Canucks Top 20 prospects

By Matt MacInnis

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (2) Luc Bourdon, D, 19
2. (3) Cory Schneider, G, 19
3. (5) Kevin Bieksa, D, 24
4. (8) Kiril Koltsov, D, 23
5. (4) Jason King, RW, 24
6. (7) Julien Ellis, G, 20
7. (9) Alexander Edler, D, 19
8. (18) Mason Raymond, LW, 20
9. (NR) Jannik Hansen, RW, 19
10. (6) Brett Skinner, D, 22
11. (NR) Jozef Balej, RW, 23
12. (11) Alexandre Vincent, G, 19
13. (17) Mike Brown, RW, 20
14. (10) Tomas Mojzis, D, 23
15. (NR) Matt Butcher, C, 19
16. (NR) Rick Rypien, C, 21
17. (19) John Laliberte, RW, 22
18. (16) Dennis Grot, D, 22
19. (14) Nathan McIver, D, 22
20. (NR) Kris Fredheim, D, 18

Key: Rank. (Previous rank) Player Name, Position, Age
Draft position, Round (Year)
HF Rating

1. (1) Luc Bourdon, D, 19
Drafted: 10th overall, 1st round (2005)
Rating: 8.0C

Bourdon has had a very busy season thus far. After starting the hockey season in Canucks rookie camp, he progressed to the team’s preseason camp and came extremely close to making the team. Canucks GM Dave Nonis told HF that the organization decided that if he wasn’t going to play top four minutes, he was better off playing a lot in junior. Bourdon returned to Val d’Or, where the team continued to struggle and Bourdon appeared disinterested at times. He played on the Canadian World Junior team and was named to the tournament All-Star team. But while he was away, things were changing for the Foreurs. First they fired Head Coach Claude Bouchard, then, midway through the event, Bourdon was traded to the Moncton Wildcats, the 2006 Memorial Cup hosts.

Since joining the Cats, Bourdon has been solid, but hasn’t completely fulfilled expectations as he has shown some signs of struggling to a completely new system. However, in early February Bourdon suffered a break in a bone just above his ankle that will keep him out four to six weeks, likely until the end of March. In 30 games in the QMJHL this season, he has 28 points (3 goals, 25 assists) and 62 penalty minutes.

Bourdon has everything you could ask for in a defenseman. He’s very big at 6’3, 215 lbs and skates extremely well. He has a great shot and reads the ice very well offensively. He’s confident carrying the puck and has the ability to punish opposition players with a big open-ice hit or by grinding them into the boards. Although his lower quality of play in the QMJHL is somewhat troubling, the fact that he has stepped up to meet the higher caliber of play (NHL preseason and the WJC) demonstrates that he has top prospect potential. His future is unclear at this point. Whether or not he plays in the NHL next season likely depends on if the Canucks re-sign soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Ed Jovanovski, which will make room for Bourdon in the top four. Bourdon has top defenseman potential with his impressive blend of skills.

2. (2) Cory Schneider, G, 19
Drafted: 26th overall, 1st round (2004)

The Canucks 2004 first rounder is having a very, very strong sophomore season, his first season in the NCAA being the full-time starting goaltender for Boston College. He has started every game for the Eagles except the three games he missed while representing Team USA at the World Juniors. With the Eagles he sports a 17-7-1 record, including five shutouts. His goals against average is a very strong 2.05 and he has an impressive .927 save percentage. While at the WJC, Schneider played solidly but wasn’t as consistent or steady as expected. Like the entire American team, Schneider was a little disappointing at times despite his generally solid play. He just wasn’t as dominant in the tournament as he has been during the collegiate season.

The most impressive attribute about Schneider isn’t something physical. His maturity for a 19-year-old is staggering. During the WJC the Canadian media consistently referenced Cam Barker (CHI) as “cool as a cucumber” for his calm off-ice demeanor. The same thing should be said for Schneider who is cool and relaxed off the ice and takes everything, including participating in a major international tournament, all in stride. On the ice, Schneider is a technical wizard for a teenager. He stays square to the shooter and reads the rush very well coming at him. He could benefit from playing farther out of his net and challenging shooters a little more.

