Canucks Young Stars Games Two and Three: Finding New Talent

Canucks Flames Young Stars

Frank Corrado (26) leans to take away centring pass option on Flames’ entry. One of the better defensive transition sets seen by Canucks in this game.

The Nations Network sent this Jets Nation writer to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, BC. I’m judging your team and bringing you the view from the Press Box.

Apologies to Canucks Army readers for the late reports. I’ve decided to combine these reports as I’m sure you’ve had a chance to see the games (or at least box scores). 

The Canucks used this tournament very differently than the other three teams, and differently than they have in the past. Various AHL-experienced players still eligible for this tournament were left off the roster, and injury and illness carved the numbers down further. Ten invites seemed at first to just be filler, but my best guess is that Benning considered this past weekend an opportunity to add talent in yet another unorthodox way. We know Benning discussed the impressive play of invitee Curtis Valk. He was moved into the 2C role for games two and three and continued to impress. I believe Kyle Humphries – who turned down a Canucks PTO last year – and Austin Lotz may have earned some consideration as well. That’s possibly three new additions to the organization, in which case Benning may have been the winner this weekend even though his club struggled.

Inside are my notes about the Canucks’ developing system and team play as context for the player reports below. 

Team Play

The Canucks attempted to balance their lack of prospect depth in this tournament with a very conservative structure to limit the other team’s chances. With so little practice time and against what are effectively prospect All-Star teams, it roughly back-fired. 

Opening the tournament in a 1-4 led to a 1st period shelling by the Oilers. Switching to a Bantam level 1-2-2 after just one period, the Canucks fared better for roughly 5 periods and an overtime before things got rocky against the Flames. 

In game two, the Canucks formalized the 1-2-2 to have a primary pressure point just outside their defensive blue line. The Flames had used a pressure point just inside their blue line against the Jets on Friday and it was a disaster, with the Jets using a layered entry to create copious chances. The Canucks’ system was more effective, and the Jets’ goals came on the powerplay or were questionable plays by goaltender Jackson Whistle. 

For reasons unknown to me, the Canucks adjusted the structure in game three against the Flames, drawing F3 unusually high in the offensive zone to create a sort of 1-1-1-2 (that doesn’t exist) and had their defenders back off the offensive line very early, using that high F3 to pressure before the red line. 

The game got away from them, but it was won by Calgary in two parts of the ice. First, that loose gap meant easy exits, speed through the neutral zone and then easy entrances. Second, the Flames continued to use a simple triangle-rotation 3-man cycle in the corners that took the Canucks’ defence apart. 

Keeping in mind that the Canucks had the smallest roster (23 players, just 12 forwards) for an intensive tournament and played the legs off their stars (Horvat and Jensen in particular), it’s possible that chasing the play with speed through the neutral zone followed by physical defending down low was just too much in the final game. To me, it was the Canucks’ defenders that made the cycle play a problem, as only three of the six could read the rotation and evolving passing lanes. McEneny, Stewart, and Blain caused all sort of problems by floating out to non-defending areas and failing to track the attackers off the puck. Canuck wingers started to crash low, the centre was left trying to do too much in a sort of overload position at the low circle, and Calgary attackers were getting chances from everywhere in the zone. 

Against the Jets, we saw the Canucks much more willing to play low in the offensive zone and pressure the half-wall with two players. More turnovers and more play from behind the goal line suited a sufficiently smart but not terribly skilled group of forwards.

Goaltending

#75 Jackson Whistle: One of two Canuck invite goalies, Whistle struggled in practice to stop first shots, particularly high and when the play was in motion toward the net. He impressed early against the Jets. Low stance, very effective in traffic. Tracks the puck very well and in the first 12 minutes, he faced a lot of banging at his pads and stayed in good position and control. Not strong lateral movement from knees. My view during the first was from behind him, so my comment at the end of the first period was that he was terrific in traffic, but I didn’t understand why he didn’t get more stoppages. What was happening to the puck to create so many scrums? I didn’t get a satisfying answer that in the second as he was beaten for 3 goals on 6 shots and showed his challenges with the top of the net and shooters in motion. Stopped 27 of 32 shots, but 14 of them came in the first period.

#76 Austin Lotz: An extremely impressive rookie camp for this invite somewhat tainted by a poor team showing in the final game. Canucks may have found a player here. Challenges vertically well, most noticeably on a tip midway through the first in which Lotz was right on top of the puck and gave no room for a chance. Good lead leg on lateral movement, which is efficient. Not very good on the second and third save scramble, and had way too many opportunities to show it against the Flames. The Canucks really broke down in their final game and it was hard to imagine what Lotz could do about it. Burned for 10 goals in two games, but faced 77 shots.

