Mike Gillis: The Mastermind
In the inaugural year of the NHL General Manager of the Year Award, Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis took home the hardware.
But with only a pair of significant contributions from Canucks’ prospects (Cory Schneider and Chris Tanev), Gillis won his award primarily on the merits of his offseason free-agent signings and trades.
With the additions of Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, Keith Ballard, Victor Oreskovich, and the deadline acquisitions of Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, Vancouver added sandpaper, stability and depth.
And thanks to a slew of long-term injuries throughout the year, Gillis was somehow able to stay below the salary cap (with the help of capologist Laurence Gilman), while adding piece after piece to his Stanley Cup puzzle without losing any major players from his NHL roster.
Although Michael Grabner and a 2010 first-rounder (Quinton Howden) were dealt to Florida in the Ballard trade, Gillis has also managed to improve the Canucks year after year without giving up too many key prospects. So the Canucks still have a fairly deep prospect pool, and the next few years will tell us a lot about Gillis’ drafting and how the scouts have done. The Canucks’ lineup is a hard nut to crack, but good teams work by finding a new infusion from within. Who will it be this year? Cody Hodgson? Darren Archibald? Billy Sweatt?
For now, let’s take a look at the Top 20 Vancouver Canuck Prospects.
*Please also note that this is the first of a four-part article. The ensuing three parts will be posted over the next three days, so please check back in and feel free to comment on who I’ve missed and where my rankings have missed the mark.
*Let me also add a few honourable mentions who I think are intriguing prospects, but due to the prospect depth Gillis has built in the Canucks’ organization have not made the list: Frank Corrado, Sebastien Erixon, Alex Friesen, Ludwig Blomstrand, Brandon Tanev, Prab Rai, Pathrik and Ponthus Westerholm and Henrik Tommernes. A few of these players, bear in mind, are unsigned because they were either 2011 draft picks are prospect camp invites.
Position: Right Wing
Age: 19 (Born Sept. 5, 1991)
Place of Birth: Laval, Quebec
Acquired: 2011 NHL Entry Draft (fourth round, 101st overall)
2010-2011 Stats: 31-9-15-24 (QMJHL: Quebec Remparts)
Alexandre Grenier fits the mould of what Canucks’ fans have been pining for ever since the Canucks were manhandled by the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
With no Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton on their roster, the Sedins were out-muscled and Vancouver had nobody who could bang, crash, occupy Chara and Seidenberg, and disrupt Tim Thomas.
As a fourth-round pick in this July’s draft, Grenier is obviously a couple years away from filling that void, but at 6’5”, Grenier could blossom into a 20-goal type of player who can get nasty in the dirty areas.
Like many of Gillis’ finds, Grenier is a late bloomer who is already 19 and didn’t even start the year in the Q. But once playoff time rolled around, he scored eight goals and 16 points in 15 games for the Remparts, which helped his stock rise at the draft.
The book on Grenier is that along with his great size and reach, he’s a fluid skater with good puck-handling skills and a tremendous release.
Jonathan Iilahti between the pipes for Team Finland
Age: 19 (Born April 27, 1992)
Place of Birth: Vaasa, Finland
Acquired: 2010 NHL Entry Draft (sixth round, 175th overall)
2010-2011 Stats: 21-15-5-0 (Finnish U-18: Blues)
Mike Gillis stated after this year’s draft that it’s important to draft a goalie in every draft. Last year, along with the free-agent signing of Swedish prospect Eddie Lack who turned heads with his stellar play in Manitoba, Iilahti was drafted to deepen a thin pool of prospects in net.
Unlike the monstrous Lack, whose size is his chief asset, Iilahti is more of an acrobat who relies on his reflexes in net.
According to Dave Gagner, the Canucks’ Director of Player Development, “He’s got really quick feet and quick reflexes in terms of being able to react to things. His game just needs to be tidied up a bit and our goaltending coach Rollie Melanson has been working with him on that, so he doesn’t over-slide and over-commit to things.”
Fortunately for Iilahti and the Canucks’ brass, Iilahti seems destined to get more work this year at a higher level of competition.