It is difficult to forecast when Schneider will promote to the professional ranks. He will have two more years of college eligibility remaining after this season, but if he is as dominant next season as he has been during this year, there is a strong chance the Canucks will decide that there is no more that he can do at the NCAA level. The Canucks minor league goaltending cupboard may be empty shortly. AHL veteran Wade Flaherty is presumably close to retirement and none of the other goaltenders currently in the minor pro ranks appear to have long-term potential, meaning that Schneider could immediately step into a prominent role in the American league upon leaving college. Schneider has starting potential.

3. (4) Kevin Bieksa, D, 24
Drafted: 151st overall, 5th round (2001)

There was little very little fanfare when the Canucks drafted a little-known defenseman with underwhelming offensive statistics from Bowling Green. However, over the next three years in the NCAA, it became more apparent that the gritty native of Grimsby, Ontario might have the edge and mean streak to make it to the NHL. In 2004-05, with the NHL not playing and the overall quality of the AHL increased, Bieksa made his pro debut with the Manitoba Moose and was nothing short of spectacular. Not only was he a force on the ice and a key cog of the Moose blue line during the season and their run to the semi-finals, but he managed to put up 39 points in 80 games to complement his 192 penalty minutes.

The solidly built 6’1, 200 lber did suffer an injury in training camp that sidelined him for the first few weeks of the season and prevented him from making the Canucks straight out of camp as many anticipated he would. However, he bounced back when he was healthy put up 16 points in 20 games in the AHL and earned himself a call-up to the NHL, where he has stayed since. His point production hasn’t been at the same level, but Bieksa has clearly shown that he belongs in the NHL.

Bieksa is a tough and rugged defenseman who has shown at the AHL level that he has not only solid puckhandling skills, but good offensive instincts and passing ability as well as a decent shot. Only time will tell whether or not he’s able to raise the quality of his offensive game to make it an effective component of his NHL play. Bieksa has solid skating and has absolutely no problems with his north-sound speed. He still does have some difficulties at times turning quickly into corners to retrieve dump-ins, but he’s no worse than average third pairing NHL defensemen in that regard. Bieksa has already proven at the NHL level that he is a tough customer who will drop the gloves with opponents and punish them in the corners or if they get too close to his goaltender. He has been reliable in his own zone and has been used to kill penalties.

The question with Bieksa is how high is his ceiling. He had been labelled a third pairing NHLer at best a few years ago, but he consistently has stepped up his play at each level he has reached. Bieksa will certainly continue to be a key part of the current Canucks team as a result of the injury to Ed Jovanovski and the disappointing play of offseason acquisition Steve McCarthy as well as Canucks teams to come for many years.

4. (6) Kiril Koltsov, D, 23
Drafted: 49th overall, 2nd round (2002)

There is no prospect as maligned as Koltsov currently sitting in the Canucks top 20. When the organization lost its first round pick in the 2002 draft to reacquire Trevor Linden, the franchise used its first pick in the draft, a second rounder, to take the undersized Russian defenseman. Koltsov is still small for an NHL defender at approximately 5’11, 190 lbs, but has continued to hone his impressive offensive skill set over the past several years. Koltsov came over to North America to play for the Moose for the 2003-04 season and had a rocky start to his career on the continent. He then left the team after 28 games of the 2004-05 season and returned to the Russian Super League. He then decided in the offseason that he wanted to stay in Russia for another season to stay close to his ailing mother.

Although the Moose could use Koltsov this season, the good news for the organization is that reports from Russia indicate Koltsov has played well during the season. Koltsov has already set career highs for the RSL in goals (8) and points (15) as well as penalty minutes (96) after 40 games.

Koltsov has good speed and mobility, which will be two important traits if he does return to North America and eventually earn his way into the Canucks line-up. He also has great vision and a great passing game as well as outstanding stickhandling. He is equally as confident carrying the puck, but sometimes gets overconfident and tries to make too many moves in the defensive or neutral zone.

As Nonis told HF earlier, Koltsov is a dynamic player who creates a chance every time he’s on the ice — you just never know what team he’ll be creating the chance for. Koltsov has told the Canucks organization he has every intention of returning next season, but it remains to be seen. It was clear from speaking with Nonis that the organization believes he has the ability to be a contributor at the NHL level, it’s just a matter of eliminating the careless mistakes and actually coming back to North America. Koltsov does the offensive skills to be a top four defender and a power-play specialist, but still needs to improve his play in the defensive zone and eliminate many of the careless turnovers.

