A week ago we reported, thanks to the insight from our Kalamazoo Wings Insiderrr @Sarah_Hobday, that Curtis Valk suffered the brunt end of a knee on knee collision in a game. He did not return to the game after that and was seen leaving the arena on crutches.
Sarah has since informed us that Curtis Valk has been officially placed on the ECHL Injured Reserve List and in addition the K-Wings Coach and Play-by-Play guy mentioned multiple times over the weekend that Valk will be receiving surgery soon and is finished for the season.
Continue past the jump as we look at what this means for the Canucks, and for a young player who impressed so much at Vancouver’s rookie camp.
Curtis Valk is not technically a Canucks prospect in the truest sense of the word as he is not signed to an NHL contract, nor was he a draft pick of Vancouver. Valk is however in the Canucks system as he signed to a Utica Comets AHL Standard Players Contract, an organization controlled by the Canucks.
This is another benefit of controlling your own AHL team besides the obvious direct supervision of how your own minor league players are developed: you are able to sign more players that you are interested in who won’t be ready for the big show for another year or two without having to use up one of your 50 valuable contract slots.
Under Mike Gillis, the Canucks wanted to use free agency in the CHL and the NCAA as a 3rd draft every two years. That is to say they wanted to find hidden gems and sign them to NHL Entry-Level Contracts to supplement their depth, and they were fairly aggressive at doing that.
The Canucks managed to sign a number of players with this method. The most successful to date has been Chris Tanev, but there have been a few more players to have managed to play in at least 1 NHL game. This list includes Ronalds Kenins, Darren Archibald, Kellan Lain, Evan Oberg, and Lee Sweatt. But for every “successful” free agent signing, the Canucks have had a player signed to an NHL contract that did not make the NHL. These players have included Kellan Tochkin, Bill Sweatt, Eric Walsky, Stefan Schneider, Sebastian Erixon, and Jeremie Blain. The jury is still out on current CHLer Evan McEneny, though he has become a respectable prospect.
Vancouver has used the farm system to “manipulate” loopholes in the CBA too. Players who start the season outside of North America have to clear re-entry waivers to be signed by an NHL team. The Canucks did this last year by signing Cal O’Reilly, who played 14 games in the KHL, to an AHL Standard Player Contract, and O’Reilly is now Canucks property. Washington did something similar where they hid 19 year old Australian Nathan Walker in Hershey to keep him away from scouts and then were able to draft him in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Curtis Valk’s Year
The Canucks are interested in Curtis Valk as they brought him to various
Vancouver camps this summer, and invited him to the Utica Comets training camp as well. By
signing him to an AHL contract and sending him to the ECHL, they are
developing him in a similar pattern to Darren Archibald (and comparably
to Alex Burrows), as he never would have taken up one of the Canucks
prospects spots in the Utica bottom 6. The Canucks can continue to develop Valk in this
pattern without using up an NHL contract until he potentially earns one.
Valk is currently leading the Kalamazoo Wings in points, and has been scoring at a rate over 1.0 point per game all season, second on the team, and just dipped below that mark in the last game before his injury. His shot rate of over 2.5 shots per game, was one of the best rates on the team, though his shooting percentage of 14% suggests he has likely been a tad bit on the lucky side.
He was already recalled once to Utica this year, to play 1 game, and it is not hard to imagine this 21 year old earning an AHL position soon. Given the limited ice time he would have received in Utica this year, perhaps the first line time in the ECHL was better for his development.
Despite the injury, I imagine the Canucks are still interested in seeing how Curtis Valk will develop as a player (especially since he’s a Medicine Hat Tigers alumni). Given the concern on recovery after an injury I cannot see the Canucks or any other NHL team signing him to an NHL Entry-Level Contract in the next season.
It seems most likely that Valk will be signed to another AHL SPC to see how he has been able to recover from the injury and to see how he as developed in his half year in the ECHL. If either Jim Benning or any holdovers from the Mike Gillis era like Laurence Gilman are still looking for creative ways to acquire potential future NHLers, they will continue to watch and see if Valk has NHL potential over the next year or two.