Canucks Prospects- Season in Review- Part II

By Kirk Pedersen

This was a season of milestones for Nathan Barrett. The Lethbridge forward shattered previous career-highs in assists, points, and penalty minutes in his fifth and final WHL season. Drafted in the eighth round in ’00 after being passed over in the ’99 draft; Barrett has come alive in the past two seasons, becoming one of the better players in the WHL.

However, this season got off to a bad start. Barrett chose to leave Canuck camp early in hopes of attaining a WHL scoring title, (which he was able to get.) which infuriated Canuck management. When Nathan went on his tear at the beginning of the season, his head got a little bit big, and he and his agent demanded ‘first-round’ money in order to secure his rights for next season and beyond. Burke and company balked at that suggestion, and since then, contract talks have been at an impasse.

Barrett should accept a lower offer to play. No team is going to pay a player who was drafted in the eighth round first-round money. A pick’s money is determined by his draft position; which is the way it has always worked. On the other hand, most people know that Brian Burke loves to low-ball many young draftees into signing contracts, and he has a reputation for being difficult. Barrett has a nice package of skills, but that will do him no good if he’s going to quarrel with a team over money.

One final thing Barrett should notice is that he’s in his overage year. Most, if not all overage players have excellent offensive years in their senior season of junior. I don’t really think that Eric Otters’ overager Cory Pecker is fending off contract offers with a pointy-stick; so perhaps Nathan should have a slice of humble pie, and accept the low-ball offer. Then, he can prove Burke and Canuck management wrong by playing well, and outperforming his contract. However, after his stubbornness, I don’t think Barrett has a place in this organization anymore. If he’s not signed by June 1, then he will become a UFA, and will go to whichever team gives him the best offer. If he goes, good riddance. If he chooses to wise-up and accept the Canuck offer, welcome aboard.

Another player drafted in ’00 that hasn’t really lived up to expectations since then is none other than Thatcher Bell. Like Barrett, Bell is still unsigned, and the deadline is looming large over his NHL future. The slight-framed, oft-injured Bell spent most of this season injured, and collecting dust for Rimouski, a team that seemed to improve without him.

Come June first, if Bell is unsigned, he will re-enter the NHL draft. Chances are, he’ll slip into the much later rounds, or not even go at all. His stock has fallen very quickly since being drafted in ’00; which is mainly due to his injury-prone behaviour. Bell lacks strength; the average QMJHL defenseman has little or no trouble handling him; which can be construed as a problem. His moves are very nice for the junior level, but if they’re going to be moved to the pro level, he could use a bit of work. Bell’s an excellent skater, (Someone with such a slight frame would have to be.) and has good puck skills.

Bell is probably not deserving of a pro contract with the Canucks. He likely won’t be signed; but he might be a good pro someday; provided he gains a great deal of upper-body strength, and plays harder.

Zenith Komarniski stepped into his new role this season in Manitoba as a veteran leader, and did an excellent job. In his fourth full pro season, Komarniski slowly rounded himself into a more complete defenseman. The third round pick in ’96 still has yet to develop an offensive game to compliment his improved defensive play, but many defensemen don’t develop that well until the age Komarniski is currently at.

Should the Canucks (or Moose) keep him around, he could possibly break out offensively next season. With the lack of quality defensemen developing in the Canuck system, (With several exceptions.) Komarniski might be able to hang on to a spot as the seventh D-man in Vancouver this coming season; especially with the possible impending departure of Scott Lachance to free-agency.

If the Canucks decide to let the soon-to-be 24-year-old go, Komarniski could be an attractive pick-up for a younger team, (possibly Atlanta or Minnesota) to help round out their defensive corps. Komarniski had a solid season with the Moose, and I’d be sad to see him leave the organization in the off-season; which is a big change in my tune from the beginning of the year.

“Enforcer” Mike Brown had a good season in ’01-02. Mike was able to (albeit momentarily) hold a spot on the Canuck roster for more than one game. In his fifteen-game trial, he didn’t embarass himself, but he did show the organization exactly what type of player he will be.

Brown will likely be nothing more than a five-minute-per-night ‘goon’ at this level. His overall skill package is not very impressive; with decent skating skills, okay puck skills, and defensive skills that make Pavel Bure look like a Selke winner. Brown often took silly penalties and got involved in fights when he shouldn’t have; and hurt the team by not using his head.

On the flip side, Brown had the best PPG of his pro career this season in Manitoba; and his offensive game overall looks like it could improve again next season. Brown might become something more than a five-minute-per-night player. if he develops next season.

Jason King had a coming-out party of sorts this past season in Halifax; helping lead the Mooseheads into the play-offs. King led the Mooseheads in scoring, with sixty-three (!) goals and thirty-six assists in only 61 games in ’01-02. The overage sniper will turn pro next season, and might get a contract with the Canucks.

However, if the Canucks are to sign King, it’d probably be a low-ball offer tendered his way. Overage players (Nathan Barrett, for example.) rarely, if ever get big-money offers. King has proven his worth in the QMJHL as a goal-scorer, but that begs the question: Are his numbers inflated by a very offensively-geared league? Next season, we will get our answer.

Los Angeles native Justin Morrison had a decent pro debut season. The former Colorado College stalwart had 19 points (10g, 9a) in his first season in the AHL.

Drafted in the third round in 1998 (81st overall), Morrison was selected with a pick that was obtained from Philadelphia. Nineteen points in a full AHL season isn’t going to cut it. With the infusion of new prospects in Manitoba next season, Morrison’s only option might be to go to the ECHL to brush up and improve his overall game.

The second-to-last prospect is Tim Branham. A participant in the Memorial Cup (with Guelph) didn’t look too bad (except for one crucial giveaway) in his junior hockey swansong.

The Wisconsin native scored two goals for Guelph in the tourney, which was hosted by the city of Guelph.

In his overage year, Branham was expected to be a big producer with Guelph from the blueline. Unfortunately, though; this didn’t pan out quite as planned. Fedor Tjutin stepped in and played incredibly well for Guelph, therefore dulling the effectiveness of Branham, who also has decent offensive skills. Tim is another guy who only has a few more days to sign a contract with the Canucks; assuming one is offered to him. Branham had a poor offensive season considering it was his overage year; and he really needs to impress someone soon, or he’ll become a free-agent.

This season was pretty much a wash for Sergei’s little brother, Fedor. Re-drafted in the third round by the Canucks, the younger Fedorov was injured very early on in the season, and he was unable to come back. Fedor started the season in Manitoba, but was quickly dispatched to Columbia after some shaky showings and a lack of roster space with the Moose. He played well in the two games he had with the Inferno; but after his injury, one can only guess how he’ll do next season. Probably the only reason he’s on this list is due to name-recognition.