdon consistently contributed to the attack. However, at the 2006 World Junior Championships and later in the season after being traded to the Moncton Wildcats, Bourdon played more of a shutdown role, and was extremely effective.

The future is bright for Bourdon. With the current situation on the team’s blue line, it appears that he will be given every opportunity to crack the line-up. Bourdon has top pairing potential, perhaps filling the role of the team’s clear No. 1 defenseman in four or five years depending on how he is brought along.

2. Cory Schneider, G
Acquired: 24th overall in 2004 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Boston College (NCAA)

The steady American goaltending prospect had another standout season at Boston College, dominating the NCAA ranks in just his sophomore season. Schneider finished the season with a stellar 23-12-2 record including a sparkling .930 save percentage and 2.03 goals against average. He played all but three games during the season, which he missed while representing the United States at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver. Schneider possesses great positioning and NHL-level reflexes to accompany an uncanny ability to remain cool under pressure. His maturity is another key asset and will likely help him deal with the transition to professional hockey when it comes.

The big question with Schneider is when he will leave the NCAA. Almost every other goaltender selected in the early rounds of the 2004 draft will be playing in some form of pro hockey this season while it appears that Schneider will return to BC for his junior year. Schneider has future No. 1 goaltender written all over him. His ability to make saves look easy and his mental game make him a relatively low-risk prospect as far as young goaltenders go.

3. Michael Grabner, RW
Acquired: 14th overall in 2006 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

The recently-drafted Austrian was not on a lot of onlookers’ radar screens when his name was called out by GM Dave Nonis on draft day. However, with his potential to fill the net in the future and with the lack of scoring in the system, the high-risk selection of Grabner makes perfect sense. The lanky winger possesses elite-level speed which was shown to be an increasingly important attribute during the first season back from the lockout. The Canucks were most drawn to the significant progression Grabner showed over the course of the season. After having a very poor start, Grabner’s second half of the season was spectacular. Despite playing on a weak team, he managed to score 36 goals and 14 assists for 50 points in 67 games. He also was -2, a very respectable plus/minus rating for the team, not that this indicates Grabner has good defensive skills.

Grabner is likely the only prospect in the system who has a reasonable likelihood of ever scoring 30 goals in the NHL. He has a long way to go before he reaches his top potential, starting with increasing his size and upper body strength to be able to physically compete for loose pucks along the boards. Grabner will need to continue to hone his offensive skills, particularly learning to have his hands keep up with his feet while carrying the puck. With the right time and improvement, Grabner could become a Simon Gagne-esque threat down the wing. He will return to Spokane for the upcoming season.

4. Kevin Bieksa, D
Acquired: 151st overall in 2001 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Manitoba Moose (AHL) and Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

The surprising defenseman is a lock to make the Canucks this season, which will be his second NHL season. This would have been inconceivable four seasons ago when Bieksa was just a mid-late round pick toiling away at Bowling Green. Today Bieksa is a smart, primarily defensive defenseman who plays a steady, but generally unspectacular style of play. Bieksa showed an ability to contribute to the attack in the AHL, and it would help the team a lot if he could help to pick up the offensive slack left behind as a result of Ed Jovanovski’s departure to Phoenix. An improvement to his lateral movement would help to make him a more complete defensive player as well.

Bieksa appears to have made the big show, but his upside is not tremendously high as he will never be more than a second-pairing player in the best of circumstances, and may be a No. 5-6 type for the majority of his career without further all-around development. Bieksa also represents one of the few pleasant surprises among the Canucks draft picks over the past few years.

5. Jannik Hansen, RW
Acquired: 287th overall in 2004 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Portland Winter Hawks (WHL)

Not too many people took much notice when the Canucks used their 2004 ninth round, 287th overall selection on a smallish Danish player pretty much nobody had ever heard of before. Since then, Jannik Hansen has skyrocketed through the Canucks organizational depth chart to the point where he is now one of the team’s top scoring prospects. In his first season in North America, Hansen scored a point per game with 24 goals and 40 assists in 64 games as a 19-year-old in the WHL, finishing second on his team in both goals and points. Perhaps even more importantly, Hansen showed little signs of struggling to adapt to his new surroundings on or off the ice. He adjusted quickly to the more physical style of play, and even got in a few scraps when opponents tried to test if the new foreign player would back down when challenged.

