When Mike Gillis took over the reigns of the Vancouver Canucks last summer, he made it abundantly clear that drafting and player development were two areas within that organization that simply needed to get better. This point was further emphasized when Dave Gagner was named Director of Player Personnel, and when Gillis asked the Aquillini family to triple the team’s budget on scouting and player development. Along with his hirings and demands for increased funding, Gillis brought in a fresh philosophy to the Canucks draft approach, a philosophy that focuses on discovering players who display not only skill, but also character, integrity, and intelligence.
Last year, the Canucks used their first round selection to snag Cody Hodgson, who exemplifies these three qualities to a tee. Hodgson, who was the Canadian Hockey League player of the year this past season, fell right into Gillis’ wheelhouse after the New York Islanders selected Joshua Bailey at ninth overall. The jury is still out on Vancouver’s other picks last year, but after a full year of doing things Gillis’ way, early analysis on the Canucks’ 2009 draft picks suggests that his way is indeed the right way.
For the second straight year, an exceptional talent appears to have fallen right into the Canucks lap. Jordan Schroeder, who was a consensus top 15 pick and who some considered to possess top ten talent, was Vancouver’s first round selection in the 2009 draft (22nd overall). As a freshman with the University of Minnesota Gophers, Schroeder put up 45 points in 35 games this past season and was a standout at the recent World Junior Championships with Team USA. Schroeder played on a line with Colin Wilson for the second consecutive tournament, and Nashville’s first round draft pick in last year’s draft had this to say about Vancouver’s newest prized possession:
“Jordan is a great guy. He is very committed and very serious about the sport. He is a very good player; he sees the ice the best out of any person I have played with aside from at the World Championships and he has a great skill set. He is small, but it has never set him back before and he is not afraid to go in the corners. He is strong so really size is not an issue at all with him.”
At 5’8”, many believe that Schroeder’s size was the main reason he fell to 22nd overall. However, Schroeder is similar to Patrick Kane and Zack Parise in that he uses is shiftiness to compensate for his lack of size. Additionally, as Wilson noted, Schroeder possesses exceptional strength, which was put on display at the recent NHL Draft Combine. Schroeder was the runner-up in overall strength testing out of the 104 prospects present. There are other opinions out there as to why Schroeder slid on draft day, including those noted by prominent hockey writer and author Gare Joyce.
In his Sportsnet blog, Joyce wrote that scouts he talked to suggested that Schroeder may have “talked [himself] into disrepute” during his combine interviews. Joyce provided further explanation on the Hockey’s Future Message Boards: “Asked what his weaknesses were, he said he didn’t have any. Said he couldn’t really think of anything he needed to work on. Straight-faced. Asked who was going to be on his line at [the University of Minnesota] next season, he said that he had already told the coach who he’d play with. He was critical of team-mates and coaches and blamed the U.S.’s failure to win at the under-20s on everyone else except himself.”
When notified of these opinions, and asked of his own opinion on Schroeder’s character and personality, here’s what Minnesota Gophers head coach Don Lucia had to say: “I am shocked to hear these rumors about Jordan. He is a great young man who always put his team first. He played with Ryan Stoa last year and they had great chemistry and at the end of the year meeting I asked Jordan who he would like to play with next year. I ask a lot of our returning players this question to see who they think they might want as line-mates. Jordan answered my question and was open to many options next year. Jordan does not have an ego and is a joy to coach. I think he will be a leader on our team next year. He works hard and is driven to be an elite player. Vancouver drafted a winner in him.”
With their second round pick (53rd overall), the Canucks selected Anton Rodin, who is the team’s highest ranked European pick since the team drafted Daniel and Henrik Sedin at second and third overall in 1999. Rodin, the native of Stockholm Sweden, tied for second in scoring in Sweden’s top junior circuit with 55 points in 37 games. Rodin also suited up in six games for Oskarshamn in the second division of the men’s elite league (akin to the AHL in comparison to the NHL), and is expected to play for Brynas in the men’s elite league full-time next season.
Tommy Enroth, who has spent parts of the last three seasons playing in the second division of the men’s elite league, is a supporter of his Swedish counterpart.