5. (3) Jason King, RW, 24
Drafted: 212th overall, 7th round (2001)

A late round pick from Newfoundland that may ultimately pay dividends for the club, King has had a very up and down experience in the professional ranks. His rookie AHL season in 2002-03 saw him put up 40 points in 67 games, very respectable numbers. He made the Canucks out of camp the next season and began on the team’s second line with the Sedin twins. After 20 games King was among the leaders in rookie scoring but then vanished from the score sheet and was eventually demoted to the AHL. It was assumed that he would bounce back and rejoin the team for the start of the 2004-05 season, but with the NHL lockout he was forced to spend another year in the minors. The year came to an unfortunate end despite strong offensive numbers (53 points in 59 games) when King suffered a severe concussion which not only knocked him out for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, but also for the first few months of the 2005-06 schedule. Since returning from post-concussion syndrome, King has been one of the best scorers for the Moose, compiling 12 points in 14 games.

King is a decent, but sometimes choppy-looking skater who is best described as a goal scorer. He has very good instincts coupled with a good shot and a nose for the net. He also has that uncanny instinct to be just where the puck bounces. The difficulty that he is going to face in his quest to become a full-time scoring line player at the NHL level is that his all-around offensive skill set is not quite on par with established players. He will have to rely at least partially on determination and hard work to keep him in an offensive role. The Canucks will have to deal with the reality that King remains a very streaky scorer who is prone to score in bunches and suffer long droughts. There were many reasons to be sceptical of King’s long-term viability after he missed so much time with the concussion symptoms, but his ability to step back into the AHL and put up strong numbers proves that he does have potential left.

6. (6) Julien Ellis, G, 20
Drafted: 189th overall, 6th round (2004)

The small Quebecois goaltender’s career to date has been a string of disappointments on big days. Beginning with a poor showing at the Top Prospects Game that resulted in him falling to the sixth round in the 2004 Draft, Ellis rebounded with an excellent season in 2004-05 where he was the best goaltender in the entire QMJHL. Unfortunately, he seemed to get fatigued in the playoffs and his performance showed it. He was considered a favorite to make the Canadian World Junior team, but a poor showing at camp highlighted by an awful inter-squad game sealed his fate. Despite the disappointment, Ellis’ season with the Shawinigan Cataractes has been strong as he has posted a 21-11 record with a .908 save percentage and 3.08 goals against average. As usual, Ellis has been a very busy goaltender, playing in 36 of the 46 games he dressed in.

Despite failing to step up in some of the biggest moments of his career to date, Ellis is something the Canucks have not had between the pipes in quite some time: a game stealer. Ellis is the type of goaltender who can do more than just keep the game close, he showed time after time the past two seasons, especially last year, that he can flat out steal points from opposing teams when he’s on his game. Ellis is lightning fast and has great movement and reflexes. But his size also poses a challenge. Although he is listed at 6’0, 185 lbs, he looks much smaller between the pipes and has to work much harder to stop the puck. Ellis has the potential to develop into a goaltender that could be a full-time starter, but may be better used in a platoon-type situation with another goalie capable of playing in 30-40 games.

7. (8) Alexander Edler, D, 19
Drafted: 91st overall, 3rd round (2004)

There is very little to pick from between the players ranked seventh to tenth in this edition of the Canucks Top 20. Defenseman Alexander Edler has been burdened with high expectations from fans ever since the Canucks made a draft day trade to acquire a pick so they could take him, reportedly at the urgings of vaunted European scout Thomas Gradin. At 6’4, approximately 200 lbs, Edler has great size, but equally importantly he is a very good skater who moves around the ice effortlessly.

After being an unknown talent for a while playing in the Swedish junior leagues, Edler has come over to play for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League this season. The move has certainly paid off. After having some difficulties in the preseason and first few games, he has turned around his offensive game and continues to work on his defensive play. With 41 points in 46 games, Edler sits sixth in league scoring among defensemen, despite playing fewer games than every player ahead of him. He also is sixth in rookie scoring. Edler did not have a great World Junior tournament playing with Sweden, however. He had just one assist and clearly had difficulties handling some players in the corners. The Swedish coach appeared to not have complete trust in Edler’s game and his ice time suffered as a result.

Edler clearly has all the offensive tools, the size and even the skating ability for the so-called “new NHL.” But his positioning and assertiveness in his own zone is certainly lacking. He sometimes appears weak and even timid on the ice when battling with opponents. He is, in some ways, a larger, Swedish, version of Koltsov with many of the same challenges. There are also some concerns that Edler’s stats have been bloated and his defensive deficiencies masked somewhat as a result of playing with Mike Card (BUF) who has been an outstanding junior defenseman. Currently 19 years old, it is unlikely the Rockets will use an over-age and import spot on him next season, so it can be expected that Edler will be playing for the Moose or, in the worst-case scenario, in the ECHL for the Columbia Inferno.

