Vancouver Canucks prospect system bolstered at 2013 NHL Draft

By Larenzo Jensen

Hunter Shinkaruk - Vancouver Canucks

Photo: The second of two Canucks selections in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Hunter Shinkaruk had a strong showing in preseason play before returning to Medicine Hat (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

In what some prognosticators are dubbing the most significant draft since the Sedins were drafted in 1999, the Canucks addressed multiple areas of concern, specifically their forward depth, during the 2013 NHL Draft.

While there are still a lot of unknowns, it appears the Vancouver Canucks took definitive steps to restock their offensive pipeline, which had stagnated during the last few draft years. They also appeared to switch gears with their strategy and focus during the draft, with less of an eye on drafting overseas prospects, to one of a more North American flavor.

Left Wing

In the same deal that shipped out Kellan Tochkin and a draft pick to Carolina, Jeremy Welsh and Zac Dalpe were brought in to supplement the bottom six for the Canucks. Welsh has played six games so far for Vancouver, with no points, four penalty minutes, and five shots on goal, while averaging 9:12 of ice time per night.

Darren Archibald certainly started his season off with a bang in Utica. Through four games, he collected a goal and an assist, with a neutral plus-minus rating. More than that, he received 22 penalty minutes and fired 10 shots on goal in that span. His sparkplug play earned him a call-up to the Canucks roster, where he has enjoyed three games, with no points, an even plus-minus, and two shots on goal, averaging 5:55 of ice time.

Ludwig Blomstrand has had quiet start to his 2013-14 campaign, playing in six scoreless games for the Utica Comets before he was reassigned to the ECHL Kalamazoo Wings. Steven Anthony played 41 games for the Kalamazoo Wings last season, but has yet to play a game so far to open the 2013-14 season. He has been assigned to the St. Charles Chill of the CHL. Anthony and forward Wes Myron were two of seven players released on October 2 from the Utica Comets from their training camp tryout contracts.

The season is still young for Matthew Beattie, but he has already surpassed his output from last season, where he was pointless in 15 games with the Yale University Bulldogs. In two games this season, he has already registered a goal. Another winger, Ronalds Kenins, was signed as a free agent in July with the Canucks. The 6'0, 201-pound Latvian has played in 17 games with ZSC of the Swiss league, compiling five goals, 13 points, and eight penalty minutes.

Center

After the development of Ryan Kesler, there was a noticeable lull in the development of promising centers within the organization. A number of factors played a part in this, but drafting late during rounds was perhaps the largest of these. Therefore, the Canucks had to hope that one or two of their fourth and fifth round projects panned out. Fast forward to both the 2012 and 2013 drafts, where Vancouver selected a center with their first pick in each draft. Bo Horvat has returned to the London Knights, and is averaging over a point a game in the OHL. Long had the Canucks coveted a big, strong center, whose sheer will and compete level could leave an indelible mark on a hockey game. He has good faceoff skills, and drives to the net with aplomb, using his large frame to earn position on defensemen.

Brendan Gaunce was the Canucks first pick of the 2012 draft, and has a number of similar qualities to Horvat. With a lot of fresh faces in the Belleville Bulls lineup, it is incumbent upon Gaunce to elevate his role within the club and to truly lead by example. Thus far, he has performed admirably, both offensively as well as defensively. A complete two-way player, Gaunce is just as strong without the puck as he is when in possession of it. Through 14 games, he has notched eight goals and 17 points, 16 penalty minutes, and a minus-four rating. While Gaunce definitely has an eye towards playing for the Canucks sooner-than-later, his immediate goal is to make Team Canada in his final year of eligibility as a 19-year-old.

Hunter Shinkaruk gave glimpses over the summer of the potential offensive dynamo Vancouver drafted with their second first round pick of 2013. With hands that often leave defenders hypnotized and a wicked wrist shot, the Calgary native just needs time to nail down play without the puck. He has NHL-ready speed, much like Jordan Schroeder, and although he is not as diminutive as Schroeder, he also needs to add some strength and bulk. Size notwithstanding, Schroeder could by Hockey’s Future standards lose his prospect status this season. He has played three games this season with the Canucks, with no points, two penalty minutes, averaging about 10 minutes of ice time per game. Shinkaruk got a taste of playing for the parent club in the preseason that should make him even more motivated to make the big league. Currently, he has four goals, 10 points through seven games with the Medicine Hat Tigers, with 12 penalty minutes and a plus-three rating.

Acquired in a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, Zac Dalpe has been used somewhat sparingly in the Canucks line-up. Thus far, he has no points in six games, to go with a minus-one rating. He has averaged 4:31 of ice time per game, centering the fourth line. He has also spent while playing with the Comets in Utica, with limited success. In five games, he has two assists, two penalty minutes, and a minus-seven rating.

Kellan Lain and Alex Friesen are also hoping to work their way up through the pro ranks, but have a tough row to hoe in front of them. Lain, a big bodied presence, has played seven games thus far with the Utica Comets, with no points, and is leading the team with 37 minutes of penalties. Friesen has had difficulty staying healthy at times because of his bang and crash style and has only skated in one game for the Comets so far this season.

Joseph Labate was one of the aforementioned later round picks that the Canucks took a gamble on, with good reason. At 6'4, he has excellent size, and is learning how to use it. This season, he has opened his first four games with a goal and an assist, and no penalty minutes. Now in their inaugural season of Big Ten hockey, his development as a budding power forward is even more important as he is used in many situations.

