A look at the Vancouver Canucks top 10 prospects heading into the 2015-16 season.
The win now window for Vancouver appeared to be all but closed when Jim Benning took the helm as the GM in the summer of 2014. Benning made a splash at the draft and quickly retooled the Canucks roster and the team made a surprise bounce back and returned to the playoffs. But a quick and decisive victory by the Calgary Flames put an end to last season, and Canucks fans are accepting the idea of looking to the future.
While the Sedin twins are still leading the team, management has said they will not throw in the towel and leave the twins to die on the vine. The situation is reminiscent of when the Calgary Flames held on too long to Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff before embracing a rebuild.
Fortunately for Canucks fans, the team already has some considerable prospects in the pipeline, so perhaps a retool, rather than a total tear down can keep the team competitive.
- Jake Virtanen : Right Wing – 6’1” / 208 lbs
Drafted: sixth overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by Vancouver
A formidable adversary for any challenger, Jake Virtanen is an imposing power forward in the truest sense. Possesses a non-stopping motor and creates an abundance of on-ice energy when throwing his weight around and establishing his physical presence. Exhibits world-class skating ability, and can blow by defenders just as easily as he can go through them. Stands up for his teammates and never backs down from a challenge. Displays a wicked, NHL-level release that challenges goaltenders of all skill levels. Becoming a recognizable asset when playing a more defensive role as well. All-in-all, a physical power forward that has the character traits, work ethic, and individual skills to pose a threat to whoever stands in his way – Elite Prospects
- Jared McCann: Centre – 6’0” / 179 lbs
Drafted: 24th overall in the first round of the 2014 draft by Vancouver
The Canucks second first round pick in the ’14 draft contracted Mono last summer and missed the rookie tournament and training camp. He also missed the start of the OHL season and when he returned, he showed the effects having a slow start to his season, which likely cost him a shot on Team Canada for the WJC. McCann came on strong for Sault Ste. Marie scoring 81 points in 56 games and helped carry them in a deep playoff run, but came up short against the Erie Otters in the Western Conference finals. He produced another six goals and 16 assists in 14 post season games for the Greyhounds. McCann has also cracked the Canucks roster to start the season and has his first career goal in his first three games. He currently holds down the third line centre position – his strong two-way game and scoring prowess suggest he is here to stay.
Mobile and effective at both ends of the ice, McCann is a modern embodiment of the possession game. In addition to his smarts, he does not lack for skills. The Greyhound has high end vision and makes crisp passes all around the zone. What sets him apart however, and suggests the ability to be a top-six center, is his elite wrist shot which has both power and accuracy. His slapshot is also a weapon, although not to the same extent. He could stand to improve his top end speed, but he makes up for any long-range shortcomings with a strong first few steps. – Hockey Prospectus
- Cole Cassels: Center – 6’0” / 178 lbs
Drafted: 85th overall in the third round of the 2013 draft by Vancouver
Cassels fourth and final season of junior was impressive. He exploded offensively scoring 81 points in 54 games, while racking up 100 penalty minutes. He established his offensive abilities to compliment his already strong defensive game. He was able to shut down Connor McDavid in the OHL finals, and was a key member of the Oshawa Generals Memorial Cup Championship. Cassels will start his pro career in Utica and projects as an ideal third line centre – solid two-way, strong on draws, but with offensive upside.
A swiss army knife type player, Cole Cassels can do it all. Possesses good vision and passing skills, as well as the ability to finish plays. Responsible defensively and can start plays from his own end. Has worked hard to incorporate the necessities of a successful center into his game and that has lead to positive results – Elite Prospects
- Ben Hutton: Defence – 6’2” / 183 lbs
Drafted: 147th overall in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by Vancouver
After three seasons with the University of Maine, Ben Hutton signed his first NHL contract. In his final season in Maine, Hutton scored 21 points in 39 games. He finished the year in the AHL with Utica scoring his first pro goal and playing in the final four regular season games. After a very strong, and surprising, training camp, Hutton has made the Canucks opening roster. Hutton was so impressive in training camp that the Canucks had to keep him on their roster even though it meant losing highly valued prospect Frank Corrado to waivers. This commitment indicates he will remain with the Canucks for the season.
Hutton has patience with the puck, using subtle delays to create space, and has added some much-needed speed and finesse to Vancouver’s attack from the back end. He can also deliver pin-point passes out of the defensive zone, as witnessed by the feed to Jannik Hansen for Vancouver’s first goal against Calgary on Wednesday. – NHL.com
- Thatcher Demko: Goalie – 6’4” / 192 lbs
Drafted: 36th overall in the second round of the 2014 draft by Vancouver
Demko made significant progress in his development during his sophomore season in Boston College, posting a 2.19 GAA in 35 games. Demko was also in goal for Team USA at the WJC and posted an impressive 1.74 GAA and .934 save percentage. He has returned for his Junior season at Boston College, but could forego his Senior year and sign after this season with the Canucks.
Demko is already 6’4″ and he has ideal size that NHL teams are looking for in goalie prospects. This size, combined with his ability to cut down angles gives shooters very little to look at. Demko skates well, meaning he recovers quickly and stays with shooters if they try to deke. He also has a strong push giving him very good lateral movement and his puck tracking ability is very solid. He understands where the play is going, anticipates well, and gets across the crease quickly for cross-ice passes and one-timers.
