Canucks Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Matt MacInnis

There are six new additions to the latest edition of the Canucks Top 20 prospects list, including two 2007 draft picks debuting in the top 10.  The organization continues to struggle with overall depth in the system, however, as there is a fairly significant dropoff in talent once you get into the second half, although the team did pick up a couple boom or bust type prospects in the latter stages of the 2007 draft who may one day surprise.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Cory Schneider, G
2. Alexander Edler, D
3. Luc Bourdon, D
4. Pat White, C
5. Michael Grabner, RW
6. Mason Raymond, LW
7. Jannik Hansen, RW
8. Juraj Simek, RW
9. Daniel Rahimi, D
10. Taylor Ellington, D
11. Sergei Shirokov, LW
12. Rick Rypien, C
13. Ryan Shannon, C
14. Julien Ellis, G
15. Nathan McIver, D
16. Mario Bliznak, C
17. Kris Fredheim, D
18. Ilja Kablukov, LW
19. Patrick Coulombe, D
20. Taylor Matson, C

1. (2) Cory Schneider, G – 8.0B
Drafted: 26th overall, 2004

Following his junior season at Boston College, Schneider came to terms with the organization on a contract.  Trade talk seemed to overshadow what was a tremendous season by Schneider, who played all 42 of his team’s games, posting six shutouts en route to a 29-12-1 record.  His 2.15 goals against average, .925 save percentage and .702 winning percentage all ranked in the top 10 nationally.  Schneider, who has long been praised as a mature and intelligent hockey player, continued to prove that by earning his third consecutive selection to the Hockey East All-Academic Team.

Schneider moves up to the top spot in the Canucks ranking after yet another dominant season in the collegiate ranks.  He has shown he has all the potential in the world and, perhaps more importantly, all the right mental tools to become an upper-tier starting goaltender at the NHL level.  The upcoming season is a huge one for Schneider, who will be expected to prove that he’s a top notch prospect while playing against better and more experienced professionals, likely in the AHL.

2. (3) Alexander Edler, D – 8.0C
Drafted: 91st overall, 2004

The big Swedish blue liner was expected to have a difficult time transitioning from the WHL to the AHL this past season.  While the first few games with the Manitoba Moose were hardly smooth for the 6’4, 220 lber, Edler adapted surprisingly quickly and soon became a prominent player for the team.  He ended up playing in 49 games, compiling 26 points.  But it was during his 22 regular season and three playoff games with the Canucks that Edler’s potential truly shined through.

Edler moves into second place in the Canucks Top 20 on the strength of his play in the NHL this season.  While other young defensemen, most notably Luc Bourdon, struggled during their stint in the big show, Edler proved to be a mature and capability defender who handled himself well during his appearances.  Edler’s steady and consistent play in his own zone, coupled with his large size and skating ability point to a long and successful NHL career.  If the 21-year-old is able to translate his offensive game he showed in major junior and, at times in the AHL, he can develop into a true impact player in all three zones of the rink.

3. (1) Luc Bourdon, D – 8C
Drafted: 10th overall, 2005

It was a rocky season for Bourdon, who was kept with the Canucks out of training camp but returned after nine appearances.  While he was sent back at least partially due to the CHL agreement’s “ten-game rule,” the reality of the matter is Bourdon clearly showed that he was not ready to play in the NHL at that time.  He went back to Moncton, playing 13 games before leaving the team for the WJC Canadian team tryout camp and, eventually, the tournament itself.  His QMJHL rights were dealt to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, for whom he played a total of 39 games, counting the postseason.  Following the Eagles elimination, Bourdon also got into five games with the Moose.

Bourdon drops from first to third on this list partially because of strong seasons of the two players ahead of him and partially due to the reality that instability over the past two seasons has slowed his development.  The 20-year-old still may become the top-flight two-way threat of a defender he was touted as on draft day, but it’s more difficult to forecast that with a degree of certainty after how the past two seasons have gone.  In Bourdon’s defense, he has been recovering from a high ankle injury he suffered two seasons ago and may now just be fully regaining his mobility and confidence.

