The Vancouver Canucks currently have a comparatively weak prospect system and sit 24th in HF’s most recent Organizational Rankings. The team is, however, starting to build a stronger group of young prospects as they try to stay mindful of the future.
Canucks General Manager Dave Nonis spoke with Hockey’s Future while at Pacific Coliseum to take in some of the 2006 World Junior Championship action. Nonis spoke about the Canucks prospects at the World Juniors, the status of some first year pros and touched on some enigmatic European prospects.
HF: With Cory Schneider, Luc Bourdon and Alexander Edler, you have three prospects in the World Juniors this year. What are your thoughts on how each of them has played so far?
DN: I haven’t seen Edler play in the tournament yet. But I’ve seen him play with his junior team in Kelowna. I think he’s come a long way in acclimating to the North American style of play. He’s done a very good job and I look forward to seeing him here. Luc’s a quality defenseman. He’s got a lot of the attributes that we look for in a defenseman. Very good puck mover, excellent skater, he can play with an edge. This is a good measuring stick for him. It’s a good opportunity to play in this type of pressure cooker and I think he’ll benefit from it. And I’d have to give the same answer for Cory. Cory is a guy that is very calm, cool, he was here before as a backup and I’m hopeful, and I expect that he’s probably going to get quite a few games going forward and we’ll see how he does in the situation, but he’s improved a lot for us in the short time we’ve had him on our reserve list.
HF: Luc Bourdon had an outstanding training camp. How close was he to actually making the team and sticking with the Canucks?
DN: He was close. But we didn’t feel that he would develop the same as he would in junior and playing in this tournament. I know we didn’t want to have him around as a sixth or seventh defenseman with limited ice time. We felt that when he comes and hopefully makes our team at some point, he’ll be in a position to give us more than that. To do that he had to play some games and get some minutes and that’s what he’s doing this year.
HF: There are a lot of rumors floating around right now that Bourdon will be traded in the QMJHL. Are you concerned that this may in some way negatively impact his development?
DN: No. No, I think that you need to learn to play hard for whatever team you’re with. If he gets traded that’s a decision his junior club has to make. But wherever he is, if he remains where he is in Val-d’Or or if he ends up moving to another club than our expectations will be that he gives 100 per cent no matter what team he’s playing with.
HF: Earlier you mentioned the sixth spot on the defense. Had he not gone down with an injury in camp, would have Kevin Bieksa been a favorite to contend for that roster spot?
DN: I think he would have pushed hard for it. Even though now he is playing and he’s doing a good job. I think it would have given him more of a head start than missing that time. I think Kevin really was hurt by missing camp; he didn’t get a chance to play an exhibition game and just try to get a feel for the NHL game, NHL speed. He hadn’t been to a camp where he had that opportunity before so I think that set him back a bit, but I think he’s done a good job.
HF: What do Brett Skinner and Tomas Mojzis have to do in order to get into a Canucks jersey?
DN: Skinner has got to get stronger. In terms of his ability and smarts and power play prowess and those things he’s right there. To battle against bigger men, tough situations, that’s where he has his biggest challenge. Mojzis has gotten a lot better. He’s had the most improvement over his first three years of any of our defensemen that are down there. Thought he’d push for a job this year too. He’s a guy that if he continues to play like that I wouldn’t rule out him getting some games here this year.
HF: Skinner left Denver University after his junior year. He has struggled at times in the AHL early on. Do you think this was a positive or negative decision for his long-term development?
DN: Positive. I think he’d done everything he could in college. He won the National Title a couple times, he was on the All-Tournament Team, he was a captain, he’d done everything he could do there. It was time for him to move on. And I think it showed some of the deficiencies in his game that he has to work on, which is what we need to see.
HF: Mike Brown also left college early. Why was that?
DN: I think Mike is a, he is a pro style player. I think his game is really, not that he wasn’t a good college player because he was, and I think he did a good job at Michigan, but the way he plays the game, I think he fits the pro style. He’s a very aggressive guy and he’s a very tough player. He can fight, he can get in on the forecheck; he can do a lot of things like that that are suited for the pro game. And he has really improved in his first couple months in Manitoba. He’s a guy I think has benefited from the change.
HF: Is it fair to say he is similar to Matt Cooke?
DN: I would say similar. I don’t think his puck skills are as good as Matt’s. Matt’s a better playmaker and Matt’s a better with the puck than Mike is, but in terms of getting in on the forecheck and being able to hit. And I think Mike Brown is a tougher, more aggressive, more belligerent than Matt is, but I think it is a fair comparison.
