Vancouver Canucks prospect report: March

Boston College's Thatcher Demko (30) makes a save with seconds left in the third period of the NCAA men's northeast regional championship. (Michael Dwyer/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.

Thatcher Demko: G, Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: Second round, 36th overall, 2014

Season to date: 38 GP | 27W | 7L | 1.85 GAA | .936 SV% | 10 SO

How did Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko, 20, follow up on a regular season in which he was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, broke Cory Schneider’s Boston College shutout record and posted a sparkling .936 save percentage, a figure that tied him for second among all goaltenders in college hockey? He was unbeatable in tournament play.

In late March, Demko stopped 60 of the 63 shots he faced in tournament games against Minnesota-Duluth and Harvard – both dangerous offensive teams – to pace Boston College to a Frozen Four berth. Demko and his Boston College teammates will be narrowly favoured over Quinnipac in this Thursday’s semifinal matchup, according to Chris D. Long’s statistical model.

It’s clear at this point that Demko is among the most impressive goaltending prospects in the sport. Which is why the Canucks will push hard to sign him when Boston College’s season comes to an end.

“We’re going to wait for him to finish and then sit down with him and his agent,” Jim Benning told Sportsnet in late March. “They have a decision to make and we’ll respect the process.”

The Canucks have been explicit about preferring to sign College players after their third year, so as to avoid any potential pitfalls from Article 8.6(c)(iv) – which is the rule that allows a player like Jimmy Vesey to spurn the team that drafted him and hit unrestricted free agency. While Vancouver has expressed confidence about their ability to get Demko signed, this is a situation that will warrant close monitoring upon the conclusion of the Frozen Four.

Brock Boeser: RW, University of North Dakota (NCAA)

Drafted: First round, 23rd overall, 2015

Season to date: 40 GP | 26G | 28A | 54P | +38

Like Demko, Brock Boeser and his University of North Dakota teammates are off to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay, Fla. next weekend.

Playing on a dynamic forward line with top NCAA free agent Drake Caggiula and Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Nick Schmaltz, Boeser has led the Fighting Hawks in goal scoring and points this season. In his freshman season, he finished fourth in Division 1 in goal scoring and fifth in total points.

Boeser’s season wasn’t just impressive, it was a bona fide star turn. One of his assistant coaches at North Dakota – former Canucks farmhand Dane Jackson – made a very lofty comparison in a conversation with Sportsnet last week, even if he did so reluctantly.

“You always want to be careful making comparisons with young guys, because they’re still developing, but I see some T.J. Oshie in his game,” Jackson said of Boeser. “His agility and ability to slash through smaller holes and take the puck to the net. He’s dynamic in keeping the puck with him even if he’s got guys all over him in the corner. He’s got a flare and a real competitiveness to him.”

Tate Olson: D, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Drafted: Seventh round, 210th overall, 2015
Season to date: 65 GP | 9 G | 38 A | 47 Pts | +16

Selected with the second-to-last pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Tate Olson – who turned 19 a couple of weeks ago – impressed the Canucks enormously in his age-18 season with the Prince George Cougars.

“He’s got a chance to be an NHL player,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told Sportsnet of Olson this weekend.

Olson’s draft-plus-one season ended this past week, as the Cougars just couldn’t contain Matt Barzal and the Seattle Thunderbirds in a first-round series sweep. The Canucks have decided not to sign Olson to an amateur tryout deal with the Utica Comets, which would allow him to make his American League debut this month. The club’s thinking is that Olson is a bit too young and would be better served getting an early start with off-season workouts.

Guillaume Brisebois: D, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Drafted: Third round, 66th overall, 2015
Season to date: 52 GP | 10 G | 16 A | 26 Pts | -13

Drafted early in the third-round of the 2015 NHL entry draft, with the pick the Canucks acquired for Eddie Lack, Acadie-Bathurst Titan defenseman Guillaume Brisebois turned in a decent season as an 18-year-old.

“Good two-way defenseman, had a little bit of trouble with injuries this year, but he was good,” summarized Benning.

Though Brisebois’ potential value is mostly derived from his two-way play, his pedestrian scoring numbers make it a bit of a stretch to project him as an impactful NHL player down the line. Even defensive specialists in the NHL were generally scoring dynamos in major junior.

There are two major reasons for optimism with Brisebois, despite his meager offensive output. The first is that he’s still very young; he won’t turn 19 until late July.

The second is that individual point production for defenseman is often correlated closely with how much power-play time they get, and Brisebois was a secondary power-play option for Acadie-Bathurst. To illustrate how big a difference this can make: Brisebois managed 26 total points where fellow Canucks prospect Carl Neill managed over 50 points in the QMJHL this season. It seems like a huge difference, but at even-strength Neill had 16 points while Brisebois managed 15.

Brisebois’ draft-plus-one season ended this week when the Saint John Seadogs eliminated the Titan in five games. Because of Brisebois’ youth, he won’t be signing an amateur tryout deal with the Comets.

“We just thought it was more advantageous for (Brisebois and Olson) to start working out getting stronger for training camp and rookie camp next season,” explained Benning.

Jordan Subban: D, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: fourth round, 115th overall, 2014

Season to date: 61 GP | 11G | 24A | 35P | -1

Though he’s on a short list of highly rated Canucks prospect that haven’t been given an extended NHL look over the past month, Jordan Subban has authored an auspicious rookie season with the Utica Comets.

“He’s had a good first season,” said Benning of Subban’s rookie year. “His ability at the other teams blue line to handle the puck, make plays at the blue line, get shots through and on net is high end. He’s got high-end offensive skills.”

Those offensive skills have been on display in a major way, especially over the past six weeks. Subban is now tied with Texas Stars defenseman Esa Lindell for first among rookie defenseman in goal scoring in the American League. He’s also a top-20 AHL defenseman in scoring.

Still, the Canucks would like to see him stick around with the Comets coaching staff and fine-tune his defensive game.

“What (Utica head coach Travis Green) has been working with him this year is more defending down low, using stick position and body position and defending in the corners,” Benning said.

“He’s strong. He’s not tall, but he’s physically strong, but when you’re not tall you need to learn angles and stick positioning so you can defend as a smaller guy and they’ve been teaching him this year. Nolan Baumgartner is an excellent defensive coach and he’s done a real good job. I think he’s come a long ways and we’re happy with where he’s at after his first year pro, he just needs to keep getting stronger and he’ll get NHL games next year.”

Alexandre Grenier: RW, Utica Comets (AHL)
Drafted: third round, 90th overall, 2013
Season to date: 62 GP | 15 G | 29 A | 44 Pts | +6

Alexandre Grenier has been crucial for an undermanned Comets team that is holding on by the skin of their teeth in a tight American League playoff race.

Over the past month Grenier has been between leagues, appearing in five games with the Canucks and not making much of an impact – a broken stick on a breakaway against the Winnipeg Jets was probably his most memorable NHL moment. At the American League level though, Grenier is indispensible.

Since returning from Vancouver, Grenier has managed seven points in five games. The Canucks organization believes that it was good for him to play some games in the show, that it gave him confidence and a feel for what it takes to be successful in the NHL.

“I think now – I talked to his agent yesterday – and he has a good understanding of what he needs to keep working on to be a full-time NHL guy,” Benning told Sportsnet of Grenier.

The 24-year-old winger has good wheels and NHL size and is an excellent AHL-level scorer. Grenier is an older prospect though, a restricted free agent this summer and he won’t be waiver exempt beginning next season; so this will be a crucial offseason for an intriguing talent who is running out of time to earn an everyday job at the NHL level.

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