Today Hansen is preparing to make his professional debut, almost certainly with the Manitoba Moose. The organization expects him to continue to work on his all-around game and refine his scoring abilities. His skills will need to progress at the same rate as last season over the next couple of years if he hopes to play on one of the Canucks’ top two lines. Hansen does have scoring line upside, but his grittiness and desire to compete makes him a candidate to be a third-line guy who can chip in offensively. His full-time arrival is likely two to three seasons away.

6. Alexander Edler, D
Acquired: 91st overall in 2004 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Alexander Edler was the most surprising selection the Canucks made in 2004, using their third rounder on the unheralded Northern Sweden product. The towering 6’4, 200 lbs plus defender has above-average skating for a player of his age and position, and puck-carrying skill to spare. His hockey sense isn’t great, but it’s not something that will hold him back. The big concern with Edler is his unwillingness to physically engage the opposition and to use his big frame to his advantage. He has all the offensive tools to become a quality NHL offensive defenseman and quite possibly a power play quarterback, but there is no question that he needs to significantly step up his defensive zone play.

Edler was drafted as a long-term project and it will take him several years in the AHL, where he is destined to play this season, before he is ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL. His development will likely be slow and will require patience for the defensive end of his game to round out to an acceptable level. With many of the moves the Canucks made this season, such as acquiring players such as Roberto Luongo, Willie Mitchell and Marc Chouinard, it appears the organization is going to place more of an emphasis on defense. Edler’s upside is promising (what team wouldn’t want a 6’4, mobile defenseman with very good puckhandling skills), but it won’t be a short road to get there.

7. Jesse Schultz, RW
Acquired: Signed as a free agent
2005-06 team: Manitoba Moose (AHL)

Jesse Schultz may end up being the biggest success story among the prospects currently in the system if everything works out for him. After four seasons in the WHL spanning three different teams, Schultz was an undrafted talent signed by the Canucks. After scoring 48 points in 52 games for the ECHL’s Columbia Inferno in 2003-04, he earned a spot on the Manitoba Moose’s roster in 2004-05, scoring just nine goals and 24 points. He broke out last year, netting 37 goals and 30 assists for 67 points in 80 games. His strong play and rapid development over the past few seasons has made him a very real candidate to make the NHL as early as this season. His name has been mentioned by GM Nonis as a potential candidate to be the Sedins’ linemate come September.

Schultz has below-average foot speed which is likely the biggest stumbling block he faces in his bid to make the NHL. However, a strong performance at camp this year will give him his shot sooner than later. If he fails to make the team out of camp and has an unimpressive season, he could fall back to the bottom of the file as he has only had one strong AHL season. Schultz is most likely a boom or bust type who must seize the opportunity when it presents itself

8. Julien Ellis, G
Acquired: 189th overall in 2004 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Manitoba Moose (AHL) and Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

The small francophone goaltender has cooled down considerably since his red-hot 2004-05 season where he was named the best goaltender in the QMJHL ahead of overage top prospects like Corey Crawford (CHI). The 2005-06 season was a far more modest one for Ellis, who also struggled at the World Junior tryout camps, ultimately costing him a job on the gold medal-winning team. Ellis recorded three shutouts en route to a stellar 27-19 record that included a .900 save percentage and a career-worst 3.45 GAA. He suffered a knee injury that was initially reported as potentially career-ending, but that does not appear to be the case.

His junior career complete, Ellis now moves on to the professional ranks in the Canucks system. His performance in camp will dictate whether he lands a job probably sharing the duties with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose or if he will have a starting role with the Canucks new ECHL affiliate, the Victoria Salmon Kings. His upside is difficult to project because he seems to take several steps backwards this season and has shown difficulties with consistency and confidence rebounding from a bad goal. If he can get the mental part of his game in order, there is no physical reason why the remarkably fast and agile keeper can’t become a low-level starter or a back-up goaltender for the Canucks in a few seasons.

