Vancouver Canucks prospect report: January

Vancouver Canucks centre Brendan Gaunce (50) skates with the puck past Dallas Stars left wing Patrick Sharp. (LM Otero/AP)

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.

Brendan Gaunce: F, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: first round, 26th overall, 2012
Season to date: 32 GP | 10G | 12A | 22P | Even

Brendan Gaunce, who has been a winger since the moment he turned pro, spent much of January playing centre on the Utica Comets’ top line – as injuries in Vancouver necessitated the call up of players like Linden Vey and Zalewski.

“Right now I think he’s a better winger, but I think it’s important for him to learn how to play both positions at this level,” coach Travis Green told Sportsnet in late January. “I’m still not sure where he’ll play in the long run, he might start as a winger but it’s a good option to have.”

Gaunce is the second leading scorer among Comets forwards and has added a step (or two) to his skating speed.

“This year I’ve been put in a more offensive role, and I think I’ve done well with it,” Gaunce told Sportsnet. “But the reason I’m going to be a good NHL player if I play there is that I’m a good defensive player.”

The 21-year-old was wearing a brace on his right hand when we caught up with him during a set of back-to-back games against in the Toronto Marlies, though he wouldn’t disclose his injury. Along with being tasked with playing out-of-position, that could partially explain why January was Gaunce’s slowest offensive month of the season so far.

(Courtesy: @winthagame)

Hunter Shinkaruk: F, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: first round, 22nd overall, 2013
Season to date: 37 GP | 17G | 15A | 32P | +1

In 37 games with the Comets this season, Hunter Shinkaruk has already surpassed his goal and points totals from his inconsistent rookie year.

The exuberant offensive winger is happiest though when there’s pressure on him to produce offensively.

“I want that pressure on me, I want to be that guy that has to be good every night for their team to win,” Shinkaruk said of adjusting to being a go-to-guy for the Comets. “I’ve enjoyed that role this year.”

Though Shinkaruk has been enormously productive, nine of his 17 goals have come on the power play. He doesn’t see his reliance on power-play offence as a negative though.

“When you’re on the power play you need to score, if I’m having success there that’s helping our team,” Shinkaruk said. “There’s always parts of your game you can round out, but I don’t look at that as a negative.”

Jordan Subban: D, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: fourth round, 115th overall, 2014
Season to date: 36 GP | 7G | 16A | 23P | -7

In his rookie season as a professional hockey player, Jordan Subban has posted some truly remarkable offensive numbers.

Among rookie defencemen in the American League, Subban ranks fourth in total points and second in points per game rate behind only Anaheim Ducks prospect Brandon Montour (who is a year older than Subban). He’s first in goals per game rate among American League rookie defencemen.

Those statistics are even more impressive when you consider that Subban has mostly played on the third pair and is still on the Comets second power-play unit – even though he’s second on the team in scoring.

“I’m really happy with how his game is progressing,” said Green of Subban’s development. “Are there deficiencies in his game? Yeah, but there are with every young defenceman who comes into the league.

“Defensively is where he’s got to get better,” Green continued. “And it’s not just stronger and winning battles, it’s just little reads here and there. But I like him, he’s exuberant, he brings a lot of energy to the rink and he plays with passion.”

Subban for his part doesn’t think that his size has been an issue in the professional ranks.

“It’s just little adjustments, learning how to deal with bigger players and better players defensively,” Subban said of adjusting to the American League.

(Courtesy: @winthagame)

Brock Boeser: RW, University of North Dakota (NCAA)
Drafted: first round, 23rd overall, 2015
Season to date: 25 GP | 18G | 13A | 31P | +26

Brock Boeser continues to score astounding goals while playing major minutes for one of the best NCAA teams in the nation.

Since returning from a somewhat lackluster performance in the World Junior Championships, Boeser has scored five goals and managed 10 total points in six games.

The 18-year-old is second among all NCAA freshmen in goals per game, third in total points and he can do things like this in the shootout:

Thatcher Demko: G, Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: second-round, 36th overall, 2014
Season to date: 25 GP | 16W | 4L | 1.64 GAA | .939 SV% | 8 SO

Thatcher Demko rebounded from a pedestrian – by his lofty standards – performance in December, regaining his usual dominance in January. In Demko’s five starts for Boston College so far in 2016 he’s undefeated and has managed a .949 save percentage with two shutouts.

On the whole, Demko’s .939 save percentage is tied for second among all NCAA goaltenders. And his eight shutouts have tied a Boston College record set by former Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider.

Though Demko is only 20-years-old, he rushed throughout high school in order to begin his collegiate hockey career, so he’s actually already a junior. In the age of Justin Schultz and Kevin Hayes, NHL teams can’t afford to allow elite-level NCAA players to hit their senior year. Expect the Canucks to push to sign Demko over the next few months.

Kyle Pettit: C, Erie Otters (OHL)
Drafted: sixth round, 156th overall, 2014
Season to date: 43 GP | 7 G | 10 A | 17 Pts | +12

A late-round pick from the first Jim Benning draft, it’ll be interesting to see how the Canucks opt to proceed with Kyle Pettit.

The big centremen is known for his defensive acumen and his mastery of the faceoff dot. Even the likes of David Steckel and Paul Gaustad were reasonably productive offensive players at lower levels of hockey though, something you can’t say about Pettit.

Because he was drafted out the CHL, the Canucks’ exclusive negotiating window will expire at the end of May, at which point Pettit will re-enter the draft pool if he isn’t signed to an entry-level contract. The Canucks don’t have a lot of time to decide what to do with one of the best faceoff men in the OHL.

Anton Rodin: RW, Brynas (SHL)
Drafted: second round, 53rd overall, 2009
Season to date: 23 GP | 13 G | 17 A | 30 Pts | +10

Anton Rodin, 25, sustained a significant injury during a freak collision at practice – he was cut by a teammates skate and severed a tendon around his knee – earlier this month, and will be shutdown for the remainder of the SHL regular season. He may try to return for the SHL postseason, but it’s unlikely.

It’s a tough way for Rodin’s season to end. The 2009 second-round draft pick had a late breakout, and is still leading all SHL players in scoring.

On multiple occasions this season the Canucks have planned to see Rodin in person, only to have those plans dashed by injury. Even so, Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province reported this week that the Canucks will likely sign Rodin to a one-year, one-way contract for next season.