Drafting and developing have not been strong suits for the Vancouver Canucks over the last few years. With Jim Benning and Trevor Linden in charge there seems to be efforts being made to rectify years of poor drafting and developing of their own players, though certain moves have not come without controversy.
In recent years, 2009 first round pick Jordan Schroeder was allowed to walk away after failing to break into the NHL with Vancouver, and has found a depth role with the Minnesota Wild. Cody Hodgson, another first round pick (2008), was dealt away because he was not a player coaches wanted in a checking role and the Canucks could not find a place for him on a scoring line. 2004 draft pick Cory Schneider was mismanaged as well and ultimately traded away. A few others such as Mason Raymond and 2006 first-rounder Michael Grabner were also deemed expendable by the Canucks and have enjoyed success elsewhere. The last player the Canucks drafted that has made any real lasting impact on the team is Alex Edler (although Jannik Hansen from that same 2004 draft has been solid as well) – and Bo Horvat certainly faces a lot of pressure to reverse the trend.
With all the misses hopefully in the past the Canucks can focus on developing what has become a very strong group of prospects. Here is a look at what the Canucks have in the cupboard heading into the 2015-16 season.
20. (20) Anton Cederholm (D), 6.5D
Drafted 145th overall (5th round) in 2013
Cederholm holds on to the 20th spot with a few others knocking at the door. He will turn pro this fall and should find himself splitting his playing time between the the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL and the Utica Comets of the AHL in 2015-16. The steady rearguard finished off his junior career with Portland after a strong playoff run that was cut short by the Kelowna Rockets. While Cederholm will never be relied on for his offense, he will make a name for himself by continuing to be a solid, shut-down defenseman with good penalty killing abilities and a physical edge. His combative style and reliable defensive play should make him a solid bottom pair defenseman in the NHL one day.
19. (15) Evan McEneny, D , 6.5D
Free Agent Signing in 2012
McEneny drops to 19th spot by no real fault of his own – there were simply a few new additions to the list that forced him further down. McEneny closed out his junior career with a strong season for the Kingston Frontenacs. The Frontenacs were no match for the strong North Bay Battalion club in the first round of the OHL playoffs and were quickly swept aside in four games. He will turn pro this fall and is one of the many rookie defensemen looking to crack the Utica roster for 2015-16. In all likelihood he will split his time between Utica and Kalamazoo until he can cement himself into the Utica roster full time. His strong game in all three zones should give him the advantage over a few other young defensemen fighting for the same minutes in Utica.
18. (18) Kyle Pettit, C, 6.5D
Drafted 156th overall (6th round) in 2014
Pettit holds onto the 18th spot coming off a solid junior campaign with the Erie Otters. With Connor McDavid (EDM) and possibly Dylan Strome (ARI) both in the NHL for 2015-16 that would leave a fairly significant hole at the center position for the Otters. Pettit should get a serious look at first or second line duties. While Pettit’s overall offensive upside may seem somewhat limited, having scored only 43 points over three nearly full seasons, his defensive game receives justified attention. He has ideal NHL size and takes key faceoffs, kills penalties, blocks shots, and does pretty much whatever he can to contribute to his team’s success. That team first mentality and dedication to the defensive side of the puck should translate well to the pro game after he plays out his junior career in 2015-16. Pettit has the makings of a good third or fourth line defensive forward in the NHL one day and should close out his junior career with a strong offensive season.
17. (13) Nikita Tryamkin, D, 6.5D
Drafted 66th overall (3rd round) in 2014
Tryamkin drops to the 17th spot on the list coming off a mediocre season in the KHL. He is a physical specimen at over six and a half feet and 225 pounds and is playing against men in the KHL. This should give him the inside track on jumping straight into the AHL if and when he makes the move over to North America. He is committed to one more season in Russia after which the Canucks will have to make a decision on his future with the organization. He has the makings of an intimidating defensive defenseman that can move the puck with a good first pass, although questions are emerging about the mental side of his game.
