Late last week, the Canucks re-assigned 23 prospects to their AHL affiliate the Chicago Wolves. On Monday, we looked at three Canucks prospects whose development could benefit from the NHL lockout, and a protracted stint in the more talent laden than usual American Hockey League.
While the Canucks organization’s top three young players (Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev and Eddie Lack) will see a lot of ice, and be given every opportunity to succeed – the following three prospects are guys who could end up with the short end of the stick.
Who are they? Read past the jump for find out!
I suspect this will be a relatively controversial pick. Some might argue, and credibly so, that as a result of the NHL lockout, Jordan Schroeder won’t be rushed into the NHL lineup and challenged to perform an impossible task in "filling Ryan Kesler’s shoes." I see that argument but this is a no-brainer in my book.
First of all, Jordan Schroeder takes a pretty big financial hit. If there wasn’t an NHL lockout at the moment, then it’s very likely that Schroeder would’ve been given every chance to earn his way into the opening night Canucks lineup as the second line centre. Schroeder’s contract pays him 900k (base salary) if he plays a full season in the NHL, but he only makes 65k if he spends the entire season with Chicago. So if Kesler wasn’t going to be back before December, and Schroeder had managed to win his spot in the lineup to start the season, he’d have earned an NHL salary for at least two months (and maybe more). That’s in and around 200k left on the table!
Secondly, "readiness" aside (and I personally think Schroeder is very good), if you’re a prospect like Schroeder – who has never tasted regular season NHL action – you want to play. This was going to be Schroeder’s golden opportunity to impress in training camp, and maybe even win an opening night spot in Vancouver’s top-six! That’s exciting for a young man, and I’ll bet he’s choked that the business side of hockey will cost him that opportunity.
Here’s the thing to remember about Jordan Schroeder, for those of you who don’t think he’s very good. He produced at a slightly higher rate with Chicago last season, than Cody Hodgson did in 2010-11 with the Manitoba Moose (his last season in the AHL). He’s also a significantly better (to my eyes) two-way player than Hodgson was at the same age. I’d further suggest to you that Schroeder’s counting stats (which don’t jump off the page at you), are deflated by an overall lack of power-play ice-time. In terms of Schroeder’s even-strength production, he scored more points for the Chicago Wolves last season than every other player except Darren Haydar.
Now maybe Jordan Schroeder isn’t ready to dominate NHL quality defenses yet, but he’s ready to get a shot. The Canucks have spoken openly about "designing success" for young players, and as we saw with the Cody Hodgson showcase: the club knows how to massage match-ups and zone starts in order to make their prospects look good.
That’s the treatment that Jordan Schroeder would’ve probably gotten if he’d impressed in training camp this September! Instead he’ll return to Chicago, cash a more pedestrian pay-cheque and continue to bide his time. And when the NHLPA and the NHL finally resolve the lockout, Kesler might be fully healthy again, and Schroeder’s window to make an impression at the NHL level might snap back shut.
Yann Sauve has dealt with nothing but bad luck since he turned pro two seasons ago. At his first Canucks training camp he was struck by a car, and came out of that accident with a concussion. When he returned to action he spent time in the ECHL, AHL and NHL in one season – and never really found his rhythm. Last season he may have clashed with Coach Craig MacTavish (at least that’s the sense one gets from Dave Gagner’s comments to NHL.com) and never seemed to really find his stride, even though he played regularly in Chicago’s top-four.
With Wolves tough minutes ace Nolan Baumgartner retiring, there looked to be a significant opportunity for Yann Sauve to assume a large part of that burden, and even compete for a spot on Chicago’s top-pairing. Because of the NHL lockout, however, he’ll probably find himself slotted in behind Chris Tanev and Derek Joslin on the depth chart.
In addition to the unexpected presence of Tanev and Joslin, the Wolves already employs several of their own, steady defenders – AHL vets like Mark Matheson. With Tanev, Connauton, Joslin and Matheson in the mix, it’s tough to see Sauve getting the top-four or top-pairing minutes he needs to take that next step forward. He may even see his role reduced over last season as a result of the Wolves’ superior depth! Dude just can’t catch a break!
This season will mark the professional debut of the diminutive, hard-nosed checking centre. Friesen is generously listed at 5,10 but he plays bigger than his size – just ask Taylor Hall – and has some offensive upside. He was a point per game player with the juggernaut Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL last season, but those point totals are somewhat inflated by the fact that Friesen was two years older than most of his competition.
Besides Friesen’s height and his limited offensive upside, there’s a lot to like about his game: he wins face-offs, he’s smart, he’s an excellent skater and he hits like a truck. All of that said, it looks to me like Friesen is going to have an uphill climb to stick with the Wolves (as opposed to the Kalamazoo Wings) this fall.
Consider that Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder – who you can basically pencil in as the Wolves’ top two centremen on opening night – would probably have been on the Canucks roster if not for the NHL lockout. That helps to steepen the competition Friesen will face, as does the presence of 2012 2nd round draft pick Alexandre Mallet – who I suspect was picked a round or two early for the purpose of being "fast-tracked" in a bottom-six role. There’s also big Stefan Schneider, and Wolves veteran and assistant captain Kevin Doell, who will presumably have the inside track to play in the top-9.
If there was NHL hockey, there’s little doubt that Ebbett and Schroeder would’ve been with the big club, providing a patchwork stopgap for the team until Ryan Kesler’s return. In that scenario, Friesen would’ve had a clear path to playing top-9 minutes with the Wolves. With Ebbett and Schroeder soaking up top-6 minutes, however, he’ll be competing with Schneider, Mallet, and Doell for two spots at the bottom of the Wolves forward group.
Friesen is still a toolsy centreman, and there’s obviously the opportunity for him to make the best of a tough situation. Structurally, however, the NHL lockout puts him at a disadvantage that he otherwise wouldn’t have had to contend with.