11 prospects to keep an eye on at Canucks development camp
By Faber7 months ago
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I’ve got to say that this is my favourite time of the year.
The NHL draft brought in a new crop of prospects and we are kicking off Canucks development camp today.
All of the Canucks’ top young prospects who don’t play in the AHL are in attendance for the development camp and we will be getting our first in-person viewings on the 2023 draft picks.
Let’s dive into the seven prospects we will be keeping a close eye on this week.
Tom Willander, RD, 18 years old
He’s certainly the one to watch this week. The Canucks’ 2023 11th overall pick will draw eyes throughout the week as we look to see how his skating compares to some of the other top prospects in the Canucks’ pipeline.
Tom Willander has size, speed, and good hands that will help him stick out compared to the rest of the defencemen in attendance. The general manager has already said that Willander could potentially be Quinn Hughes’ partner one day.
The media scrums will be larger with Willander and hopefully he is one of the players whose skills shine over the next handful of days.
Lucas Forsell, RW, 19 years old
The 19-year-old has been talked about quite a bit here on this site and the reasoning for that is his high-end puck-skills, good pace during games and grittiness around the net in the SHL.
Lucas Forsell is coming off a year where he bounced around the J20 and Allsvenskan leagues before finding a home in the SHL and going on quite a scoring run. He finished his SHL year with 13 goals and four assists in 42 games. His progression should translate into being an everyday top-six winger at the SHL level next season. This camp will be a chance for him to show off his game a bit.
Forsell participated in last year’s development camp but didn’t exactly blow us away with his play on the ice. We have a feeling we will be coming out of this week raving about the speed and skill that he possesses. And he’s still just a teenager!
Vilmer Alriksson, LW, 18 years old
He’s 6’6″ and has some pace in his stride.
We could have stopped at 6’6″ — he’s a player we just want to watch play. The Canucks took Vilmer Alriksson in the fourth round of the most recent draft and he will be a player we watch closely over the week. If his feet are anything near above average, his size becomes much more intriguing.
Josh Bloom, LW/RW, 20 year old
After being a trade deadline pick-up for the Canucks, Josh Bloom went on a deep OHL playoff run and was one of the integral pieces for his North Bay Battalion.
Bloom is moving out of major junior and making the jump to the AHL this season. He should be one of the players who sticks out at this camp — hopefully in a similar way to Arshdeep Bains at last year’s development camp. We’re hoping that there is consistency in how he handles the puck — that’s what we liked about Bains so much last year.
The most pro-ready part of Bloom’s game is his penalty killing. This won’t get a lot of looks during development camp but his work rate during battle drills should be high and we are excited to see him make the jump to pro hockey this season.
A source told CanucksArmy that Bloom’s offseason training has been taken to a whole new level compared to his time during his OHL career. This kid is locked in on making an impact at the AHL level this coming season and we want to see him cook against some of the other top prospects this week.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki, RW, 18 years old
With a jump to the SHL on the horizon, Jonathan Lekkerimäki will want to have a much more consistent season this year and leave all the speed bumps from last year in the dust.
Lekkerimäki has a tremendous shot and he should be able to create time and space for himself during the week to show off his best attribute. As the Canucks’ only other first-round pick in attendance for the camp, he will certainly draw eyes every time he touches the puck. We want to see this kid succeed and this camp is a good preparation in advance of him travelling with Sweden’s junior team for some summer tournaments that are ahead of him.
Speaking with Lekkerimäki is also something to look forward to this week. We’re curious to know how he looks at his past 12 months and what he has learned from it as he steps up a level in Sweden and will return to the SHL with Örebro.
Elias Pettersson, LD, 19 years old
After a red-hot start to his 2022-23 season, Elias Pettersson (D-Petey) slowed down at the conclusion of his year and didn’t see many minutes with Örebro during this SHL playoffs.
The big, smooth-skating defenceman showed us a lot of potential last year and will be looked at as one of Sweden’s top defencemen at the World Junior Championships — especially on the penalty kill. This camp is a good opportunity for him to battle with Willander as the top defenceman at the camp.
