Canucks Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Rhys Kearns

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Cody Hodgson, C
2. Cory Schneider, G
3. Michael Grabner, RW
4. Jordan Schroeder, C
5. Jannik Hansen, RW
6. Anton Rodin, W
7. Yann Sauve, D
8. Sergei Shirokov, LW
9. Taylor Ellington, D
10. Kevin Connauton, D
11. Prab Rai, C
12. Mario Bliznak, C
13. Ilja Kablukov, LW
14. Jeremy Price, D
15. Dan Gendur, RW
16. Daniel Rahimi, D
17. Pat White, C
18. Matt Butcher, C
19. Peter Andersson, D
20. Pierre-Cedric Labrie, LW

1. Cody Hodgson, C, 19

Drafted 2008 First Round 10th overall

The reigning 2009 CHL Player of the Year has played his last year of major junior hockey. In his sophomore season with Brampton (OHL), Cody Hodgson scored 92 points (43 goals, 49 assists) in only 53 games. He followed that up with a playoff stint with the AHL Manitoba Moose, advancing to the Calder Cup Finals and posting six points in 11 games. The Ontario product has all the attributes you look for in a top-six centerman. His only flaw is that he lacks that extra gear in the skating department, however this is something that can be improved on over time. Hodgson is simply one of the best all-around NHL prospects in the game thanks to his outstanding hockey sense, natural goal scorer’s mentality and deft playmaking ability. In the upcoming 2009-10 season, Hodgson will have every opportunity to make the Vancouver Canucks roster, and fill either a second or third line pivot role.

2. Cory Schneider, G, 23

Drafted 2004 1st Round 26th overall

There is nothing left for Cory Schneider to prove in the minor leagues. The 2009 AHL Goaltender of the Year has dominated the minors by competing in the Calder Cup Finals last season and backstopping his team to the most wins in franchise history (50). He also got a taste of the big leagues on Nov. 29, being called up to make a start. His eight-game stint in Vancouver didn’t go so well as he finished with two wins and four losses, but Schneider still possesses all the skills of a No. 1 goaltender. He has very quick reflexes with fluid movement, allowing him to drop in and out of the butterfly position in the blink of an eye. With this summer’s acquisition of Andrew Raycroft for the backup role, Schneider could very well be traded to a team looking for a starting netminder, either before or after the season starts.

3. Michael Grabner, RW, 21
Drafted 2006 1st Round 14th overall

This Austrian used to be known only for his speed. However, with help from the Manitoba Moose coaching staff, and a couple of seasons in the minors under his belt, Grabner is gaining maturity and adding new assets to his game. He had a productive sophomore season with the Moose, posting 30 goals 18 assists in 66 games, improving on his totals from the previous season. Grabner will always be a talented forward with raw shooting and skating skills. His acceleration and quickness is something that the current Vancouver squad lacks. It his ability to break away from defenders and make plays at high speeds that scouts rave about, and it is his lack of defensive acumen that they cringe at. There is no question that Grabner has improved upon his weaknesses and with the departures of veterans from the Canucks there will be vacancy within the forward ranks. Look for Grabner to challenge for a spot on the opening night roster this season.

4. Jordan Schroeder, C, 18
Drafted 2009 1st Round 22nd overall

Schroeder had a strong freshman season with the Univ. of Minnesota Golden Gophers, tallying 13 goals and 32 assists in 35 games. He proved that he can play with the big boys and produce. What Schroeder lacks in size at 5’9", he makes up for in skating and hockey sense. The diminutive pivot is solid on his skates and has above average speed. He can read the play very well and knows where to be and how to utilize his linemates. He has a very good core and is hard to knock off the puck, taking advantage of his lower body strength in the corners. The 18-year-old will continue to get physically stronger. He will remain at Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

5. Jannik Hansen, RW, 23

Drafted 2004 9th Round 287th overall

On Aug. 5, Hansen signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canucks, hoping to earn a spot on the third checking line. Last season Hansen earned his place on the Canucks’ opening line-up by netting three goals, five points and a plus-five rating in five preseason games. He followed that with 17 points in his first 29 games but then slumped to four points in the last 26 games of the season. Hansen will have to showcase his speed, versatility and willingness to grind it out in the corners if he wants to be a full-time player this time around. He has always displayed determination, solid defensive awareness and intensity every shift and there is no doubt that the Canucks brass see his potential as a speedy two-way checker. If Hansen remains consistent, he could very well be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

6. Anton Rodin, W, 18
Drafted 2009 2nd Round 53rd overall

Last year Rodin played for Oskarshamn in the second league in Sweden. What stands out among Rodin’s skills are his top-end speed and offensive ability. The 2009 second rounder was number two in scoring in the top Swedish junior league with 55 points in 37 games, and some scouts said he was the best player in league. Expectations are high on the Swede as he is the highest drafted European player by the Canucks since Daniel and Henrik Sedin were chosen second and third in 1999. In addition, he was twice named MVP at the Five Nations Tournament. Rodin is flashy, likes to score goals and contribute offensively, and despite his lack of size (5’11" 174 pounds) he could just as well play on the third or fourth line as a checker using his speed and intensity to create turnovers. Expect him to play for Brynas in the elite league next season as well as compete for a spot at the World Junior Championships this year.

