Welcome to Canucks Army’s seventh annual pre-season prospect rankings. It’s been a good six months or so for the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect pool. Since the deals at the 2017 trade deadline to acquire Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen, the Canucks have been on a bit of a roll. Painful though their season (and the draft lottery) might have been, it sure made the draft more pleasant and more fruitful. Between the draft, trades, and free agency pick ups, the Canucks added 11 new prospects, eight of which will appear on this top 20 list.
The list kicks off this year with Michael Carcone, a CHL free agency acquisition prior to the 2016-17 season, after Carcone impressed Canucks brass at the 2016 prospect development camp. Carcone, already 20 years old, reported to the Utica Comets last season and had himself a decent rookie season. More importantly, he showed improvement along the way.
If it weren’t for the recent influx of prospects to contend with, Carcone would be a lot higher on this list. Given that he’s already had a season at the AHL level and performed well, I don’t think that it’s out of the question that Carcone makes an appearance in the NHL with the Canucks before his entry level contract ends at the end of 2018-19. As it is, Carcone is ranked 20th on our list of the Canucks’ top 20 prospects.
We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).
Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now. Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played, not because we’re trying to throw shade at him.
Carcone came to the Canucks after two solid years in the QMJHL with the Drummonville Voltageurs. His 2015-16 campaign was particularly impressive, scoring 47 goals (tied for the second in the league) and 88 points (eight in the league). The red flag at the time of his signing was that he was already 18-years old when he played his first season in the QMJHL, two full years after being eligible to do so, after spending his draft year in the OJHL.
There’s no way around the fact that Carcone is a small player, measuring in a 5-foot-9. He is, however, a sturdy player, and was rarely held back because of size at the American League level. He possesses good speed, sees the ice well, and has a knack for making and finishing plays.
Carcone played up and down the Comets lineup, though he predominantly found himself in a bottom six role. He had his share of healthy scratches (15, by my count), which is pretty normal for an unheralded rookie on one of Travis Green’s rosters. Carcone showed promise early, scoring a goal in his second professional game, but he had to earn his opportunities. And, to his credit, he certainly did that.
Perhaps the most positive thing that I can say about Carcone’s first professional season is this: he showed continuous improvement along the way. This was evident in the confidence he showed on the ice, and the increasingly proficient execution of his plays, but, conveniently for us, it also shows up in the numbers, and that’s the easiest thing to convey in a blog post.
First and foremost, the obvious one was his production. Despite that early first professional goal, it took a very long time for Carcone to notch his second one. It didn’t come until his 45th game as a Comet, but by then his assist had started to pick up and his overall point rate veered towards respectability.
As Carcone improved over the course of the season, he became a more central part of the Comets’ offence, showing a steadily increasing share of the team’s production, as demonstrated below. Both the percentage of 5-on-5 team goals that he was on the ice for and that he had a point on doubled from his first 30 games to his next 30 games.
In concert with that, his 5-on-5 goals-for percentage, which started out well in the red, steadily rose to even and approached 60% by the end of the season.
There’s really not much more you can ask of a prospect than to show constant improvement, especially in-season, and especially from one that came into the organization at the cost of nothing money than an entry level contract, the NHL’s version of found money.
It’s likely that at least some of Carcone’s advancement was aided by the players that he was placed with. He spent much of the first half of the season playing on the wing of Cole Cassels, who unfortunately has been something of a black hole offensively. Carcone bounced around a lot and found some level of success when playing with Mike Zalewski and Curtis Valk, but he really took off when he hooked up with Pascal Pelletier. When together, the two saw their respective 5-on-5 point rates explode, and their team was controlling a share of 5-on-5 goals that eclipsed 90%, which is simply outrageous.
Before we put too much stock into the teammate theory though, Carcone also spent a handful of games early in the season playing with Michael Chaput, who scored 13 points in 10 games with the Comets. Carcone didn’t chip in on much of that, but I’d bet that late in the season, he would have.
In terms of forward projections, Carcone has an uphill battle. As impressive as his rise was over the course of the season, the .30 points per game that he ended the season with is a little underwhelming. Add to that his diminutive size, and it becomes a little difficult to find a large number of successful NHL players based on his credentials. pGPS has pegged his likelihood of success at 8%, with many of successful comparables being known more for their pugilistic attributes than their scoring.
On the bright side, hockey is headed in the direction when being a little under 6-feet is not only forgivable, it’s hardly a detriment at all. Being a historical cohort model, pGPS is vulnerable to the biases of coaches and managers from the past who didn’t give players like Carcone, who were putting up points in the American League, a chance. That landscape is not that same as the one Carcone faces today, and it makes his odds of eventual success a little more reachable than the 8% laid out by the numbers.
His steady development this year has made the possibility of an NHL debut before the end of his ELC look more and more realistic. Given his historical profile, it’s unlikely that he becomes an impact player at the NHL level, and he might never see anything more than spot duty or injury replacement. But there is an outside chance that he could stick around for a while and provide secondary or tertiary scoring, especially now that teams are more interested in having three, or even four scoring lines, rather than deploying players whose sole job is to not get scored on.