The 2014 Young Stars Tournament Canucks Player Guide
INJ Jake Virtanen
The Canucks prize for a largely forgettable 2013-2014 season was 2014 6th overall pick Jake Virtanen from the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. The three words that come up time and time again in scouting reports on Virtanen are fearless, fast and skilled. The former first overall pick in the WHL draws comparisons to Evander Kane and Jeff Carter.
There have been critics of the Canucks drafting the hometown Virtanen (from New Westmister, BC) over potentially more gifted offensive players. However Virtanen is a sign of new General Manager’s Jim Benning philosophy of big, fast and physical. The young power forward has one of the best shots and goal scoring touches as he scored 45 goals in 71 games for the Calgary Hitmen last season.
Virtanen is potentially the Canucks’ top prospect but unfortunately will miss the tournament and training camp as he’s rehabbing a shoulder injury. Look for Virtanen to likely be returned to his Juniors’ team the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL after training camp.
#47 Jared McCann
One of the most controversial trades in recent memory for Vancouver happened this off-season when GM Jim Benning traded key Canucks’ player Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and the 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft. The 24th overall pick turned into Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center Jared McCann.
In a trade that will be debated among the Canucks’ faithful for long into the foreseeable future, Jared McCann’s progress in the Canucks’ organization will likely determine whether the trade was a win or a loss.
The Vancouver Canucks keyed in on McCann from the outset of the 2014 draft having a deal in place to trade the 24th overall to the New York Islanders if McCann was off the board before their pick. While McCann has undeniable skill and skating ability the concern with him has been consistency. In his previous OHL season the young center tallied 62 points in 64 games. Ironically McCann says that he patterns his game after Ryan Kesler.
The young center has a bite to his game as he illustrated in his comments to reporters about how much he enjoyed cross-checking opponents in the face while playing lacrosse.
“I don’t want to be pushed around. If someone is going to stick me, I’m going to give it back.”
“I’ve always had a spur in my game. I’m not afraid to do what it takes. It’s the type of game I play and that’s what I’m good at.”
Jared McCann will likely be transferred back to his Juniors team the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at the end of training camp due to age restrictions.
#53 Bo Horvat
In an extremely controversial trade the Canucks moved potential franchise netminder Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th overall pick during the 2013 Draft. That 9th overall pick evolved into London Knights center Bo Horvat of the Ontario Hockey League. Having just played his fourth season in Juniors, Horvat scored 74 points in 54 games for the Knights last year.
Out of all the Canucks’ forwards entering the tournament, Horvat has the best possibility of making the NHL squad this year. Horvat is known as a two-way center with leadership qualities and the ability to deliver clutch performances in high stakes games. On his resume is impressive showings in the OHL playoffs and international junior tournaments for Team Canada.
Horvat is one of the tougher players to project as he has a unique skill set without a fair direct comparable. It’s been said that he is reminiscent of Ryan O’Reilly with his blue chip hockey sense and positioning. The 19-year old center also possesses impressive stick handling and vision yet is criticized for his skating ability.
Bo Horvat on entering training camp.
“You try not to think about it too much, but it’s always in the back of your mind,” said Horvat, a native of Rodney, Ont. “You want to make the team as quickly as possible and I think I’ve worked hard all summer and that I’m ready to make that jump to the next level. But if that doesn’t work out, I have a great place to go back to in London. I’ll just keep developing there and keep getting better. But my main goal is to try and make this team.”
#48 Hunter Shinkaruk
Perhaps the most intriguing of the Canucks’ forwards is boom or bust prospect Hunter Shinkaruk. The 19-year old winger comes from the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League and draws comparisons to Patrick Kane. Drafted 24th overall in the 2013 draft Shinkaruk’s game is all about speed and skill.
Shinkaruk possesses surprising maturity for a player his age receiving praise from scouts and being made the captain of his WHL team at 17-years old. Shinkaruk posted eye popping stat lines in the WHL until a torn labrum injury reduced his 2013-2014 season to only 18 games in which he still scored 16 points.
Shinkaruk possesses unreal stickhandling and offensive prowess drawing comparisons to the elite offensive players in the NHL.The concerns surrounding Shinkaruk are questions about his durability and whether his game will translate to pro hockey. Being a mid-October birthday Shinkaruk will likely start the season with the Canucks’ AHL farm team in Utica.
#50 Brendan Gaunce
The 2o12 26th overall pick Brendan Gaunce doesn’t generate a lot of buzz even though he’s arguably the most NHL ready of the Canucks prospects. Gaunce is a big bodied power forward who seems to do most things well on the ice while having an excellent two-way game.
The young center who spent his junior years in the Ontario Hockey League has had criticism leveled on his skating and doesn’t play a flashy game. However the 20-year old Gaunce displays an uncanny knack of finding room in scoring areas and being a threat in the slot. Gaunce scored 72 points in 65 games last season between the Belleville Bulls and the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.
Scouts have linked his game to David Backes’ but OHL fans note that Gaunce needs to become a bigger physical presence and describe his game as comparing to Taylor Pyatt. It’s difficult to project Gaunce’s pro destiny as he’s a bit of an enigma in terms of how well his skills will translate to the big leagues. Gaunce will be looked upon to be a key piece of the Canucks’ AHL farm team in Utica this year.
#46 Nicklas Jensen
The often forgotten about 29th overall pick from the 2011 Draft for the Vancouver Canucks. Jensen has had a disappointing pro career up to this point. The 21-year old Danish sniper has split time between Vancouver’s farm teams and the Swedish Elite League in his pro career. Possessing a heavy shot and decent skating ability in a big body. The big criticism on Jensen has been consistency as he tends to disappear from the score sheet for long stretches and has had difficulty adapting to the physicality of North American hockey.
Jensen is nearing bust territory with his seeming inability to adapt to North American hockey or play a consistent two way game. But he received a 17-game cup of coffee with the Canucks last year where he displayed flashes of brilliance playing along the Sedin twins.
The young Dane sniper may be a victim of numbers soon in the organization as there’s now a growing number of wingers ahead of him on the depth chart. This will probably be Jensen’s make or break season in the Canucks organization as he likely begins the season with the Canucks’ AHL farm team in Utica.
#52 Cole Cassels
Intelligent is the key word that comes up time and again on scouting reports for the 85th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Cole Cassels has spent his Juniors career playing for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League and has done nothing but impress since being drafted by the Canucks.
The pure definition of a riser, Cassels was thought to be a gritty two-way center with an emphasis on defensive play when he was drafted with 43 points in 62 games in the 2012-2013 season. Cassels absolutely exploded last year with 73 points in 61 games while displaying a surprising acumen on the power play.
Canucks fans should temper their expectations despite the attractive progress on the ice and stat sheet from Cassels. The surge in numbers may be influenced by playing with two of the best prospects in the OHL in Michael Dal Colle and Scott Laughton. However with superior bloodlines (Cassels’ father was a NHL player for 16 years) and steady improvement, it’s likely Cassels will have a decent NHL career.
The closest comparable to Cole Cassels would be a Rod Brind’Amour type. Cole Cassels will likely be returned to his junior team in Oshawa after training camp due to age restrictions.
#45 Dane Fox
To say Dane Fox has had a bumpy road in his hockey career would be putting it mildly. All the pieces seemed to come together for the 20-year old as his career took off with 64 goals in 67 games as an overager for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. This performance won Fox a pro contract with the Canucks last year. Fox has always displayed flashes of immense talent but has had trouble integrating into hockey culture and finding consistency. Last season Fox was named to the OHL first team all-stars after dominating the league.
Canucks fans should temper their expectations. Fox played with arguably the best junior player in the world last season in Connor McDavid and Fox dominated a Junior league as an overaged 20-year old. The young power forward does have a lot of intriguing skill. Fox possesses impressive goal scoring ability, an elite caliber shot and intriguing edge to his game. But it will be difficult for Fox to replicate his success in the pros as he was a man among boys last year. Fox’s game has been compared to Steve Ott. He will likely begin the season with the Canucks’ AHL farm team in Utica.
#40 Michael Zalewski –
The 22-year old Michael Zalewski has boasts impressive hockey pedigree. The former New York High School Player of the Year, BCHL and Collegiate player has worked his way up in hockey taking an unconventional path to becoming a NHL prospect. With 26 points in 35 games for RPI in the ECAC last season the Canucks offered Zalewski a pro contract.
