Nicklas Jensen remains top prospect in Vancouver Canucks’ system

By Larenzo Jensen

Zack Kassian - Vancouver Canucks

Photo: Zack Kassian celebrates his first goal as a member of the Vancouver Canucks following a midseason trade from the Buffalo Sabres. (courtesy of Bob Frid/Icon SMI)


The Vancouver Canucks' prospect pool may not be considered deep, but the organization has a number of players that project well within the team's puck-possession system. The current roster, laden with veterans drafted by the club, has been carefully chosen out of necessity. The team's regular season success in recent years has forced the organization to pick near the end of each draft round but the system has been improved with shrewd scouting and astute free-agent signings.

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

After posting a second consecutive 58-point season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, Jensen finished the 2011-12 season with an eight-game stint in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves before sustaining a concussion. In those six regular season games and two playoff contests, he scored six goals, including three in Chicago’s regular-season finale. He likes to go one-on-one in the corners, generating chances off the half-wall. He is a strong skater with great lateral mobility who protects the puck well. The Dane was expected to compete for an NHL roster spot out of training camp with the Canucks, but should he miss the cut or the season be pushed back, he signed a contract with AIK of the Swedish Elite League. The 19-year-old winger is not eligible to play in the AHL, so the SEL is a likely landing spot so that he has a chance to develop against professional players.

2. (2) Zack Kassian, RW, 7.0B
Trade with Buffalo Sabres, February 27th, 2012

Possibly the single largest wild card in the Canucks’ prospect deck, Zack Kassian is one of several potential power forwards in the Vancouver system. With the upside to develop into an impact player similar in style to the Bruins’ Milan Lucic, Kassian’s playmaking ability is underrated and he has good hands in close to the net. He is also good at finding teammates and opening up ice in the offensive zone. He is a punishing forechecker and a physical threat anytime he touches the ice. The 2012-13 season will be a very important one for Kassian, who must find ways to contribute consistently as he looks to develop his niche in Vancouver. He could get the chance to skate in a big role and build some confidence in the AHL should the NHL season be delayed.

3. (3) Eddie Lack, G, 7.0B
Signed as a free agent, April 6th, 2010

The Vancouver Canucks have made their goaltending plans known by signing Lack to a two-year contract extension during the offseason. The 24-year-old native of Norrtalje, Sweden appeared in 46 games with the Wolves last season, finishing with a 21-20-3 record and ranking in the top-10 in the AHL with both his .925 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average. In five Calder Cup playoff games last season, he backstopped the Wolves to two consecutive wins before they lost in double overtime in the decisive game five. Lack’s size allows him to play deep in the net while still taking away a lot of room up top. His reflexes and confidence are two of his most notable in-game traits. The first year of his new contract is a two-way deal while the second year is a one-way deal, indicating that the organization expects him to be capable of backing up Cory Schneider at some point over the next two seasons. 

4. (4) Jordan Schroeder, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 22nd overall, 2009

Coming off a solid, if unspectacular season with the Chicago Wolves, Schroeder may be presented with the opportunity to join the Canucks roster this season. With the trade of third-line center Cody Hodgson and news that second-line center Ryan Kesler may be out until December, the door is wide open for the diminutive pivot to make an impression with the big club. Schroeder developed into one of the Wolves' more reliable players last year in the AHL and played in all situations. What he lacks in size, he compensates for with great agility and offensive skills. Schroeder could split time between the NHL and AHL over the course of the season, unless he plays exceptionally well and refuses to relinquish his spot in Vancouver.

5. (NR) Brendan Gaunce, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 26th overall, 2012

Gaunce is a hulking forward that had 68 points in 68 games last season for the Belleville Bulls and also won a bronze medal as a member of Canada’s World Junior Championships team. General Manager Mike Gillis wasted no time in signing Gaunce to an entry-level contract less than two months after the draft. A player rife with leadership ability, the gritty two-way center can also play on the wings. One of his strengths is his shooting technique, with power and snap in his release. As with many prospects in their organization, the team has acknowledged that they need to allow him time to develop properly. With so many tools as his disposal, Gaunce could steadily climb the prospect rankings.