4. (NR) Pat White, C  – 8C

White split his draft year between his high school in Grand Rapids and the USHL’s Tri-City Storm (with whom he compiled nine points in 12 games).  His steady and creative play earned him the AP Minnesota High School Player of the Year Award as well as a finalist spot for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey award.  His year was capped off with being a somewhat surprising selection 25th overall by the Canucks.

The Canucks first-round pick in the 2007 Draft, it’s no surprise that White is the highest ranked debuting prospect in this edition of the Top 20.  There wasn’t much hype around the 6’0, 186-pound American prior to draft, but those who had the opportunity to see him play last season praise his long-term upside.  White isn’t likely to step into a Canucks line-up anytime before 2010. but has the raw tools to develop into a quality offensive player at the NHL level if given the time.

5. (4) Michael Grabner, RW  – 7.5C
Drafted: 14th overall, 2006

The Austrian had a great deal more pressure on his shoulders starting this past season.  Not only did he have the weight of expectation from being an NHL first-round draft pick, but he was going to be relied on heavily to provide the bulk of the goal scoring for the WHL Spokane Chiefs.  He did lead the team with 39 goals, but managed just 15 assists during his 55 games.  He also disappeared a bit in the playoffs, registering just one helper in Spokane’s six-game series.

The 2006-07 season certainly raised some questions about the Canucks 14th pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.  While Grabner continued to use his blazing speed to create and convert on scoring chances, he was wildly inconsistent and often disappeared for long stretches of time during physical or intense games.  Grabner’s stock fell slightly throughout the season because of these concerns, despite the fact that he continued to put the puck in the net throughout the year.  Furthermore, the gap between him and the Canucks other offensively-gifted forwards (most notably Mason Raymond) has shrunk.  Grabner has the speed and skill-set to become an adequate first line scorer, but needs to shirk the soft image if he’s going to fulfill his potential.

6. (6) Mason Raymond, LW – 7C
Drafted: 51st overall, 2005

Raymond had a breakout sophomore season with Minnesota-Duluth.  He led the Bulldogs in scoring with 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists), doing most of his damage with the man advantage.  For leading his team, and finishing third in the conference in overall scoring, he was named to the All-WCHA First Team.  Following his collegiate season, Raymond announced that he was leaving for the professional ranks and immediately began to play with the Manitoba Moose.  He had some regular season success, scoring twice and assisting on two others in 11 games.  He had more problems contributing in reduced play during the post-season, however, when he put up just one assist in 13 games. 

Raymond holds pat at sixth on the list and closes the gap between the team’s first and second tier of prospects on the strength of a very good year with Minnesota-Duluth.  In addition to putting on some much needed size and strength, Raymond showcased quality playmaking skills from the wing during the year.  Growing into a fast winger who can use his speed to deliver solid hits, Raymond is working towards being something other than a uni-dimensional offensive forward.  With reasonable second-line potential, Raymond could play a key role in the team’s future.

7. (8) Jannik Hansen, RW – 7C

Last year Hansen was a WHL rookie, this year he found himself a freshman in the American League with the Moose.  As a younger player, Hansen was relied on to provide secondary scoring and did a respectable job, finishing sixth in team scoring with 12 goals and 22 assists.  After going scoreless in six AHL playoff games, he was called up to the Canucks who were dealing with injury issues among their depth forwards.  He played in 10 NHL playoff games, appearing once on the score sheet with an assist.

Hansen moves up slightly after a decent rookie AHL season capped off by an impressive, although results-deficient, post-season with the big club.  Hansen has flown under the radar most of his career, hardly surprising as a ninth-round draft pick from Denmark.  While Hansen may have captured attention with his play in the post-season, the reality of the matter is that of all the opportunities he helped to create, he did produce just one assist in 10 games.  Hansen’s play showed that he’s not far from being an NHL player with his tenacity and speed; he has a lot of work to do if he can be relied on to fill a secondary scoring role.

8. (9) Juraj Simek, RW – 7C
Drafted: 167th overall, 2006

Simek had an up and down season with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in an unusual pattern for an import player.  Typically Europeans struggle initially to adapt to the new lifestyle, culture and type of play earlier in the year and then find their legs.  Simek was the opposite.  Although he took a few games to get his feet under him, Simek had a strong start to the season but seemed to tail off towards the end of the year.  He ended up scoring 28 goals and 29 assists for 57 points in 58 games and added six points (just one goal though) in nine playoff games. 

