Delivering the Sauce: Top-10 Canucks Prospects (Part I)

The majority of Vancouver’s top prospects have wrapped up their 2011- 12 campaigns. The organizational depth in goal is stronger than it has been at any point in franchise history, and there are some intriguing names both on defense and at forward too. How does the Canucks prospect group stack up heading in to the offseason? In Part one of this two part look at the organization’s best, I’ll reveal my top five.

To clarify, my cut-off for prospects is 25 NHL games of experience for skaters, and 25 games of NHL experience for goaltenders. I took many factors into consideration – risk and reward, the estimated time of arrival, potential fit on the 2012-13 roster, and more.

5. Joe Cannata

  • Position: G
  • 2011-12: Merrimack (NCAA)
  • Upside: Starting goaltender
  • ETA: 2015-16

Cannata helped put the Merrimack hockey program on the map all by himself. He’s likely going to follow a similar developmental path of fellow college goalie Cory Schneider, and the similarities don’t end there. Like Schneider, Cannata is known for his mental toughness and technical proficiency between the pipes. He will most likely back up Lack, or a veteran AHL tender, in Chicago next year, and he may never even suit up for the Canucks in a regular season game, as the talent ahead of him on the depth chart is tremendous. However, he is one of the better goalie prospects in the league, and is well-deserving of the fifth spot on the organizational depth chart.

4. Kevin Connauton

  • Position: D
  • 2011-12: Chicago (AHL)
  • Upside: Second-pairing defenseman
  • ETA: 2013-14

Connauton’s defensive game is still a work in progress, but he has improved dramatically in his play away from the puck since turning professional two seasons ago. His game has improved in particular under Craig MacTavish. MacTavish has encouraged Connauton to employ his strengths (skating and shooting) while shoring up his weaknesses. The Canucks have several offensive prospects on the back end (including college standout Patrick McNally, recent OHL Defenseman of the Year finalist Frank Corrado), but Connauton is the closest to NHL action.

3. Jordan Schroeder

  • Position: C
  • 2011-12: Chicago (AHL)
  • Upside: Second Line Centre
  • ETA: First call up in 2012-13

The skilled American pivot has been tried unsuccessfully on the wing. If he makes it as an NHLer, it will be up the middle or not at all. His numbers improved considerably in his sophomore AHL campaign – 10 goals to 21, and 28 points to 44, but he still has yet to ‘dominate’ at the AHL level, something that the Canucks were hoping for. Schroeder’s play both with and without the puck has improved considerably.

I wrote a piece on Schroeder back in February, and my thought process remains the same – he is NHL ready.

2. Nicklas Jensen

  • Position: RW
  • 2011-12: Oshawa (OHL)
  • Upside: Top-line Playmaker
  • ETA:2013-2014

Jensen’s strong preseason and training camp last fall were a bit of a surprise to many. I guess Canucks fans have gotten used to the team’s prospects disappointing each fall. But Jensen didn’t look out of place against NHL competition, using his size, strength, and vision to create several offensive opportunities.

The Canucks aren’t in a position where they need to rush him, but he may force their hand with another strong training camp. Jensen thrived in the AHL after getting the call up for the end of the season (including a hat trick in the final regular season game). Why?

“It’s a different, it’s quicker and it’s more grown up professional hockey than you see in the OHL. There, you still see some junior guys running around and chasing the puck a little bit too much. Over here, it’s more system. I like this style; it suits me a little better.”

With a strong camp, he could push for a roster spot this fall. It is more likely that he spends another year in the OHL before making the jump to the pro game, though.

1. Eddie Lack

  • Position: G
  • 2011-12: Chicago
  • Upside: Starting goaltender
  • ETA: 2013-14 (as a backup)

The Canucks signed the 6,7 Lack as a free agent out of Sweden, and his adjustment to the North American game has been exceptionally quick. For the past two seasons, he has been one of the best goaltenders in the AHL. He is big and mobile, and his weaknesses are few. There are mixed opinions on how ready Lack is. Chicago GM Wendell Young thinks he could be in the NHL as early as 2012-13. Chicago captain Nolan Baumgartner, on the other hand, has a different opinion:

““He’s probably a year or possibly two away. He still has some learning to do and there’s no better place than the AHL. To go and back up somebody, I think it would be detrimental for him to be sitting on the bench most of the year and not get in games.”

Who knows… in six or seven years we could be kicking Cory Schneider off to replace a 40-year-old Roberto Luongo in Tampa Bay, clearing space for Lack to come in and start. Kidding aside, Lack is going to be a very good NHL goaltender in the not-too-distant future.

  • Jeff – I know that you have Lack as a 2013-14 backup, because we don’t know for certain what’s happening with the goalie situation for the Canucks going into the 2012-13 situation.
    But let’s assume that the Canucks do trade either Luongo or Schneider… Lack would be the ready to be the back up in Vancouver, yes?

    Also… I haven’t seen anything from the Canucks on Nicklas Jensen lately, but we know he has a concussion. He’s not playing for Denmark at the WHC as a result. I’m curious to see what the Canucks do with Jensen this offseason in an effort to help his recovery.

  • Why is it so ridiculous to think Schneider could be displaced by Lack? He has comparable AHL numbers and for all we know he could turn out to be better. A lot of Canucks fans have the notion that Schneider is the be all end all of goaltending which just isn’t the case.

  • Where did I say Lack couldn’t displace him?

    Cam – I don’t think the Canucks want Lack to play limited duty. I think it also depends how ready Joe Cannata is. I’m guessing they’d bring in a vet to play with Schneider (assuming Luongo is dealt).

    And Schneider may not be the “be all, end all,” but he is 26 and projects as an elite tender for the next seven years, unless something drastic happens.