Prospects Tourney Game 4 Review

Four of these Prospects will be in Canucks main camp opening on Saturday.

Early this afternoon the Canucks prospects closed up the young stars tournament with a shutout loss at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. The tournament ran all week (from Sunday through the end of today’s game) and though the quality of the hockey wasn’t great, it was still fun to watch. Of course it was, it’s hockey! The Red Wings have hosted a similar prospects style tournament for years – and based on the Canucks explicitly stated desire to emulate Detroit’s success, and the success of the event in Penticton – we can expect the "Young Stars Tournament" to become a mainstay for years to come.

Today the Canucks gave their invitees one last shot to impress, so they were short the likes of Sweatt, Schroeder, Longpre and Sauve. The Jets on the other hand dressed the bulk of their talent. Klingberg, Schiefele and Shayne Wiebe were very impressive and dominated play all game. The Canucks were steeply outshot – especially in the first and second periods – and were only kept in the game thanks to the stellar play of Karel St. Laurent. St. Laurent has been solid all tournament, but today was his best game. The Jets managed two goals, and also hit a post, as St. Laurent stopped thirty-three shots – many of his saves coming off of quality opportunities. 

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With the end of the prospects tournament, twenty members of the prospects team will be invited to main-camp – which, opens on Saturday – and the rest of the group will be returned to their junior clubs with a pat on the back. The Canucks formally announced who was cut following the game, and for the most part there were few surprises. Sent back to their junior teams were: Michael Curtis, Craig Duininck, Ryan Harrison, Steven Janes, Brendan Jensen, Jonathan Lessard, Ian Saab, Andrew Smith. A number of invitees showed really well in the tournament – and four invitees: Marc-Andre Zanetti, Antoine Roussel, Karel St. Laurent and Nathan Longpre were invited to main-camp largely on the strength of their performance in the tournament. 

Getting Noticed:

For the Right Reasons:

Mark Scheifele

The number eight overall pick in the 2011 draft demonstrated his skill today, and put on something of a puck-handling clinic. He looked like a man among boys at times, especially in the first period when his line with Wiebe and Gregoire man-handled the Canucks defenders for extended periods of time in the offensive end. Scheifele looked very comfortable quarterbacking the powerplay from the side boards and made a number of creative plays to teammates who were unable to finish. His goal was a gimme off a really ugly turnover by the Canucks prospects – but he did well to finish it. That wrist-shot he has is a serious weapon.

Shayne Wiebe

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When I googled Wiebe’s name in the first intermission and found out he was listed at 5,10 I couldn’t believe it. The Brandon Manitoba native "played big" for his listed size, and was a much more effective running mate for Scheifele than Gregoire in this game. He made the most of his opportunity with Scheifele, beat Corrado cleanly in the first and a number of other Canucks defenders whose numbers I didn’t recognize throughout the game. He won puck battles with consistency and made a nice deke and pass while sitting on his arse in the third period.

Karel St. Laurent

This is an easy one – St. Laurent is the major reason today’s game wasn’t a repeat of Sunday’s blow-out. The two goals allowed were the result of an awful defensive turnover and off of a rebound where St. Laurent made a terrific first stop on Scheifele before Wiebe tapped in the rebound.

Because the Canucks are so deep at the position – St. Laurent is still unlikely to be signed by the Canucks, but to his credit, he’s earned an invite to main camp and even if he isn’t offered an ELC – he has impressed a number of observers (Canucks brass and goalie scouts alike) with his calm, composed play.

For the Wrong Reasons:

Michael Curtis

Curtis was just flat out bad today. Two plays in particular underscore this – first of all, in the middle of the second frame right after the Jets had changed goaltenders, the puck took a funny bounce off of the end boards, landing right in front of the net. Michael Curtis was there, and had what should’ve been a gimme, or at least, a dangerous shot on net. Literally this puck may as well have had a sparkly red bow on it. Curtis flipped it over the net. He was also the receiving player on the giveaway that led to the Schiefele goal in the third, and boy was that ever an ugly play. It’s not all on Curits, the pass from Duininick was weak as well, but that wasn’t the sort of play where you can say "it was on that guy" and excuse the other – it was an example of poor communication, and bad decision making from both players.

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Sebastian Erixon had a solid first period. Early in the game, Erixon looked great at four-on-four, and he used his speed, and positional intelligence extremely well. Though he’s rather small, he wins puck battles and is surprisingly strong on the boards. He had a giveaway in the second period of today’s game, but in general Erixon reads the forecheck very well, and has no issue "breaking it" against this level of competition. Erixon had one bad shift in the second period, when he got beat off the boards cleanly by Klingberg, his lost battle resulting in two quality opportunities for forward Michael Kirkpatrick. Erixon is guaranteed to be at main-camp and he’ll likely play this season in Chicago – but I really like his skill-set, and think he could become a serious point producer at the AHL level. In general, I thought he was the best Canucks defender in Penticton this week.

Not that Surrey born Prab Rai had a particularly bad game, or a particularly bad tournament, but he didn’t stand-out and certainly doesn’t look like a future NHL-level scoring forward. He even had a couple of good moments. One, when he forced a turn-over while the Jets were on the power-play, skated into the opposition end and then wisely wasted time rather than go for a big play. For a prospect – fighting to be noticed – to make that sort of smart "team play" in a situation like this is refreshing. He also had a big hit on Jets defender Cody Sol, and he gets bonus points for the hilarious way his helmet fell off of his head following the hit – that was awesome. Despite that fine play, Rai simply doesn’t do anything that particularly impresses me, his passing is average at best and he didn’t flash the finish he probably needed to this week. Sure he scored a goal, but that was a really ugly goal, and was probably incorrectly credited as well. Frankly, with the Canucks current organizational depth I don’t see where Rai slots in on the Wolves this season. If you look at the competition for a fourth line wing spot in Vancouver you’ve got names like: Pinnozotto, Mancari, Duco, Ebbett, Oreskovich. Now consider that only one, maybe two of those guys will make the big club, and the other will all be considered ahead of Rai on the depth chart in Chicago. Throw in Schroeder, Sweatt, Haydar and others – and I just don’t see where Rai fits in long-term. 

