Friday, July 03, 2015
Posted by Daniel Wagner
The Canucks kick off their 2015 prospect development camp today in Shawnigan Lake, with 29 players scheduled to attend, including all of their selections from the 2015 draft. Over the next week, the prospects will go through various on-ice and off-ice training sessions designed to introduce or reinforce what it takes to play professional hockey in the Canucks system and send players away with a plan for the off-season.
Most of the players attending the camp are Canucks draft picks or free agent signings, with the rest of the camp roster filled out with undrafted and unsigned free agents. These invitees are a cheap way to add to a team's prospect pool as there is no cost in assets to invitee them or even to sign them afterwards. A team like the Canucks that has (in principle) money to spend shouldn't hesitate to cast a wide net by inviting a large number of free agents in hopes that a diamond emerges from the rough.
This year, however, the Canucks have invited just 10 undrafted and unsigned free agents to their development camp, a lower number than in previous years.
Technically speaking, there are actually 11 invitees. Curtis Valk is the 11th, since he's not actually in the Canucks system. Last season he was signed to an AHL contract with the Utica Comets, but spent the season in the ECHL, where he scored at just short of a point-per-game pace, racking up 30 points in 31 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
The Canucks themselves don't seem to see Valk as an invitee, however, as he's not marked as such on the released roster, essentially considering the Comets as an extension of the Canucks.
Last year, the Canucks had 16 invitees at their development camp, including Valk, so it's disappointing to see fewer this year. The 10 invitees this year may still see a standout that earns a contract, but the odds are slimmer with a smaller group.
The Canucks should be well aware of the benefits of invitees. Ronalds Kenins, who was such a pleasant surprise for the Canucks this past season, was an invitee to the Canucks' 2013 development camp, while defenceman prospect Evan McEneny, who will also attend this year's camp, was an invitee in 2012.
Kenins emerged from a group of 16 invitees, including 9 forwards. McEneny was one of a whopping 24 invitees in 2012, including 9 defencemen and 11 forwards. Jeremie Blain was one of those invitees as well, eventually signing with the Canucks after a year with the Chicago Wolves, the team's AHL-affiliate at the time.
The Canucks missed out on Josh Jooris among those 24 invitees in 2012, as he returned to the NCAA for another year before signing with the Calgary Flames. He scored 24 points in 60 games with the Flames last season.
Clearly, there is talent to be found among invitees. Though the vast majority are undrafted and unsigned for a reason, some players slip through the cracks of the NHL scouting system and need a closer look in a camp setting.
Perhaps there's something to be said for taking a more focussed approach with a smaller group of invitees. Perhaps Jim Benning and co. prefer to focus on the players already in the organization, though I suspect Benning will eagerly embrace an opportunity to do some more scouting.
It just seems odd to me that the Canucks wouldn't invite as many potential prospects as possible.