Alexandre Mallet and Cole Cassels round out the Canucks' cache of center depth, both at varying degrees of their development. Both have a solid understanding of the defensive aspects of the game, and also offer potential offensive returns as well. Mallet has only played in two games for the Comets, with no points, a minus-two rating, and two shots on goal. In 15 games with the Oshawa Generals, Cassels is fourth on the team in points with 18 (6 goals, 12 assists) to go with 26 penalty minutes, and a plus-two rating.

Right Wing

Since Zack Kassian graduated from prospect status, Nicklas Jensen has been the de facto right wing prospect within the organization, and for plenty of reasons. He skates like the wind, has strong puck control and good vision, and has an excellent, snappy release. The Canucks first round pick of 2011, Jensen is currently nursing an injury picked up in the preseason and is on the Canucks' injured reserve list. While Jensen did not exactly set the AHL alight last season offensively, he continues to adapt to the pro game in North America, and will get a chance to see if he can stick with the parent club.

Alexandre Grenier is starting the season on the right foot, with a goal and five points through seven games with Utica. Currently second on the team with points in the young season, Grenier resumed the momentum he finished the 2012-13 season with. With size to spare, the large 6'5 winger has a number of tools at his disposal, including a hard shot and good defensive awareness. It looks as though he is learning to tie it all together, which could earn him a call-up this season. Anton Rodin recently returned to his native Sweden to play for Brynas IF of the Swedish Hockey League. So far, it appears to be a better fit for Rodin, as he is second on the team in scoring, with four goals, 16 points, and 10 penalty minutes in 17 games.

Defensemen

As noted above, pro defensemen on Utica's roster have their work cut out for them this season. Adapting to a new home in New York, as well as quite a few new faces, the Comets will have challenges to overcome. Frank Corrado and Peter Andersson have both played seven games, with Corrado registering two goals and an assist and Andersson one goal, one assist. Corrado is a minus-two rating, with no penalty minutes, while Andersson has a minus-two rating and four penalty minutes. Both will be hoping to be noticed enough by Canucks management to warrant a call-up to cover for injuries as the season wears on.

Yann Sauve has factored onto the Comets' score sheet in a number of ways. Through seven games, he has put up four assists but also has a minus-four rating to go with four penalty minutes. Teammate Henrik Tommernes has also played in seven games, with one goal, a minus-five rating, and 17 shots on goal. Newcomer Jeremie Blain, signed as a free agent in July, has good size at 6'2. He should add some bulk to the Kalamazoo blue line, where he has played one game and was neutral on the score sheet.

Patrick McNally sets out with the Harvard Crimson this season in the NCAA to erase any doubts about his abilities as a defenseman. As the season is on the cusp of starting, McNally hopes to regain his 2011-12 form, where he was a finalist for the ECAC Rookie of the year. He may, though, need a grace period to shake some rust off, having missed most of last season. Mike Williamson, the Canucks lanky sixth round pick from 2013, has gotten his first taste of NCAA hockey. In three games with Penn State, he has one assist and seven penalty minutes.

Adam Polasek will also be looking for a big year, as he is in the final year of his contract. The steady, strong, defensive stalwart would love nothing more than to put up some increased numbers with the Kalamazoo Wings. That would surely help his case for a new contract with the organization.

Jordan Subban resumed action this season right where he left off with the Belleville Bulls last season. Subban has been generating offense from the blue line at an excellent clip, with a goal and 10 assists in 16 games. A very intelligent player, he thinks the game at such a high level that it is hard to imagine the Bulls being as successful as they are without him leading the charge. It appears his game is getting better with the experience he has accumulated as well as the confidence he garnered last season. Speaking of added confidence, Miles Liberati of the London Knights appears to be benefitting from the larger role he has been given. While he is known for his offensive instincts and smooth skating, it is his physical game that has been improving. He is been separating his man from the puck and been a tad more aggressive. Through 14 games, he has a goal and two assists, a plus-two rating, and 16 minutes of penalties.

The University of Maine Black Bears are five games into their schedule, and already Ben Hutton is providing a solid blue line presence. He has a goal and three points, and has no penalty minutes. He has righted the ship since opening night versus St. Lawrence where he was a minus-two on the night. He will be counted on to exemplify the qualities of a leader now that he has his first year of NCAA action notched on his belt.

While a new season provide a fresh start for some players, for others it can be disorienting, and bring unfamiliar elements, teammates, and systems. Evan McEneny is not having a disastrous start with the Kitchener Rangers, but defensively he is experiencing some challenges. Ten games in, he has a goal and four points, to go with a minus-seven rating and 17 minutes in the penalty box. McEneny had a banner year last year offensively for the Rangers, so no one is pressing the panic button yet, but the 6'2, 205-pound defenseman is hoping to shore up his defensive coverage.

Anton Cederholm has had quite a nice transition to North America, where he has had a strong start with the Portland Winterhawks. In 15 games, he has a goal and seven points, with 26 penalty minutes, and has a plus-12 rating. He has almost the exact same physical stats as McEneny, but is known for his stay-at-home style, and penalty-killing expertise.

Goaltenders

Both Joacim Eriksson and Joe Cannata are both searching for their first wins of the season with the Utica Comets. The two pros have posted decent numbers, considering how the Comets' overall team plus-minus numbers have gone. With Eddie Lack seemingly cementing the backup role to Roberto Luongo, Eriksson and Cannata will rotate duties in Utica. In a small sample, Eriksson has started five games, with a record of 0-4-1, a 3.34 goals against average, and a .887 save percentage. Meanwhile, Cannata has started two games, with a 3.51 goals against average and a .841 save percentage. With only a few players on the Comets with a positive plus-minus rating, it could be a tough season ahead for both goaltenders.