Vancouver Canucks: Top 10 Prospects April 2012

Eddie Lack Vancouver Canucks

This post was originally published over at the CanucksArmy.

To clarify, my cut-off for prospects is 25 NHL games of experience for skaters (no Zack Kassian or Chris Tanev), and 25 games of NHL experience for goaltenders. I took many factors into consideration – risk and reward, the estimated time of arrival, potential fit on the 2012-13 roster, and more.

THE HONORABLE MENTIONS…

Joseph Labate LW/C – The rangy winger should get more responsibility this season at Wisconson.

Yann Sauve D – Hasn’t taken huge steps forward and certainly doesn’t appear to have the offensive upside he was once projected to possess. Good size and speed, should settle in as a solid, low-event depth guy (and potential Vigneault favorite).

Adam Polasek D – Intriguing combination of size and skill. Needs more AHL seasoning.

Jeremy Price D – has taken great strides at Colgate – has NHL upside.

10. BILL SWEATT

  • Position: LW
  • 2011-12: Chicago (AHL)
  • Upside: Solid checking winger
  • ETA: Will get a look in 2012-13, likely needs one more year in the AHL.

Chicago used their 2nd round draft pick in 2007 on Sweatt, with the hope that his hockey sense and hands would catch up with his skating (unfortunately, neither happened). Five years after being drafted, Sweatt has only played two mostly unremarkable games at the NHL level. He had a solid four-year career at Colorado College, and has scored 36 goals over the past two AHL seasons. He won’t be a top six forward at the NHL level, but with his speed and tenacity, he could become a very good energy winger. Picking a prospect that will max out as a 15-to-20-goal third line winger for a top 10 list may seem stupid, but Sweatt is a lock to at least play in the NHL. Upside and potential is great, but he should fill an important role with this club for a long time. For a comparable, think of how effective Todd Marchant used to be for Edmonton.

9. ALEX FRIESEN

  • Position: C
  • 2011-12: Niagara (OHL)
  • Upside: Physical, undersized checking centre.
  • ETA: 2013-14

Friesen’s spectacular offensive campaign (26 goals and 71 points in 62 games with Niagara) must be tempered a bit – he was a 20-year-old playing against mostly younger players, and the Ice Dogs iced a formidable roster. That being said, his contributions extended beyond the score sheet. Friesen is regarded as one of the best faceoff men in the OHL, and his defensive acumen and tenacity make him one of the best defensive forwards, too. His only real knock is his size (he’s very generously listed at 5’10” and 190 pounds), and it will be interesting to see if he can successfully translate his physical forechecking style to the professional game. Like Sweatt, there are prospects left off of this list that may have more upside, but Friesen plays a pro-type of game already (consistent, hard on the puck, quick in his decision making). He is closer to the NHL than you may think.

8. ANTON RODIN

  • Position: LW
  • 2011-12: Chicago (AHL)
  • Upside: Top-Six Playmaker
  • ETA: Should see a few games this season and next, full time by 2014-15.

On the surface, Rodin’s 2011-12 season in Chicago was a disappointing one – 10 goals and 27 points in 62 games. However, it was his first season in North America, and he looked much more comfortable with and without the puck as the season wore on (trending up, if you will). His skill set is obvious. With the puck on his stick, Rodin can beat defenders with his hands and his speed. He has great vision and a heavy wrist shot. The Canucks will be patient with him, but he will need to up his goal production considerably before warranting a call up to the big club. He still struggles with the size and strength of AHL defensemen, and has had some injury issues in the past (although he appears to be past the big one – shoulder tendonitis). Scoring has let the Canucks down in crucial situations in each of the past two seasons, and Rodin could be a part of the long term solution.

7. PATRICK MCNALLY

  • Position: D
  • 2011-12: Harvard (NCAA)
  • Upside: Second Pairing D-man. PP Quarterback.
  • ETA: 2015-16

The slick-skating defenseman was a big part of one of the best power play units in the entire NCAA. McNally’s best attribute is his hockey sense – something common among all great NHL power play quarterbacks. He will likely spend another few years in college (many speculate that since he attended Harvard he may want to get his degree first, but a professional contract offer has a funny way of changing things). Vancouver doesn’t have an elite defensive prospect, but they have several very good ones. The 20-year-old defenseman was a finalist for rookie of the year in the ECAC (the conference Harvard plays in). He had 28 points in 34 games – pretty impressive production. The rest of his game is pretty solid, as well. I profiled him back in January – worth the read if you want more information on him.

