We’ve passed the halfway point in the NHL season, and in every other league of note, which means it’s time to take stock of the Canucks prospect pool and see where each prospect stands in relation to the group as a whole.
As you’re probably aware, we’ve once again included your opinions in our rankings. The results of the reader poll were given equal weight with the lists of the six writers who participated in the ranking process (myself, J.D. Burke, Ryan Biech, Jackson McDonald, Vanessa Jang, and Janik Biechler).
The parameters for inclusion are the same as they were for the preseason rankings: the prospect has to be under the age of 25, he must have played fewer than 25 NHL games played, and he must be either contracted to the Canucks (not the Comets) or be an unsigned draft choice. That means that Philip Holm, Nikolay Goldobin, and Alexis D’Aoust are not included as a result of these three respective stipulations.
Additionally, we’ve dug down and ranked all 31 qualifying prospects this year, rather than just the top 20 that we traditionally do. The reason for this is simple: we consider ourselves the preemptive experts on Canucks prospects, and we want to continue to be viewed that way, so there’s no reason to sell ourselves short by only covering two-thirds of the prospects.
Of course, that means that we’re going to be starting with some duds. However, that can be helpful in and of itself. Today, we’ll look at the bottom four prospects according to these consolidated rankings, and discuss why they’re down there. Buckle up, because this isn’t going to be terribly optimistic.
Let’s get into it.
#31: Mackenze Stewart
Preseason Ranking: Unranked
Age: 22 – Position: Defence – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’3″ – Weight: 240 lbs
Mackenze Stewart is a fascinating prospect. Not in the way that, say, Kole Lind or Adam Gaudette are fascinating prospects. Stewart is fascinating because he’s been under the Canucks’ purview for nearly four years, and I still don’t fully understand how he became a prospect at all.
Taken in the seventh round (186th overall) in 2014, Stewart’s selection in the first place was a head-scratcher. Even in the final round of the draft, he was well off the board. The story was a touching one – Stewart was born deaf and regained his hearing after numerous surgeries, and didn’t start playing hockey until he was 12 – but from an objective, statistical standpoint, there wasn’t much there. A confusing selection took an even odder turn when the Canucks signed Stewart to an Entry Level Contract the following Spring.
Stewart’s path since then has only gotten stranger and stranger, from switching positions from defence to forward and back again, to the ordeal with finding him a place to play in 2015-16 after he struggled to stick at either the AHL or ECHL levels.
It’s notable that, of the other 30 prospects on the list, only five have been in the Canucks organization longer than Stewart has: Anton Cederholm, Joseph LaBate, Evan McEneny, Cole Cassels, and Thatcher Demko, who was taken earlier in the same draft. It seems like it might be impressive, but it’s more of a black mark than anything, especially if the prospect is still in the ECHL. After this many years, you would hope that the player is either close to graduating from being considered a prospect, or the organization has moved on already.
Stewart is nowhere close to getting an NHL call up, and the organization doesn’t have the ability to move on until his Entry Level Contract runs out, thankfully, at the end of this season. That’s not a knock against Stewart personally, who seems to be a very nice individual, but from a managerial perspective, it doesn’t help having one of your 50 contract spots being used on a career ECHLer.
To his credit, Stewart is producing a little, nearing his career highs in points and goals (two short of both) in well under half as many games. Still, he hasn’t managed to stick in the American League to this point, despite brief cameos in each of the last three seasons. Additionally, it’s likely that he was given as much or more opportunity than his play has warranted, as Jim Benning has talked in the past about him getting a chance in Utica. Thus far, that hasn’t taken him anywhere.
Using pGPS to project Stewart’s future chances, we’ll see that his Expected Value has essentially been flatlining since his draft season (his ECHL seasons are not included since I haven’t updating that league for the current version of pGPS, as there doesn’t normally seem to be a point in projecting ECHL players).