8. (17) Mason Raymond, LW, 20
Drafted: 51st overall, 2nd round (2005)

When the Canucks selected a 19-year-old from the AJHL the choice raised some eyebrows. The former Camrose Kodiak is now playing for Minnesota-Duluth in the American college ranks and has made the change without skipping a beat. In 31 games this season as a rookie, Raymond has 27 points, 11 goals and 16 assists, displaying both his ability to score goals and distribute the puck from the wing.

Raymond is a fantastic skater. He has everything you can ask for in a skater: great acceleration, unbelievable top end speed and the ability to maneuver while moving at that high speed. Despite his speed and ability to break out on his own, he is an unselfish player who uses his teammates well and has a good understanding of when he should give up the puck. His shooting ability is fine, but isn’t truly a strength. His biggest weakness is his upper body strength. He has gotten stronger since being drafted, but he continues to be a thin player for a 20-year-old.

The good news is that he could spend three more years refining his skills and getting stronger at Minnesota-Duluth. It is too early to speculate how long he will stay in college, but as long as physical strength is an issue, it is safe to assume he will remain with the Bulldogs. His skating and talent definitely indicate that he could blossom into a secondary scoring player down the road.

9. (NR)
Jannik Hansen, RW, 19
Drafted: 287th overall, 9th round (2004)

Hansen may be the perfect example of why one should never disregard a late round draft pick. The Danish winger was taken with one of the last picks of the 2004 draft and then slipped into relative obscurity the next season as he played with Rødovre in the Danish league. During the last offseason, Hansen decided that he would come to North America to advance his hockey career and was subsequently selected by the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks. Hansen has adapted to North American hockey quickly and leads the league’s rookies in scoring with 54 points in 49 games. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Hansen’s play thus far has been his willingness to mix it up and play a chippy style. The scouting reports on Hansen said that he wasn’t willing to back down, but few thought that would translate to the rough and tumble “Dub.” Hansen has been involved in a number of skirmishes already and fought as well, something that was not expected of the 6’0, 180 lb import player.

Hansen plays a speed-based game to get into open spaces to unleash his strong wrist shot. His offensive instincts are very good and he doesn’t completely abandon his responsibilities in his own zone either. The fact that he is willing to stick up for himself and drop the gloves when challenged certainly bodes well for his future, especially because at every level the opposing defensemen are going to be bigger and stronger and will consistently take liberties on the smallish Dane.

Hansen, much like Edler, is unlikely to return to the WHL next season because he would take up both an import and overage spot, but that decision will ultimately be made in the offseason. Hansen’s skill set could develop into something that could be successful at the NHL level and the willingness to take some abuse and not fold is a major positive. Hansen’s professional future at this point looks solid. He could become a scoring line player, but his chippiness could conceivably mold him into an effective third liner as well.

10. (5) Brett Skinner, D, 22
Drafted: 68th overall, 3rd round (2002)

Skinner tumbles down several spots in the Canucks Top 20 as a result of significant struggles in his first season in the AHL with the Moose. His statistics aren’t bad with 21 points in 42 games and a +3 rating, but the numbers do not accurately reflect the caliber of his play on the ice this year. Skinner was also selected to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup, which was somewhat of a surprise because Skinner was very bad at times before going to the Spengler, although his play has been slightly better since the brief international experience. The fact that Prestin Ryan was called up to the Canucks ahead of him is a strong indication that his play has not been up to standard.

Skinner was one of, if not the best, defenseman in collegiate hockey last season. The organization felt he had done everything he could in the NCAA and subsequently he left the University of Denver. Skinner’s skating this season has not been as good as expected after he was identified as a very strong skater and his need to bulk up and get stronger has been magnified by playing against men. His puckmoving skills are very good and the overall quality of his play has improved throughout the course of the season, which is definitely a positive step in the right direction.

Although his immediate impact in the league has not fulfilled the expectations, he is starting to show the skills that have made him a good prospect and a player who could evolve into a second pairing NHL defenseman with time. Skinner will have to elevate his play for the last quarter of the season and beyond.

