So many prospects, so little time. Somehow Dave Gagner finds a way to watch them all.
Ask Dave Gagner how many kids he has and he’ll hesitate for a moment before answering.
Vancouver’s director of player development has three children of his own, including son Sam, a forward with the Edmonton Oilers, but his job entails watching over many more adolsecents than that.
Like a proud father, Gagner can recite stats of the top of his head of every prospect within the Canucks organization, especially the 17 who aren’t currently playing in Vancouver, Manitoba or Victoria.
Gagner isn’t required to know a lot of what he does, but it comes with the territory of helping develop players both mentally and physically. He knows them inside and out and maybe even a little better than some the guys know themselves.
He’s supportive with who needs support and aggressive with anyone in need of some aggression.
“It’s not always the most skilled guys that make the NHL, you have to try to get the guys to understand what they’re going to have to do in order to reach their goals,” said Gagner, a former NHLer who collected 719 points in 946 games during a superb 15-year career that included a stop in Vancouver.
“It’s not always telling them what to do either, but also asking them what they think, which is really important. If they don’t develop the plan somewhat themselves, then they aren’t going to buy into it.”
The majority of prospects under Gagner’s care are more than buying into the plan that has been established for their development and three players in particular have already flashed onto the radar this season.
It’s a long year and there will be peaks and valleys for every prospect, but so far Peter Andersson, Anton Rodin and Steven Anthony deserve some early accolades for how they’ve flown out of the gates.
Andersson was the third defenceman taken by the Canucks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and the second Swedish player picked. Nabbed in the fifth round, 143rd overall, Andersson was viewed by the Canucks as a big d-man who displayed a lot of poise with the puck.
At 6-foot-3 and 194-pounds, he was the largest player drafted by Vancouver and Gagner and company were genuinely excited to see what he had to offer at summer conditioning camp. A scheduling conflict had Andersson arrive at camp late so he missed out on a few rounds of testing, but what the Canucks saw from the 18-year-old, they liked. That has continued since he returned to Sweden.
“He sends me almost a weekly journal, it’s not too detailed but it’s something where he’s letting me know what’s going on,” said Gagner.
“He got called up from his junior team to a team that would be our equivalent of the Manitoba Moose. He has also played a game for the elite league team there this year, Vastra Frolunda HC Goteborg, and he’s only 18-years-old.
“Back on his minor league team he’s currently tied for the scoring lead and he’s a defenceman. To me, that’s a really positive surprise because we didn’t really know what to expect from him in terms of his role but he’s playing on the first power play unit and he’s one of the only players on the team that’s a plus as well. He’s been really a positive surprise early in the season right now.”
As one of only two 18-year-olds to earn a roster spot with Brynas IF, a Swedish pro team from Gävle, Anton Rodin began turning heads before the season even started this year.
The 5-foot-11, 174-pound forward was selected in the second round, 53rd overall, by the Canucks in 2009 and for good reason. Gagner said this devious Swede has one of the biggest offensive upsides of any Canucks prospects right now.
Rodin isn’t really getting a chance to display his talents with Brynas though, as a spot on the fourth-line has the youngster fighting for playing time.
“I don’t really see that as being something ideal for him, like if he could go play for the same team Peter is right now, they’re a team that needs some offensive help and he would get more of an opportunity to develop against men.
“We’d like to see him getting pushed a little bit more. Hopefully he’ll make the World Junior team for Sweden and that would be a good step for Anton.
“He’s got really good offensive instincts, he competes really hard and the physical parts of his game really lend to that because he can move laterally well so he’s very shifty.”
Gagner is hoping Rodin will be ready to play in Canada in the near future, “maybe as early as next year.”
It’s next to impossible to plan who to draft when the seventh round comes around, so many factors come into play that getting your heart set on anyone player in particular is foolish.
The Canucks weren’t sure who to select 187th overall last year, so they took a flyer on Steven Anthony and so far he’s looked more like the 18th overall pick.
The 18-year-old Halifax product is off to a fantastic start with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs; through 11 games the forward leads the team in goals and points with seven and 12.
“He lost 15 pounds between the end of the season and the draft and that just showed his dedication to us and we were able to get him in the seventh round. He’s turned out to be a really solid pick so far.
“For a guy who just got picked in the seventh round to be leading his team in scoring already, to me that’s a short-term success story. Again we’ve just got to keep the development going and make sure that we really support him.”
Anthony is in his third season with the Sea Dogs, he amassed 48 points in 67 games last season in a breakout campaign. His first year with Saint John he scored six goals and added eight assists in 55 games.
With 12 points thus far, Anthony is nine off the league lead of 21.