Drafted by the Vancouver Giants 39th overall in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, Iilahti has a very good chance of being the go-to guy in Vancouver, so it will be intriguing for Canucks’ fans to monitor one of their goaltending prospects the way Canuck fans enjoyed Kevin Connauton’s tremendous offensive season in a Giants’ uniform the year after the Canucks drafted him.
Age: 20 (Born Sept. 26, 1990)
Place of Birth: Milton, Ontario
Acquired: 2009 NHL Entry Draft (fourth round, 113th overall)
2010-2011 Stats: 42-5-14-19 (ECAC: Colgate Raiders)
In his sophomore season with the Colgate Raiders, Jeremy Price led a very weak Colgate team (they finished the regular season last in the ECAC with a record of 4-15-3; including non-conference games, Colgate’s overall record was 11-28-3) on a Cinderella playoff run.
In the first round, Colgate upset RPI by winning the third game of a three-game series in double OT. In the second round, Colgate repeated their feat by stunning 1st-ranked Union with another comeback in the third game of a three-game series, which they won in double OT.
Although the run ended in the ECAC Final Four with a loss to Yale, Colgate really turned it on in the playoffs, and hopefully Price can continue to evolve in his junior season. As Colgate’s No. 1 defenseman, Price is a smooth-skating power-play quarterback who reads the play well and is a gifted passer.
Although he also kills penalties for the Raiders, he’s still something of a defensive liability, but he has definite upside and the potential to be an NHL calibre rearguard.
Steven Anthony raising the Memorial Cup
Position: Left Wing
Age: 20 (Born March 21, 1991)
Place of Birth: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Acquired: 2009 NHL Entry Draft (seventh round, 187th overall)
2010-2011 Stats: 61-23-37-60 (QMJHL: Saint John Sea Dogs)
When Steven Anthony was still available at the tail end of the 2009 draft, Mike Gillis made a trade to acquire an extra draft pick.
Anthony, a classic boom or bust player who had the potential to be a first round pick in his draft year, nearly went undrafted because of serious question marks about his work ethic.
Since being drafted, however, Anthony has shown the skill and the determination to silence his detractors. Although he may never be a top line talent in the NHL, his point-per-game numbers with the Memorial Cup Champion Sea Dogs (including 12 points in 14 playoff games) are indicative of a young man who is improving.
On the down side, although Anthony uses his size to protect the puck, he is not what you would think of as a power forward. He’s more of a passer than a scorer, and you’d have to think that he’ll need at least a couple years with the AHL Wolves before he’s ready to be considered for a third- or fourth-line role in Vancouver.
Nevertheless, an intriguing prospect who killed penalties for the Sea Dogs and has the puck-handling skills and vision to be a very talented second line player down the road. Whether he is tenacious enough to get there remains to be seen.
Joseph LaBate after being drafted 90th overall by the Canucks
Age: 18 (Born April 16, 1993)
Place of Birth: Burnsville, Minnesota
Acquired: 2011 NHL Entry Draft (third round, 90th overall)
2010-2011 Stats: 25-27-22-49 (Minnesota High School: Holy Angels)
When American kids are drafted out of high school and then move on to college for a few years before turning pro, it’s very difficult to get a read on how good they are and how they are developing.
So who knows, maybe Joseph LaBate will be the next Patrick White. But if that’s the case, at least Mike Gillis hasn’t burned a first-round pick on him the way Dave Nonis did on White back in 2007 (White, by the way, just completed his senior year at Minnesota with 10 points in 27 games).
As for LaBate, the 6’4” centre will no doubt add some significant weight to his huge frame while playing for the University of Wisconsin.
As a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award who averaged over a goal per game and nearly two points per game, LaBate has some serious offensive upside to complement his size.
According to scouting reports, LaBate has a cannon for a shot, some pretty slick moves for a big man, and the speed and nasty edge that all scouts drool over.
Here’s LaBate’s self-assessment from an interview with McKeen’s Hockey,
“I’m a big centerman. I’m 6'4". I try to use my body well. I’m good on the faceoff draws. I bring an offensive touch to my game. I can play tough, but I can also play a finesse game, too.
I’ve good hands and I’ve got a good shot that I can get off well, and I feel like players can play well off of me.”
He may end up being the next Patrick White, but it sounds more like he'll end up being a beauty.