“He is a player I really like, and I think the Canucks made a pretty good selection in him,” said Enroth, brother of Buffalo Sabres goaltender prospect Jhonas Enroth. “He was the best player in the Swedish junior league this past season. He is an amazing offensive player with very good skating ability and a really fast top speed. A very flashy player with good hockey sense and playmaking abilities, to go along with a good wrist shot.”
Although Rodin’s strong suit is undoubtedly his offensive play, Enroth believes he has a bright future ahead for different reasons.
“What makes him a really good pick in my opinion is that if he doesn’t become this big time scorer in the future, as he is now, I think he can be a really good third or fourth liner with checking ability, because of his incredible skating and aggressiveness. He’s not the biggest player out there but he always plays aggressive and intense also.”
Rodin has also excelled in international play, as he was twice named MVP at the recent Five Nations Tournament, and he is expected to compete for a roster spot at next year’s World Junior Championships.
The Canucks used their third round pick (83rd overall) to select defenceman Kevin Connauton of the Western Michigan Broncos. As a freshman last season with the Broncos, Connauton put up 11 points in 35 games. Initially, this selection may appear to be somewhat off the board, as Connauton was ranked 202nd overall among North American skaters by Central Scouting; however, with further investigation, Connauton appears to have high end potential and he fits the Canucks organizational need of a puck-moving defenceman.
“Kevin is a very gifted offensive defenceman. He is excellent on the power play. He has good vision, very good skill, and a very good one-timer. He really developed his defensive game over the course of the season,” said Western Michigan assistant coach Marc Fakler when asked what Connauton brings to the table. “Kevin is a fantastic young man who is very coachable and well-liked by his teammates, both on and off the ice. He has a bright future.”
Fakler also noted that there were a number of teams interested in Connauton, but he expected the native of Edmonton, Alberta to be selected sometime after the third round.
It should be noted that Connauton’s rights belong to the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. When asked about the possibility of Connauton making the move to Vancouver, Giants Director of Player Personnel Jason Ripplinger had this to say: “We talked to Kevin and his father about coming out before the NHL draft and they wanted to see what team would take him. At that time they were very interested. It will now be up to the Canucks, Kevin, his agent and his father to decide what would be the best route for him to take.”
Now that Connauton is property of the Canucks, the possibility of him moving to the Giants increases significantly. Mike Gillis has been preaching a more hands-on approach when it comes to the development of his prospects, and to have Connauton move to Vancouver and the CHL (where there are far less limitations on NHL involvement compared to the NCAA) would certainly facilitate that. Additionally, Giants defenceman Jonathon Blum will be turning pro next season, which leaves a hole on the back end, and Connauton’s hometown is Edmonton, so moving to Vancouver would bring him closer to home. Not to mention that Don Hay and the Vancouver Giants are building a very strong reputation of successfully preparing their players for professional hockey.
The Canucks added another offensive defenceman with their fourth round pick (113th overall). Jeremy Price put up 41 points in 55 games last season with the Nepean Raiders of the Central Junior A Hockey League. Price will soon be playing for the Raiders of a different kind, however, as the native of Milton, Ontario has committed to join the Colgate University Raiders next season. Garry Galley, Nepean Raiders head coach who played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League, has great things to say about Vancouver’s fourth round selection.
“I am not surprised that Jeremy went in the fourth; there were a number of teams tracking Jeremy who I believe has a bright future as a pro,” said Galley, who played in two NHL all-star games during his career. “He was a pleasure to coach and was very well liked by not just people within our organization but league wide. Jeremy has the ability to take instruction and adapt it to his game quickly, which creates a very quick learning curve. He is heady with a very good shot, a powerful skater able to separate from people chasing him. Going to Colgate will only make him better. I am happy to see Mike Gillis and Mark Jooris who watched him a lot step up and take him; they will not be disappointed.”
The Canucks went back to Sweden, and chose their third consecutive defenceman with their fifth round pick (143rd overall). Peter Andersson played 36 games with Frolunda in the J20 SuperElit league last season, recording three goals and five assists. Andersson also represented Sweden at the 2009 World U18 Championships.
Two of Andersson’s teammates with the Frolunda junior squad who were also drafted, forward Carl Klingberg and goaltender Robin Lehner, describe Vancouver’s fifth rounder as a big, strong, two-way defenceman.