9. Mason Raymond, LW
Acquired: 51st overall in 2005 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)

Mason Raymond, the Canucks second round selection in 2005 out of the AJHL, played his first collegiate season this year with Minnesota-Duluth and had a very up and down season. Raymond had a very strong first half, but scored his last goal of the season on Feb. 4, with a month and a half left encompassing a 10-game goalless drought for Raymond personally where his team was shut out four times. Despite some growing pains towards the conclusion of his freshman campaign, Raymond’s first year in college was a generally good one for his development. He wowed the WCHA with his blazing speed and impressed with his ability to find his linemates.

At 6’0 and around 185-190 lbs, Raymond will benefit from some time in the weight room, although if it comes at the cost of his speed it won’t be worthwhile. Raymond’s type of game should fit in perfectly with the newly opened-up style of play that the NHL is trying to promote. He has second-line upside but likely won’t see professional hockey for a couple of years as there have been no reports indicating he will be leaving Minnesota-Duluth in the foreseeable future.

10. Alexandre Vincent, G
Acquired: 114th overall in 2005 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

Alexandre Vincent is a very large (6’5, 208 lbs) goalie with decent positioning and surprisingly quick reflexes for a player of his size. He has struggled with rebounding from poor performances or allowing a bad goal in the past, but his mental game appears to be strengthening as he develops in the QMJHL. He had a very strong finish to his season where he was named Defensive Player of the Month in March. He completed the 2005-06 season with a 21-7 record with Chicoutimi, including two shutouts, a .913 save percentage and a 2.69 GAA. Vincent was traded to the Val-d’Or Foreurs (Bourdon’s former squad) during the off-season.

Vincent will play his final year in junior this season and try to earn an NHL contract. His mental game needs to continue to move along as does his technical positioning and side to side movement. He does possess the raw physical tools to develop into a 1A-1B type goaltender. This season will go a long way to determine what Vincent’s career will look like as next season it is likely that Vincent, Schneider and Ellis will all be in the Canucks’ minor-league ranks.

11. Daniel Rahimi, D
Acquired: Drafted 82nd overall in 2006
2005-06 team: Bjorkloven (Sweden)

The Canucks are developing a penchant for drafting little-known Swedish defensemen with their third round picks. In 2004, it was Edler and in 2006 it was Daniel Rahimi. A personal selection of vaunted Canucks European scout Thomas Gradin, Rahimi is a 6’3, 200 lbs defensive defender. Despite not being highly-touted prior to the draft, the Canucks felt comfortable using a third rounder on him because he already possesses great size for a teenager and reportedly has very good leadership skills. Gradin told HF that they believe his offensive skills need a bit more work, but he is a candidate to be the captain of the Swedish World Junior team.

It’s difficult to project where his career will take him from here as there are not many European defensive prospects with his size and apparent maturity at such a young age. He has expressed an interest in playing in North America and is listed on the Canucks official prospect camp roster, indicating he likely will be in Manitoba this season. He has top-four potential as a defensive rock and penalty killer. He is not likely to ever get many power play minutes but could be an important part of any successful team.

12. Kirill Koltsov, D
Acquired: Drafted 49th overall in 2002
2005-06 team: Omsk Avangard (Russian Super League)

Kirill Koltsov remains the most controversial prospect in the system. Since his second-round selection in 2002, a draft where he slipped out of the first round for perceived attitude issues, Koltsov has had a tumultuous few years. After spending the year following his draft year in Russia, he elected to come to North America and had a decent, progressive season with the Moose where he showcased his tremendous offensive talents and his defensive deficiencies. He began the next season showing further advancement with the Moose before suddenly departing the team after 28 games to return to Omsk Avangard of the Russian Super League claiming that he felt the RSL was a better league for him to play in. Last season he opted to remain in Russia due to the illness of his mother.

