The Canuck system is a favorite whipping boy for a certain segment of our fanbase, and with good reason, when you consider the way draft picks missed in regimes past. Mike Gillis probably does not get the respect he deserves as far as what he did to build the system. That is to be expected, considering who we are as a fanbase, and the recent history.
But things are looking up, aren't they ? Some of Gillis's picks are turning out to be pretty decent, and Jim Benning looks to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Another draft under the auspices of SuperScout this weekend will be exciting, considering his picks so far, one would think.
But that is to come. Let's take a quick jaunt through the system to see where we are.
Alexander Grenier: If someone wanted to sift the comments from 2011, they would remember I was very excited by Mike Gillis taking this 6'5", 200 lb right winger 90th overall. He has soft hands, and I remember that, in his draft year, he was better than a point a game ( 8G, *A, in 15 GP, with 2 PP, and 1 GWG, it says here ). Jim Benning sure likes him, mentioning him specifically as someone who could do something with the chance he will get at camp. Check his AHL stats. Pretty consistent, eh ? That 64 shots in 23 playoff games is worth noting too.
Hunter Shinkaruk: This 2013 1st rounder is all about the offense, or at least that was the skinny when he went 24th overall. When you put up the kind of numbers he did in Medicine Hat, way better than a point a game, and can dipsy doodle and rocket the wrister, you are going to get people excited. What he should really be lauded for is how, by all accounts from Travis Green this year, is how he learned to play a more complete game. His AHL page here shows a +2 through 74 games this year, and a +1 in 23 playoff games. Not that impressive ? Well, the plus / minus is a faulty stat anyhow, but that is a actually a sorta decent number in the AHL. Plus, he plays left wing, a place the Canucks could use some more depth at.
Brendan Gaunce: Making this centre ( 6'2, 207 now, picked 26th overall by MG in 2012, a pick that was, shall we say, not universally loved! ) a left wing was probably a way to buttress that position, and, at least from recent media during the playoff run, it was a good idea. JB mentioned he has a "mean streak" ( who knew!? ), and it turns out that the same hands and hockey sense that served him well as a point per game centre in Bellville ( see here ) his draft year help make him a big winger that is hard to move off the puck. This was a good year for him, ( 154 shots over 74 games ). Let's see what he can do at camp.
Cole Cassels: With the Oilers taking Connor McDavid on Friday, it is at least nice that the Canucks have the guy that helped spearhead what was the kryptonite for the wunderkind. Cassels was out very often as the Generals put the Otters plans of having the top pick get a Memorial Cup coronation, and then was pretty damn impressive at that same tourney. It put the 3rd round pick from 2013 in the spotlight, and his game looked pretty damn good. It might not be next year, but the kid has game, and that has a way of making it to the NHL.
Jake Virtanen: Jim Benning's 1st pick, 6th overall in 2014, is going to get a chance to show his stuff. This year. Top 10 picks get that kind of a look, and from what he showed in his draft year, and in his last year with the Hitmen. Check out how glowing the eliteprospects.com profile is here. He may get the seasoning of a year in the AHL after a long look in the preseason, or maybe he can quicken the pace of that. Oh yeah, a local boy too. No pressure kid...
Jared McCann: The "other" pick ( 2014, 1st round, 24th overall ) for Mr Benning that yearmay not get the pop of the local boy, but, while less verbose, his EP profile is pretty glowing too. After being a point a game player in his draft year, he put up 34 goals and 81 points in 56 games ( 6 goals and 16 points in 14 OHL playoff games with the Soo Greyhounds ) this past year. I actually caught some of his playoff ice time this year in SNET, and came away pretty impressed. Another guy that should at least get a few games in the preseason to show his stuff.
There are more, of course. Those are just the ones I cherry picked. One might notice that Niklas Jensen did not get a blurb. That does not mean he is "toast" or anything like that. But he is at a crossroads. You don't just toss away 6'3", 202 lb 1st rounders ( 29th overall in 2011 ), but he does have to take the next step. This next year is a big one for him. He is sort of on the line. The guys more likely to have already made the team next year ( Baertschi, defenders like Clendening and Corrado, etc... ) are for another time as well.
There is Alex Friesen. JB signed him up again recently. 5'10". just under 190, and he had 6 goals and 20 points in 43 games. Remember what I said about plus minus ? Well, he was a +5 while in the bottom six in Utica. Intriguing. Ludwig Blomstrand and Dane Fox are scoring a lot in Kalamazoo. Time to move up a level ? There are more AHL "stars" that struggle to make the jump...here is the Utica roster. And what happened to Joseph Labate ?!
