The Canucks 2014 prospect development camp kicked off today and we’re looking at the 16 undrafted and unsigned invitees on the camp roster. On Friday, we looked at the four invitee goaltenders and today we’ll be profiling the defencemen. The Forwards will come later this week.
There are five invitee defencemen coming to camp: three from the NCAA, one from the WHL, and one formerly of the WHL who just spent a season in the KHL.
Tommy Fallen – Defence
5’9″ – 174 lbs – April 17, 1991
Along with Canucks prospect Jordan Subban and forward invitee Curtis Valk, Fallen will be one of the shortest players at camp. Like most undersized players that manage to reach a high level in hockey, Fallen has strong skating and skill to make up for his smaller stature. He is described as having a “wicked one-timer” and is “known for his speed and scoring touch.”
He led all Yale defencemen in scoring in his freshman and sophomore years with 20 and 23 points, but took a small step back as a junior, scoring just 16 points in 33 games, though he still managed 7 goals. His career total of 18 goals is fifth in Yale history among defencemen and his 59 points is sixth.
Before Yale, he was a standout with the Cedar Rapid RoughRiders of the USHL and won gold with Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge in 2010. His father was recently named commissioner of the USHL.
Fallen evidently has some leadership qualities, as he’s been chosen as captain for Yale next season.
It’s hard to get excited about 5’9″ defencemen as, unless they are truly special, they don’t have much of a shot at the NHL. There are basically only two currently in the NHL: Jared Spurgeon and Torey Krug. Spurgeon put up a lot of points in the WHL, while Krug scored 26 goals and 83 points in three years in the NCAA. While Subban’s point totals compare favourably to Spurgeon’s, Fallen’s fall well short of Krug’s.
That said, Fallen is clearly very talented and could surprise.
Paul Geiger – Defence
6’3″ – 216 lbs – July 28, 1992
St. Catherines, ON
This is Geiger’s second time at a Canucks prospect development camp, which would seem to be a good sign that the team is interested in signing him once he’s finished university. Here is his profile from last year:
Geiger was an offensive force in his final year in Junior A hockey in 2011-12, putting up 54 points in 43 regular season games for the Stouffville Spirit of the OJHL, then followed that up with 34 points in 25 playoff games. He finished three points behind the leading scorer among defencemen in the OJHL, but played six fewer games. In the playoffs, he was second in scoring among all players, just three points behind his teammate, Drake Caggiula, a forward.
In the 2012 Dudley Hewitt Cup, the Central Junior A Championship, Geiger scored another 8 points in 4 games to lead the tournament. Clearly this is a player with some offensive ability and, considering he already has NHL size at the age of 20, he’s definitely one to watch.
In his freshman year at Clarkson University, Geiger scored 12 points in 36 games, which made him the top-scoring freshman defenceman in NCAA league play, according to his profile on the Golden Knights’ website. He was also named the team’s Rookie of the Year and made the ECAC All-Rookie Team.
Geiger’s skating is the main flaw in his game, apparently, but the Canucks will have ample opportunity to see him skate in the on-ice sessions during camp. If he can continue to improve his offensive numbers as a sophomore the way he did in Junior A and prove that his skating isn’t a liability, then he may have a number of suitors once he decides to turn pro.
Geiger made small improvements in his sophomore season, scoring 17 points in 42 games and went from minus-11 in his freshman year to a team-high plus-8. He was named Clarkson’s Best Defensive Player this past season.
Spencer Humphries – Defence
6’2″ – 205 lbs – April 30, 1992
HC Lev Praha
Humphries actually turned down an invitation to Canucks camp last year, choosing instead to sign a contract with HC Lev Praha of the KHL. Even though he grew up in Delta, it was too difficult to turn down a contract for a tryout. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out quite the way he hoped, as he was loaned to HC Litomerice in a lower level Czech league after just 17 games in the KHL.
