Every month throughout the NHL season we’ll be updating you on the development of key Vancouver Canucks prospects with up-to-date stats, videos, analysis and scouting reports.
We haven’t generally covered him as a prospect this season since he’s spent most of the year at the NHL level, but Jake Virtanen is currently competing with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
Virtanen, 19, has yet to register a point in three games at the tournament, though he’s had several glorious chances and has managed three shots on goal. Maybe Virtanen hasn’t dominated players in his age group the way one might hope, but his speed through the neutral zone and his high-end physical game has stood out – just as it has in the NHL.
Virtanen could be loaned back to the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL following the conclusion of the World Juniors, though the Canucks have some time to make that decision before Virtanen hits the 40-game mark, at which point he’ll accrue a year towards arbitration eligibility and unrestricted free agency.
“[The 40-game mark] is definitely a marker that we’ll consider,” Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden told Sportsnet earlier this month. “Nine games was a marker, and certainly 40 will be.”
Brock Boeser: RW, University of North Dakota (NCAA)
Drafted: first round, 23rd overall, 2015
Season to date: 20 GP | 13G | 8A | 21P | +22
University of North Dakota forward Brock Boeser is currently representing Team USA at the World Junior Championship.
Boeser, 18, is playing on a line with his North Dakota teammate Nick Schmaltz, though he got the opportunity to play up the lineup with Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk after Alex Debrincat’s ejection against Canada in the qualifying round.
Before joining Team USA for pre-tournament camp, Boeser managed five goals in four games to open the month of December. The promising American-born sniper ranks second among all NCAA freshmen in goals per game and first in total shots on goal.
Brendan Gaunce: LW, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: first round, 26th overall, 2012
Season to date: 19 GP | 9G | 8A | 17P | +8
With points in nine of their past 10 games, the AHL’s Utica Comets are heating up. And 21-year-old Comets forward Brendan Gaunce, Vancouver’s first-round pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, is pulling the cart uphill offensively in December.
Gaunce has managed to score four goals while pitching in five assists for nine points in eight games in December. He even managed shorthanded tallies in consecutive games this month and will end the 2015 calendar year riding an eight game point streak.
From his spiking shot rate to his increasing point production and his improved skating, Gaunce has the look of a player primed to graduate to the NHL full-time in short order.
Jordan Subban: D, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: fourth round, 115th overall, 2014
Season to date: 23 GP | 5G | 9A | 14P | +1
Blue-line injuries throughout the Canucks organization have thrust Jordan Subban, 20, into a more prominent role with the Comets, especially in the wake of an injury to Taylor Fedun and the Canucks’ decision to recall Andrey Pedan.
“If you talk to Subban he knows that I lean on him hard enough,” Comets coach Travis Green joked.
“With a lot of young defencemen, when they come in you know there's going to be growing pains,” Green told Sportsnet. “I never worry about [Subban’s] offensive game, he's got great awareness and instincts. It's just the everyday habits and details. With any young defenceman they have to work on that. His game is really coming.”
Now an everyday player for the Comets, Subban put together his best month as a professional in December. In 10 games with Utica, Subban found the back of the net four times and managed six total points.
Cole Cassels: F, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: third round, 85th overall, 2014
Season to date: 23 GP | 1G | 1A | 2P | -4
Cole Cassels hasn’t been very productive in his first season as a pro, but he’s also been on something of an accelerated apprenticeship program with Utica.
That’s coming to an end.
Cassels, 20, came into the year still a bit banged up from a lengthy Memorial Cup run with the Oshawa Generals. So Green and the Canucks have had him on something of a “college schedule” with a focus on off-ice training.
Green told Sportsnet earlier this season that he didn’t expect Cassels to really hit his stride until about Christmas time, and lo and behold, Cassels finally scored his first professional goal on Boxing Day:
Expect Cassels to see more ice time and responsibility over the balance of the season.
Ashton Sautner: D, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: undrafted, signed 2015
Season to date: 19 GP | 3G | 5A | 8P | +1
Signed as an undrafted free agent this past March, Ashton Sautner has been something of a diamond in the rough for the Canucks.
Sautner, 22, has excellent wheels and is a heady two-way player. He’s also been a useful offensive contributor and has managed three goals and eight points in 19 games in his rookie AHL season. He’s been good enough that with a host of blue-line injuries, Sautner has even earned an NHL call-up.
“I'm maybe not the biggest defenceman,” Sautner told Sportsnet earlier in December. “But for me it's more about body position and learning when to attack and jump in there to get the loose puck. The coaches have done a good job helping to guide me in how to do that."
Thatcher Demko: G, Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: second-round, 36th overall, 2014
Season to date: 18 GP | 13W | 4L | 1.72 GAA | .936 SV% | 6 SO
Thatcher Demko may be human after all, but only just.
Demko, 20, has been the top goaltender in the nation for most of the season, but had a bit of a hiccup in December, losing three games in five.
The 2014 second-round draft pick saw his save percentage fall to .936 in December, which is still a totally outrageous mark. He also still leads the nation in shutouts with six.
Dmitri Zhukenov: C, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
Drafted: fourth round, 114th overall, 2015
Season to date: 32 GP | 9G | 21A | 30 P | -4
Dmitri Zhukenov, 18, appears to have found his game in the CHL.
The 2015 fourth-round pick went on an eight game point streak in the month of December and has now managed 30 points in 32 games. The Russian-born pivot wasn’t invited to Team Russia’s World Junior Championship selection camp, but will likely be a strong candidate to represent his country at the 2017 tournament.
Guillaume Brisebois: D, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Drafted: third round, 66th overall, 2015
Season to date: 33 GP | 6G | 12A | 18P | -6
Guillaume Brisebois, 18, put a slow offensive start to the season behind him in December with seven points in seven games.
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan captain leads all Titan blue-liners in scoring and has now managed 18 points in 33 games on the season.
Nikita Tryamkin: D, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (KHL)
Drafted: third round, 66th overall, 2014
Season to date: 42 GP | 4G | 7A | 11P | -1
Six-foot-seven Russian defenceman Nikita Tryamkin continues to play an expanded role for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, and logged major minutes for the KHL club at the Spengler Cup this month.
Tryamkin’s club advanced to the semifinal of the Spengler Cup tournament, and the big Russian blue-liner managed an assist in four games while playing an imposing physical game. In discussing the matter with Russian hockey journalists, the belief is that Tryamkin may be amenable to moving over to North American following the conclusion of Avtomobilist’s KHL season.
Lukas Jasek: F, HC Trinec (Czech Extraliga)
Drafted: sixth round, 174th overall, 2015
Season to date: 16 GP | 2G | 1A | 3P | Even
In a tough men’s league, Lukas Jasek has managed two goals and three points in 16 games for HC Trinec of the Czech Extraliga. And he’s been absolutely dominant against his own age group, managing 16 points in just six games at the junior level in his native Czech Republic.
Jasek was invited to the Czech Republic’s U20 selection camp, but was cut prior to the start of the 2016 World Junior Championship tournament.