With the Vancouver Canucks advancement to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, most eyes have been focused on GM Mike Gillis' accomplishments at the NHL level. However, quietly and purposefully, Gillis is building a solid talent pipeline, some might argue the "old fashioned way," from the net out.
Bolstered by the 2010 free agent signing of Swedish prospect Eddie Lack, goaltending is the real strength of the Canucks' organization. However, good scouting and drafting, in the middle rounds especially, has produced a number of solid blue line prospects.
Perhaps still lacking are the forward positions, where premier prospect Cody Hodgson has essentially matriculated to full-time NHL player. However, 2011 first round draft pick Nicklas Jensen leads a fairly strong group of right wing prospects.
Wolves forward Bill Sweatt leads the Canucks' prospects at left wing. Originally drafted 38th overall by the Canucks' conference rival Blackhawks, Sweatt has bounced between organizations before having a solid season last year at Manitoba. His game is predicated around his elite speed with some finishing ability.
Mike Duco is that kind of prospect, like current NHL players Vern Fiddler and Adam Burish, who compensates for borderline skills with relentless effort, and defies expectations to continually make a strong case for himself as a future NHL role player.
Also at Chicago this year, 6'3, 212 pound Darren Archibald projects as a possible lower line physical forward in the NHL.
Steven Anthony (Kalamazoo/ECHL) and Russian Ilja Kablukov round out the prospects at left wing.
With Hodgson now playing wing on the Canucks' second line, Jordan Schroeder and Stefan Schneider are the highest profile center prospects at Chicago (AHL). After a decent rookie season at Manitoba, diminutive playmaking center, and former first round draft choice, Schroeder is still working to find his pro game with the Wolves, where has four points in his first nine games, but is minus-five. Schneider, a 6'5 British Columbia native who projects as a fourth line/defensive forward is a reserve with Chicago.
What Alex Friesen lacks in size, he makes up in speed, effort, and leadership. He is off to a nice start as an overage junior at Niagara (OHL), where he has 10 points in 10 games.
Prab Rai, the speedy, yet oft-injured enigma of the Canucks pipeline, has apparently been battling injury again since appearing for the Canucks in the Young Stars Tourney earlier this year. Though assigned to Chicago, he has not appeared for the Wolves yet.
Another intriguing center prospect is 2011 third round selection, Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA) freshman Joseph Labate. With great skills at the Minnesota high school hockey level combined with a large frame, Labate will be an interesting prospect to monitor.
Swede Mats Froshaug and Minnesota (NCAA) Golden Gopher Taylor Matson are depth prospects here. Antoine Roussel and Nathan Longpre were noticeable in Canucks camp this year and were signed to AHL contracts by Chicago, where both have been playing in 2011-12.
2011 first round draft choice Nicklas Jensen looked very promising in Canucks' camp and NHL preseason games this year. Returned to Oshawa (OHL) on September 29, Jensen presently has 16 points in 14 games. The 6'3 Dane looks to be surefire top-six NHL prospect.
Gritty former New York Rangers' prospect Dale Weise has appeared in all 11 games for the Canucks this year, playing with Max LaPierre and AaronVolpatti.
Another fast Canuck forward prospect with a two-way game, Sweden's Anton Rodin has struggled to adapt to the North American style. Assigned to Chicago, he has been a fairly regular scratch for Wolves head coach Craig MacTavish.
2011 3rd round choice Alexandre Grenier has all the tools but is a bit of a project. The
6'5 Halifax (QMJHL) forward needs to use his size and speed more consistently.
Signed by the Canucks in 2009, overage junior Kellan Tochkin was recently traded for the second time in his WHL career.
Another 2011 draft pick (round six), and currently at Malmo in Sweden's first division, Pathrik Westerholm is a prospect considered to have some upside.
This is an area of strength for the Canucks, where Gillis appears to have success with a number of middle round draft picks and free agent signings.
A number of Canucks' blue line prospects are currently performing well for the Chicago Wolves. Leading the way is Chris Tanev, who appears close to matriculate from prospect to full time NHL player. Recently assigned to Chicago, Tanev regardless has shown the ability to play a smart game at the NHL level.
Yann Sauve was an early recall of the Canucks after an injury to Aaron Rome, but is now back in the AHL. The big Quebec native is physical, plays a two-way game and is not afraid to mix it up.
Reminding some of former Canuck defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, 2009 third round pick Kevin Connauton possesses the puck skill, shot, and offensive instincts to be a fixture on an NHL power play within the next few years. Connauton has recorded two goals and two assists in nine games for the Wolves.
A 2010 Gillis draft pick, Czech Adam Polasek is a big, strong blueliner, with good skating ability and some offensive upside.
Swede Sebastian Erixon is yet another good two-way prospect at Chicago.
There is even further quality depth on defense with Patrick McNally (Harvard/NCAA), Jeremy Price (Colgate/NCAA), 2011 draft pick Frankie Corrado (Sudbury/OHL), and Taylor Ellington (Kalamazoo/ECHL).
One pick away from last in the 2011 draft and currently playing for Vastra Frolunda HC (SEL), Henrik Tommernes is a boom or bust power play quarterback with severe defensive limitations.
Swedish import Eddie Lack leads a strong group of Canuck goalie prospects that also includes 2011 NCAA Hobey Baker Award finalist Joe Cannata, high third-round draft pick (2011) David Honzik, and Finland's Jonathan Iilahti.
Were it not for the Canucks' strength in net at the NHL level, Lack might well be in Vancouver, instead of the number one goalie in Chicago. Now in his second AHL season, Lack has all the tools and is at or near the league lead among regular AHL goalies in key statistics.
Right behind Lack, Merrimack College Senior Cannata has good size and fundamentals. He is also a product of the U.S. National Under-18 program.
Honzik is big, but raw. He is in his second season at Victoriaville (QMJHL).