Defence

#26 Frank Corrado: Corrado is an odd mix – strong attention to detail, but not a lot of structural discipline. By the 10 minute mark in the 1st period against the Jets, I had Corrado with three box-outs, including off a defensive zone draw where almost everyone at this level skates away from opposing bodies. Great lane closure in defensive transition, including a big hit on Jimmy Lodge outside the blue line early in the 2nd. Aggressive pinch to corner on powerplay kept the puck alive, showed his range. Corrado isn’t efficient throughout the game (still wandering a bit and appearing in odd places around the ice), but in opportunities to defend, takes decisive action with good body control and trust for his teammates (doesn’t try to do it all). Thrown out at the end of the Flames game for a dirty elbow to the head of Gaudreau. Still doesn’t do some ‘automatic’ parts of the pro game, like closing out lanes even after the puck is dumped.

#57 Anton Cederholm: We got to see the ‘Blain Effect’ in game two, as Cederholm changed partners from Blain to Subban to Humphries and his gaps were miles better in games two and three. In particular, has very competitive gaps in isolation plays. Unfortunately, he still opens up a little when defending odd-man plays (which has the opposite effect you want – giving the player with more options more space). Had two neutral zone carries I described as ‘stumbles through NZ,’ including on the third goal when he eventually chipped to Valk for a nifty entry. Not decisive in transition but manages puck well. Lacks mobility on the offensive blue line. Better lateral movement than a year ago, but still lacks explosiveness in early strides. He’s come a long way in a year.

#61 Evan McEneny: I wasn’t impressed with his first game, and returning to the lineup against Calgary I thought McEneny was one of the weaker players on the Canucks’ roster. My comment in game one was the Subban carried him, and Subban was scratched for game three. Though the Canucks system involved loose gaps off the offensive blue line, McEneny was a particularly bad offender for giving space around the rest of the ice. Poor stick placements, not a good sense of offensive rotations and developing plays. Some obvious space cadet moments. Took the puck from Klarc Wilson in first while Wilson was attempting to skate a reverse out of pressure, resulting in McEneny being both under pressure with the puck and without the winger he would normally pass to on that side. Arguably suffered the ‘Blain Effect,’ but may have actually been the lesser defender on his pairing.

#64 Spencer Humphries: Spent last year in the KHL after turning down a Canucks try-out, Humphries returns with more to his game than expected when graduating out of Junior a year ago, though is already 22. He’s slated a shut-down guy, and he does have an active stick and is willing to make contact. Tracks his man well away from the puck. But he also managed the puck extremely well in game two, showing patience, but also vision in finding Shinkaruk back-door for the tying goal (credited to Corrado because this tournament is bizarre – it was Humphries I assure you). His outlets are crisp and well-timed. He supports up ice. Didn’t find him out of position, and had calm feet while defending. Carried Mackenzie Stewart in game against Jets. Paired with Cederholm against Calgary, the duo is listed as +1 when the team was -2 and I believe it. Played a physical game to end the tournament, but also managed opponent’s into less dangerous spaces consistently. Again managed the puck well and displayed some crisp escapes.

#67 Jordan Subban: I try not to see PK Subban in Jordan’s play because it’s not fair to compare any 19 year old to a Norris winner. In this case, it’s a favourable comparison as we saw him have a PK-esque game against the Jets. Yes, he can carry the puck and we talked about his zone entries after game one. His passes are in excellent places for easy control by the receiver. He manages the offensive blue line and powerplay units very well. He’s a smooth skater, hiding an impressive amount of speed in a low-effort stride. He’s a very cerebral defender, though, and that’s his best asset. His puck support is excellent all over the ice. He reads his defensive assignments and developing attack lanes extremely well. Doesn’t get trapped into pressure points. When Corrado blew a tire while 5-on-3, it was Subban who tracked back to push 6’5” AHL player Adam Lowry off his attack line and finish him along the end boards. He’s answering questions about how his size will be an issue by using his brain. Got turned and left behind in a high-low 2-on-1 isolation play late in the second, showing he still has some advanced reads to develop. I’m not sure what his offensive ceiling is as he didn’t show the kind of dynamic scoring sense of someone like Brendan Kichton (a couple years older, mind you) but has all the tools to create scoring.

#71 Mackenzie Stewart: Didn’t show well. Slow feet, doesn’t put himself in a position to use his long reach (he’s 6’4”). Struggles inside his triangle as well due to poor technical foot work. Made strong contact, including in defensive transition which was nice to see, but also missed a huge hit attempt in the third when he might have chosen more effective contact. Even his fight lacked technical prowess as he was felled with the opening jaw blow by Bell. Late in third, didn’t make a decision with puck on the breakout play, cornered himself into pressure and had to go off the glass. Not a turnover (that’s good), but had three options on the breakout (that’s bad). Does use the glass well, though, and we saw him resort to it a few times against Calgary. Was burned badly on the first Calgary goal, floating above his man into no man’s land only to have that player (Jooris) centre it to Granlund under light pressure from Zalewski covering for Stewart.

