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:
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) September 19, 2012
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.