The Blue Line
Ben Hutton: When MG drafted this all round defenseman in the 5th round in 2012, it wasn't because of a dearth of talent. He was one who ( like others in the NHL, who thought that getting an education was a good thing regardless. Like Bieksa, a fellow 5th rounder ) went to school, and NHL teams want you in the system now, not later. JB had no problem with the pick, signing him in March. I look forward to watching how quick he grows through the level(s) ahead of him, starting in Penticton. Look at his EP page here. That is a lot of plaques and trophies the kid has already.
Anton Cederholm: I admit it, I have a bias with this one. He has no where near the natural talent of him, but I always have liked big bruising Swedish defensemen in Blue and Green. Mattias Ohlund being the Gold Standard, of course. HIs elite prospects blurb is why. It lays out his ups and downs pretty succinctly. There are bigger, but 6'2", and 200+ is more than big enough if you like to hit. He does.
Andrey Pedan: The Islanders picked this 6'5", 215 lb Lithuanian ( he grew up in, and played in Moscow, where he got the nickname "The Defensive Datsyuk" ) in the 3rd round, 63rd overall in 2011, and was picked up for Alexandre Mallet last year. 3 goals, 17 points, and a + 9 in the AHL regular season is pretty good, but the +5 during a long playoff run is the eye opener. Flawed stat or not, that is pretty damn good in an intense playoff run.
Jordan Subban: There is always going to be the "size question" when you are 5'9" tall, even if you are packing 185 on that small frame. You can't teach talent however. His brother PK said he was not joking when he said that Jordan was the best of the brothers playing growing up on the backyard ice. JB thought so, signing the Gillis pick ( 4th round, 115th overall in the '13 draft )this past May 14th. His EP page is pretty full under the "Career Highlights" page already for a 20 year old. FTR, I do believe a smaller guy can play in the NHL at the position, and look forward to watching Subban progress through the ranks.
Nikita Tryamkin: I have been using Elite Prospects, but I wanted to use one of these guys to point out how flawed the "science" is of how a player makes The Show. It is why talking endlessly about their relative talents is the perfect off season distraction. Big Nik' is a perfect example. Consider his Hockey Future grade chance of making the NHL. A "D". Now, this is not to cast aspersions on how they do things there. But Jim Benning must have thought there was something there to use a 3rd round pick on him last year. He is 6'7", 230 ( probably + ) lbs. A "cannon shot" and "late bloomer", from the same write-up, even with their "D" rating. He was drafted in his 3rd year of eligibility, so maybe the writers there gave that a whole lotta weight. Or maybe forecasting the future of individuals is a fleeting thing at best. I'll go with SuperScout over one of many sites that give their "expertise". Perhaps it is the Patrick Whites and Josh Holden's of the world that make us cynical. ;-)
There are more, but not as much as up front. Peter Andersson only had 11 games last year, but he had a goal and 3 assists. Even McEneny put up big numbers in Kingston before getting to black ace the Comets in the playoffs. Miles Liberati put up big numbers in North Bay, he was a 7th round pick in '13. He''ll probably take the same path next year. The entire Canucks list is here...Avast McNally, we barely knew thee. At least you got that Harvard sheepskin.
Joe Cannata: After being picked in the 6th round in 2009, most folks had written the Wakefield Mass native off. Perhaps it was the lack of depth, but JB re-signed Joe just this past month. He will probably be starting in Utica when the net shakes out in the coming days. The reports from Travis Green this year were that he got fitter after being relegated to the Ontario Reign of the ECHL. He respnded well there, with a 2.02 and a .927 in 21 games, and a respectable 1.99 and a .932 save% in 5 starts in Utica. With the loss of Ericsson to the KHL, he is one groin injury away from the NHL !
Thatcher Demko: The USA World Junior starter was a 2nd round pick for JB in his first draft at the helm, and the 6'4", 195 lb had a solid year at Boston College, with a 2.19 and a .925 in 35 games played. his 1.74 and .934 in 4 WJC starts was pretty decent too. As is the blurb at EP here, he is a very talented individual. You never know when the siren song of the NHL will overcome a college player, but I would imagine we just get to see him at the Penticton tourney for the next year or two, at the least, right ?
There you have it. As the cupboard gets filled more in Jim Benning's second draft at the helm, there will be much talk and speculation on who is or is not the next NHL "star". Maybe it is my positive nature, but I think the cupboard has some pretty appetizing morsels already. Enjoy the draft, and win those trades Trader Jim !