Canucks AHL/ECHL prospects update

By Matt MacInnis

The 2006-07 Manitoba Moose roster has seen significant change as a result of some players leaving the organization and a number of others seeing increased NHL action early this season due to injuries in the Vancouver Canucks line-up. However, the crop of new incoming and returning players has been strong and the team continues to perform at a respectable level, sitting with 34 points in 33 games with a decent 14-13-4-2 record nearly halfway through the season.

Goaltending

Of the numerous goaltenders who donned a Moose jersey last season, only stalwart veteran Wade Flaherty is back for the 2006-07 campaign. Flaherty appeared on the verge of landing the back-up role with the Canucks before the organization acquired Dany Sabourin shortly before the start of the season. Thus far Flaherty has roughly equally shared the goaltending duties with newcomer Drew MacIntyre, who the Canucks landed after a trade with the Detroit Red Wings during training camp. MacIntyre has appeared in 14 games, earning a 6-6 record with two shootout losses. His goals against average and save percentage are 2.43 and .917 respectively, both better figures than Flaherty’s. MacIntyre has posted a shutout and appears to be getting stronger as the season progresses. With Sabourin’s struggles serving as Roberto Luongo’s back-up, there has been some idle speculation that MacIntyre may get a shot before the end of the season.

Former QMJHL standout Julien Ellis has also appeared in a pair of Moose games. After a spectacular 2004-05 season with Shawinigan, it has been mostly downhill for the undersized netminder. He had a borderline disastrous training camp where he showed up out of shape and Coach Alain Vigneault pulled him from competition for a period of time. Ellis’ two AHL games have resulted in a pair of losses, a 5.04 goals against average and a dismal .846 save percentage. Ellis has not fared much better in the ECHL with the Victoria Salmon Kings, where he has a 7-8 record, 4.08 GAA and .897 save percentage.

Defense

Among Canucks prospects (as per HF criteria) currently playing with the Moose, three of the four have appeared in the NHL this year as a result of the early-season injury woes that have plagued the club.

Discovered in the Swedish hinterlands, Alexander Edler increasingly appears to be a bona fide steal and another notch in the reputation of lauded scout Thomas Gradin. While the 6’4, 220-pounder has appeared in just 16 Moose games, he leads the team in scoring among defensemen with one goal and eight assists. The lanky-looking Swede needs to continue to get stronger and become more comfortable initiating contact. In his 12 NHL games, he did not look out of place and the Canucks must be pleased with his rapid and consistent development over the past season and a half since arriving in North America. Edler’s time in the NHL is likely not done for the season, as he is likely to be the next call-up in the event of another injury.

Former eighth rounder, Nathan McIver, has continued his defensively-reliable play in the AHL this year. Appearing in 21 games he has two points, 41 penalty minutes and a -3 rating that is above average on the team. He also had the opportunity to play in a Canucks game at the height of the injury problems. McIver’s development towards becoming a third-pairing defensive rock continues at a slow but steady pace and it appears at this point that McIver has a very real chance of being an everyday depth player at the NHL level within another few years. He will never be an offensive contributor in any professional league, but he is the type of steady defender teams feel comfortable with on their bottom pairing.

Patrick Coulombe has built on the success at training camp that resulted in an NHL contract. While he continues to have defensive difficulties and is a team-worst -12, Coulombe’s overall game is showing signs of improvement. He has appeared in seven Canucks games this season and showed impressive determination when on the ice. Unfortunately, it’s clear that he is physically overmatched with his 5’9, 163 lbs frame. His work ethic on the ice is admirable, but Coulombe is going to need to further develop his puck-moving skills and significantly increase his shot power if he hopes to be a career NHLer and not a fringe player.

The fourth Canucks defender playing with the Moose is offseason free-agent signee Shaun Heshka. The Melville, Saskatchewan native has played in three ECHL games and 19 AHL games, earning one points for the Salmon Kings and three for the Moose. As a blueliner who developed into a point-producer in his last two years of major junior, Heshka needs to continue to advance these skills to become a viable option for the Canucks.

Forwards

The Canucks have five prospects currently playing for the Manitoba Moose, plus one who has spent the season with the Victoria Salmon Kings. Topping the list is the surprising former ninth rounder, Jannik Hansen. The fan-dubbed “Sniping Viking” hasn’t had quite the success hoped for when it comes to goal production (just five), although his 12 assists help to alleviate his offensive production. The gritty Dane appears on track for a spot in the Canucks line-up in the coming years, although how much he is able to improve his all-around game in the next season and a half will have en enormous impact on whether he is a second liner or a fourth line player.

After losing a spot in the NHL due to a poor training camp, Jesse Schultz was sent back to the Moose where he has scored seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 23 games. His scoring is down dramatically from last season when he potted 37 goals, the most of his career since junior outside of his over-age season with Kelowna. Although the coaching staff was clearly not satisfied with his performance at camp, Schultz’s undeniable offensive skills did earn him a two-game call-up during which he performed decently.

The other four forwards are players who have slipped off the radar screen. Mike Brown continues to struggle offensively and has scored just one goal in 21 games this season. While Brown has the speed, size and determination to be an effective grinder in the NHL, he needs to develop his puck skills before he can be of use to the Canucks. Former first-round pick Nathan Smith is well on pace to having a career year in scoring with seven goals and seven assists in 27 games this season, but has struggled defensively with a poor -10 rating. The former QMJHL teammates Marc-Andre Bernier and FP Guenette continue to remain near the bottom of the organizational depth chart. Bernier has just two points with the Moose, while Guenette has 26 points in 24 games with the Salmon Kings, but has not earned a call-up to the Moose.

Summary

The Moose have a mid-level team and should be able to make the playoffs and be competitive in the early rounds. The club is unlikely to challenge for the Calder Cup, although it’s unknown what the team is capable of doing when it has the chance to play together as a unit without the disruption of multiple call-ups. The team only has a few players who have a high probability of becoming full-time Canucks, and of that group only Edler has a chance of being a real impact player.


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