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Prospects musings - January 2015

by Tyson Giuriato / Vancouver Canucks
A pair of red-hot Vancouver Canucks prospects in the OHL could face each other in a showdown for the league title, Jake Virtanen showed why the Canucks took him with the sixth overall pick in June, plus updates on Jacob Markstom, Dane Fox and Thatcher Demko.

Collision course in OHL…

It could be an all-Canucks prospect showdown in the OHL this season as Cole Cassels and his Oshawa Generals lead the way in the Eastern Conference standings, while Jared McCann and the Soo Greyhounds are at the top of the Western Conference. Both guys have been playing lights out this season and have benefited from each team picking up some key players before the OHL Trade Deadline.

Cassels currently has 56 points (18-38-56) through 36 games, scoring at a 1.56 points-per-game rate. He sits tied for 13th in OHL scoring and is currently on an eight-game point streak. The third round pick in 2013 has been playing on the top line for the Generals, centering Bradley Latour and Hunter Smith.

Meanwhile, McCann is scoring at a 1.32 points-per-game rate, as he has registered 50 points (20-30-50) in 38 games so far this season. The 2014 first-rounder started last game on the Greyhounds’ top line between Nick Ritchie and Blake Speers. McCann battled a viral infection in November, causing him to miss some time, and it was clear he wasn’t at 100-percent for a few games once he returned. Take away that month, he would be at 1.50 points-per-game.

Highlight reel Virtanen…

Through seven games in January, Jake Virtanen has collected eight points (4-4-8) and is plus-5, bringing his totals up to 13 goals and 18 assists in 27 games this season. The Abbotsford, BC product currently is scoring at a 1.15 points-per-game pace, which is third on the Calgary Hitmen, behind Connor Rankin and Adam Tambellini, who are both in their overage season. Virtanen caught the attention of many on January 23, scoring a highlight reel goal which saw him go end-to-end, dangle around a Swift Current defender at the blue-line and utilize a beauty toe-drag before roofing the puck into the back of the net.

How about the call from Hitmen play-by-play voice, Brad Curle: “Ohhh myyyyy! Jake Virtanen showing why the Vancouver Canucks took him in the first round. He undressed everybody including the usher in section 104.”

MVP Markstrom…

The Utica Comets currently lead the AHL’s East Division with a record of 24-11-5-1. They are also one of the league’s top defensive teams, allowing only 96 goals in 41 games. Credit to Travis Green and his coaching staff who have employed a system and gotten their players to buy in. But a lot of credit should go to the man between the pipes, Jacob Markstrom. In 18 starts this season, Markstrom is 12-4-2, ranks second in the league with a 1.92 GAA, is tied for first with a .934 SV%, is second in shutouts with four, and has allowed two goals or less in 13-of-his-18 starts. He was just named co-MVP of the AHL All-Star Game, stopping 16-of-18 shots in one period of work. The score that game? 14-12.

Getting foxy…

Down in the ECHL, it has been an interesting season for Canucks prospect Dane Fox. With a lot of hype coming off his 64-goal overage season in the OHL, it may have surprised many when we learned the Thamesville, Ontario product would be starting the season with Kalamazoo, rather than in the AHL with Utica. I myself thought Fox would rip it up with the Wings, get called up to Utica and the rest would be history, especially after he netted three goals and seven points in his first five games. The next 20 games? Two goals, one assist. Huh? But that was 2014, and this is 2015. Fox appears to be back on track. In nine games so far this month, the 21-year-old has six goals and 11 points, along with 33 shots on goal. His best game came a few weeks back when Kalamazoo topped Cincinnati 5-2. Fox had two goals, one assist and recorded eight of the Wings’ 30 shots.

Demko on top of his game…

Jacob Markstrom isn’t the only Canucks goaltending prospect that is playing lights out this season. Look no further than 2014 second-round pick Thatcher Demko of Boston College. The 19-year-old is 12-7-2 with a 2.08 GAA and a .928 SV%. In his last 10 starts, Demko is 6-2-2 with a 1.78 GAA and a .943 SV%.

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