Humphries managed 2 points in 17 KHL games, but was dominant for HC Litomerice, scoring 5 goals and 9 points in 10 games. He at least scored one goal in the KHL before being loaned out.
Goals and points are not exactly Humphries’ calling card, as he was used in more of a shutdown role in the WHL, but he’s not devoid of offensive talent, scoring 38 points in each of his last two WHL seasons. Humphries made a good initial impression in the KHL, as he was praised for his “smooth skating, solid defensive play, and ability to join the rush.” He has also been praised for his passing ability.
Clearly Lev Praha saw something in Humphries that made them offer guaranteed money to make the jump straight to the KHL from Major Junior, though it didn’t end up working out as well as hoped. With Humphries accepting the Canucks invitation to camp this time, it seems unlikely that he’ll be heading back overseas, but will instead look to earn a contract here or in Utica.
Troy Stecher – Defence
5’10″ – 179 lbs – April 7, 1994
University of North Dakota
Stecher is a local boy who is understandably excited to be attending the Canucks development camp. He spent three years with the Penticton Vees before heading to the University of North Dakota and put up some impressive offensive totals, including 47 points in 52 games in his final season in 2012-13, when he also served as captain of the Vees. That was good enough for third in the BCHL in scoring from a defencemen and one of the two players ahead of him also spent time as a forward.
Stecher’s strengths on the ice are his skating and vision, which he uses to make good outlet passes and step up aggressively on the rush. It’s not just his offensive game that gets noticed, however, as he was named the top defenceman at the 2012 RBC Cup (Canadian Junior A Championship) despite just 2 assists in the 6-game tournament en route to leading the Vees to the championship.
The Vees’ head coach, Fred Harbinson, noted after the 2011-12 season that Stecher makes up for his lack of size by being “very strong positionally” and having a “will to win puck battles” adding that “there are few times when the puck ends up in the corner that Troy doesn’t come out with it.” Harbinson even went as far as to compare him to Brian Rafalski as a skilled, undersized defenceman. After the 2012-13 season, he called him “a great leader, teammate and role model” and he was named the best defenceman in the BCHL interior conference.
The undersized defenceman made in impact with UND in his freshman season, scoring 11 points in 42 games and establishing himself as a vocal leader, while backing up his comments with his play. His coach, Dave Hakstol, said partway through the season, “He says what’s on his mind. Yet, he’s thoughtful about it. Energy wise, he’s become a leader for our team as a freshman, because he always goes out and competes.”
His UND teammate, goaltender Zane Gothberg, noted his versatility: “he can make plays on the blue line, he gets the puck up first pass all of the time, [and] he’s really gritty in front of the net.”
Stecher seems like exactly the type of undrafted free agent that is worth inviting to camp: a skilled defenceman capable of play at both ends that was overlooked strictly because of his size.
Josh Thrower – Defence
6’1″ – 201 lbs – March 17, 1996
The younger brother of Vancouver Giants star and Montreal Canadiens prospect Dalton Thrower, the younger Thrower has significantly less offensive upside, tallying just 6 points in 62 games between the Calgary Hitmen and Tri-City Americans as a 17-year-old last season. He is, however, already bigger than his brother and was polished enough defensively to play 37 WHL games as a 16-year-old.
Thrower is, appropriately, known for throwing haymakers, with 8 fights to his credit during the regular season. He then added another fight in the playoffs, a doozy against Tyrell Goulbourne at the end of March:
That looked like it was straight out of the 80′s.
Thrower was ranked 148th among North American skaters by Central Scouting for this year’s draft after being ranked 116th in the midterm rankings. I’ve seen him described as hard-hitting, physical, and mean, but he also has decent skating and can reportedly play in all situations. The offensive side is a major question mark, however, and it will be interesting to see if that develops over the next few seasons.
Thrower played for Canada Pacific in the 2013 World Under-17 Challenge with Jake Virtanen, his Calgary Hitmen teammate, taking home the silver medal.