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
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
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.