Vancouver Canucks: 2008-09 Top 12 Prospects

Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
3/15/2009 2:42:59 PM
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The Vancouver Canucks' faithful are patiently waiting for some of their prospects to begin to bear some fruit. Over the last five entry drafts, the Canucks have been attempting to replenish ranks that had grown thin. From 2000 to 2003, the Canucks only managed to develop three players that have produced consistently at the NHL level. The loss of draft pick R.J. Umberger in a trade coupled with Nathan Smith, Fedor Fedorov, Marc-Andre Bernier, Kirill Koltsov, Denis Grot and Thatcher Bell not being able to make the grade has hurt the franchise.

But what really put the scouting staff behind the eight-ball was the amount of quality draft choices traded away from 2006 and 2007 drafts when the cupboards needed to be restocked. The Canucks traded two second round picks for Keith Carney and Mika Noronen, a third for Eric Weinrich and a fourth for Sean Brown in 2006. The following season they gave up two second rounds and a third for Bryan Smolinski, Brent Sopel and Steve McCarthy. The Canucks could have added four second round picks, two thirds and a fourth to the farm system which could have given the current regime some assets to work with. This is the main reason why this organization currently lacks the depth of talent needed to replenish a contending team in the long term.

Now the future is not as bleak as it sounds, due to the potential success of the 2004 draft where Cory Schneider, Jannik Hansen, Mike Brown and Alexander Edler will all be regular NHL players next season. The slow emergence of 2005 second round pick Mason Raymond was a boon to the organization and it looks as he might develop into a solid forward.

All eyes are now focused on the 2006 to 2008 NHL draft choices that will be needed to replace current NHL players in the near future. Due to a lack of depth, no mistakes can be made and the Canucks will need a minimum of four prospects to develop into NHL players. This is why trading away that many draft picks like from 2006 and 2007 can be a dangerous calculated risk.

The most pressing need short term and long term is offensive talent and prospects Cody Hodgson, Michael Grabner and Patrick White were chosen specifically for that reason. Both Hodgson and Grabner have offensive potential, but Hodgson is still a year away from the NHL and Grabner should begin to see NHL games soon. The remaining group of forwards does not have elite level talent, but have some tools in the tool box to work with in late round picks Prab Rai, Mario Bliznak, Matt Butcher and Dan Gendur.

On the defensive side, the Canucks are hoping and need Yann Sauve, Daniel Rahimi and Taylor Ellington to develop into NHL defencemen because there is not much after that. None of them are projected to be top two defencemen, so the Canucks will have to add more talent in this area. Of the three, Rahimi may see some limited action in NHL over the next season and he is not even expected to be a regular contributor.

In goal, their future hopes ride on Cory Schneider, the standout college netminder who had a two good seasons in the AHL. He will be given time to develop since Roberto Luongo plays 85-90 percent of the games with the Canucks. Next season, he is expected to be a backup in the NHL and it will be a good test to see if he can carry the load at a higher professional level. It will be interesting to see the short and long term impact the new regimes scouting and player development philosophy impacts the current prospects they have.

1. Cody Hodgson – Centre, 19 (1st round 10th overall 2008)
Currently with Brampton (OHL)

A clutch pivot that is equally skilled at creative playmaking as he is scoring goals and has the hockey sense to be in the right place at the right time. In the offensive and neutral zone, Hodgson makes intelligent plays quickly with the puck and uses his all options which makes him tough for defenders to read. He can stickhandle exceptionally well, rarely panics with the puck and that gives himself and his linemates time. The area of his game that needs work before he turns pro is his skating, which is not bad but he lacks a little quickness and that extra gear. However, he is strong on his skates and shows good agility and that should improve once he adds strength and power. Once he gains the offensive zone he knows whether to pass, stickhandle or shoot and does a great job anticipating the defence for his linemates. He is responsible without the puck since Hodgson does all the little things well. Hodgson is usually the first one back to support his defencemen and knows which man to pick up and breaks to that position. He reads the defencemen on the point and has a knack for scoring shorthanded goals. For a centreman, he scores a lot of clutch goals and always wants the puck when the game is on the line and he rarely disappoints. A hard worker that shows character, the desire to win and could be a first line two-way centre.

2. Cory Schneider – Goalie, 22 (1st round 26th overall 2004)
Currently with Manitoba (AHL)

The second year AHL netminder has put up excellent numbers and a consistent performance in Manitoba this season. His overall 42-15-3 record along with 2.05 goals against average, seven shutouts and .923 save percentage in the AHL may surprise many, but he has done it before. He is not all stats as Schneider had a solid performance in leading Boston College in the Frozen Four and earned additional international experience at the WJC in 2006 with Team USA. He is technically sound and rarely is rattled when the pressure is on and he takes up space in the crease with his 6-2 and 195 pound frame. He has improved and refined his mechanics and stays in a compact but mobile stance with the ability to make hard saves look easy. Schneider has the work ethic along with the mental demeanor to handle a heavy work load and shows the character to carry a team on his back. He has the potential to become an elite goaltender in the NHL one day. It is expected to be a backup in the NHL next season and he looks ready for the next challenge.

