The Vancouver Canucks had 25 players appear in at least 12 games last season. Only one of them -- forward Jordan Schroeder -- was a draft pick by the team since 2005.
A long run of success (10 Stanley Cup Playoff berths in 12 seasons) meant a talented roster was tough to crack. The resulting late first-round picks made it more difficult to find a top-level prospect able to break through.
That is about to change.
"Well, we have to; we don't have a choice," general manager Mike Gillis said.
Vancouver enters this training camp proclaiming there are vacancies on its roster for prospects, though maybe not as many as the brass makes it seem.
"We have some kids that are knocking on the door," new coach John Tortorella said. "We want to give them every opportunity to try to crack this lineup.
"We have to be careful in how we develop them; they need to go through the process of understanding what it is to be a pro. If we feel it's hurting them, then they'll go to the minors and play. But we're going to give them every opportunity because I think that's how you create the enthusiasm, that's how you build your team to be competitive for a long time with the [salary-cap] world. ... You need some youth in your lineup."
Here are Vancouver's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Nicklas Jensen, LW: No. 2 last year, the 29th pick in the 2011 NHL Draft will look to get off this list for good by becoming a full-time NHL player this season.
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound native of Denmark started last season with AIK of the Elitserien, the top professional league in Sweden, where he had 17 goals in 50 games. He had two goals and two assists in 20 games for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League before going scoreless in a two-game NHL debut.
"I think it's all about hard work, coming prepared and preparing yourself over the summer and really feel that you're confident to come here and show what you've got," Jensen, 20, said at this summer's development camp. "... Right now I think it's most about preparation, just coming here and being focused and being in good shape too."
2. Bo Horvat, C: The player who indirectly solved the Canucks' goaltending controversy (for now), Horvat was chosen with the ninth pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, acquired from the New Jersey Devils in the trade for Cory Schneider. He is the Canucks' highest pick since the Sedins were taken second and third in 1999.
"I think I can bring a lot to the team, and I think I'm ready to step in," Horvat, 18, said. "There's definitely some things I have to work on during the summer, but I think I continue to keep getting better at it and prove that I can be there next year."
Horvat (6-foot, 206 pounds) had 61 points (33 goals) in 67 games for the highly successful London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. The team won 24 straight games, finished 50-13-2-3 and won the league championship.
"I'm a two-way centerman that you can put out there in any key situation, whether to take a big draw at the end of the game, or be on the penalty kill or power play," Horvat said. "So I was kind of like the everything guy this year on the Knights and I hope to continue that through my hockey career."
3. Brendan Gaunce, C: Captain of the Belleville Bulls of the OHL, the 26th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft had 60 points (33 goals) in 60 regular-season games last season, missing almost a month with a separated shoulder. He had 22 playoff points (eight goals), scoring at least one point in 14 of 17 games.
"I started out pretty slow then I separated my shoulder on Oct. 19," Gaunce, 19, said. "It took a bit to rehab that, but after Christmas I thought my year kind of turned around a bit, and I finished pretty strong."
At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Gaunce was voted the best defensive forward in the OHL's Eastern Conference and is training with Gary Roberts this summer.
"I think every single guy here is trying to get that same opportunity [to play in the NHL]," Gaunce said at development camp. "Whether it's Nick Jensen, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, or even my roommate Wes Myron, we are all going for the same job because in the end we all want to play for the Canucks."
4. Frank Corrado, D: The 20-year-old defenseman played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, quite a climb from being the 150th pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
"… It doesn't matter how high you get drafted, or what your name is. [Tom] Brady went 199th overall and he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," Corrado said. "I love hearing stories like that, you know, being the guy [who] was picked late and never really had the recognition before the draft. It's great motivation hearing stories like those."
Corrado (6-foot, 190 pounds) made his NHL debut April 22 and played three-regular season games and all four playoff games for the Canucks; he did not have a point and was a minus-2.
During the OHL season, he was traded from Sudbury to Kitchener and finished with 45 points (seven goals) and a plus-19 rating in 69 games. In 259 OHL games, he had 15 goals, 95 assists and 310 penalty minutes.
5. Joacim Eriksson, G: The Canucks signed Eriksson as a free agent on June 17, two weeks before they traded Schneider.
Eriksson, 23, has played his entire career in Sweden; last season with Skelleftea he had a 1.06 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in 10 playoff games to win the Swedish Elite League championship. That followed a 1.67 GAA and .931 save percentage in the regular season.