11. (NR) Jozef Balej, RW, 23
Drafted: 78th overall, 3rd round (2000)

Originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2000, Balej was traded to the New York Rangers in 2004 with a second round draft pick for Alexei Kovalev. The Rangers then sent Balej to the Canucks early in the 2005-06 season in exchange for Fedor Fedorov. Balej has had a decent season the AHL, scoring 29 points in 39 games and earned himself a one-game call-up on Dec. 4. He did manage to put up an assist in that one game. Despite his fair performance in his one NHL game, and a number of injuries to the Canucks, Balej has not seen further action with the Canucks this season, likely a result of the Canucks need to fill third and fourth line spots, something Balej isn’t ideally suited to do.

Balej’s ranking is hurt due to the fact that his career is currently somewhat uncertain. He has been out of the line-up since Jan. 7 when he suffered a lacerated kidney. The initial prognosis was that doctors thought his kidney was completely crushed and that it would have to be removed, although a kidney specialist has since indicated that they may be able to save it. Balej also has had internal bleeding and a blood clot in his stomach as a result of the innocent-looking incident. The injuries occurred when Balej’s stick got caught in another player’s skates and he essentially ran into the butt end of his own stick. It would not be surprising if he were done for the season.

The 6’0, 190 lb right winger has great wheels and a quick release on his wrist shot. He changes gears well and is an exciting player to watch when he’s at his best. Unfortunately his skills have not developed as much over the past few years as expected and it’s impossible to tell at this point if he’s done developing or if he is still growing as a potential offensive player. His injury is going to significantly hamper him however, as he will most likely miss half of this season. As he will be 24 this year, time is running out for Balej to fulfill the lofty expectations that followed him earlier in his career as a Canadiens prospect.

12. (10) Alexandre Vincent, G, 19
Drafted: 114th overall, 4th round (2005)

The “other” QMJHL goalie the Canucks took several rounds after he was projected to go, Alex Vincent is finding himself in the same situation that fellow 2005-drafted goalie J.P. Levasseur experienced for the second half of the 2004-05 season with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Relatively unheralded keeper Sylvain Michaud (NYI) has taken his starting job. Despite playing in just 25 games, Vincent has performed respectably when given the chance. He has a 16-7 record with a 3.00 GAA and a .904 save percentage. He has also earned two shutouts this season.

At 6’4, 195 lbs, Vincent is definitely a part of the “new breed” of very tall, very big goaltenders. He plays the butterfly style currently favored by most the world, which plays into his physical size as he naturally closes off more of the top half of the net than a smaller goaltender such as Ellis. He is impressively quick for a big man and has a good glove hand. Consistency and mental toughness are the biggest challenges facing Vincent at this stage of his career. Vincent has the potential to be a split-shift starting goalie in the form of a slightly more athletic version of Alex Auld. Next season he likely will return to Chicoutimi, this time as the full-time starter, and try to establish himself as one of the best in the QMJHL.

13. (16) Mike Brown, RW, 20
Drafted: 159th overall, 5th round (2004)

Mike Brown has the makings of a bigger, slightly less talented, Matt Cooke for the Canucks in a few more seasons. Brown, a fifth round pick, is a very solidly built 6’1, 210 lbs at the age of just 20. He decided to leave the University of Michigan this summer after just two years in the NCAA, where he compiled 21 points in 77 games. He has excelled at the professional level in his AHL rookie season, putting up 14 points already in 50 games, as well as 90 penalty minutes and a +8 rating, one of the best on the team.

Nonis has said that Mike Brown is the type of player whose style is designed for the pro game and that he’ll be a better pro than he was as a college player. To date that certainly has been true as Brown has really elevated his game. He skates extremely well and loves to play a very physical game. His defensive play is strong, especially for a 20-year-old, and he has a work ethic, something which will likely carry him into the NHL at some point. Brown’s top-end potential is definitely limited, he simply does not have the offensive capabilities to be a scoring player at any level. He almost certainly will be a very good fourth line player who probably will get some time on the third line, and will be a reliable penalty killer. Brown probably won’t see much, if any, time in the big show this year, and may need to spend another year in the AHL, but within two or three years, he has a great chance of making the NHL on a depth line, assuming he continues as his current developmental rate.