It’s clear Michael Zalewski probably isn’t destined to be an Art Ross winner in the NHL. But the big bodied power forward looks to be another in a series of excellent Gillis-era collegiate signings. Zalewski has already made an impact for the Canucks having played two games with the NHL squad notching an assist in his cup of coffee last season.
Even if Zalewski achieves his career potential which at this point is that of a NHL reserve forward.. He’s proven he can skate, play physical and not look out of place on a NHL bottom line. Zalewski will likely be a no risk medium reward player who will bounce between the AHL and NHL this season as a depth player for both squads. Zalewski’s game has been compared to Chris Thorburn.
INJ Kyle Petit
A bit of an odd choice in the 5th round of the 2014 draft for the Canucks. Kyle Petit is a large power forward with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. Petit is a project to say the least as he managed only 10 points in 53 games last season while being largely unremarkable on most nights.
Described as a gentle giant at a listed 6’4 190 pounds, the large center’s destiny seems to be that of a depth defensive center. Kyle Petit will miss the tournament due to a shoulder injury and will be returned to his Juniors team after training camp.
#43 Curtis Valk
Perhaps the most intriguing invite to the tournament, Curtis Valk has been one of the most dynamic scorers in the WHL boasting back to back 90+ point seasons. The Canucks have been flirting with Valk since he was invited to a summer prospect camp this off-season. Valk also has the advantage of coming up through the Medicine Hat Tigers organization which has several alumni in the Canucks’ coaching and managerial ranks.
Valk’s biggest problem is size as he’s a demur 5’9 leading to his going undrafted. The 21-year old possesses some of the best hands to come through the WHL in recent memory and intriguing shiftiness in the offensive zone. Valk will likely earn a contract somewhere this off-season but it remains to be seen if he can translate his game to the pros.
Valk has the potential to land anywhere between a Darren Haydar and Martin St. Louis, but more likely towards the former. Valk stands a good chance of tearing this tournament apart as a pro contract from the Canucks likely depends on it.
#51 Jonathon Martin
Another invite who impressed at the Canucks Summer Camp, Martin has been retained for training camp. Martin is a big power forward at 6’2 who’s played for the Kooteney Ice of the WHL for the last three seasons. Known for dropping the gloves in the WHL, look for him to make a statement and compete with the other tough kids at the tournament.
#64 Matthieu Bellerive
Bellerive is at a make or break stage of his WHL career as he enters his overage year with the Vancouver Giants. The 19-year old has displayed flashes of offensive ability while bouncing around the Western Hockey League but hasn’t displayed enough consistency to entice NHL scouts for a pro contract. Bellerive is an intriguing invite as he wasn’t one of the 35 prospects at the Canucks summer prospect camp. Look for him to fill in as more of a depth player in this tournament.
#59 Cordell James
Another prospect who impressed at the Canucks summer prospect camp and got an invite to the main training camp. Cordell James has a hockey bloodline and was also an elite Juniors soccer player before switching to hockey full time. Last season was James’ first in the Ontario Hockey League with the Barrie Colts where he played as a depth forward scoring 13 points in 66 games.
#70 Matt Revel
The 18-year old from Abbortsford, British Columbia has bounced between the British Columbia Hockey League and Western Hockey League during his junior career. Revel is a 5’11 scoring winger who worked his way up through British Columbia Junior hockey finally making the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL despite going undrafted in that league. Revel is noteworthy for having outscored Canucks’ 2014 1st round draft pick Jake Virtanen while playing on the same major midget team before Juniors.
#74 Klarc Wilson
The Canucks usually love to bring some of the toughest guys in juniors to this tournament and this year Klarc Wilson fits that bill having averaged 12 fights a season through his WHL career. Another of the prospects who impressed at the Canucks summer prospect camp and received an invite to the tournament. The young power forward found a scoring touch in his overage season last year with 60 points in 72 games for the Prince George Courgars of the Western Hockey League. Wilson has already signed with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL for this season and will likely return there after training camp.
Bubba Lackey enjoys writing about hockey. Bubba Lackey is a doctor of journalism and a master of the Anaconda Vice. You can read more of Bubba Lackey’s ramblings at http://www.bubbalackey.com