Nicklas Jensen - Vancouver's Only Top-100 Prospect

Thomas Drance
September 19 2012 01:42PM

Generally speaking there isn't as much prospect coverage in hockey as there is in the other major North American sports (football, baseball and basketball). It's kind of weird because, unlike the NHL: the NCAA, CHL, AHL and the European leagues tend to consistently start their seasons on time. Amazing! 

Luckily for hockey obsessives, Corey Pronman of ESPN and Hockey Prospectus works long hours and manages to satiate our need for prospect information. Today over at Hockey Prospectus, Pronman released his "Top-100 Prospects" list, and the individuals in the Canucks pipeline, well, they didn't fare too well...

Read past the jump.

Needless to say, the performance of Vancouver's prospects on Pronman's top-100 list isn't very flattering. Only one Canucks prospect, 2011 first round pick Nicklas Jensen, even cracked the top-100 and he was ranked 88th! Yikes. I expect that those Canucks fans who are obsessed about the club getting older, "windows closing" and so forth, will knee-jerk into "Mike Gillis hasn't drafted an impact player, he should only pick Vancouver Giants and BC born players and why oh why did the team trade Cody Hodgson," mode.

Maybe those sorts of fans are right, but I don't see any reason to panic about the lack of depth or quality in Vancouver's system. First of all, while Jensen's ranking seems low, as Pronman explained on Twitter his actual talent level is higher than his relatively low ranking indicates:

Pronman's appraisal here is consistent with what I concluded from watching Jensen closely with the Oshawa Generals last season: 

Jensen has dropped the gloves this season (and looked good doing it), and improved his defensive game, but I'm still not sure he's done enough to shed that "needs to compete harder" label... 

The "compete level" canard isn't something I generally put a lot of stock in... Without the puck, for example, Jensen is calculating and doesn't show a lot of pace or urgency. In the defensive end of the rink that can work to his advantage, and he smartly picked off several Brampton passes simply by being in the right position. On offense, however, he'll certainly need to work harder to get open if he wants to be a thirty goal scorer in the NHL...

When you see what [Jensen] can do on the ice: feathering tape-to-tape passes to his line-mates through defenders in the neutral zone, or unleashing his powerful wrist-shot in the slot, it seems like he should be a force of nature at the major junior level. For all of his potential, he's not as dominant as one reasonably suspects he could be.

Secondly, the strength of Vancouver's system is their two bluechip goaltending prospects: Joe Cannata and Eddie Lack. Pronman's rankings don't regard goaltenders very highly (not even Jakub Markstrom cracks the top-100) because they take forever to develop, and are nigh impossible to accurately evaluate when they're 19 and 20 years old. 

Thirdly, a top-100 list like Pronman's, is a collection of the highest-end prospects in hockey. Arguably the lack of Canucks prospects on the list reflects the fact that the Canucks haven't picked in the top-half of the first round since 2008, and habitually trade their mid-round picks at the trade deadline. It also hurts that they narrowly lost out on acquiring the services of West Kelowna's Justin Schultz (ranked #12)... 

That said, at some point teams need to find value outside of the first round. Teams like the Red Wings, for example, manage to do so consistently. Arguably the Canucks have done alright in this respect, it's just that the prospects who may make this list in future years are still "low-certainty" guys. 

What I mean to say is that organizationally, the Canucks' pipeline is stronger than the pedestrian appearance of their individual prospects on Pronman's top-100. Pronman himself ranked the team #24 in his organizational rankings earlier this summer, explaining:

Vancouver was one of the hardest systems to rank because they have quite a bit of talent in their ranks, but there's uncertainty on that talent. Alex Grenier, Frankie Corrado, Anton Rodin, and Joseph Labate are examples of players who could surprise.

Prospects like Alexandre Grenier, Frank Corrado, Patrick McNally and Joseph LaBate (all of whom were taken outside of the first 60 picks in the draft), have the upside to crack top-100 prospect lists going forward. But there's still a lot of variance in their projections. 

Look, no one is going to describe Vancouver's prospect pipeline as being "elite" any time soon. But the team's future just isn't as bleak as some might have you believe, and I'd urge you not to over-react to the lack of Canucks prospects who made the cut for this years edition of Pronman's top-100. 

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 KleptoKlown
September 19 2012, 03:17PM
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Predicting prospects is like predicting the weather.

I'd rather watch a competitive NHL team year after year than a watch a bottom feeder tank year after year. Fans tend to want to see their teams win. You can only sell the idea of "We're young and going to get better" for so long.

Within the last decade or so, the Canucks have been able to bring in free agents, make good trades, and have had fairly decent draft results. Combine all these factors (you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket...) and you will see that the modern era Canucks have been able to stay competitive. There are no reasons to think that the future will be dark.

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#2 stinkpickle
September 19 2012, 02:11PM
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I don't recall the Canucks ever having had a strong prospect pool, even when the team was terrible. This is interesting because a large part of the team's current core are from within the Canucks organization, but few of them would have made the top 100 prospects list.

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#3 Mantastic
September 19 2012, 02:18PM
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you should also keep in mind that the % of top end prospects that pan out is low and the % of not top end prospects panning out is extremely lower.

so of the Alexandre Grenier, Anton Rodin, Frank Corrado, Patrick McNally and Joseph LaBate, MAYBE there might be 1 NHLer/replacement level NHLer. Hardly rosey picture being painted when none of them can replace the talent that will be exiting the canucks in 3 years~ due to the inevitable decline of the Sedins.

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#4 Rhys J
September 19 2012, 02:27PM
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Also important context: there are 90 first line forwards at any one time in the NHL. Jensen is the #60 F on that list. If he develops into the 60th best F in the NHL, that's still a #2 or #3 forward. At 29th overall, it's a good pick.

If he develops well, that is.

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#5 JA
September 19 2012, 03:44PM
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I wonder if anyone has worked on a formula to figure out the weight of importance an elite prospect pool (in the view of this sort of ranking) should have compared to other elements: development, coaching, trade record, current lineup, etc.

A search of Hockey's Future archives shows that every year since 2006 the Canucks have been ranked in the bottom third of teams, other than 2009 when buzz about CoHo and Schneids pushed them up to #10. This year they're ranked 28th.

It's interesting to look on historical rankings (I couldn't find any at HP) like this to give some context, especially considering: a) how many top prospects were traded for other needs, b) that some teams always seem to be top 10, c) how many elite prospects have faded out of public view. Just food for thought.

I've love to see some 20/20 hindsight review of past prospect lists to get a better grip on the current lists, but I suppose NHL draft histories tend to provide a pretty good picture already.

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#6 JA
September 19 2012, 03:46PM
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I meant to note in my comment that the 'Nucks consistently low ranking hasn't seen to have done them much harm in recent years.

It's hard to control for the effect of the Sedins, though...

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#8 Fred
September 19 2012, 04:43PM
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Quite honestly I'm not impressed with Pronman much. Where did he rank Burrows, Tanev, Edler Garrison and Hansen in his previous lists ? LOL I asked him one year why he hadn't include Tanev, his reply was pretty poor. It seemed clear he had never seen the player. He's a journalist not a scout. If he was great believe me some team would have picked him up. Of the players I've watched of the Canucks Corrado will make it easily

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#9 Jeff Angus
September 19 2012, 05:52PM
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I value goaltenders different than Corey does, but Eddie Lack has to be on this list.

He's arguably the best goalie not in the NHL. Sure, the position is tough to evaluate, but that doesn't mean that goalies are less important. Lack of predictive value shouldn't mean they all get ignored, no?

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