2002-03 Season Previews of unranked prospects

By Kirk Pedersen

In depth previews for those unranked prospects currently posessed by the Canucks.

So far this year, the unranked prospects have been surprising to yours truly, especially Fedor Fedorov, who was one of the biggest surprises of camp, making the club for what appears to be an extended try-out.

An afterthought going into training camp, Fedorov proved to be a very coachable player in camp, and was taken under the wing of one Trevor Linden, who knows a thing or two about being a youngster in the NHL.

Thus far in his tenure, Fedorov hasn’t exactly looked like a seasoned veteran; but rather good. His play has been uneven, sometimes looking lost, and taking lazy obstruction penalties, but he is a young kid, he needs time to learn.

Next, entering his sophomore season at St. cloud State University, 19-year-old Matt Gens is expected to take a larger role with the Huskies.

To date, he has played two games, collecting an assist. The Minnesotan was a (very) late-round selection by the Canucks, and his pro prospects are still very cloudy; but Gens is a solid player at the University level, and should help St. Cloud State a great deal in the next three seasons.

Another player who was thought to have below-average NHL potential before this season is slowly beginning to prove the rest of us wrong this season with the Moose. Darrell Hay has played very well on the Manitoba blueline, becoming one of the offensive leaders with the club.

In his first two pro seasons, the smooth-skating Hay was thought of as a sort of ‘pet-project’ for the Canucks. His basic skills are quite impressive: strong on his skates, good passer, decent shot; and a dilligent worker who has become very coachable over the past two seasons. As for the negatives to his game, Hay isn’t too big for a defenseman, which will only limit his NHL time; and he needs to work on his defensive play and physicality.

With his offensive skills, Hay is slowly rounding into a good offensive defenseman at the professional level. He’s had a quick start, and has looked solid with the Moose thus far.

Forgotten ’01 draftee Kevin Bieksa is in his junior season with Bowling Green University. The defenseman has two points (1g, 1a) in six games.

Bieksa is an aggressive, defensive defenseman with decent offensive skills. He’s 21 now, and spent three years in the OPJHL with Burlington, posting decent numbers.

Currently, Bieksa serves as the Assistant Captain of the Falcons. For the next two seasons, this hard-nosed defenseman will develop with Bowling Green.

Signed a few weeks ago, winger Jason King will be a player to watch this season with the Manitoba Moose. Drafted as a 20-year-old in the late rounds of the ’01 Draft, King was a superstar with the Q’s Halifax Mooseheads for two of his three seasons, showing a sniper’s touch around the net.

So far in his stint with the Moose, King has a goal in four games, that being his only point. With the Moose’ depth on left wing, Jason will, much like Brandon Reid last season, be eased into a more prominent role. His skill-set is quite impressive: a quick skater with a powerful stride, a great shot, and an intelligent playmaker. He’s average defensively, but that can be corrected over time.

By the end of next season, we should be able to tell where King’s career is going. He’ll be 22 at the beginning of next season.

After having a solid rookie-camp with the Canucks, summer-signee Tim Smith has had a good start to his professional career. The smallish left winger spent his junior career with Spokane and Swift-Current, having three solid seasons in a row until his graduation from junior hockey last season.

As far as skills go, Smith is a good skater with a smooth stride, an average offensive player who is at times a creative playmaker, and has a quick, accurate shot. Defensively, Smith is a feisty player who plays with a physical edge; which is impressive for such a small man.

Currently, Smith is a fringe-AHL’er, if that. He needs to improve his overall game before he gets a spot even with the Moose. Someday, Smith could be a solid AHL’er; but may not the goods to make the NHL, feistiness notwithstanding.

Another late-round selection by the Canucks, Thomas Nüssli might have the makings of a power-forward prospect. A tall, lanky Swiss-born player, he has gotten off to a poor start this season with his club team, SC Rapperswil-Jona, with no points in thirteen games (although he does have 14 PIM). The amount of talent Nüssli has is very impressive; but his work-ethic has been called into question by many observers since his days as a junior player. Oozing with physical talent, the big Swiss forward still has yet to put the entire package together. He’s a strong skater, who makes good use of his strides. He’s a feisty sort, as his PIM totals would indicate; but could stand to be a bit more physical. Another problem with Nüssli is that he has yet to find his offensive touch, as the point totals (or lack thereof) seem to illustrate.

Nüssli is definitely someone to watch in the coming years. Switzerland isn’t known as a power-forward hotbed, but Thomas has very impressive characteristics, and when (if?) he puts it all together, the Canucks could have a solid prospect on their hands.

The last prospect is silky-smooth ’02 draftee Brett Skinner. In his freshman season with the University of Denver, Skinner has one point in three games so far.

Ranked in the first-round of North American skaters for the ’02 draft, SKinner projects to be a solid offensive defenseman once he reaches the professional ranks. His offensive skills are impressive: as previously mentioned, he’s a smooth skater with good speed and acceleration; his puck-skills are also enviable: a sound passer who makes a good first-pass out of the zone, an intelligent player who usually avoids bone-headed mistakes in his own zone; a good shot from the point, as well. Defensively, Skinner is a competent player. Not physical, he is a good positional player who does his best not to get caught out of position.

Whether or not Skinner makes the NHL, he does look like someone who could put up the big offensive numbers. His stats in the USHL last season were solid, if unspectacular; still garnering him the 2001-02 USHL Defenseman of the Year Award. A future power-play specialist for the Canucks? Too early to tell, but he could be on the right track.