16. (NR) Dmitry Zhukenov, C, 7.0D
Drafted 114th overall (4th round) in 2015
Dmitry Zhukenov slots into the 16th spot after being selected in the fourth round by the Canucks at the 2015 draft. The Canucks went off the board a bit in selecting Zhukenov in the fourth round but they must see something very positive in the young Russian’s game. He has committed to coming to North America and joining the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL for the 2015-16 season. Chicoutimi selected Zhukenov tenth overall in the 2015 CHL import draft and will be happy to have the dynamic Russian suit up for them. This will give the Canucks a good chance to observe Zhukenov’s development on the North American ice and give them a clearer picture of his long term potential. If all goes as planned Zhukenov could land in the NHL as a second-line line center with defensive value, but it will take several years of development before he is ready for that kind of role.
15. (17) Ben Hutton, D, 6.5C
Drafted 147th overall (5th round) in 2012
Ben Hutton moves up two rungs into the 15th spot. Coming into the fold along with several other rookie defensemen, he will try to win a job with the Utica Comets. A bit older than the others, he might have a better chance of sticking in the AHL right away – particularly after showing some productivity over three seasons of college hockey at the University of Maine. Hutton is a solid offensive threat and handles his own defensive responsibilities quite well but could still use a few good AHL seasons to adjust to the rigors of the pro game. He is still a couple seasons away from getting a serious look from the Canucks but should be a good offensive defenseman for them eventually.
14. (NR) Guillaume Brisebois, D, 6.5C
Drafted 66th overall (3rd round) in 2015
Coming onto the list in 14th spot via the 2015 entry draft, Brisebois will forever be linked to the Eddie Lack trade that infuriated so many Canucks fans. Hopefully Brisebois can live up to his potential and allow the fans to forget about Lack and embrace him as a steady two-way defenseman with the Canucks. Brisebois has displayed a polished all-around game so far in his junior career and should only continue to improve as he returns to the Acadie-Bathhurst Titan for the 2015-16 season. The Titan will be looking to get back into the playoffs after a dismal 2014-15 season that saw them finish last in the QMJHL. As captain, Brisebois will have a major hand in the resurgence of the Titan in 2015-16. Canucks fans should be excited about Brisebois despite what they lost to get him as he could very well round into a solid number four or five defenseman down the road.
13. (16) Jordan Subban, D, 6.5C
Drafted 115th overall (4th round) in 2013
Subban moves up into the 13th spot coming off a very good final season of junior and finally signing his entry-level contract with Vancouver. He scored 25 goals and assisted on 27 more so his offense is not in question. What is in question however, is whether Subban can withstand the physical nature of the minor pro leagues. He has the feisty nature that seems engrained in the Subban DNA as well as a hard shot and excellent puck skills. What he does not possess is his older brother’s size. Jordan is five foot nine and 185 pounds while older brother PK is three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. How much this factors into Jordan’s upside is yet to be determined. He will very likely split time between Utica and the Kalamazoo Wings as he gains confidence and finds his place in his rookie pro campaign. With his excellent offensive abilities Subban is capable of becoming a reliable bottom-pairing, power play specialist type defenseman for the Canucks someday.
12. (14) Andrey Pedan, D, 6.5C
Trade with New York Islanders in 2014
Pedan moves into the 12th spot despite having a tough season in 2014-15. He endured a concussion during a fight and a good chunk of his season was lost. His nasty side is both an asset and a hindrance to some degree as he could be a concussion away from retirement and he doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff. A strong, injury free season should get his career back on track and he could even be in the call-up conversation. If he can stay healthy and refine his game some more he could see himself in a Canucks jersey somewhere down the line.
11. (12) Alexandre Grenier, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 90th overall (3rd round) in 2011
Grenier moves up one spot to 11th coming off another strong AHL campaign with Utica. Perhaps most importantly he finished tied for second on the team in scoring during the playoff run. He chipped in several important goals during the postseason as well. He was given a one year contract extension and will start the year with the Utica Comets once again. Grenier should be a top candidate for call-up duty with the Canucks in 2015-16 and it is a bit of a now or never year for him. Grenier’s skill package and NHL frame should allow him his chance at a full-time NHL job, but the risk is that he may be a player who is not physical enough for a checking role nor quite skilled enough for a scoring role in the world’s best league.