Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf NHL Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 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 follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). 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 this year. 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or 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.
TSP: Vancouver Canucks Prospects
After making the playoffs in 2014-15, the Vancouver Canucks crashed back down to earth in 2015-16. A season filled with injuries and underperformance from players that they were counting on led to finishing with the third worst record in the NHL. As with any hockey team that experiences a tough season, that type of result brings changes. The Canucks sent promising young centre Jared McCann to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson in a multi-player move to bolster the blue line. They also signed Loui Eriksson to a large free-agent deal. He will likely play on the top line, replacing Radim Vrbata who had a good first year in Vancouver, but a terrible second season. He remains an unrestricted free agent.
Vancouver Canucks Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Olli Juolevi
The Canucks took Juolevi with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. I wrote an extensive scouting report on him prior to the draft. With the fact that there have been no meaningful games since the draft and that report has not changed, I will not be re-writing it here. You can check out the pre-draft report here.
#2 Prospect: Brock Boeser
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born Feb 25 1997 — Burnsville, MN
Height 6’01 — Weight 191 lbs [185 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted in the 1st Round, 23rd Overall, by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2015 NHL Draft
Boeser, the Canucks first round pick in 2015, had an incredible season at North Dakota. Scoring 27 goals and 60 points as a freshman is remarkable. He was part of the CBS line with Drake Caggiula, and Nick Schmaltz. They dominated the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. He helped lead the Fighting Hawks to the National Championship. Boeser was also part of Team USA at the World Junior Championships.
Brock Boeser is a pure sniper who has a tremendous one-timer. He also has a hard wrist shot with a hair trigger release. He has the hockey sense and ability to find holes in the opposing defence and set himself up for a shot. A good skater and puck handler, Boeser also has the ability to create openings for himself or others. He can also be a play maker, with good vision and solid passing skill.
Boeser could stand to add more muscle to his frame. This would make him even more effective in the corners and in front of the net. He doesn’t show fear to go to dirty areas right now, but he could simply win more battles with more core strength. Boeser has a low centre of gravity and cycles the puck well now, but should be even better in time if he can add that muscle. He forechecks hard and can punish defencemen in the corners with hits if they don’t move the puck quickly. Boeser also has the soft hands necessary to finish plays in close to the net.
Brock Boeser has very good top end speed, but his first few steps and acceleration are merely slightly above average. His start up is a little choppy and if he can make it a bit smoother he could really improve this area of his game. He has made strides in this area since joining North Dakota, but there are still a few more refinements to make. Boeser has good agility, and the edge work to make quick cuts on defenders. His balance and power are very good at the college level and allow him to fight through checks; but again a little more lower body strength is needed before he goes pro.
Brock Boeser’s defensive game is inconsistent. At times he looks very strong, with strong backchecking, good positioning and the active stick to break up plays and start the transition game. He gets involved in board battles and shows a willingness to put his body on the line to block shots. At other times, he gets caught puck watching and cheating for the long stretch pass through the neutral zone. The talent to play a two-way games is there. It is hoped that he will become more consistent with added maturity.
Expect to see Boeser spend another season at North Dakota before going pro. He has lost his linemates, as they have signed with the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks. Boeser will be expected to lead North Dakota next season. He will get some help in the offensive zone, with 10th overall pick Tyson Jost joining the squad. Another run at the CCHA, and National Title is possible before he goes pro.
#3 Prospect: Thatcher Demko
Goalie — shoots Left
Born Dec 8 1995 — San Diego, CA
Height 6’4 — Weight 195 lbs [193 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by Vancouver Canucks in round 2, #36 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
After another spectacular season with Boston College, which saw him put up a 1.88 goals against average and .935 save percentage; Thatcher Demko signed with the Vancouver Canucks and is going pro.
Style and Potential
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. Demko has really improved his rebound control over his time with Boston College. He still has some more work to do though, as many young goalies do. He is very good at staying square to the puck, even when does given up rebounds. This usually puts Demko in good position to stop those second chance opportunities. He also has a quick glove hand.
Demko handles the puck well, another aspect that many teams like in a modern goaltender. He helps his defencemen by being able to retrieve dump-ins and make smart outlets. On the powerplay he can catch the other team on a line change with a long pass to a forward.
The Canucks goaltender of the future will likely start the season in the AHL with the Utica Comets. This is not a bad thing, as he needs playing time in order to continue to develop. Demko is a year or two away from making an NHL impact, but should be worth the wait.
#4 Prospect: Nikita Tryamkin
Defense — Shoots Left
Born Aug 30 1994 — Yekaterinburg, Russia
Height 6’07 — Weight 228 lbs [201 cm / 103 kg]
Drafted by Vancouver Canucks in round 3, 66th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Coming over from Russia at the end of the season, Tryamkin had an excellent debut with the Canucks. While he only put up one goal and one assist in 13 games, offense is not his game. Instead the 6’7 monster showed a signs of having shut down ability at the NHL level. There will be growing pains, and future development is needed, but Canucks fans should be excited by what he’s shown to date.
