The Vancouver Canucks have six prospects currently playing in the NCAA, with just the right combination for a line-up with one goalie, two defensemen and three forwards. Two of these prospects, Cory Schneider and Mason Raymond, appear to have significant roles in the future success of the Canucks organization, while the others are future depth players or probable non-factors.
Cory Schneider, G, 20 (Boston College)
Drafted: 1st round, 26th overall (2004)
One of the Canucks’ top prospects in their system, Schneider seems to have moved out of the spotlight this season, likely as a result of the arrival of goaltender Roberto Luongo with the big club and the subsequent decrease in the urgency in getting Schneider to the NHL. Schneider, who turns 21 in mid-March, was also too old to participate in the World Junior Championships as he has the past two years.
But Schneider has been working hard, very hard, this season. In 24 games with Boston College, Schneider has a 14-9-1 record with a 2.33 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. While these numbers are down slightly from his best numbers in the NCAA, the most impressive stat from this season’s line is the fact that he has played all but six minutes his team has played this season.
During his college career, Schneider has been a complete workaholic, playing basically every game that he has been available for Boston College. But with the Canucks having Luongo locked up for the rest of this decade, it’s unlikely that Schneider will be receiving any significant time in a Canucks uniform in the immediate future. Despite that, Schneider continues to show every sign of becoming a starting goaltender at the NHL. He has solid technical skills and remarkable calmness and maturity for a player his age which should lead to a smooth transition into the professional ranks. When Schneider will turn pro remains uncertain as he has one more year of eligibility in 2007-08.
Matt Butcher, C, 20 (Northern Michigan)
Drafted: 5th round, 138th overall (2005)
Butcher, the 138th overall pick in 2005 NHL Entry Draft, was seen to be a potential depth player with little offensive ability at the time he was selected. Butcher proceeded to put up 101 points in his 57 games and was physically dominant in Canada’s top Junior “A” league in 2005-06. The transition to collegiate hockey has, not surprisingly, been a tough one for the hard-working son of former NHLer Garth Butcher. Butcher had been able to use his strength to create space for himself in the BCHL, but that option has not always been there playing against the older and larger opposition in the CCHA.
Butcher has played in all 30 of Northern Michigan’s games, registering just four points. It is, however, just Butcher’s freshman season and he will have three more seasons to prove himself worthy of an NHL contract. Butcher’s stock has certainly taken a bit of a hit, but Butcher’s peak potential has never been higher than a third-line center. All in all, it has been a rough season for Butcher, but it would be premature to completely write him off.
Mason Raymond, LW, 21 (Minnesota Duluth)
Drafted: 2nd round, 51st overall (2005)
As a second-round selection for an organization desperately short on offensive forwards at all levels of play, there are a lot of expectations pinned on the speedy winger who calls Cochrane, Alberta home. After an up-and-down rookie campaign for the Bulldogs last season, Raymond currently leads Minnesota-Duluth in goals, assists and points with 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 games in 28 games played. He has considerably picked up the pace since the New Year, registering 14 points in seven games, including a five-point performance on Jan. 20 against St. Cloud State. The 6’0, 185 lbs sophomore has put on roughly 25 lbs since being drafted, going a long way to curb criticism that he’s too small to play in the NHL.
The book on Raymond is that he has lightning speed and good enough hands to maintain puck control while going flat-out. He has good shooting ability and uses his speed well to create his own scoring chances. Playing in only his second year in the NCAA after a junior career in the AJHL, Raymond will most likely spend another year in college, although turning 22 by the start of the next hockey season may encourage the Canucks to ask him to leave school early if he continues to show dominance in the WCHA. Raymond continues to demonstrate second-line potential.
Kris Fredheim, D, 19 (Colorado College)
Drafted: 7th round, 185th overall (2005)
The 6’2, 183 lb. Campbell River, BC product has appeared in 16 of Colorado College’s 26 games, missing two weeks in November and three weeks in both December and January. Fredheim has compiled three assists (all secondary assists), plus 14 penalty minutes.
Primarily a defensive defender, Fredheim is touted as having a big shot. Currently a freshman, Fredheim will need to show that he’s worthy of more minutes and a bigger role with the Tigers as this season winds down. In the meantime, he must continue to get stronger and bulk up. He is too far away to speculate his potential, but as a seventh-round selection, it’s safe to assume the Canucks are willing to be patient with him.
Andrew Sarauer, LW, 22 (Northern Michigan)
Drafted: 4th round, 125th overall (2004)
A teammate of fellow Canucks prospect Butcher with the Wildcats, Sarauer has largely been written off as a prospect. The junior does have eight points in 19 games this season, although he is currently mired in his longest pointless streak of the season, having not registered a point in five games going back to Jan. 13. A large player at 6’4, 205 lbs, he has accumulated just eight penalty minutes this year. He is also a team-worst minus-12.
Sarauer hasn’t shown why the Canucks made him a fourth-round selection in the 2004 draft, but still has a season and a half before the organization needs to make a formal decision about his future with the club. He’s at most a future depth player, and that appears to be a long shot based on what he’s shown thus far in his collegiate career.
Chad Brownlee, D, 22 (Minnesota State)
Drafted: 6th round, 190th overall (2003)
The Kelowna, BC native and BCHL product is in his final season with the Minnesota State Mavericks, where he has registered three assists in 24 games this season. He’s also lived true to his reputation as a tough guy to play against, racking up 44 penalty minutes. It’s unlikely Brownlee will receive a contract from the Canucks unless the team is looking to stock its ECHL affiliate in Victoria.
Overall it’s a top-heavy group of six prospects with two players who likely won’t receive contract offers at the end of their NCAA term and two others who have a lot to prove over the course of the next three seasons. The organization has recently shown a penchant for selecting prospects either playing in college or soon-to-be NCAA players. It would not be surprising to see several more student-athletes picked up by the organization at the 2007 Entry Draft.
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