Update on Manitoba Moose players

By Kirk Pedersen

Review of the play of individual players for Manitoba, the head farm club of the Canucks, to this point.

Starting from the top, Tyler Bouck has been a good addition to the Moose roster since coming over with Todd Warriner and Trevor Letowski from Phoenix in exchange for Drake Berehowsky and Denis Pederson, who have both pretty much resumed their respective waking comas after good starts with Phoenix. Bouck, however, has added to the grit and tenacity that is already in high supply with the Moose. We’re already very aware that he won’t be an offensive producer at any level, but he will still provide third and fourth line grit and energy to any team he plays for. At this point, a stop in Vancouver appears unlikely.

When the Canucks went looking for a back-up goaltender in September’s Waiver Draft, GM Brian Burke figured he had found a diamond in the rough in Martin Brochu. Whilst thousands of Canuck fans across Canada scratched their collective heads about the decision; Brochu set out to show Canuck fans that he wasn’t another career minor-leaguer. Unfortunately, he failed. His lack of success as a back-up for the Canucks could be attributed to two things, which could or could not be directly related: a.) when he gets scored on, he becomes a victim of the ‘Uh-oh, here we go again..’ syndrome which effects the confidence of goaltenders young and old. b.) Dan Cloutier started out well, despite the team’s lack of success, and that relegated Brochu to being a bench-warmer for a good amount of the games. That said, he hasn’t earned much of the playing time he has recieved.

Brochu had a horrid start in Manitoba after being sent down, with a GAA over five in his first few games, but eventually calmed down; and today his goals-against stands at a respectable, but not perfect 3.28. He was able to survive Alex Auld’s recalling to Manitoba a couple of months back, which ended up displacing Alfie Michaud from the Moose, down to Reading of the ECHL. Now, more than ever, Brochu is now in the role that he’s been most comfortable in for his career: the top netminder for a farm club. Hopefully he can re-discover the solid play of last season, when he led the St. John Flames to the ’00-01 Calder Cup.

What’s there to say about Brian Chapman? The fourteen-year veteran of professional hockey isn’t the hell-raiser he used to be in his early days, but he’s settled down to be a very serviceable and rugged defenseman. A recipient of the IHL’s Ironman Award in 2000-01; (Presented to the player who plays in all of his team’s games and demonstrates outstanding offensive and defensive skills; even though offensive skills may be a big reach.) Chapman was one of the few Moose from last season that was brought back when the Canucks took over the once-independent team. (Jimmy Roy is the other.) This season, Chapman has been an exemplary leader on the Moose blueline, and has helped youngsters Bryan Allen and Rene Vydareny along.

While he has never been a big offensive player, he’s done a good job being a stay-at-home defenseman for the Moose this season, and has chipped in a few points, too, as 1-18-19 this season can attest. He’s a good veteran leader nearing the end of his career, and a good player for the Canucks to keep around with the Moose.

A Yale grad, Jason Cipolla spent much of his first three pro seasons bouncing from the ECHL to the AHL. Since he was picked up by the Milwaukee Admirals, (Then independent, now Nashville) he has become an upper-minor-pro mainstay. The pint-sized Cipolla (5’9″, 170) has made hard work and determination a mantra of his since he knows that he could become a replaceable part at any time. He’s been a valuable lower-line performer for the Moose this season, putting up nineteen points (7g, 12a) this season. If he only has a one-year deal, he won’t likely be asked back, as Jason King will be ready to step in for Manitoba next season, as will Nathan Smith, and many other class of 2000 draftees.

Tough defenseman Regan Darby was drafted in the fourth round by Vancouver in 1998, and since then hasn’t changed his game a bit. For most players, that’d be a bad thing, but for this rugged D-man, it has been a blessing in disguise. As the Moose’ sixth or seventh defenseman, depending on the opponent, Darby has to make the most of his opportunities. He’s not a very good skater; or shooter, or passer, but he plays a solid, physical game, and that is all the Moose ask of him. He would be well-advised to add a bit of offense to his game, as he has only one lonely assist in thirty-three games with the Moose this season; but, as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

One of the biggest disappointments this season for Canuck fans from coast to coast has been Harold Druken. One of two second rounders in ’97, Druken still hasn’t lived up to the promise shown in his junior career with Detroit/Plymouth. After an injury, Druken was sent down to the Moose for what many thought would be a rehab of sorts for a few games. However, he has spent the whole season since then, down in Manitoba. The worst part is that he will miss the rest of the season as he has decided to have surgery on his rotator cuff injury, which he sustained while as a member of the Canucks. He didn’t show a good attitude while down in Manitoba, and could be moved by the Canucks, along with Peter Schaefer during the summer months. Stay tuned.

