Forward prospects pull ahead of the pack in Vancouver Canucks Top 20

By Larenzo Jensen

Nicklas Jensen - Vancouver Canucks

Photo: Nicklas Jensen made his NHL debut late in the 2012-13 season and could be in line for more ice time with the Canucks at some point during the upcoming season (courtesy of Bob Frid/Icon SMI)

After years of late-round drafting, two quick first round playoff exits, and a starting goaltender slow-burn drama, Vancouver Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis announced he was hitting the reset button. That reset started in Newark, New Jersey during the 2013 NHL Draft, ushering in a new wave of prospects, a coaching staff change, and a shift in expectations for the fanbase for the 2013-14 season.

As it relates to Vancouver Canucks prospects, there is an air of optimism because of the volume and quality of players reaped from a deep draft class. Canucks management was able to further solidify their stable of centers, address much needed wing concerns, as well as add depth to their defense corps.

1. (1) Nicklas Jensen, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2011

Jensen continues to learn to adapt to the pace and rigors of pro hockey in North America. With a nice blend of size and skill, the talented Danish winger has continually challenged himself, playing in the SEL with older, larger men. He also has answered the call for his country during the 2013 World Championships, where he scored twice in three games as Denmark finished the tournament in 12th place. While Jensen did not immediately set the AHL ablaze last season with Vancouver's affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, he made strides in his defensive play.

It is expected that Jensen will continue his development with the Utica Comets (Vancouver's new AHL farm team), while looking for opportunities to join the parent club. With a new coaching staff that is expected to place a premium on shot-blocking and defensive play, Jensen will need to focus on improving those aspects of his game. In reality, if he is able to refine those aspects, he could potentially earn a regular spot in the lineup. He already has significant offensive capabilities, NHL-ready size, speed, and the mental wherewithal to be trusted with such an assignment.

2. (NR) Bo Horvat, C, 7.5 C
Drafted 1st round, 9th overall, 2013

Heading into the 2013 NHL Draft, it was impossible for Horvat to know that he would have the distinction of being part of the biggest trade of the off-season. Ultimately, the strong, gritty center will be judged on his body of work after the memorable deal that sent Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils. Bo Horvat possesses a number of qualities that the Canucks could use more of, specifically a hard working attitude, a sound defensive mentality, and a natural, lead-by-example style. He is a true competitor, particularly in the faceoff circle, where he exudes confidence and skill.

Interestingly, during the Team Canada World Juniors Summer Evaluation Camp, head coach Brent Sutter used Horvat on the left wing. He still took a number of offensive and defensive zone faceoffs, and did not seem out of place playing on the left side. Horvat played the wing earlier in his junior career, and further demonstrated his versatility at the summer camp. He redirected a pass for a goal against Sweden during a 7-3 win, while left alone in front of the net. The 6'0, 205-pound Horvat signed an entry level deal with the Canucks on August 6.

3. (5) Brendan Gaunce, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2012

Brendan Gaunce continues to impress Canucks management and fans alike with his drive and determination on the ice. The Belleville Bulls captain also had a strong showing during the Team Canada World Juniors Summer Evaluation Camp. As a matter of fact, Gaunce led Team Canada in scoring for the camp with four points (one goal, three assists) in two games. He scored the game-winner in their 5-3 win over Finland, a direct result of crashing the net hard, pouncing on a rebound halfway through the third period.

Gaunce has NHL size at 6'2 and 215 pounds, and in combination with his skill set, is a true force when on the ice. The Markham, Ontario native plays a complete game and will get a good long look from management during Canucks training camp because of this. He is strong on faceoffs, and wins puck battles along the boards, is the type of player that new head coach John Tortorella could afford an opportunity. Regardless of where he plays this season, it is only a matter of time before he takes on a meaningful role for the Vancouver Canucks.

4. (3) Jordan Schroeder, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2009

During the 2012-13 season, the Canucks center position took a few twists, with Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra shelved due to injuries. The Canucks turned to Schroeder for help, and he quickly acclimated to the role. In 31 games, he scored three goals and six assists, for nine points, with an even plus-minus rating. Though the 5'8, 183-pound center/right winger did not put up monstrous points, nor lock up the third line center role, he gained valuable NHL experience.

