Vancouver Canucks: Young Stars Classic Prospects Primer 2


The Vancouver Canucks have been able to stock up quite a bit of quality on the prospects pool lately. Compared to the Gillis era some half a dozen years ago, we saw that the Young Stars Classic roster was a solid piece of work by GM Benning, though aided by couple decent drafts by Gillis. The lineup we can ice up front on this tournament is almost too good to be true.

The Canucks have an insane amount of talent-laden forwards as prospects, the most recent graduate being Bo Horvat. In this second look into the Canucks’ Young Stars Classics roster, we will look into the 14 forwards that will star at the tournament which will run from September 11th to the 14th at Penticton.

LW – Hunter Shinkaruk: AHL Utica Comets, 20 years old, 5’11”, 179lbs

Drafted 24th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Shinkaruk is one of the top prospects in the Vancouver Canucks prospects pipeline. His performance after the draft has been a little underwhelming, and understandably so, as he suffered a major hip injury that led to a season-ending surgery. “Shinky” spent the past year playing in Utica, scoring 16 goals and 31 points in 74 games. If Shinkaruk wants to push for the team in the 2016-17 season and reclaim the title “elite prospect,” he should light things up in the tournament, and even in the preseason. He is most noted for his ‘scoring touch,’ whether it be driving to the net or pulling defenders out of position. If he wants to continue playing a hard brand of hockey, he should put some more muscle on.

LW – Mike Zalewski: AHL Utica Comets, 23 years old, 6’2″, 205lbs

Mike Zalewski was one of the call-ups in the 2013-14 Canucks campaign. Signed as an undrafted free agent by Mike Gillis, Zalewski is a hard-working player who uses his size to his advantage. His penalty minutes tell his story, just picking up 18PIM in 55 games played. I take it that this total means he plays with grit and uses his body to protect the puck, but not as a battering ram picking up charging and boarding calls. He is a veteran to this tournament and I will expect him to take on a checking role. He will be just fine throughout the tournament.

Interesting to note, the Canucks only announced two Left Wingers in their roster for the Young Stars Tournament. They also put only two Right Wingers, and only one of them is under contract.

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RW – Jake Virtanen: WHL Calgary Hitmen, 19 years old, 6’1″, 212lbs

The only signed right winger in the roster is the top Canucks prospect attending the tournament, Jake Virtanen. He hits, he scores, and he hits some more. He plays the straight-line hockey that GM Jim Benning loves, and he is not afraid to drop the gloves – but he doesn’t. Being an elite scorer in the WHL scoring at over a point per game, he has learned to stay out of the sin box so he can actually be on the ice and score. Though he is a hard-nosed, hard-playing character who was regarded the best skater in his draft class, his shot is quick, powerful, and accurate. The organization absolutely loves this guy, who didn’t seem out of place in the few playoff games that he played for the Utica Comets. If there is anyone who can steal a bit of the highlight from Connor McDavid, it will be our Jake Virtanen.

RW – Jonathon Martin: WHL Kootenay Ice, 20 years old, 6’2″, 212lbs

Martin is an undrafted WHL-er who is the go-to grit guy in the WHL Kootenay Ice roster. His game is physical, his vision, skating, puckskills limited and decimated at times with sub-par hockey IQ. However, the way he throws his frame around and also drops the gloves is laudable. Some projected him to go in the last round in the NHL Entry draft in 2013 and 14, but I believe he is here to simply provide grit.

The Canucks, thanks to the Vigneault – Gillis era, boast a deep pool of centers. there are NINE centers listed on the roster, one from the MHL, one from the KHL, one from the ECHL, two from the AHL, and four from the CHL.

C – Dmitry Zhukenov: MHL Omskie, 18 years old, 5’11”, 169lbs

Drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the undersized Russian is a unique case. I am not familiar with the MHL, but the fact that an undersized 18-year-old is playing among the big men leads me to believe that he will do just fine at the Young Stars Classic. That, in other words, means that he has his head on a swivel, sees the ice well, stays ahead of the play, and is used to a physical game. After all, he did destroy a 6’5″, 225lbs American on international stage. His production has been phenomenal among his peers, so watch for him to put some decent moves on display.

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C – Rodrigo Abols: KHL Riga, 19 years old, 6’3″, 179lbs

He is a Latvian invitee from the KHL, so I am guessing that Ronald Kenins might have referenced him (they are both native of Riga, Latvia) or the Canucks somehow know his father, Artis Abols, a Latvian hockey legend. Either way, there is not much about him that we can talk about. Though only having 5 points in 14 games, he was playing as a teen in a men’s KHL. If we size that up to Horvat’s 68-game season last year, Rodrigo would have had about 2o points, which is not too short of what Horvat accomplished. The KHL is not the NHL, but it is something worth noticing to have teenagers playing in men’s leagues.

