Photo credit:Nick Barden
Blackfish: A Midseason Review of the Vancouver Canucks’ prospects
By Dave Hall2 months ago
Welcome to the first edition of the Blackfish Prospect Report for 2024!
It’s been an eventful ride up to the midway point of the 2023-24 season. Overall, the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect pool is generating some intriguing storylines, and for the first time in quite some time, this feels like a proper pipeline with legit depth.
Since the past few weeks have seen minimal on-ice action, with the exception of the highly anticipated World Juniors, we’ll take this opportunity to delve into the performances of each prospect in the Canucks’ system.
Today, we’ll focus on the prospects outside the American Hockey League, though we will cover that realm in our next installment.
And, if you haven’t already, be sure to catch up on our coverage of the World Juniors Tournament, where the Canucks’ three Swedish prospects are making waves.
Let’s kick things off with our updated statistics.
We all understand the unpredictable nature of drafting prospects. Sometimes, you strike gold, while more often than not, things don’t pan out as expected.
That’s simply the nature of drafting 18-year-olds.
As we embark on the New Year, we find ourselves at the midpoint of Hunter Brzustewicz’s draft plus one year, and so far, all signs are pointing towards hitting the lottery.
The recent 75th overall pick has officially surpassed the 50-assist milestone, leading the entire Canadian Hockey League. Additionally, Brzustewicz leads the OHL in points with 58 total. After a New Year’s Day secondary assist, he’s eclipsed his previous career high, surpassing his 2022–23 totals, but in 31 fewer games.
He is currently on track to steamroll past the 100-point mark, a feat accomplished by only 13 players in league history, and not since the 2010-2011 season when Ryan Ellis registered 76 assists and finished with 100 on the nose.
I know what you are thinking, and no, points are not the be-all-end-all when it comes to tracking a defender’s development. Still, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a prospect’s success and hoping he makes a bit of history.
At this stage, it’s clear that there is little development left for him at the Junior level, and it’s probably time for him to continue accumulating points, potentially make a Memorial Cup run, and transition to the Abbotsford Canucks to take his development to the next level.
The value extracted, thus far, for a third-round pick is ridiculous.
Over in Sault Ste. Marie, Kirill Kudryavtsev faces a similar looming decision—to turn professional or not?
After an impressive and somewhat surprising 50-point 2022-23 season, expectations soared for the 2022 seventh-round pick.
Now a 19-year-old, the hope was that he would compete with Hunter Brzustewicz for the league’s defensive point leaders. However, with 27 points in 36 games, it seems unlikely that he will come close to those numbers and is on pace to finish with just one point above his 50-point total from last season.
That’s fine. Once again, points do not indicate an effective defender, but it’s a fun tidbit to keep tabs on.
Instead, we focus on what he can do. Over the first half, he’s been a catalyst for the Greyhounds, playing heavy minutes and providing solid two-way hockey on a team ranked second in the Ontario Hockey League.
So, is he ready for pro hockey? The answer to this question seems a bit double-headed. Realistically, his skill set may be ready for the professional level, but is it necessary to rush him?
He has proven to be a strong defender at the Junior level but is by no means dominant. However, he did surprise many during his tryout at Canucks’ training camp in Victoria and appeared to keep up against the high-level competition, which helps his case.
For me, it’s all about where the opportunity lies. With rumblings that Elias Pettersson (D-Petey) is ready to cross the pond and Senior NCAA defender Jacob Truscott eligible to sign his first pro contract, how much room is there for a third first-year developing youngster in the AHL ranks?
If there is room, bring him in. However, It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have him return for one last dominant season in the OHL before making the jump. After all, we are talking about a seventh-round surprise gem here.
It’s been a decently successful transition to North America for Vilmer Alriksson, the Canucks’ recent fourth-round draft pick.
Good, not perfect.
With 21 points over 36 games, 14 of them coming at even-strength, he’s not necessarily dominating the league. Still, considering it’s his first year in a new country with a different ice surface, pace, and system, his overall performance has been relatively positive.
Alriksson possesses a variety of intriguing tools, including his remarkable size at 6-foot-6, a powerful shot, and decent skating ability. The hope is for him to return to the Guelph Storm next year, potentially make a World Junior appearance, and assume a role as a go-to option in Guelph.
I do believe that there is some NHL intrigue here, perhaps as a bottom-six option.
Think Alexei Toropchenko, a St. Louis Blues forward, who has had a near identical path and profiles remarkably similar.
It’s been a great first half for Vancouver’s top prospect, Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
From scoring 10 goals in the SHL, leading the U24 circuit as a 19-year-old, to showcasing his skills at this year’s World Junior Championships, it’s been a consistently positive bounce-back year.
He’s making impactful plays with the puck in scoring positions and all over the ice, displaying sound decision-making both with and without the puck.
Against his fellow U20 skaters, it’s been encouraging to see him cut to the middle of the ice a little more at the World Juniors, which continues to be an area of weakness in his game at the pro ranks. Let’s hope he can take this boosted confidence in his game and begin to implement that into his game in the men’s league, as he still hesitates to cut into the middle.
Patrik Allvin recently spoke to the Swedish media and expressed the desire to see the Swedish sharpshooter cross the pond after one more summer of bulking. This is fantastic news and, of course, the best move for the long term.
Now that he’s got his confident scoring touch, let’s get him over to start acclimating to the higher-paced, more aggressive North American game.
While many hope he jumps straight to the NHL, spending some time in the American League is probably the better option and also the more likely landing spot.
He’s been good, but he still needs to add size while working on getting away from the perimeter.
The worst thing that could happen is that he proves too strong for the AHL and deserves a call-up sooner than expected. If not, then he gets the opportunity to acclimate his game to the smaller North American ice surface, while hopefully scoring a few goals to boost his confidence.
The important thing is getting him stateside to continue developing to what we all hope is a future as a ruthless goalscorer.
With the Canucks’ prospect system in mind, Lucas Forsell continues to be a source of frustration for me.
When given significant minutes, he has demonstrated the ability to impact the ice, whether from a production standpoint or by imposing his aggressive nature as a pest.
He plays the game with an edge and pace, creating challenging nights for his opponents each time he takes the ice. The issue, however, lies in the fact that he hasn’t been given the green light to showcase his skills on a larger scale.
He’s hit the 11-plus minute mark just six times over 23 games this year and has been used primarily in a fourth-line role. As you would expect, he’s got just one goal and an assist to show with those minutes.
In the Champions League, however, he has been given a longer leash and produced accordingly, with three goals and two assists over nine games.
Now, as a seventh-rounder, there is a long path before any true NHL potential is realized, if at all, but without time to develop, that path is only getting longer.
Let’s hope for an added role next year or a loan/transfer to get some solid minutes under his belt, as his style of play does carry projectable bottom-six tools.
Before the World Juniors began, I joined David Quadrelli and Harman Dayal on Canucks Conversation, where I predicted Elias Pettersson as this year’s surprise prospect.
I reasoned that he was a bit more under the radar than the other two Swedes, and I believed he had come a long way based on my viewings of him this year.
Without patting my own back too hard, it seems my assessment might have been spot on.
Throughout the tournament, Pettersson has been a workhorse stalwart for the Swedes, leading them in ice time and showcasing solid shutdown capabilities. He’s not a huge factor in the offensive zone, but he’s not a lost cause, either. He provides crisp and clean outlet passes, and has a good shot from the point. Furthermore, he’s also a good skater, especially for his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame.
He has a goal and nine points across 17 games with Västerås.
We mentioned Patrik Allvin’s Swedish interview, and in that conversation, he had hinted at Pettersson’s potential to join the Abbotsford Canucks at the tail end of this season once his Allsvenskan year has concluded.
Their final regular season game is set for March. 8th. However, they currently find themselves in a playoff push, so we may have to wait a touch further if it does happen.
After a very poor start, Hugo Gabrielson’s season has taken an interesting turn.
On the positive side, he was, and is, logging significant minutes, playing on the top pairing and contributing to the penalty kill. However, his play lacked subjective excitement, and his team was, and still is, very weak and currently sits second to last in the Allsvenskan.
