Drance Numbers: Investigating the Canucks’ prospects

Today is May 11th, the day on which the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. It was seen as a date of bad omen during last year’s playoff run as well, although they managed to survive it. This season, however, the team is long since eliminated and we’re already looking to the future.

Heading into this June’s NHL draft and the offseason, the Canucks are poised to make major changes to their roster. One of their goaltenders will likely be moved, and that trade should net the club significant assets. The team is likely to pursue much-hyped NCAA prospect (and West Kelowna native) Justin Schultz in the offseason, and certainly adding a player of that caliber would give the prospect pool a massive boost. Meanwhile Gillis has the 26th, 57th, 147th, 177th and 207th picks in the 2012 NHL draft to work with.

With all of the uncertainty, I figured we’d take stock of where the prospect pool is at for the moment. What are the clubs areas of strength, what are its needs and what players in the system are likely to play a major role with the team going forward?

One way of evaluating NHL prospects is Gabe Desjardins’ league translation numbers, or NHL equivalency (NHLE) numbers. NHLE numbers were calculated by Desjardins about seven years ago, and are based on the offensive performance of players who moved from one league to another in consecutive seasons. The numbers aren’t perfect, as Gabe explains:

This method tends to underestimate the difficulty of leagues that are substantially weaker than the NHL.  This happens because only the top players get called up to the NHL – before the call-up, they were on the first line and playing the power play; after the call-up, they’re 3rd or 4th liners.  This cuts down on both their overall ice time, and on their power play time, which is when they’d get the best opportunities to score.

In addition to the ice-time issues, NHLE numbers should be taken with an extra grain of salt when it comes to over-age prospects or older AHL skaters. 20-year-olds who are still playing Major Junior hockey rarely become NHL regulars, and league translations are unable to distinguish a career-AHL point producer from a hot-shot young prospect.

One final thing to note: the NHLE numbers are pro-rated over an 82 game NHL season.

With that, let’s take a look at the Canucks forward prospects and their league translation numbers:

Prospect League Age NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts
Alex Friesen OHL 21 10 18 28
Nicklas Jensen OHL 19 11 14 25
Kellan Tochkin WHL 21 9 15 24
Alexandre Grenier QMJHL 20 9 14 23
Jordan Schroeder AHL 21 10 11 21
Joseph Labate NCAA 19 5 14 19
Taylor Matson NCAA 23 6 12 18
Bill Sweatt AHL 23 8 9 17
Anton Rodin AHL 21 6 10 16
Stefan Schneider AHL 22 3 3 6


Alex Friesen tops the list, but he’s an overager playing on a stacked Niagara Ice Dogs club.

Kellan Tochkin is another overager playing in Major Junior. He was injured for much of this season but produced at a point per game rate when healthy. Both players will likely be helpful for the Chicago Wolves in the future, but both project as quality career AHLers.

Last year’s top-pick Nicklas Jensen had a strong season in Oshawa, honed his two way game, and led all Canucks prospects in NHLE goals last season.

Meanwhile, late blooming Alexandre Grenier made significant strides with the Halifax Mooseheads this season, has a big body and has an outside shot at becoming a useful bottom six player at the NHL level. Considering where his hands were at in September (he looked lost handling the puck occasionally), that he filled in for some of his injured teammates and played point on the power-play for Halifax in the QMJHL playoffs is at least a testament to how far his skills have developed.

Jordan Schroeder, who has a good shot at starting in the top-six this upcoming season because of Ryan Kesler’s shoulder surgery, led the AHLers in NHLE points with 21, more than Cody Hodgson had in his season with Manitoba as a 21-year-old. Anton Rodin’s 16 is somewhat disappointing, but he spent the year adjusting to the North American ice surface and he played outside the top-six for much of this season. He’ll be expected to contribute more offensively next season. Bill Sweatt is a former second round pick, but he’s got limited ceiling and projects to be a depth player at the NHL level.

Joseph Labate had a pretty impressive rookie season playing for Wisconsin, a WCHA powerhouse. As a teenager, he alternated between the second and third lines, putting up 19 NHLE points. That’s nothing to sniff at. With his combination of size, speed and skill, he probably possesses as much potential as any Canucks forward prospect.

Finally, I didn’t include Zack Kassian on this list since he spent 44 games in the NHL this season and has graduated from being described as a “prospect.” In 30 AHL games, he was on pace to put up a 71 point season, which, would translate to about 31 NHLE points. In 44 NHL games, he scored four goals and added six assists playing mostly on the fourth line. Over a full 82 games, that would put him on pace for about 18 points.

Let’s move onto the defenceman and their equivalency numbers:

Prospect League Age NHLE G NHLE A NHLE Pts
Patrick McNally NCAA 20 6 22 28
Henrik Tömmernes SEL 21 7 13 20
Jeremy Price NCAA 21 2 18 20
Kevin Connauton AHL 22 7 9 16
Frank Corrado OHL 19 1 10 11
Adam Polasek AHL 20 1 6 7
Yann Sauvé AHL 22 2 4 6
Sawyer Hannay QMJHL 19 0 1 1


Patrick McNally had a stellar rookie season, quarterbacking the Harvard Crimson’s powerplay and producing enough points to earn himself an ECAC rookie of the year nomination.

The team’s other NCAA defensive prospect, Jeremy Price, doesn’t score much but can handle the puck at an NHL level. It appears that he’ll return to Colgate for his senior season, and we can expect him to get a cup of coffee with the Chicago Wolves at the tail end of next season.

