The Vancouver Canucks’ organization is overflowing with young current and potential future NHL players. I define “young” as age 25 or under as of the end of the 2019 calendar year. Those born no earlier than in 1994.
STORMED THE GATES
Bo Horvat, age 24
He is already in his 6th NHL season and has played over 400 NHL games and scored over 100 goals and hit 250 points. He has won the Canucks’ Captaincy and he is focused on becoming the first head ‘huncho’ to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup above his head on the ice.
Brock Boeser, age 22
He is looking to reach the 30 goal mark for the first time in his young NHL career. He has established himself as the Canucks’ undisputed number one right wing sniper. Some see a Rocket Richard Trophy for him in the not-too-distant future.
Elias Pettersson, age 21
He is proof that aliens live among us. He is the magic-man of Vancouver. He is flirting with the point-per-game career mark through one and one-half NHL seasons and some day soon may push for some Art Ross hardware. His middle initials are MVP.
Jake Virtanen, age 23
Much maligned by soft-skill-only lovers whose parents likely ran Cam Neely out-of-town, Shotgun is unlikely to disappear when he gets his first chance to play in the NHL playoffs likely in a few months. He has taken his time to emerge as power forwards tend to do but arrive he has and in the spring the Leafs and Jets may become the teams that regret that the Canucks took him over cream-puffs like Nylander and Ehlers.
Adam Gaudette, age 23
Under-estimated in the past, he is not under-appreciated by his teammates, coach and fans. The 2015 throwaway draft pick transformed himself into the 2018 NCAA Hobey Baker award winner and forced his way onto the Canucks’ roster this season and has already quickly established himself as the club’s third-string center. No one expects him to be content in that lesser role for long.
Tyler Motte, age 24
An NCAA goal machine in his final year of college, he has transformed himself into the energy driver of Vancouver’s 4th line shutdown crew. If it moves he will hustle to hit it. When he was acquired at the 2018 trade deadline for Thomas Vanek some sneered that that the Canucks were robbed. No one with any credibility says that now...not even the retired Vanek.
Zack MacEwen, age 23
When Jim Benning signed this CHL free agent in 2017 some did not want him in their army. They said he was a waste of contract space. Now no one wanting to live on would dare say that to his NHL face. The Big Fella’ is a bundle of skill, soft-hands and Brian Burke truculence wrapped up in one very large and tough package.
Troy Stecher, age 25
When someone says big-things-come-in-small-packages they are likely thinking of someone like him. No one out-competes this little man. He is the Jack-that-chops-down-the-beanstalk. No longer unwanted, he is now in his 4th season as a Canuck since being signed as an NCAA free agent in 2016.
Quinn Hughes, age 20
Those like me who have had the pleasure of watching Bobby Orr play in his prime think of the Boston Bruins’ icon when watching Huggy Bear play decades later. He controls the puck and play at will like only number four did. It is mind-boggling that we have only scratched the surface on what Q is likely to become. After almost five decades of rearguards the Canucks finally have themselves an elite number one defenceman in the house.
Thatcher Demko, age 24
The only thing standing in the way of this blue-chip NHL numero uno goaltender is another late-blooming but also first string net minder. The Canucks have carefully groomed Demmer to become their number one. If he can avoid the odd jarring puck in the head there is no reason to think that he won’t complete the club’s long-term plan for him in due course.
ON THE CUSP
Kole Lind, age 21
Those who have watched him play hockey since he was knee-high-to-a-grasshopper knew that it usually took him one full season to adjust to the next level of competition. Those who wrote him off as an NHL prospect after his first underwhelming AHL season have egg-on-their-faces now. He has put up 10 goals and 27 points in 33 games this season in Utica and some think he is now at the top of the list when the parent Canucks next need a replacement for a freshly injured right winger.
Lukas Jasek, age 22
The young hard-working Czech right winger has been learning the center ice position this season and the results are positive. He has already matched the 9 goals he scored last year in his rookie AHL season in half the number of games played. He is strong on the boards and is becoming a 200-foot player. He may be ready for an NHL call-up before this season is over.
Jonah Gadjovich, age 21
The big-body left winger is starting to show his OHL scoring ability in the AHL. After a disappointing four goal rookie season, he has already potted seven lamp-lighters in just 18 games so far this season. If he continues to improve his foot speed he has a chance at an NHL career.
Justin Bailey, age 24
Now in his third NHL organization, the huge former 2nd round Buffalo Sabres pick is in danger of being labeled as an AHL/NHL ‘tweener’. He has NHL skating speed but sometimes his skates move faster than his hockey vision. He was an NHL depth signing this season and he may yet get a look with the parent club if injury problems arise. It is unclear yet whether or not the Canucks have interest him beyond this season.
Francis Perron, age 23
The former QMJHL star had an AHL breakout season last year with the San Jose Sharks AHL affiliate netting 18 goals and 47 points in 63 games. The Ottawa Senators’ 2014 7th round pick is a potential NHL depth winger. He has regressed though a bit with Utica netting only 5 goals in 29 games with them this season.
