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Horvat paces list of Canucks' top 10 prospects

Wednesday, 27.08.2014 / 12:00 PM / Features
By Adam Kimelman
With a new general manager in Jim Benning and a new coach in Willie Desjardins, it could be time for the Vancouver Canucks to infuse some new faces into the lineup.

"If young players come in and they earn a spot on the team and they deserve to be on the team then we'll make room for them," Benning said. That'll be a non-issue. If they're ready to play and ready to help the team win, we'll find a way for them to play."

Here's a look at the Canucks' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Bo Horvat, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 9), 2013 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 30-44-74, London, OHL

The 6-foot, 206-pound forward was returned to his junior team after training camp and responded with a strong season in the Ontario Hockey League that he capped with 11 points in nine playoff games, helping the London Knights play in their third straight Memorial Cup tournament. He also had one goal and two assists in seven games with Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The Canucks have a crowded depth chart down the middle, with Henrik Sedin and Nick Bonino slated to center the top two lines entering training camp. But with Horvat's mix of strong skating and all-around skill, the 19-year-old could be at the head of the line of young players looking to earn NHL jobs this season.

"He’s going to have to earn a spot, and then we'll have to make some tough decisions," Benning said. "He's good on faceoffs and a good penalty killer. He'll block shots, is good defensively and wins battles. If he goes back [OHL], he'll be one of the better players in the league. If that's what ends up happening, that's not the end of the world either. He's going to be a very important guy for us, and we want to make sure we’re developing him properly."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Brendan Gaunce, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 26), 2012 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 31-41-72, Belleville/Erie, OHL

The 20-year-old has proven he has the offensive skills to make it at the next level; he had at least 28 goals and 60 points each of the past three seasons in the OHL with the Belleville Bulls and Erie Otters, and finished last season with six goals and 16 points for Erie in 14 OHL playoff games.

The Canucks were hoping the next step for Gaunce (6-2, 207) would be learning how to use his size to open space for himself and his linemates, and that's something director of player development Stan Smyl said he saw last season.

"From Christmas on that wasn't an issue," Smyl told Jason Botchford of The (Vancouver) Province. "He got involved. And in the [OHL] playoffs, the best player for Erie was probably him. That is a part he will still have to get better. He has the body, and if he uses it he has the skill and he has that shot."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Jake Virtanen, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 6), 2014 draft

Last season: 71 GP, 45-26-71, Calgary, WHL

The Canucks selected Virtanen, 18, knowing he wouldn't play a game likely until November after offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Last season, Virtanen (6-1, 208) finished sixth in the Western Hockey League in goals and helped Canada win a bronze medal at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with three goals and three assists in seven games despite playing through the shoulder injury for most of the second half of the season.

"He's got the meanness, the ruggedness," Benning said on TSN. "He's a powerful skater, he's got a good shot. We're trying to change the culture of our team a little bit, and he's another piece to that puzzle."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Hunter Shinkaruk, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 24), 2013 draft

Last season: 18 GP, 5-11-16, Medicine Hat, WHL

After being one of the final players cut from Canucks training camp last season, the hope was a return to Medicine Hat in the Western Hockey League would lead to a big step in Shinkaruk's development. Instead a lingering hip injury led to season-ending surgery in December.

But when the team's development came along in July, Shinkaruk (5-10, 181) said he felt better than ever. The 19-year-old will likely start 2014-15 with the Canucks' American Hockey League team, the Utica Comets, to make up for the lost season of development. However, he told The Province he's come back from serious injury before to prove people wrong, and plans on doing it again.

"There was a question mark about me when I went into junior," he said. "I had broken my leg the year before. I had a lot of meetings with the [Medicine Hat] coaching staff during training camp. I kept telling them, 'I'm ready. I'm ready.' I went on to have a good year (42 points in 63 games in 2010-11 in a season that he started when he was 16 years old). I've been through it before. I know what the worries are going to be. The only one who can change [those worries] is me."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Frank Corrado, D

How acquired: 5th round (No. 150), 2011 draft

Last season: 59 GP, 6-11-17, Utica AHL

The 21-year-old had a strong first professional season, which included 15 games with the Canucks; Corrado (6-0, 190) had one goal while averaging 12:33 of ice time, but skated more than 14 minutes in each of his final three games.

