Top Shelf Prospects: Vancouver Canucks
As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 45-50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not static rules though, as I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Zack Kassian has 48 career games (44 regular season and 4 playoff games). He was given role after being acquired in a deal for Cody Hodgson. He is Graduated.
Chris Tanev has 64 career games. He played in every Canucks playoff game last season. He is also graduated.
2012 Draft Picks Reviewed:
Top Prospect, Nicklas Jensen, Right Wing/Left Wing
Born Mar 6 1993 — Herning, Denmark
Height 6.03 — Weight 186 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Vancouver Canucks in round 1, #29 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Denmark has never been known as a country that produces a lot of high end hockey talent, but that has started to change in recent years. Mikkel Boedker and Lars Eller are recent first round picks who are becoming solid NHL players. Frans Nielsen and Jannik Hansen have become a solid two way players for the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks respectively. And now Nicklas Jensen is yet another promising young Dane, and the third recent first round pick from the country. Clearly the hockey development in Denmark has taken a step forward. In Jensen we see a young winger has spent the last two seasons with the Oshawa Generals and as such has become accustomed to the North American game. His father Dan Jensen was a former OHL defenceman and played in the Danish pro league for years.
Despite possessing top end speed that is only slightly above average, I would still say that Jensen is a very good skater. He has quick feet with a good first step and excellent acceleration. He uses his edges well and has very good agility, and this makes him deceptively elusive in the offensive zone. His lower body strength and balance are very good and as a result Jensen is very difficult to knock off the puck.
Jensen is extremely talented. He has soft hands and good stick handling ability, he can dangle defencemen and score from in tight on goalies. With his size, he is extremely hard to move from in front of the net and can be a force in board battles. A pure sniper, Jensen has a lethal wrist shot. It is deadly accurate, extremely hard and heavy, and features an extremely good release. He also has a very good one-timer and snap shot. While goal scoring is his major strength, Jensen is also a decent playmaker off the wing.
The knock on Jensen is his consistency. There are nights he puts all the skills together and he is among the best players in the OHL. A solid two way winger who snipes goals and is responsible in his own end. Then there are nights where he could stand to show more intensity on the ice. He can start to float, stops being involved in the board battles, plays a perimeter game in the offensive zone, and is just generally not involved enough in the game. He has the skills and the size to assert himself into any OHL game, and it surely must frustrate coaches as to why it doesn’t always happen. Thankfully, those nights are becoming less and less, and we’ve seen many young players grow past consistency issues. If Jensen can do that too, the Canucks will have a gem on their hands, a legit top 6 winger with size and skill.
Jensen is just 19 years old, if he does not make the Canucks this season he will play in Sweden in the Elitserien, and if healthy will certainly be part of Denmark’s World Junior Squad again. It seems unlikely that he will be ready to crack the big squad this year, but a year playing against men may make him more ready in 2013-14.
Top Prospect #2 Jordan Schroeder, Centre/Right Wing
Born Sep 29 1990 — Prior Lake, MN
Height 5.09 — Weight 180 — Shoots Right
Selected by the Vancouver Canucks in round 1 #22 overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Jordan Schroeder was an absolute star for Team USA at the Under 18 and World Junior levels. He won a silver and bronze at the U18 level, and was part of the 2010 American Team that won the Gold. However his most impressive performance was at the 2008 World Junior Tourney were a then 17 year old Schroeder (and still 18 months shy of even being draft eligible) led the entire tournament with 7 assists. Schroeder would also play two seasons at the University of Minnesota and now has 2 full AHL seasons (plus a part of a third after leaving the NCAA) under his belt. Schroeder has shown flashes of star potential at the AHL level, and looked to final break out during the second half of this past season.
Schroeder is an extremely talented skater. He has very good top end speed and quick, fluid cuts due to solid edge work. His agility helps him to elude defenders and find his way into open areas in the offensive zone. He could use a little work on his acceleration however.
Schroeder is a talented offensive playmaker, with great hands and puck protection ability and the ability to thread a pass through a tiny opening. He has a high hockey IQ and is able to make smart plays in traffic. His wrist shot and snap shots are extremely accurate and both feature a very good release, however Schroeder could work on his velocity.