Frankie Corrado had another good game today, and looks like the type of smart, quick defender the Canucks seem to be infatuated with at the moment. Corrado was beaten badly once in the game (by Wiebe) but was otherwise solid and memorably stuffed a Schiefele rush that really frustrated the highly-touted Jets first rounder (Schiefele gave him a face-rub and some shots after the play). Corrado’s defensive game is reasonably steady and calm, and on the offensive side of the puck he’s got a lot of tools. Corrado can carry the puck into the offensive zone and set up possession, he has a good hard-shot that sticks to the ice (though he should use it more – he passed up a couple of good opportunities to shoot) and he’s a pretty decent passer. What a great find for Gillis in the fifth round – I’m legitimately excited about this kid and will be watching his performance closely in Sudbury this season. His confidence has to be sky high after his performance this week.  

Adam Polasek turned in another strong performance as well, particularly on special teams. The Jets went 0-6 on the PP and Polasek’s play down low was a major reason why. On one particular sequence in the first, Scheifele and Gregoire made a couple of nice plays, attempting to draw Polasek out of position, but Polasek stood his ground and battled effectively against two very talented players. On the power-play – even though I doubt Polasek will ever be relied on to quarterback a power-play as a professional – the big Czech looked polished. He’s got a hard shot, and not only does he use it well as a weapon – but he really likes the shot fake, and when you’ve got a hard shot, the defense has to respect that. Great tournament for Polasek, who I very much expect to slot onto the bottom pairing in Chicago this season.

I know that some in the media, and some fellow bloggers were impressed by the play and size of Alexandre Grenier this week – but I don’t see it. Maybe it’s because he’s old for a draft pick – I tend to dislike when Gillis drafts older players – or maybe it’s because his lanky frame reminds me of Marc-Andre Chouinard… Whatever it is – hockey looks really difficult for Grenier, and nothing he does on the ice is crisp. Perhaps he’ll grow into his height, but at the moment the skill level is just not very high.

I thought this was Nicklas Jensen’s worst game of the tournament by a fair margin. Against the Jets prospects, Jensen struggled mightily to win the sort of puck-battles he’d been winning with consistency earlier in the tournament. In the third period he turned an odd-man rush into a drawn penalty – which is an alright result, but I think it was pretty lucky – his puck handling on the play was way out of control. On his best shift of the game with Alex Friesen and Steven Anthony – Jensen demonstrated some nice velocity on his wrist shot, which, we didn’t really get to see this week. More of that please!

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Anton Rodin has improved in every game he played this week, and looked pretty good today – especially when he was skating around everybody at the end of the game with Karel St. Laurent on the bench. He also had a really nice pass to set up a Frank Corrado point shot, and though he had one brain-fart where he tried to get fancy in the neutral-zone, his skating ability was one of the few things in this game that Winnipeg’s defense had no answer for.

Camp opens Saturday! Get excited Nucks fans.

  • Mantastic

    reason why you saw the big names of WPG was that WPG only brought 22 players to the tournament, as opposed to CGY, VAN and EDM who all bought over 30 (don’t know about SJ).

  • Mantastic

    Good review, but I disagree on a couple points.

    Michael Curtis, other than the two plays you mention, actually had a decent game, much better than his performance in the rest of the tournament. Those two moments, however, overshadowed the rest. I would not put any blame whatsoever on Duininck on that giveaway, though. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that outlet pass. It was right on Curtis’s tape and he flubbed it. That one’s entirely on Curtis.

    I would actually put Erixon third in terms of performance this week, behind Polasek and Corrado. Sauve was right up there as well. When it comes to Erixon, he has great offensive instincts and skill and when he’s in the defensive zone he’s solid. The problem is, he’s not in the defensive zone enough, if you get my meaning. He has a tendency to get caught up ice too often, meaning he’s not always reading the play effectively.

    The thing I like about Grenier is that he’s a superb skater for a taller player. I’m hopeful that he can add some heft to his lanky frame and still keep that smooth skating stride. It’s very rare to see someone that tall skate that well. You’re right that his hands have some catching up to do, but he can still make some good passes and he does good work in front of the net. I was sceptical of the pick after the draft, but I thought he looked good in the tournament.

    Completely agree on Jensen. Still, he had a good tournament. I’m interested to see what he does in pre-season play against pseudo-NHL opposition.

  • I think we’re talking at cross purposes to some extent Daniel. From the perspective of who was the more valuable player to their team in the games played – I’d agree with you. From the perspective of “which prospect defenseman looks most ready to compete at the pro level” – I still think it’s Erixon.

    I do agree that Erixon took too many risks, but – more so than Corrado and Polasek – he looked ready to play a tailored role at the pro-level. That Erixon showed like a “free-wheeling” player at a prospects tourney isn’t a surprise – he wanted to catch some eyes, and he was playing with less skilled skaters than he’s used to. I’d wager that he reigns that in when he’s skating with and against NHL players in the preseason.

    As for the Curtis missed pass – I’m not sure that was a good decision by Duininick, even if the pass was right on. I’d need to watch it again to be sure.

    With Grenier, I hope you’re right, but there were moments in the tourney where he’d try to “showcase his skill” rather than do what he’ll need to do to be a successful pro. Hey, hopefully he improves – but I just don’t see it!