The infusion of skill

Friday, 08.08.2014 / 9:00 AM / Features
By Jeff Angus
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The infusion of skill
New Canuck Linden Vey is all about puck possession, offensive instincts, and vision.
New Canuck Linden Vey is all about puck possession, offensive instincts, and vision.

Those were the first three attributes given by Linden Vey’s former WHL coach, Shaun Clouston, when prompted for a 30 second scouting report. Clouston was an associate coach under Willie Desjardins with the Medicine Hat Tigers during Vey’s first three full seasons there, and he transitioned into the role of head coach in 2010-11 – a season in which Vey led not just the WHL but the entire CHL in scoring with 116 points. Suffice it to say, there are few people in the hockey world who have a better idea of Vey’s ability and upside than Clouston.

Clouston, who now also holds the title of general manager with Medicine Hat, didn’t need any prompting to dispense more praise on Vey as a player and a person. There were several prevalent themes in each of his responses, and one of them was Vey’s progression in Medicine Hat. “From where [Vey] was when he came in to where he ended up – being the top scorer in the league – he really progressed.” Progression is key for all prospects. It doesn’t matter where you are drafted (or if you are even drafted at all – just ask Alex Burrows or Nick Bonino) – what matters is how you develop.

Although he is a former CHL scoring leader, was a star in the WHL for four years, and shares a name with the most popular Canuck of all-time, Linden Vey isn’t a household name in this market. But Clouston doesn’t think that Vey will fly below the radar for very long.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I think Linden is going to do in Vancouver. I don’t know if it is going to be overnight, but eventually he could be really good… based on the improvements he made here.”

Vey arrived in Medicine Hat as a very skilled and very offensively focused player. And although his production progressed each year, he also worked hard on his skating, strength, and defensive play.

“As time progressed in Medicine Hat, he became a very well-rounded player. Him and [Anaheim Ducks winger Emerson] Etem were unbelievable on the penalty kill. Not only shutting teams down, but they were just a great pair because of the intelligence and skill set they play with.”

Remember when Russ Courtnall and Pavel Bure were the dynamic duo killing penalties and scoring shorthanded goals for the Canucks? Perhaps Vey and a speedy teammate can recreate some of that magic.

The scouting report

As mentioned already, Clouston was quick to point to Vey’s strength on the puck, his offensive instincts, and his vision as his strongest attributes. “He can score goals, but he can also really create offensive chances through his puck possession by drawing attention and finding the open man.” The Canucks lacked players last year outside of the Sedin twins (and flashes of brilliance from Zack Kassian) who could consistently create offensive opportunities for their linemates. Vey is exactly that type of player.

Here’s an example of his hands and instincts at work. Even Pavel Datsyuk would be impressed by Vey’s toe-drag around new teammate Brad Richardson.

Although he has spent time at both wing and center, Clouston believes that Vey is best suited to play up the middle in the NHL. “I see him as a center because he can control the play with his puck protection game – having that puck in the middle of the ice and being able to progress up the ice and find the open man – I see him at the top of his game being a top-six center man.” While Vey isn’t expected to assume that level of responsibility this season, the Canucks didn’t trade a good draft pick to Los Angeles to acquire a potential depth forward. They believe what Clouston believes – Vey is a future top-six forward.

“He’s so good on the power play – he’s the guy on the half wall or the goal line – he’s the guy that can have it on his stick for good periods of time and create that way.” Player comparisons usually bring with them unrealistic expectations, but Vey has elements of both Ray Whitney and Jordan Eberle in his game. He loves to slow the play down and his hockey intelligence is off the charts. The Los Angeles Kings have dominated the league over the past few years by accumulating ‘heavy’ forwards who are hard to knock off the puck. While Vey isn’t imposing in either height or weight, he is a very ‘heavy’ player. Former Minnesota Wild winger Andrew Brunette is a great example of a player who played a ‘heavy’ game and was very hard to knock off the puck. There isn’t a great direct comparable out there for Vey, and that could be due to the fact that his game has evolved so much since turning professional three years ago.

Vey has spent those past three seasons playing for the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. His role on that team was to create offense for his talented wingers – Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Jeff Carter replaced Vey on that line in Los Angeles, and that trio was one of the best lines throughout the 2014 postseason. Gann Matsuda, who has been covering the Kings since 1986, is the publisher of FrozenRoyalty.net and has watched a lot of Vey over the past three years. He also believes that Vey’s future is at center.

“He has spent the vast majority of his time with the Monarchs… at center. He's learned the position, and most importantly, he has learned the importance of being solid defensively both on the back check and in his own zone. That will certainly help him at the NHL level.”

And Vey doesn’t just create plays, though. He can also finish them.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Kings were comfortable moving Vey, even with his immense upside. If his future is at center, where does he fit in on a team with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards all signed to significant long-term contracts?

Familiarity

Vey comes to Vancouver with a real sense of familiarity to a key member of the organization – Desjardins. They worked together for three years in Medicine Hat and Desjardins undoubtedly offered his thoughts when general manager Jim Benning solicited him for a scouting report. Clouston believes that this established relationship will help Vey immensely. “He has a little ways to go to establish himself in the NHL. But I think with the familiarity between Willie and Linden… there is a lot of potential.”

Desjardins is both intense and a relationship-builder. Clouston spoke extremely highly of him as well. “[Willie] finds ways to get the best out of his players and it shows in his track record.”

The Canucks also suddenly have a very Western Canadian feel throughout the front office, from team president Trevor Linden (Medicine Hat, Alberta, WHL alumni) to general manager Jim Benning (Edmonton, Alberta, WHL alumni) to head coach Willie Desjardins (Climax, Saskatchewan, former WHL coach and WCHL alumni). However, the prairie influence doesn’t end there. Vey has ties to both Saskatchewan (born in Wakaw) and Alberta (four years with Medicine Hat). Trevor Linden, also a former Medicine Hat Tiger, recorded 110 points in 1987-88 (23 years before Vey’s 116 point campaign).

This season and beyond

Vey will come to camp and compete for a spot on the roster. In the short term, his most likely landing spot is centering the third line, but don’t discount the potential for him to crack the top-six at some point this season. He should also instantly add a necessary dosage of skill to Vancouver’s power play unit as well.

As he recently told Canucks.com, Vey is excited to return home to Canada and to play in a great hockey market like Vancouver.

That feeling of excitement should be mutual. He is a young center with a terrific hockey pedigree and immense offensive upside. But, perhaps most importantly, he will get a chance to prove himself to Canucks fans right away. The team has lacked offensive facilitators beyond Henrik and Daniel for a few years now, and Vey will help to shore that up.

Puck possession. Offensive instincts. Vision. Vey has proven what he can do in the WHL and AHL. Now it’s time for him to prove his worth in the NHL.