With 10 players who have made their NHL debut as a Vancouver Canuck since November 2014, the organization has some exceptional traction, in terms of prospects who are nearly with the big club. (those 10? Bo Horvat, Brandon DeFazio, Alex Biega, Ronalds Kenins, Jared McCann, Ben Hutton, Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce, Alex Grenier and Hunter Shinkaruk).
Albeit forwards, defense or goalies, the Canucks have a lot of on-the-fringe prospects. Many recent players who have debuted certainly aren’t yet near having a secure spot in Vancouver, but have, at the very least, had their first taste of NHL hockey.
While this list varies from the Canucks updated top five prospects, here’s a look at the best five who haven’t:
5. Guillaume Brisebois
Guillaume Brisebois is likely at least a couple seasons away from making his NHL debut, but the third round pick by the Canucks in the 2015 draft has lots of upside to his game. The 18 year-old Brisebois is listed as 6’2″ and 187 pounds, and stands out physically among his peers in the QMJHL.
The blueliner currently has three goals and five assists through 22 games as captain of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. And with a minus-six rating, he’s currently worlds better than the minus-40 rating he posted in 2014-15 – mind you, that was on an Acadie-Bathurst team that finished last in the league by a wide margin, with only 17 wins and 42 points through 68 games.
Brisebois is crafting into a reliable two-way defenseman; he plays with a lot of energy and shows solid poise and hockey sense at both ends of the rink. He even can be noted to score highlight-reel goals from time to time.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) November 22, 2015
It’s likely that Brisebois will spend all of this year and next in the QMJHL as he continues to develop, but with maturity beyond his years on the ice and a well-rounded skillset, he has the makings of a top-four defenseman down the road with the Canucks. Many Canucks fans would probably say that the the left-handed shooting Brisebois would look good on a defense pairing with the right-handed shooter above him on this list.
4. Jordan Subban
A former fourth round pick by the Canucks in 2013, Jordan Subban possesses great offensive abilities and is working to round out his game defensively as well. The 20 year-old blueliner had 25 goals in 63 games with the Belleville Bulls in 2014-15. Now with the Utica Comets, and with experienced coach Travis Green behind the bench, Subban is being forced to grasp a more responsible role defensively against tighter competition than he was used to in the OHL.
Through the team’s first 19 games, Subban had the best point-per-game ratio of all Comets defensemen, with eight points in 13 games, and had an even plus-minus rating. At only 5’9″, 185 lbs, Subban isn’t graced with size, but on top of his excellent skating ability and offensive instincts, he doesn’t shy away from the physical game in any situations.
3. Cole Cassels
Cole Cassels had more hype than most Canucks prospects heading into the team’s training camp this year, following a Memorial Cup championship for his Oshawa Generals. The third round pick for the Canucks in 2013 had a combined 104 points in 74 games in 2014-15 (regular season, playoffs, Memorial Cup).
Through his first 14 games with the Utica Comets, Cassels had only one assist and a minus-five rating in 14 games, and had even been a healthy scratch in October. Those numbers may signal that the 20 year-old is having a hard time transitioning to professional hockey, but underlying facts speak differently: Cassels’ season didn’t end until May 31st, which is almost equivalent to a Stanley Cup Finals runs, and he played hurt through the Generals’ championship run last spring, according to Comets coach Travis Green.
“We have a special plan for [Cassels] in terms of conditioning and working out… I’m expecting by Christmastime that he’ll be a much different player than he is right now.” – Travis Green.
The notion from Cassels’ AHL coach is encouraging, and Green credited his slow start to not receiving proper training over the summer due to his injuries. One thing a healthy Cassels can be relied on for is his strong two-way game – responsible defensively, creative offensively, and a center who is great in the faceoff circle and can play a chippy role when needed.
2. Thatcher Demko
Thatcher Demko has done nothing in 2015-16 but boost his stock in the Canucks’ prospect pool. Heading into the year, there was some uncertainty for the butterfly goalie following a major hip operation in April, to repair labrum tears in both his hips.
But Demko has responded better than anyone could’ve hoped for to start his NCAA season with Boston College. The Canucks 36th overall pick in 2014 started the year with six shutouts in his first seven games – only the second time a netminder has done that in NCAA history. Through 13 games, the 6’4″ Demko had 12 wins, a 1.23 GAA, and a .953 SV%. What might be most impressive about Demko’s season, however, is how well he’s bounced back from his major surgery. The 19 year-old began feeling hip pain five seasons ago, which reached the point where he had zero degrees of internal rotation in his hips last season.
Now being fully recovered, Demko could be on a fast track to a shot in the NHL at his rate of success. There’s a good chance Demko will be a much more household name in Vancouver over the next two seasons.
1. Brock Boeser
Brock Boeser is putting together a fine season with the University of North Dakota, which is currently is currently the top ranked Division One team in the NCAA. The Canucks 23rd overall pick last spring has posted eight goals and eight assist in 16 games, as well as a plus-16 rating.
Boeser has had a handful of highlight-reel goals and assists alone this season already, but none have been better than a tic-tac-toe UND goal from November 13th, created largely by Boeser (#16).
Boeser is likely a couple seasons away from his NHL debut, but he’s a highly anticipated prospect for Vancouver. The 18 year-old is a natural goal scorer who reads the play incredibly well offensively, and with his great skating and instincts he creates scoring chances that simply set him apart. As good as he is with the puck, he’s greatly improved the defensive side of his game as well. He has the potential to be a very special offensive player for the Canucks down the road.