14. (9) Tomas Mojzis, D, 23
Drafted: 246th overall, 8th round (2001)

Acquired by the Canucks in a trade for Brad Leeb, Mojzis spent the past two years trying to adjust to the AHL game after graduating from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. This year Mojzis has played solidly for the Moose, albeit unspectacularly, but was impressive enough in his 34 games (five goals, 12 assists, 44 penalty minutes) to be called up to the Canucks when their blue line was plagued with injuries. Mojzis has played five games in the NHL this year, which have highlighted his defensive deficiencies. Mojzis has consistently been caught behind the play or out of position and has had to take four penalties because of it and certainly could have been penalized more. He has been given the opportunity play on the second power play unit occasionally but has been unable to showcase his offensive skills.

Mojzis will be 24 this calendar year and is running out of time to prove himself as a true NHL prospect. He would not have played any games with the Canucks if not for the rash of injuries that struck the club and after seeing his play with the Canucks, it is clear that he is not at that level right now. Mojzis has, however, shown slow, but consistent, improvement over the past two and a half seasons in the AHL as his defensive game slowly develops. Offensively he was acceptable last year and continues to perform to a respectable level considering his skills this year. However, unless he is able to get stronger and much better in his defensive zone he will not be able to play full time at the NHL level.

15. (NR) Matt Butcher, C, 19
Drafted: 138th overall, 5th round (2005)

At 6’2, 205 lbs, Butcher is already big and strong enough to play at the professional level. That’s a bit frightening when you consider that he could spend the next four seasons in college hockey at the University of Northern Michigan. Butcher, the son of former Canuck Garth Butcher, was seen as a low-risk, low-reward type of future third or fourth line grinder in half a decade. He had never scored at even a point per game rate in the BCHL and little was expected of him offensively at any level. And then this year he really broke out. Butcher currently sits in second place in BCHL scoring, and leads his Chilliwack Chiefs, with 38 goals, 58 assists (96 points) in 52 games.

Butcher uses his size very well and has physically dominated the BCHL throughout the season. There is no denying that his point totals are inflated by playing in a lower quality league against weaker defensemen especially, but both his coach in Chilliwack Harvey Smyl and Nonis expect that he will be a very, very good NCAA player. He is the Chiefs captain and is a leader that all of his teammates look to for guidance both on and off the ice. The biggest obstacle facing Butcher is his skating, specifically his first step, which will have to improve dramatically for him to reach the NHL.

Butcher’s offensive skills were clearly underrated in the past, but he will have to put up strong numbers in college before anybody can begin to say that he can be more than a grinder at the professional level. Regardless of the challenges still facing him, this season has certainly surpassed expectations the organization had of him.

16. (NR) Rick Rypien, C, 21
Undrafted, free agent signee

Rypien is an example of why a player shouldn’t give up just because his draft years have passed without his name getting called. Rypien played three seasons for the Regina Pats of the WHL, never scoring more than a point per game and had a junior career high of 22 goals last season. His Pats failed to make the playoffs and he was signed by the Manitoba Moose. He played in eight regular season games and was kept on board for the Moose’s playoff run. Despite not registering a point in 14 playoff games, the Canucks signed him to a two-way NHL contract. He had played 34 games, scoring 10 points, with the Moose before getting called up to the Canucks. Unfortunately, after five games in the NHL, he suffered a broken leg that has sidelined him indefinitely.

Rypien is a very small player at 5’10 and around 175 lbs but he plays a fierce and fearless style that is indicative of a much larger player. Rypien’s puck skills are underwhelming as a whole and he will never be a real offensive contributor at the NHL level. He is a good skater however and a strong forechecker. His play in his own zone is cautious and he is rarely caught out of position. He has problems along the boards, however, as his size and strength put him as a disadvantage when battling for loose pucks.

Rypien may have gotten into the NHL for a few games this year, and it’s impossible to tell how long he would have remained with the Canucks, but there is no question that his upside is extremely limited because of his size and lack of scoring touch. He is going to be very, very hard pressed to stick in the NHL, especially with the Canucks who have a number of similar players to him who are bigger, stronger and/or better with the puck such as Josh Green, Alex Burrows or Brown.

17. (18) John Laliberte, RW, 22
Drafted: 114th overall, 4th round (2002)

Now a senior in college, Laliberte’s offensive numbers have improved each of the past three seniors for Boston University. Laliberte has been a driving offensive force behind BU this season. Earlier in the season he actually led the Terriers in scoring, although he has slid to fifth (seven goals, 15 assists) in 22 games of play. He has missed seven thus far due to injury. In addition to providing offense, Laliberte has also been one of BU’s leaders on the ice.

