The Draft season is here again and the Vancouver Canucks have a lot of planning to do. Two Presidents’ trophies in succession shows a strong team with many depth players but unfortunately drafting potential future superstars has proven difficult for the Canucks in the past 5 years.
Despite Vancouver drafting a total of 36 prospects since 2006, only four players- Michael Grabner, Sergei Shirokov, Cody Hodgson and Yann Sauve have ever wore the Canucks uniform in an NHL game and only Sauve, currently playing for the Chicago Wolves, is still under contract by the organization, the others having been traded at various times throughout the past few years.
While players such as the Sedins, Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler are products of the Vancouver draft system, they were all acquired in the pre-Alain Vigneault/Mike Gillis era. Mason Raymond, drafted in the second round of 2005 is the most recent pick still currently in the Canucks squad while the most recent draft that can be considered successful for the club was 2004, with Cory Schneider, Alex Edler and Jannik Hansen all drafted that year.
While the core group of players in Vancouver are some of the best in the league, it seems more likely for the franchise to acquire future talent in big trades rather than through the prospect pool, something that may prove costly in the future. Below are four prospects currently in the Canucks system that are expected to have a legitimate shot at making the squad next season.
A good size for a defenceman at 6’1 and 200 pounds, Connauton may benefit from the changes the Canucks are expected to make in the off-season, especially if veteran Sami Salo decides to hang up his skates. With the core defensive trio of Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler expected to stay with the club and Chris Tanev establishing himself well as a top 6 player, Connauton will be looking to fight for a place as a depth player on the Vancouver blue-line next season.
Connauton seems to have improved his game under Wolves’ coach Craig MacTavish and has featured in over 150 AHL games. The Edmonton native possesses good skating ability and an accurate shot, racking up 33 points in 72 regular season games for the Wolves last season. At 22 years old and turning 23 in February, this year would be the right time for Connauton to impress Alain Vigneault in camp and make a name for himself in the big leagues.
While controversy has been looming over Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider being traded in the summer, Eddie Lack’s stock has been quietly rising. Lack has now completed two full seasons in the AHL as starting goaltender and finished last season 9th overall with a GAA of 2.31. Despite not having the greatest start to the 2011/12 season, Lack was consistent and finished the campaign well, proving himself to be one of the best goaltenders playing in the AHL.
Signed as a free agent straight out of Sweden, where he previously played for Brynas IF in the SEL, Lack stands at 6’4 and has a huge presence in the net. While some fans believe his development could be hindered if he is stuck as back-up in the NHL rather than playing regularly for the Wolves, there may be no choice if one of the starting tandem is traded and a suitable back-up cannot be acquired in the off-season. Lack will undoubtedly get his chance in the NHL soon and the future looks bright for the Stork.
There is no prospect quite like Schroeder to show the opinions of the fans. After the Hodgson trade, all eyes turned to Schroeder, who has still failed to make a huge impact in the AHL. A natural centre who also has experience on the wing, Schroeder is often under-estimated due to his 5’9 frame, something the 5’8 Martin St Louis might disagree with.
A first round, 22nd overall pick by the Canucks in 2009, Schroeder has shown glimpses of his potential, winning a gold medal with the US Junior team in 2010 as well as being named the WCHA rookie of the year in 2009. While improving his points tally from 28 to 44 in his second full AHL season, Schroeder is still yet to dominate in the world of hockey and his pre-season performance will determine whether the small forward will make the cut in 2012/13.
The Dane proved a steal for the Canucks in last year’s draft, overlooked until the second last pick of the first round. Though having spent only 2 full seasons in the North American leagues, the 19-year-old has proven himself to be a scoring machine, registering 58 points in 61 games for the Oshawa Generals in 2010/11, improving to over a point-a-game last season with 58 points in 57 games. Jensen was sent to Chicago at the end of 2011/12 and again showcased his talent, scoring 6 goals in 8 games for the Wolves.
With his 6’3, 213 pound frame, Jensen would not look out-of-place playing alongside the elite of the NHL. In only one year, Jensen has overtaken Schroeder as the Canucks number one forward prospect and though he could definitely benefit from one more year of seasoning in the AHL, he may be thrown directly in the NHL mix, especially if he has another strong pre-season like he did last year.
Part 2 of the Canucks Draft Analysis from Andy Eide - http://thehockeywriters.com/vancouver-canucks-draft-preview-who-will-they-pick/