the hubbub of defensive prospect activity going on in the last few weeks, from the signing of Ashton Sautner, to the persuasion of Ben Hutton to leave college,
and the panic starting to rise on the signing of Jordan Subban – now is a good time to
start looking forward at next season to try and guess where each of Vancouver’s defensive prospects will be playing.
Most pf Vancouver’s blueline prospects will be eligible to play outside the Canadian Hockey league this upcoming year, including Frank Corrado, Adam Clendening, Andrey Pedan,
Peter Andersson, Jeremie Blain, Ben Hutton, Nikita Tryamkin, Patrick McNally,
Anton Cederholm, Miles Liberati, Ashton Sautner, Evan McEneny, and Jordan
Subban. Not all of them are guaranteed to be in the Canucks system next year though, but we can take a stab at their most appropriate location.
Out of all Vancouver’s
prospects, there are three that I see as most likely to be playing full time in
the NHL next year: Frank Corrado, Adam Clendening and Andrey Pedan – the
problem is that NHL teams rarely trust young players, let alone three, to be
mainstays in their roster. Given
Clendening was brought in by management and has been playing with the Canucks, I am guessing he is most likely to stay in the big show, even with right-side D like Chris Tanev, Kevin Bieksa, and Yannick Weber looking like good bets to return.
Corrado is a bit of a wild card. He is
still young, will be entering his 22 year old season, and has a few years of
development left. He could be back in
the AHL, he could make the NHL, and he could be just as likely to be traded as
management doesn’t seem to be keen on him combined with how far down the right-handed defensive depth chart he is.
Pedan has scored at a similar rate to Corrado in Utica and of this group of three peers, he would be most likely to return to Utica. It’s possible he becomes a Canuck next year though, particularly if Luca Sbisa or Ryan Stanton don’t return.
The Utica Comets, like
most AHL teams, have this desire to fill their limited defensive positions with
veterans so that prospects can develop by watching them eat away the top
minutes. Both myself and Scaffolding Theory would disagree with this model and would even suggest that the “Detroit
Model” (of leaving prospects in the AHL till they are 110% ready) stunts
prospect development. That aside,
knowing this I would expect to see Alex Biega and Bobby Sanguinetti (or equivalent veteran free-agent defensemen) sign to play in Utica next season.
Following two veteran defencemen and whoever doesn’t make the NHL team, the next most likely
prospect to be in the AHL is recent signee Ben Hutton.
Not too much to say about him except that he has been excelling in the
NCAA for the past three seasons so it will be worth watching to see if he can
become an NHL regular. Thomas Drance had a detailed breakdown of his contract signing here.
McNally is a question mark. It is
unknown if he will leave Harvard this year, as he still has a year of
eligibility left. If he returns to Harvard, he will become a free agent after next season. His offensive numbers this year were
excellent, but there are questions about his defensive ability (just like with every other
offensive defencemen). Another fact to
keep in mind is that McNally just turned 23, which is on the older end of the
spectrum of NCAA players so he is no longer really playing against his peers. He is also close to average NHL peak age, so what we
see might be what we get. If McNally is signed,
Utica would be a likely billet for him. Jason Botchford thinks this is unlikely, though.
Sautner is the newest toy in the Canucks prospect system. Despite being an over-age player in a teenager’s league, there are a
number of underlying indicators that suggest there might be something here – Rhys wrote about him in greater detail earlier. Sautner is a big
question mark, and it will be worth watching to see if he takes the path of Chris
Tanev or the path of Dane Fox.
McEneny is a prospect I really like. He
has always had great offensive numbers but went undrafted as he was injured in
his draft year. He was returned to the
OHL this past season as an over-age player given the glut of prospects in Utica. This year he continued his success and has
been playing on the top pairing of the Kingston Frontenacs, the 7th
best possession team in the OHL.
Andersson is an RFA this summer. Given
his lack of production, the number of prospects who have jumped ahead of him,
and Vancouver’s willingness to walk away from Jordan Schroeder, I would be
surprised to see Andersson re-signed by the Canucks. Also, Andersson appears to have gone the Anton Rodin route and inked a deal with Orebro in the Swedish Hockey League for next season, so the chances of him returning are almost zero.
the top of the defensive corps in the AHL, teams like to sign fringe
ECHLer/AHLers to play as their 7th defensemen. The last few years have seen John Negrin, Kane
Lafranchise, and Jeremie Blain suit up in this role. Blain has
one more year on his entry level contract, and I expect he’ll continue to fill this role in 2015-2016. If he does not
take a massive step in development this next year, don’t expect him to return
Over in the
KHL, Nikita Tryamkin still has one more year on his contract, so he will return to Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg next season. Fans will
hope that he improves on his highly regressed and disappointing performance from this past
season. Regardless of what happens, I see
management trying to bring him into the AHL for his 22 year old season the year
Cederholm signing last summer was a surprise given that he has never performed
well in the WHL despite playing on a stacked Portland defensive corps. He plays top minutes this season, but is in the bottom of Portland’s depth in terms of
points per game. I doubt he will be in
the AHL given the number of prospects ahead of him, he could be in the ECHL or could be an over-ager returning to Portland.
Assuming Jordan Subban is signed then I would forecast that he is sent back to
Belleville as an over-age player in 2015 as there are a number of prospects likely ahead of
him. This treatment would be similar to
what Evan McEneny received this year and is not necessarily a bad thing though
his development would suggest that he should start facing tougher competition as soon as
Liberati is another player that has to be signed by June 1st or he
re-enters the draft. I am not sure if
the Canucks will sign him or not. On one
hand, he was not a bad gamble for such a late pick – he was playing third
pairing minutes on a stacked London defensive corps. On the other hand, he is now 19, playing top
minutes for the third best possession team in the OHL and he has seen a spike in
offensive production this season, but it
might be too little and too late. As the
Canucks signed Anton Cederholm it would be not unsurprising to seen Liberati
signed – regardless, the most likely positions for Liberati next season are the
OHL or the ECHL.
lot of pieces in play here and a lot of different players. If Vancouver brings back most of their NHL RFAs and none of Clendening, Corrado, and Pedan graduate to full-time NHL duty, that
leaves far fewer positions open in the lower professional leagues. There is quite a bit that we do not know at this time,
and a single trade, injury, or change in expected behaviour can make open billets for players easier to predict. For now we need to sit back and
watch as management tries to solve this jigsaw puzzle.