One of Schroeder's greatest assets is his creativity and vision. He thinks the game at a high level, and knows where the play will end up. Coaches are able to put aside his diminutive stature, because they know he can handle the physical punishment associated with the position. Because of his strong defensive awareness, they also trust him to make good decisions with the puck, and without it. He was even thrust into some penalty killing roles, during which he acquitted himself nicely. Finally, Schroeder has a passion for the game, and his enthusiasm rubs off on his teammates. It would not be too surprising to see him center the Canucks fourth line during the 2013-14 season.

5. (5) Frank Corrado, D, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2011

Corrado has drawn numerous favorable comparisons to fellow Canucks regular, Chris Tanev. Poised beyond his years with the puck, Corrado plays a smart, simple game, and can move the puck efficiently out of his own zone. Corrado rarely panics, and has plenty of speed to recover should he make a mistake or find himself out of position.

Former bench boss Alain Vigneault surprised many during their first round match-up with the San Jose Sharks, putting Corrado on the third pairing for regular duty. Prior to the playoffs, Corrado had only played three games to close out the regular season campaign. From all indications, the 2013 playoffs were the start of a long NHL career for the 6'0, 190-pound Toronto native. It is highly likely Corrado will start the 2013-14 season as a starter on the Canucks blue line. It will be interesting to see if he starts to earn time on the second power-play unit.

6. (NR) Hunter Shinkaruk, C/LW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2013

Shinkaruk possesses lightning fast hands, a tenacious forecheck, and great speed. This combination of skills has been in short supply within the Canucks system, and makes him a potentially very valuable piece of the puzzle moving forward. Shinkaruk was the third Canucks prospect invited to the Team Canada World Juniors Summer Evaluation Camp, and was impactful,even during the 5-1 loss to the United States. On a line with Scott Laughton (PHI) and Bo Horvat, the trio generated the most chances in the loss to the United States.

Shinkaruk signed a rookie maximum entry level deal with the Canucks on August 6, along with fellow first round pick, Bo Horvat. Traditionally, the Canucks have signed their first round picks quickly after their selection, so the players can focus on hockey, and not worry about contract matters. Interestingly, the Medicine Hat Tigers captain wears the same No. 9 that Trevor Linden wore during his days as a Tiger. Over his last two years in the WHL, Shinkaruk has scored 86 goals and 177 points, and he stated he is working hard with his trainer to add more strength.

7. (NR) Joacim Eriksson, G, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, 2013

Relatively unknown to North American hockey fans is Joacim Eriksson, a butterfly-style Swedish goaltender. He was ranked second to the more established Jacob Markstrom (FLA) of Swedish goalies born in 1990. The 23-year-old went 21-9-0 with a 1.67 goals against average and .931 save percentage while playing for Skelleftea of Sweden's Elitserien in 2012-13. His playoff numbers were even more eye-popping on route to the Elitserien Championship: 1.06 goals against average and .952 save percentage.

It is expected that Eriksson will compete with fellow Swede, Eddie Lack, for the backup role to Roberto Luongo. Should Lack claim that role, it is likely Eriksson would be named the starter for the Utica Comets. Eriksson has plenty of motivation to succeed, as his is a two-way contract that would pay him $925,000 in the NHL, and $70,000 in the AHL. Mike Gillis and company have made some impressive free agent signings recently, and Canuck fans are hoping this is another winner.

8. (9) Patrick McNally, D, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2010

Even with his sophomore season cut short due to suspension because of a university-wide academic scandal, McNally still has loads of potential. Mike Gillis has publicly backed McNally, referring to the incident as more of a misunderstanding. They are supporting McNally's decision to honor his commitment to his coaches at Harvard, and have indicated he will be reinstated this season. The former finalist for the ECAC Rookie of the Year Award burst onto the scene as a freshman, with six goals, 28 points in 34 games.

At 6'2 and 180 pounds, McNally has some decent size, but it is his passing ability and potential powerplay efficiency that has Canucks management intrigued. The 21-year-old should be able to get back on track this season, and if he does, will surely resume his movement up the Canucks prospect depth chart.