He has recently turned things around, enjoying a three-game goal-scoring streak, registering points in six straight games (seven points in total). With 10 points over 25 games, he has surpassed his previous career high, which is great.
Nevertheless, considering the current depth within the Canucks’ defensive system—which is still somewhat surprising to say—I’m not convinced that there is anything groundbreaking, and I still believe that he remains an “enjoy from afar” type of prospect.
Of course, I’m always open to being proven wrong.
There’s no way to sugarcoat that it’s been a tough season for Joni Jurmo. He has just one assist on the year and is now utilized as an extra defender in most cases.
While his hands and footwork are promising tools, his decision-making, especially in the defensive zone, continues to be incredibly problematic. Everything seems rushed and forced.
The Canucks have until the summer to make their decision, and perhaps there’s a chance he signs, crosses over, and the Abbotsford coaching staff get straight to work on some targeted development.
However, with prospects such as Kirill Kudryavtsev, Sawyer Mynio, Jacob Truscott and Elias Pettersson all occupying the left side of the depth chart, it feels like we may have seen the last of Joni Jurmo.
Viktor Persson continues to nurse a concussion over in Finland and has yet to suit up for the Pelicans this year.
It’s unfortunate, as he showed some intriguing tools as a long-shot offensive-minded defender in his stint with the Kamloops Blazers.
So far, Tom Willander has impressed in his first half with Boston University.
He may not be excelling in the NCAA, but he’s adjusting and showing that he has all the necessary characteristics to carry out a promising career as a 2-3 NHL defender.
There is still work to be done in many areas, but again, the important thing is that he possesses the tools, even if they aren’t fully sharpened just yet.
His skating is elite, his defensive effort is phenomenal, and his aggressive demeanour simply can’t be taught. Would we like to see more shot generation and more effective decision-making in his transitions? Absolutely.
But for now, he’s adapting his game and doing a commendable job. He’s up to three goals and eight points across 15 games and leads his BU Terriers’ with a plus-13 on the season.
In Patrik Allvin’s interview, he hinted at taking the slow-cook route, suggesting another year at Boston University, which is perfect. By that point, Lane Hutson should have moved on, meaning Willander will be handed the reins and given every opportunity to succeed as their go-to option.
He’s been a prominent member of Sweden’s backend during this year’s World Juniors, sitting second in plus/minus (plus-eight), and will be a primary option for them again next year.
Jacob Truscott approaches the decision on his next step in hockey. As a Senior with the Michigan Wolverines, it’s evident that he will be signing, but the key question remains: with whom?
The Canucks have had success with collegiate signings, but the ultimate factor always lies with the long-term potential for him to play games at the NHL level.
With Quinn Hughes standing as the only real long-term (current NHL’er) threat on the left side, there does appear to be a path toward NHL games. Of course, there are still names such as Nikita Zadorov, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy and the list of prospects behind, but in terms of long-term look, there’s at least some hope, should he translate well.
Given Truscott’s defensive-minded skillset, it’s not as if he characterizes a prominent top-four player, anyway, so as long as there is a spot to suit up in Abbotsford, for now, with the potential to squeeze in to play NHL shutdown minutes, they should have a good chance of landing his first pro contract.
He brings tons of promising defensive qualities, does not shy away from throwing around his body, and is a go-to penalty killer for Michigan. He’s up to two goals and 10 points across 18 games and is on pace to set new career highs as the Captain for his Wolverines.
We hope to chat with Jacob soon to understand his thought process better as he gears up for the final leg of his NCAA career.
I’ll be honest; when the Canucks drafted Ty Mueller in the fourth round, I wasn’t necessarily jumping out of my shoes. To be fair, I had not seen too much of his game to that point, and as a double overager, there were some questions.
I’m not entirely sold on any top-six NHL projection, Mueller has impressed with his waterbug playstyle and silky-smooth offensive tools. He possesses very soft hands and a wicked wrist shot that could stand up at the pro level.
He leads his team in goals (six) and points (12) over 16 games and is playing top-six center and top power play minutes, and can also play on the wing.
