The Vancouver Canucks’ pool of young talent is as deep as it has been in decades — maybe ever.
Though the club’s arsenal of young talent at the NHL level is drawing headlines, we’ll be keeping tabs on Canucks prospects at the lower levels on a monthly basis all year long.
Here’s an update on 10 notable Canucks prospects for the month of October:
Shinkaruk turned 21 this month, and celebrated by putting an occasionally frustrating AHL rookie season squarely in the rearview mirror.
The forward has a team-leading four goals and five points in the Utica Comets’ first five games. A year ago it took him 12 games to hit the five-point barrier, and 15 to score his fourth AHL goal.
So, what’s changed?
“I think it’s a mixture of a few things,” Shinkaruk said. “A little bit more opportunities, more knowing the league, things like that have added up to allow me to have success so far.”
Shinkaruk’s hot start included an impressive hat trick in the Comets’ home opener.
“It was a great night,” Shinkaruk said of that game. “I’m a guy who loves to score goals and getting to celebrate was really cool.
“The crowd was going pretty crazy. I just went back to the bench and just had a smile on my face. You work so hard all summer, so to play like that at the home opener is pretty special.”
Shinkaruk’s play in the early going has impressed Comets head coach Travis Green, who made critical comments about the skater’s habit of forcing plays last month.
“I’ve seen improvement,” Green said. “Last year Hunter would take pucks wide and take it around the net and not get pucks to the inside and not get himself to the inside… He’s improved in that area and I’m expecting he’s going to continue to improve as he gets older and stronger.”
Gaunce, now a full-time winger, was solid enough at training camp that cutting him was a difficult decision for the Canucks. He played well enough upon his demotion to Utica that the big club made him their first call up of the season this week. He made his NHL debut on Thursday night.
Jensen is second among all Comets forwards in points, and third in shots on goal. Perhaps most importantly, the 2011 first-round pick has brought it every night.
“He seems a lot more mature within himself and what he needs to do and how he needs to play to play in the NHL,” Green said. “I think he’s been one of our stronger forwards, and the inconsistency in his game — which we’ve talked about in the past, which has probably plagued him a little bit — I’m not seeing it as much this year.”
No one has ever doubted Subban’s skill level.
“He’s a really good offensive defenseman, he has lively legs, and he creates opportunities,” said teammate and roommate Shinkaruk.
There was some doubt about how the youngest and shortest Subban would fare at the professional level though — particularly because he stands at just five-foot-nine.
“You’re never going to change his size,” Green said. “So you can say size is an issue or you can say he’s got to learn how to defend with his size.”
For what it’s worth, Green isn’t particularly worried about Subban’s size impacting his ability to make it to the NHL level.
“He’s probably been our most improved player since the start of the year,” Green said. “We’re trying to give him a little more in each game without giving him too much. With [recent Canucks callup] Alex Biega being out now he’s going to get some more minutes and I’m anxious to see how he handles it.”
After leading the Oshawa Generals on a lengthy, grueling run to the Memorial Cup, Cassels entered the 2015-16 season with a lot of hype.
While the 20-year-old centre has gotten off to a slow start at the AHL level and has even been a healthy scratch, there’s more going on here than just performance.
“He played hurt throughout the end of [his] season, and spent the majority of his summer rehabbing,” Green said. “I think part of his slow start is just because he hasn’t had the proper training over the summer.”
Rethinking rehab and prehab programs, particularly for young players, has been an early focus of Canucks president Trevor Linden. In Cassels’ case, that means he’s on an individually tailored scheme to make up for the time he lost this off-season.
“Right now we’re in the process of making sure that he gets enough gym time, enough strengthening time off the ice to help his game progress on the ice,” Green said. “It’s a fine line, I think it’s important that we don’t rush him into positions he’s not ready for, and make sure that he’s strong.
“We have a special plan for him in terms of conditioning and working out,” Green added. “I’m expecting by Christmastime that he’ll be a much different player than he is right now.”
Like the Comets themselves, Alexandre Grenier has been snake-bitten offensively in the early going.
Despite leading the team in shots, he only has one goal to his name.
“He’s playing the direct game that we want him to play as a guy with a big body who skates well,” Green said.
The goal will come, so long as the shots continue.
Vancouver’s first-round pick at the 2015 NHL draft has been a point-per-game player for the University of North Dakota, currently the top ranked team in Division One.
Boeser has impressed with his goal scoring touch, and his two-way game and was particularly good in a pair of back-to-back wins over Vermont last weekend:
The 18-year-old USHL album is currently averaging more than four shots on net per game. Since 2012 only one 18-year-old freshman has managed a shot rate that high over a full season: Detroit Red Wings super prospect Dylan Larkin. Decent company, that.
Demko is off to a dominant start with Boston College.
The 19-year-old netminder, a second-round pick in 2014, has been beat just three times on 117 shots faced in five games so far. Among NCAA goaltenders with four or more starts on the season, Demko’s .974 save percentage is the best in the nation.
Carl Neill’s Sherbrooke Phoenix have struggled this season, but their first defensive pairing of Neill and San Jose Sharks prospect Jeremy Roy has been dominant offensively.
Neill is managing better than a point per game so far, while holding down a top-pairing role on a nightly basis.
In his first year playing in North America, 18-year-old Zhukenov has played top-six minutes for a Chicoutimi Saguenéens side that has been dramatically outshot.
Zhukenov has been converted to the wing of late and has managed nine points in 12 games so far. While you’d ideally like to see an NHL-bound 18-year-old score at a higher rate in major junior, we should probably cut Zhukenov some slack early in the season as he adjusts to a smaller ice surface, a new language and a totally new culture.