#72 Josh Thrower: I was excited to see the younger brother of Dalton. A thick body at a young age (a ‘96 birthday), but only managed 6 points in the WHL last year and showed why against the Jets. Most ghastly was early in the third when he was caught completely unaware that a pass was coming to him and gave up a break to Dupuy, requiring Corrado to take a penalty. A couple good hits, including a neutralizer on Basily in the first that led to a turnover. But also two badly miffed breakouts and a glaring lack of puck or play support. Seems to be playing a different game than the other 9 skaters.

#73 Jeremie Blain: Has a lot of pro tools. Makes effective contact with a regular pin. Good quickness in opening strides, efficient skater. Has enough touch to make a play on the puck. But his decision making is questionable and, in particular, he has poor awareness of how to defend away from the puck / puck carrier. It creates a lot of challenges for his partners as he leaves passing and crossing lanes available, doesn’t always pick up options away from the puck, and tends to just float backward until engaged in the play on the puck itself.

Forwards

#40 Michael Zalewski: Definitely in Canucks’ second tier for forwards after a more impressive debut. His skating really lacks mobility, and plays the game in straight lines as as result. Another two games of strong board work and effective zone exits. Doesn’t have the tools to make things happen offensively and has limited pace to his game even at this level. That fact was perfectly encapsulated with 5 minutes left in the first against the Flames when he tried an outside-inside move but ended up firing an awkward wrister into the goalie’s crest when the move failed. Reminds me of Eric Tangradi in a smaller body.

#43 Curtis Valk: Earned three separate notes for his defensive work against Jets, including two turnovers from his work managing the middle of the ice. Looked superb on the PK again in both games. Great support in the low-end of the defensive zone made life easier for his defencemen. At the same time, his offence is clearly what earns him attention. Scored the third goal against the Jets floating out from behind the net for a short-side bar-job, but made entry on the play with a shoulder shake while flattening the puck. As a future comp. we might put him somewhere along the Mark Acrobello to Tyler Ennis scale. Lots of attention on Vladimir Tkachev at this tournament. Valk is an invite also and clearly showed he deserves to be on some team’s 50-contract list.

#45 Dane Fox: Tossed out in the second period of the Jets game for a staged fight with JC Lipon, it hurt his team as they already lacked depth at forward. At a playing weight of under 190lbs and 64 goals a year ago, I’m not sure why he might try to win a job with his stick laying on the ice. Played with Valk and Zalewski to start the game, and his limited toolbox in the offensive zone became apparent. We talked after game one about his exceptional vertical puck support, which was supremely effective in game one with Horvat and Shinkaruk who play down low and are both strong passers, but was not useful with different linemates. His first shift drove the back-door as F2 and almost scored on a slap pass from Humphries that would foreshadow Shinkaruk’s tying goal, but didn’t show a lot of other tools in this one before hitting the showers 35 minutes early. Against the Flames, he was put with two skill players in Horvat and Jensen, but as Jensen attacks high-to-low, Fox’s preference for a low-to-high play was again exposed as a limitation. Had a hard time understanding the F3 adjustment in the offensive zone, floating too high (between the defence) midway through the first and causing chaos for his teammates.

#46 Niklas Jensen: The Canucks stacked one line with Shinkaruk, Horvat and Jensen against the Jets, and it produced two goals. Jensen created a turnover on the first goal, but was involved in creating a turnover for a chance before that as well. Terrific skater, has the speed to beat defenders and the edge control to use pacing and angles to throw open gaps. Makes effective contact. Generates chances on seemingly every shift. Really showed his two-way game in this tournament as well, including strong board work and good support for the breakout on both sides.

#48 Hunter Shinkaruk: Continued to grow from game one. Despite a two-goal performance in game two, was still not the player I remember from a year ago. Not meant to be a criticism as he’s coming back from injury, but more a suggestion that I think his play can be even better. He was shifty against the Jets, with a top gear that is above average for the tournament, but a little lower than last September. He returned to being physical and chippy on the forecheck, and he has a scorer’s sense for the ice – always finding space in and around the net. We saw Shinkaruk and Horvat’s chemistry again, cycling well and controlling the play low in the zone, creating chances and drawing a penalty in the third against the Flames. Visible on every shift. For game three, he was put with Valk and Zalewski (mostly) after Fox failed in that slot. Shinkaruk didn’t fail, generating a ton for himself. An early 3rd period neutral zone weave through Jooris and Granlund led to a dangerous shot attempt. Battled extremely well all game, including through a double team to secure an exit in period one against the Flames.