Koltsov has good speed and one of the best skill sets among all prospect defensemen in the world. He certainly possesses the upside to develop into a very talented top-four power play quarterback defenseman. However, he lacks size, defensive play and the mental game at this point to be an effective NHL player. There has been constant speculation about if Koltsov plans on returning to North America at any point. Gradin told HF at the draft he has had no indication that Koltsov will return. Based on these comments, and the ongoing issue the NHL has with players returning or staying in Russia, Koltsov drops significantly in this edition of the Top 20.

13. Juraj Simek, RW
Acquired: Drafted 167th overall in 2006
2005-06 team: Kloten (Swiss League)

The 167th overall selection in 2006, Simek was selected after Sergei Shirokov but has a higher ceiling. The Slovakian-born winger was drafted out of Kloten (who he played eight games with this season) of the Austrian league but was picked by the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft and is expected to play for the first time in North America this fall. He’s a slick puckhandler who Head Scout Ron Delorme describes as the kind of player who could stickhandle himself out of a phone booth. He has decent speed and a respectable shot as well. The concern with Simek is that he is a very one-dimensional player at this point who does not like to get physically involved.

Simek will probably spend the next two seasons in the WHL, honing his skills and adapting to both the North American style of play and life off the ice. His English skills reportedly also need to improve, which could make the transition even more difficult in the first few months. At this early point, Simek could develop into a second-line scorer, but his NHL arrival is four to five years away.

14. Mike Brown, RW
Acquired: Drafted 159th overall in 2004
2005-06 team: Manitoba Moose (AHL)

Mike Brown made the decision to leave the University of Michigan after just two years in the NCAA. Last year, in his professional debut with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, Brown showed that he will likely be a better pro player than he was in college. With his size, speed and penchant for physical play, Brown makes the perfect third or fourth line player in the new style NHL. Unfortunately for Brown, he does not have good hands, and has not scored more than eight goals in a season in his brief collegiate or pro career. His puck skills and ability to develop that part of his game will likely determine whether or not he spends his career as a third liner or a fourth liner.

Despite his lack of scoring-line potential, Brown is probably one of the most likely prospects to play an NHL career because of his physical attributes. His arrival doesn’t appear to be extremely likely out of camp this season, but if he does a good job pressing defensemen on the forecheck and stirring up the pot, he could get the surprising call. Needless to say, despite the lack of scoring numbers last season, the 6’, 200 lbs winger is looking like he was a strong selection back in 2004.

15. Matt Butcher, C
Acquired: Drafted 138th overall in 2005
2005-06 team: Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)

Matt Butcher will have a real chance to prove himself a legitimate NHL prospect when he plays his freshman season at Northern Michigan this year. Butcher was absolutely dominant during 2005-06 with Chilliwack of the BCHL, which, while the league is constantly improving, it is still a ways behind the NCAA and CHL leagues. This year Butcher racked up 27 goals and 30 assists in 60 games. The 6’2, 205-pounder plays like a power forward and does a great job using his size to protect the puck and win battles along the boards. His puckhandling skills are solid and will likely continue to improve while he’s at school, but he needs to improve his skating, particularly his acceleration, which is a noticeable weakness.

Butcher had a very good US World Junior development camp this summer that likely moved him up on the depth chart. He is very, very rough at this point, but demonstrated potential this season. Butcher also possesses some very good intangibles on top of having the hockey bloodlines, as his BCHL coach hailed his work ethic and leadership quantities during an interview with HF. Butcher possesses third-line potential if he can put it all together and upgrade his skating.

16. Rick Rypien, C
Acquired: Signed as a free agent
2005-06 team: Manitoba Moose (AHL) and Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

Rick Rypien has had one heck of a thrill ride the past few seasons. After getting passed up in the NHL draft largely due to his small stature (5’11, 170 lbs), he received an amateur tryout contract from the Manitoba Moose when his Regina Pats failed to qualify for the WHL playoffs in 2004-05. He scored two points in the final eight regular season games for the Moose and subsequently was offered a contract that enabled him to play in the Moose’s playoff run. Although he failed to score a single point in 14 games, he was brought back by the organization for the 2005-06 season and managed to earn a call-up to the NHL midway through the year. Rypien was a fan favorite in his brief stay in the show, impressing fans with his hard work and determination and refusal to back down from much larger opponents. Unfortunately he broke his leg in his fifth game and never made it back into the Canucks line-up.