9. (11) Joseph Labate, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2011

Labate's ascension in the Canucks prospect rankings is well-deserved. The tall, power forward really started to round into form last season, particularly in the WCHA Final Five. The Wisconsin Badgers finished the regular season in torrid fashion, with Labate emerging as a well-rounded threat. His attention to deficiencies in his defensive game helped pave the way for more sustainable offensive contributions. Labate finished the season fifth on Wisconsin for points, scoring nine goals for 23 points in 41 games. He finished the season with a plus-11 rating.

Though Labate is still young, he is starting to mature as a player, and will be relied upon even more next season. He has seen a steady rise in his point production since making the jump from high school directly to college hockey. If Labate can add a bit more bulk to his lanky 6'4 frame, there will be a lot of NCAA players looking over their shoulders this season. He is starting to look like another great late-round pick.

10. (12) Joe Cannata, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2009

Cannata performed admirably for the Chicago Wolves and the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL) last season, picking up extra work due to Eddie Lack's injury. With the Wings, he was 3-4-0 in seven games, with a 3.29 goals against average and .905 save percentage. In 14 games with the Wolves, he was 6-6-0, sporting a 2.65 goals against average and .912 save percentage.

Cannata exhibits a certain confidence and calmness when guarding the four-by-six cage. His technical skills are good, and his athleticism compliments his style. His hand-eye coordination is strong, and he works his angles very well, staying squared with the shooter.  With a good start to his pro career, Cannata is making a bid for the backup role in Utica this season. He knows how quickly the landscape can change when injuries surface, particularly at the goaltending position.

11. (7) Anton Rodin, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2009

Rodin's drop in the prospect rankings can be attributed to a couple of things. First, the recent draft has infused a number of higher rated prospects. But the second stems from his inability to make a lot of progress after transitioning to North America. Last season, he played in 49 games for the Chicago Wolves, with four goals, 14 points, and a minus-11 rating.

The enigmatic winger sustained a shoulder injury that never seemed to fully heal, which may have contributed to his numbers. Rodin signed a contract with his former team, Brynas, for the upcoming season in the Swedish Hockey League. The Canucks will keep his rights, but he must rediscover his offensive potential or risk falling out of the organization's future plans.

12. (8) Alexandre Grenier, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2011

Grenier had a strong final dozen games for the Kalamazoo Wings, and finished the season with 10 goals, 31 points in 37 games, with 51 penalty minutes and a plus-two rating. He also recorded four games with the Chicago Wolves, with no points, two penalty minutes, and a minus-one rating.

Grenier is hard to miss when he is on the ice, but moves his 6'5 frame around surprisingly well. His slap shot is as hard as you like, and he has good hands for a big man. If Grenier ever decides to really start using his size to his advantage, he could become quite a force to reckon with. For now, he will continue to learn the finer aspects of the game, hoping to use his late-season momentum on into the 2013-14 season. It would be ideal if he could nail down a spot on the Utica Comets roster.

13. (10) Alexandre Mallet, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2012

The former Rimouski Oceanic star split time last season between the Kalamazoo Wings and the Chicago Wolves, adjusting to the pro level. In 18 games with the Wolves, he had one assist, a minus-four rating, to go with seven penalty minutes. He also played 44 games for the Wings, scoring 10 goals, 29 points, with 48 penalty minutes, and a plus-one rating.

The right-shooting center plays the game with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and is a loyal teammate. While he proved in the QMJHL that he can score and set-up teammates, it is likely that Mallet's two-way style and ability to fill an energy role will be the reason he gets a shot playing for the parent club.

14. (13) Yann Sauve, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2008

Recently re-signed by the Canucks, Sauve also split time between the Kalamazoo Wings and the Chicago Wolves last season. In 32 games with the Wings, the big defenseman had 10 goals, 19 points, and 40 penalty minutes to go with a plus-two rating. During his 17 games with the Wolves, he had two assists, 10 penalty minutes, and a plus-two rating.

The former 41st overall selection (2008) obviously showed Canucks management enough improvement to compel them to re-sign him. Generally, defensemen take longer to mature than forwards at the pro level, so it should not surprise anyone that Gills signed him to a new contract. Sauve has a lot of NHL ready qualities, particularly his size, and shutdown ability. It would not be surprising to see him get another few games during a call-up from the parent club in 2013-14.

