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Evan Konyen highlights Canucks invitees at Young Stars Classic

Also among the Vancouver Canucks invitees: Justin Gill, Simon Pinard, and Cole Shepard.
Konyen_RL_OHL-8662
Vancouver Canucks invitee Evan Konyen had 50 points in 66 games for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL last season.

Of the 26 players on the Vancouver Canucks’ roster at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, just 10 are actually a part of the Canucks’ system.

Those 10 players were either drafted by the Canucks or are signed to NHL contracts with the Canucks. Another six players on the roster are signed to AHL contracts with the Abbotsford Canucks. That leaves 10 players who have no actual affiliation with the Canucks. 

These invitees are undrafted and unsigned by any NHL team, making them intriguing players as they could be signed and added to the Canucks’ prospect pool without costing the team any assets.

Here are the invitees, not including those signed to an AHL contract with Abbotsford, along with their ages, position, and the team they played with last season.

  • Justin Gill - 19 - Centre - Sherbrooke Phoenic, QMJHL
  • Evan Konyen - 18 - Right Wing - Sudbury Wolves, OHL 
  • Max Namestnikov - 18 - Centre - Sarnia Sting, OHL
  • Simon Pinard - 21 - Left Wing - Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL
  • Michael Regush - 24 - Centre - Miami University (Ohio), NCAA
  • Cole Shepard - 20 - Left Wing - Vancouver Giants, WHL
  • Matt Anderson - 23 - Left Defence - University of Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA
  • Dylan MacPherson - 24 - Right Defence - Wheeling Nailers, ECHL
  • Jackson van de Leest - 21 - Left Defence - Red Deer Rebels, WHL
  • Brett Brochu - 20 - Goaltender - London Knights, OHL

A few of these prospects were at the Canucks’ prospect development camp in July and were highlighted in my invitee profiles at the time. Max Namestnikov was profiled with the forwards, while Jackson van de Leest and Brett Brochu ​​​​​were profiled with the defencemen and goaltenders.

That leaves eight invitees to profile. Let’s take a closer look.

Justin Gill - Centre

6’1” - 187 lbs - Jan 27, 2003 (19)
St-Joseph-du-Lac, QC, Canada
Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL (68-20-26-46)

Justin Gill made the QMJHL at just 16 years old and was already playing a mature two-way game. He played 50 games for the Charlottesville Islanders that year, putting up 12 points — pretty respectable for a 16-year-old kid.

He has slowly progressed since then, putting up 21 points in 34 games between the Islanders and the Sherbrooke Phoenix in his first year of draft eligibility, and then 20 goals and 46 points in 68 games last season. 

Those numbers don’t jump off the page but Gill could still have value as a gritty, two-way forward with a detailed game and a willingness to crash the net.

“He is a smart player, but not necessarily a flashy one in terms of offense,” reads his draft year scouting report from Hockey Prospect. “He plays like a power-forward, demonstrating a good compete level.”

The question for Gill is whether he has the talent level to play the same type of physical, two-way game at a higher level of competition. The knock against him that might prevent him from reaching that level is his skating.

“The biggest aspect of his game that needs improvement is his skating; he has heavy feet, he lacks power in his stride, and he doesn’t generate much speed,” said Hockey Prospect. “This lack of speed mixed with his average skill level makes him a long-term project for a team who’s willing to take him.”

Evan Konyen - Right Wing

5’10” - 170 lbs - Feb 22, 2004 (18)
Newmarket, ON, Canada
Sudbury Wolves, OHL (66-16-34-50)

When an undrafted 18-year-old shows up at a prospect camp, it’s worth taking a closer look. Evan Konyen is just coming off his first year of draft eligibility but slipped through the draft without being picked. There’s always a chance that a player like that is worth a contract, treating them like a free seventh-round pick.

Konyen had a solid season, putting up 50 points in 66 games. He was ranked 85th among North American skaters by Central Scouting and landed at 108th in the ranking by Draft Prospects Hockey, suggesting they felt he should be a fourth-round pick.

“An exciting and creative playmaking forward,” reads his scouting report from Draft Prospects. “Showcases some silky hands with an ability to pull off some creative moves. Has the patience and confidence to slow down and make an accurate dish.”

Konyen is an excellent puckhandler and he’s pretty quick on his feet too. He’s more of a playmaker than a goalscorer but he’s got a lethal shot when he finds space to use it. He’s also willing to go to the net to finish off plays or use his handling skill to tuck a puck around a goaltender when 1-on-1.

“The defining characteristic of Evan Konyen’s game is his handling skill,” reads his scouting report from Elite Prospects. “This aspect of his game grades highly not only because of his control of the puck when it’s in his possession but because of his ability to blend first touches and pass receptions into his next move.”

There’s a lot to like about Konyen but it’s always worth asking why a player with his high level of skill didn’t get drafted. 

Elite Prospects makes the point that Konyen is overly dependent on his puckhandling and lacks offensive awareness. Players with excellent puckhandling can sometimes handle themselves right into danger when a quick give-and-go play would more effectively get them into open space.

“The large inconsistencies in his play made Konyen appear more like a junior scorer than an NHL projectable one,” said Elite Prospects.

Still, a player with Konyen’s skill is always worth keeping an eye on. Multiple scouting reports all agree that Konyen has the potential to turn into a third-line winger in the NHL with offensive upside if he develops his game.