6. (5) Chris Tanev, D, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent, May 31st, 2010

Another promising free agent signing by the Canucks, Chris Tanev has all but locked up his spot as a sixth or seventh defenseman for Vancouver. Steady, calm under pressure, and confident with the puck on his blade, Tanev appears poised beyond his years. He had 14 assists and a +12 rating in 34 games with the Wolves, and in 25 games for the Canucks, he recorded two assists and a +10 rating. The 22-year-old blueliner may never become a star in the NHL, but he has the sound game and moxie necessary for a long, fruitful career on the back end.

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

The Stockholm, Sweden native has been bogged down with a troubling shoulder injury for much of the past three seasons. His slight stature is perhaps the main concern, but the offensive upside is there. The 174-pound right winger is capable of using his quick hands and feet to battle in the tough areas, but could still stand to add more strength. He combines great skill with offensive IQ but struggled to crack the score sheet with any regularity in his first North American season. It is highly unlikely he will skate on NHL ice after an inconsistent rookie season, expected instead to play another season in the AHL with Chicago.

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

Though Connauton’s ascension has been slow, it has been steady and unrelenting. Last season in the AHL he showed improvements in his play away from the puck. The defender has great offensive skills and his excellent skating ability gets him out of a lot of jams. However, in order to stick at the NHL level he will need to continue developing his defensive game, and the intricacies of an active stick and gap control. Paired for much of his second season with veteran blueliner and new Wolves assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner, Connauton seems to understand what will be required of him to reach the NHL. While he is not there yet, his skill set seems to indicate it is only a matter of time before he gets a shot with the big club.

9. (8) Alexandre Grenier, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2011

During his first full season in the QMJHL, Grenier went on a tear, becoming a point-per-game player. A late bloomer, the 6'5” right winger did not start playing junior hockey until the age of 19. Now at 21 years old, it is hoped he can translate those numbers to the professional level. If he continues to fill out his massive frame, learns how to use his size to his advantage, it should be a successful transition. The Laval, Quebec native has the potential to be a second or third line power forward, provided he continues to add strength and use his size. He is set to begin the adjustment tot he pro game with EC Salzburg in Austria next season.

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

McNally was a finalist for the ECAC Rookie of the Year Award with 28 points in 34 games in his first year at Harvard University. An offensive defenseman whose strength is in rushing the puck, he is a very good skater with mobility, speed, and quickness. His skating skills and quick hands allow him to escape trouble and move the puck out of danger. In the defensive zone he has very good lateral mobility and closes quickly on the puck carrier, forcing the opposition into mistakes. He does not play a physical game, but relies on a quick stick and smart reads to gain puck possession. The Canucks will stay the course and not rush the puck-savvy defender as he enters his sophomore season in the NCAA.

11. (NR) Frank Corrado, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2011

Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, Corrado is a prospect on the rise for the Canucks. The 19-year-old from Toronto has played the past three seasons for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL. In 60 games last season, he had 26 points and a +26 rating. Corrado, similar in style to Chris Tanev, is a steady, poised defenseman who plays an error-free game. While he may not be spectacular in any one area, his calm demeanor and defensive reliability on the blue line makes him a noticeable presence in the lineup. The 6'0” and 190-pound defenseman is also willing to mix it up in the physical game. Corrado projects as a depth defenseman at the NHL level with some upside.

12. (NR) Alexandre Mallet, C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 57th overall, 2012

In a draft where the Canucks focused on augmenting forward positions, grit and two-way play were considered premium qualities. Mallet burst onto the Quebec Major Junior scene in 2011-12. His 81 points, 132 penalty minutes, and +23 rating in 68 games dwarfed his output from the 2010-11 campaign. Mallet signed an entry-level contract with the Canucks in August, 2012 and is expected to suit up with the Wolves for the 2012-13 season. The organization has few forwards in the system with the desire to play as physical a brand of hockey as Mallet does. Therefore, should he continue to find success in a similar manner at the AHL level, he could occupy a bottom-six energy role for the Canucks in the near future.

13. (10) Joseph Labate, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2011

The Eagan, Minnesota native played 37 games in 2011-12 at the University of Wisconsin, scoring five goals and 20 points during his freshman campaign with the Badgers. Like many prospects blessed with a large frame, the 6'4” left-shooting Labate will need to add some bulk to play at the pro level. While he has the size, net presence, and hockey sense to become an impact forward at the NHL level, he will need to get stronger and improve his skating to reach that potential. Labate remains a project but should be counted on to contribute even more heading into his sophomore year at Wisconsin.