Simek moves up one spot in the rankings because he showed some positive signs during the year.  It will be a telling sign this season if his above-average one-on-one skills can still be effective against more experienced and better players.  Simek is part of a group of prospects that the Canucks will need to produce several NHL players if they are to have home-grown secondary scoring on the big club. 

9. (7) Daniel Rahimi, D – 7C
Drafted: 82nd overall, 2006

The unknown Swede has fallen slightly after a mediocre season that emphasized Rahimi’s one-dimensional play and further exposed some areas of concern.  He spent the season with Bjorkloven, playing 33 games and scoring two points in addition to putting up 104 penalty minutes.  Rahimi solidified the fact that he is a big (6’3, 213 lbs) defender with a physical mean streak and extremely limited puckhandling skills.  A mature player for his age, Rahimi then travelled across the Atlantic to play in a couple games with the Moose.

Expected to spend the upcoming year in Manitoba, Rahimi will have to improve his play with the puck and become more disciplined.  While his bruising style is perfectly suited to North America, it’s clear that he has some developing to do before he is ready for a role in the NHL.  Don’t be shocked to see him initially assigned to the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings to give him time to improve his skating (which isn’t terrible, just needs some refinement) and adjust to the overall pace of play.  The best-case scenario for Rahimi is to develop into a Willie Mitchell type of player who can always be relied on to battle in his own end but can’t be expected more than a small contribution offensively. 

10. (NR) Taylor Ellington, D – 6.5C
Drafted: 33rd overall, 2007

Ellington was the Canucks second selection in the 2007 Draft.  He spent the past season playing in 60 games (five goals, eight assists) for the WHL Everett Silvertips.  His offensive stats mean little, however, as the 6’2, 208 lbs blue liner is known for his defensive play and decision-making abilities in his own zone.  He does have a steady first pass, but isn’t likely to ever become an offensive weapon.

Ellington is a solid defensively-oriented defenseman who plays smart in his own zone and knows how to use his size and reach to his advantage.  At this point, Ellington doesn’t appear to have great upside but could fill an important role on the team.

11. (10) Sergei Shirokov, LW – 6.5C
Drafted: 163rd overall, 2006

Shirokov falls slightly from the spring rankings because, despite having a very strong season in Russia that saw him tally 34 points in 52 games and previously telling Canucks scouts he’d be willing to come to North America to play in the AHL, there appears to be little to no movement on that front.  Shirokov is a talented player.  He is undersized, but has very sturdy skating and the abilities to be a depth scorer at the NHL level.  However, the Canucks must be wondering if they have another Kirill Koltsov situation on their hands right now.

12. (12) Rick Rypien, C – 5.5A
Undrafted: Free agent signee

Rypien doesn’t move in the Top 20 because the story really has not changed.  What Rypien lacks in size (5’11, 170 lbs) he makes up for in speed, tenacity and hard work.  He’s an effective forechecker who certainly can get on the nerves of his opponents with his relentless and sometimes pestilent style of play.  The challenge Rypien faces, and what will likely keep him from developing beyond a fourth liner, is that his style of play combined with his body do not lend itself well to durability.  He has played just 70 games the past two seasons including just 16 this year. 

13. (NR) Ryan Shannon, C – 6.0C
Undrafted: Free agent signee, acquired by trade

After a prolific NCAA career, Shannon joined the Portland Pirates in 2005-06 where he led the team in scoring with 86 points.  However, when given the chance to play full-time in the NHL, Shannon seemed unable to convert his talents to point production registering just 11 points in 53 regular season games and failing to appear on the score sheet entirely in 11 playoff games.  His poor performance resulted in him finding a home in the press box for the latter stages of the Ducks’ Cup run.  Acquired from the Ducks during the off-season, Shannon appears to have an inside track for a spot on the Canucks opening night roster.  Despite the newfound buzz around him, the reality of the matter is this is a player who hasn’t been able to produce at the NHL level and played poorly enough to be benched in the playoffs and ultimately dealt because of it. 