Brogan Rafferty, age 24
The Quinnipiac University alumni is setting the AHL on fire accumulating 29 points in 33 games. He is a top candidate for the best rookie in the league this year. Look for him to either be on the Canucks NHL roster D-core next season or alternately used as a major trade chip at the trade deadline this season.
Olli Juolevi, age 21
The oft-injured former 2016 1st round Canucks’ pick is still looking to make his NHL debut. He has struggled defensively this year and has only scored one lonely goal in 25 games for Utica this season. One wonders if he will be able to overcome his ‘Sami Salo’ injury luck and ever become the top four NHL defenceman Vancouver brass thought he would be. The clock is ticking.
Guillaume Brisebois, age 22
The remaining bounty from the 2015 Eddie Lack trade is now in his 3rd AHL season and on pace for his best offensive season yet. He is sound defensively and an excellent skater. He looks like a sure-bet future 3rd pairing NHL defender. There may not be room for him though on the Canucks’ left side D depth chart so he might be moved in a trade deadline transaction or off season deal in a hockey trade.
Ashton Sautner, age 25
He is solid defensively but doesn’t provide a lot of offence from the back-end. He has had a couple of cups of coffee with the parent club but is most likely to eventually end up playing next in Europe.
Jalen Chatfield, age 23
He has scored just two goals in a 121 AHL regular season and playoff games. He had an extended practice look from the Canucks recently but has yet to play an NHL game. He doesn’t appear to have a future in the NHL.
Josh Teves, age 24
The former Princeton University rearguard has been solid defensively in Utica but only has managed to garner one assist in 20 games played. He appears unlikely to develop into an NHL defenceman given his lack of AHL offensive production.
Mitch Eliot, age 21
He is a CHL free agent signing. He has only managed to get into 13 games on Utica’s defence this season but he has put up 2 goals and 5 points. He also has suited up for ECHL Kalamazoo for 3 games. He possesses an NHL-level shot.
Michael DiPietro, age 20
The Memorial Cup champion is off to a solid start in the AHL. He has produced an 9-4-1 record with a .905 save percentage and a 2.70 goals against average. He’s spent some time in Vancouver backing up the Canucks’ top two net minders. He has established himself as Vancouver’s third-string goalie very early in his pro career. It appears he will make the Canucks’ goaltending puzzle going forward a tough one to figure out.
ON THE IMMEDIATE HORIZON
Nils Hoglander, age 19
He has that rare ‘it-factor’ that only special NHL forwards exhibit on the ice. You can bank on him forcing his way into the Canucks’ top six forward group during NHL training camp in 2020. He will almost certainly continue Vancouver’s current run of legitimate Calder trophy candidates in 2021.
Vasily Podkolzin, age 18
The Russian Red Bull is a ‘hard-skill’ forward with elite passing skills. He loves to play physical and is fearless going to the net. He is contracted to play in the KHL for one more season after this one. When he arrives in 2021 he will be NHL-ready.
Tyler Madden, age 20
He is a leading candidate for the 2020 NCAA Hobey Baker Award. He has fired home 13 goals and added 11 assists for 24 points in 18 games this season. He may need some time in the AHL while his body fills out. But he has the skill set and defensive awareness right now to play in the NHL. You should expect him to sign an NHL contract soon after his current NCAA season ends.
Will Lockwood, age 21
He has been injury-plagued during his college career. He is now in his 4th and final season at the University of Michigan. He was named captain this season and hoped to lead his school to an NCAA championship. His team isn’t very good this year and he should be available to sign a pro contract in March 2020. Some think he may not sign and will instead choose to become a college free agent in August 2020.
Carson Focht, age 19
He was on Team Canada’s WJC radar earlier this year but more offensively talented forwards were eventually chosen over him for the team, He got off to a hot goal scoring start in his final WHL season but has cooled since then. It is still likely though that the Canucks’ sign him and he plays either in Utica or Kalamazoo next season.
Nikita Tryamkin, age 25
The Big Friendly Giant seems ready to return from his self-imposed exile in his Russian home town. His contract with Avtomobilist of the KHL expires on April 30th, 2020. He has been a defensive rock in the KHL since returning home. You should expect the Canucks to either sign him or deal his NHL rights to another team in a hockey trade.
Jett Woo, age 19
After playing in the 2019 WJC for Team Canada, he was left off the 2020 team. He has had a down year after a trade to a new club and a slow recovery from a lower body injury which he rehabbed during the summer. Once his WHL season ends expect him to join the Utica Comets in March/April of 2020. He will probably need a season or two in the AHL before he is ready to make a serious push for an NHL roster spot.
