The conversation surrounding the Canucks has understandably shifted from the present to the future. That’s what happens when the team’s chances of making the playoffs have shrunk from slim to positively diaphanous. The Canucks are down to a 3.2% chance of making the postseason, according to Sports Club Stats, and fans have been looking to next season and beyond for nearly a month already.
Since there isn’t much to get excited about with the current roster, so it makes sense that fans would look to who might be on the roster in a coming season. In many ways, seeing a top prospect like Nicklas Jensen look like a legitimate top-six winger, at least when playing with top-end talent like Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, is more satisfying right now than seeing the Canucks win.
Other prospects are also showing promise: Cole Cassels has produced some surprising offence, Bo Horvat has progressed well, Ben Hutton has received Hobey Baker consideration, and Frank Corrado is playing big minutes in all situations for the Comets. None of them, however, have produced the type of gaudy numbers that really catch the attention of the average fan.
One prospect has, however: undrafted free agent signing Dane Fox. The Erie Otters left wing has scored an eye-catching 62 goals and 101 points in 64 games. The one fairly massive caveat is that Fox is an over-age player — a 20-year-old playing against 17, 18, and 19-year-olds — and had never produced at better than a point-per-game prior to his over-age year. So what, realistically, can we expect from Fox?
The first thing to say is that it’s very unlikely that Fox will be a first line or even top-six forward. Fans tend to see 60+ goals and 100+ points and get visions of a future superstar in their heads, but even third and fourth-line NHL forwards produced at some point.
Tom Sestito, as seems to get mentioned constantly whenever anyone questions his ability to play hockey, once scored 42 goals in junior. Brad Richardson scored 97 points in his over-age year. Darren Archibald scored 51 goals and 86 points in his over-age year. Matt Cooke had a 95-point season in junior, but made his mark in the NHL as an agitating third-liner.
Prior to this season, Fox saw himself as more of a Steve Ott or Dave Bolland-type, a third-line checking centre with agitating qualities and a pinch of offensive upside. At 18, Ott scored 50 goals and 87 points in 55 games for the Windsor Spitfires and scored 43 goals and 88 points in 53 games as a 19-year-old. Bolland scored 57 goals and 130 points in 59 games as a 19-year-old with the London Knights. Neither became a first-line forward.
Fox didn’t produce like that at 18 or 19, so does he have the same upside as either of those players? It’s really hard to say. We can, however, look at comparable players from the past: undrafted OHL forwards who scored 100+ points in their over-age season after producing significantly less as a 19-year-old. I started in the year 2000 (in the year 2000!).
|Randy Rowe||2000-2001||Belleville Bulls||5’11”||63||64||38||102||0|
|Nathan Robinson||2001-2002||Belleville Bulls||5’9”||67||47||63||110||7|
|Mike Renzi||2001-2002||Belleville Bulls||5’10”||68||44||64||108||0|
|Chad LaRose||2002-2003||Plymouth Whalers||5’10”||67||61||56||117||508|
|Jamie Johnson||2002-2003||Oshawa Generals||5’11”||68||24||76||100||0|
|Martin St. Pierre||2003-2004||Guelph Storm||5’9”||68||45||65||110||39|
|Daniel Sisca||2003-2004||Sarnia Sting||5’9”||67||34||66||100||0|
|Tyler Donati||2006-2007||Belleville Bulls||5’10”||66||54||75||129||0|
|Jason Akeson||2010-2011||Kitchener Rangers||5’10”||67||24||84||108||1|
|Charles Sarault||2012-2013||Sarnia Sting||5’11”||68||22||86||108||0|
|Dane Fox||2013-2014||Erie Otters||6’0”||64||62||39||101||???|
That far right column isn’t all that promising, though the jury is still out on the likes of Jason Akeson and Charles Sarault.
There are a couple things to keep in mind, here. The first is that players capable of putting up points like this generally go undrafted for a reason. For many of them, it’s size, which is why I included height on the chart. 5’9″ forwards generally don’t have much of an NHL future, even if they do score. Of the 843 skaters who have played at least one NHL game this season, just 35 are 5’9″ and below.
Others don’t get drafted because of concerns over foot-speed, questionable defensive ability, or some other on-ice reason. Fox is different. In his first year of eligibility, he was expected to get drafted around the third round, if not late in the second round, according to various scouting projections at the time. The reason he didn’t get drafted wasn’t an on-ice issue, but an off-ice one.
An injury that limited him to 37 games likely didn’t help his bid to get drafted as a 19-year-old either, leaving him available for the Canucks to roll the dice by signing him as a free agent. It’s a chance worth taking, even if the odds of him making the NHL are long.
