Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The NHL's Vancouver Canucks are beginning to alter their reputation.
Vancouver has been known as a team that over recent seasons hasn’t had many prospects from the Western Hockey League in its system.
The Canucks management has been heavily criticized for missing out on players like forwards Brendan Gallagher and Milan Lucic, both of whom played for the city's own WHL team, the Vancouver Giants.
Instead, Lucic and Gallagher were drafted by the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the NHL drafts of 2006 and 2011, respectively.
“Well, I think that the scouts spend a lot of time watching talents across the world,” Pat Quinn, who is a part-owner of the Giants, said. “You can make your list up, which all the teams do. But when your time comes up, maybe the player that you think is appropriate at the time is not the right player and doesn't play in the Western Hockey League. I don't think it has anything to do with saying 'well, he's a Western Hockey League player so we're not taking him.' I don't think that's the case at all.
“But (the Canucks) did bypass some guys that, and hindsight is wonderful of course, but (they) did bypass some Western boys who are having significant careers. But again, in their defence, perhaps they wanted them, but it wasn't the right time and the right place so it doesn't happen. There's no reason not to take a player from the Western Hockey League.”
However, since the 2013 NHL draft, names from the WHL have started to show up in Vancouver.
When the Canucks selected Medicine Hat Tigers forward Hunter Shinkaruk with the 24th overall pick in 2013, some fans perhaps thought he was the only player from the WHL that they drafted that year.
But let’s not forget about defenceman Anton Cederholm, whom the Canucks selected with the 145th pick, knowing he was going to playing in the WHL. He played with Rogle Angelholm of the Swedish Elitserien prior to Vancouver drafting him, then joined the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, who selected him in the CHL’s 2013 import draft.
“(The Canucks) were a little bit of an influence since Vancouver is close to Portland,” Cederholm said. “In the end, it was all up to me. Our purpose was to get me to Portland . . .”
Cederholm finished with 16 points and a plus-42 in his freshman season with Portland, helping the Winterhawks to a 54-13-5 record and first place in the Western Conference. All of that helped him earn an entry-level deal with Vancouver.
Shinkaruk signed a three-year entry-level contract on June 8, and the Canucks decided to wait until doing the same with Cederholm.
But if that wasn't enough to show the Canucks that he deserved an entry-level contract, their scouts didn't have to go far to see him in the playoffs.
A season after the Giants missed the playoffs after finishing with the poorest record in the league, Vancouver bounced back, at least a bit, to finish No. 8 in the Western Conference. That put the Giants up against Portland in the first round
For Cederholm, he wasn't just given an opportunity to impress the scouts in the city of the NHL team that drafted him, it also allowed the fans the opportunity to see him play.
“I don't really feel any pressure (knowing that Canucks scouts are in the building),” he confessed when he arrived in Vancouver to play Games 3 and 4 with the Winterhawks leading 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. “I know all the guys, especially Dave Babych. He's been to most of our games and I know him
personally so there's not a lot of pressure put on myself. It's a fun experience playing in front of Vancouver Giants fans. I mean, they love the Canucks as well, so hopefully they'll have a little love for me (too).”
It wasn't just fun for Cederholm to play in Vancouver, his teammates enjoyed themselves, too, as they swept the Giants.
The Winterhawks ended up going all the way to the WHL final for the fourth consecutive season, but lost in seven games to the Edmonton Oil Kings, who went on to represent the WHL at the Memorial Cup tournament in London, Ont.
Cederholm finished with five points, including three assists, and was a plus-4 during Portland’s playoff run.
The Canucks' scouts gave their reports on Cederholm, who will be back in Portland next season as a 19-year-old, and management was convinced.
On Tuesday, the Canucks announced that they have signed Cederholm to a three-year entry-level contract.
And just like that Vancouver has signed two prospects from the WHL.
Trevor Linden, now the Canucks' president of hockey operations, is familiar with, and a supporter of, the WHL. After all, he played three seasons with the Tigers and assisted them in winning two consecutive Memorial Cups.
So don't be surprised if Vancouver is more active when it comes to adding players from the WHL to its list of prospects.
Don’t forget, too, that the Canucks have the sixth selection in the 2014 NHL draft, and four WHLers are projected to go within the first 10 picks.
So the Canucks won't have to wait long if they want to look at adding another one.
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