Canucks Army’s 2018 Midterm Prospect Rankings: 22nd to 21st

Before we dive into the top 20 of the Vancouver Canucks’ current prospect pool, there are a couple of players left that didn’t quite make the cut. Interestingly enough, one of the two already has a double-digit number of NHL games played, yet it seems like neither we at CanucksArmy nor the fans are very high on him anymore.

But we’ll get to that.

First, here is another look at the selection criteria for this series.

Seven lists, including six from Canucks Army writers (Jeremy Davis, J.D. Burke, Ryan Biech, Jackson McDonald, Vanessa Jang, and myself) plus the reader rankings, were consolidated into one list. The parameters are that each prospect must:

  • be under the age of 25;
  • have played fewer than 25 NHL games; and
  • be under contract to the Vancouver Canucks or on their reserve (e.g. as an unsigned draft choice).

So, here are prospects No. 21 and 22.

#22. Ashton Sautner

Preseason ranking: Unranked

Image: Utica Comets

Age: 23 – Position: Defence – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’1″ – Weight: 194 lbs

Like our No. 24, Griffen Molino, defenceman Ashton Sautner went undrafted and was signed by the Canucks as a free agent. Sautner spent four years with the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings, including a Memorial Cup win in 2014, and finished his junior career with a strong 2014-15 campaign in which he recorded 51 points (12-39-51) in 72 games. While his numbers were never outstanding, it was enough for the Canucks to give the two-way defender a shot.

Sautner was never an overly flashy player, but one who played a pro-style game, ready to jump from junior to the AHL and fill a regular role on a pro club. In his first season with the Utica Comets, his production wasn’t crazy, but he proved he could have a professional career.

But can he make it to the NHL?

There is a huge number of players that have scored at a similar rate to Sautner as 23-year-olds in the AHL, and there are several that went on to play in the NHL. Among the closest comparables are Ottawa Senator Mark Borowiecki, retired 493-game veteran Greg Zanon, and former Columbus Blue Jacket and Winnipeg Jet Grant Clitsome, who spent 205 games in the league.

As you can see, none of these are big impact players, and one could even argue you’re better off without them in the lineup. That said, there is still a small chance that Sautner makes it all the way – at least for a little while.

But knowing that players peak in their early 20s, the time to take the next step is now.

#21. Joseph LaBate

Preseason ranking: Unranked

Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets

Age: 24 – Position: Left Wing – Shoots: Left – Height: – 6’5″ – Weight: 212 lbs

The Canucks have long been searching for a big, physical winger who can add a physical element to the lineup. Right now, Darren Archibald is up in Vancouver to fill that role, but he isn’t the only one who’s had the chance. Just last season, Joseph LaBate made his NHL debut and recorded a total of 13 games with the big club.

LaBate was selected in the fourth round, 101st overall by the Canucks in 2011. Drafted straight out of high school, it was difficult to evaluate him at the time, but a big forward who scored roughly two points per game in the USHS had enough appeal to use a mid-round draft pick on him.

In his draft+1 season, LaBate recorded 20 points (5-15-20) in 37 games with the University of Wisconsin. For a college freshman who skipped the USHL level and projected as a bottom-six player if he made it, that was more than solid. And with that, LaBate had an 18.9 expected success percentage.

Unfortunately, it only went downhill in his next three years of college.

LaBate’s point totals regressed with every additional year in the league, closing out his college career with just six goals and 18 points. At that point, nobody would have guessed LaBate would become an NHL player.

In his first professional season with the Utica Comets in 2015-16, LaBate had 20 points (10-10-20) in 66 games. A big, physical winger who can chip in points occasionally, but it wouldn’t warrant an NHL call-up – or that’s what you’d think.

LaBate was one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the 2016 preseason. He provided the grit and physicality the Canucks wanted in the lineup, even if he didn’t do anything to help offensively. While he didn’t quite make the cut, he did appear in 13 games throughout the 2016-17 campaign, recording 21 penalty minutes – 15 of them thanks to his three fights – but no points.

So far this season, LaBate has done nothing outstanding, and he doesn’t look like someone who’ll ever make it to the NHL full time. I’m happy he got his 13 games last year, but in today’s NHL, there is no room for players who do nothing well other than hitting and fighting.

(Okay, there is some room, and some of them are even paid millions, but that’s a different story.)

So with that, LaBate ranks just outside of our top 20, as someone who is not only unlikely to become a full-time NHLer, but to play another game in the league at all.

    • Janik Beichler

      The thing is that there is an endless amount of players like LaBate in the AHL. There are even many that are drafted in the top 60, get a few chances to prove their worth in the NHL, but as they can’t stick by the age of 25, they stay in the AHL or even go to Europe. Maybe LaBate will come in for another few games when the Canucks have a lot of injuries, or maybe he’ll get another long look next preseason. But unless he starts doing more on the offensive side, there really is no reason to have him in the NHL.

      You can argue that guys like Nic Dowd, who score just about never, still have a place in the league as well. But on a better team, that would not be – or should not be – the case.

      • Thanks for your reply. The physical part of the game will always be there. Flavor of the day is skill and speed, which is fine, until the playoffs when intimidation rules. Bruins won the cup that way.
        Just look at the former soft skill Oilers. Little bit of physical play and they folded their tent. Oilers upgraded their toughness, because they got man handled. Now they are big and slow. The answer lies somewhere in between.

        Also, many young writers mistake toughness for goon type behavior.

        • Janik Beichler

          I agree with you to some extent here. I don’t mind a physical yet productive forward like prime Lucic or even someone at the level of Jannik Hansen, who won’t shy away from physical play in a heated playoff contest.

          But I’m really not a fan of guys who are purely physical and defensive players (and I’m not talking about goons here either).

  • North Van Halen

    Nice work Janik slipping in the Gudbranson chirp in the prospects article. Here’s hoping you guys cab cleverly come up with 20 more ways to chirp the contract with each prospects article. This is gonna be like the summer of 2016 when there were 3 articles a week on how bad the Dorsett/Sbisa contracts were isn’t it? Sigh.

  • TD

    This came up earlier, but Sautner is plus 18 this year. Over half the team is in the positive territory and most are no where near Sautner’s plus 18. Holm gets all the attention and he is minus 6. I know, I know, plus minus is a flawed stat. In the end, it does mean his non power play goal differential is 24 goals better than Holm. Are there any underlying analytics regarding his play? They may not be as exciting as high event offensive defence men, but games are won with positive goal differentials.

  • Fred-65

    I wish the kid well. I believe he’s a RFA this summer so it is a pending decision time for both the kid and the club. Frankly Vcr. has too many Sautner type players, OK at the AHL level but not good enough to go further a true tweener.