Canucks fall 2007 junior prospect update

By Matt MacInnis

Last year the Canucks had a deep crop of talented prospects plying their trade in the Canadian Hockey League.  The Canucks currently have just five CHL players, only one of which was an early-round selection.  They have four Western Hockey League players and one player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.  Included in this modest group are four forwards and a single blue liner.  The organization also has Taylor Matson playing in the USHL.

Taylor Ellington, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted: 33rd overall, 2007

The Canucks second pick in the most recent NHL Draft, Ellington came as a surprise to those expecting the organization to pick a scorer.  A stay-at-home defender, Ellington will never be high on the score sheet, but is a steady, reliable player.  Ellington has a pair of goals and seven assists in 28 games so far this year with a modest 39 penalty minutes.  However, the most impressive stat of the season by far for him is his +5 rating – Ellington is the only full-time Silvertip with a positive rating. 

Listed at 6’2, 205 lbs, Ellington did not seem that tall while participating in the Canucks Rookie Camp in Victoria this summer.  The Canucks as an organization are quite deep at the defensive position, depth they’ve been forced to call upon while missing Sami Salo, Mattias Ohlund and Kevin Bieksa at the same time for a few games this year.  Despite his very strong play early in the season, Ellington was not selected to participate in the Canadian World Junior team’s selection camp.  The consistent, but unspectacular defender is probably three years from seeing action with the Canucks.

Dan Gendur, RW, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Drafted: 206th overall, 2007

After being passed up several times in previous drafts, the Canucks took a flyer on this fast-skating winger with a booming shot who really came into his own after getting traded to Everett from Prince George last season.  Gendur has carried on at the same clip this year as an overager, scoring seven goals and 18 assists in 22 games.  He had a hot start and has slowed down somewhat since, but still has the second highest points per game ratio on his team, ahead even the highly-touted Zach Hamill (BOS). 

At the professional level, Gendur appears destined to be a third or fourth line energy player who will occasionally create a chance because of his strong skating.  Gendur will make the transition next season and will have to show that he’s willing to play that kind of aggressive, grinding role if he hopes to earn a spot with the Moose.  If not, Gendur will likely find himself playing in his hometown of Victoria, with the Canucks ECHL affiliate, the Salmon Kings.

Evan Fuller, C, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Drafted: 197th overall, 2006

A late-round pick who many criticized the Canucks for selecting, Fuller is purely a heart and soul type of player.  He has limited offensive abilities even at the junior level as evidenced by his six points in 15 games this season, during which he’s compiled 22 penalty minutes.  His strengths lie in his aggressive fore-checking, ferocity and refusal to back down against the biggest and strongest of adversary.  In fact, it was his willingness to stand up to renowned WHL enforcer Matt Kassian (MIN) is what attracted Canucks Head Scout Ron Delorme to Fuller.

What Fuller lacks in raw talent, he more than makes up for in heart and determination.  With the recent call-up of fellow offensive-challenged Canucks prospect Mike Brown, the organization has shown that they’re willing to sparingly use a roster spot for somebody whose sole purpose is to mix it up and stand up for his teammates.  Fuller’s professional potential is likely along the same lines as current Canuck Jeff Cowan as a middleweight fighter who can handle his own defensively. 

Mario Bliznak, C, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Drafted: 205th overall, 2005

Most people were surprised when it was announced that Bliznak would be returning to the Giants this season.  It is quite rare for a player to fill a slot with a junior team as both an over-age player and an import.  Bliznak’s tenure in Vancouver had been considered largely unimpressive until he showed he has the ability to be an impact player at both ends of the ice during an extremely strong performance at the Memorial Cup in Vancouver.  Just 26 games into the season, Bliznak has already matched his previous personal best for points with 22. 

Bliznak is a reliable two-way player whose offensive game is slowly coming along.  It has to be somewhat disappointing that he was unable to crack the Moose’s line-up this season, but the additional time in junior should help develop his playmaking skills.  Like several other prospects, Bliznak is destined for the professional ranks next season.

Charles-Antoine Messier, C, Acadie-Bathurst Titans (QMJHL)
Drafted: 145th overall, 2007

Messier was a surprising selection last year, but the diminutive Boucherville, Quebec native showed signs of promising talent at the Canucks Rookie Camp and very early on during the QMJHL season.  With 19 points in 27 games thus far, Messier has had a respectable opening third to the year.  Under-sized, but quick and shifty with the ability to rapidly change gears when he has possession of the puck, Messier has some potential to be a bit of an offensive steal if he can continue to home his game.

Messier is likely a very long-term prospect who will need several more years in junior and further seasoning in the minor pros before he’s able to make an impact in the NHL.  It’s still very early to be excited about Messier, but the Canucks brass were audible about their pleasure with his performance during his first rookie camp earlier this year. 

Taylor Matson, C, Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
Drafted: 176th overall, 2007

A relatively unheard of player leading in the draft, the Canucks took a flyer on Matson, a smallish center with solid skills.  Nineteen games into the 2007-08 season with Des Moines, Matson has four goals and five assists plus 10 penalty minutes.  He is also a minus-three so far.  His numbers are not great for a player who has committed to the Univ. of Minnesota Golden Gophers next season, but with another four and a half years before the Canucks need to offer him a contract, there is plenty of time for Matson to evolve into the player the organization hoped he would become when they called his name from their draft table.