Joey Kenward: It never gets easier
Stefan Schneider didn't have an easy road to get where he is and knows that the hard work continues.
Of the 35 players attending Canucks prospects camp this week in Vancouver, only one spent this past season playing a full year of professional hockey in North America.
That’s pretty impressive when realize what Stefan Schneider has gone through just to get to this point.
The 21 year-old from Vernon, British Columbia is taking part in just his second prospects camp with the Canucks. Towering over most of his team mates at 6’4”, 203 lbs, Schneider isn’t one to forget how excited he was at this same event twelve months ago.
“Last year was a tough week and it really got me prepared for rookie camp in September,” says Schneider. “I’m assuming that this week is going to be the same.”
Schneider is a good example of a player who you might call a “late bloomer”. His hard work and dedication, both on and off the ice, afforded him the opportunity to play in the American Hockey League last season with the Manitoba Moose.
His route to the Canucks organization is not most would consider to be a conventional one. Schneider split his 17 year-old season playing Jr. B hockey in Fruitvale, B.C. with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, as well as a handful of games in the BCHL with the Vernon Vipers. Despite never being selected in the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft, Schneider joined the WHL’s Vancouver Giants in 2007. As a 19 year-old the following year, he was traded from the Giants to the Portland Winterhawks, and that’s where his fortunes changed. Late in his final season with the Oregon-based team, Schneider signed a free-agent contract with the Canucks.
“The year before he signed with us, he was playing defence and transitioned to forward,” says Canucks Senior Advisor to the General Manager Stan Smyl. “When he was with Portland as a 20 year-old, GM and Head Coach (and former Canucks Assistant Coach) Mike Johnston and his staff did a really good job at his position.”
It was this time last year Schneider took part in his first NHL prospects camp. Last September in Penticton, he participated in his first rookie tournament with the Canucks, followed up by his first ever NHL training camp. He impressed club management enough to warrant a full-time assignment to play with their AHL affiliate in Winnipeg.
“In Manitoba they treated us well,” adds Schneider. “It was a pretty big jump from the WHL to the AHL. Coming out of junior being the oldest and then finding yourself as the youngest was an adjustment.”
In his final year of major junior hockey in Portland, Schneider appeared in all 72 regular season games, putting up 12 goals and 11 assists. The following year with the Moose, Schneider had to ease his way into the line-up in a depth, checking role. As a rookie, he appeared in just 47 games, collecting two goals and two assists.
“He played on a fourth line role and was in and out of the line-up, which is what the experience is for a lot of those first-year type of players,” adds Smyl. He did a really good job for the Moose. He won face-offs, killed penalties, and chipped in here and there.”
Like most players his height and weight, Schneider knows he can’t afford to slow down in his development if he wants to take the next step as a pro. This summer he has been skating three or four days a week at a rink in nearby Kelowna, while he handles his off-ice work outs in his hometown with fellow Canucks prospect Aaron Volpatti.
“The biggest thing Stefan needs to work, and he knows this as a player, is his foot speed,” concludes Smyl. “He works hard on the ice, but he works even harder off the ice. That’s what makes a big improvement in his development as a player.”
Schneider knows full well that a year of AHL-hockey under his belt and a pro contract in his back pocket doesn’t guarantee anything. He’s treating this week’s prospects camp much like last year, an experience that proved to be very valuable for his future.
“Just like anything, it never gets easy as you go,” adds Schneider. “So this year is sure to be just as hard.”