#50 Brendan Gaunce: A better performance by Gaunce against the Jets, but nothing impressive during 60 minutes against the Flames. He was put in a checking role, switching places with Valk in the lineup. Scored a powerplay goal off an end-board rebound against the Jets. Doesn’t come much easier, but he was in the right spot. Made three impressive passes off the end-boards (low to high) and showed some net presence that hint at offensive tools. Around the 11 minute mark of the 2nd, moved into lead-man position on the NZ transition only to not notice Zalewski passing to him before narrowly dodging a ferocious open-ice hit attempt from Kostalek. Those sorts of plays plague his game and I honestly can’t tell you why he might move ahead of the puck if he didn’t want the pass. Against the Flames, Gaunce spent most of the game in his own end and was part of a PK that went 3 for 6. Same issue as Horvat below, which is that the Canucks’ defenders couldn’t read the Flames’ rotation off the cycle and so the centre was often caught standing flat footed in a passing lane trying to defend too many things at once. Still, generated less and had worse corsi numbers than Horvat or the invite Valk.

#53 Bo Horvat: I heard some Canucks  fans disappointed in Horvat after the Jets game. He didn’t record a point and wasn’t seen on the puck often. My evaluation was that he was the Canucks’ best forward in the game. Created a lot of turnovers, including forcing Basily to abandon the puck early in the second on threat of a bunker-buster his, and checking Walker to the ice to get possession back for the Canucks at the top of the zone that created the fourth goal. Excellent possession play in the offensive zone where he spent most of his game. Horvat is the kind of player that wins hockey games without a lot of people noticing and he won’t dazzle anyone. He’s on the Brandon Sutter to Patrice Bergeron scale and projects as an effective defensive centre and excellent advanced stats player. That’s a heck of a 1st round pick. His game against Calgary was not as good and I suspect it had to do with where the offence came from – the cycle play down low in particular. That requires a lot more work from the defencemen and the Canucks had too many bodies who couldn’t read the rotation. Lot of scramble hockey out of the corner makes the centre look bad.  

#59 Cordell James: Showed some gumption in game two, including a great battle at speed with Kosmachuk to take possession and thwart a developing scoring chance at the 14 minute mark of the 3rd. Has good vertical speed. Midway through the 3rd got to the defender’s heels in the outside lane and just fired it at the goalie’s chest and followed in. Had the kind of game where he didn’t do anything wrong, exactly, but you’d like to see more given his physical skills. Against the Flames, kept crashing low defensively when the cycle rotated toward him, giving the Flames’ defenders oodles of time and space and trapping three Canucks in a corner.

#62 Jonathan Martin: Good physicality. Hit Kosmachuk and Kichton with real force in one shift, the next shift hitting Lodge with meaning. I think recorded 5 solid hits in game two. Created a turnover in second on defensive transition, but the re-entry was failed by Revel. Didn’t show much in the way of stick skills or puck support. Below average speed, but closes for contact decisively and has very good balance. Scored the lone goal against the Flames on a leaning wrister. It was well placed, but probably not a goal very often.

#63 Matthieu Bellerive: Feisty player with good short range quickness. Fights through checks to get to the net. Doesn’t have a plan with the puck and we saw a few failed zone entries result. Aware defensively, but looking to turn it up ice in the first opportunity.  

#70 Matt Revel: Made an impressive outside-inside pull-in-to-wrister at speed early in the second against the Jets to get the puck by Kichton. His next shift he blew a zone entry for lack of a move at the line. Needs a lot of space to organize his body and plan his attack but has the puck skills to do it if given that space.

#74 Klarc Wilson: Has average to above average vertical speed and definitely an effortful player. Scored a little in Prince George this past season and was put with Cordell and Gaunce as the best possible third line. Supported the puck in low-to-high plays well. Showed awkward lateral movement in flight in the first, failing to disguise his release on his first of three recorded shots. Fought Keegan Kanzig, which is just a poor idea. 

  • Canafan

    So weird to read someone positive on canucks army. Where’s the snark, sarcasm and crushing bitterness?

    Thanks for the write up though. An interesting read.

  • Canafan

    Another well written article. This guy should be getting paid to do this! I love the break down of the systems the Canucks were using and how they were both effective and ineffective. Sounds like Kevin is or has been a coach before. Excellent.

  • Copperfinch

    Its not possible to get tired of McCartney’s hockey analysis. Amazing understanding of the details that make the difference! Wondering why Dane Fox was ho-hummed by many scouts, even after a 64-goal junior season? here is your answer…its in the details…

    I also have to admit that this glowing analysis of J.Subban, combined with Subban’s healthy scratch from game 3, moves JS up my personal prospect ranking a few notches. If JS gets traded early this year, he could put up some huge numbers in junior.