I believe he could be an interesting addition to the Abbotsford squad and could emerge as a top-six threat down the line. Given that he is already a junior with Nebraska-Omaha, that transition could happen sooner rather than later.
Jack Malone has experienced some enjoyable moments and was given decent deployment early in the season, sharing the ice with the incredible talents of Cutter Gauthier. While receiving top power-play minutes, he has accumulated just four goals and eight points through 17 games.
While he possesses some intriguing tools that could be useful at the AHL level, overall, there isn’t anything exceptionally promising as a future Canuck.
It’s been a down year in Northeastern, and they are certainly missing their former captain and prominent goalscorer, Aidan McDonough. That downfall has impacted Jackson Dorrington and his sophomore year.
However, on a personal level, he’s playing good minutes, which has even included stretches of top-pairing deployment, and after just one point over his first eight, he has four in as many games and sits second on the team with a plus-five rating.
As a 19-year-old, there is still some time to develop, and he feels like a prospect who may need time at the Collegiate level.
After five starts, Aku Koskenvuo is still searching for his first win of the 2023-24 campaign with the Harvard Crimson. However, his winless record isn’t a true indication of his performance this season.
Harvard currently ranks last in the ECAC, and their skater group has left their goalies to fend for themselves. Despite the team’s struggles, Koskenvuo boasts a .910 save percentage and has faced 40 or more shots in two of his five starts.
The 20-year-old is expected to continue sharing starts with Derek Mullahy, who has only secured one win so far this season as well.
Both Daimon Gardner and Matthew Perkins are experiencing challenging starts in their freshman years. While there is still significant intrigue around the 6-foot-4 Gardner, he has currently dropped to the bottom of our watch list for now.
Jackson Kunz has contributed a few points here and there despite seeing relatively slim ice time. However, it’s simply not enough to justify anything for the future as a member of this prospect pipeline, given his age.
Aiden Celebrini has been playing a third-pairing role and has been banged up a few times over the year. Boston University’s backend is quite potent, so he’ll have to take significant steps to earn a regular look within this current d rotation.
He has four points in 13 games, with all coming during the first three games of the year.
Seattle Thunderbirds’ Sawyer Mynio, the Canucks’ 2023 third-round pick, may emerge as my early surprise-of-the-year candidate.
Obviously, Hunter Brzustewicz is doing phenomenal things, but we also knew he was capable of such offensive strides, so it’s not as much of a shock.
Initially seen as a bit of a reach from many in the industry when drafted, he’s been proving the Canucks scouting team to look like geniuses just 27 games into his draft plus one season.
Playing significant minutes in every situation, Mynio currently ranks seventh among WHL defencemen with eight goals and is just eight points shy of his point totals from last season (31).
Mynio has surprised in a few areas, showcasing smooth and effective skating and, most surprisingly, a wicked release and a powerful one-timer, demonstrating his ability to capitalize from range.
While he has shown the occasional lack of urgency in his plays, it’s becoming clever that there is some pro-level skill in there.
Despite being only 18, Mynio is already in the midst of his third WHL season, and with two years of Championship level pedigree, he’s got a winning mentality.
It’s hard to deny that he may be ready to jump up to the pro level earlier than expected. However, he’ll return for one last WHL season and push for a spot on Team Canada’s backend at next year’s World Juniors.
When it comes to goaltending, the decisions made by Ian Clark are typically unquestionable. So, we trust that there is a plan.
However, this season has presented challenges for netminder Ty Young, who plays for one of the WHL’s elite squads, the Prince George Cougars.
Young has lost his starting position to rookie goaltender Joshua Ravensbergen, who boasts an impressive stat line with a .927 save percentage and six shutouts, making the decision understandable for the Cougars’ coaching staff. Despite holding a respectable 13-7-0 record, Young has lacked consistency in a big way, which shows through his subpar 3.04 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.
That will do it for the first half of the 2023-24 season. Check back next week for a recap on the organization’s AHL skaters.
Until then, catch Team Sweden later today when they take on Team Switzerland in the World Junior quarterfinals as they gun for their first Gold Medal since 2012.
Recent articles from Dave Hall