Prospect development has been a major issue for the Vancouver Canucks.
Multiple prospects have seen their development plateau in the AHL. Every NHL team has their prospects that didn’t develop as hoped but the issue for the Canucks is that their AHL team hasn’t really developed any prospects for them apart from Thatcher Demko, who is in a different track as a goaltender.
The Canucks’ president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin come from a Pittsburgh Penguins team that excelled at developing prospects in the AHL, with success stories like Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Teddy Blueger, Conor Sheary, and Zach Aston-Reese.
Bringing that level of prospect development to the Canucks was a priority from day one for the new management group.
“I think that’s the key in today’s game,” said Allvin in his first media availability. “I think that’s something we want to emphasize on moving forward here in order to be successful…One year in Pittsburgh, I think we ended up with five or six players that started the season in Wilkes-Barre ended up with their names on the Stanley Cup.”
Accordingly, the Canucks have made some major changes to their Player Development department. Assistant GM Cammi Granato will oversee the department, with Ryan Johnson as the Senior Director of Player Development and Chris Higgins as the Assistant Director of Player Development, and, on Monday, the Canucks announced four new additions.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin are moving from their nebulous “special advisor” roles to more specific development roles and will work with the Canucks’ prospects and players both on and off the ice. According to the Canucks’ press release, this will be a daily role in both Abbotsford and Vancouver.
In addition, the Canucks announced the hiring of former Sedin linemate Mikael Samuelsson, as well as former NHL defenceman Mike Komisarek, both of whom will work in prospect development.
“We're pleased to have solidified our Player Development department for next season with the additions of Mikael Samuelsson and Mike Komisarek, as well as Daniel and Henrik Sedin," said Allvin in the release. "Cammi Granato and Ryan Johnson led an extensive search to find the individuals with the right attributes, winning pedigrees, and who fit the overall strategy of the Vancouver Canucks moving forward."
Getting the Sedins on the ice to work with the Canucks’ youth seems like a home run. They’re two of the most skilled and intelligent players in Canucks’ history and were also renowned for being the two most disciplined players on the team when it came to off-ice work habits and conditioning. The amount of wisdom they have between them that they can pass on to prospects should prove invaluable.
Samuelsson and Komisarek both bring more than just their combined 1250 games of NHL experience. They both have experience working in a prospect development role for other organizations.
After he was picked 7th overall in 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Komisarek played parts of 11 seasons in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Carolina Hurricanes. The physical, stay-at-home defenceman then went back to the University of Michigan to complete his degree in Sports Management and Communication, also serving as a student assistant coach for those two years.
"There was a couple people I promised I would eventually go back to school, my parents being one of them," said Komisarek at the time. "They always stressed the importance of school. As thrilled as they were when I signed my first NHL contract, they probably were as equally disappointed that I didn't finish school."
Komisarek then spent three years as a player development coach with the Buffalo Sabres before he fell victim to a major housecleaning that saw 22 members of the Sabres organization fired on one day in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samuelsson was a key member of the 2010-11 Canucks, finishing fourth in scoring in the regular season that year. His injury that knocked him out of the 2011 playoffs in the second round was one of the underrated factors that kept the Canucks from winning the Stanley Cup.
Canucks fans might also remember Samuelsson as a forthright communicator, who was never afraid to say what he meant. That ability to speak his mind likely served him well as GM of Södertälje SK in the Allsvenskan over the past three years and he also has experience as a prospect development coach with the Chicago Blackhawks for three years before that.
Komisarek and Samuelsson bring experience as development coaches, along with the insight of working within the development systems of two other NHL teams. Both will work with Canucks prospects throughout the system.
These additions and restructuring shows that the organization is serious about overhauling their prospect development. The department now has six staff — Johnson, Higgins, Daniel, Henrik, Samuelsson, and Komisarek — as well as Granato overseeing development and scouting as a whole. That’s significantly more resources dedicated to development than in the past and that doesn't even include Curtis Sanford, whose official role is goaltending development coach.
Including Granato and Sanford, the Canucks now have eight people working in their player development department, second only to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have nine, though those numbers are padded by a couple of skating consultants rather than full-time employees. On average, NHL teams tend to have three employees officially working in development.
It may take a few years for this dedication to development to bear fruit but Monday’s announcement is a good start.