The Prospector: Alexandre Grenier helps lead Utica, Ben Hutton’s a top Black Bear

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

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In the first edition of The Prospector, we took a look at some of the big names in the Canucks’ prospect pool, like Frank Corrado, Bo Horvat, and Hunter Shinkaruk. This time around, we’re going to look at some of the lesser lights that still have potential to eventually crack a Canucks lineup, while also touching on a couple updates on the top tier.

Alexandre Grenier

It would have been easy to write off Grenier after last season, when he made the odd decision to play in Austria in his first professional year, but it may have been the right decision. Once he returned from Europe, he wasn’t able to get much ice time with the Chicago Wolves and spent most of the year in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings.

Grenier made an immediate impact with the K-Wings with a 4-game point streak, finishing his season with 31 points in 37 games. The Canucks’ acquisition of their own AHL franchise gave him the opportunity to step immediately into a large role in the AHL and he has continued to produce.

The 6’5″ winger is tied with Benn Ferriero for second on the Comets in scoring with 10 points in 14 games, trailing only Pascal Pelletier. He’s even managed to maintain a positive plus/minus, which is impressive considering how badly the Comets have been outscored. While Ferriero is last on the Comets with a minus-10 rating, Grenier is tied with Pelletier for the team-lead at plus-3.

In addition, Grenier has been named Canucks.com’s Comet of the Week three times already this season, with Tyson Giurato noting that he’s not a one-dimensional offensive player, saying, “He is noticeable every time he steps on the ice, whether it be creating offense or playing physical on the forecheck.”

It’s even possible that we’ll see him in a Canucks jersey sometime this season, though the Canucks’ depth down the right wing makes it a little unlikely.

Miles Liberati

The Canucks took a chance on Liberati in the 7th round of the 2013 draft. He was fairly highly regarded as a youngster, but saw minimal playing time on a deep London Knights’ blue line, playing just 42 of their 68 regular season games, 10 of 21 playoff games, and just 1 of their 5 games at the Memorial Cup.

This season, however, the Knights lost Olli Maatta and Nikita Zadarov to the NHL. While Zadarov may get sent back down from the Buffalo Sabres, it looks like Maatta is sticking with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which leaves a significant hole on the Knights’ blueline. As a result, Liberati has played every game for the Knights, albeit still in fairly limited minutes.

So far this season, Liberati has 4 points in 22 games. It’s possible that, with London hosting the Memorial Cup and looking to acquire additional talent to make a run at the trophy, Liberati may get packaged into a deal and get more minutes with another OHL team. That is just speculation, but if it did occur, it might be best for his development.

Ben Hutton

Prospects in the NCAA tend to go a little more under the radar than those in Major Junior, partly because it’s a lot harder for a young player to find ice time and put up a lot of points competing against older players. Hutton, however, had a solid freshman season, getting time on the University of Maine’s top pairing and scoring 15 points in 34 games, good for third on the Black Bears in scoring and leading all Maine defencemen.

The Canucks’ 5th round pick in 2012 is off to an even better start this season, with 7 points in 10 games. He is once again leading all Maine defencemen in scoring and is again third on the team in points. He’s a weapon on the power play, scoring 3 of his 4 goals with the man advantage, with his 4th actually coming short-handed.

You can see a bit of his mobility on the power play on this goal, which is scored from the goal line with a wicked, waterbottle-popping one-timer.

Joseph LaBate

Like Hutton, Joseph LaBate has been a bit under the radar in the NCAA. He had two solid seasons with the University of Wisconsin, with his sophomore year finishing a lot better than it started. He scored 21 points in his final 29 games with the Badgers and won the NCAA Tournament. He apparently even grew another inch and is now 6’5″.

LaBate is making a real impact in his Junior season, scoring 6 points in 8 games and is second on the team with 23 shots on goal. He’s been particularly strong in the last three games, where he has 2 goals and 4 points. He’s a couple years yet from contributing to the Canucks, but there’s a lot to get excited about.

Jordan Subban

While the Belleville Bulls have struggled this season, Jordan Subban, like his teammate and fellow Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce, has not. His performance has been as expected, with 17 points in 21 games, good for third on the team in scoring. He’s currently on a 3-game point streak, with 2 goals and 5 points in that time.

He also still has incredible hands, as you can see in this impressive goal against the London Knights, eluding two forecheckers with a slick toe-drag in the defensive zone before going the other way, crossing the blue line with another nice move, and beating the goaltender glove side.

Nicklas Jensen

Nicklas Jensen is healthy again after missing the start of the season with a shoulder injury, but he’s still struggling to produce, with just 2 assists in 8 games. With fans hoping he would be ready to start the season in the NHL this year, his slow start has been a major disappointment.

It’s not all bad news, however. Jensen does have 25 shots on goal, averaging more than 3 shots per game. With that many shots, the goals should come, particularly since he’s demonstrated an accurate shot in the past. Fans would likely be far less disappointed and critical if Jensen’s impressive shot-rate resulted in a few more goals.

Gaunce, Horvat, and Shinkaruk named to Subway Super Series rosters

Three of the Canucks’ top prospects will be participating in the Subway Super Series, which is frequently used as a testing ground for Team Canada for the World Junior Championship. Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat will both play for Team OHL, while Hunter Shinkaruk has been named to the WHL roster. Both Horvat and Shinkaruk are likely locks for Team Canada, while this will be an important opportunity for Gaunce to prove he deserves a spot in his final year of eligibility.

Cole Cassels, despite his hot start, won’t be playing for Team OHL, but there’s no need to fret: it’s because he’s American. His 28 points in 24 games should have Team USA’s attention, however, and he has an outside shot of making the team. If all goes well, Canucks fans could have four players in action at the tournament. If Jordan Subban was a few inches taller, they would have five.

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3 comments

  1. YaaMan
    November 18, 2013

    Any rumblings of Subban eventually being shifted to the wing? Seems to have good speed and strong offensive abilities. Given his size, wing might be a better position for him.

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  2. madwag
    November 19, 2013

    a cynic would say Jensen would fit right it with the Canucks: lots of shots but few….

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  3. Chris the Curmudgeon
    November 19, 2013

    Jordan Subban can’t grow up fast enough for me. His type has been majorly missing from the team since Ehrhoff walked. I know he’s a little bit small, but if he’s even half as competitive as his brother, I don’t see that as being that big of a deal.

    It’s also nice to see Cole Cassels excelling, he was probably a little easy to overlook in the draft what with 2 first rounders and a Subban being picked around him, but he’s actually tied with Horvat in the OHL scoring leaders (albeit in 5 more games played). I know the book on him is that he’s a more defensive-minded player but it seems so far that he might have a little more upside than previously thought.

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