When Mike Gillis selected Yann Sauve in the second round of the 2008 NHL draft, it was only his second draft pick ever as the General Manager of the Canucks. Sauve was seen as a big (6 foot 3, 220 pounds) puck moving defenseman with solid skating ability. Heralded as a 2-way defenseman, his stock had steadily dropped over the last couple seasons as his junior team (the Saint John Sea Dogs) steadily improved. It was said that the development of his offensive game had stalled, and that he no longer had top-4 potential.
Fast forward to training camp, when a still twenty-year old Yann Sauve was crossing the street in downtown Vancouver, and was struck by a car. It seemed to be going from bad to worse for the big kid from Rigaud, Quebec. Sauve suffered a concussion in the accident, and when he was healthy, he began the season on the Victoria Salmon Kings – the Canucks ECHL affiliate.
Perhaps the concussion, and the hardship he faced in the early part of this past season was good for young Mr. Sauve though – as he turned it on in a big way over the latter half of the season. When he first dressed for the Canucks in a game on February 15th 2011 against the Minnesota Wild – he had played 28 games as a professional hockey player (20 in the AHL, 8 in the ECHL) and recorded five assists (3 in the AHL, 2 in the ECHL). From February 15th on – he appeared in 4 more NHL games (and was also reasonably effective in sheltered minutes), and in the AHL scored 3 goals, and added 8 more assists in his last 19 regular season games.
Though Sauve made a few memorable mistakes in his limited NHL time (allowing a John Madden breakaway against Minnesota, and getting caught way out of position on a James Neal goal against Dallas four days later) he also made a few stellar plays. The one that stands out occurs at the 4:07 mark of the following video, when Yann Sauve knocks over Brendan Morrow, then out-hustles the Dallas captain to tip the puck to Daniel setting off a Sedin and Burrows three on one that results in a beauty goal for Henrik:
That’s a solid hustle play, and a promising sign from a young guy like Sauve. Sauve is still only 21, and won’t turn 22 until February of 2012 – so we should expect his glide-path to the NHL to stilll be a couple of seasons away (defenseman tend to develop more slowly than forwards). Still, last season Sauve showed something – even leapfrogging names like Kevin Connauton and Jordan Schroeder on Corey Pronman’s top-10 Canucks prospects list. Here’s what Pronman has to say about Sauve’s current development and skillset:
Sauve is a solid to above-average skater with a pretty good first step and four-way mobility who can get to a desirable top speed pretty quickly. He’s an above-average passer who moves the puck pretty easily with good technique and can flash the ability to thread some impressive mid-distance distributions. Sauve has above-average skills with the puck for a bigger defenseman, although on the grand scale, I’d say he’s average. His physical game used to be somewhat of an issue in previous seasons, but I saw a better, conscious effort from Sauve in regards to being stronger in his one-on-one battles and showing more physicality.
Sauve is quite underdeveloped and his weight listing may be somewhat generous. He’s done some work to improve his physical game, but it still has a ways to go in regards to building his frame and being consistently solid physically in his own end. His decision-making could use some work as well as he will cough at puck at poor times and force bad passes.
With Vancouver’s extreme depth at defense – it’s basically assured that Sauve will begin next season in the AHL yet again. Nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to see him mature into a top-pairing guy at the AHL level next season. We’d also like to see him out-grow his strange habit of calling his parents during the wee hours of the night – not cool Yann, not cool at all.