Virtanen, Demko new top prospects in Vancouver Canucks Fall 2014 Top 20

By Larenzo Jensen
Lethbridge Hurricanes v Calgary Hitmen

Photo: Jake Virtanen was a point-per-game player for the Calgary Hitmen in 2013-14. He was the sixth overall selection of the 2014 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)


For all intents and purposes, the 2014 NHL Draft table was a flurry of activity for the Vancouver Canucks and had immediate impact on their top 20 prospects. They were, amongst other areas of improvement, able to draft arguably their best left winger in 15 years and their best goaltender in 10 years.

Of course, with all draft picks patience is a virtue. Fans in Vancouver groan at the thought of waiting a few years to really witness players from the 2014 draft making an impact on the organization. But such is the cost of change, and change rarely occurs overnight. Those groans should be quelled as some of the following begin to graduate from prospect status to full-time Canucks.

1. (NR) Jake Virtanen, LW, 8.0D
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2014

Not since Daniel Sedin was drafted 2nd overall in the 1999 draft has a left winger of Jake Virtanen’s potential been selected in Vancouver. Virtanen comes nearly complete as a power forward with an array of talents, but most notably his ability to finish, his quick acceleration and speed. Going into the draft after requiring shoulder surgery for a torn labrum hurt his stock, and is partly responsible for his letter grade, but any fears about lingering problems are melting away. He is currently skating (though without contact) and has been shooting the puck. He has stated that he is hoping to return to his WHL Calgary Hitmen early in October. Virtanen has already been signed to a three-year entry-level deal, and will most likely return to his goal-scoring ways in the WHL. His trademark hard, accurate shooting, speedy acceleration and finishing repertoire should one day land him a top-six role with the Canucks, with first line potential.

2, (NR) Thatcher Demko, G, 8.0D 
Drafted 2nd round, 36th overall, 2014

There are striking resemblances between Thatcher Demko and former Vancouver Canuck goaltender Cory Schneider. Both products of the same school and program, they were taken early in their respective draft classes. The Canucks obviously like what they see in Boston College’s ability to develop players, and Demko’s rise through their ranks was well deserved. A goaltender that relies on technique and positioning, his large frame and good lateral mobility make it a real challenge for shooters to find holes.

3. (1) Bo Horvat, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 9th overall, 2013

Bo Horvat’s slight move down says more about the Canucks’ fortunes at the 2014 Draft than it implies any slight towards Horvat’s play, skill-set, or value to the organization. His work ethic, his dedication to his craft, and his absolute versatility as a well rounded, two-way forward make him an invaluable shard in their future mosaic. There are many reasons why success follows Horvat, and it’s difficult to envision him not translating that success at the NHL level.

4. (NR) Nikita Tryamkin, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2014

Nikita Tryamkin’s selection marked the first time in seven years that the Canucks brought a Russian-born player into the fold. Having already played two seasons in the KHL as a 19-year-old, this gargantuan blueliner comes with international experience. NHL scouts really took notice during the 2014 World Junior Championship, where he helped anchor the bronze-medal winning Russian team. While there is still work to do pertaining to his skating and puck-handling skills, Tryamkin brings an excellent skill-set. Should he get the chance to play in the NHL, he would be the largest Canuck to ever walk the halls of Rogers Arena.

5. (6) Hunter Shinkaruk, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2013

Now back on the ice and scrimmaging (with no contact) since the second week of July, Hunter Shinkaruk’s hip surgery appears to have been a successful one. The speedy sniper has been sidelined since January, when he was operated on in Colorado by hip labrum specialist Marc Phillippon. Last fall, Shinkaruk excited the crowd in Penticton during the Canucks Young Stars tournament. His trademark speed and skating ability will need to be on full display this fall if he is to achieve his goal of making the Canucks’ opening night roster.

6. (2) Nicklas Jensen, RW, 7.5D
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2011

Nicklas Jensen’s ride to the NHL has come with a few bumps and unexpected twists, but it appears he may be here to stay. The speedy Dane has shown a scoring touch and although he hasn’t shown consistency, has the wherewithal to stick in the league. With the importance that is placed on speed in today’s game, Jensen is well-equipped to not only keep pace in the NHL, but perhaps to set it as well.

7. (3) Brendan Gaunce, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2012

Also looking good at the Canucks training camp during July was Brendan Gaunce, whose NHL-ready shot was drawing media attention. He finished the season in Erie (OHL) on a strong roll, playing a large role in the Otter’s playoff success. Stan Smyl, the Canucks director of player development, has been working with Gaunce to better incorporate his large frame into his game.

8. (NR) Linden Vey, C, 7.0C
Acquired via trade from Los Angeles Kings, June 2014

The Canucks traded the 50th overall pick they obtained in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning that saw them acquire Jason Garrison for the rights to Linden Vey. There is a strong possibility Vey will start as the No. 3 center in Vancouver this season. His average height and weight bely his grit, tenacity, and hard working approach, which translates into more puck possession. Vey has offensive upside as well, making the jump from junior to pro hockey as a 20 year old. He was third on the Manchester Monarchs (AHL) in scoring and had a strong, but brief, playoffs. Prior to that, he led the WHL in scoring as a Medicine Hat Tiger.

