It was no surprise that when center Cody Hodgson was still on the board at No. 10 at the 2008 Entry Draft, the Canucks quickly plucked the 18-year-old - who is already drawing comparisons to Vancouver's former captain. Hodgson had 40 goals and 45 assists for the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League in 2007-08.
"Character, integrity ... he's been a winner all the way up," Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis said of Hodgson. "He has a lot of great features, we're really pleased."
Hodgson is one of several players within Vancouver's organization that the franchise is high on.
Here is a look at the Canucks' top prospects heading into the 2008-09 season. CENTRES Cody Hodgson
- The Haliburton, Ontario, native not only put up stellar numbers with Brampton, but he was also named captain of the Canadian team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Under-18 IIHF World Championships, where he had two goals and 10 assists in 12 contests. Hodgson also won a gold medal with Team Ontario at the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
It's not just Hodgson's skill that won the Canucks over. It's his ability to lead that has several people within the organization under the impression that Hodgson can one day be another Linden.
"I think that is a good comparison," said Stan Smyl, Vancouver's director of collegiate scouting. "When you get compared to another player of Trevor's ability at a young age, it goes a long ways. I think it will make him a better player. He takes everything in."
It appears as if Hodgson will return to Brampton for another season before the Canucks even tinker with the idea of bringing him to Vancouver. But given the fact that Hodgson is mature beyond his years, it probably won't be long before Hodgson makes his mark at General Motors Place.
"Character and leadership is I think what you can say about this individual," Smyl said. "I think in this day and age, that carries a player a long ways, along with skill and ability. There's no rush. It's not a race to get there. For him, it'd probably be best for him to play at the junior level." Patrick White
- Selected in the first round (No. 25) in 2007, the 19-year-old had six goals and four assists in 45 games for the University of Minnesota in his freshman season. A Minnesota native, White is hoping for bigger things in his sophomore campaign.
"I didn't meet my goals for the season. I was looking to get in upwards of 20 points, probably," White said. "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."
Smyl believes White will experience much more success with the Golden Gophers this time around.
"He's through his learning process," Smyl said. "He was a raw rookie going into college hockey last year. I think he just got stronger as the season went along. He was played in a lot of different positions, from center to wing. There was a lot of things thrown at him, but he handled every situation. I think he made himself better as the season went along." WINGS
- A native of Austria, Grabner enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in his first year of professional hockey with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. In 74 games, the 6-foot-1, 177-pound right wing had 22 goals and 22 assists. He also added three goals in six playoff games.
"Michael has taken some strides," Smyl said of Grabner, who was the No. 14 selection in 2006. "I'm sure he'd like to get there quicker, but he's definitely a pure goal scorer. It's all about getting the opportunity when he gets the opportunity. He gets those opportunities by his speed." Jason Jaffray
- He's older (27), but one would be foolish to question the heart and determination of Jaffray, who spent parts of three seasons in the ECHL before landing a full-time job in the AHL. Jaffray fulfilled a lifelong dream in 2007-08 when he received his first call-up to the NHL, as he tallied two goals and four assists in 19 games for the Canucks. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound left wing has tremendous hands - he scored 35 goals for Manitoba in 2006-07 - and could get more of a look with Vancouver next season.
"What he does really well is he plays at a consistent level," Smyl said. "That's what you like to see out of players. You know what you're going to get out of him night after night. I know he's a little older, but he still wants that opportunity and he's showed when he has that, he's really proven himself. I think that's a real key for him."
So is the year Jaffray becomes a full-time NHL player?
"I think it's in his hands, like all these players," Smyl said. "He has to improve on a few things to make himself better. If he does, then he's going to have a better chance. He's got to come into camp with the attitude that he's going to take someone's job." Jannik Hansen
- Perhaps the sleeper of Vancouver's system, Hansen earned a brief promotion to the NHL in 2007-08 after going 21-22-43 in 50 games for Manitoba. Not bad numbers for someone who was taken in the ninth round (No. 287) of the 2004 Entry Draft.
"Jannik just keeps making strides," Smyl said. "He was one of our better players from Christmas on down in Manitoba. He's had a little taste of the NHL and knows how to handle pressure situations. He's just got to take that step. He's going into his third year pro, and he has to go into camp and prove himself every night. There's no easy nights for him. He has the ability and the strength to do that. It's a push to take that next step, and he's going to be pushed. I know the coaching staff's going to be pushing him." Juraj Simek
- Vancouver's sixth-round selection (No. 167) in 2006 is coming off his first taste of pro hockey - he scored seven goals and 10 assists in 66 games for Manitoba in 2007-08. He also scored in the lone playoff game that he appeared in.
It was a step in the right direction for Simek, who averaged nearly a point per game for the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings in 2006-07, when he had 28 goals and 29 assists in 58 games. Clearly though, the 6-foot-1, 189-pound wing still has some work to do.
"It's a learning process for him," Smyl said. "I think things have happened very quickly for him, and he has to play an all-around game. He has some skill, but his all-around game has to come into play. He's coming along. He looks really well with his conditioning." Mike Brown
- The power forward made his mark in Manitoba last season, when he scored 10 goals and racked up 201 penalty minutes in 54 games. He also scored twice in six playoff contests. Smyl is excited about the potential of the Canucks' fifth-round pick (No. 159) in 2004, who appeared in 19 games for Vancouver last season.
