Also, with a new coaching strategy in place, the system should see a number of their prospects adding new skill sets to their repertoire. This season should be a very interesting one for Canucks fans to follow, as new head coach John Tortorella is renowned for giving opportunities to younger players that display heart and an aptitude for heady defensive play. Some of the prominent prospect storylines are as follows.
Frank Corrado will start the season in Utica, continuing to work on his defensive play. But his NHL debut at the end of the 2012-13 season, and playoff series against the San Jose Sharks proved that he has the moxie to play in the NHL. With very good speed, a strong first pass out of the defensive zone, and the ability to read the play well, Corrado has the look of a future NHL regular. He also possesses some offensive potential, which he will look to incorporate further into his game as he pushes to gain a spot on Vancouver's crowded blue line. As the season wears on, and the inevitable injuries occur, look for Corrado to get another shot with the parent club. For now, he will entertain the strong Utica fan base.
Corrado’s counterpart at forward is Nicklas Jensen, but the Swedish winger has been limited early in 2013-14 due to injury. It was uncertain whether or not Nicklas Jensen would be starting the season with the Comets, mostly due to a shoulder injury sustained during preseason play versus the Oilers. Once healthy, Jensen could get a shot with the Canucks.
Alexandre Grenier, RW, Utica Comets (AHL)
"Bounce back" may seem a tad misleading, considering the note that Grenier ended the 2012-13 season on. But for all intents and purposes, the large, enigmatic winger did not make the strides the organization was hoping he would make. Therefore, this year is important to Grenier on a couple of levels, due mostly to the fact that with the large number of forward prospects the Canucks added, it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle. Grenier must find a way to use his imposing size, strong shot, and good hands to establish himself as an essential instrument to the Comets' success. His time in Kalamazoo hopefully infused some confidence, because he is the kind of player that could truly do some damage once he has a measure of it. His responsible play without the puck must continue if he is to ever to earn an audition at the NHL level.
Alexandre Mallet, C, Utica Comets (AHL)
The 2012-13 season was by no account a poor one for Mallet, who split time between the Kalamazoo Wings and the Chicago Wolves. The Canucks new AHL affiliate is hoping that there are parallels between Mallet's junior and pro careers. During his time with the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), Mallet unquestionably improved as he gained experience. While it is not expected he will enjoy the same type of breakout he did during the 2011-12 season, his offensive upside is evident. Whichever way this season shakes down, fans in Utica can rest assured that Mallet will bring a number of intangibles to the Comets' lineup. Should he compile more offense this season, it really should not catch anyone by surprise. His work ethic and desire are bound to spark the team, and he has proven that once he adjusts to his surroundings, he can be a catalyst on the ice.
The Canucks' deal with the Carolina Hurricanes that brought in Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh essentially sealed Horvat's fate to start the 2013-14 season. While Horvat definitely impressed during training camp and preseason, it was evident that there are still parts of his game that are raw. Just drafted, Horvat is still quite young and needs more time to mature his game, how much time is truly up to him this season. With high profile prospects, there is danger in exposing them to too much, too soon. Horvat has already opened the season with the Knights with a bang, though it is only a small serving sample. He has four goals and nine points through five games, leading the team in points per game. Strong in the face-off circle, and an excellent combatant along the boards while fishing for loose pucks, Horvat looks to be an excellent investment by the Canucks. They will surely not hesitate to call him up should the need arise. For now, they are content to let him loose to wreak havoc on OHL defensemen and goaltenders.
Miles Liberati, D, London Knights (OHL)
The youngest prospect in the Vancouver Canucks organization is also one of the most intriguing. He gained notoriety during the Knights run to the Memorial Cup last season, working his way into a top-six pairing on London's loaded blue line. This season, Liberati hopes to build on that success, and secure his place as a Knights regular. A fast skater with good puck-moving skills, his offensive talents will be put to the test this season, with more ice time and opportunity. Liberati earned a regular role last season, and will be loathe to give it up during the 2013-14 campaign.
Thus far, he certainly has not disappointed, with a goal and two assists through eight games played to go along with a plus-seven rating and eight penalty minutes. It will be interesting to see if the Knights coaching staff rewards him with some powerplay time this season, and just how much further he will grow as he adjusts to the increase in responsibility.