7. Yann Sauve, D, 19
Drafted 2008 2nd Round 41st overall

Sauve stands at 6’3" 220 pounds and is no doubt a defensive defenseman. This past season with the Saint John Ice Dogs (QMJHL) he improved on his previous two seasons with five goals and 25 assists in 61 games. Sauve likes to throw his body around and use his size and reach to his advantage. He likes to play a physical game and maintains good positioning between himself and opposing forwards. Sauve is continuing to get better as a defenseman, training this off-season with Dave Gagner (father of Sam), head of Canucks player development, working on his offensive play and stick-handling. It will still be a few years before he pulls on a Canucks sweater. He has one more season of junior to go.

8. Sergei Shirokov, LW, 23

Drafted 2006 6th Round 163rd overall

Shirokov has been improving his offensive production in his native Russia since being drafted. Last season Shirokov netted 17 goals 24 assists in 56 KHL games for CSKA Moscow. Shirokov has substantial international experience playing at the U-18 and U-20 World Juniors, impressing scouts with his stick-handling and shiftiness on the ice. He has good top speed and ample acceleration. His defensive play is satisfactory as he does not have an imposing frame, however Shirokov can create turnovers with his speed and stick-work. He good at both playmaking and shooting. Recently there has been some controversy surrounding the player as he no longer wishes to play for the CSKA hockey club and wants to sign with the Canucks. This is problematic due to the lack of an IIHF transfer agreement. It looks likely that he’ll sign with the Canucks, but the saga is not over yet.

9. Taylor Ellington, D, 20

Drafted 2007 2nd Round 33rd overall

Ellington has been improving his production year after year, but this past season was the first time Ellington finished the regular season as a minus player with a -20 rating, albeit on a bad team. He signed his first pro contract last March with the Moose playing in one game, netting a lone goal. As a defender the native of Victoria, BC is as reliable as they come, never jumping in too much on the rush, as he usually chooses to make a good first pass instead. At 6’2" Ellington has an exceptional reach and rarely gets caught making mistakes in his own zone. After five years with the Silvertips in the WHL, Ellington’s junior days are over. This coming season he will play for the Canucks’ AHL affiliate very possibly filling a top-four role.

10. Kevin Connauton, D, 19
Drafted 2009 3rd Round 83rd overall

The Canucks went off the board when drafting Kevin Connauton, but it has not been uncommon for this team to draft players from the NCAA. Connauton impressed many in AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League) when he tallied 45 points in 56 games in 2007-08. He then followed that performance at Western Michigan University with seven goals and 11 assists in 40 games. He is not an overly physical player but can still play the body when needed. His best assets are his ability to make plays from the blue line and his patience and poise while in possession of the puck. Connauton has a smooth stride and good foot speed, and is a potential power play quarterback. Connauton is still years away from the NHL, but his respectable freshman year and continuing development in the NCAA should make him an offensively minded defenseman at the next level.

11. Prab Rai, C, 19
Drafted 2008 5th Round 131st overall

The product of Surrey, BC is hushing his critics. Much was made prior to last season of Rai’s attitude — he requested a trade from Prince George (WHL) — and while he indeed got traded, he did not disappoint managing 65 points in 72 games in 2007-08 with the Seattle Thunderbirds and then with an impressive 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists) in 61 games the next year. Rai creates scoring opportunities with his blinding speed, which has made him a consistent offensive contributor. In addition, his defensive play is above average, mainly because of his ability to skate back quickly into his own zone. He must work on his play in the corners and be more willing to go into the "greasy" areas. Rai will most likely return to Seattle as alternate captain. He has the potential to be a top-six forward but is a high-risk, high-reward prospect.

12. Mario Bliznak, C, 22

Drafted 2005 7th Round 205th overall

The native of Trencin, Slovakia finished his final season with the club posting 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 67 games. Bliznak spent last season in the pros playing with the Moose where he recorded seven goals and 16 points in 64 games. There he gained experience playing alongside veteran Mike Keane and becoming one of the more popular agitators on the team. Bliznak plays a hard-working grinder’s game, capitalizing on his speed and a quick first step to knock off opposing players from the puck. The areas of concern are his on-ice awareness as he is usually looking for that big hit which at times can pull him out of position. Bliznak will likely be on the Moose opening night roster next season.

13. Ilja Kablukov, LW, 21

Drafted 2007 5th Round 146th overall

In his first season away from CSKA playing with Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo (KHL), Ilja Kablukov had a disappointing season with just four points in 42 games. The bright side is that Kablukov is still just 21 and will be joining HC Spartak Moscow, a team known for good prospect development. The defensively oriented Russian has a very projectable frame (6’2" 188lbs) and is a decent skater with good balance and top-end speed. He is more of a playmaking forward than anything else and is always looking for a good dish, which he usually makes thanks to his impressive vision. The upcoming season with HC Spartak will be a crucial one for him as he will have to prove that he can bounce back from a sub-par season.