The other thing that sets Fox apart from most of the other players on this list are his goals. He’s only the 15th player to score 60+ goals in an OHL season since 1990.
|Eric Lindros||1990-1991||17||Oshawa Generals||6’5”||57||71||78||149||760||1991 1st overall|
|Rob Pearson||1990-1991||19||Oshawa Generals||6’1”||51||63||55||118||269||1989 12th overall|
|Andrew Brunette||1992-1993||19||Owen Sound Platers||6’1”||66||62||100||162||1109||1993 7th round|
|Vitali Yachmenyov||1993-1994||18||North Bay Centennials||5’10”||66||61||52||113||487||1994 3rd round|
|David Ling||1994-1995||19||Kingston Frontenacs||5’9”||62||61||74||135||93||1993 7th round|
|Sean Haggerty||1995-1996||19||Detroit Jr. Red Wings||6’1”||66||60||51||111||14||1994 2nd round|
|Randy Rowe||2000-2001||20||Belleville Bulls||5’11”||63||64||38||102||0||No|
|Corey Locke||2002-2003||18||Ottawa 67′s||5’9”||66||63||88||151||9||2003 4th round|
|Chad Larose||2002-2003||20||Plymouth Whalers||5’10”||67||61||56||117||508||No|
|Matt Foy||2002-2003||19||Ottawa 67′s||6’2”||68||61||71||132||56||2002 6th round|
|John Tavares||2006-2007||16||Oshawa Generals||6’0”||67||72||62||134||350||2009 1st overall|
|Patrick Kane||2006-2007||18||London Knights||5’10”||58||62||83||145||509||2007 1st overall|
|Brett MacLean||2007-2008||19||Oshawa Generals||6’2”||61||61||58||119||18||2007 2nd round|
|Reid Boucher||2012-2013||19||Sarnia Sting||5’11”||68||62||33||95||23||2011 4th round|
|Dane Fox||2013-2014||20||Erie Otters||6’0”||64||62||39||101||???||No|
First of all: holy crap, John Tavares.
Second of all, this highlights the two most interesting comparables, the only other players on this list who were over-age players when they scored 60+ goals and who also happen to be undrafted players that appeared on the first list as well: Randy Rowe and Chad Larose.
These two player provide a wide range for Fox’s future, from 0 NHL games up to 508, the fourth highest total on this list.
Like Fox, Rowe scored just under a point-per-game prior to his over-age year, where he posted nearly identical stats to Fox: 64 goals and 38 assists. Also like Fox, who plays with Connor Brown and Connor McDavid, Rowe had some talented teammates to help him along in Kyle Wellwood and Branko Radivojevic.
Rowe never cracked an NHL roster despite receiving several invites to camps and ended up spending most of his career in the ECHL. That’s certainly a potential future for Fox.
On the other end is Larose, who scored just over a point-per-game in his 19-year-old season before taking off with 61 goals and 56 assists as a 20-year-old with much more limited offensive help, scoring 29 more points than his next best teammate. Still, he fits the bill as a comparable, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Larose played 508 games with the Hurricanes, scoring 85 goals and 180 points, along with 12 points in 39 playoff games. He spend significant time as a top-six forward, though he was likely miscast in that role.
His on-ice shooting percentage took a dive last season, however, and he scored just 4 points in 35 games. Unfortunately for him, it was a contract year, and he wasn’t re-signed by the Hurricanes. he remains an unrestricted free agent, despite his strong underlying statistics.
All that is to say that we should temper our expectations for Fox. He has good potential as a defensive forward and has the puck skills and wrist shot to chip in offensively while playing that role. It’s entirely possible that, like Rowe, he never reaches the NHL, so if he can match the NHL career of Larose, fans should be thrilled.
It’s tempting, of course, to expect more, and it’s certainly possible that he’ll have a better career than Larose. After all, he’s bigger and was ranked far higher by scouts prior to breaking out as an over-age player. But expecting too much from prospects, particularly ones like Fox, can easily lead to heartbreak. The key for the Canucks is that Fox cost nothing to acquire, other than money.
Mike Gillis has had a lot of success with undrafted free agents. Chris Tanev and Eddie Lack are the most noteworthy examples, along with Darren Archibald and Evan McEneny. They haven’t all been hits, of course, with Kellan Tochkin being an obvious miss, though he managed to turn Tochkin into Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh.
The question now is whether Fox will be another hit. Does he have an NHL future like Chad Larose or will he toil in the ECHL and AHL like Randy Rowe?Tags: Dane Fox