As is common with many players at 6’7″ tall, skating is a bit of an issue for Tryamkin. He does have decent top end speed, once he gets going. He has a good, long stride and generates good power. However, he can struggles in his start up and acceleration. He also needs to work on his agility and edge work. This is something that can be taught, but explosiveness must be a major part of his off-season training. All things considered, he is not that bad considering his height, but this is something almost all really tall NHLers have to work on.
There isn’t a lot to talk about with Tryamkin’s offensive game. The skating issues really limit his ability to be a puck mover. However, he does have a cannon for a slap shot. It is a rocket. He needs to work on getting it through shooting lanes and on net. In the coming years, there may be less opponents willing to try and block it though. Keeping the puck lower, and generating rebounds deflections and rebounds would probably be appreciated by teammates tasked with standing in front of the net. Tryamkin does show the ability to make a good break out pass. However, he needs to move the puck quickly. He is not particularly adept with his stick handling, yet.
Tryamkin uses his size to play a strong defensive game. He clears the front of the net effectively, and is very hard to beat in board battles. He can really lean on opponents, and cuts short attempts to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. Tryamkin picks his spots well, and can be absolutely devastating when he gets the opportunity to throw a big hit on an opponent. His positioning is a work in progress, but that should be expected coming from Europe to the smaller NHL rinks. Tryamkin also uses his long stick to cut down passing lanes and his big frame to block shots.
Expect Tryamkin to be given every opportunity at training camp to crack the Canucks roster. He will likely start out on the bottom pairing, but there is room to move up in the lineup. His size and physicality make him an excellent addition to the Canucks roster. It will be invaluable playing in the Western Conference, against the many physical teams Vancouver faces.
Sleeper: Jordan Subban
Defense — shoots Right
Born Mar 3 1995 — Rexdale, ONT
Height 5’9 — Weight 185 lbs [175 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in round 4, #115 overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Jordan Subban had a solid rookie season with the Utica Comments, putting up 11 goals and 36 points in 67 AHL games. He also added three points in four playoff games. The younger brother of P.K. Subban made a nice transition to the pro game. He proved that despite his size, he could play defense against bigger, stronger professional players.
Subban’s outsanding skating defines his two-way game. He has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration, and this is true of both his forwards and backwards skating. Technically speaking his stride is even better than brother P.K.’s, as it is not nearly as choppy, and seems to be smoother and longer. He has very good agility, edgework, pivots and turns. This allows him to be extremely mobile, and be able to cover a huge amount of ice. The great skating ability was especially noticeable in his junior career. As a member of the Belleville Bulls he played his home games on an Olympic Sized rink. He has the ability to make quick changes in direction in all 360 degrees.
Subban has an excellent slap shot, and is great at one-timers. He also mixes in an excellent wrist shot with a good release from the point. Subban’s great agility and footwork allows him to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. He also has great vision and passing ability and has done a fantastic job as the a power play quarterback, creating plays for himself and his teammates. Subban is a very good stick handler which can allow him to lead the rush, and his good skating allows him to join in as a trailer, or to make pinches and still recover in his own end. There is all the potential in the world in Jordan Subban’s offensive game.
Subban has some issues defensively, but those are almost all based on his size as he measures in at just 5’9. However, there have been more and more smaller puck-moving defenceman succeeding in the NHL in recent years. Subban has the ability to overcome his lack of size. He is hard to beat on the rush due to his good mobilty. Subban uses his quick stick to intercept passes, and pokecheck opponents. He also shows great ability to start the transition game as he is very responsible with the puck, and makes good outlet passes. He also has very good poise and the ability to skate the puck out of danger when pressured.
Subban’s lack of size size is still an issue though; as he can ber dominated by larger forwards, and has a really tough time winning board battles or clearing the crease. He has issues defending against the cycle game. Subban can be pushed around down low. While he’ll likely always have some issues with bigger forwards, he can improve this aspect of his game by bulking up and adding muscle mass, and strength. The Canucks can also look to pair him with a big, strong, stay-at-home type of defenceman.
Subban will likely start the year with Utica. He can be an injury fill-in and get some games at the NHL level. It will ber another year of bulking up and working on his defensive game. If things go will, Subban could make the roster full time in 2017-18.
The Canucks have some nice prospects in their system, in addition to the players listed above. Troy Stecher was and excellent free agent pickup and should push for a spot after some time in the AHL. They also have Andrey Pedan, Guillaume Brisebois, and the newly drafted Cole Candella as developing blueliners. The defence and goaltending are in good shape, but long-term the Canucks must look to add more offensive firepower to their prospect ranks.
Up front, the Canucks have a pair of two way centres in Brendan Gaunce and Cole Cassels, but lack a player with top line upside down the middle. The Sedins are not getting any younger, and this must be addressed soon. While he is no longer considered a prospect, Bo Horvat is still very young. He should be a good second line player, but its unclear if he can take the reigns as a top-line centre. American winger William Lockwood was a nice addition in this year’s draft, but is a project.
Main Photo: ST CATHARINES, ON – FEBRUARY 04: Olli Juolevi #4 of the London Knights skates with the puck during an OHL game against the Niagara IceDogs at the Meridian Centre on February 6, 2016 in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)