Demko plays a butterfly style and is extremely hard to beat down low due to his long and quick legs. He is so big that even when he does go down he can still take up a lot of the upper portion of the net. He does need some work on his rebound control, as many young goalies do. He is very good at staying square to the puck, even when does given up rebounds, and this usually puts him in good position to stop those second chance opportunities. He also has a quick glove hand. – Last Word on Sports
- Brock Boeser: – 6’1” / 191 lbs
Drafted: 23rd overall in the first round of the 2015 draft by Vancouver
Boeser led the USHL in scoring in his draft year, scoring 35 goals and 68 points in 57 games with Waterloo. He was also strong for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka, scoring eight points in five games winning the Bronze. Boeser has committed to the University of North Dakota and should be a member of Team USA for the WJC. He is a sniper with decent size, but may spend a few years in NCAA before turning pro. He could be a few years away, but has top six upside.
A big power winger who utilizes his size and strength to generate offensive chances…a real do-it-all guy…plays hard in all three zones…has a great compete level…protects the puck extremely well, especially with defenders draped all over him…fights through any contact he encounters…has a lethal shot, quick release and very accurate…drive the net…can also pull up and set-up his teammates with a skilled pass…defensively he does a great job taking away shooting lanes and forcing the other team to adjust their plan…a real pro-style player. – Future Considerations
- Hunter Shinkaruk: Left Wing – 5’10” / 181 lbs
Drafted: 24th overall in the first round of the 2013 draft by Vancouver
After missing most of his final year in junior due to surgery, Shinkaruk made his pro debut playing 74 games and scoring 31 points. His playoff was disappointing however, playing in 23 games and producing only six points. While his all-around game is solid and he has leadership qualities as the former captain of the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL, Shinkaruk needs to increase his offensive output in his sophomore pro season in Utica to hold a position as a top ten prospect. Considering he lost almost an entire season to hip surgery, then made the jump to pro, so it’s understandable his development struggled.
Very good player in all situations, smart and making intelligent plays. Was being used in all situations including the powerplay. Second assist on the first goal by winning the puck and passing to Grenier. Noticeable the entire play to set up the first goal. Was put on the ice for the start of overtime alone with Cal O’Reilly and Jensen. – Canucks Army
- Brendan Gaunce: Center – 6’2” / 207 lbs
Drafted: 26th overall in the first round of the 2012 draft by Vancouver
After a consistent junior career where in three seasons he hovered around the point per game range, Gaunce turned pro. In his rookie season he scored 29 points in 74 games. His game improved as the year wore on and in the playoffs he played in 21 games, recording nine points. He will be back for another year in Utica where it is hoped he will continue to develop.
Gaunce is a bit of an in-betweener as a prospect. He has the size and body type of a power forward but doesn’t play a combative style. He has been able to put points up at the junior level when surrounded by talented players, and has a big shot, but he is not a pure scorer and his skating and technical skills are not considered elite. To succeed at the pro level he will need to pay keen attention to the defensive zone and win most of the puck battles along the boards and in small spaces. He has shown some promise in his first pro season but is still a project at this point. – Hockeys Future
- Nicklas Jensen: Left/Right Wing – 6’3” / 202 lbs
Drafted: 29th overall in the first round of the 2011 draft by Vancouver
The former first round pick was touted as a natural goal scorer and a future top six winger as he was about a point a game player in in the OHL. The offense has not translated to the pro level however, as he has a career AHL stat line of 57 points in 139 games. Jensen has not been offensively dominant in the AHL and perhaps that’s why the 2012 first round pick has failed to stick in the NHL. He has 24 total NHL games (one shy of graduating from the prospect criteria) and has six points to his credit. While it is still too soon to slap the “bust” label on Jensen, as GM Jim Benning has said perhaps it is time to start looking at Jensen as a bottom six player and place expectations as a big, fast two-way player who brings energy and can be effective on the penalty kill.
He has a quick stride that gets him to top gear very quickly. He uses his size and strength to gain better positioning, as he will lower his shoulder to increase his leverage when engaging with a defender. His wrist shot is also at least average. – Hockey Prospectus
- Jordan Subban: Defence – 5’9” / 175 lbs
Drafted: 115th overall in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by Vancouver
Subban projects as an offensive power play specialist but will need to overcome his lack of size. Subban can survive in the pro ranks by virtue of his strong skating ability to maintain gap control. While his offensive ceiling may not be as high as his older brother, offense is the name of his game and he carries the puck with authority and has excellent accuracy on both his passes and shots. Subban will start his pro career in Utica this season refining his overall game and adding bulk and strength.
Part of the elusiveness in his game comes from strong edge work and balance, appears to hold tight edge, stemming from a strong lower body, allowing for good east/west movement under speed. He has an explosive shot that comes from a short windup (unlike the high sweep of brother PK) with a deadly accuracy for the upper part of the net. Shifty movements aid in creating small openings for shooting lanes, offence is not stationary making him a difficult player to defend although can be slightly over-active at times. Without an above average hockey sense it would difficult to see a undersized player like this skating regularly in the pros, thinking ahead contributes greatly to Subban’s success, with high level anticipation. – McKeens Hockey
Honorable Mentions: The Canucks have several prospects that easily could be ranked within the top ten. Guillaume Brisebois, Andrey Pedan, Nikita Tryamkin, Alexandre Grenier,
Recent Roster Graduates: Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, Ronalds Kenins, Linden Vey, Jacob Markstrom
Players under 25 years old and with less than 25 career NHL games played qualify as a prospect for purpose of this list.
Written by Peter Harling, who can be found on twitter @pharling