Vancouver Canucks Young Stars: Rising Stars and Falling Stars


The Vancouver Canucks prospects finished strong at the Young Stars Classic, bouncing back from an 8-2 rout suffered at the hands of McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers. Though GM Benning has confirmed that all of the drafted prospects will attend the preseason camp, there clearly were winners and losers from the three-game tournament. There was a lot to take away from this year’s Young Stars Tournament.

Rising Stars:

Jake Virtanen

Entering the tournament as the Canucks best prospect, Virtanen was able to steal the spotlight from McDavid, to say the least. Virtanen was the Canucks’ MVP. He started the first period of the first game with a clean, hard hit on the Oiler’s top prospect and single-handedly kept the Oilers at bay for 20 minutes.

Even in an 8-2 defeat, he was one of the few Canucks players who salvaged even plus/minus. After making a name for himself over social media for his crushing hit on McDavid, he went on to finish off the tournament in break-away style, playing 3-on-3 OT hero against the Calgary Flames. He was the clear-cut most physical prospect in the tournament, with tremendous puck sense and unmatched speed.

Great show that met and exceeded expectations, and a big step in the right direction to making the opening day roster and sticking around.

Brendan Gaunce

Another star from the tournament is Brendan Gaunce, who led the Canucks in scoring with a goal and two assist after playing only the first two games of the tournament. After a faltering transition year going from the middle of the ice to the left wing, we had worries for the former 1st round draft pick.

However, he turned out to be an effective winger who worked hard on the ice and played with the edge that the Canucks always look for in their two-way players. Although he does not expect to make the NHL jump this season, his performance strengthened his grip on the preseason roster spot with a stellar performance in Penticton.

The Goods

Rodrigo Abols

Abols is just 19 years old, in for his first North American season after being brought in by the Portland Winterhawks in the last import draft. His play is speedy, and I saw hints of a Virtanen when Abols drove to the net down the right-wing. He didn’t have much of a 2-way game though, which shows up in his -2 plus/minus while putting up a goal and no assists. He got a hint of the first line when Gaunce was out in game 3.

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Hutton and Subban were the top defensemen for the Canucks. The two delivered as advertised. They were both solid defensively, Hutton got shots through to the net, and Subban flew past opposition forwards who were locking down the center ice. It will be nice to see them lead the team in the AHL as solid 2-way defenders. Great showing from the two defensemen. Benning saw Hutton as the best defenseman in the roster.

Mackenzie Stewart

What do you know, the 7th round pick made his presence felt on the ice. After being converted to the wing after years of playing the D, Mackenzie Stewart led the team in PIM department with 24 minutes of penalties. His game is all about the grit and dropping the gloves, and although the modern NHL refrains from excessive fighting, we may just have landed on a future Dorsett with a 7th round pick. The one fault in this tournament was that he got no shots on net through three games.

Jackson Whistle

The WHL Kelowna Rockets backstopper was the tournament’s best goaltender, posting two wins and a 1.31GAA with an impressive .929 SV%. He will be returning for an overage season to the WHL, but I would really like to see the Canucks sign him to a deal so he and Witt can battle it out behind Bachman and Cannata.

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The Falling Stars

Clay Witt

His play was, statistically speaking, the worst of all goaltenders in the tournament, posting a 5.85GAA and a .816 SV%. Though he settled in after a shaky Oilers game playing behind a yet-to-gel defense, allowing 8 goals through 60 minutes of play is simply not acceptable at the pro level. It was not as if McDavid was lighting him up, nor did Witt have to face waves of breakaway and odd-man rushes. Though there were a couple of super-acrobatics saves, Witt’s chances of cracking the AHL, let alone the NHL, seems far-fetched for now.

Anton Cederholm

The Portland Winterhawk stay-at-home defenseman did not have a great showing. He recorded just a single shot on net, and throughout the tournament he seemed to be stuck in his own defensive end, unable to get the puck cleanly out of the zone. His physical play did not get noticed either. In two games, he recorded a minus-2 and no points.

Ashton Sautner

The Edmonton Oil King captain was signed as a free agent in his overage season. Being overage did not help his prospect standing, and this tournament will not, either. A minus-2 with 4 PIM in two games, Sautner seemed to be slow and cumbersome getting out of the zone. Of course, his three shots is nothing to frown at, and a minus-2 is nothing compared to Carl Neill’s minus-4, but Sautner seemed to be caught many more times flat-footed.

Others who seemed to be on the right foot included McCann, Cassels, and Zhukenov. McCann showed that he can still rip a wicked NHL-caliber wrist shot home, and was good defensively. Cassels did not live up to the OHL-playoff hype, but he certainly played a key role with a lot of maturity and hockey smarts. Zhukenov was a good player too, praised by Coach Willie for his solid all-around play. Willie handpicked Brisebois and Zhukenov to be the best 2015 draftees, but I personally did not see much of Brisebois that set him apart. On that note, provided how poorly some of his fellow draft mates have done, Brisebois gets the nod as the top of the class of 2015. Too bad that Demko and Boeser are committed to the NCAA.

Going into pro training camp, I would keep my eyes on Virtanen, McCann, Gaunce, and Hutton, all four who have legitimate chances of playing in the NHL this year. Also, don’t forget Utica favourite Alex Grenier being in camp.

The Young Stars Classic was a good measuring stick for the prospects. For a few weeks around the draft, seeing these great juniors making the draft floor and seeing their highlights over and over again, I found myself somewhat overestimating our prospects, who were shutting down McDavid and throwing him a crushing shoulder check. Benning and Linden have done an admirable job bringing guys in and cushioning the prospect pool. Let us be real, though; not all of them, though Fox’s shot is out of this world and Subban’s skating is as quick and sleek as it is, are going to make the NHL.

Next: A Look into the Canucks' deep Forward Prospects pool

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