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The Unwanted

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Ignored and shunned by scouts these eight current un-drafted Canucks beat the odds and made it to the NHL

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Vancouver Canucks
The dragon-slayer (Alex Burrows) is inducted into the Canucks Ring-of-Honour.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago the Vancouver Canucks inducted one of their most popular alumni into the Ring-of-Honour and added his image to the small circle of former players to forever gaze down upon center ice at Rogers Arena. Alex Burrows became the 7th former stick-in-rink wearer to be so honoured.

What makes Burrows’ rise to the upper walls of Vancouver’s largest arena especially impressive is that he started out his professional career unwanted by any of the then existing NHL teams. Not even one NHL general manager thought he was worthy of even spending a 9th round draft pick on. We all know his story well now. His rise from meal-money ECHL player to earning millions of dollars riding shotgun on the right side of future Hall of Famers Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Dragon Slayer will live on in eternity in Canucks’ folklore.

The Canucks’ current roster, including their list of injured skaters, has 19 drafted players on it ranging from highest pick Elias Pettersson chosen 5th overall by them in 2017 to Tyler Graovac picked 191st overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2011. From top to bottom these players all felt the early joy of being wanted by an NHL team before they could drink alcohol legally in a bar. Their names were called from the NHL Draft podium.

Not so for these eight rostered Canucks.

THE UNWANTED

Antoine Roussel

He was born in the road and track cycling sport hot-bed of Roubaix, France located near the Belgium border. The odds of him being picked in the NHL Entry Draft some day were slim to none. The story goes that his mother enrolled him in ice hockey since he didn’t like outdoor sports due to the requirement of practicing in the heat outside. She determined the coolest sport on earth suited him. She was certainly right.

By age 15 he was playing on France’s International U18 team which was a level D hockey nation playing against opponents such as Latvia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and so on. He played with or against some players (Lars Eller, Stephane Da Costa, Philip Larsen) who would make it to the NHL but for the most part the other players were not top shelf skaters. His dream was to play in the NHL and his family packed their bags and moved with him to Canada so he could pursue his goal.

Roussel played four seasons with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL and established a reputation as an agitator and fighter. He only put up middling numbers offensively peaking in his last season with 24 goals and 23 assists for 47 points and a 131 penalty minutes in 68 games. He wasn’t drafted but he remained undeterred.

He turned pro with Reading in the ECHL and then he played for Providence and Chicago in the AHL before landing with the AHL Texas Stars and playing half a season for coach Willie Desjardins. He made his NHL debut with the Dallas Stars mid-way through the 2012/13 season and has never looked back. He signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1st, 2018. He is now in his 8th NHL season and he is an established reliable double-digit goal scorer who will put up 25-30 points and an agitating and physical 100-plus penalty minutes a season.

In 19 NHL playoff games he has accumulated 43 penalty minutes. He is a warrior the Canucks will need should they return to the playoffs this April.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Zack MacEwen

He didn’t make it to the CHL until age 19. He didn’t play regularly in the QMJHL until his draft-plus-two season. Not even one NHL club used a draft pick on him. Some bloggers chided Canucks’ management for wasting an entry level contract on a free agent player destined for the ECHL with zero chance to make it to the NHL.

The Big Fella’ from Prince Edward Island had other ideas. He had been taught the value of hard work growing up by his strong and supportive blue-collar family. In his second AHL season, his phone rang and it was Jim Benning on the line. He played five games for the Canucks and notched his first NHL point (an assist) and first NHL fight.

This season MacEwen has played eight games for the Canucks and has scored his first NHL goal. He doesn’t plan on stopping there.

He is on Vancouver’s roster this season now chosen over former NHL players such as Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin and Justin Bailey. They’ve also called him up over hot shot high draft picks like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich. He is no longer unwanted.

Troy Stecher

Unlike his heralded college teammate and first round draft pick Brock Boeser, he went through the NHL Entry Draft unselected. Scouts determined he was too small to play the defence position in the NHL.

The former Penticton Vee capped a solid NCAA career at the University of North Dakota leading their defencemen with 29 points in 43 games. He and Boeser then went on to lead their college team to the 2016 Frozen Four National Championship.

All of a sudden NHL teams came-a-calling. He didn’t choose the best offer or the quietest hockey town. He chose to play under the bright lights and tight fan scrutiny of the team he loved growing up. After four games in the AHL, he became a regular on the Vancouver Canucks’ defence. He is now in his 4th NHL season. Troy from Richmond has arbitration rights this summer as a restricted free agent. He will get a nice pay-day having established himself as a reliable, tenacious defender with top four defense-pairing upside.

NHL: New York Rangers at Vancouver Canucks
Troy Stecher battles a New York Ranger to allow Jacob Markstrom to see the puck.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Schaller

He had never been a big offensive producing forward and NHL scouts did not recommend him to their bosses as draft-pick worthy. After college he did emerge as a solid defensive forward in the AHL with some offensive upside.

The Buffalo Sabres signed him to his first NHL contract and he played parts of two seasons with them. The Boston Bruins signed him as a unrestricted free agent (UFA) on July 1st, 2016 and he gave them two good seasons as a 4th line forward who was physical, killed penalties and scored some goals too. His 12 goals in his second season with the Bruins garnered interest from the Canucks who were eager to improve upon their mediocre group of bottom six forwards. They signed him as a UFA on July 1st, 2018.

He came to camp a bit out-of-shape and was a healthy scratch for much of the first half of his first season with the Canucks. He appeared to be a clear free-agent signing mistake. However, he started to find his game in the second half of his initial year in the City of Rain.

Now in the second season of his two-year contract, he has emerged as the left wing lynchpin of the Canucks 4th shutdown, penalty-killing energy line with line-mates Jay Beagle and Tyler Motte. While Canucks’ management is likely to move on from him next season in favour of a cheaper ELC player, he is a player whose skill-set will become more valuable during the 16-team showdown that starts in April should Vancouver find itself in that elite group then.