On to the one everyone loves to hate. Josh Holden is another disapppointing former high draft pick that simply hasn’t produced. Going into this season, Holden was in high-spirits after signing a one-year deal with the Canucks, and possibly getting an NHL shot. Early in training camp, though, it was becoming painfully obvious that the Canucks had no future plans for the team’s first selection in ’96. GM Brian Burke was fair, however, and decided to leave Holden unprotected for the Waiver Draft. Picked up by the Carolina Hurricanes in a very rare waiver pick-up by normally-stagnant GM Jimmy Rutherford, Holden was ready to resume his NHL career. It was not to be, however, as Holden was a regular scratch for a Carolina team which used him on the fourth-line much like the Canucks did, but his linemates included the likes of Jeff Daniels, Darren Langdon and that noted sniper, Chris Dingman.

The ‘Canes, not wanting to scratch him regularly, tried to sneak him through waivers and down to Lowell, but Brian Burke snapped him up, and he’s been playing for the Moose ever since. He’s had a horrid season since re-entering the Canuck organization, with a measly 21 points (8g, 13a) in 47 games. He’s probably the most likely of all Canuck farmhands to have a new address next season.

If Steve Kariya were six inches taller, and twenty pounds heavier, he’d be a force to be reckoned with. But since he’s not, he’s stuck in the minors with the Moose. The fleet-footed winger is currently leading the Moose in scoring, and was a participant in the Team Canada-PlanetUSA AHL All-Star Game. He helped the team Canada squad win the Puck-control relay, and took part in the Pass-and-score competition. When it got to the actual game, however, Kariya had three assists, setting up former North Star and Leaf Mike Craig three times. He helped lead a balanced Canadian attack to victory over the PlanetUSA squad, thirteen to eleven.

Getting back to his NHL future, though, Kariya will probably be looking for a new place to call home next season, too; as the Canucks don’t appear to have any definite plans for his future with the club. It’s unlikely he’ll score consistently at the NHL level because of his lack of size and physical play.

Winger Pat Kavanagh still has yet to leave a lasting impression on the Canuck organization in this, his third year with the club. Picked up from the Flyers before Draft Day ’99, he’s scored as many as 41 points in the minors, but probably won’t surpass that this season. He was never a big scorer in junior, and hasn’t really scored all that much in the pros. He’s decent defensively, and he works okay on the penalty kill, which is where he was mostly during his call-up to the Canucks last season. That said, he’ll need to improve his overall game a great deal to warrant another call-up.

A third-round selection in 1996, Zenith Komarniski still has yet to really live up to expectations. The Edmonton native is in his fourth season of professional hockey, all of which in the Canuck organization. So far, he’s been the kind of guy that you wait on forever, and then eventually develops into a decent player, with another team. He’s having his worst offensive season in the pros this year, with only 15 points (4g, 11a) in fifty-five games. He’s not overly physical, and doesn’t intimidate anyone, but he’s slowly becoming a veteran leader on the Moose blueline. He’s another guy that might not be invited back next season if he doesn’t jump-start his offensive game, but if given some power play time, Komarniski may be able to re-capture the offensive spunk that he had when he was in junior.

One of the surprise stories of the season for both the Canucks and the Moose has been the play of defenseman Justin Kurtz. The smooth-skating D-man was thought to be just another guy coming to the Canuck training camp back in September, but Kurtz put on a great show, and was one of the best players at camp. He was originally sent down to the Moose to begin the season, but was called up a few games in, and played solidly, but towards the end of his stint, the NHL game looked a bit too quick for him. He’s played well in Winnipeg since being sent down, and he could be an injury away from being recalled again.

Former Red Deer Rebel Brad Leeb is in the midst of his third season in the Canuck organization. A small, quick forward, Leeb has been used in all sorts of situations this season for the Moose, and even got a quick cup of coffee with the Canucks. Although it is very doubtful that the 5’10” 165 Alberta native will ever don a Canuck jersey full-time, he’s a good guy to have on-call just in case a short-term injury hobbles one of our forwards.

There aren’t too many hockey players born and raised in Los Angeles, but Justin Morrison could be one to talk about in the future. The 6’3″ 210-pounder just turned pro this season after a four-year stay at Colorado College. He’s stayed at a steady pace of getting a point every three or so games on average, but he’ll need to improve upon that mark to remain in the AHL next season, with youngsters Nathan Smith and Jason King poised to join the ranks of the Moose next season. For his size, he’s not particularly physical, and that is an element he should look towards adding to his game if he wants to survive.

