Sports Hockey

Playoffs or not, Canucks' future lies with young prospects

By Torben Rolfsen

Canucks captain Henrik Sedin celebrates a goal against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 5, 2016. The Canucks are hovering close to a playoff spot, but there's been thoughts of a rebuild this season. (Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network)

Canucks captain Henrik Sedin celebrates a goal against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 5, 2016. The Canucks are hovering close to a playoff spot, but there's been thoughts of a rebuild this season. (Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network)

The Vancouver Canucks woke up Monday morning one point out of a playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.

They continue to chug along, playing a disciplined system complimented by – at times – great goaltending, staying in games but rarely dominating for any significant stretches.

Forty-eight games in – with the league’s All-Star break looming this weekend – they are averaging 2.41 goals scored per game, while giving up 2.81.

The ongoing dance between making the playoffs and rebuilding with the benefit of high lottery picks has placed the Canucks in an uneasy spot whereby both camps may come away unsatisfied.

With a middle-of-the-pack squad and a pool of 2017 NHL Draft prospects that lacks the star power of the past couple years, there are no franchise-altering saviours on the horizon for this team.

They have stressed patience for developing their youngsters from within, and we’re about to see the results.

If this team is to make a big leap forward in the next few years, it will likely have to come from these top prospects already in the organization.

Brock Boeser has returned to the ice for the University of North Dakota after missing several weeks – and the World Junior Championship – with a wrist injury.

The 6’1”, 200-pound right winger, who turns 20 next month, won a national title last year with his once-and-future teammate Troy Stecher.

This season he is an assistant captain for the Fighting Hawks – the first UND sophomore to wear an “A” since Jonathan Toews a decade ago.

His great shot and natural scoring instincts, combined with improved skating, have him labelled as close to a “can’t miss” NHL prospect.

Olli Juolevi is back with his (and Bo Horvat’s former) junior London Knights team after Finland’s disastrous defence of its world junior crown.

The 6’2”, 180-pound 18-year-old defenceman was Finnish team captain in the tourney and, like his squad, slumped to just two points in six games after being named to the all-tournament team the year before.

The all-around, two-way, complete player still displays great confidence, and is expected in Vancouver possibly as early as this fall.

Thatcher Demko is in his first pro season with the AHL Utica Comets, and is improving after an early season period of adjustment from college.

The 6’4”, 195-pound 21-year-old goalie may quickly move up the canucks depth chart, depending on what happens with Ryan Miller and his expiring contract.

In addition to the big three above, a couple of recent third-rounders have emerged as legitimate NHL prospects.

Guillaume Brisebois is an intelligent, two-way defenceman (not unlike Juolevi). One of the last five players cut from Canada’s 2017 world junior roster, he is currently serving as captain of the QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders.

Will Lockwood is a freshman right winger at the University of Michigan whom people who are frequent viewers say is the best player on the team some nights.

And the Canucks near future has one last wildcard down on the farm to keep an eye on: remember Jake Virtanen?