As the NHL lockout drags on, it can be easy to forget that pro hockey is being played. The Vancouver Canucks' AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, are now 17 games into their schedule, and hold a 8-6-2-1 record, good for 19 points.They opened the season with four straight wins, but have come back down to earth after their fast start.
Divisions and conferences in the AHL are set up exactly the same as the NHL. The Wolves are currently second in their Midwest Division and eighth in the Western Conference.
Almost-a-Canuck Justin Schultz leads the entire AHL in scoring with 28 points for the Oklahoma City Barons. The most productive Canuck prospect so far is Zack Kassian, who sits second in Wolves' scoring with 5-6-11. That puts him 101st in the league scoring race.
Here's a breakdown by position of the Wolves' efforts to-date, with a snapshot of some of the Canucks' key prospects:
The Wolves currently rank 11th out of 15 in their conference in goals-for with 49. That's just under three goals a game, so scoring has become an issue. Goal-scoring leaders are Brett Sterling—who's not a Canuck prospect—and Jordan Schroeder, who is. They have six goals each.
Schroeder's pace is slightly ahead of last year, when he tallied 21-23-44 in a full 76 game season. He appears to be showing consistency and some growth at the AHL level, but it's hard to know if he'll be able to step it up and become the third-line center Canucks need, especially due to his small stature. Schroder's listed at 5'9" and 179 pounds.
28-year-old Steve Pinizzotto is another center worth watching. After missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, Pinizzotto has put up 4-6-10 so far, and is third on the team with 25 penalty minutes, behind Zack Kassian and Guillaume Desbiens. The journeyman showed great promise with the Canucks in their 2011 training camp before he got hurt. Since he plays a more physical style than Schroeder, he'll likely get a good look from Alain Vigneault when the Canucks get back to work.
Of course, the most interesting forward prospect on the Wolves is Zack Kassian. He has scored some big goals, leads the team with 40 penalty minutes and earned an automatic one-game suspension earlier in November for making contact with an official on his way to the penalty box to serve a hooking minor.
Wolves right wing Zack Kassian has never had his skills called into question. At times he can be among the most dominant players in the AHL. The knock on the 21-year-old is that the dominant player hasn’t always shown up.
Signs are positive, but it's still no sure thing that Kassian will develop into the consistent power forward the Canucks need.
Breaking news—Chris Tanev has two goals in 15 games this season with the Wolves! With that, he has now tripled his pro hockey goal-scoring output. He had one goal with the Manitoba Moose in 2010-11.
Tanev told The Province's Jim Jamieson during the summer that he was working hard on developing a shot and contributing offensively. It looks like his work is paying dividends and that he'll be an even more well-rounded defenseman for the Canucks when they resume play.
Further down the depth chart, big Yann Sauvé has the top plus/minus among defensemen, at plus-5. Meanwhile, 6'5" Kevin Connauton leads the team with shots on goal with 50. So far, he has two goals and three assists to show for his efforts.
To this point, it has been widely assumed that Eddie Lack has been comfortably waiting in the Wings until the Roberto Luongo trade is complete, at which time he'll step into the Canucks' backup role. Jason Botchford of The Province doesn't think that Lack's 7-4-1 record and 3.02 goals-against are good enough to guarantee him a call up:
He probably would have needed a sensational start to the AHL season to get into the conversation. Lack’s game still requires a lot of refinement. Even on his own AHL team, you can make the argument his backup, Matt Climie, is the one who is more ready to sub in for stretches in the NHL.
To further muddy the waters, on Nov. 27 the Canucks recalled goaltender Joe Cannata from the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings. The Vancouver Sun's Brad Ziemer reports on Twitter that Lack is injured.
Joe Cannata called up to fill in for Eddie Lack, who has minor hip flexor that requires rest. Matt Climie expected to start tomorrow night.— Brad Ziemer (@BradZiemer) November 27, 2012
Lack has shown a ton of personality on Twitter himself so far this year. Fans and media should love him when he gets to Vancouver—as long as he can stop the puck.
For now, Canucks fans can only continue to watch from a distance as their top prospects ply their wares with the Wolves. Mark your calendars for Jan. 11 and 12, when the Wolves return to Abbotsford for a weekend series with the Heat.
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