He'll have to impress a new coaching staff to land a full-time NHL job, but the departure of Jason Garrison leaves the Canucks with the need for a smooth-skating, offensive-minded defenseman. If Corrado can carry over the positive momentum he had last season, he could be a full-time NHL player.

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

6. Nicklas Jensen, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 29), 2011 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 15-6-21, Utica, AHL

Jensen (6-3, 202) played well enough in the AHL last season that he got into 17 late-season games with the Canucks; he had three goals and three assists with Vancouver.

The Canucks don't have a lot of skill at right wing after Radim Vrbata, so a spot on the second line is something Jensen, 21, will be gunning for this season.

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

7. Thatcher Demko, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 36), 2014 draft

Last season: 24 GP, 16-5-3, 2.24 GAA, .919 save percentage, Boston College, H-EAST

As the youngest goaltender in NCAA hockey, the 18-year-old backstopped BC to the Frozen Four, and will enter the season as the expected No. 1 goaltender for the U.S. at the 2015 World Juniors.

More than just the raw skills, it's the way Demko (6-4, 192) carries himself that has impressed those who have watched him.

"He's a big guy and he's confident," NHL Network analyst and former NHL goaltender Jamie McLennan said. "When you watch a goaltender, sometimes the way they carry themselves … it's impressive. He looked like a seasoned vet. You're going to allow goals; you're going to allow bad goals in your progression. You'll learn a lot. His mechanics are really good, he's got good feet, his positioning is strong. But for me it's the way he carries himself, the poise in the net. I saw [Montreal Canadiens goaltender] Carey Price at a young age, that type of poise. I don't want to compare anybody, but if you have that type of confidence and that aura around you, there's a few starting goaltenders that I've watched at a young age and the way they carry themselves, and Thatcher has that."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

8. Dane Fox, LW

How acquired: Free agent, Dec. 28, 2013

Last season: 67 GP, 64-43-107, Erie, OHL

The Canucks signed the 20-year-old halfway through last season and watched the 6-foot, 188-pound forward score more goals than any other player in the Canadian Hockey League. He had a 10-game goal-scoring streak that tied for the longest in the OHL last season, and he finished second in the league in points. He kept right on rolling through the OHL playoffs with eight goals and 19 points in 14 games.

The offensive numbers certainly are eye-popping, but Fox says he's more than just an offensive player; he's been compared him to talented grinders like Dave Bolland and Steve Ott. He'll likely start this season in the AHL to get stronger and find his niche against older, more developed competition.

"People will look at the stats and see me as an offensive guy who scores a lot, but that's not it at all," Fox told The Province. "I can do a little bit of everything. I score. I fight. I can make a nice play. I can win faceoffs. I'm not all about just scoring goals."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

9. Jared McCann, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 24), 2014 draft

Last season: 64 GP, 27-35-62, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL

McCann (6-0, 179) impressed at Canucks development camp last month with a solid mix of skill and nastiness.

"I don’t want to be pushed around," the 18-year-old told The Province. "If someone is going to stick me, I'm going to give it back. … I've always had a spur in my game. I'm not afraid to do what it takes. It's the type of game I play and that's what I'm good at."

It's what the Canucks were hoping they would get when they selected him with the 24th pick, which they acquired from the Anaheim Ducks as part of the Ryan Kesler trade.

"He's quick, he jumps into holes and he is smart," Benning told the Canucks website. "His release on his shot is second-to-none. He is a young guy that needs to get a bit stronger and build his body up, but he has the head and the skillset to evolve into a top-six forward for us at some point."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

10. Anton Cederholm, D

How acquired: 5th round (No. 145), 2013 draft

Last season: 71 GP, 4-12-16, plus-42, Portland, WHL

The 19-year-old made his North American debut last season a successful one on a stacked Portland team. Cederholm (6-2, 204) contributed offensively and led all first-year WHL players in plus/minus.

"Anton is a big, strong defenseman," Canucks vice president of hockey operations and assistant general manager Laurence Gilman told the team website. "He's got a big, physical element to his game. He is evolving as a player. For his size he skates very well. We think there's more offense that can come from his game. We think he's going to have a very strong pro career. … [Playing in Portland] has been a great experience for him so far, and if he goes back there we expect he'll develop even further."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor