Hodgson still tops in Vancouver prospect pool

By John Jaeckel
Photo: Debuting at number two, Nicklas Jensen brings size and scoring to the Canucks prospect pool. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Success in the NHL has its price, mainly salary cap restriction and lower position in the draft. As a result the Canucks do not have a particularly rich talent pipeline. Cancuks Mike Gillis deserves credit however, he and his staff have begun to parlay limited picks into some success. Where the Canucks already had some nice prospects in net and on defense, with this year’s draft Gillis also added some size and skill at forward, while reinforcing some of the previously stronger areas.

1. (1) Cody Hodgson, C, 7.5B
Drafted 1st round, 10th overall, 2008

A former top-10 pick whose rise has been slowed by a misdiagnosed back injury in 2009, Hodgson registered average numbers for Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba, posting 17 goals and 13 assists in 52 games. He acquitted himself in a checking line role over 20 games (eight regular season, 12 playoff) with the Canucks and though he put up minimal points, was a solid presence on the forecheck and in his own end.

Hodgson has the hockey sense to be a legitimate third-line forward, with hands that suggest he could do more. He may be ready to start in the NHL the coming season but could have a tough time cracking a veteran lineup.

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

Nicklas Jensen has an ideal combination of size, speed, and skill. While cultural assimilation to North America is typically not as difficult for Scandinavians, it should be even less so for Jensen, an OHL player who is fluent in English. Jensen’s father, Dan, also played in the OHL before returning to Denmark for his pro career. Negatives on Jensen at this point are his conditioning, which needs to improve and his attention to defense. In 61 games at Oshawa last season, Jensen tallied 29 goals and 29 assists and was plus-14. In 10 playoff games for the Generals, he scored seven goals and had four assists and was plus-two.

3. (7) Chris Tanev, D, 6.5B
Acquired as free agent, May 31st, 2010

Like Hodgson, Tanev gained some valuable NHL experience in 2010-11, with 29 regular season and five playoff games, and did not look out of place. In Manitoba, he registered one goal and eight assists in 39 regular season games, and was plus-16. In 14 playoff games, he notched a goal and two helpers.

Tanev is not spectacular in any regard, but he is always smart with the puck and makes great decisions in all situations. He projects as a third pairing defenseman in the NHL and his solid game and hockey smarts indicate he is a sure bet to reach that potential.

4. (8) Eddie Lack, G, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, April 6th, 2010

No Canuck prospect has seen his stock rise faster since 2009 than the rangy Swedish goaltender. In that brief span of time, Lack has advanced from the Swedish minors, to the SEL, then to an effective starter in the AHL.

A shrewd free agent signing by GM Mike GiIlis and further proof of how well the Canucks scout Sweden, Lack’s numbers as the starter in Manitoba last season were outstanding. In 53 games, he managed a 28-21-4 record, .926 save percentage, 2.26 goals against average, and five shutouts.

With Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider ahead of him in the organization however, perhaps the greater question surrounding Lack is not if he will make the NHL, but where.

5. (3) Jordan Schroeder, C/W, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2009

After picking up a hat trick in the AHL in the spring of 2010, this diminutive former first rounder put up adequate numbers in his first full pro season at Manitoba in 2010-11. In 61 games, he picked up 10 goals and 18 assists and was minus-seven. In 14 playoff contests, he had a goal and five helpers.

Prior to sustaining a midseason ankle injury, Schroeder played primarily with some combination of veteran Marco Rosa and fellow rookies Aaron Volpatti and Cody Hodgson.

6. (2) Anton Rodin, RW/LW, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 53rd overall, 2009

After graduating early in 2009-10 to Brynas in the Elietseren (Swedish Elite League), the speedy Rodin settled in with decent numbers this past season, seven goals, 19 assists, and minus-nine in 53 games.

Rodin did not make the national squad representing Sweden in the Karjala Tournament in late 2010, however his ice time increased at Brynas, where he often played with former Senator Andreas Dackell, a reflection of the coaching staff’s growing confidence in him.

7. (10) Yann Sauve, D, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2008

Sauve projects as a rugged, two-way defender in the NHL. He had solid numbers in an injury-shortened 2010-11 campaign, managing three goals and 11 assists in 39 regular season games. He also appeared in five games with the Canucks. In addition to his solid defensive play, Sauve will drop the gloves in defense of teammates and handles himself well in a scrap.

8. (5) Kevin Connauton, D, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 83rd overall, 2009

Connauton had a nice rookie season at Manitoba with 11 goals and 12 assists in 73 regular season games and a goal in the playoffs. His numbers are consistent with his billing, a hard-shooting, power play specialist. The former Western Michigan Bronco continues to demonstrate NHL quality skills in terms of skating, puck-handling and decision-making. However, at minus-11 this past season, he must get better in his own end and gain physical strength in order to reach the NHL.

9. (6) Patrick McNally, D, 7.0D
Drafted, 4th round, 115th overall, 2010

McNally captained his Milton Academy (Massachusetts) team to their first ever league title. He had 35 points in 28 games and was voted Prep Defenseman of the Year by U.S. Hockey Report.

