Changing Styles, Players, and Prospects

Rich Lam

As I have often said, there is Big Boy Hockey, and there is the other styles of the beautiful game of hockey, and they all have varying degrees of success throughout the history of the game. Right now though, the Big Boy game is getting all the ink. So, is it the right style for the team, and, more importantly, are these the right prospects for Mr Benning ?

It was called "The Boston Model", amongst other names, but since Jim Benning disassociated the team of Boston from what he, rightly saw as THE winning model, a deep four line team that skates, and can score from anywhere, and can play a well rounded, physical, winning brand of hockey.

That sure sounds like a description of the Vancouver Canucks, if you squint your eyes, right ?  I mean, just a few short years ago, the Canucks were Tops back to back, Top 5 in goals allowed and scored, Top 5 in Power Play %, and penalty killing efficiency. I remember when "depth" was how we described our team, with more guys scoring at least 10 goals in support of the top scorers then everyone else.

It is just winning hockey then, and throughout the history of the game.  Now, the "Boston Model", and "Big Boy Hockey" are the "blueprint" for winning hockey. Everyone "has to get bigger to compete"...

It is more an attitude, and a style of play that is coloured by that attitude, this Boston Model.  They are one of the progenitors of Big Boy Hockey, it has to be said, in the recent era, and the fact that it has been copied to great success in Los Angeles is not lost on this writer as well.  Watching the great hockey of this playoffs, it is easy to note the same styles, even if it is teams I can't stand. #lol

The Kings, like the Bruins, will always finish the check, and try to use the fact they are bigger than you to their advantage.  ( they were the biggest team in the NHL the past year, and I have no doubt amongst the biggest this season just past ) The style, the essence of it all, is the fact they will go over the edge at will, and force the refs to call it.

In the playoffs, it is brutally effective, as we watch the standard change with each passing round, until it is up to bone and back breaking by the Final before a call is made...  Hell, the hit to Crawford's head in Game 6 would have been a suspension in the regular season, and did not even warrant a call from the ironically named "Department of Player Safety".  At it's heart, "Big Boy Hockey" is exactly like it sounds.

You finish every check, play physical below the goal line to force turnovers, do the same in the neutral and defensive zones ( it was fascinating in last night's game, when the Hawks became more effective against the proclivity of the Kings to always finish the check, taking them and making the play with the puck to get a lot more room to skate, and, as it turned out, score and win )...and, where it varies, in the "just STFU or call it ref. FFS..." attitude that the Bruins employed in 2011, for instance, is more the reasons behind each teams' motivations.

Four line hockey, and finishing your checks is nothing new. Being bigger than everyone else like the Kings, or just in a crazed desire to inflict pain like the Bruins ( OK, hyperbole there, artistic license please ? ;-). But winning through intimidation and badassery is rooted in the game's long history.

it will be interesting to see a team that is more of a hybrid like the Rangers, against the winner of this Sunday's game. The Hawks and Rangers will still be full of emotion, hitting, and the physicalness that just happens in a Final.  Both are great defensive teams, and it would be a great Final.  I would prefer that one to the Kings employing their brutally effective style to win a Cup, if only because it would then force me to want the Rags to win a Cup, or the ****ing Kings!  I at least respect the Hawks.  But it would be nice to see the Skating Style be more ascendent.

It is not to say a team that invokes a more skating style ( like the Ducks, Sharks, Habs, Hawks and others used in these playoffs ) cannot play tough, and physical.  The Canucks, for instance, outhit the Bruins on more than one occasion in the Final of 2011.  Nor does it preclude a team like the Bruins or Kings having some skill and speed ( both have deadly scorers on the counter, and are definitely teams with some skill ).  Basically, it is more which side you come down on.

I get the feeling that our new Canuck team will feature the skill and excitement we wanted, and saw work, in the past five years.  But it will also be led by a builder of one of the teams that carried the Big Boy Hockey flag to great success.  So, our team will definitely have a different feel.  One that is needed, considering where the Canucks play.  The Pacific Division features another team that defines Big Boy Hockey, and a couple more where the skill and offensive nature that defines them ( Sharks, Ducks ) is buttressed by a healthy dose of physicality.

So, without going through the veterans, and whether they fit one or the other paradigm, and whether they stay, let's take a look at the prospects here, how they fit, and if the cupboard needs to be completely replanished, or whether our SuperScoutGM can get it done using some existing parts.

( Here is Hockey Futures take on a few of the Canuck guys, they actually say some nice things about what he has to work with ! )

When Jim Benning name checked Bo Horvat at his first presser, a curious thing happened.  Because he only mentioned one, suddenly, the reporting seemed to reflect that, with stories of "well, they only have Horvat as a guy that Benning can play his style in the pipeline. Typical Canucks and their shitty system, am I right...? ".  Let's take a look at some of the youth at hand :

Bo Horvat IS a great prospect, and at 6', and 206 lbs, he gets under the wire in the size department.  His style of game is that of a 200 ' player, and I have no doubt that Mr. Benning probably saw a bit of Bergeron in him while looking over his prospects.

Brendan Gaunce has size and ability too. He may not have the speed yet, but he would not be the first to use his hockey sense to get him where he needs to be instead. ( and get the coaching to improve his stride a bit too )  He is also a guy that has, two years in a row, taken a better than point per game level of regular season play into the playoffs in the OHL and sustained or bettered it.  Definitely a possible "Big Boy" under the right system and coaching.