9. (NR) Jared McCann, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 24th overall, 2014

Jared McCann plays the game with an edge, and does so in all three zones. He is also known to exhibit good playmaking and puck distribution skills. The Canucks acquired the 1st round pick used to select McCann in the Ryan Kesler deal – a player that McCann aspires to play like. He did not receive an invitation to Canada’s World Junior summer evaluation camp, so he has plenty of motivation to make sure the Canucks notice him during training camp.

10. (13) Cole Cassels, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2013

Cole Cassels made a 30-point jump in production from the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season with the Oshawa Generals. He became a key contributor on the power play and evolved from a gritty, two-way pivot to a top-six center. During training camp, Cassels was impressive both handling and dishing the puck as well as without it. Cassels has one more year of junior remaining before he can join the Comets in Utica. He has a lot of upside thanks to his strong two-way presence on the ice.

11. (NR) Mike Zalewski, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, March 2014

A winger that will be relied upon in Utica this season, Mike Zalewski has good size and is a smart, hard-working player. He has good anticipation and positioning, and should not look out of place at the pro level. He is a native of New Hartford, which is a suburb of Utica, so he will essentially be playing at home when he joins the Comets. Though he still needs to work on puck handling, the Canucks will afford him time to grow his game in the AHL. He is projected a bottom six forward, and his game and style has drawn comparisons to Ryan Callahan.

12. (7) Joacim Eriksson, G, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, June 2013

Joacin Eriksson managed to record a .500 record amidst the challenges he and the Comets faced in 2013-14, which was rather incredible. Comets head coach Travis Green and assistant coach Paul Jerrard relied heavily on Eriksson. Never has Vancouver seen such a rapid change of goaltending personnel as in the past 14 months. For this reason, it is hard to foresee him getting a legitimate shot at playing as Ryan Miller’s backup.

13. (5) Frank Corrado, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2011

Smooth-skating defenseman Frank Corrado is still rather young but came away from the 2013-14 season with some NHL experience. He has plenty of puck-moving and offensive talent, so the bulk of the focus from coaches has been on defensive-zone awareness. He could be a future power play option, but for now Corrado will fight to earn a spot on the Canucks roster or be ready in Utica for a call-up.

14. (9) Alexandre Grenier, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2011

Similar to Joacim Eriksson, Alexandre Grenier is one of the reasons why the Utica Comets were able to muster a .500 record. Rounding into more of a power forward, he was able to successfully make the jump from the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL) to Utica and has not looked back. While the likelihood is high that he will start the season again with the Comets, the late-blooming winger could still get his first taste of NHL experience in the 2014-15 season.

15. (NR) Gustav Forsling, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2014

Though slightly undersized for a defenseman, Gustav Forsling brings some offensive upside with him. The Linkoping HC blueliner has solid puck control, and he uses it very effectively on the power play. He will return to the SuperElit league this season in order to begin polishing his defensive zone and one-on-one play. Some pundits feel he only fell to the Canucks in the fifth round because of concerns over his stature and overall size.

16. (12) Ben Hutton, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2012

Ben Hutton established himself as a premier puck-moving force in the NCAA last season with the University of Maine. He essentially doubled his point production from the previous year and in the process broke a number of team records. While it is hard to imagine what he will do for an encore, he opened a lot of Canucks fans’ eyes with his breakout year. Since he caught many off guard last season it will be interesting to see how he performs during the 2014-15 season now that he is on everyone’s radar.

17. (16) Darren Archibald, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, December 2010 

Darren Archibald is a model of perseverance within the Canucks’ prospect pool. He took the path less traveled to get to where he is now; he didn’t even start playing in the CHL until the age of 18. He was cut by the Chicago Wolves out of training camp, and was unable to make the Barrie Colts (OHL) club on his first attempt. But all of that was history by the time Daniel Sedin got injured during the 2013-14 season, and the Canucks turned to Archibald for help. He may not have put up impressive statistics during his 16 games with the Canucks, but he proved he can play in the NHL. Archibald brings a strong forechecking game with him every time he touches the ice.

18. (20) Jordan Subban, D, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 115th overall, 2013

Jordan Subban continues to grow his game and convert those who have doubted his abilities on his path towards pro hockey. While he still has a ways to go, his high hockey IQ and general intelligence stands out on the ice. While his older brothers have left large footprints, his blend of technical skills, heavy shot, and strong skating skills could help him overcome the odds. Not many players that are 5’9 make the NHL (last season only 35 were 5’9 or below of 843 skaters), but he could become one of the exceptions.

19. (NR) Anton Cederholm, D, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2013

The Portland Winterhawks defenseman makes the Top 20 after a strong spring campaign. Playing primarily with top Pittsburgh Penguin prospect Derrick Pouliot, his defensive savvy allowed Pouliot more freedom to move the puck up the ice. He was an important fixture on the backend during penalty kills. He appears to be making improvement in his mobility, but better stick handling will be a longer-term goal.

20. (19) Dane Fox, C, 6.0C
Signed as a free agent, December 2013

Prior to his over-age year, Dane Fox had never produced at better than a point-per-game pace. Yet after being passed over twice in the NHL draft, he found a way to get noticed. Not only did he score 64 goals, but he racked up 122 penalty minutes doing it. A hard-nosed, gritty player that had the fortune of playing alongside Connor McDavid as an Erie Otter, some have made style comparisons to Dave Bolland. Fans in Utica will get a better look at this intriguing prospect, who showcased some soft hands during summer development camp.