Simon Pinard - Left Wing

5’11” - 179 lbs - May 26, 2001 (21)
Drummondville, QC, Canada
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada/Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL (67-44-47-91)

Simon Pinard is on his way to play Canadian university hockey with the University of New Brunswick, which is not typically a route to the NHL. Considering he’s coming off an over-age junior year where he scored 44 goals and 91 points in 67 games, it seems surprising that he’s not playing professional hockey somewhere.

Pinard has always been a strong skater with a great motor, which served him well in junior hockey, as he’s able to create a lot of open space for himself. 

“He creates a lot of offense due to his great speed and hard work down low winning puck battles,” reads a scouting report from Hockey Prospect. “He’s not a huge kid, but he plays hard, has pretty good speed, and plays a physical game. He can be a bit of an agitator at times due to his good compete level, but does a good job staying out of the penalty box.”

A hardworking forward who put up 91 points? That seems like a prospect worth a longer look. 

All the scouting reports agree, however, that Pinard doesn’t have the offensive upside to put up points in the NHL. If he has NHL upside, it’s as an energy forward who can play on the penalty kill.

Michael Regush - Centre

6’1” - 201 lbs - Sep 12, 1998 (24)
Surrey, BC, Canada
Miami University (Ohio), NCAA (24-3-6-9)

Michael Regush is definitely on the older end of the prospects at the Young Stars kid — he was born in the 90’s, after all — and appears to have limited upside given his few points in the NCAA last season. 

That’s somewhat surprising when you see he’s got the skill to score a goal like the one below, which is amazing even if it was filmed on a potato.

Seriously, what a goal.

Regush is a local kid from Surrey and he’s got some size and two-way acumen but it’s hard to imagine him earning an NHL contract with his lackluster numbers. 

But maybe his numbers at Miami aren’t an accurate reflection of his ability. Before joining Miami, Regush had 23 goals in 65 games with Cornell University. It’s kind of shocking to see him only score 3 goals after putting the puck in the net more consistently in previous years.

Perhaps a lost year of hockey due to the COVID-19 pandemic derailed things and he could still get back on track. According to his coach at Miami, Barry Schutte, Regush has a high hockey IQ, excellent leadership, and could become a coach in the future.  

“He’s like a Mack truck. He’s a big, strong kid who is really, really smart, and he’s relentless,” said Schutte. “He’s the definition of what we want to be. We want to be relentless on our effort and on pucks. We want to increase our competition level. He’s that kid that if you take your foot off the gas for that half second and you think you beat him in that battle or the foot race or that stick battle, think again because he’s not quitting, he’s going to fight you for it until the death.”

Regush is on his way to the ECHL to play for the Florida Everblades next season. 

Cole Shepard - Left Wing

5’10” - 170 lbs - Jan 2, 2002 (20)
Toronto, ON, Canada
Vancouver Giants, WHL (28-7-13-20)

Cole Shepard has been noticeable on the ice for the Canucks at the Young Stars Classic. He’s a strong skater with decent hands who moves the puck well and has a bit of a physical edge to his game despite his lack of size.

In his draft year, Shepard had 29 points in 50 games for the Vancouver Giants — not good enough to get drafted and scouting reports noted some inconsistencies in his game. When he was on, however, Shepard was a delight to watch.

Hip surgeries have largely kept Shepard off the ice since then. He didn’t play at all in the shortened 2020-21 season, then only appeared in 28 games this past season. He did have 20 points in 28 games

“This is the best I’ve felt in years. There’s no pain,” said Shepard prior to getting back on the ice for the Giants. “There’s weakness from going through the rehab process, but that will come around. This is the first time I haven’t had pain in years.”

Shepard seems like a bit of a wild card. If he’s fully healthy, he’s got the speed and creativity to be a dangerous offensive player. He might be worth a gamble on an AHL contract to see what he can do. 

Matt Anderson - Left Defence

6’0” - 194 lbs - Apr 11, 1999 (23)
Shakopee, MN, USA
University of Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA (68-20-26-46)

After five years of NCAA hockey, Matt Anderson is finally done at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. It remains to be seen what’s next for the rugged defenceman, though he played a handful of games in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays at the end of last season.

Anderson does not put up points — he had 3 goals and 25 assists in 181 NCAA games — but he’s a reliable, stay-at-home defenceman. He’s a smart player who makes few mistakes but it takes a bit more than that to have an NHL future.

Anderson was ranked 111th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting way back in 2017.  

Dylan MacPherson - Right Defence

6’3” - 190 lbs - Apr 27, 2004 (24)
Redcliff, AB, Canada
Wheeling Nailers, ECHL (24-3-7-10)

Dylan MacPherson has been noticeable at the Young Stars Classic but he ought to be — he’s 24 and he already has three seasons of professional experience. Most of that experience has come in the ECHL but he’s also played a few games in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 

MacPherson is a smooth skater with great top-end speed, which is impressive for any defenceman, let alone one who is 6’3”. 

“It’s effortless,” said former Canuck Emerson Etem, who worked with him at a 2019 camp. “With that he’s got great conditioning and he works hard, but the first thing I see is the size and speed combination. Usually you get the speed, or usually you get the size – but to have both of them, it’s pretty special.”

Despite that rare combination, MacPherson hasn’t been able to stick at the AHL level, which is a bit of a red flag, particularly when you consider that he’s right-handed to boot. A 6’3” right-handed defenceman who can skate? And he’s stuck in the ECHL? There has to be something wrong with him, right?

It’s hard to say what’s holding him back but at 24, it’s hard to consider him a legitimate NHL prospect.