Virtanen, Boeser, Shinkaruk qualify for ESPN top-100 prospects list

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Having ranked the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect system as totally average earlier this week, ESPN prospect guru Corey Pronman unveiled his individual top-100 prospects ($) and top-10 goalie prospects ($) on Thursday and four Canucks assets made the cut.

It’s probably not the four you think, either. Click past the jump for a recap of how Vancouver’s prospects fared in Pronman’s league-wide comparative ranking list.

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The three Canucks skaters who made the list include Jake Virtanen (27), Brock Boeser (69, nice) and Hunter Shinkaruk (74). That’s not far off from the consensus of our writers, aside from Jared McCann – whom our editorial staff is extremely high on – not making the list at all. 

On Virtanen, Pronman points out that the Calgary HItmen power forward had a disappointing draft plus-one campaign, and then proceeds to damn the sixth overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft with what sure sounds like faint praise.

“His skating is one of the best outside the NHL, he plays the game hard, has a great shot, and above-average hands,” writes Pronman of Virtanen. His hockey IQ may never dazzle anyone, and maybe he makes his living in the NHL just going north to south, but he’s very good at particular parts of the game.”

Obviously Pronman’s praise for Virtanen’s speed and physical tools will excited Canucks fans, and rightfully so, but it’s also worth noting that the #6 overall prospect on this list, Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander, was drafted one spot behind Virtanen. Winnipeg Jets prospect Nikolaj Ehlers similarly ranks as a top-10 prospect on Pronman’s list, and was drafted shortly after Virtanen was also…

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On Boeser, Pronman is effusive in his praise for the 2015 first-round picks all-around hockey awareness and his deadly shot in particular. He notes that skating could be a concern for the American-born forward though, but that’s true of so many 17-year-old hockey players, many of whom will add a step in the next couple of years (see: Jenner, Boone or Horvat, Bo) and many more of whom will not (see: Philips, Zach). 

Generally speaking Pronman has always been higher on Shinkaruk than the industry consensus, and that persists on this years list, even in spite of Shinkaruk’s tough first season of professional hockey.

“I’m still confused about whether he’s a great or simply fine prospect,” writes Pronman of Shinkaruk. “On his best game, he’s a dynamic playmaker who is unique in terms of his agility and creativity. However, he also disappears for long stretches, with major issues in terms of his physical game and defense.”

I suspect that Shinkaruk’s issues in his first season were a healthy mix of brutal shooting luck early in the year, and were then at least partly usage-related in the latter half. Certainly when he got an opportunity to play with Cal O’Rielly on the Utica Comets’ first line for a few weeks, he lit it up. He also went completely dormant offensively in the postseason while playing on a tertiary line with career grinders Brandon DeFazio and Will Acton. 

We’ll learn a lot about Shinkaruk’s game and abilities this upcoming season. It’s a testament to Shinkaruk’s unique skills – particularly his unique and shifty skating ability, and sick wrist shot – that Pronman is cutting him so much slack in spite of a very inconsistent first professional season. If he can bounce back in his sophomore AHL campaign, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him rocket up this list. On the other hand, it’s probably the last year that he gets to stay on it based on overall pedigree and skill level, rather than production.

One final note is that 2014 fifth-round pick Gustav Forsling warranted an honourable mention, and falls somewhere narrowly outside the top-100 prospects on Pronman’s estimation. Forsling, of course, was dealt for Adam Clendening in midseason, and Clendening was then used as a sweetener in the Brandon Sutter trade. 

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Finally on the goaltending side of the ledger, Canucks top goalie prospect Thatcher Demko has jumped five spots on the top goaltending prospects list – from 12th spot on Pronman’s list last year and 10th spot at midseason, to 7th on this summer’s iteration of the list. 

“I’ve heard goalie scouts pick him apart on the technical side, but looking at the big picture, Demko is a big, calm, athletic goaltender with excellent hockey sense who has played at a high level the past few years,” Pronman writes of Demko.

I’ve heard similar things about Demko, I’d add, with Jacob Markstrom comparisons being thrown around occasionally. From what I understand Demko is a big goalie who moves quickly, but can struggle to quickly close all of the holes he naturally creates moving his big body across the crease. This isn’t an uncommon problem in a young goaltender, but NHL shooters can pick that sort of deficiency apart, and Demko will probably have to iron out his technique before he takes the next step. 

He’s got plenty of time to do it though and it surely helps that Vancouver’s ability to develop goaltenders during the Rollie Melanson era has been solid (to say the least). 

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Pronman’s must-read prospect lists – both the top-100 skaters list and the top-10 goalies list – can be read in full at ESPN Insider, which costs a bit of additional premium content coin to access. Trust me: it’s well worth your money. Support quality content!

  • Dirty30

    I know the people ‘in the know’ seem to think Pronman is some type of scouting guru but…

    Shinkaruk on the list, Forsling an honourable mention but no mention of McCann or Cassels?!

    Sorry but I’m gonna take this list with more than a couple grains of salt.

    You think if Chicago offered Forsling for McCann or Cassels we should jump at that one. Seriously flawed.

    • Dirty30

      Well Forsling is a stud and is seriously underrated and it is more than appalling that we ultimately gave him up as a throw-in for Brandon Sutter, but yea I agree no mention of McCann is ridiculous. Overall though, Pronman is the top MSM guy on prospects IMO. It’s so hard to know every prospect intimately and you should cut him a little slack for a couple of bad decisions. His reasoning and logic are sound and he’s not stubborn, as you will know if you follow him on twitter by the way he explains his rankings.

  • Dirty30

    I’m cheap so let me ask this — did any team not have a prospect in the top 100?

    And how many Top Ten players in the last ten years have absolutely grabbed the game by the throat and changed it dramatically — I’m not talking potting a few goals, having some fancy stats or throwing elbows to the head, but really making a difference?

