Future looks not so good for Canucks

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:24 PM ET

HAMILTON -- When it comes to rating the current crop of prospects, apparently the Vancouver Canucks don't measure up well. So says The Hockey News, which released its annual future watch last week.

Second-year centre Ryan Kesler was the lone Manitoba Moose player to crack the top 50 prospects aged 21 and under.

Kesler, who earned the No. 16 ranking, was flattered when the news was relayed to him.

"It's an honour to be on that list," said Kesler, 20, the Canucks first round pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft.

The news wasn't good when it came to organizational rankings as the Canucks were 20th among the 30 National Hockey League teams.

In those ratings, which didn't adhere to the age restriction, the Top-5 prospects were Kesler, goalie Alex Auld, sniper Jason King, Boston College goalie Cory Schneider and Russian blue-liner Kirill Koltsov, who left the Moose earlier this season to suit up for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Superleague.

"The longer you play, the more you realize that none of that stuff really matters," said Auld, who has appeared in 14 regular season and four playoff games with the Canucks during the past three seasons. "You could be a top-10 prospect forever and never play. You've got to actually take the step past being a prospect and be a player."

As for the low team ranking, Auld noted the absence of a first round pick in 2002 because of the Trevor Linden trade and the fact the Canucks didn't sign 2001 first rounder R.J. Umberger, who is currently playing for the Philadelphia Phantoms after signing with the Flyers.

"The past few years, the Canucks haven't ranked very high," said Auld, 24. "We've got a few guys here (with the Moose) that are older (than 21) and they seem to focus on the younger guys. In a lot of ways, I don't think this team has gotten the respect it deserves all year. The Hockey News haven't done many things on us, which is kind of strange considering we're among the top Canadian teams.

"As far as the prospect-thing goes, (the low ranking) isn't surprising because so many teams have higher profile guys and we're lacking that."

Moose defenceman Tomas Mojzis (sixth) and Kevin Bieksa (eighth) were among the top-10 Canucks prospects.

Mojzis, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Brad Leeb in September of 2002, has shown dramatic improvement during his second pro season.

Bieksa, the 151st overall selection in 2001 (by Vancouver), has been outstanding during his rookie season -- providing ample grit to go along with some unexpected offensive production.

"It all comes with playing more and added exposure," said Bieksa, 23, who spent four seasons at Bowling Green University before playing four games with the Moose at the end of last season. "In college, not a lot of people got to see me play."

The Top-5 prospects in the future watch were Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals), Red Deer Rebels defenceman Dion Phaneuf (Calgary Flames), Chicago Wolves goalie Kari Lehtonen (Atlanta Thrashers), Russian forward Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Soo Greyhounds centre Jeff Carter (Philadelphia Flyers).

Winnipegger Cam Barker (Chicago Blackhawks) was the lone Manitoban to crack the Top-50.

Barker, a defenceman who plays for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, was ranked No. 11.


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