Toni Utunen, age 19
His season was interrupted by a serious lower body injury in early September. He is back to his old self now. He is the reliable defenceman who you rarely notice and his coach loves. Defensively he is likely already capable of playing bottom six pairing minutes on an NHL team. The question with him is will he ever be able to provide any consistent offensive contribution to his team. Maybe it doesn’t really matter. He may stay in Finland for one more season but expect the Canucks to try and sign him to come to play in North America next season.
Jack Rathbone, age 20
He is averaging almost a point per game as a 2nd year defenceman for Harvard. He skates well and is an excellent passer. He has a great shot and has terrific hockey sense. You should expect Canucks’ management to try hard to convince him to turn pro at the end of his current college season.
Jake Kielly, age 23
The former Clarkson University NCAA star goalie is off to a slow start to his pro career playing for the ECHL Kalamazoo Wings. He is 5-6-2 with an .881 save percentage and a 3.93 goals against average. He will have to show some significant improvement over the rest of the season or the Canucks may decide to not qualify him when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
ON THE RADAR
Artyom Manukyan, age 21
He tore up the VHL junior league in Russia during the 2016/17 season posting an impressive 105 points in 60 games. The Canucks decided to spend a 2018 6th round pick on the 5’7” 139 lb. Armenian in the hope his offence would transfer to the pros. So far he has only managed to accumulate 17 points in 86 games over two KHL seasons. Unfortunately, he broke his hand this summer during a pre-season game and has yet to play this regular season. He is expected to return from his surgery recovery and play again in early 2020.
Karel Plasek, age 19
The Canucks chose him in the 6th round of the 2019 Draft. He made the roster of a team in the top Czech pro league at the beginning of the season. He was recently demoted to a second pro level team. However, he also made the roster of his country’s WJC team. He has a lot of evident offensive talent. Once he grows into his body he could become an effective offensive player.
Arvid Costmar, age 18
He is already too good for the Swedish junior SuperElit league tallying 12 goals and 26 points in 17 games despite the interruption of a concussion injury and recovery. He has had a couple of looks in the top tier pro SHL and has now been loaned to an Allsvenskan second tier pro league team where he is playing as the third line center. He was the third last player picked in the entire 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He appears to have been a steal.
Linus Karlsson, age 20
He was picked by the San Jose Sharks in the 3rd round of the 2018 Draft. He was acquired in return for disgruntled AHL player Jonathan Dahlen who has since returned to Sweden to play in the Allsvenskan league. Karlsson also plays in the same league. He is a center/right winger with good size. He has scored 7 goals and tallied 17 points in 33 games this season. He projects to be a potential bottom six NHL forward.
Ethan Keppen, age 18
He was picked by the Canucks in the 4th round of the 2019 Draft. He is already 6’2” 210 lbs. and is a future NHL power forward candidate. His numbers have slipped a bit from his draft year. He is playing now in his 3rd OHL season. He will be a long-term project but his size and physicality are enticing.
Aidan McDonough, age 20
He is a freshman at Northeastern University. He is a point per game forward which is rare for a first year NCAA player. He has developed chemistry with Canucks’ super prospect and college teammate Tyler Madden. He is a big-body winger who plays physical.
Jack Malone, age 19
He is in his initial year in university and plays on the 4th line for a deep and experienced Cornell University team. The right winger is a very good passer. He has 4 points in 10 NCAA games this season.
Arturs Silovs, age 18
The Latvian goalie prospect is in his first year playing in North America with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. His play so far has been inconsistent but when he is good he is very good. He is a long-term crease-minder project but the payoff in the end is likely to be worth it.
Matthew Thiessen, age 19
The Canucks picked this net minder in the 7th round of the 2018 Draft. The Manitoba native had been playing in the MJHL. He played in the USHL last season. He is a freshman this year in the NCAA playing for the University of Maine. He has only played 7 minutes in net so far this season. He is being groomed to take over the nets from the current established Maine goalie once the goalie leaves the team to play pro hockey.
OUTSIDE THE KNOWN UNIVERSE
Petrus Palmu, age 22
When he couldn’t earn ice time in Utica, he packed his bags and went home. He is a top six forward in the Finnish Liiga but unlikely to be in the NHL. The Canucks may cut ties with the diminutive left winger as soon as this summer, particularly if he doesn’t return to Utica when his Liiga season is done.
Nikolay Goldobin, age 24
The likeable Russian hasn’t been able to seize a top six role on the big club and has been passed by others on the Comets’ NHL call up list. The Canucks will likely part company with him at the end of this season.
Dmitry Zhukenov, age 22
He has resurrected his pro career with a fine season so far in the Russian VHL league. The two-way center has fired home 12 goals in 36 games in a league where goals are hard to come by. He is not mentioned on Canucks’ PR prospect updates at all, so it is likely Vancouver management has moved on from him even though he remains on their reserve list.
2020 and Beyond
The current Vancouver Canucks’ roster already exhibits a large number of young players age 25 and younger. In 2020, the youth movement is likely to be further accelerated as fresh skaters on entry level contracts push out veteran players who earn a lot more and take up more salary cap space.