If Shinkaruk were to take one thing away from his preseason with the Canucks, it should be that he is that much closer to making the NHL. He already possesses the speed, the hands, and the offensive mentality needed to be successful. Perhaps the only thing keeping him out of the show is a better understanding of the defensive aspects of the game, which will come with time and coaching. There is no real pressure on him to absorb these things immediately, as he was just drafted. More development time allotted also means more time for him to add strength, which he is working with his trainer to supplement. Canucks fans hope that he will return to the Tigers with resolve, to lead the team in scoring, and to add some panache to his defensive game. It was very evident in Penticton and preseason play that he could be a very efficient producer for the Canucks in the not-too-distant future. His lightning fast hands are deadly in tight, and he has a superb wrist shot. In a Canuck system that is thin on pure offensive talent, Shinkaruk is truly a junior player to keep an eye on this season. The Tigers captain has opened his season with three goals, three assists in his first three games in 2013-14.
Top Amateur Prospect
Joseph Labate, C, University of Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
Aspects of Labate's play improved last season, and contributed to the Badgers strong run of hockey to the WCHA Final Five. Despite being a late-round pick, Labate has steadily improved his game, and has become the amateur player to watch in the Canucks' organization.
Particularly of interest is Labate's desire to add more of a power element to his game. With size aplenty, added strength could potentially make Labate a true force on the ice. He has recently acknowledged that Canucks brass has asked him to focus on this, and that he took strides over the summer to comply. While it may be difficult for the Badgers to duplicate their run from last season, Labate will be counted on to muster offense, while demonstrating his commitment to team defense away from the puck. He kicked his season off by scoring the first goal of the game in the Badgers’ opening night win against Northern Michigan.
Patrick McNally, D, Harvard Crimson (ECAC)
McNally was the perfect choice for this amateur bounce back selection. He is hoping that his reinstatement to the squad after a university-wide academic scandal makes a lost 2012-13 season a distant memory. Prior to that, McNally was a finalist for the ECAC Rookie of the Year award in 2011-12.
The offensive minded defenseman has everything to play for this season, and Canucks management feels the tests he has endured will make him a stronger person. He informed them that he wished to honor his commitment to his coaches at Harvard. They would love nothing more than to see McNally pick up right where he left off, as a puck-moving defender with a dogged determination in pursuit of the vulcanized rubber disc.
Sophomore to Watch
Ben Hutton, D, University of Maine Black Bears (Hockey East)
For a fifth-round draft pick, Hutton's resume reads very well. With a history of success wherever he has played, the forward-turned-defenseman has a knack for reading the play and kick-starting offense. He has leadership ability as well, having served as captain in 2011-12 for the CCHL-champion Nepean Raiders. In 2012-13, he led all University of Maine Black Bears defensemen with 15 points in 34 games. In his sophomore season, Hutton will be counted on again to orchestrate the Black Bears' offense with his timely outlet passes. It is assumed he will see significant powerplay time as well, as he is very adept at reading breakdowns in coverage, having played as a left wing formerly. Hutton does a lot of the little things right that help win hockey games, and with a full season under his belt in the NCAA, he could surpass last year’s impressive totals. He had an assist but was a minus-two in Maine’s opening night loss to St. Lawrence.
Top European Prospect
Anton Rodin, RW, Brynas IF (SHL)
Had Anton Cederholm not moved to North America to play for the Portland Winterhawks, the designation for top European prospect would surely be his. However, the Canucks' European contingent has grown smaller, therefore Anton Rodin assumes this mantle. Unable to fully acclimate himself to the North American style, Rodin and his agent felt it was in his best interest to return to his native Sweden to continue his career. This move, coupled with his underwhelming pro career with the Chicago Wolves, has left some Canucks fans somewhat disappointed.
The former 53rd overall pick of the 2009 NHL Draft has shown streaks of brilliance, with excellent mobility, solid puck-handling skills, and a good shot. Unfortunately, he has been unable to consistently package it all together during his time in North America. At this stage, and without a pro contract, it is hard to envision Rodin cracking the Canucks' lineup.