He will attend Harvard this fall. It is unknown what type of upside he has at this point, but he was an offensively oriented player and a mobile skater in prep school.

10. (4) Billy Sweatt, LW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, August 19th, 2010

Sweatt had a nice year at Manitoba, with 19 goals and 27 assists in 80 games. His game is consistent with that of many Canucks and Canuck prospects in the sense he is an excellent skater.

But while his AHL numbers are good, they are nothing special. Furthermore, as a former high second round pick, the forward is now with his third organization in three years.

So the question with a player like Sweatt is the same that dogs so many who produce significant offensive numbers in college and junior- if he lacks the ability to produce those numbers in the NHL, can he adjust his game to a potential bottom-six role?

11. (NR) David Honzik, G, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2011

This big Czech goaltender, like Jensen, might have been a nice value pick where he fell to the Canucks. Some draft speculators had him going in the second round. Honzik has the size, athleticism and technique that would indicate an NHL future. A pure butterfly goaltender, Honzik is fairly well-polished and shows good rebound control.

His stats in 36 games at Victoriaville (3.54 goals against average, .884 save percentage) will not inspire greatness. However, one must remember this was Honzik’s first year in North America, and also a great year for offense in the QMJHL. His 17-12-1 record better demonstrates his general effectiveness.

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

An offensively gifted player with lots of size, Grenier can skate and shoot the puck, but despite his stature, is not a power player. He needs to grow into his frame and then learn how to effectively harness added strength within his game.

His regular season numbers with the Quebec Remparts (nine goals and 15 assists in 31 contests) were unexceptional. However, in 15 playoff games, he came through with eight goals and eight assists. Grenier was dealt in June from Quebec to Halifax.

13. (NR) Sebastian Erixon, D, 7D
Acquired as a Free agent, April 20th, 2011

Passed over in his draft year, the 21 year-old Erixon was signed by Mike Gillis in April after his third season in the Swedish Elite League. Small in stature, Erixon makes up for it with very high hockey sense and the prototypical Swedish defenseman’s two-way game. In a league where defensemen are hard-pressed to put up big numbers, Erixon has gradually ramped up his production in the SEL. In 2010-11 season with Timra IK, Erixon notched five goals and 15 assists and was minus-six.

14. (11) Adam Polasek, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2010

Yet another intriguing blueliner grabbed in the middle rounds by Gillis, Polasek demonstrated his offensive skill with a very strong season at P.E.I. in the QMJHL, registering seven goals and 32 assists in 61 games. He was even in plus/minus. Making these numbers even more impressive is the fact that the Q has been loaded with outstanding pro prospects the last couple of years.

Polasek has been a standout in both Canuck rookie and pro training camps, and thus on April 6th, 2011, the Canucks signed him to a three year entry-level pro contract.

15. (12) Steven Anthony, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 187th overall, 2009

Point-per-game players are not terribly unusual in the high-scoring QMJHL these days. However, Anthony’s combination of size and production would indicate that he is a prospect worth watching. In 61 games at St. John in 2010-11, he notched 23 goals and 37 assists. Most notably he was plus-35. In 14 playoff games he had five goals and seven assists.

16. (13) Alex Friesen, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 172th overall, 2010

What Friesen lacks in size, he makes up for in production, evidenced by 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 60 contests with Niagara in the OHL. He also notched two goals and eight assists in 14 playoff contests.

Considered a leader on and off the ice, Friesen shares the same qualities as many current Canucks forwards, he has good sense in the offensive zone, plays a hard-skating style of game, and is more than capable of stirring the pot.

17. (14) Jeremy Price, D, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2009

In his sophomore season at Colgate (ECAC), Price led all Raider defensemen with five goals and 14 assists in 42 games. He was also one of only five players to appear in all 42 contests. Price registered a season high three assists in a road loss at Princeton, on each of Colgate’s first three goals.

He has returned to Colgate for his junior season in 2011-12.

18. (NR) Joseph Labate, C, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 111th overall, 2011

Labate could be yet another value selection for the Canucks, projected by at least one prognosticator as a high third round pick. Labate can shoot the puck, but the Minnesota schoolboy has "project" written all over him. He needs to work on his skating and must add weight to his large frame.

The Academy of Holy Angels graduate is committed to play NCAA hockey at Wisconsin this fall.

19. (9) Joe Cannata, G, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2009

Cannata is perhaps testament to the fact that goaltending is the real strength of the Canucks’ talent pipeline. He put together a very solid season at Merrimack in the highly competitive NCAA Hockey East conference (25-10-4, 2.48 goals against average, .911 save percentage), and is considered by many to be a legitimate NHL prospect.

Aside from having adequate size, Cannata is commended by coaches and fellow players for his calm, consistent demeanor between the pipes- a critical component of pro success.

20. (15) Prab Rai, C, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 131st overall, 2008

At the tail end of a strong overage junior season in Seattle (WHL) in 2009-10, the Canucks signed Rai to a 3-year pro contract. He then suffered a serious back injury and missed all of the 2010-11 season.

Rai was born in Surrey, BC and is often spotted driving around Vancouver. He is also a subject of debate on whether is he a legitimate NHL prospect or a high-scoring junior player.