How likely is each remaining Canucks prospect to break camp with the big club?

Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

Snip, snip. The training camp cuts have begun. The Vancouver Canucks are in the process of trimming down their roster as the regular season approaches.

This week, 17 players were released from the Canucks preseason roster—twelve on Tuesday, two more on Thursday, and four more on Saturday (including Hunter Shinkaruk). Goaltender Richard Bachman also cleared waivers and was assigned to the Utica Comets. That leaves 22 forwards, 10 defensemen and three goaltenders in camp—35 players in total.

The odds of making the team are improving for the players that are still in Vancouver, but the Canucks’ roster will need to be down to 23 men on opening night. Here’s a breakdown of how the remaining players are faring as the Canucks head into the second leg of home-and-home games against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

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The Sure Things (16)

These established players are guaranteed to be on the opening night roster, as long as they stay healthy:

Forwards (10)

    • Daniel Sedin
    • Henrik Sedin
    • Radim Vrbata
    • Alex Burrows
    • Brandon Sutter
    • Derek Dorsett
    • Jannik Hansen
    • Chris Higgins (injured)
    • Brandon Prust
    • Bo Horvat

Defence (4)

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    • Alex Edler
    • Dan Hamhuis
    • Chris Tanev
    • Luca Sbisa

Goaltenders (2)

    • Ryan Miller
    • Jacob Markstrom

The broken bone in Chris Higgins’ foot is expected to keep him sidelined beyond opening night. He’ll need to be included on the Canucks’ official roster list before being moved to injured reserve, which will open up a spot for another player.

The Bubble Players (6)

Forwards (3)

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    • Linden Vey
    • Sven Baertschi
    • Ronalds Kenins

These three young forwards all have NHL experience, but each is on a relatively short leash. Vey needs to take a step forward from a sub-par rookie reason, Baertschi needs to show that he can be a consistent scorer at the NHL level and Kenins has to show that he can play a high-energy game that’s also defensively responsible.

Expect to see all three on the opening-night roster. This could change, but right now Kenins is the most likely to end up in the press box or on a plane back to Utica if one of the team’s younger prospects plays so well that he can’t be denied a lineup spot.

Defence (3)

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    • Yannick Weber
    • Matt Bartkowski
    • Frank Corrado

Yannick Weber found a role for himself as a point-producer toward the end of last season and will likely be allowed to continue in that role, especially since the Canucks won’t get much offense from their other regular defencemen. Bartkowski looks like he’s penciled in as Luca Sbisa’s partner in the third pairing, which would most likely leave Corrado as a seventh defenseman on opening night.

The AHL Veterans (4)

Forwards (2)

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    • Adam Cracknell
    • Blair Jones

Defence (1)

    • Taylor Fedun

Goaltenders (1)

    • Joe Cannata

Only Cannata was a member of the Canucks organization last season. He played five games with the Comets, but spent most of the season with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL. 

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The other three players have been acquired to add some veteran depth to the AHL squad. It’s unlikely they’ll see action at the NHL level this season except, perhaps, as injury replacements.

The Prospects (9)

Based on these projections, 22 Vancouver Canucks roster spots are currently claimed. That leaves one full-time spot open for a prospect, and one injury-replacement spot as a fill-in while Higgins is injured.

Here’s who might have the inside track on those jobs when the regular season begins:

Forwards (7)

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    • Cole Cassels
      Cassels created quite a buzz with his chippy two-way play during his run to the Memorial Cup championship last spring. He rehabbed an abdominal injury during the summer and has been quiet, relatively speaking, through the Young Stars tournament and preseason so far. 
      Cassels will almost certainly begin his pro hockey career in Utica. He’ll need to be dazzling to earn a call-up to the Canucks this year.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 10 percent

    • Alex Friesen
      Friesen has been a solid centre for the Utica Comets for the past two seasons but at 5’9″, it’s unlikely that the 24-year-old’s game can translate to today’s NHL. Expect to see Friesen moving into more of a leadership role with the Comets after his strong Calder Cup playoff performance last spring.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 5 percent

    • Brendan Gaunce
      Gaunce seems like he has been in the Canucks system forever, but the big center-turned-winger just turned 21 in March. Dubbed Utica’s most improved player last season by coach Travis Green according to Jason Botchford of The Province, Gaunce has come into camp with a stronger skating stride and a steely willingness to play a physical game. Gaunce’s trustworthy two-way style would fit nicely into the hole that has been created by Chris Higgins’ injury.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 70 percent

    • Alex Grenier
      Alex Grenier emerged as one of Utica’s scoring threats during the Calder Cup playoffs, placing second to Sven Baertschi with six goals in 23 games.
      The Canucks coaches are looking at different right wingers with the Sedins during the exhibition schedule. It looks like the 6’5″ Grenier will be the next candidate to try his luck after practicing with the twins for a couple of days, according to Jeff Paterson of TSN1040 radio.
      A successful audition on the first line might earn Grenier an opening-night roster slot. More likely, he’ll start the season in Utica and try to earn a call-up.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 25 percent