"He's a hard-nosed kid who comes to play," Smyl said. "I really, really like the way he plays. He has to play that style. He came up last year for us and did that. He's a banger, crash ‘em type of player that can kill player. He's another guy that's going to get an opportunity, and he knows what he has to do to play at the next level." DEFENSEMEN Yann Sauve
- The Canucks' second-round selection (No. 41) in 2008, Sauve brings plenty of size (6-foot-3, 209 pounds) to a blue line that needs to provide more help for Roberto Luongo
. While Sauve showed some offensive upside with the Saint John Sea Dogs (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) last season - he had 21 points in 69 games - it is his relentless pursuit of the puck in his own end that has the Canucks excited.
"He comes to play every night," Smyl said. "He makes easy plays - all those sort of things you like in a solid defenseman. I think the biggest thing is the way he competes. He makes it miserable on whoever he's playing against." Taylor Ellington
- The six-foot, 200-pound Ellington just completed his fourth season with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, where he had three goals, 11 assists and 66 penalty minutes in 48 games.
Smyl is confident the Canucks' second-round choice (No. 33) in 2007 will continue to make strides.
"I think the biggest thing for him is to play a nice, solid, controlled game," Smyl said. "He has a tendency to put himself out of position by just being over aggressive. That's just a matter of time and learning as he goes along. He's very solid and he's going to be able to shut down any of the top lines." Nathan McIver
- The 23-year-old from Prince Edward Island got a taste of the NHL last season, when he appeared in 17 games for the Canucks and recorded 52 penalty minutes. Vancouver's eighth-round selection (No. 254) in 2003 also had three goals, three assists and 108 penalty minutes in 43 games for Manitoba.
McIver's grit and ability to make life difficult on opponents just may land him a full-time role with Vancouver in 2008-09.
"He's come a long ways," Smyl said. "He's a guy that competes every night. You know what you're going to get from him. He's a hard-nosed, miserable guy to play against. He knows how to throw the better players off their game."
"He's gotten more ice time and he really improved as the season went along. He's very solid and strong. The skating is the tool he has to keep working on, and he's improved in that area a lot from the start of the year." - Stan Smyl talking about Daniel Rahimi Daniel Rahimi
- Vancouver's third-round selection (No. 82) in 2006 made some progress in 2007-08, his first season as a pro, as he was promoted from ECHL Victoria to AHL Manitoba. In 41 games for the Moose, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Swede had five points and 37 penalty minutes.
"He came over from Sweden to get to know the North American game," Smyl said. "He's gotten more ice time and he really improved as the season went along. He's very solid and strong. The skating is the tool he has to keep working on, and he's improved in that area a lot from the start of the year."
- After being acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers last summer, Sharrow made an impact in his first season with the Canucks' organization. Injuries limited him to just 44 games with Manitoba, but the 6-foot-2 blueliner still managed to score five goals and add 17 assists. He'll likely skate with the Moose again in 2008-09, where he'll be a weapon on special teams.
"He can shoot the puck ... a power-play type of guy," Smyl said. Shaun Heshka
- Undrafted out of Everett (WHL), the 23-year-old had another solid season with Manitoba in 2007-08, as he scored nine goals and added 21 assists for 30 points to go along with 59 penalty minutes in 77 games. In his last season of junior hockey, Heshka had 59 points (10 goals, 49 assists) in 66 contests.
"He's a rushing-moving defenseman," Smyl said. "He has a good shot. He can play the power play and he's improved for us." GOALTENDERS Cory Schneider
- The Canucks' first-round choice (No. 26) in 2004 made the jump from college to pro hockey last season and did not disappoint. After three solid campaigns with Boston College, the Massachusetts native went 21-12-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average for Manitoba.
With Curtis Sanford re-signed by the Canucks this summer, Schneider will likely get another season in the AHL to hone his skills.
"At every level you play at, it gets harder," Smyl said. "The adjustment coming from college to pro is a big adjustment. I think you saw it in his play earlier in the season, but he really adjusted to it. He picks up on a lot of things. He really improved. Right around Christmas, he really earned his position to be the No. 1 (in Manitoba) going into playoffs. He was very solid for us."
Obviously, the biggest hurdle to overcome for any goalie who is drafted by the Canucks is dealing with the fact that Vancouver already has a world-class netminder in Luongo. But, as Smyl pointed out, Schneider has to worry about just being Schneider.
"That's what they have to deal with," Smyl said. "Where do you fit as a goaltender within our organization? That's a big mental part of it. But you've got to go out and prove yourself night after night. You can't look at what's ahead of you. You can learn from the guy ahead of you, but you've got to be own self as a goaltender." Julien Ellis
- Taken in the same draft as Schneider, Ellis enjoyed another solid season with Victoria and made the All-Star team. In 42 games for the Salmon Kings, the 22-year-old went 24-11-5 with a 3.18 GAA and a .908 save percentage. With 45 ECHL victories over the past two seasons, Ellis, a seventh-round pick (No. 189) certainly has a chance to be Schneider's backup in Manitoba in 2008-09.
"He's all about reflex," Smyl said. "He's a quick goaltender. I think when you're a goaltender and you have the reflexes, you have to be in tip-top shape."