Net prospects Lack, Cannata a strength for Canucks
Vancouver doesn't pick early in the draft these days, but they still have found a few intriguing prospects that could help as early as this season.
The Vancouver Canucks built their veteran core through the NHL Draft, but they've picked in the top 10 only twice since 2005.
And neither player selected is still with the organization. Cody Hodgson (No. 10 in 2008) was traded to the Buffalo Sabres last season, and Luc Bourdon (No. 10 in 2005) was killed in a motorcycle accident four years ago.
It's possible the Canucks won't have any Calder Trophy-eligible skaters in their opening-night lineup this season, but they have some who will challenge for roles and several others who are up-and-coming despite the fact the team has picked perennially low in the draft for years.
With the assistance of Dave Gagner, Vancouver's director of player development, here is a list of the Canucks' 10 best prospects:
1. Eddie Lack, G: The Canucks have had an NHL ready goalie waiting in the wings in Chicago, with Lack, 24, who spent the past two seasons in the American Hockey League. He won 21 games with a 2.31 goals-against average and .925 save percentage last season with the Chicago Wolves after winning 28 games with a 2.26 GAA and .926 save percentage in 2010-11 with the Manitoba Moose.
"He's 6-foot-5, can play deep in the net because of his size, and has great reflexes. There are some games when you're watching you're just like, they're not scoring on him," Gagner told NHL.com. "He has that Pekka Rinne-like confidence that he brings to the team."
2. Nicklas Jensen, RW: Vancouver made the Danish winger the No. 29 pick in the 2011 draft. He has put up back-to-back 58-point seasons with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, and had six points in six games for Team Denmark at the 2012 World Junior Championships. He's considered one of the top offensive players in the Canucks system. Jensen signed with AIK in Sweden, but is expected to compete for a roster spot when training camp opens.
"He's a power forward and likes to model his game after guys like (Jaromir) Jagr, who is one of his heroes," Gagner said. "He likes to go one-on-one in the corners. He protects the puck and is very strong on the puck. He has great lateral movement. He's a left-handed shot and plays the off wing and gets chances off the half wall. He scored six goals in eight games in the American (Hockey) League at the end of the year for us, so he adjusted well."
3. Kevin Connauton, D: The 22-year-old blueliner from Edmonton is getting closer to the NHL. He had 33 points -- including 13 goals -- in 73 games for the Wolves last season and was an AHL All-Star. He won the hardest shot contest at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition with a blast that registered 99.4 mph. Vancouver made Connauton the No. 83 pick in 2009.
"He's probably our best offensive defenseman right now at the prospect level," Gagner said. "He's a really good skater with great puck skills and is a power-play guy. He can also shoot it. He was a forward as a kid so he's got more of that comfort level when he joins the rush, and when he gets the puck he knows what to do."
4. Jordan Schroeder, C: Schroeder, the No. 22 pick in 2009, has spent the past two full seasons in the AHL. The 5-foot-8 pivot has 31 goals and 41 assists in 137 regular-season games, including 21 goals and 23 assists in 76 games last season. With Hodgson gone and Ryan Kesler potentially out for the start of the season rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder, Schroeder could challenge for an opening-night roster spot.
"Jordan was what (ex-Chicago Wolves coach) Craig MacTavish called our most reliable player last year in the American League," Gagner said. "He played in all situations. He lacks size, but he's got great agility and a high skill level. Once he started killing penalties his game just took off because he was on the ice for 20-22 minutes per game. Especially in the second half, MacTavish was really impressed with his all-around game."
5. Anton Rodin, RW: Rodin, a Swedish prospect who was selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft (No. 53), is coming off his first professional season in North America after playing professionally in Sweden. He had 27 points in 62 games with the Chicago Wolves. He's considered a potential call-up this season for the Canucks.
"This kid has some great legs, great lateral ability. His skating is top end," Gagner said. "He just has to get some confidence in his upper body strength. He had shoulder problems and he couldn't work out for two years, but he's gotten over that and has probably had the best summer he's had in a real long time. We're expecting him to make a big leap this year."
6. Brendan Gaunce, C: Gaunce was Vancouver's first-round pick in June (No. 26). He is a hulking forward who had 68 points in 68 games for the Belleville Bulls last season. Gaunce played for Team Canada at the World Under-18 Championships and will likely compete for a spot on the Canadian Junior National Team this year.
"He's already 210 pounds and his skating ability is higher than we expected," Gagner said. "You read the scouting report prior to the draft and some people would question his skating ability, but we don't see any issues at all with it. We're really impressed with that part of his game, actually. And, he shoots the puck like a man. He really snaps it. He has the ability to play a strong two-way game. He just needs time to develop now."
7. Joe Cannata, G: The 22-year-old recently completed a four-year run at Merrimack College, where he started 75 of the team's past 77 games. Winning 17 of his 36 starts as a senior, Cannata had a 2.17 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. He went 25-10-4 as a junior. Cannata signed in March and won his only start with the Wolves last season, making 38 saves in a 4-2 win over Peoria on April 15.
"He has really good numbers at Merrimack and he gave that program legitimacy," Gagner said. "They really weren't a program on the map and now they are. His nickname is 'Joe Cool' because he's very calm. With him and Lack, we feel pretty good about our goaltending depth."
8. Frank Corrado, D: Corrado was a fifth-round pick (No. 150) in 2011. The 19-year-old from Toronto has played the past three seasons for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League. He had 26 points and was a plus-26 in 60 games last season after scoring 30 points in 67 games in 2010-11.
"He's really similar to (Canucks defenseman) Chris Tanev," Gagner said. "He's a very mobile, puck-moving defenseman that plays about as error-free a game as you can. He's very detailed in the way he plays. He's been very impressive for us. He's a good fifth-round pick."
9. Patrick McNally, D: McNally was actually the first player the Canucks took in the 2010 draft, but they didn't have a selection until the fourth round (No. 115). He'll be a sophomore at Harvard after being an ECAC Rookie of the Year finalist last season. He had 17 points and was a part of Harvard's top-ranked power-play unit (27.3 percent).
"He's a great power-play defenseman, really elusive," Gagner said. "It's kind of uncanny the way he can maneuver through situations on the ice. He's got a tall, slight build (6-foot-2, 180) and he's working on that, but he basically helped Harvard's power play go from one of the lowest in the nation to one of the best in the nation."
10. Yann Sauve, D: Sauve was the Canucks second-round pick in 2008 (No. 41) and has spent the past season-and-a-half in the AHL with a five-game stint in the NHL in 2010-11. He had nine points in 73 games for the Wolves last season. Sauve, at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, is a hulking defenseman who projects to be a shut-down guy in the NHL as long as he can get better at handling the puck and making decisions with it.
"Yann was involved in a bad accident his first year pro and missed the first three months of the season -- and will now have his third new coach in three years, unfortunately something he doesn't always adjust well to," Gagner said. "He currently has upside as a No. 6 or No. 7 NHL depth defenseman."