While the Vancouver Canucks continue to retool their system -- a process that continued at the 2008 Entry Draft with the selection of center Cody Hodgson with the No. 10 overall pick -- some of their top prospects have already begun taking the necessary steps toward reaching the NHL.
Two of their former first-round picks -- goaltender Cory Schneider and center Pat White -- took part in the team's rookie camp last week, where they hoped to make an impression on the same people who took a gamble on them only a short time ago.
"It was obviously a big adjustment for me...It took me a little while to get used to it, but once I did, I settled down. I think you can improve in every area. I'm just looking to do that next year."
-- Cory Schneider
Schneider, 22, is coming off his first season of professional hockey. In 36 games with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, the No. 26 overall selection in 2004 went 21-12-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. He split the goaltending duties with Drew MacIntyre, a former Detroit Red Wings prospect who found his way into two NHL games with the Canucks in 2007-08.
Overall, Schneider was pleased with how things went in Manitoba as he hopes to continue to make strides toward Vancouver.
"It was obviously a big adjustment for me," Schneider told NHL.com. "It took me a little while to get used to it, but once I did, I settled down. I think you can improve in every area. I'm just looking to do that next year."
Schneider arrived on the pro scene after playing three seasons at Boston College. In 2006-07, his final season at BC, the Marblehead, Mass., native went 29-12-1 with a 2.15 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
Ultimately, Schneider believes going the college route was the right path for him.
"I think it really did help me mature as a person," Schneider said. "It would have been tough to come in as an 18-year-old and expect to know everything. I was able to learn a lot and grow as a person. From a hockey standpoint, I played with some great players there and made some good friendships. I played some great games in front of some big crowds and that's going to help me down the road."
White feels the same way, although the No. 25 overall selection in the 2007 Draft struggled in his freshman season with the University of Minnesota. In 45 games for the Golden Gophers, White had just six goals and four assists. He's hoping for much bigger things in 2008-09.
In the meantime, White said he'll be spending the majority of the summer in the gym, working to get stronger and build upon his 6-foot, 186-pound frame.
"I didn't meet my goals for the season," White said. "I was looking to get in upwards of 20 points, probably. At the end of the year, I was feeling a lot better. I'm just continuing to work out in the weight room and hopefully my experience and my strength will carry over from this past year into next year."
Just how long White will stay at Minnesota remains to be seen. One of his former teammates -- New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo -- left the team in the middle of last season to sign an NHL contract. White plans to stay at the college level until he feels he's ready to tackle the pro game.
"It's kind of a year-to-year situation for me," White said. "Whether it's two years, three years … it's going to depend on my development. Hopefully, I just make sure I make the right choices. I'll move on when the time's right for me."
Both Schneider and White participated in Vancouver's rookie camp for the second time. In 2007, Schneider also had the chance to work with Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is regarded by many as one of the game's best. Schneider said he was able to make deposits in his memory bank just by watching Luongo work.
"It's great having a guy like him around," Schneider said of Luongo. "I met him in training camp last season, and he was very nice and very friendly. He was very willing to chat. (But) he's got his stuff to do. He's doing his job, so I'm not going to pester him all the time with questions and try to get his angle on everything. But when I did have a question or a comment, he was always there to help. You can learn from a guy like that by just watching him."
White could soon be a mentor for Hodgson, who may very well return to the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League for another season. White said he was excited about what Vancouver's depth chart may look like up the middle in just a few years time.
"I didn't meet my goals for the season, I was looking to get in upwards of 20 points, probably. At the end of the year, I was feeling a lot better. I'm just continuing to work out in the weight room and hopefully my experience and my strength will carry over from this past year into next year."
-- Pat White
"They're feeling like they're a little weak up the middle, so that's really good that they're getting good, young centers," White said. "Hopefully, we can move through this program one day and be impact players."
It certainly would take some pressure off being a first-round draft pick. Both Schneider and White said they sometimes feel what can be intense heat.
"You measure yourself against previous first-round draft picks and other players in your own draft," said White, who was taken one spot ahead of St. Louis Blues forward David Perron. "But you've just got to remember that each player is individually different. Some players are meant to move in maybe quicker than others. You've just got to keep worrying about your own game."
"I think you carry that weight with you until you actually make it," the netminder said. "Right now, just like everyone else, I'm just trying to earn my spot. I want to work hard and get the respect of my coaches and teammates. Nothing's given to you just because you are a first-rounder. I think it carries a little bit of pressure, but right now I'm just trying not to think about it."
While White said he doesn't have a timetable as to when he'd like to be in Vancouver, Schneider is hoping to make an impact in the near future. Considering the Canucks recently re-signed Curtis Sanford, it's likely Schneider will be asked to play another season in Manitoba.
"As soon as possible, but that's up to the scouts and the staff and how they think I'm progressing and developing," Schneider said. "I know I'm going to have to earn it, but it's going to be through hard work and discipline and attention to detail. However long it's going to take, I'm just willing to put in the work. Hopefully I'll get here someday."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.