    • Nicklas Jensen
      The clock is ticking for this former first-round draft choice, who boasts great size and good speed but hasn’t shown the necessary on-ice discipline to advance his career. While players like Gaunce and Grenier impressed in Utica last season, Jensen slid down the depth chart and was a healthy scratch at times in the playoffs, dressing for just 18 games.
      Don’t expect to see Jensen handed much quality ice time during the remaining exhibition schedule. He’ll start the season in Utica and will need to put together his best season yet if he hopes to re-sign with the Canucks organization after his entry-level contract expires at the end of the year.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 5 percent

    • Jared McCann
      Still 19 years old, center Jared McCann be returned to the OHL for a final year with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds unless he can continue to wow the Canucks brass through the rest of preseason and a possible nine-game regular-season trial.
      McCann’s path to the NHL has had its fair share of obstacles so far—a well-documented case of mononucleosis kept him out of training camp in 2014 and a nasty collision during Team Canada’s World Junior Summer Showcase left him with a shoulder injury that threatened to sideline him again this year.
      Despite his challenges, McCann performed well at the Young Stars tournament and so far during the exhibition schedule, showing big-league determination to go along with his wicked shot and solid two-way play.
      McCann’s on track to earn that nine-game trial if he keeps up his strong play through the rest of preseason. After that, anything can happen.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 40 percent

    • Jake Virtanen
      After a fiery Young Stars tournament, 19-year-old Jake Virtanen looked like he had the inside track on a regular-season look with the Canucks, but his NHL training camp has been unspectacular so far. Virtanen managed just one shot on goal and two hits in his exhibition debut against San Jose on Tuesday.
      Management will give Virtanen every opportunity to show that he belong at the NHL level, but his nine-game trial might be at risk if he continues to be outplayed by Gaunce and McCann through the rest of preseason.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 60 percent

Defence (2)

    • Alex Biega
      Though he’s just 5’10” and 187 pounds, journeyman Alex Biega gained some fans during his seven-game injury-replacement stint with the Canucks last season.
      He’s destined to start the season with Utica but Biega has proven to be a wily veteran who provides a safe callup option of injuries strike again this season.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 10 percent

    • Ben Hutton
      Hutton’s a late-blooming 22-year-old. He has brought a mature game to his first NHL training camp after moving on from college hockey at the end of last season.
      Hutton is 6’2″, showed some scoring flair in college and has impressed the Canucks coaching staff thus far with his all-around game.
      The easy choice is to send Hutton to Utica to acclimate to style of play and the long grind of the pro hockey schedule. Worst-case scenario for him—he’ll be the first call-up when injury strikes on defense. Hutton looks like he’ll be a keeper.
      Chance he’ll be on the opening night roster: 20 percent

      • peterl

        These odds seem about right though I’d be surprised if McCann actually makes it over the other centers in the system (including the AHL vets). Gaunce deserves a shot based on his performance.

      • peterl

        I agree with your assessment. Hutton looks good on D although Andrey Pedan may get the call up first. I like the big Russian.

        Hope the Canucks don’t drop the ball with Jensen and Shinkaruk. These two guys seem out of favor and I would hate to see them fade away without return. Player development comes to mind.

        Happy birthday Sedins! Now score some goals.

      • wojohowitz

        I was more impressed with Jones and Hamilton as centers than I was with Vey. Maybe Vey should be moved up in the lineup as a winger – even a chance with the twins as he might become a goal scorer rather than a fourth line grinder and if he can not produce as a winger then he NHL career should be over. How many chances is this guy going to get.

        • Dirty30

          Having the Sedins make Vey look good isn’t going to make him a better player.

          Vey gets opportunities because Coach chose him and Benning tossed a second round pick out to get him. It’s not a mistake either guy will admit to easily.

          Someone like Jensen would be better with the Twins but unless he suddenly starts acting like a Sedin he’s either headed for the trade block or will play for Modo or some other hometown team.

      • Dirty30

        Yes, Jensen is in the dog house but he is still a great fit as a NHL level sniper if given the puck consistently with twins or Bo Horvat. If he does make it, trade him to someone will play him. He is still a big solid talent!

      • Dirty30

        I would take Gaunce, McCann and Virtanen over Vey, Baertschi and Kenins in a heart beat, although I do like Kenins’ physical play. The former have huge upward potential as they learn the NHL game (similar to Horvat last year), while we’ve seen about all we’re going to get from the latter.

      • Dirty30

        Drop Kenins down. Why? He will immediately replace Dorsett or Prust once the inevitable injury comes. He’ll be a wrecking ball in the AHL and ready for full time 4th line duties once Prust is gone at the trade deadline.

        Vey – this guy is another Mason Raymond, Jordan Shroeder etc. Waiver wire now. Who cares if he cost a 2nd round pick?

        People rag on Sbisa? If you are a Sbisa hater and not spewing equal hate towards Vey you are one crazy foo.

        Mr. R.

        • Dirty30

          I’ve been calling Vey “Mason Raymond lite” since he arrived — and if he played as well as Raymond, at half the price, he’d be worth keeping.

          Calgary finally parked Raymond somewhere but Coach Blindspot will keep playing Vey until forever.

          The pocket-protector crowd keeps spewing up stats about Vey’s skills, but the on-ice product isn’t inspiring any confidence that he’s any bigger, stronger, faster or willing to fight for the puck in a way that works. Even worse is that the guy behind the bench is blind to those facts.

          I don’t know why they don’t waiver him to Utica and give him time to figure it out. He’s simply not ready and playing between a couple pylons isn’t going to make him better at this level.