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Virtanen, McCann among top five prospects

by Kevin Woodley / Vancouver Canucks

VANCOUVER -- It wasn't long ago it would have been difficult to come up with a list of five good Vancouver Canucks prospects.

That's no longer the case thanks in part to general manager Jim Benning, who was brought in last summer because of his scouting acumen.

Benning pointed to all the draft picks traded away before his arrival as the primary reason for the dearth of prospect talent. He did credit the previous regime for a strong 2013 NHL Draft that included Bo Horvat (No. 9), Hunter Shinkaruk (No. 24) and Cole Cassels (No. 85), and said his focus at the 2014 and 2015 drafts was adding skilled players.

"I think the future looks really good now," Benning said. "We're going to have good players come out of these last two draft classes."

Here is a look at the Canucks' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Jake Virtanen, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 6), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Calgary, WHL: 50 GP, 21-31-52

Virtanen was slowed last season by shoulder surgery in the summer but showed flashes of the speed, power and shot that made him such a high draft pick. Some wonder if the 19-year-old has the hockey smarts to get into position often enough to utilize that shot effectively in the NHL; if not, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound forward can be effective as a north-south player who isn't afraid to throw his big body around and dig for loose pucks around the crease.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

2. Jared McCann, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 24), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Sault Ste. Marie, OHL: 56 GP, 34-47-81

McCann, 19, left Hockey Canada's Summer Showcase in early August after taking a heavy hit to the head. Regardless of his health in the short term, the 19-year-old is a long shot to stick with the Canucks out of training camp, not that it will take the 6-foot, 179-pound center long to get another shot. Blessed with top-end skill and vision, McCann compared himself to former Canucks center Ryan Kesler after being drafted because he also likes to be an agitator.

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

3. Brock Boeser, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 23), 2015 NHL Draft

Last season: Waterloo, USHL: 57 GP, 35-33-68

Boeser, 18, tied for the USHL lead with 35 goals last season, made a strong impression at USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., and will play for the University of North Dakota this fall. Able to play a power forward role at 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, the Minnesota native is blessed with an abundance of skill and a quick-release, score-from-anywhere shot, giving the Canucks hope he can provide top-end scoring in the future despite some early questions about his skating.

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

4. Cole Cassels, C

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 85), 2013 NHL Draft

Last season: Oshawa, OHL: 54 GP, 30-51-81

Cassels, 20, will start his professional career with Utica of the American Hockey League this season after helping Oshawa to the 2015 Memorial Cup, including a shutdown role against Erie's Connor McDavid in the Ontario Hockey League championship series. Although 30 goals and 81 points in 54 games reflect the offensive gifts of his father, former Canucks center Andrew Cassels, the 6-foot, 178-pound center plays with more of an edge and is already responsible in his own end, so he could see the NHL soon and a lot of McDavid, who the Edmonton Oilers selected with the No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft, in coming years.

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

5. Thatcher Demko, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 36), 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Boston College, H-EAST: 35 GP, 19-13-3, 2.19 GAA, .925 save percentage

Even if Demko leaves Boston College after his junior season, as the Canucks would prefer because he has some technical fine-tuning to do, he is probably several years away from making an impact in the NHL. Despite that, it's tough to leave the 6-foot-4, 192-pound player off any list of Canucks prospects because of his upside, which may be even higher after offseason surgery on his hips. Demko said he already feels more flexible and mobile, and the hip injuries might explain some past inefficiencies and movement quirks.

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

Author: Kevin Woodley | NHL.com Correspondent

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