Vancouver Canucks Prospects: Three Stars of October


The first month of the long, yet exhilarating NHL season for the Vancouver Canucks has come and gone. That brings up The Canuck Way’s first edition of the Monthly Prospects Watch, where we will look into the top performers in the Canucks prospect pipeline.

The Vancouver Canucks have struggled to put together a winning streak, and so have the Utica Comets,  who find themselves in an early 2-3-0-0 hole after an amazing Calder Cup play-off run that capped off last season. As the second-last-place team in their conference, they will have to get things working in the right direction sooner than later. Of course, the Comets are missing their top players, as Brendan Gaunce and Alex Biega had to be called up to Vancouver, and Ben Hutton joined Jacob Markstrom in the Canucks roster.

But with Ben Hutton making splashes in the NHL and making $3.6M Luca Sbisa look better than a bag of pucks, more eyes are focusing on the NCAA. With Ben Hutton, we see that the NCAA is a legitimate league with players of Hutton’s caliber being brought up. Now with Brock Boeser in the fold, the Vancouver Canucks and their fans should not overlook the NCAA prospects pool.

Before further ado, here I present to you the Three Stars of October.

1. Thatcher Demko, NCAA Boston College

The NCAA Division 1 continues to be the dark-horse in the Canucks pipeline. Thatcher Demko, the 36th Overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, is playing unreal hockey right now. Having recovered from last year’s hip surgery, Demko’s numbers 5 games into the NCAA D1 play makes me think that Demko can soon pass Joe Cannata, the Canucks 4th-string goaltender, on the prospects depth-chart.

5 Games and 117 shots into the season, the Boston College net-minder has allowed just 3 goals. That is a 0.60GAA to go along with a surreal .974 save percentage, and a streak of back-to-back-to-back shut-out hockey (196 minutes and 58 seconds). Demko was named the 1st Star of the Week by the NCAA Hockey D1.

This should make Jim Benning smile with glee. Looking back to the 2014 Draft, the 36th Overall Demko pick was followed by another goaltender, now a Carolina Hurricanes pick, named Alex Nedeljkovic. Nedeljkovic, in 5 games of OHL play for the Flint Firebirds this year, finds himself with a 3.98GAA and a .855 save percentage. Talk about picking the right guy. Can more fans trust Benning’s scouting and drafting abilities now?

At 6’4″, Demko fits right into the goaltending model of the modern NHL. Bigger frames like Ben Bishop at 6’7″ and Anders Lindback at 6’6″ led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals. Our own Jacob Markstrom is rising to the NHL after almost single-handedly led the AHL Utica Comets to the Calder Cup Championship. Demko has at least one more year of NCAA commitment, up to three if he chooses. Seems to me that he would soon become the second NCAA product that would thrive in the NHL. He may be our future number one.

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  • 2. Hunter Shinkaruk, AHL Utica Comets

    Second in our list is Hunter Shinkaruk, who leads the Utica Comets in scoring. Aside from a hat-trick against the Rochester Americans in the Comets home opener, the 24th Overall pick from the 2013 Entry Draft has had three more goals and two assists in the seven Comets games. If there is one bright spot in the depressing start to the season the Comets are going through, it must be the production of Vey and Shinkaruk.

    However, Shinkaruk’s 8 points over 7 games outshines Vey’s 5 points in 7 games, and the fact that Vey is a ‘demotee’ to the Comets. With a plus-1 rating to go along with his point production, GM Gillis’s last 1st-round pick as part of the Vancouver Canucks regime is showing that he should be surpassing Vey, who is at minus-4. Although many prospects have surpassed him on the depth chart, Shinkaruk should be chomping at the bits to make the NHL next season. I would put Shinkaruk above Vey if the Canucks were to have a call up, even more so as Vey is waiver-eligible.

    If the left winger can continue his production, he should find himself at the top of the pecking order to make the Canucks next year.

    3. Carl Neill, QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix

    Capping off our list is underrated defenseman Carl Neill, the captain of the QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix. His production is certainly not mind-blowing to QMJHL standards, but a point-per-game production is something that all Canucks fans should be thirsty for. The Canucks are thin on the blueline production at the NHL and the prospect levels, and Carl Neill’s stellar start to his season should give you every reason to cheer about.

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    Despite his team being one of the worst teams in the division, his plus-6 rating complements his 2 goals and 13 assists nicely over 15 games. Consider that offensive dark-horse Jeremy Roy is a minus-5 despite his 18 offensive points. Simple math tells you that Neill was scored on 10 times at Even Strength, while Roy was scored on 23 times. This should hush the critics, who find major faults in Neill’s skating and decision-making abilities.

    The Canucks are still short on the blueline, especially with departures of Clendening and Corrado. Although the need at the NHL level has decreased with the coming of Bartkowski and Hutton, the organization’s preference to have some 9 NHL-caliber defensemen might be too far-fetched at this moment. Players like Neill need to develop well through the AHL, where their defensive play will be challenged.

    That concludes the October Edition of the Prospects watch. Others who just missed the honours include Jordan Subban, who leads the defensemen scoring for the Comets, and Brock Boeser, who also netted a hat-trick for his NCAA North Dakota side. Brock Boeser is also scoring at a point-per-game pace, with 5 goals and 2 assists through 7 games.