Stewart stands out among Canucks prospect simply for how much he doesn’t appear to belong. He was ranked last by all six participating writers, and in the readers vote, in which he was ranked 31st on nearly 200 ballots – the next closest was Rodrigo Abols with 53.
I half expect to see a longform article on Mackenze Stewart’s journey at some point in the future. A detailed explanation from the Canucks or members of their staff regarding why he was drafted, and why he was subsequently signed. Perhaps it was just about the belief that he had the will to push himself. From a numbers perspective, I can’t see any justification for it. Barring another unjustifiable turn (that is, an extension), Stewart’s tenure with the Canucks should soon come to an end.
#30: Anton Cederholm
Preseason Ranking: Unranked
Age: 22 – Position: Defence – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’2″ – Weight: 205 lbs
Anton Cederholm was selected in the fifth round (145th overall) in 2013. He’s a traditional, low-scoring, stay-at-home defender. Not exactly the type of player you think of when you imagine a new age NHL defenceman. Still, with 12 games played in the SHL as an 18-year old, Cederholm seemed to be a fair bet where he was taken.
Joining the Portland Winterhawks for the next two seasons, Cederholm continued to be reliable defensively, but struggled to produce points, peaking at 19 points in 68 games as a 20-year old. At this point, it didn’t appear that he was headed towards a successful professional career, but the Canucks went ahead and signed him anyway. After spending 2015-16 in the ECHL and 2016-17 on loan to a couple of leagues in Sweden, Cederholm finally debuted in the AHL this season at the age of 22. He’s been back and forth between the AHL and the ECHL, but he has managed to get into 12 American League games. However, it’s probably not for the reasons he thought it would be.
You probably heard about the injuries that have torn apart the Utica Comets this season, who have, at times, had as many as 15 players out of the lineup at a time between injuries and call ups. This is about the only way that Anton Cederholm has been able to get into games. Even though the Comets still have about a half dozen players on the shelf, Cederholm hasn’t played a game since December 30th, a full month ago, and he hasn’t played a game as a defenceman since a week before that. That’s right – the Comets were so decimated, they played Anton Cederholm as a forward. Predictably, he looked thoroughly out of place.
To be fair, the Comets’ defence has been markedly healthier than their forward group, but this season has really demonstrated just how far down the pecking order Cederholm is. Like Stewart, his Entry Level Contract is about to run out, and again, there’s no real justification for keeping him around any further. He’s clearly not part of the plan for the Comets coaching staff, and it’s hard to imagine that the Canucks brass would see things any differently.
This is for the best as well. Like Stewart, his Expected Value has hovered pretty close to zero throughout his time in the organization. It’s time to move on to some more promising options.
#29: Yan-Pavel Laplante
Preseason Ranking: Unranked
Age: 22 – Position: Left Wing – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’0″ – Weight: 183 lbs
Yan-Pavel Laplante has been in the Canucks organization for nearly two years now, and so far I’d have to say that his biggest effect on me is giving me such a distaste for QMJHL free agents that I allowed him to colour my opinion on Zack MacEwen and write him off without ever seeing him play pro hockey. I’ve since admitted that I rushed to judgment on MacEwen, but my opinion on Laplante and his future prospects hasn’t changed.
The reason that I first perceived a link between Laplante and MacEwen is because they came from essentially the same place. QMJHL free agents signed at the end of their draft-plus-two seasons after putting up points playing on Vitali Abramov’s wing – an envious assignment to be sure.
But while MacEwen is making me look silly in his rookie AHL year, Laplante has struggled to stay in that league at all. Over the last season and a half, he’s played just 18 American League games, compared to 38 in the ECHL. His time with the Comets has largely been characterized by sitting out for long periods of time, either because of injury, or strings of healthy scratches. Currently, he’s out indefinitely due to injury, but it would be difficult to assume that he’d be in the lineup even if he was healthy. Laplante was among Utica’s leaders in healthy scratches last season, sitting out 12 times due to a coach’s decision, despite being on the AHL roster for only 36 games.