Hunter Shinkaruk strikes me as more of the Patrick Kane type, ( wishful thinking, between a 1st overall and an in the twenties pick, I know... ),and in the lone glimpses we got in last preseason, he displayed a lot of the fearless ability that smaller guys with skill have to have along the boards, and his PIM will never make him a Lady Bynger, so his "Big Boy" bonafides are more in line with a Brad Marchand than a Dwight King, for obvious reasons.  I like his attitude, and as a rink rat in Calgary, I trust he learned a lot of how the NHL game goes.  So, possible, smaller guy on a Big Boy team might work.

- One of the guys that intrigues the hell out of me is a tailor made, by the Blue Book, Big Boy Hockey prospect. Alexandre Grenier is 6'5", and around 200 lbs.  He has speed for a big man. His hands are decent ( at least in that clip ) , and he is, while still progressing,  a guy who scored 17 goals in 68 AHL games last year ( 39 points , 56 PIM ).  Pending Sir Bennington's approval, I like this guy.

- Another guy that displays the Big Boy style ( while having offense too ) that seems to be having Pacific Division success is a 2nd generation Canuck. Cole Cassels plays a complete game, has decent faceoff skills, solid hands, and a pugnacious attitude he certainly did not get from his dad ( Andrew Cassels did excel in a tough era as well, but he never was a "fighter" back then ). The complete game is something that is always needed, and centres that are smart enough to play the wing can't hurt either. (

Ed Willes says some nice things here too, about Cassels, and a few of the below players... )


- There are several others that I am sure will be assessed under the new eye and found either wanting or ready for the "Benning Approved" stamp on their butts.  Some are potential that hasn't shown enough yet like Alexandre Mallet ( a  6'1" 195 lber that is supposed to be toughness with scoring, but hasn't shown at the AHL level yet ), some have NHL experience and AHL bonafides like Kellan Lain ( at 6'6", 210 lbs, size is not a problem, and he had 7 goals, 18 points, and 113 PIM in Utica last year ), and some like Dane Fox ( an overager signed for the pure OHL scoring ability, with a definite "we'll see" behind  the glowing reports of sniping ), Ronalds Kenins ( a Latvian good enough to play for his country who, stored away in Zurich this year, is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Maybe TSN will fill the air time from no NHL with Euro hockey ? #lol ) and Joseph Labate ( going into his last year at the NHLer factory of University of Wisconsin, a 6'4", 200+ centre who has sustained about a half a point a game through 3 years.  NCAA stats are tough with the differing rules, but he definitely fulfills the size quotient ), are, amongst others, still prospects in the very definition of the word.

That the Canucks have had a less than stellar record for the drafting is well known, and with the new upgrade at GM, with his lifetime of contacts and scouting acumen, that weakness has been addressed.   I hope that we don't totally savage Mike Gillis in the coming years.  The above are just the forwards worthy of a mention in the system as it sits.  Consider these quick hitters for the blue liners :

- Frank Corrado ( 5th Round, 150th overal in 2011 ). Should make the team full time next year.

- Ryan Stanton and Christopher Tanev. An undrafted signing for the Hawks ( 2010 ) picked up on waivers, and a guy that is going to sign another deal that will feature the phrase "hard to quantify what he does on the blue line for the Canucks, but he does it well" in the stories, but will feature a healthy raise as he proves he is an NHLer after signing out of RIT. ( what the hell is the Rochester Inst. Of Technology anyhow !? Exactly... )

Anton Cederholm. The 6'2", 204 pounder was the ying to Poulliot's offensive yang on the top pairing in Portland, playing for the Winterhawks.  He was signed during the Linden era, but before the Benning one, so you know they like him. Another 5th rounder ( 145th ) in 2013 for Mike Gillis.  Can definitely play the physical game, and one of the fittest guys at the last prospect camp.

Ben Hutton. Might end up as the biggest steal, yet another 5th rounder ( 147th overall in 2012 ). All he did was set records for goal scoring at the Uni of Maine ( 15 ), and his 29 points was 6th in the NCAA. From a defenseman.  He is 63", around 200 lbs, and draws raves ( the quoted story in this PITB link is worthy of a look too. His coach there just gushes ! )

That is five possible NHLers, the majority already having played NHL minutes, all either undrafted or no higher than the 5th round, from Mr Gillis and this scouting staff.  There will be some comparing, and I am excited to see what we get in the Benning years.  But that is pretty impressive too.  There are other blue liners : Henrik Tommernes, a better than point a game at the OHL level Jordan Subban ( if he is big enough ! Though, a guy like Tyson Barrie helped change thoughts on smaller defensemen this year ), Peter Andersson, ( who has grown by leaps and bounds in the AHL, re: HockeyFuture link above ) Miles Liberati, and even a guy like Yann Sauve, who I STILL think can play in the NHL on a 3rd pairing and exemplifies playing a physical game.  Hey, anything is possible !

Some will be failures, some successes.  Who knows ? Some of those named will never play in the NHL.  But there will be enough NHLers out of the guys left behind from Mike Gillis to counter the common narrative a bit, and the high standards of one of the better talent evaluators in the NHL will bring more.

Regardless of the style, be it full on Big Boy Hockey ( Kings, Bruins ), a skating ,well rounded team that can play it as you like it , like the Hawks ( the Cup Standard, after all ), or Pacific division facsimile thereof ( the Ducks and Sharks did out physical our guys last year ), there should be enough in the short term to tide us over until Sir Bennington's largesse is plugged into the system. ( I pick the Hawks style myself )

Our new GM thinks he has a team to get to the playoffs next year. In this interview here ( scroll down to May 30th ), Mr Benning talks about how motivated he is for what sure sounds like a retool, and not a full on rebuild !

But now, as 2392 words click by, it is time for you attention deficit generation readers to go. Until next time, something to reward the effort

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