This week, Jim Benning celebrated his sixth anniversary as the Vancouver Canucks general manager. In NHL terms, that’s longevity. It makes him the 11th-most senior general manager in the NHL. His record since he took over the team is a middling 211-213-54, and the Canucks have only made the playoffs one time. However, things are improving.
It seems Benning’s about to add another Stanley Cup playoffs to his resume this season if the NHL and the National Hockey League’s Players Association (NHLPA) can restart the season. A tentative format has been proposed and already approved by vote by the NHLPA. Now it’s time to work out the details.
When this season was suspended on March 12 by the COVID-19 crisis, the Canucks were in 20th-place overall. For fans, that’s more success than they’ve been used to. Part of that recent success has been Benning’s ability to assess talent through the draft and sign younger free agents.
Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, both Benning draftees, might become back-to-back Calder Trophy winners. And they’re not alone. The organization has a number of bright prospects rising through its system.
Reviewing Six Canucks’ Prospects at Forward
In this post, I want to review six forward prospects as a way to help Canucks fans stay up-to-date with their progress. I have already reviewed the Canucks’ young prospects on defense in an earlier post.
These forward prospects become more and more important to the Cancuks because with the COVID-19 crisis playing havoc with the NHL’s salary cap and teams’ abilities to sign players at high contracts, entry-level contracts will be needed on all NHL rosters. Here’s where the Canucks have a competitive advantage. They have high-quality, cheaper players rising through the organization who might soon fill roster spots.
Here is a review of those young forward prospects. My thanks to Peter Harling, of My NHL Trade Rumors, who on April 19 reviewed the top Canucks prospects in the organization.
Forward Prospect #1: Vasili Podkolzin, Right-Winger, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Vasili Podkolzin is a 6-foot-1, 196-pound right-winger drafted in round one (10th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Podkolzin remained available because he had signed a two-year contract to play in the KHL, which meant he wouldn’t be available for a Canucks’ roster spot until the 2021-22 season.
As an 18-year-old playing in the KHL (one of the best leagues in the world), Podkolzin hasn’t logged the minutes he might have if he were playing with one of the Canucks’ North American affiliates. Still, the young Russian showcased his skill during the 2020 World Junior Championships where he helped Russia earn a silver medal.
After Pettersson and Hughes, Podkolzin might be the most talented prospect the Canucks have drafted. As Harling noted in his review, he shows both great skill and great determination. He’s such a physical player that Harling believes other NHL teams’ fans will simply hate him.
Forward Prospect #2: Nils Hoglander, Left-Winger – Rogle (SHL)
The 19-year-old Nils Hoglander is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound left-winger drafted in the second round (40th overall) of the 2019 draft. He has great hands and has become known for “lacrosse-style,” highlight-reel goals. In fact, for the second season in a row, Hoglander won the Swedish Hockey League’s (SHL) Goal of Year award in 2019-20. In total, he scored 9 goals and 16 points in 41 games this season with Rogle BK.
Hoglander has skill, speed, and great hands. Before Benning drafted the young Swede, he asked Pettersson to weigh in on Hoglander; obviously, Pettersson’s a fan because the Canucks just inked Hoglander to an entry-level contract in April. However, fans might not see Hoglander soon because of a contract clause that if he doesn’t make the Canucks he could return to Sweden.
That said, given the salary-cap issues the Canucks likely face, there’s a chance Hoglander will make next season’s roster. He also has a strong chance of becoming a core player in the team’s future.
Forward Prospect #3: Kole Lind, Right-Winger – Utica Comets (AHL)
The 21-year-old Kole Lind is a 6-foot-1, 186-pound right-winger drafted in the second round (33th overall) of the 2017 draft. He’s a bit older than most prospects because his rookie season with the Comets wasn’t strong (he only scored 17 points). But his second season was an improvement and he scored 44 points (27 points higher) and became the impact player the team hoped for. He’ll likely play the 2020-21 season in Utica. If he keeps improving, he’s a lock for the Canucks roster one day.
Forward Prospect #4: Marc Michaelis, Left-Winger/Center – Minnesota State University (NCAA)
The 24-year-old Marc Michaelis is a 5-foot-11, 187-pound forward who plays both wings and center. Although he’s played in North America since 2014, he’s a German citizen. The Canucks signed him as a free agent in 2020 after a solid four-season NCAA career at Minnesota State University.
Between Minnesota and playing for Germany in two World Championships and the World Juniors, Michaelis has lots of experience. He’ll likely play next season with the Comets, but he’ll also get a chance to make the 2021-22 season’s roster. Perhaps, he’ll do an Adam Gaudette, who’s become a regular on the Canucks’ roster after four NCAA seasons at Northeastern University.
Forward Prospect #5: Zack MacEwan, Right-Winger, Utica Comets (AHL)
Canucks fans already know the 23-year-old Zack MacEwan. He’s a 6-foot-2, 205-pound, physical right-winger the team signed as a free agent in 2017. He played 17 games with Vancouver last season, scoring five goals and an assist. He’s showed well and his toughness has made him a fan favorite.
MacEwan will likely become a third or fourth-line regular with the team. He’s a blend of size, strength, skill, and drive – a perfect bottom-six forward.
Forward Prospect #6: Reid Boucher, Left-Winger, Utica Comets (AHL)
The 26-year-old Reid Boucher was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft; however, he was claimed off waivers by the Canucks in 2017. Just this week, the prolific Comets’ left-winger was selected to the AHL First All-Star Team. In 53 games during the 2019-20 season, Boucher scored 34 goals and 67 points (more than a point-a-game pace).
Boucher has been one of the AHL’s most prolific scorers over the past few seasons; however, he’s had bad luck cracking the Canucks’ roster. He has NHL experience, and in 2015-16 he scored 8 goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 39 games with the Devils.
He’s a beast at the AHL level and should get another chance next season, given impending salary-cap issues, to fight for a roster spot with Vancouver. He’s proven he can score, and this season’s 67 points were all career highs.
What’s Next for These Young Forwards?
There’s so much up in the air for all NHL teams. As I’ve noted, the revenue loss from canceled NHL games because of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the salary cap into turmoil. It was supposed to move higher, but likely won’t.
Although it’s not a perfect business situation for NHL teams, the Canucks’ treasure of organizational talent offers the organization an advantage. Likely, the team will ice a number of salary-cap friendly, league-minimum contracts. That means some of these six young forward prospects might be with the team as early as next season.
We know it won’t be Podkolzin; but, likely someone will make the roster from this list. For me, that’s exciting. I’m hoping Boucher gets a chance.