Jordie Benn

He is the older brother of NHL superstar Jamie Benn. But unlike his younger brother, no NHL general managers were willing to even spend a late round draft pick on him. Indeed, Jordie spent his entire junior career playing for the Salsa and Grizzlies in the BCHL never playing in the higher-level WHL.

He turned pro with the ECHL Victoria Salmon Kings in 2008 and then later played with the Allen Americans in the since-folded Central Hockey League. He was then signed by the AHL’s Texas Stars. He spent two and one-half seasons in the AHL. He played his first NHL game for the Dallas Stars during the 2011/12 NHL season playing on the same team as brother Jamie. He finally put the minor leagues behind him part way through the 2012/13 season. He was eventually traded by Dallas to the Montreal Canadiens. He signed with the Vancouver Canucks as an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, 2019.

No longer the unwanted Benn brother, he has now played over 500 NHL games. He has played in 38 of the Canucks first 47 games so far this season. He is now involved in a battle for the full-time third pairing left defence position on Vancouver’s defence brigade.

Oscar Fantenberg

He is currently battling Jordie Benn for the last available full-time rearguard spot on Nolan Baumgartner’s top six goalie protectors. Benn took the early advantage but he has taken the lead for the moment.

Un-drafted, the Lungby-born Swedish skater played for the most part anonymously in his native country until he signed as a 24 year old to play with Sochi in the KHL during the 2016/17 hockey season. He emerged as the number one defenseman on that team scoring 23 points in 44 games drawing NHL attention.

The Los Angeles Kings signed him and he debuted in the NHL with them as a 26 year old during the 2017/18 NHL season. He played 73 regular season games for the Kings over two seasons and was then traded to the Calgary Flames at the 2019 Trade Deadline for a conditional 2020 4th round draft pick. He played in 18 regular and playoff games for the Flames after they acquired him.

Jim Benning has said the Canucks’ pro scouts liked what they saw when they scouted him and on July 1st, 2019 the Vancouver Canucks’ inked him to a contract when he became available as an UFA. He was concussed in a pre-season game against the Ottawa Senators that was held in Abbotsford. As a result, he never really had a chance to compete for one of the full-time defence jobs on the Canucks’ blue line. Once he recovered his health the Canucks defence appeared set and remained uncharacteristically healthy.

After a two game AHL conditioning stint with the Utica Comets, his opportunity to play finally arrived when Alex Edler was injured and went out of the line-up. He played well and when Edler returned he outplayed Jordie Benn for the sixth and final D-man slot. But his battle for playing time continues and is not over yet.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Minnesota Wild
Oscar Fantenberg winds up for a slap shot against the Minnesota Wild.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Tanev

When he first arrived in Vancouver his then Canucks’ veteran teammate Kevin Bieksa said of him that he was so cool and calm on the ice that he could smoke a cigarette while moving the puck out of the defensive zone. He was deemed too small and scrawny to play in the OHL so he spent his junior years in the lower leagues in Ontario. There was zero NHL interest in him. A sudden growth spurt and one year in college and he emerged on the Canucks’ hockey radar. He turned pro with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in 2010/11 and before the season ended he would play in five games during the Canucks’ playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

He is now in his 10th season with the blue-and-green and has played over 500 regular season and playoff games. He is the consummate reliable puck-moving defenceman who rarely makes a mistake. The only knock on him is that he gets injured too much but that happens a lot to warriors who fearlessly lay their bodies on the line to snuff out opposition scoring chances. He is usually unnoticed on the ice. If he leaves Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent in July 2020 as many expect he will then his absence will likely be noticed during the Canucks’ 2020/21 season.

Jay Beagle

At age 21, after completing his second season playing hockey at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, he decided to give pro hockey a whirl. He was the longest of long shots to ever lace up his skates in an NHL rink. But he clicked right away playing for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and before he knew it he was a vital member of their 2007 Kelly Cup championship. He then followed that up with two Calder Cup championships in 2009 and 2010 with the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

The Washington Capitals noticed his success and signed him to an NHL contract. Then in 2018 he made hockey history. The Hockey New’s winner of the Guy Carbonneau Award for the NHL’s Top Penalty-Killer hoisted the Stanley Cup and became the first player ever to win all three major professional North American league Cups in a career.

On July 1st, 2018, the Vancouver Canucks seeking successful veteran role models for their emerging young studs signed him. He remains one of the best face off men and penalty killers in the NHL and is a key component of the Canucks’ resurgence as a force to be reckoned with again in the League this season.

The New Unwanted

The Canucks’ aren’t shy about combing the hockey-verse for today’s overlooked and unwanted players. Ashton Sautner and Jalen Chatfield were both signed as Canadian Hockey League junior free agents and have played games and/or spent time on the big club’s NHL roster. NCAA free agent signee Josh Teves and OHL free agent inker Mitch Eliot both still harbour hopes of forging NHL careers out of initial mass rejections by the hockey intelligentsia.

But it appears General Manager Jim Benning and his management team may have already unearthed another blue-chip player out of the hordes of the rejected men of ice. He is 24 year old Quinnipiac University graduate Brogan Rafferty. He was signed by the Canucks on April 1st, 2019 as an NCAA free agent but he is no joke. He is tearing up the AHL as a rookie defenceman with 37 points in 40 games and is biding his time, perhaps with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, for an injury or trade to make room for him on British Columbia’s team in the Bettman parity league.

Perhaps, Rafferty will eventually become the Canuck’s missing link to its first ever Stanley Cup victory. Vancouver fans know from experience that sometimes it is the unwanted who become the beloved and do special things that will live on forever.