“He is a great defenceman with lot of strength,” said Klingberg, the Atlanta Thrashers draft pick. “He is very powerful and dominates the blueline in offensive zone. He is hard guy to meet in the corners. He always wants to win.”
“He is a big defenceman that can read the play well and can hit good,” added Lehner, the Ottawa Senators draft pick. “He also has a great shot that I want him to use more. I don’t know what his weaknesses are but he should shoot and hit more.”
By all accounts, Andersson is also very mobile for his size (6’3”, 194 Ibs) and moves the puck well. Both Klingberg and Lehner agree that Andersson is a very good friend and teammate, although he isn’t the biggest talker.
Andersson was a top pairing defenceman for the Frolunda junior squad this past season, and he is expected to once again be a key cog in their success this fall.
The Canucks opted for a goaltender with their sixth round selection (173rd overall). After having success with goaltender Cory Schneider, who played with Boston College for three seasons, the Canucks returned to the Hockey East to select Joe Cannata from Merrimack College. Cannata, who hails from Wakefield, Massachusetts, posted very solid numbers even though his team tied for last in the conference. In 23 games played, Cannata recorded a 2.35 goals against average, to go along with a .918 save percentage and two shutouts. Although Cannata wasn’t as highly touted as Schneider, the Canucks knew exactly what they were getting when they called the former’s name.
“Vancouver was in our rink quite a bit. A representative spoke with our goaltending coach, and we furnished them with footage of every shot Joe faced this year,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy.
What the Canucks saw is likely similar to what Dennehy did in his starting goaltender.
“Joe was a significant recruit for our program as our first ever USNTDP player. But even more so because the right goaltender can change a program. Joe had a real good first year for us. He meant more to our team than any of the other first year goaltenders in Hockey East. We thought he was special, and he didn’t disappoint.”
When asked if Cannata has the potential to develop into a number one guy at the next level, Dennehy compared Vancouver’s sixth rounder to a goaltender who is on the verge of landing his first starting gig in the NHL.
“I was part of a staff at the [University of Massachusetts] which recruited Jon Quick (LA Kings). They are different types of goaltenders, but I believe they have the same potential.”
Not bad for a sixth rounder.
Although the Canucks didn’t have a seventh round pick coming into the day, they quickly made a move to pick one up with a certain player on their radar. The Canucks moved farmhand defenceman Shaun Heshka to the Phoenix Coyotes for their seventh rounder (187th overall) in order to select Steven Anthony of the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL). Last season with the Sea Dogs, Anthony recorded 48 points in 67 games, 30 of which came in his last 29 games. Anthony has struggled with consistency the past two seasons in Saint John, but according to Sea Dogs Director of Player Personnel Norm Gosselin, he’s a player that was faced with lofty expectations from a young age.
“At 14 years old, he was rated one of the best project players for the future. He had great skills at 14. At that time, he was playing at a prep school in the states and we were really impressed,” said Gosselin over the phone. “Everybody believed that this kid would be a really good hockey player in the future. And it’s not that he’s not good now, he’s got big potential to be a very good hockey player.”
Apparently the Canucks feel the same way. Anthony already has the tools, now he just needs to put everything together.
“He’s a skilled player,” said Gosselin. “A great skater, easy for him to change direction, good vision of the game and good hockey sense. He has to bring his talent to the next level now.”
And perhaps it will be easier for Anthony to do just that next season under a new coaching staff in Saint John. Anthony admittedly found it difficult to play under previous Sea Dogs head coach Jacques Beaulieu, but now he will have the opportunity to play under Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly, who both come in with an abundance of NHL experience.
Gosselin, who expects Anthony to be a top-six forward next season, says he believes the Sea Dogs new coaching staff will be able to aid the Halifax, Nova Scotia native in his development. Although Anthony was selected later than initially expected, it appears as though the Canucks may have discovered a gem with their final pick in the 2009 draft.
“Some teams that saw him at 14 and 16 thought that he would be a first rounder in the NHL,” said Gosselin. “For whatever reasons, NHL teams didn’t believe he’s that type of player for the moment but it’s a plus for the Canucks to select him in the seventh round. It’s a great pick.”
Enjoy the free-agent frenzy!