The player who, in my opinion, has made the greatest strides toward future NHL employment on the Moose this season has got to be Ryan Ready. Going into this season, I had passed Ready off as just another checking forward who had no hope in making it to the big dance, and although that still may remain true, his offensive outburst this season has helped him nearly surpass his point totals in his first two seasons combined. He’s a good young leader, and might be captain material for someone’s minor league club in the future.

Brandon Reid has been a bit of a let-down for me this season. The tiny forward from Kirkland, Quebec started out the season on the wrong foot, and was pretty much stapled to the bench by coach Stan Smyl, who was playing the veterans over the kids. So, Reid sat on the bench, and waited for his big chance. He started out slowly because of a lack of playing time, but he’s really stepped it up of late, and he could hit 35-40 points this season if he keeps at his current pace.

One of the fan favourites in Manitoba, Jimmy Roy’s grit and tough play have made him a favourite of Moose fans from Churchill to Brandon. He was picked very late by Dallas in the ’94 draft, and left university after two years to play for the Canadian Nats. After which, he was signed by the Moose, where he played for four seasons while they were independent. He was brought back for this season, as he can help provide some veteran experience, and, along with Brian Chapman, bring the fans a familiar face. He’s gritty and smart defensively, which makes up for his lack of offensive skill. He probably has no NHL future.

Signing Andre Savage was one of the few moves made by the Canucks in the off-season. He was signed for the sole purpose of helping out on the farm. A teammate of fellow Moose Jimmy Roy at Michigan Tech, Savage is easily the more talented of the two, but he’s a bit on the soft side. He currently leads the Moose in goal-scoring with 25 markers, and is a sure bet to hit thirty this season. With a lower-standing NHL team, he may be able to crack the lineup every once in a while, but with the Canucks, he’s buried.

Picked up off of waivers from Anaheim, Alexei Tezikov is a guy that might have a future in the Canuck organization. When he arrived in Vancouver, he was overweight, and needed to be tutored by Strength and Conditioning Coach Peter Twist. Many people are very skeptical about a guy that was given up on by three other organizations, but Tezikov is in the best shape of his career, and is having a decent season in Manitoba. He’s only twenty-three; and he has a good future ahead of him, but this could be his last chance in North America.

A member of the opening night roster, Herbert Vasiljevs started out solid with the Canucks, but faded, as he was often a healthy scratch for Vancouver. He was placed on waivers, and sent down to the minors a couple of months back, and since then, has been putting up respectable numbers for the Moose. (31gp, 12g, 14a, 26p) He was another guy signed by Burke in the off-season, but there were far too few moves made by the Canucks this past off-season. That said, Herb has been a solid performer for Manitoba, and he could probably return next year, and have a steadying influence on the youthful mask that the Moose may wear next season.

Every team has a resident enigma, and that man for the Moose is Rene Vydareny. The Slovakian defenseman has shown a lot of improvement in his offensive numbers since my last report, and now has eight points (2g, 6a) this season. His defensive play is still nothing special, though, and he doesn’t have a hope in getting to the NHL if he doesn’t improve upon it, and fast. He’s still young, however, and there’s lots of time for him to improve.

Todd Warriner was a top-five pick in ’92 by the Quebec Nordiques, but has never even came close to scratching the surface of his potential. Several injuries, and inconsistent play have plagued Warriner all throughout his career. At over one million dollars per year, Todd is one of the more expensive Moose, and it doesn’t appear likely that he will be back next season. He could catch on with some depth-deprived NHL team.

The Blue Chippers

Florida’s second round selection in ’99, Alex Auld may very well be the Canucks’ goaltender of the future. He began the season injured, after which he was sent down to the ECHL to play for Columbia. The big, wispy goaltender played his junior career in North Bay, and will probably spend next season in Manitoba full-time if Peter Skudra is re-signed. In his one game in Vancouver, Auld showed that he plays a very sound positional game, and is rarely beaten softly. He’ll likely spend the rest of the season with the Moose, barring an injury to any of the Canuck NHL netminders.

The team’s top prospect is still Bryan Allen. He was recently sent back down to Manitoba over the Olympic break to give him some playing time while the big boys are on vacation or playing in the Olympics. The towering defenseman has played well in his time down in Manitoba this season, and has earned another call-up, but only time will tell if he will stick full-time this go-around. He’s still not much offensively, but Allen is easily the best prospect the Canucks have to offer.