Canucks Army’s 2018 Midterm Prospect Rankings: 31st to 28th

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.

  • 51Geezer

    Perhaps Stewart was selected because scouts believed he might become that rare enforcer who is so tough his reputation obviates the need for fighting. Even if he gains that reputation his hockey skills need some improvement…

  • Puck Viking

    That Abols in the 7th round still bothers me.

    Why not draft for long shot skill players especially in the 7th? You dont draft a guy hoping to be a 4th liner center, you can easily use a young up and coming player or sign a UFA for that roll.

    We could have drafted Sokolov, Ronning or Quenneville. Not to say any will make the NHL but at least they still flashes of skill.

    • apr

      For your last roll at the roulette table at the 7th round, you can either go 50-50 (red or black) and have a 99.9% chance of a prospect who will play meaningless 10 games in the NHL, or trust the several million dollars you spent on the scouts who advocated taking the 200-1 odd chance and maybe draft Luc Robitaille with your last or second to last pick.

      But hey, I like Ronning over Abols like the next guy. Great numbers at WHL for the Giants. But reality is that both guys have a better chance at working for subway making my meatball sub with extra meatballs than playing top 6 for an NHL team.

      • You’re not entirely wrong about the odds being against both players, but they aren’t that long. Seventh round picks hit about 10% of the time, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be playing your odds at that point, and usually that means taking the guy with more production relative to age. If fact, there’s an argument to be made that one of the reasons that the success rate isn’t higher is that scouting staffs are overthinking these late picks. Research has been done before demonstrating that simply taking the next highest scoring CHL player, with no other thought, can actually outdraft many multi-million dollar scouting departments.

        • Dirty30

          That’s a stat I can get behind! Elegant in its simplicity, robust in its predictive ability and cost-effective in its implementation.

          Unfortunately, its too simple for the brain-trust spending millions for scouts who manage to be wrong more often than the simple stat that would improve their odds of picking a potential winner.

          Quick question — does a smilar metric exist for other hockey leagues or is it only robust for CHL players?

        • Just to follow-up, I decided to start working on figuring out who was the best GM draftist from 1998-2013 and 2014-2017. For 1998-2013 dataset, I had 493 7th round draft picks. 35 (7%) played over 200 games, 93 (19%) played less than 200 games, and 365 (74%) never played a game. Among the 35 players (as of mid-January 2018), most played 200-600 games and had about a 0.30 to 0.50 PPG pace. For the players that played less than 200 games, they usually played less than 100 games and had a 0.10 to 0.20 PPG pace.

          So it seems like historically, at the 7th round, you have a 7% chance of pulling a decent depth scorer roster player and a 19% of getting a AHL call-up type player.

        • truthseeker

          that is very interesting. And pretty much intuitive as well. I’m sure by the 7th round you’re looking at kids that probably have almost zero psych evaluations/interviews etc… Just go by the points.

  • Burnabybob

    Looking forward to the rest of the series. Thanks for all the work.

    Just a couple of suggestions: this series would be even better if it included the player’s age and possibly draft year.

    And one other general recommendation for the site: find a different logo. Whenever I see the fist, I always think of nazi skinheads.

    • The age was a very good suggestion, and I’ve added that into the bio information. I also filled in the heights and weights that I forgot to fill in earlier after adding in the player templates.

      As for your other suggestion, that’s well above my pay grade, but you aren’t the first person to bring that up. I liked the previous logo personally, it had more of an army feel, but I think the higher ups prefer all the sites to be consistent.

  • crofton

    Personally I think fighting isn’t going to go away, at least for the near to mid term, and maybe more. Therefore, having a player that “punches faces” that can ALSO play at least a 4th line role will still be an asset. How many posters here were aghast when Boeser was hammered head first into the boards (which I still maintain was worthy of a major and supplementary disciple) that no one on the Canucks went over to “punch the Kings player in the face”? Or when Khadri head hunted Sedin? Or any other time that liberties were taken with a team mate?

    • Peachy

      Even if you assume that such a player is valuable enough to have on your team, why would you bother drafting for face punching “skill” when you pick up a player who can do that for peanuts? (Kassian, etc.)

      The focus of the draft should be on finding top six / top four potential players. Yes, odds are bad, especially in later rounds, but it does happen.

      (And I’ve yet to see Kadri, Brown, Marchand, Cooke or any other pest actually change their behaviour due to the presence of a fourth line plug…)

      • Bud Poile

        Why? We don’t have one if Guddy is traded.
        Dorsett was much more than a fourth line plug.
        Howe would defend himself – and his sons.Orr would throw them.
        Hell,Stetcher can throw ’em.
        Now back to fairy land.

      • Nuck4U

        Well said always look for the high ceiling in drafting. The fill in bottom guys are easily found in free agency these days.

        Rankings seem sound. Abols might have have been a viable center option for Comets. But no need to draft as look at the free agent pick ups already playing there ahead of him.

    • Rodeobill

      I understand the argument of some that they have developed a distaste for fighting in hockey, but I like that part too. Hockey is rough, hockey is passionate, and I don’t like to see people seriously hurt, hell I don’t even feel comfortable watching most “fail” videos. The fact of the matter is, I see more players injured from cheap shots, pucks and checks than fights. Maybe a lost tooth, a torn beard, a black eye, but seldom do you see players out for games or even that game due to fighting. Especially now we have moved away from the coked-up, barely can skate, 100s of punches before the linesman jump in days of the enforcer. Part of the magic of hockey is that there are so many facets involved, many kinds of heroes in many different roles, and to take that out of the game would take out some of that dynamic. Who knows what unforeseen consequences would occur if we did? What other way would that emotion and passion find catharsis? I do not like senseless violence, staged and meaningless fights or hug-ups, but I like that hockey is a tough sport. Not only that, but no one is forced to drop the gloves, and they do get paid a lot of money playing a sport they love and understand is rough.

  • krutov

    on the bright side, between abols and kenins we now have serious latvian hockey connections.

    taking ty ronning would have been a mistake for canucks and him. it is very likely he will put up points in lesser leagues and management would be under intense pressure to give him a shot due to his name which would then be a distraction for the player. much better to let him earn his stripes elsewhere where he can toil in near anonymity and either make the nhl on the merits or not.

    best analogy i can think of is steve kariya. i always felt like he paid a price for being a hometown kid here with huge name recognition as having ridden his brother’s coat tails to get nhl games. if he’d played elsewhere i think no one would ever question the nhl games he was given.

  • Tedchinook

    Love the fact this series is put together, but I honestly don’t see the point in starting at 31. Do we really care about guys with no realistic chance of ever being seen in Vancouver? I’d suggest starting at #20, and even then we’d probably be looking at some guys who’d never be Canucks.

  • chrìs

    I appreciate the work ryan. jackson and yourself are the only reasons i visit canucks army. I finally had to confess to my friends that i dont follow each canuck prospect and simply get my information from one source(i told them it was here). Will there still be a prospects report this week??