The Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of a youth movement. So, let’s take a look at the club’s top youngsters!
If the Vancouver Canucks want to make their ‘rebuild on the fly’ work, they need a strong foundation of young roster players. We all know the Bo Horvats and Ben Huttons of the team, but what’s after that? How are things for the AHL Utica Comets and what can we expect from the Canucks’ next crop of youngsters?
To answer those questions, our staff ranked all signed Vancouver Canucks players under the age of 25. After compiling a list of the top 10 Canucks prospects recently, this is all about who can help today. And guess what, the Canucks only have a total of 26 players under 25 signed and playing in North America right now.
Today we are taking a look at Utica Comets center Mike Zalewski, who made it to No. 15 on our list!
#15 – Mike Zalewski
Position: Center, Left Wing
Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
NHL Experience: 3 Games
How He Got Here
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Over the past week, we looked at several Canucks who took their time to develop into NHL prospects. Mike Zalewski, however, is in his own tier in that regard. In his first year of NHL draft eligibility, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward played for the Syracuse Stars of the American third-tier Jr. A league EJHL. The following season, he joined the BCHL Vernon Vipers but only recorded 12 goals and 29 points in 46 games — not nearly enough to be considered in the draft.
So, Zalewski continued his Jr. A career with the Vipers, scoring 35 goals and 75 points in 60 games, before joining the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers in 2013. Never heard of RPI? Well, that’s why you probably never heard anything of a guy named Mike Zalewski until he was signed by the Vancouver Canucks.
Zalewski had 21 goals and 47 points in two seasons at RPI and was signed by Vancouver at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. The Canucks threw him right into the ice-cold lake that is the NHL lineup and Zalewski made his Canucks debut right away.
Where He Is Today
Two games and an assist were a great start into an NHL career for a player that took an unusual road to get there. However, Zalewski failed to crack the Canucks’ roster in his first full season with the club and was demoted to the AHL Utica Comets. In his first season there, he only had three goals and 12 points in 55 games.
Zalewski stands out as a good two-way player, not a scorer. But to play in the NHL, he needs to show better scoring ability as well. In the 2015-16 campaign, he did just that, recording 16 goals and 33 points in 58 games. That led to another chance on an injury-riddled Canucks team, where Zalewski appeared in three games.
Where He’s Headed
Mike Zalewski wants to be in the NHL, but it won’t be easy. With Brendan Gaunce and Alexandre Grenier, he already had strong competition, but it got even worse. The Canucks signed free-agent forwards Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna, both of which have more NHL experience as fringe NHL players. Plus, Vancouver has Jake Virtanen, Emerson Etem, Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett fighting for two spots in the starting lineup.
A top-six role in Utica and a couple of NHL call-ups is probably the best Zalewski can hope for at this point. He is one of many AHL players who might have the ability to stick around in the NHL but have too many players with more experience ahead of them.
Jayson Megna is a little over two years older than Zalewski and has the experience of 56 NHL games over the course of three seasons. That sounds like a reasonable expectation for Zalewski as well — if he finds a way to prove his worth soon. NHL stints of up to 20 games while being an AHL regular seems like a realistic scenario.