    This is why, other than Dave Letterman, most Top Ten lists are fairly useless as anything but making your daily horoscope look slightly more legit.

  • peterl

    I’m surprised Shinkaruk was still ranked this high. He does have great hockey skills, but I thought the lost draft+1 year (injury) and an inconsistent draft+2 year in the AHL (scratched, at times on 4th line) would take him off the list (at least for now). McCann and Cassels had excellent seasons last year in junior. Both played important roles to teams that made it deep into the playoffs. Shinkaruk may indeed turn out to be a better player, but I would argue right now that McCann and Cassels look like better prospects.

    • Spiel

      Shinkaruk went from a year of rehabbing an injury to his first pro season where he was one of the youngest players in the league on a team where the top 6 was quite crowded with AHL vets. All things considered, a good season.

      Most mid to late first round picks spend time in the AHL, so let’s see how he builds on last season. Still think he needs some more time.

      • Vanoxy


        A stagnant year statistically doesn’t really affect a guy’s potential ceiling, if his stats suffered due to a stacked lineup ahead of him.

        Shink will see top line time this year and jump even higher up the rankings next year, if he still qualifies for the list. (Under 25 NHL games played)He could get called up late in the season if the Canucks dump a few vets at the deadline or suffer injuries.

  • Spiel

    The Virtanen pick was not the oft talked about “best player available” pick, at least in the pure scoring sense.

    Benning is hellbent on recreating the Bawston team that won the cup. Remember this was a guy who was involved in trading away Tyler Seguin…

    Virtanen more fits the mold of a Lucic than a Seguin and that is what Benning was after.

    I do find it interesting McCann didn’t make the list given he has a quite good draft+1. Better than Virtanen anyways. 81p in 56 games and 16p in 14 playoff games.

  • peterl

    Two years ago the Canucks prospect cupboard was bare, other than Gaunce and Jensen. I think the team ranked 29th that year. Last year 18th, and now 15th. The prospect pool looks good.

    • Vanoxy

      Actually they were 9th last year, since Horvat was included in the list. Since he no longer qualifies they actually dropped to 15.

      One good draft, or one surprising overachiever can literally jump a team 2/3rds of the way up the list.

      If McDavid and Nurse both stick with the Oilers past the 25 game mark, Edm will probably drop to the middle of the pack next year.

      You can’t really read too much into these rankings, other than for fun discussion material.
      A better indicator of the state of a team’s youth would be a list of all players under 21 or 22 years, regardless of NHL games played or what league they are in.

  • Spiel

    “His skating is one of the best outside the NHL, he plays the game hard, has a great shot, and above-average hands,” writes Pronman of Virtanen. His hockey IQ may never dazzle anyone, and maybe he makes his living in the NHL just going north to south, but he’s very good at particular parts of the game.”

    The fact that Virtanen has excellent skating ability and plays hard will ensure that he at the least holds down a spot on an NHL roster at some point. Also those abilities will give him the opportunity to show his offensive capabilities like an excellent shot. His physical tools will bide him time for his offensive game to mature.

    Prospects like a Nylander or Ehlers have to produce offensively right away or they are sent to the AHL. I don’t see many NHL coaches who will deploy players of their stature on a 3rd or 4th line. The perception is that they need to be in the top 6 or not on the roster. This is the struggle that Shinkaruk is facing. If they are unable to breakdown and fight through NHL level defense and checking, they’ll need to learn at the AHL level. Basically they have a shorter opportunity to shine since they really only contribute in one aspect of the game at this point. But, if Pronman and every other blogger is right about Nylander and Ehlers then they have nothing to worry about.

  • Vanoxy

    I’m just curious to those down voting my earlier post, would you take Forsling or even Shinkaruk over McCann?

    I haven’t said I believe he or Cassels should be on the list, without access to the entire list I don’t know where or if they belong.

    But if you list someone ahead of another that means if offered player 60 on the list for player 80 you take it.

    So if Forsling is an honourable mention but McCann & Cassels aren’t it means if offered, Pronman would trade either of them straight up for Forsling.

    I’d love to see the reaction of the bloggers here if Benning made that trade.

  • Spiel

    To all the people saying we should have picked either Ehlers or Nylander over Jake. I ask you this simple question who would you rather have in the playoffs, Henrik Sedin or Milan Lucic???

    • TrueBlue

      I’m not rabidly opposed to the Virtanen pick (withholding judgement until Virtanen/Ehlers/Nylander get a season or two under their belts), but let’s not pretend that the Boston team that beat us was carried by Milan “way too much airplay” Lucic.

      “Henriks” get you to the playoffs, get you to the Finals. “Lucics” help you put the final nails in the coffin and are a nice ball of hate to rally around during tough times, but he was and is a supporting piece.

      Swap Lucic for Henrik, we don’t even make it to the Final.

  • wojohowitz

    Jake looked great in the summer series. He drove the other team crazy and he sure seemed to be enjoying himself. He`s going to be a fan favourite.

    There was one play this past season that really stood out for me on Shinkaruk. He went after a puck behind the net by hitting and bouncing the defenseman off the puck. His lower body strength is good enough now.

    We will find out about Demko and Boeser in five or six years. For me that makes them both questionable picks. Not to mention they could both go for free agency.

    McCann in the summer series showed himself to be both confident and competitive. He wanted the puck and he wanted to impress the coach. Unfortunately that was a dum bass play that he got injured on. He crossed the blue line looking over his shoulder and then the red line looking over his shoulder when he got hit. Maybe in midget hockey he could get away with that but not in the major junior leagues and definitely not in world competition. Lets hope he learned something.

    Cassels should have been on the list if for nothing else shutting down McD in the playoffs and leading his team to the Memorial Cup.