Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2013 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2013 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 2013-14 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 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games).
The Vancouver Canucks had another successful regular season in 2012-13. It was another division title, and it looked like the team was a Stanley Cup Contender. However they would lose in the firs round in a four game sweep to the San Jose Sharks. It was a disappointing end to the year, and led to an offseason full of change.
The first man out the door was head coach Alain Vigneault, who was off to New York. In a semi-ironic twist, he’d be replaced by former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella. Next up was the question that has plagued the Cancucks for quite some time; goaltending. Most assumed that the Canucks would trade Roberto Luongo, and keep Cory Schneider as the new number one goalie. However, GM Mike Gillis had issues moving Luongo’s contract, and so on Draft day Cory Schneider was moved to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th overall pick in the draft.
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.
Jensen spent the season playing against men in the Swedish Elitserien, he put up decent enough stats for a 19 year old playing in that league before returning to North America to finish out the year with the Canucks and their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. Hoever playing at the North American pro level the defencies in his game (especially his lack of strength/need to bulk up) were exposed and he really struggled to find his place. Considering he just turned 20 in March, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise though.
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 shows very good agility, and this makes Jensen deceptively elusive in the offensive zone. When he was playing in the OHL for the Oshawa Generals, his lower body strength and balance were good and as a result Jensen was very difficult to knock off the puck. However he was exposed at the next level as I said above and further work on his lower body strength is needed this summer to continue to be strong on the puck in the bigger and faster pro game.
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 can be extremely hard to move from in front of the net, and was in junior. He’s also not afraid to be involved in board battles. However strength is needed to be added in these two areas now. 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 shown a decent playmaking side off the wing with good vision and passing skills.
One knock on Jensen has been his consistency. During his time in Oshawa there were nights he put all the skills together and was among the best players in the OHL. A solid two way winger who snipes goals and is responsible in his own end. Then there were 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. If Jensen can find consistency, and add that strength he will become a legit top 6 winger. Its now up to the Canucks to develop him.
Jensen is not yet NHL ready. He will need some time playing against pros in the AHL and to continue to round out his game before possibly challenging for a roster spot in 2014.
Top Prospect #2, 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 could qualify as a super sleeper, as 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 second best prospect right now (not including the new draftees) during his time at the AHL level. When healthy he has quite simply been one of the AHL’s best goalies, and has been downright spectacular at times.
Unfortunatley Lack wasn’t healthy much this past season, as he was limited to just 13 games for the Chicago Wolves this past season. Hip surgery ultimately ended his year, but he after impressive runs in 2010-11 and 2011-12, he is being tabbed for an NHL job as Luongo’s backup this season.
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, 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 Luongo this year with Schneider out of town. At 25-years-old, his time has arrived and he has little more to prove at the AHL level.
Super Sleeper Prospect, Frank Corrado, Defence
Born Mar 26 1993 — Toronto, ONT
Height 6.02 — Weight 191 — Shoots Right
Drafted by Vancouver Canucks in round 5 #150 overall at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
The sleeper pick for the Canucks was pretty easy, as 2011 fifth round pick Frank Corrado is looking like an absolute steal from that year. Since being drafted, he has been one of the best defencemen in the OHL. This past season, he was the captain of the Sudbury Wolves, scored the winning goal in the first OHL/Russia Subway Super Series game, nearly made Team Canada as one of the last cuts for the World Juniors and was traded to the Kitchener Rangers in a trade deadline deal as they tried to bulk up for the playoffs. Unfortunately the Rangers never did get it all together and were eliminated in the 2nd round. Corrado would join the Canucks and didn’t look out of place in 3 regular season and 4 playoff games. He also spent some time in the AHL with Chicago.
Corrado is an excellent skater. He has good top end speed and solid acceleration going both forwards and backwards, as he is powered by a smooth and efficient stride. He shows good edgework and pivots and this allows him to show mobility in transitioning from offence to defence and vice-versa, as well as to walk the line on the powerplay and open up shooting and passing lanes. The ability to quickly change directions also makes him extremely good at defending against the rush, and at closing down space for opposing fowards so that he can throw a hit.
Defensively, Corrado is an extremely intelligent defender. He is almost always in position, and he shows great anticipation to break up plays and start the transition game. He’s also the type of player who does whatever it takes to win, and does not shy away from physical battles or from blocking shots.
Offensively he plays a smart game controlling the puck at the blue-line, showing excellent poise, and making smart reads and passes. His slapshot isn’t overpowering but it is accurate and he keeps it low and on net. He also is willing to utilize his wrist shot and good release when necessary. He’s an intelligent defender who seems to find holes in defences, and makes smart, effective pinches from the blue line.
Corrardo’s two way game and intelligence kept him in the NHL last season past the 5 game limit (including playoffs) and saw him burn off a year from his Entry Level Contract. Despite the Canucks faith in him come playoff time last year, he does need some AHL time and development. Expect to see him with the Canucks new AHL club in Utica where he will play big minutes and in all situations in preparation for eventually making the NHL.
The Canucks prospect pool was quite thin but they did a pretty decent job of strengthening it, especially at forward in the NHL Draft. Amongst the existing players, Brendan Gaunce did a decent job, finishing at a point per game while taking tough matchup assignments and playing on a low scoring, defensively oriented OHL team. Jordan Schroeder got some NHL time with a number of injuries in Vancouver, but he really didn’t make a huge impact with nine points in 21 games. It seems like he’s been in the system forever, but he is just 22-years-old so while its true that its getting close for him to make an NHL impact or fall by the wayside, he’s still got a little time, and this isn’t a make or break year quite yet. Going forward they will need more work though, as beyond Corrado there wasn’t much there amongst the defensive prospects, especially with Kevin Connauton gone to Dallas. Jordan Subban was a good addition but a project. Henrik Tommernes is another project who needs to be brought to North America. Amongst the goaltenders, there wasn’t much beyond Lack, but the recent signing of Joacim Eriksson offers some promise. Even so, the depth just doesn’t stack up to other clubs and must be improved in future years to be able to replace some member of the Canucks lineup who are not getting any younger.
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