Despite my general disagreement with the Canucks signing him in the first place, Vancouver hasn’t been the only team to show interest in Laplante’s services. He was originally drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes back in 2013, before re-entering the draft (and going unselected) a couple of years later. They apparently felt that he wasn’t worth a contract, opening the door for the Canucks to give him one shortly thereafter.
Laplante is no stranger to the fisticuffs, and certainly seems to want to use his pugilism to make an impression. He’s had a couple of fights in the American League, both early in the season, and he’s fought in consecutive preseasons with the Comets as well. You have to hand it to the guy for wanting to do whatever he can to make the team, but to be honest, that type of thing makes me a little uncomfortable nowadays. The idea of a guy punching faces and receiving face punches in order to seem valuable just seems misguided at this point in time.
In a surprising move at the end of last season, the Canucks actually called Laplante up to the NHL for the final game of the season, directly from the ECHL no less. Now, he didn’t play, and the general consensus is that the Canucks didn’t want to disturb the Comets, who were making a final (and ultimately fruitless) push for a playoff spot. It’s likely that this is as close as Laplante is ever going to come to the NHL.
If he does somehow make it back to the NHL and gets into some games (and that’s an enormous if, without any indication that it will come to fruition), it would likely be as a replacement level player at best.
#28: Rodrigo Abols
Preseason Ranking: Unranked
Age: 22 – Position: Centre – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’4″ – Weight: 187 lbs
Every prospect is interesting to me for some reason or another. Often, it’s not about their abilities as a player, but for some storyline that has followed them for the tenure as a Canucks prospect, or longer. Abols’ story is interesting because he has both impressed Canucks fans, and enraged them, depending on the time frame.
We first saw Abols at the Penticton Young Stars tournament back in 2015, where he was an invitee. Abols impressed fans with his speed and his hands, and there was fairly substantial interest from the fanbase to bring him on board with a contract. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible at the time, as he was going to be eligible for the following draft and thus was not yet a free agent.
So, Abols, who had spent the previous season playing in Russia, came to North America after the CHL Import Draft and joined the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. After a fairly lackluster season, Abols, now 20-years old, was selected by the Canucks with the 184th overall pick. At this point, his addition was considerably less welcome.
There are a few reasons for this. One, his production in the WHL that year indicated that he was a real long shot to progress in North American pro hockey. Two, he was taken in the stead of some more promising, and more local, options, most notably Vancouver Giants forward Ty Ronning (who is gunning for the franchise single season goal record this year, by the way). Lastly, due to the CBA rules, Abols would have been a draft-related free agent if he hadn’t been selected that year, meaning that he only had to pass through the remaining 16 selections and the Canucks would have been able to sign him, freeing them up to use that draft pick on a more promising young player.
It’s been about a year and a half since then, and Abols hasn’t done much to get back in Canucks’ fans good books. He was picked up by Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL for the 2016-17 season after Portland neglected to use both an overage and an import slot on him. Not ready for the AHL this season, Abols returned to Europe instead, joining Orebro in the SHL. He played 26 games there, earning just a single assist, before being loaned to Bofors IK in Sweden’s second tier league (Allsvenskan), where he had a bit more success, tallying three goals and six points in nine games.
Unfortunately for Abols, now 22 years old, it still isn’t very indicative of future success. His pGPS XLS% (Expected Likelihood of Success) in the Allsvenskan this year is still at 0%, and only slightly higher in the SHL, at 2% (his SHL Expected Production Rate spikes a little bit, as his only successful match was a productive NHL player: Mikael Samuelsson).
Because Abols was a European-born player coming off of his first North American season when he was drafted, the Canucks will maintain Abols’ rights for a few more years. That gives them plenty of time to hope that he turns into something without having to use a contract spot on him. At this point, there’s little evidence to suggest that that’s going to be the case. It’s more likely that he will continue to be looked upon with bitterness by Canucks fans. The success of Ty Ronning (or other players passed over that year) will determine just how strong that bitterness gets.