"His performance has improved each of the last three seasons, and his all-round play has matured, and he's developed into one of the most reliable goalies in Sweden," Canucks director of player development Dave Gagner told the team's website. "He's a right shot too, which gives us a different look."
Eriksson (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) could compete with Eddie Lack for the job backing up Roberto Luongo. Lack, No. 1 on this list last year, turns 26 in January; he missed most of last season with a hip injury that required surgery but is expected to be healthy for training camp.
"It feels very good to be here and I want to take this chance," Eriksson said. "It feels very good. I want to be here and fight ... I want to play as high as possible."
Eriksson was chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers in seventh round (No. 196) in the 2008 NHL Draft but never signed with them.
6. Hunter Shinkaruk, LW: Vancouver drafted Shinkaruk with the 24th pick this year; the forward was the No. 5 rated North American skater in Central Scouting's final rankings after scoring 86 points (37 goals) for Medicine Hat in the Western Hockey League last season.
"He is a very skilled player with crazy quick hands, way above average, like off the charts as far as his hands are concerned," Medicine Hat coach Shaun Clouston told the Canucks website. "[He's] just a very, very skilled player, an upper-level skilled hockey player that plays with good energy."
Shinkaruk had 219 points in 193 WHL games, scoring 49 goals in 2011-12. At 5-foot-10, 181 pounds, he turns 19 in October.
"I think just getting a little bit stronger," Shinkaruk said of his offseason objectives. "I work hard with my trainer so that's not really something that I need to add on, it's just going to be something that I need to keep doing. I think that that's the main thing to try to get me success when I come into camp."
7. Patrick McNally, D: The 21-year-old had his sophomore season at Harvard cut short when he was suspended because of a university-wide academic scandal. McNally (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) played seven games, with a goal and two assists.
"It was more of a misunderstanding; he'll be reinstated this season," Gillis said this summer. "We talked to Patrick about coming out. We think he has great potential; he's a good young player. But he felt he had a commitment to the Harvard coaches and he wanted to see that through."
As a freshman, the 115th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft was a finalist for the ECAC Rookie of the Year Award, with 28 points (six goals) in 34 games.
"We still have a very high opinion of him," Gillis said. "He went through an unfortunate incident with a number of other students, but he's going to come through it and be better for it."
8. Joe Cannata, G: The 23-year-old American took advantage injuries to emerge within the organization. Cannata (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) dressed as Luongo's backup when Schneider was sidelined at the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Cannata, the 173rd pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, also moved up to take Lack's place with the Chicago Wolves. In 14 AHL games, Cannata had a 6-6-0 record, 2.65 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. With Kalamazoo of the ECHL, he was 3-4-0 with a 3.29 GAA and .905 save percentage.
"Joe has played very well," Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman told the Vancouver Sun during the season. "He's still a young goaltender, he is evolving, but we have been very happy with his performance thus far."
9. Kellan Lain, C/LW: Signed as a free agent in March after three seasons at Lake Superior State, Lain, at 6-foot-6, 222 pounds, is proving to be hard to overlook.
"Kellan is a big, strong, detailed player; wins faceoffs, finishes checks, plays with an edge, is hard on his opponents, and skates well too," Gagner said.
Lain had 39 points and 210 penalty minutes in 108 games for Lake Superior, including 111 penalty minutes in 32 games last season. His college coach, Jim Roque, said the 23-year-old could get even bigger.
"His body needs to fill out, he needs to get thicker," Roque said. "He is still a thin kid for a big kid. His body needs to fill out and get bigger if he is to play at 80 games plus playoffs at the pro level."
10. Yann Sauve, D: The 41st pick of the 2008 NHL Draft made his NHL debut with five games in 2011 and hasn't been back since. But the Canucks chose to re-sign the 23-year-old in July and perhaps can find a spot for the 6-foot-3, 220-pound veteran of 174 pro games and 251 in junior.
"I have a big body and can play against the best line. I can be a good two-way defenseman," Sauve told MLive.com during the season. "The offensive part of my game is there. It's all part of having confidence.”
Last season, he had two assists in 17 games with the Wolves, and 19 points (10 goals) in 32 games with the Wings.
"I need to get better every day," Sauve said. "For me, it's consistency with puck possession. I have the assets, I need the mental aspect."
Author: Mike Battaglino | NHL.com Staff Writer
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