Pettersson should be on Sweden’s WJC team and Willander will also be on the radar for Sweden. Perhaps they end up playing together as a pairing at this camp and can build some chemistry for December.
Christian Fitzgerald, C, 21 years old
Coquitlam-born, and a Surrey Eagles (BCHL) graduate — Christian Fitzgerald is a name to learn before this week of development camp.
Fitzgerald showed extremely well at the end of last season, scoring 14 goals and adding nine assists in his final 23 NCAA games with Minnesota Mankato. He began the season fresh off of rehabing a torn labrum and wasn’t getting top-six minutes until late in the NCAA season.
The 21-year-old local boy skates with Dante Fabbro and Mat Barzal in the offseason and saw his offence take off when he was given power play time with Mankato last year.
Next season, Fitzgerald is following his coach as he moves from Mankato over to Wisconsin. This is the perfect development camp invite as he is a local kid and could be looked at as one of the top NCAA free agents this coming season. The fact that the Canucks are getting him in here for their development camp is a very good sign that the Canucks might be able to land him as a free agent in March/April.
It’s a tidy piece of business getting him here.
Kirill Kudryavtsev, LD, 19 years old
After a strong season in the OHL, the 2022 seventh-round pick is poised to be one of the OHL’s top offensive producers from the backend this season.
Kirill Kudryavtsev looked good at Canucks main camp last year and we expect him to be a strong candidate along with Willander and Pettersson as the top defenceman at development camp. Kudryavtsev has good pace and very high puck skills for a defenceman. He thinks the game at a high level and should be a part of the Abbotsford Canucks at the conclusion of his OHL season.
Aku Koskenvuo, G, 20 years old
We loved what we saw in Aku Koskenvuo at last year’s development camp but he struggled to find starts in his freshman season with Harvard in the NCAA.
Koskenvuo is 6’5″, has extremely long arms and is very athletic. He’s the perfect type of goalie for Ian Clark to work with and we expect Koskenvuo to be locked in for all of his sessions with Clark this week. Kozkenvuo will be fighting for the starter’s role this coming season as Harvard’s starter from last season has moved on to pro hockey.
A good week with Ian Clark can do nothing but help Koskenvuo’s game. He is a physical freak in the best way and his size, flexibility and length were a big reason why the Canucks drafted him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft.
He and Nikita Tolopilo should have a fun battle this week as they look to be the standout goalie at development camp.
Jacob Truscott, LD, 21 years old
Jacob Truscott received a great honour this offseason when he was named captain of Michigan for the 2023-24 season.
He is a solid, two-way defenceman who skates well and showed us his improved physical play at last year’s camp. Truscott is the type of defenceman who simply makes his partner better. He could be paired up with any of the Canucks’ top defencemen at this camp as he can play both the left and right sides. Truscott has been a partner of Owen Power and Luke Hughes during his time with Michigan and should be a lock to go pro and join the Abbotsford Canucks after what will be his fourth NCAA season.
Expect Truscott to have good stick-checking skills as well as being willing to throw the body around in battle drills. We’d love to see him match up with top offensive players like Lekkerimäki.
Daimon Gardner, C/W, 19 years old
After tearing his MCL in the preseason of the 2022-23 season, Daimon Gardner found his scoring touch in the USHL and finished the year with 12 goals and 30 assists in 46 games with the Tri-City Storm. Gardner is a 6’4″ centre/winger who showed well at last year’s development camp but was unable to maintain his momentum into the season due to his injury.
Now, Gardner is off for his freshman season in NCAA hockey and will be joining Clarkson University. The jump from the USHL to the NCAA is a tough one and we hope to see a fast skating forward this week who looks like he’s ready for another challenge in his young hockey career.
The expectations for his freshman year aren’t very high but he has good size and a strong shot that could help surprise many of us as he makes the jump to the NCAA. We hope to see him be physically dominant at this development camp and hopefully, the MCL injury isn’t having any long-lasting effects on his skating speed — which caught our eye last year.
Development camp gets going on Sunday and will conclude on Wednesday with a scrimmage.
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