14. (11) Yann Sauve, D, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2008

For better or worse, Sauve has a distinction rare among prospects having spent time with all three Vancouver professional affiliates during the 2010-11 season. He righted the ship in 2011-12 in 73 games in the AHL as a top-four blueliner for the Wolves. He projects as a two-way option that can play reliable defense and chip in some points at the NHL level, but there are questions surrounding his decision-making and puck-handling. The 22-year-old is likely at best a third-pairing option at this point but will have trouble cracking a healthy Canucks blue line. More time in the AHL is likely for Sauve during the 2012-13 season.

15. (12) Joe Cannata, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 173rd overall, 2009

The 22-year-old goaltending prospect from Wakefield, Massachusetts finished his senior season in 2011-12 with Merrimack College and is ready for a bigger stage. He signed his first pro contract with the Canucks in March and will make his pro debut during the 2012-13 season. Should Eddie Lack graduate to the NHL level as Cory Schneider’s back-up, Cannata may wind up getting starts at the AHL level for the Wolves. Regardless of his initial role at the pro level, a technically-sound game and even-keeled demeanor will give him a chance to find success. He has also learned the importance of the first save and subsequent rebound control, giving the Canucks yet another promising netminder in the system.

16. (13) Henrik Tommernes, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 210 overall, 2011

Having the distinction of being the second-to-last pick in the 2011 entry draft, the 22-year-old Tommernes continues to hone his craft in Sweden. Considered a boom-or-bust prospect, he seems to fit the prototype of current Canucks defensive prospects. He has good mobility and skating skills and blends that with decent offensive ability. Most importantly, his hockey IQ is strong, and one more year with Frolunda in the SEL can only help foster that hockey sense. After another year developing against men in Sweden, he will likely play in North America for the 2013-14 season.

17. (14) Adam Polasek, D, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 145th overall, 2010

The left-shooting Ostrava, Czech Republic native enjoyed a solid season with the Chicago Wolves. While his one goal, eight assists over 46 games were modest totals, his plus-eight rating was one of the better marks among the team's defensemen. The 6’3” defender is no stranger to the physical aspects of the game and has proven he can stand skate-to-skate with the big boys in the AHL. Steady, tough, and able to move the puck efficiently, Polasek is in line for an increased role with Chicago for the 2012-13 season. Projected as a defensive-minded option that can log bottom-pairing minutes at the NHL level, he will benefit from more playing time in the AHL next season.

18. (15) Alex Friesen, C, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 172nd overall, 2010

The 5’9”, 186-pound center plays larger than his size would suggest. Last season he was voted the Best Defensive Forward, Best on Faceoffs, and tied for Best Penalty Killer in his conference by OHL coaches. With a tireless work ethic and freight-train mentality in the physical game, Friesen has improved his discipline dramatically while learning to use his competitive, on-the-edge style to his advantage. Friesen signed a three year entry-level deal with the Canucks and will make the transition to the pro game with Chicago in the AHL.

19. (16) David Honzik, G, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2011

The big, athletic Czech goaltender regressed somewhat this past season. His season with the Victoriaville Tigres did not go as expected, accentuated by a shocking first round exit against Baie-Comeau in which neither he nor teammate Brandon Whitney (CHI) could come up with the big saves against the Drakkar. Honzik has the physical tools, but must find a way to recover mentally from a disappointing season in which he was plagued by inconsistency and soft goals. The 2012-13 season will be pivotal for Honzik following an offseason trade to the Cap Breton Screaming Eagles. The 19-year-old goaltender will also be playing for a pro contract this season as he takes the reigns for Cape Breton.

20. (17) Bill Sweatt, LW, 6.0C
Signed as a free agent, August 19th, 2010

Speed has always been Sweatt’s calling card, but he also combines that with a good defensive mindset. His numbers took a slight dip during his second pro season with 34 points in 71 games, but he was an effective penalty-killer for the Wolves. He also saw limited action in two games with Vancouver on an emergency recall. While there will always be question marks surrounding his offensive abilities, his speed and defensive virtues give him a chance at the pro level. His upside is as a two-way third-line forward, but he has yet to prove whether he can stick in a bottom-six role in the NHL.