3. Jannik Hansen – Left Wing, 22 (9th round 287th overall 2004)
Currently with Vancouver (NHL)

The Danish forward has played well and adjusted to the North American game, but still needs to play with more consistency. At 6 foot 1 and 200 pounds he has decent size and is beginning to use his size more effectively. He shows decent puck skills and some vision and hockey sense to play at the pro level. Hansen has produced 78 points in 124 games in the AHL and 21 points in 52 games in the NHL so far, which shows promise. He has improved defensively and had a solid +7 rating this season as he hustles hard and makes some smart decisions with the puck. He keeps his feet moving and his head on swivel and has become a reliable linemate. He has potential to have a long career in the NHL and should be able to play a role on the third line.

4. Michael Grabner – Right Wing, 21 (1st round 14th overall 2006)
Currently with Manitoba (AHL)

This prospect has the offensive potential but is a one trick pony and does not show the other intangibles as of yet that make a solid NHL player. However, his one trick, - scoring goals - is in high demand in the NHL which why the Canucks took him 14th overall in the draft. He is still skinny at 6 foot 1 and 180 pounds and Grabner must prove he can handle the rigors of the 82 game schedule in the NHL. His 43 goals and 35 assists in 123 games so far is not what was expected by some but his overall offence numbers are slowly improving. The one thing he also has in spades is speed and quickness and Grabner can create mismatches and opportunities for himself or his linemates when he keeps his feet moving. His defensive game is based on puck possession and speed as he does not battle for pucks with much vigor. He has not picked up all the finer nuances of the defensive game but Grabner is showing improvement. He plays a pretty passive game and could be a perennial candidate for the Lady Byng trophy. His last two seasons in junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs are indicative of his play, as he had 75 goals and 30 assists in 122 games. He will either be a top-two line goal scorer in the NHL or will be Europe as he does not show the intangibles to play any other role.

5. Yann Sauve – Defence, 19 (2nd round 41st overall 2008)
Currently with Saint John (QMJHL)

A steady defensive defenceman that plays a steady, reliable, hard-nosed game that is appreciated by his coaches and teammates alike. His size at 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds and tenacity are his best assets along with his ability to control forwards down low. He shows the hockey sense to process information and handle a high tempo game of the pro level. He is not expected to contribute a lot of offense at the pro level since he does not possess the puck skills. To his credit, he is smart enough to make the safe decisions and use the options available to him. He skates well enough for his size and once he begins to work with NHL personnel, that area should continue to improve. Away from the puck he is as solid as they come and maintains good body positions while making the opposition pay a price to linger in the slot. Sauve has shown improvement in his gap control and taking better angles against faster forwards. If he continues to maintain good habits and does the little things consistently like keeping his feet moving with his head on swivel he could be a fine NHL defenceman. Expect Sauve to play one more year of junior before making it to the AHL and he will most likely need a couple seasons in the AHL to refine game before getting a shot at the NHL.

6. Daniel Rahimi – Defence, 21 (3rd round 82nd overall 2006)
Currently with Manitoba (AHL)

A defensive defenceman with size at 6 foot 3 and 215 pounds to make forwards cringe if they linger around the net. He does not have the puck skills or offensive instincts to contribute with points and is best served to keep his passes short and simple. He has a hard slap shot but does not use it very often and seems to show enough skating ability to get by in the faster NHL. He has the demeanor and the hitting ability to be an effective partner for an offensive type player. If Rahimi can continue to learn some nuances of the defensive game to be more effective, he might get a few games in an NHL uniform. Expect Rahimi to play another couple of years in the AHL before getting a legitimate shot.

7. Taylor Ellington – Defence, 20 (2nd round 33rd overall 2007)
Currently with Everett (WHL)

The fifth year junior will embark on his professional career next season and it will be interesting to see if he can take his game to another level. The 6 foot, 200 pound blueliner has decent size with enough quickness and agility to keep up with the tempo and speed of the game. His puck skills are average and Ellington is not expected to contribute much offensively at the next level. However, he makes decent passes but his hockey sense and decision making are not his strong suit and he will have to simplify his game at the next level. He plays a physical game and is willing to get his nose dirty and pay the price for his teammates. Without the puck he plays a fairly consistent safe game and keeps his head on swivel and is improving on his gap control, maintaining position and keeping his stick in the passing lanes. He has potential to play pro hockey at the AHL level, but the Canucks hope he can develop into a third pairing NHL defenceman with three seasons in the AHL.

