Fighting For Ice: part 2
The opportunities for a young player to step up and claim a starting role have never been better. Here's a look at a few young prospects looking to state their case.
When Schultz finds the puck in front of the net, he scores. That's a rare and highly coveted ability in hockey; which makes it hard to believe that a player with Schultz's skills could slip undrafted out of junior hockey.
His professional career didn't get legs until the Canucks signed the 6'0", 190-pound winger as a 20 year-old free agent in July, 2003 after Schultz topped the Kelowna Rockets with 53 goals and 104 points - second-best in the entire WHL. It was the same season Schultz led the Kelowna to their first ever Memorial Cup appearance and earned playoff MVP.
Starting out in Columbia of the ECHL, Schultz worked his way up to Manitoba in 2004. Last season, after leading the Moose in scoring, Schultz got his first look at the NHL - though he didn't dress for a last-second call-up against the Coyotes in January. Still, the call-up was a confidence boost for the 23 year-old winger from Strasbourg, Sask.
Schultz is looking to build on that confidence by securing himself a coveted right wing positions with Vigneault and the Canucks this season.
Schultz has exceptionally good hands. He's a gifted scorer who's shifty in the offensive end. He's rounded out his game since tearing up the WHL scoring chart in junior, and still scored 37 times in Manitoba last year.
As with all young players improved defensive radar wouldn't hinder him any, but Schultz spent the summer training in Manitoba and will arrive in camp ready to go. He's dropped five pounds and says he's improved his quickness.
Stan Smyl: "Jesse has a knack for finding the scoring area. He's got a quick release and is dangerous around net."
His coach at Boston College, Jerry York, calls Schneider one of the best to ever suit up for the Eagles - and that was after his first season. Considering New Jersey Devils forward Brian Gionta is a Boston College alum, that's some heavy praise.
The Canucks drafted the skinny red-head out of Andover Phillips Academy in 2004 with the 26th overall pick after his heroics carried the US to its first ever gold medal at the Under-18 Junior World Cup. Since then the high-school prodigy has spilt his time between Boston College and the US national team.
Schneider started for Team USA at the 2006 World Junior Tournament in Vancouver last winter and twice won player-of-the-game honors. This spring he posted back-to-back shutouts in leading his Boston College Eagles to the 2006 NCAA Frozen Four championship game where he made 35 saves in a narrow 2-1 loss to Wisconsin.
At 20 years old, Schneider's committed to going back to Boston for another season. But has said he's not averse to coming out of college early, following in the footsteps of fellow US College draftee Canuck Ryan Kesler who turned pro after his rookie season at Ohio State.
Though he's not signed, Schneider still wants to show the Canucks he can handle the speed and pressure of the professional game. That starts with a long training camp in Vernon.
At 6'3", Schneider's a goalie who blocks a lot of light. He can get across the net quickly, though most often he doesn't have to. Schneider positions himself extremely well and rarely gets caught scrambling. His biggest asset is his head. For a kid who's 20, Schneider's exceptionally poised. If there's one area he'd like to improve, it's rebounding, though that's a skill that usually develops with experience.
Dave Nonis: "If he's not the best goalie in college hockey, he's right up there."
When the Canucks called his name with the 91st pick in 2004, the draft floor froze. Nobody had heard of him. For all they knew Edler was a new line of Ikea children's furniture. Well, not anymore.
The wonderkid from the far Swedish north - scouted out of a senior men's league by Thomas Gradin - led all WHL rookie defencemen in scoring last season with 13 goals and 53 points in 62 games. He was a plus-21 and excelled with the Kelowna Rockets despite making his first foray outside of Northern Sweden last August.
Edler played for Sweden at the 2006 world junior tournament and signed with the Canucks this summer.
Edler wants to get up to camp in Vernon and prove to management that he can handle the more physical North American game. Being only 45 minutes away from his winter home in Kelowna should help his comfort factor, and he'll likely get lots of support from Rockets fans.
At 6'4", 207-pounds, Edler is an intimidating presence on the blue line, though his game is more about skill and scoring than it is about bruising opposing forwards. Edler's coach in Kelowna, Jeff Truitt, said his puck movement and awareness are strong enough to land him time in the NHL right now. His adjustment to the North American game has been quick since coming over last year, though Truitt says Edler will be even more effective as he adds a measure of aggression to his game. With a little seasoning, Edler has the potential to dominate.
Stan Smyl: "He's active offensively and sees the ice well. He has the ability to be a set-up guy on the power play. There's no question he has the skill package."