Canucks AHL and ECHL season review

By Matt MacInnis

The Vancouver Canucks minor league affiliates, both the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings, had relatively successful seasons.  The Moose won the North division with 45 wins, 23 losses, seven OT losses and five shootout losses for a total of 102 points before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.  The Salmon Kings made the ECHL playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s brief history – this as the team’s first season serving as the Canucks secondary affiliate.

The Canucks had 12 players spend the majority of the 2006-07 season in the minor professional ranks, but despite having a large pool of prospects, few of them project to be career NHL-caliber players. 

Goaltending

Leading in to the start of the hockey season, it appeared that the Canucks would have Hart-candidate Roberto Luongo and veteran Wade Flaherty and Julien Ellis would be battling with an undetermined adversary for minutes with the Moose.  But then the Canucks acquired Drew MacIntyre from the Detroit Red Wings early in training camp and picked up underachiever Dany Sabourin to back up Luongo.  Suddenly MacIntyre was going to share minutes with Flaherty and Ellis was on his way to Victoria.

MacIntyre ended up playing the majority of the games for the Moose during the regular season, seeing action in 41 contests compiling a stellar 24-14 record with three shutouts and very strong individual stats including a 2.17 goals against average and .922 save percentage.  He continued his strong play in the post-season, where he once again played the lion’s share of the minutes.  MacIntyre has proven to be a solid pick-up for the Canucks organization, adding depth to the Canucks goaltender prospect pool after the disappointing development of Ellis and Alexandre Vincent in the recent years.  MacIntyre, who will be 24 at the end of June, has shown signs of having the potential to be a capable NHL backup.  In fact, if the Canucks choose not to bring Sabourin back, MacIntyre is the logical choice to fill that role next season.

Ellis played a total of eight games in the AHL this season, winning just one of them.  With the Salmon Kings, Ellis played well in his 37 games of action putting up a 21-14 record plus one OT and shootout loss.  His .912 save percentage and 3.21 goals against average were big reasons that the S-Kings were able to land a playoff berth.  Overall, Ellis appears to have stagnated since his tremendous 2004-05 QMJHL season when he won the top goaltender award.  Ellis is just 21 years old, but he must find a way to get back to his old form if he hopes to have a long professional career.

Defense

With four young blue liners playing for the Moose this season, the Canucks had plenty of options for first-time call-ups in case of injuries – and they used nearly all of them.  Alexander Edler, Patrick Coulombe and Nathan McIver all saw their first NHL action this season.  Edler was the prospect with the highest ceiling playing with the Moose this year and he certainly proved his value.  In 49 AHL games he racked up 26 points but it was during his 22 NHL regular season and eight NHL playoff games that he showed that he is, without a doubt, NHL-ready and capable of developing into a No. 2 defender. 

Coulombe broke into the NHL scene by impressing in training camp and being one of the final cuts.  He did get into seven games with the Canucks early in the season when half the club’s defensemen were injured but failed to impress and had very obvious problems trying to physically compete with bigger forwards.  At just 5’9, 165 lbs it appears that Coulombe’s best shot at becoming a full-time NHL player is to carve himself a niche with a team has a power-play specialist. 

McIver played 63 games accumulating just three points, but provided steady defensive play throughout the season while delivering physical play as demonstrated with his 139 penalty minutes (including 15 fights).  He only played a single game for the Canucks, but left an impression of what he’s willing to do getting into a fight with Anaheim’s Travis Moen.  Offseason signee Shaun Heshka was the other Canucks prospect to spend the duration of the season with the Moose.  The Merville, Saskatchewan native had a stellar rookie season putting up six points in 54 games seeing fairly limited action most games.

Forwards

Of the six forwards playing with either the Moose or the Salmon Kings, only Jannik Hansen has the chance to develop into any sort of impact player at the NHL level.  With 34 points in 72 regular season games, Hansen showed that he does have the ability to put points on the board at the professional level.  This is particularly encouraging when you consider the rapid increase in the level of competition Hansen has faced over the past several years.  Two years ago he was playing in the Danish league, last season major junior and this year he finished seventh in scoring on his AHL team. 

The only one of two prospect to put more points on the board than Hansen was mid-season acquisition Colby Genoway.  The 6’1, 200 lbs 23-year-old right winger only scored nine goals but had 32 helpers on the year.  Genoway is going to need to continue to round out his all-around game if he hopes to find himself in a Canucks uniform at any point of his NHL career because it does not appear that his offensive game is sound enough to earn him a spot on a scoring line.  On the other side of the coin is undersized agitator Rick Rypien  whose NHL potential appears to rely more on his ability to stay healthy than his goal-scoring talents.  Rypien played in just 16 regular season games this year as a result of injuries, something that has plagued him the past two seasons.  Rypien is a ferocious forechecker who plays with a seemingly endless supply of energy.  He is a natural fit for the fourth line for Alain Vigneault’s team.  Another grinder on the Moose roster is Mike Brown.  At 6’0, 210 lbs, Brown has NHL size and speed, but hasn’t demonstrated any significant offensive skills since turning two pro years ago and his complete lack of offensive contribution is making him an increasingly longer shot at becoming an NHL player.

Jesse Schultz scored 18 goals and added 21 assists, a significant drop from his impressive stats last season that had many pundits penciling him in alongside the Sedin twins on the Canucks so-called second-line to start the season.  But then Schultz performed poorly in camp and never seemed to get things going on a consistent basis for the Moose.  At this point it seems unlikely Schultz will ever become an NHL player and appears on his way to becoming the “next Jason King”, that is, the prospect that was once touted as the third wheel for the Sedins who never made it and dropped off the radar.

The other two forward prospects in the minor pro ranks this season were former junior teammates and QMJHL graduates Marc-Andre Bernier and FP Guenette.  Bernier scored a goal and an assist in 23 AHL games and 33 points in 40 ECHL games.  Guenette put up 13 goals and 42 assists for a total of 55 points in 67 games with the S-Kings.  Neither player appears likely at this point to be a viable NHL prospect.

Conclusion

This year’s AHL crop possessed only a few true NHL prospects, but the Moose are expected to receive a significant injection of quality young talent with the anticipated arrival of players like Mason Raymond, Cory Schneider, Michael Grabner, Juraj Simek and Luc Bourdon.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.