14. (13) Julien Ellis, G – 6C
Drafted: 189th overall, 2004

Ellis falls slightly only because of the addition of several new players to the Canucks prospects cupboard through the draft and trades.  Ellis wasn’t able to stick with the Moose this year largely due to the fact that the team had Drew MacIntyre and veteran Wade Flaherty on the roster.  He turned in a stellar season with the Salmon Kings although it remains apparent he does not have the same quickness on his feet that he did prior to his knee injury.  With Schneider leaving school to play professionally this year, Ellis will once again find himself in the ECHL.  He will need a very strong season to remain a viable NHL goaltending prospect.

15. (14) Nathan McIver, D – 6D
Drafted: 254th overall, 2003

A late-round pick several years ago, McIver has progressed slowly but steadily since emerging on the pro scene two years ago.  The Summerside, PEI native played in 63 games this year with the Moose (plus a one-game call-up to the Canucks) and saw a general increase in his ice time.  McIver is a generally unspectacular player who quietly goes about his business of getting the job done defensively.  If he can continue to mature as a player, McIver is the type of reliable player who could ultimately find himself as the sixth or seventh defender in the NHL.

16. (NR) Mario Bliznak, C – 6D
Drafted: 205th overall, 2005

Bliznak had a mediocre season with eight goals and 14 assists in 47 regular season games and may have been in danger of not receiving a contract offer from the team before turning it up in the post-season and to another level at the Memorial Cup.  Bliznak’s big-game performances certainly caused his stock to rise, although he continues to have limited upside and will never be a scoring line player at any level.  There is a slim hope for Bliznak to emerge as a third liner, but chances are he will be limited to fourth-line duties for any time he’s able to spend in the NHL.  

17. (19) Kris Fredheim, D – 6D
Drafted: 185th overall, 2005

It may not show in his four points in 23 games as a frosh with Colorado College, but Fredheim actually had a pretty decent season for a first-year defenseman.  A 6’1, 170 lber, Fredheim is a lanky player that uses his reach fairly well but clearly needs to get bigger, stronger and more physical.  With that said, Fredheim does well along the boards for himself thanks to good body positioning.  This year will be his second year with CC and should be a far more telling season about his long-term potential.  With a number of veterans leaving the team last year, Fredheim will be a full-time player and expected to jump into a more prominent role. 

18. (NR) Ilja Kablukov, LW – 6D
Drafted: 146th overall, 2007

An unknown, unheralded, ’88-born Russian, Kablukov was among the team’s most unusual choices on draft day.  The 6’2, 183 lbs winger spent some time with Shirokov’s CSKA team, but did not see much ice time.  However, a couple games into the 2007 Super Series between Canada and Russia, Kablukov has clearly established himself as one of his nation’s top performing talents in the competition.  He has been one of the most noticeable players for a Russian side who hasn’t looked very good early on and has even managed to be one of the few players to find his way on to the score sheet.  Kablukov is also saying he’d be willing to play in the AHL, but that’s a story the Canucks brass and fans have heard many times before.

19. (20) Patrick Coulombe, D – 5.5D
Undrafted: Free agent signee

Coulombe will probably never be a regular-shift player in the NHL.  Listed at 5’9, 165 lbs, it was very clear during his call-up to the big squad last season that despite his best efforts, he is simply too small to physically compete with the much larger opponents in the NHL.  However, Coulombe possesses some very good puck skills and offensive instincts which certainly could land him a role in time as a power play quarterback. 

20. (NR) Taylor Matson, C — 7F
Drafted: 176th overall, 2007

The Canucks second-to-last pick in 2007 is the final player to appear on this edition of the Top 20.  An undersized forward at 5’10, 165 lbs, Matson has good, but not great speed at this point.  He’s a two-way player who is a long, long way from playing professional hockey, furthermore in the NHL.  Scheduled to play in the USHL this season, Matson could be as many as five years from joining a Canucks affiliate.  He showed good hands and a solid wrist shot while playing 11 games for his high school team (finishing with an impressive 31 points).  Matson is a long-term project whose future success will depend at least partially on how much he grows.  On the plus side, he’s joining the famed Minnesota Gophers program, so you know he will receive the best tutelage available in the NCAA.

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