14. Jeremy Price, D, 18
Drafted 2009 4th Round 113th overall

Another pick from the Canucks in the 2009 Entry Draft was CJHL Nepean Raiders defenseman Jeremy Price. The Canucks were addressing an area of need when they drafted Price, which was puck-moving defensemen. Price frequently played on the Raiders power play, where he netted six of his 12 goals. Fifty-five points in 41 games is very respectable for a defenseman, however, the CJHL is not the best level of competition. Next season Price will play for Colgate University and there’s no reason to think he would not spend all four years there.

15. Dan Gendur, RW, 22

Drafted 2007 7th Round 206th overall

The reigning ECHL fastest skater needs to prove that he can repeat the offensive success that he had in Everett before turning pro. After moving to the ECHL‘s Victoria Salmon Kings last year, Dan Gendur‘s production dipped significantly. He scored only nine goals and finished the season with 38 points in 52 games. He also had a 10-game stint with the Manitoba Moose where he contributed a single goal. Gendur’s puck skills are satisfactory which make him somewhat of a peripheral player. He has very good speed and works hard every shift, however, it remains to be seen if Gendur can become anything more than a career minor leaguer. Gendur is 22 and with the already well-stocked crop of 20-something speedy wingers, he will have to battle very hard to crack the Moose roster.

16. Daniel Rahimi, D, 22
Drafted 2006 3rd Round 82nd overall

Swedish-born Daniel Rahimi stands at 6’3" 213 lbs. He has a common issue for big defensemen — a need to work on skating and mobility. He has also at times been labeled an underachiever. With five points in 41 games, Rahimi is your typical big-bodied stay-at-home defender who plays the game with an edge. He has good international experience playing in two world juniors (2006, 2007) and playing a few seasons in the Swedish Elite League. The NHL is not far off for Rahimi as he has the size and defensive awareness to take his game to the pro level. However, with so many skilled forwards in the game today, Rahimi will need to work on his skating before that happens.

17. Patrick White, C, 20

Drafted 2007 1st Round 25th overall

Time is running out for White, whose production has been a disappointment. White spent the last two seasons with the Univ. of Minnesota Golden Gophers and while he improved upon his freshman totals (10 points in 45 games), 16 points (seven goals) is still less than expected for a former first round pick. He has been encouraged to shoot more and to become more confident with the puck. White is joined on the NCAA Gophers by Schroeder. White must do more to show the Vancouver staff that he can play if he hopes for a contract when he’s done with college.

18. Matt Butcher, C, 22
Drafted 2005 5th Round 138th overall

The son of former Canuck Garth Butcher, Matt Butcher had fallen off the radar thanks to a collarbone injury last season with Northern Michigan of the NCAA. The 22-year-old is now healthy and has put the injuries behind him hoping to impress coaching staff at this summer’s prospect camp. Butcher’s skills are limited, but the grinder makes up for that with determination and hard work every shift. He will never be mistaken for a scorer and will have to work on his game is order to establish himself as a defensive forward. He possesses a good frame (6’1" 185lbs) and now that he is healthy, should continue to get stronger. Butcher’s injuries have set back his development significantly, however there is still hope for him.

19. Peter Andersson, D, 18
Drafted 2009 5th Round 143rd overall

Andersson could be a late-round value, a pick by Canucks scout Tomas Gradin. Andersson is a big-bodied two-way defenseman playing for the Frolunda juniors. Last season with the team he had eight points (three goals, five assists) in 36 games and had one goal for Sweden at the World U-18 tournament. Gradin has compared Andersson to Canuck defenseman Alex Edler as they both have a crisp first pass, offensive poise with the puck and a good shot. Andersson has a good stride for a big man and limits his mistakes. Andersson will remain in Sweden next season.

20. Pierre-Cedric Labrie, LW, 22
Signed 2007

Unless the enforcer can improve his sluggish skating, it is very unlikely that Pierre-Cedric Labrie will be anything more than a fourth-line role player in the minors. After an average sophomore season with the Moose (six goals, nine assists) Labrie will have to prove to Manitoba coaching staff that he has the ability to contribute consistently, even as a fourth liner. Labrie is all about the greasy goals, as he parks in front of the net, tipping or burying rebounds. He has good size at 6’2" 212lbs that is sure to provide an adequate screen. So far, Labrie has not disappointed nor has he really impressed. As time goes on, he will have to improve his skating.

Eric Walsky, F, 24

Signed 2009 as a free agent

Alaska-born Eric Walsky signed his first pro contract last March with the Canucks. GM Mike Gillis and head of scouting Stan Smyl were attracted to the forward’s versatility — he can play both center and wing — as well as his speed and puck control. Walsky spent the previous season at Colorado College tallying 12 goals and 36 points in 38 games. Walsky’s attributes lie in his offensive ability, mainly his speed and puck handling. In addition, he has very quick feet and is a shifty player. His natural mobility allows him to get into open spaces on the ice quickly. Walsky had a taste of the pro game already playing five games with the Moose getting two assists. Depending on his training camp, Walsky could very well play for the Moose next season thanks to the departures of offensive forwards such as Jason Krog and Jason Jaffray.