6. FRANK CORRADO

  • Position: D
  • 2011-12: Sudbury (OHL)
  • Upside: Top-Four Defenseman
  • ETA: 2014-15

I’m not sure if Corrado still goes by ‘Frankie,’ but I figured it was time for him to become Frank (I have trouble calling any person I don’t know personally ‘Frankie’). His third full season in the OHL saw him earn a nomination for the Defenseman of the Year Award (won, unsurprisingly, by Niagara’s Dougie Hamilton. Or is it Doug?). Corrado isn’t an offensive superstar, but he plays a steady two-way game. He has scored only eight goals in 186 OHL career games – a power play quarterback, he is not. The biggest improvement he made from 2010-11 to 2011-12 was in the defensive zone. His plus-minus (not a perfect measuring stick, mind you) increased from minus- 10 to plus-26.

In the annual poll among OHL Eastern Conference coaches, Corrado was in the running for most improved player (third), best penalty killer (third) and best defensive defenseman (third).

5. JOE CANNATA

  • Position: G
  • 2011-12: Merrimack (NCAA)
  • Upside: Starting goaltender
  • ETA: 2015-16

Cannata helped put the Merrimack hockey program on the map all by himself. He’s likely going to follow a similar developmental path of fellow college goalie Cory Schneider, and the similarities don’t end there. Like Schneider, Cannata is known for his mental toughness and technical proficiency between the pipes. He will most likely back up Lack, or a veteran AHL tender, in Chicago next year, and he may never even suit up for the Canucks in a regular season game, as the talent ahead of him on the depth chart is tremendous. However, he is one of the better goalie prospects in the league, and is well-deserving of the fifth spot on the organizational depth chart.

4. KEVIN CONNAUTON

  • Position: D
  • 2011-12: Chicago (AHL)
  • Upside: Second-pairing defenseman
  • ETA: 2013-14

Connauton’s defensive game is still a work in progress, but he has improved dramatically in his play away from the puck since turning professional two seasons ago. His game has improved in particular under Craig MacTavish. MacTavish has encouraged Connauton to employ his strengths (skating and shooting) while shoring up his weaknesses. The Canucks have several offensive prospects on the back end (including college standout Patrick McNally, recent OHL Defenseman of the Year finalist Frank Corrado), but Connauton is the closest to NHL action.

3. JORDAN SCHROEDER

  • Position: C
  • 2011-12: Chicago (AHL)
  • Upside: Second Line Centre
  • ETA: First call up in 2012-13

The skilled American pivot has been tried unsuccessfully on the wing. If he makes it as an NHLer, it will be up the middle or not at all. His numbers improved considerably in his sophomore AHL campaign – 10 goals to 21, and 28 points to 44, but he still has yet to ‘dominate’ at the AHL level, something that the Canucks were hoping for. Schroeder’s play both with and without the puck has improved considerably.

wrote a piece on Schroeder back in February, and my thought process remains the same – he is NHL ready.

2. NICKLAS JENSEN

  • Position: RW
  • 2011-12: Oshawa (OHL)
  • Upside: Top-line Playmaker
  • ETA:2013-2014

Jensen’s strong preseason and training camp last fall were a bit of a surprise to many. I guess Canucks fans have gotten used to the team’s prospects disappointing each fall. But Jensen didn’t look out of place against NHL competition, using his size, strength, and vision to create several offensive opportunities.

The Canucks aren’t in a position where they need to rush him, but he may force their hand with another strong training camp. Jensen thrived in the AHL after getting the call up for the end of the season (including a hat trick in the final regular season game). Why?

“It’s a different, it’s quicker and it’s more grown up professional hockey than you see in the OHL. There, you still see some junior guys running around and chasing the puck a little bit too much. Over here, it’s more system. I like this style; it suits me a little better.”

With a strong camp, he could push for a roster spot this fall. It is more likely that he spends another year in the OHL before making the jump to the pro game, though.

1. EDDIE LACK

  • Position: G
  • 2011-12: Chicago
  • Upside: Starting goaltender
  • ETA: 2013-14 (as a backup)

The Canucks signed the 6,7 Lack as a free agent out of Sweden, and his adjustment to the North American game has been exceptionally quick. For the past two seasons, he has been one of the best goaltenders in the AHL. He is big and mobile, and his weaknesses are few. There are mixed opinions on how ready Lack is. Chicago GM Wendell Young thinks he could be in the NHL as early as 2012-13. Chicago captain Nolan Baumgartner, on the other hand, has a different opinion:

““He’s probably a year or possibly two away. He still has some learning to do and there’s no better place than the AHL. To go and back up somebody, I think it would be detrimental for him to be sitting on the bench most of the year and not get in games.”

Who knows… in six or seven years we could be kicking Cory Schneider off to replace a 40-year-old Roberto Luongo in Tampa Bay, clearing space for Lack to come in and start. Kidding aside, Lack is going to be a very good NHL goaltender in the not-too-distant future.