As an extremely undersized player it is no surprise that Schroeder is often out muscled in front of the net and in the corners. He certainly works hard in these areas, but his physical limitations hurt him. This applies to the defensive end of the ice as well. As a result Schroeder’s future may be on the wing instead of at centre. There is simply less defensive responsibility for a RW as he will not be asked to contain an opposing forward off the cycle.
The Canucks have been very patient with Schroeder, and for good reason. While he started to break out in the AHL last season, he could still use a little more time at that level, to further develop his consistency. I expect to see him back in Chicago to start the season, but he might be a full time Canuck before the year is done, or if not this year, is likely to make the squad in 2013-14.
Sleeper Pick and Top Prospect #3, Eddie Lack, Goaltender
Born Jan 5 1988 — Norrtalje, Sweden
Height 6.04 — Weight 185 — Shoots Right, Catches Right
Signed as a free agent in April 2010
Eddie Lack is the true definition of a sleeper pick. He was a virtual unknown, and was even a backup in the Swedish Elitserien in April 2010 when he was signed by the Vancouver Canucks. However he has also shown me that he is the Canucks third best prospect (and was close to overtaking Schroeder for #2) in his two years at the AHL level. He has quite simply been one of the AHL’s best goalies, and has been downright spectacular at times.
Two games in particular stand out to me from the 2011 AHL North Division Final, where Lack nearly single handedly stole the Series for the Manitoba Moose against the Hamilton Bulldogs. In the series the Moose trailed the Bulldogs 3 games to 2 heading back to Hamilton for games 6 and 7. In game 6 Lack put up a shutout as the Moose staved off elimination and forced game 7 with a 1-0 win. In game 7 Lack was outright spectacular. The Bulldogs dominated the game from start to finish and threw everything but the kitchen sink at Lack. Lack was up to the task though, stopping 55 shots and forcing 3 overtime periods before Dustin Boyd scored to give Hamilton a 2-1 win and eliminate his team. During one of the various overtime intermissions I just happened to run into Walter Gretzky on the concourse and I remember him asking me who this goalie was, and how he wasn’t in the NHL. Lack would follow up that run with an impressive season for Chicago this year.
Lack is a hybrid style goalie. He is capable of playing the standup game, but is equally adept at going into the butterfly style. He has a big frame and takes up a lot of net, but he tends to play deep in his crease and doesn’t cut down angles as well as he could. His quick legs and lightning quick reflexes help him to take away the bottom of the net. He also has a good glove hand that does the same for the upper part of the net. Lack has good rebound control for a young goalie, but his best asset is the quickness and agility that allow him to get into position quickly and be square for the next shot. If there is one area Lack needs to work on, it is his stickhandling, as he likes to roam, but can get in trouble by doing so.
Lack appears to be NHL ready. He is the likely backup to Corey Schneider assuming the Canucks are able to deal Roberto Luongo. If the Luongo deal continues to drag on, Lack will be back in the AHL, but he’s reached a point where his skills have surpassed that league. I believe Lack will be an excellent backup goalie, and may even push Schneider in a couple more years (in much the same way Schneider has battled Luongo). He is currently a restricted free agent, however most expect that he will re-sign with the Canucks before the start of the hockey season.
*Ben Kerr Edit: Shortly after I published the article, the Canucks announced a two year deal with Eddie Lack. Details can be found by clicking here.*
While the Canucks have some decent prospects, and in addition to those named above I liked the pick of Brendan Gaunce this season, as well as the play of Kevin Connauton. Connauton is a solid Powerplay quarterback type who moves the puck very well, makes smart decisions on the Powerplay and has an excellent one timer. Overall though, the system lacks elite talent, and really doesn’t have a lot of depth outside of those 5 players. As I said in talking about a potential landing spot for Shane Doan, the window for the Canucks to win with their current core is closing due to the age of the Sedins and the contracts and cap space that will be needed to keep the team together. It is imperative that the Canucks add young talent in any trade of Luongo, because the system could really use an infusion youth going forward.
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