HF: Have you had the opportunity to see your two QMJHL goalies (Julien Ellis and Alexandre Vincent) this year?
DN: Not this year. Well I saw Julien at the Canadian camp, but I haven’t seen them play for their respective junior teams yet.
HF: At some points of the season, Alexandre Vincent was considered a potential late first round pick. Were you surprised when he was still around in the fourth round?
DN: Well, you know what, I think those things play themselves out. You know, projections are tough to live up to either way, so I wouldn’t necessarily say I was that surprised.
HF: Your two more recent former QMJHL skaters are now in the ECHL. Is this disconcerting for you?
DN: Well Guenette I think we expected to have start there. You know, for a guy at his size, it’s for him to learn the pro game as well. I don’t think that’s somehow surprising. With Bernier we wanted to get him some games, he wasn’t playing well enough. He’ll be back in Manitoba. We sent him down for, right now, I think they play 11 games in 15 days or some ridiculous number, so it gives him a chance to get in and play and get back to scoring again and then he’ll be back in Manitoba.
HF: Is there any chance that any of your European prospects such as Evgeni Gladskikh or Ilya Krikunov will come over to North America?
DN: Yeah, I think so. You know Gladskikh he’s getting a little bit older now. He’s a guy that, you know, some of the Russian players are making a decent living playing over there, and I think he’ll be in a situation where he’ll have to make a decision of if I want to come over and try it or am I happy where I am at? But I know he hasn’t ruled it out. Krikunov I think is in the same situation. I think at some point he might give it a try. We have other players over there too, Denis Grot, who I wouldn’t rule out coming over and giving it a whirl. And we got Hansen that’s playing in Portland as well that’s playing very well and we’re happy with his development.
HF: In the 2005 Draft you selected three players from the CJAHL. Is this going to be a trend going forward and was this something you were consciously looking to do?
DN: Not necessarily. We’ve always said whatever the best player available is, let’s take him. Sometimes it comes into the equation to factor in does a guy need more time to develop and college can be very good for that. I think Matt Butcher is going to be a guy who plays himself into a situation where he becomes a prospect because of the time he’ll get in college. Mason Raymond I think if he was playing in junior or if he was playing in college we would have picked him where we did.
HF: Are you surprised with the offensive numbers Matt Butcher is putting up this year?
DN: Well given his dad wasn’t very good with the puck, yeah! (laughing) No, I would say, yeah, I am pleased with it. He played for us, he played well at our camp when he came and I think it gave him some spark and he went back to his junior team and he’s been a very good player. I think he could turn out to be a good two-way guy. I wouldn’t ever expect him to be the guy that’s going to fill the net at the pro level but you know, he’s shown that he can score and he thinks the game very well, he’s good in his own end and those types of players they’re not easy to come by. So he’s going to go play for a very good coach and I think that’ll help him as well.
HF: What is Jason King’s current status?
DN: We’re still waiting on him to get cleared. He’s very close. He’s been working out hard for several months. He’s been on the ice, he looks like he’s ready to go. We’re just getting to the final stages and hopefully he can be back playing and if that’s the case then he’ll end up going to Manitoba and getting a start.
HF: And what about Kirill Koltsov?
DN: Koltsov, he’s back in Russia. His mother is very ill and he wanted to stay back and be with her. He maintains that he that he wants to come back to North America and if he does we look forward to having him. You know, he’s a dynamic player. He can create a scoring chance both for you and against you. He does have some great ability, and he was coming along when he went back [to Russia].
HF: Of all the forwards currently in the Canucks system, which would you expect to be the top points producer in the NHL?
DN: You know what, I don’t think I’d put that on any one player. I think we’ve started to restock the cupboard in that regard. I think we have players that have a chance to be decent offensive players. You know, Jannik Hansen may end up being a decent offensive player if he continues to improve. Mason Raymond might be able to do those types of things. But I think a lot of the players we’ve drafted up front, high drafts, are on our team. So I think we’re going through a process right now where we’re going to try to restock.
HF: This is Ryan Kesler’s first full season in the NHL. Are you disappointed at all in his limited offensive production thus far this season?
DN: I would say a little bit. Not a lot. I think that Ryan, he has to be comfortable playing his game, which is what got him 30 plus goals in the American league, and that’s taking it to the net. Some nights you see that he’s doing it and some nights he’s not. Until he gets more consistent and does it on a regular basis he’s going to, he’s not going to score as much as he should. But with his foot speed and his ability to shoot, if he decides he wants to do that, he’ll score a lot more than he has been this year.
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