The YoungStars tournament is unofficial opening ceremony of the NHL season, and it’s this week (insert your preferred noises of excitement)! It seems like it’s been forever since the draft brought us so much entertainment. This tournament is about taking a long look at our brightest future stars while trying to find the next diamond in the rough by inviting a whack of undrafted free agents as well as players who weren’t taken in the 2014 draft but are eligible for the 2015 draft.
This year the Canucks come into this event with as many as 4 open spots of their available 50 contract maximum. According to capgeek, the Canucks have 52 players under contract which puts them over the limit, right? Well, not really because they have 6 players who are most likely headed back to junior; this would mean that their contracts will slide to next year. There should be a spot or two available for a player to exceed expectations and earn a contract this week.
Here’s the scoop on the players who have much to play for this week.
On defense the Canucks have brought in 2 former Hitmen players in Spencer Humphries & Josh Thrower. Both players are over 6 feet tall and hover around the 200 lbs. mark. In addition to their sizes, these 2 former team mates are very willing to drop the mitts as required.
Spencer Humphries (6-2 205 lbs.): Humphries spent last season in the KHL after playing parts of 5 seasons in the WHL. Humphries is a 2 way d-man who isn’t afraid to mix it up and had been referred to as the Bieksa of the Hitmen during his time in Calgary. The right handed defenseman was pretty consistent on the scoresheet in junior putting up back to back seasons with 38 points and at least 80 PIMS. In his first professional season in Russia, Humphries was pretty much invisible putting up 2 points in 17 games with Prague.
Josh Thrower (6-1 195 lbs.): The Squamish native was eligible to be drafted in the 2014 draft, but was not selected because of his limited offensive production (6 points in 2013-14). Thrower is right handed and plays a shut-down style of hockey. Thrower’s physical game took a step forward this season and it was reflected in his penalty minutes doubling from 45 to 90 this season.
Up front there are 6 players trying to make an impression on GMJB and crew. A quick scan of the Home towns and you can really see Lord Bennington’s desire to add more Western Canadian flavor to this organization.
Matthieu Bellerive (5-11 189 lbs.): Bellerive is running out of time in the WHL to make a large enough impression to garner a contract offer. He’s in his final year of eligibility and was not asked by any NHL teams to come to a prospect camp this year after being at the Maple Leafs camp the year prior. Bellerive isn’t flashy on the ice, but has been solid enough to put up 15+ goals over the past 2 seasons. For anyone following the WHL closely, anything less than 35 goals & 70 points would be a disappointment in the 2014-15 season.
Cordell James (6-1, 190): To be completely honest this is the one NRI that I haven’t seen play in person. A quick look at some YouTube videos and I’m no further ahead… His stats last season weren’t anything special, (13 points & 22 PIMs in 66 games) although he wasn’t given much ice time because the Barrie Colts were very strong down the middle. He is a young 18 year old who went undrafted this year but was ranked 165th by central scouting. This season should be more telling as James is expected to take on a more important role with his OHL team.
Jonathon Martin (6-2, 212 lbs.): Maybe he should be referred to as Jon Martin: Face Puncher. Martin is one of the WHL’s more revered goons having been involved in 15 scraps over the last 2 seasons for the Kootenay Ice. He has a wicked left hand and often leaves his opponent picking themselves up off the ice. If Benning is looking for another tough customer who can’t really contribute offensively, Martin is the man for the job!
Matt Revel (5-10, 179 lbs.): Revel is a smaller forward who was projected to be a star in the Western League, unfortunately it hasn’t materialized for him as of yet. He spent last season as an 18 year old playing top line minutes on an abysmal Sasktoon Blades team. He was draft eligible this season, but was passed over because of concerns regarding his size and stature as well as his below average skating.
Curtis Valk (5-9, 162 lbs.): The diminutive forward has been brought to the young stars tournament most likely because of his lineage. His pappy (Garry Valk) and GMJB crossed paths once or twice as members of the Canucks organization in their playing days. They were also team mates in the now defunct IHL with the Milwaukee franchise. But enough implication, Curtis had a great overage season with the Medicine Hat Tigers putting up 47 goals and 45 assists for 92 points. Valk has an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to be offered a contract because of his size and late offensive development.
Klarc Wilson (6-0, 205 lbs.): Wilson has signed an ECHL contract with the Indy Fuel for the upcoming season, but an opportunity to land an entry level contract with an NHL team is probably more appealing to the Edmonton native. Wilson was a fierce competitor as a junior and has never been one to back down from a fight having topped the 100 PIM mark in 3 of his last 4 seasons in the WHL (the other season was cut short due to a serious injury).
In the crease we are not going to see any Canucks prospects, partly because of NCAA regulations which prevent our newest future #1 being unable to take part in any professional activities. Benning went out and found a couple of solid WHL goalies who were available to be exposed to the best young players in the division!
Austin Lotz (6-1 200 lbs.): The starting netminder of the Everett Silvertips, Lotz has steadily improved as his workload has increased. Lotz is most likely known for getting ragdolled by Brandon Glover in a fight during a game between Everett and Seattle. Lotz is very athletic, and with a strong season this year should land him a spot with an ECHL team to begin his professional career.
Jackson Whistle (6-1 178 lbs.): Whistle plays for the Kelowna Rockets and will likely be a fan favorite because of this. Whistle was very effective when given the opportunity to play this year posting an 18-4-0 record last year. He’s an average sized goalie, has good athleticism and a fairly solid understanding of positional play. As a 19 year old, Whistle looks to be a bigger part of the team with last year’s starting goaltender Jordon Cooke graduating from the WHL.
It's going to be very hard for any of these longshots to impress enough to make the main camp, but then again there are always guys like Alex Burrows out there...