C – Dane Fox: ECHL Kalamazoo Wings, 21 years old, 6’0″ 185lbs

Dane Fox was signed as an undrafted free agent after leading the OHL in scoring two years ago. Last year he played with the ECHL K-Wings, where he posted 45 points in 70 games, a sub-par production compared to his junior years. Though he is not the most defensively-rounded prospect, his shot alone has gotten him to the AHL level. He plays with a hard edge to his game, resulting in somewhat undisciplined total of 110PIM in 70 games. In this tournament, his shot will be quite something to watch.

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C – Brendan Gaunce: AHL Utica Comets, 21 years old, 6’2″, 205lbs

Brendan Gaunce was the Canucks’ first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry draft, known for a solid two-way play that allows him to take control of the pace of play. His defensive and physical tools stand out more than his offensive ones, save his skating ability. Though he is noted as a center, look to see him playing a bottom-6 winger role. He will be a go-to shutdown winger in this tournament. With good play, he will prove his critics wrong about his stagnation. This season is pivotal for Gaunce, like it is for Shinkaruk.

C – Joe Labate: AHL/NCAA, 22 years old, 6’4″, 210lbs

The tallest prospect in the Young Stars Roster and one of the earliest to be drafted, is Joe Labate who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. Though he does not boast offensive flashiness by any means, he is a bonafide AHL-level checking forward. His body and frame is the largest one the Canucks have on the roster, so look to him to fill out the bottom 6 with Gaunce.

C – Cole Cassels: OHL Oshawa Generals, 20 years old, 6’1″, 184lbs

A third-round pick from the 2013 NHL Entry draft, Cassels is like Alex Burrows. He does it all. He scores, he passes well, he plays with grit, he plays with leadership, and he shuts down players. Though the notion that he single-handedly silenced McDavid in the OHL playoffs is not correct at all, he has the ability to be a potential mid-6 centerman for the Canucks. In this tournament, watch for him to be shutting down the opposition’s top lines and coming up big at the end of the 3rd periods. His play is to be noted, as he looks to become a quality AHL-er this season.

C – Reid Gardiner: WHL Prince Albert, 19 years old, 5’11”, 187lbs

Reid Gardiner’s case is an odd one, being passed on two draft days. Though projected to go in the late-middle rounds of the 2014 and the 2015 drafts, his name was never called. Look to him to be the surprise. He has a complete two-way game and a good scoring senses.

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  • C – Jared McCann: OHL Sult Ste. Marie, 19 years old, 6’0″, 174lbs

    After taking a hard hit in the Hockey Canada development camp, McCann is back to work. He will look to return to the OHL for his final year, but before that, he will look to make an impact as probably the Canuck’s 1st line center in the Young Stars Classic. He is a scoring machine, a reasonable comparison to our old #2 center Ryan Kesler. Hopefully he can make the jump to the NHL next year as he finishes his junior career. He will light it up in this tournament, fresh off of a superstar OHL performance.

    C – Kyle Pettit: OHL Erie Otters, 19 years old, 6’3″, 195lbs

    Playing in a Erie Otters squad highlighted by the Next One McDavid, Pettit has produced quite decent numbers last year in the OHL. A 6th-round selection in the 2014 draft, he plays a good, solid two-way game. Despite his size, his play is smart and carefully calculated. One good reputation is his face-off prowess, and he should be depended on for big draws late in the game, especially with his big frame that facilitates the defensive game. He will return to the OHL this season, but this tournament will shed light on his potential as a future Canuck.

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    There is one more prospect, though there isn’t much to his game to talk about. Mackenzie Stewart is a 7th round pick who failed to find his game as a defenseman and will try to become a winger this season. There is not much to talk about him, though he is noted for being a physical agitator. If anything, look to him to stand up for his linemates.

    The forward ranks are loaded with gems. I would keep my eyes on Virtanen, McCann, and Cassels to impress, and expect good effort from Gaunce and Shinkaruk. Look for Zhukenov, Gardiner, or Abols to surprise. Fox has always been impressive with his shot. In all, this Canucks Young Stars Tournament is going to be a great show. Hockey season is almost here, let’s light it up boys!

    Next: A Dive into the Canucks' Young Stars Classic - The Defense

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