Despite his offensive success this year, that really is not Laliberte’s niche and will likely not be his role at any level of professional hockey above the ECHL. The 6’2, 200 lb Laliberte is a grinder who can deliver a hard hit. Laliberte has tremendous ability both along the boards and around the net. This is the end of the line for Laliberte with the Terriers so expect him to ink a deal with the Canucks once his season has ended and he will likely join the Moose in the AHL.

The organization and fans will be watching closely to see if he is able to adjust to the league as quickly as Brown, who plays a similar style of game. The two will likely often find themselves battling for the same job in the near future, but Brown has the benefit of being two years younger and having a year of AHL experience already.

18. (15) Dennis Grot, D, 22
Drafted: 55th overall, 2nd round (2002)

A questionable second round pick back in 2002, Grot’s steady play in Russian keeps him at the bottom of the Canucks Top 20 once again. After appearing in 35 games with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in 2003-04, Grot was unable to find a spot with the club during the lockout year and eventually moved to suit up for Novosibirsk Siber where he had three assists in 23 games. Grot has appeared in 45 games thus far for Moscow Spartak and put up six points, including one goal. The steady defender has spent most of the season seeing action on the team’s third pairing.

Grot isn’t flashy, he isn’t a spectacular puck mover, he’s not going to be a game breaker, but he also isn’t likely to cost you a game. He is in many ways the polar opposite of Koltsov. The 6’1, 185 lber needs to get a little bit bigger and more comfortable dealing with a more physical standard of play. A few years younger than the Canucks pair of Russian forward prospects of Ilya Krikunov and Evgeni Gladskikh, Grot is also going to have to decide whether or not he wants he wants to come to North America and try to break into the NHL. However, in HF’s interview with Nonis, he actually brought up Grot’s name when discussing the team’s European prospects, whereas he did not give any signs of being hopeful that either of the forwards would ever cross the pond.

Grot doesn’t have the potential to be any more than a third pairing guy, but as the Canucks are finding out this year, it’s not a bad idea to have a deep group of players available to you to fill the bottom three spots on the defense in case injuries start to pile up.

19. (13) Nathan McIver, D, 22
Drafted: 254th overall, 8th round (2003)

The 6’2, 200 lb native of Kinkora, Prince Edward Island has been a steady presence on the Moose blue line during his rookie year in the AHL. He’s appeared in 42 of 54 games and racked up 92 penalty minutes along the way. Although he doesn’t contribute much to the offense with just two assists this season, he is always careful in his own zone and has a +8 rating as a result of his care and physical play in the Moose’s defensive zone.

McIver plays a very, very simple game. He is focused exclusively on his own zone and making sure that the opposing forwards can’t get into a position to put the puck past his goalie. His defensive positioning is strong in general and he’s big and mean enough to be very unpleasant along the boards and in front of the net. His skating isn’t atrocious by any means, but definitely needs to improve if he’s going to be able to keep up with the faster pace of the NHL. McIver may be able to fill a No. 5-7 role for the Canucks on the blue line, but even in the worst-case scenario he will likely be the type of guy the team can call up in case of emergency to play 8:00 a game.

20. (NR) Kris Fredheim, D, 18
Drafted: 185th overall, 6th round (2005)

The Canucks third CJAHL pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, Fredheim has responded well and had a very solid season playing for Notre Dame in the SJHL, whose season recently ended. He had 35 points to date (12 goals, 23 assists) and 75 penalty minutes. He has been quite the special teams specialist this season with 27 of his points coming there (including a goal and an assist shorthanded). Fredheim is also a bit of a local boy for the Canucks as he was born in Campbell River, BC.

At 6’2 and 185 lbs right now, Fredheim has the height to put quite a bit more muscle onto his frame. The right-handed shooting defender has committed to Colorado College for the 2006-07 season. As with any player coming out of a league like the SJHL that has not produced many NHL players, he will have to prove a lot next season to show exactly how great his upside is and how likely he is to pull on a Canucks jersey at any time.

Missing the Cut

Gladskikh and Krikunov fall completely out of the list due to the increasing reality that neither of them are likely to ever take the chance of leaving their home country to perhaps get a shot at the NHL. The two are not bad support scorers in the RSL, but at this point do not appear to have a future in the NHL. Nonis told HF that both of them are at a point where they have to decide whether or not they want to try North American hockey or stay at home where they still make a good living and avoid the hassle of uprooting their respective families.

DJ Powers contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.