Rypien will always be limited by his size and below-average skill set. However, much like Alex Burrows, his hard work will likely earn him spot duty in the NHL as a fourth liner. Rypien has basically no upside outside of the fourth line, as he’s never scored more than 22 goals in a season at any level. But Rypien has done very well for himself thus far in his professional career.

17. Sergei Shirokov, LW
Acquired: Drafted 163rd overall in 2006
2005-06 team: CSKA Moscow (Russian Super League)

Selected 163rd overall in the most recent NHL Entry Draft, Shirokov has impressed followers of the World Junior tournament the past two years with his crafty puckhandling skills. The 20-year-old had a very good season with CSKA Moscow, racking up seven goals and six assists in 39 games as well as 26 penalty minutes. At 5’10, 176 lbs, Shirokov is definitely on the small side and he is not a fast skater, although Ron Delorme has called him a “strong skater.” He will never be a tremendous offensive player in the NHL, and may peak as someone who plays predominantly on the third line with some second-line action.

One of the reasons why the Canucks decided to go to Russia to make a selection despite the ongoing controversy of a transfer agreement with the RSL was that Shirokov told the Canucks’ Russian scout that he might be interested in, and willing to, come over to play for the Moose. The organization believes he is ready today to play in the AHL, but ultimately the choice is up to him. At this point it appears that he will remain in the RSL for 2006-07.

18. Nathan McIver, D
Acquired: Drafted 254th overall in 2003
2005-06 team: Manitoba Moose (AHL)

Almost an afterthought as an eighth rounder in 2003, Nathan McIver has been quietly developing at his own pace with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors in the OHL and, last season, the Moose. Scoring just seven points in his 66 AHL games with 155 penalty minutes further cemented what has always been known about him: McIver is a defensive defender who likes to play it rough. McIver is a reliable defenseman who you usually don’t notice is on the ice, one of the best things that can be said. Like most young defensemen, improving his footwork will be a major component of his making the step to the next level. At 6’2, 205-210 lbs, McIver has the size, strength and the willingness to use them to his advantage.

McIver does not seem to be in consideration for any of the depth jobs on the Canucks blue line this season, meaning he will spend the year in Winnipeg further refining his game. The Canucks should be happy if he becomes a third-pairing or seventh defenseman for them down the road. The next two seasons will likely dictate whether or not McIver will ever reach the NHL on a full-time basis.

19. Kris Fredheim, D
Acquired: 185th overall in 2005 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Notre Dame (SJHL)

Reports out of the SJHL indicate that Fredheim progressed solidly throughout the year and is on track to become a very serviceable collegiate defender. Hailed as a decent overall two-way player with a good shot, and NHL size at 6’2, 185 lbs. In 52 games this season he scored 12 goals and 23 assists with most of his point production coming on special teams.

The Campbell River native will play with Colorado College this season. It is expected that he won’t play as big of an offensive role in the NCAA as he did in junior. Fredheim has a long road ahead of him but will be on a rebuilding team with a number of other NHL prospects including LA Kings goaltender Matt Zaba.

20. Denis Grot, D
Acquired: 55th overall in 2002 Entry Draft
2005-06 team: Moscow Spartak (Russia)

In the summer of 2005, Grot finally left the Lokomotiv system, signing with Spartak, enabling him to spend his first full season in the RSL. He appeared in 51 games with the club, and was invisible most nights, not a bad trait to have as a defenseman in the Russian league. Despite the advancement this season, he is still not as far along as one would hope for a second round pick four years later.

European Scout Thomas Gradin told HF earlier this year that he believes that Grot has the potential to come over to North America, play a few seasons in the minors, and then try to make the move in to the NHL in a depth role. The problem is getting him across the Atlantic, which does not appear imminent as he is set to play another season in Russia.

Note: The Canucks organization did confirm that John Laliberte was not signed and is no longer team property. Jozef Balej has signed to play in Germany this season.


Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.