2001-02 Season Previews, from Bonni to Branham.

By Kirk Pedersen

The Canucks 31st Training Camp gets underway September 11th in Burnaby, and they are still without a goaltender. There are many options for the Canucks, however, most exist in the form of possible trades. A couple of guys who interest me are Tomas Vokoun from Nashville, who is roadblocking young prospects Jan Lasak and Brian Finley, and Jamie Storr, who had a terrible season with the Los Angeles Kings. Storr may come cheap, but not until the Kings get Felix Potvin under contract. Also, there’s old vet Kirk McLean. He’s aging, and declining in effectiveness, but McLean could be good at keeping the seat warm for Alex Auld, who might be ready after this coming season.

Canucks 2001-02 Player Previews Installment Number Four

Ryan Bonni was a second-round pick in 1997 by the Canucks, a draft which also yielded current Canucks Harold Druken, Matt Cooke, and acquired from the Flyers in 1999, Pat Kavanagh. Bonni was thought of as a rock-solid defender at that time, and not much has changed. He’s limited offensively, which is obvious, if you look at his junior and minor-pro scoring totals, but that’s not what he’s on the ice for. Bonni is a tough, stay-at-home Defenseman. His puck-moving skills are below average, and he’s not a particularly good skater, but Bonni does the job on the defensive end. He took a big step back in his development this season in Kansas City, posting poor offensive totals, but, once again, that’s not his game. He improved little by little as the season wore on, but has nonetheless slipped on the Canucks defensive depth chart. In the past two seasons, he has been passed by Bryan Allen, Rene Vydareny and Brent Sopel. This could be a crucial season for Ryan, as he enters his third season of minor pro hockey in the Canucks organization. Has good size, and his defensive ability, but he’s kind of slow, and has difficulties getting the puck up the ice. He’s big, strong, and mean, and that should mean he’ll land a spot on some NHL team, some day, if not the Canucks.

Will: Hit, and play aggressive.
Can’t: Lead the rush up ice.
Expect: Improvement.
Don’t Expect:The next Bobby Orr.

When the Canucks signed former Maine Black Bear Alfie Michaud, my friends and I echoed a collective ‘Who?’ I would soon see what he was. A former MVP of the Frozen Four tournament and member of the Champion Maine Black Bears in 1999, Michaud had a fabulous final season of College Hockey. I was excited to see if he’d make the Canucks, which appeared unlikely at the time, but anything was possible. He ended up spending the majority of the last two seasons with our last two minor league affiliates, the Syracuse Crunch, and Kansas City Blades. This will be the season for the small goaltender to make his move, as the Canucks have no clear-cut back-up. Alfie has very quick reflexes and very good anticipation. He’s very athletic in the crease, and can make highlight-reel saves. He could really be fun to watch in a Canucks uniform if that opportunity does present itself. However, Michaud needs to get stronger, and work a bit more on his conditioning. He also suffers from bouts of inconsistency, which is a definite no-no if he wants to be a starting goaltender at the NHL level, which appears unlikely anyway. Another prospect I like a great deal, his stock dropped a shade in the Canucks organization when the team acquired goaltender Alex Auld. This will be a pivotal season in Michaud’s career. Will he make the NHL full-time, or will he be sent back to the minor leagues? He certainly has all the tools to be an NHL success.

Will: Make beautiful saves.
Can’t: Grow a couple of inches to peer over traffic.
Expect: A strong push to make the team in his third pro season.
Don’t Expect: A full-time NHL’er.

Mike Brown came to Vancouver in the Pavel Bure trade. He was the prospect portion of the deal that also saw the Canucks acquire Defensive stalwart Ed Jovanovski. Brown has not produced up to his draft status, (20th overall in 1997) or the Canucks hopes. His offensive game has been unimpressive so far, but, that’s not what he’s there for. Mike Brown is a scrapper, and his fists are very good ones, at that. In his only NHL appearance this past season, Brown duked it out with St. Louis tough-guy Reed Low. He didn’t fare as well, but he left a lasting impression on me. Brown is big, and I mean big. At 6’4″ and 225 pounds, Brown is a force to be reckoned with. He has a decent set of skills for a tough-guy, but so far, as previously alluded to, his minor-league offensive numbers have been mediocre. He has decent skills across the board, but isn’t the best skater in the world, that could use a bit of work. It’s safe to say that Brown was a reach at 20th overall in ’97, but it’s not too late for the enforcer to make his mark in the Canucks system. He, too, took a step back in development this past season, but a solid season in Manitoba could warrant a call-up for the big fellow.

Will: Fight.
Can’t: Live up to his lofty draft status.
Expect: Hard work to get his game back to what it was in his first season, when he was a member of the Syracuse Crunch.
Don’t Expect: More than 35 points, however.

A native of the City of Angels, Justin Morrison has now finished honing his skills at the college level, and is ready to begin his minor-pro career. The 22-year-old has some serious skills. His skating skills are very good, especially for a bigger man. He can split defensemen one-on-two, and has good overall moves. He’s big, which has become somewhat of a prerequisite for many Canucks prospects, (save Brandon Reid) and he can hit. Morrison has, as previously stated, excellent skating skills, but his shot isn’t up to par with the rest of his moves. He could afford to do a bit of work on that this coming season in Manitoba. Morrison, the Canucks fourth selection in the 1998 Draft (81st Overall), failed to improve all that much on his scoring totals in his senior year at Colorado College, which could be a red flag. He has excellent overall tools, but struggled to put them all together in his seasons at Colorado College. He will hopefully be brought along slowly into the Canuck minor-league system, so he can eventually reach his full potential someday in a Canuck uniform. Another one to watch this coming season in Manitoba.

Will: Be given ample opportunity his first season in Manitoba to improve.
Can’t: Find consistency in his overall play.
Expect: Good tools, flashes of brilliance in his first season in Manitoba.
Don’t Expect: Big results, yet.

The final prospect is 2000 Third-rounder Tim Branham. A native of that hockey-hotbed of Eagle River, Wisconsin, Branham was recently traded to the Guelph Storm from the Barrie Colts for the final season of his OHL career. He has good offensive ability. He has a very good shot from the point, and good size, at 6’2″, 185. His offensive game is definitely his bread-and-butter, but he could stand to give a little spit-shine to his defensive game. He needs to improve his balance on his skates a tad, but that will come in time. One thing that he will need to improve upon as soon as he can is gaining a bit of muscle. Once he does that, Branham could be an impact player, but the Canucks shouldn’t hurry Tim along. He’s very talented offensively, but could use a couple of seasons in the minor leagues, to improve upon his defensive ability, and gain a few pounds.

Will: Produce in his final season of Junior.
Can’t: Become an NHL’er right out of Junior.
Expect: Gaudy offensive numbers.
Don’t Expect: 200 PIM.