Henrik Tömmernes was taken in the seventh round in 2011 despite having a 1991 birthday and he put together a pretty nice campaign for the Frolunda Indians of the Eliteserien, appearing in 44 games and contributing 14 points (or 20 NHLE points). I tend to dislike when General Managers take older players at the draft, because younger players are more likely to eventually make an impact at the NHL level – but Grenier and Tömmernes were in their second and third years of eligibility, respectively, and both turned in solid seasons.

Frank Corrado, last year’s fifth round pick, looks like a steal and had a stellar campaign for the upstart Sudbury Wolves.

Yann Sauve was touted as a guy with offensive potential coming out of junior, but that has never really materialized. He looks like a safe minutes guy, a potential low-event blueliner and the sort of player that Alain Vigneault may well grow to love.

Adam Polasek played a depth role in Chicago this year, and while I’m not sure he has NHL upside, he should play a larger role on the Wolves next season.

Finally, Kevin Connauton had another strong season, improved his game in his own end of the rink and was an AHL all-star (he also won the AHL’s hardest shot competition). With the acquisition of Marc-Andre Gragnani, I’ll be curious to see if Connauton is a long-term fit with the organization, or whether he’s dangled as trade bait in the offseason. Just looking at the team’s prospect depth, there are three quick defenseman — McNally, Corrado and Price — on the horizon, and Tanev and Gragnani already ahead of him on the depth chart. It stands to reason that Connauton is probably the most obvious “surplus” asset in the system.

In net, the Canucks are stacked. Eddie Lack is arguably the team’s top-prospect (though I think that mantle belongs to Nicklas Jensen, personally), and Joe Cannata should play thirty or so games for the Wolves next season.

Cannata is a prospect worth getting excited about, he absolutely dominated the NCAA this season playing behind a sub-average club in Merrimack.

Last season’s third round pick David Honzik had a disappointing sophomore campaign for Victoriaville of  the QMJHL, but we knew he was a raw prospect going into the season. He’s still a massive goaltender and an excellent athlete and the QMJHL is a particularly high-scoring league so it’s hard to really evaluate his performance. He has a lot to learn, and he’ll need to show more, but his disappointing season isn’t anything to worry about (yet).

Going into the offseason, the Canucks possess a lot of prospect depth and quality between the pipes. That helps when you’re shopping one of your team’s two goaltenders. The club also boasts an enticing array of defensive prospects, but no prospects who really project as top-pairing guys. Still, the pipeline of blueline prospects remains an area of strength for the Canucks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Canucks dealt a blue-line prospect at some point this offseason.

Up front, the Canucks’ prospect pool is relatively weak. Jensen, Kassian and Schroeder all have top-six potential, and Anton Rodin has the raw skill to get there once he adjusts, but I only count six guys as having real NHL upside. With his three first round picks as Canucks General Manager, Gillis has selected three forwards like clockwork. I’d expect that will continue in Pittsburgh this June.

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  1. Warren Bowden
    May 12, 2012

    Wouldnt we have the 22nd pick? the 8 teams in the 2nd round will choose lower right…..30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 so 22nd pick.

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    • Matt Owen
      May 12, 2012

      I think, though i may be wrong, that 30th goes to the cup winner, 29th to the Finals loser, 27th and 28th to the Conference Finals loser, and after that it’s the regular season standings.

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      • Locky
        May 12, 2012

        Correct, president’s trophy winner picks 26, after the cup winner, runner up and conference runners up (ranked by regular season points).

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    May 12, 2012

    Interesting summary Thomas. But I don’t understand how you’ve distinguished between the pejoratively labeled “overager” and the euphemistically labeled “late bloomer” based on the numbers you’ve shown. Also, while you claim that Connauton is trade bait, it seems to me he’s also the top-ranked of the guys you’ve listed who are playing just below the NHL right now, meaning perhaps he’ll get a look for the big club next year? I think Tanev is now an NHL defenceman, but the refusal to deploy Gragnani in the playoffs (despite goals being at a premium and he being an ostensible offensive defenceman), not to mention the overall riskiness his style of play brings, indicate to me that perhaps he’s the one that may not fit with the team’s plans.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      May 12, 2012

      When it comes to Grenier, I think it’s fair to call him a late bloomer, though he also an overager. This is only his second season in the QMJHL and he’s developed remarkably quickly.

      And I wouldn’t say that “overager” is meant in a pejorative sense. It’s just the word used for 20-year-olds in major junior hockey. Identifying a player as an overager is just a way of putting their season in context. Grenier is an overager, but he’s also a late bloomer, and given his size, this development of his skill, even at the age of 20, is a very good sign.

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  3. scott
    May 12, 2012

    MAG makes Connatuon reade bait…. yeah I HIGHLY doubt that.

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  4. Jim
    May 13, 2012

    Assuming Luongo is the goalie out of town, Vancouver is set at goal for the foreseeable future. On Defence, it’s alright, but it’s forward where our weakness lies. I’m not saying Schroeder is a bust, but I think there was too much excitement about him, and people are coming down to earth. Jensen could be good, but like most power forward prospects, if he pans out, he won’t show it until he turns 23-24.

    With more low first round draft picks on our way, we won’t be getting a top-flight offensive talent. To compete in the salary cap world, having a legitimate top 6 forward on an entry level deal is a huge plus. Any GM knows this, but don’t think for a second that Vancouver isn’t strongly considering moving up in the draft. With the Luongo chip, not to mention the PITB-mentionned possibility that Edler may move, it could be possible.

    I expect Gillis to be busy at the draft.

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  5. Thursday
    May 21, 2012

    I think Sauve is NHL ready as someone who can clear the net and push the puck out of the zone safely. I would actually be shocked if Edler got moved out of town unless the offer killed.

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