8. Patrick White – Centre, 19 (1st round 25th overall 2007)
Currently with Minnesota (NCAA)

The 6 foot 1, 190 pound sophomore has not developed at the rate anyone expected and has not produced offensively, with only 11 points in 31 games. White had a half decent season in Minnesota as a freshman, where he posted 10 points in 45 games and got some big game experience at the Frozen Four. Most freshmen in Minnesota receive very little regular ice time or special team opportunities, so it was expected that White's offensive numbers would at least double - but they have not. He does not display the hockey sense and vision to play at a high level and he does not use his options and linemates well when he has the puck. His puck skills are quite good and he makes nice crisp hard passes and creates time and space for himself with his stickhandling ability. His skating is good and should get better with more power and. Defensively, he plays a fairly reliable game and shows some hustle and a good work ethic in his own zone. He does not play a real physical game but will not back down either and additional strength will help his confidence in this area. If things are not going to change, perhaps a change of scenery might be needed.

9. Dan Gendur – Right Wing, 21 (7th round 206th overall 2007)
Currently with Manitoba (AHL)

A underappreciated winger whose offensive numbers flourished the past two seasons in the WHL with 133 points in 121 games with 130 penalty minutes and +34 rating especially after missing 50 games in the 2005-2006 season. He is not the biggest player but he competes hard and shows effort on every shift. He is defensively responsible, hustles in his own zone and does the little things to help out his defencemen. His one dangerous weapon is his booming slap shot that has accuracy and he can get his wrist shot off quickly. Whether Gendur has the ability to process to play beyond the AHL remains to be seen, but it has happened before. He may be the one player that may surprise people in a few years if he continues this pace of development.

10. Mario Bliznak – Centre, 22 (7th round 205th overall 2005)
Currently with Manitoba (AHL)
The 6-foot, 197 pound pivot is a long shot to make to the NHL but his work ethic and intangibles may give him a shot at being a role player. Bliznak does not have the puck skills to produce offence at the pro level, but to his credit he plays a pretty smart safe defensive game and he has been well coached in the past. He has the potential to be a good face-off man which will make him more valuable long term. Overall, Bliznak skates well and knows the value of being a strong defensive forward and displays very good habits away from the puck. His experience at the Memorial Cup with the Vancouver Giants and being coached by Don Hay will serve him well over the next couple of years of development. He is considered a long term project that might pay some dividends after a couple of more seasons in the AHL.

11. Prab Rai – Centre/Left Wing, 19 (5th round 133rd overall 2008)
Currently with Seattle (WHL)

Rai is a speed demon and is arguably one of the fastest prospects in the NHL. He can make defenders look like they are standing still. Over the past two seasons, Rai posted very respectable offensive numbers in a tough WHL, but whether he can translate that to the pro game is a whole other matter. He has displayed pretty good puck skills and decent hockey sense and is beginning to be able to put his speed and skill together at the same time. However, Rai must play with more moxie and tenacity consistently with a willingness to play in the high traffic areas. It will be interesting to see if he plays one more season in the WHL or turns pro.

12. Matt Butcher – Centre, 21 (5th round 138th overall 2005)
Currently with Northern Michigan (NCAA)

The son of one-time Canuck Garth Butcher is slowly developing his game in the NCAA and will play one more season before turning pro. He has decent puck skills and can distribute the pretty puck well, while showing some stickhandling ability to create time and space. He has decent size at 6 foot 2 and 205 pounds but needs to work on his skating if he is to make an impact at the AHL level. He is a long term project and has an outside chance at a long career ib the AHL. To his credit, he has intangibles in leadership and understands what it means to be a professional player.


Vancouver Canucks - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.


  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Vancouver Canucks 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 12 (3) (D) Brad Ference (1/10), (LW) Matt Cook (6/144), (C) Harold Druken (2/36)
1998 12 (3) (D) Bryan Allen (1/4), (C) Artem Chubarov (2/31), (LW) Jarko Ruutu (3/68)
1999 8 (2) (LW) D. Sedin (1/2), (C) H. Sedin (1/3)
2000 7 (0)
2001 6 (C) RJ Umberger (1/16), (D) Kevin Bieksa (5/151)
2002 11 (0)
2003 10 (1) (C) Ryan Kesler (1/23)

Total: 7yrs – 66 draft picks – 11 NHL Players = 16.6% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 7 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects: Nathan Smith 2000 (1/23)
7yrs –7 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 85.7% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 6 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects – – Ryan Bonni, Kirill Koltsov, Denis Grot, M.A. Bernier
7yrs –6 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 33.3% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 8 total picks
Kyle Freadrich, Justin Morrison, Rene Vydareny, Thatcher Bell, Tim Branham, Fedor Fedorov, Brett Skinner, Lukas Mensator
7yrs –8 draft picks – 1 NHL Players = 12.5% success rate

Total: 7yrs –21 draft picks – 9 NHL Players = 42.8% success rate in first 3 rounds

Success in the last six rounds (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 44 total picks
7yrs – 44 draft picks – 2 NHL Players = 4.5% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

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Cody Hodgson  (Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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