15. (15) Henrik Tommernes, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 210th overall, 2011

Now approaching his 23rd birthday, the smooth skating defenseman has accomplished all that he needs to with Frolunda HC in Sweden. It is time for him to make the jump to North America, where Canucks coaching staff can better monitor his progress.

Known primarily as an offensive defenseman, Tommernes has a solid understanding of the game. Hopefully this will help make the transition smoother; he played against men in the SEL, which will make things easier now that he is turning pro. In 2012-13, he played 54 games for Frolunda HC, scoring five goals, 16 points, with 28 penalty minutes and a minus-nine rating. He was particularly good in the playoffs, with a goal and five points through six games.

16. (14) Adam Polasek, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2010

The large Czech is a right-handed shot, which is something of a commodity amongst defensive prospects. To top that off, Polasek recorded very decent numbers for both Kalamazoo and Chicago in 2012-13. As with other Canucks prospects, he happily went wherever he was assigned, in this case, was needed because of the large amount of injuries over the season. In 24 games with the Wolves, he had a goal and eight points, paired with 27 penalty minutes. His plus-eight rating was very encouraging, considering the Wolves' overall season.

In 34 games with the Wings, Polasek had four goals, eight points, and 37 penalty minutes, as well as a plus-one rating. Wherever he should start the 2013-14 campaign, Canucks management know they can always rely on Polasek to log a lot of meaningful ice time, and chip in some offense too.

17. (NR) Cole Cassels, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2013

Could Cole Cassels eventually play pivot on the Canucks third line? It is conceivable, because the two-way center has the tools to get the job done. Quite defensively responsible, and a solid penalty killer, he has the mindset necessary to be effective in that role. The Oshawa Generals center gets used in many situations, and his numbers have increased each season.

During the 2011-12 season, Cassels had three goals, 11 points in 64 games. In 2012-13, he scored 15 goals, 43 points through 64 games. To be certain, there is a lot he needs to accomplish before he can reach his goal of playing for the Canucks. For now, he has his focus set on being that go-to, first line guy for the Oshawa Generals in 2013-14.

18. (16) Alex Friesen, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 172nd overall, 2010

It is unlikely Friesen will ever put up the kind of offensive numbers he did while playing for a stacked Niagara IceDogs (OHL) team.  But he has also proven his new style does not force his team to play short-handed as often, which used to be problematic. Friesen's first year of pro came off without a hitch, and there is no reason to believe he will not improve further this season.

In 10 games with Kalamazoo, he had no goals, four points, along with two penalty minutes and a minus-two rating. He spent the majority of the season in Chicago, where he had one goal and five points through 42 games. He averaged half a minute of penalty a game, and finished with a plus-four rating. Friesen's shutdown ability is good, and he plays a physical style, hitting often.

19. (NR) Jordan Subban, D, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2013

There are not a lot of professional hockey players listed as 5'9, 177 pounds. Fewer of those still would be able to handle the rigors of defense with that kind of stature. Yet, Jordan Subban has defied the odds thus far in his career, using his exceptional vision and hockey IQ to overcome these physical limitations. The Belleville Bulls defenseman improved his numbers significantly in 2012-13. He scored 15 goals, 51 points in 68 games, adding 47 penalty minutes and a plus-22 rating.

Because of his namesake, it would be nearly impossible to live up to the standards set by his Norris trophy winning brother, P.K. Also, Jordan was just drafted, and has plenty of time to further develop his game. Though it will be an uphill climb to prove his detractors wrong, Subban might just have the intelligence and will to beat the odds.

20. (NR) Darren Archibald, LW, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent, 2010

Archibald cracks the top 20 after the Canucks officially relinquished the rights to Jeremy Price, who is no longer a Vancouver Canucks prospect. On August 6, Mike Gillis announced that the team signed Archibald to another contract. A solid two-way player, Archibald also has good size, something the Canucks have coveted, and shown a propensity to target in recent drafts.

He spent the majority of the 2012-13 season with the Wolves, playing in 55 games, collecting 12 goals and 22 points, adding 47 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 18 games for Kalamazoo, scoring six goals, 13 points and 29 penalty minutes. Archibald has a deceptively strong wrist shot, often fooling goaltenders on the short side. He drives hard to the net, collecting a lot of rebounds and setting up teammates after gritty plays. He also will not shy away from a challenge, and can handle himself quite well when the gloves come off.