The invitees are back.
There will be 36 prospects at the Vancouver Canucks’ development camp, which runs from Monday to Thursday at UBC this week. That includes five of the Canucks’ six 2022 draft picks — Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Elias Pettersson (the younger), Daimon Gardner, Ty Young, and Jackson Dorrington — with seventh-round pick Kirill Kudryavtsev not listed on the roster.
Alongside the prospects already in the Canucks’ system, both old and new, will be several players who are not part of anyone’s system. These players have been invited to take part in camp and will hope to make enough of an impression on the Canucks’ management to earn an NHL contract in the future.
There will be 12 invitees at this year’s development camp, though that includes five players who have already signed AHL contracts with the Abbotsford Canucks. Four of those invitees are from the NCAA and are worth keeping a particularly close eye on given Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin repeatedly emphasizing the importance of adding to their depth with college free agent signings.
It's a big change from previous years — even before the COVID-19 pandemic limited the possibility of bringing in outside players, the Canucks had brought a declining number of invitees, with no invitees at all at their prospect camp ahead of the 2019-20 season.
Canucks 2022 development camp invitees
- Marc Gatcomb - 22 - Right Wing - University of Connecticut, NCAA
- Jack Jensen - 21 - Left Wing - Arizona State, NCAA
- Ian Murphy - 23 - Right Wing - Princeton, NCAA
- Max Namestnikov - 18 - Centre - Sarnia Sting, OHL
- Tristen Nielsen - 22 - Centre - Abbotsford Canucks, AHL
- Chase Wouters - 22 - Centre - Abbotsford Canucks, AHL
- Jacob Bauer - 20 - Right Defence - Western Michigan, NCAA
- Alex Kannok Leipert - 21 - Right Defence - Abbotsford Canucks, AHL
- Chad Nychuk - 21 - Left Defence - Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
- Quinn Schmiemann - 20 - Left Defence - Kamloops Blazers, WHL
- Brett Brochu - 19 - Goaltender - London Knights, OHL
- Samuel Richard - 21 - Goaltender - Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL
These invitees are some of the most intriguing players at camp, because each one represents the potential of finding an NHL player without spending any assets aside from an entry-level contract.
It’s also an opportunity to establish a relationship with players that might be worth signing in the future, particularly NCAA players, who might be spending several more years in college hockey. For instance, Troy Stecher was an invitee to camp in 2014 and eventually signed with the Canucks in 2016.
Could any of this year’s invitees be the next Stecher? Let’s take a closer look, starting with the forwards. I’ll cover the defencemen and goaltenders in a future article.
Marc Gatcomb - Right Wing
6’2” - 194 lbs - Jul 22, 1999 (22)
Woburn, MA, USA
University of Connecticut, NCAA (36-8-13-21)
Marc Gatcomb is a big forward who can play either wing with a reputation for strong defensive play. He signed a contract with the Abbotsford Canucks late last season, appearing in six AHL games and will look to work his way up to NHL deal.
Gatcomb had 8 goals and 21 points in 36 games in his Senior year but it’s his physical two-way game that garnered him the most attention. With some decent wheels to go with his size, Gatcomb can lay out some big hits and is adept at battling along the boards.
It should be noted that Gatcomb did the bulk of his scoring at even-strength, with just a single power play assist. Gatcomb actually has some decent hands and can finish around the net.
Gatcomb didn’t manage to get any points in his six-game audition in the AHL and was a healthy scratch in the playoffs but will get the opportunity to earn a bottom-six spot in Abbotsford in the coming season.
Jack Jensen - Left Wing
6’2” - 205 lbs - Aug 31, 2000 (21)
Eden Prairie, MIN, USA
Arizona State, NCAA (32-6-8-14)
At the age of 21, Jack Jensen was on the older side of college freshmen this past season. The sizeable winger had 6 goals and 14 points in 32 games with the Sun Devils in his first NCAA season.
Jensen’s combination of size and skating makes him an intriguing prospect despite his limited scoring, with the potential for him to play a bottom-six role.
“Jensen is a fantastic all-around skater,” reads his Hockey Prospect scouting report from his draft year. “He possesses excellent explosiveness off the hop and is able to gain the edge on defencemen almost at will.”
Size and speed has been the foundation for many a bottom-six forward. Jensen was considered a good prospect prior to his draft year, even representing Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Under-18 tournament. Perhaps it helped that he played on a line with Casey Mittelstadt in high school.
Since then, Jensen has faltered as a prospect but there’s still a chance that his strong 200-foot game will get him to the next level, particularly if he can find a role on special teams.
“His speed is a threat at the top of the penalty kill where he can read the play to breakup passes and uses his speed to get to loose pucks behind the power play,” says Hockey Prospects.
Ian Murphy - Right Wing
5’11” - 185 lbs - Apr 6, 1999 (23)
Braintree, MA, USA
Princeton University, NCAA (25-9-10-19)
Already 23, Ian Murphy will be one of the oldest players at the Canucks’ development camp but he’s been slowly but surely working his way up in the hockey world.
Murphy was teammates with Canucks prospect Jack Rathbone at Dexter Southfield School for two years and retweets of Rathbone’s exploits are a regular feature on Murphy’s Twitter page, so it’s understandable that he’d be interested in the Canucks. It’s what he’s done over the last few years that would have the Canucks interested in him.
A few years ago, Murphy was considering going into Division 3 college hockey as he was unable to attract the interest of a Division 1 school. Instead, he delayed entering college hockey, instead playing in the USHL for two years and he earned a spot with Princeton University.
Unfortunately, his first season with Princeton was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he was one of Princeton’s best players this past season, putting up 19 points in 25 games, behind only Corey Andonovski, who was subsequently signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
To go from not even making an NCAA team to finishing second on an Ivy League roster in scoring to attending an NHL camp is quite the journey for Murphy.
“Ian brings elite speed, and a high skill level to our team,” said Anthony Noreen, his former head coach in the USHL. “He's been able to chip in scoring, help us push the pace in games, and has added character to our organization through the way he's handled himself.”
Murphy played both sides of special teams for Princeton, killing penalties with his speed and smart positioning, and playing the bumper on the power play. There’s a bit of grit to his game and he doesn’t hesitate to crash the net for rebounds.
Who knows — maybe he’ll be a teammate of Rathbone’s again someday.
Max Namestnikov - Centre
5’8” - 174 lbs - Feb 6, 2004 (18)
Royal Oak, MI, USA
Sarnia Sting, OHL (68-16-24-40)
Unlike most of the other invitees, Max Namestnikov was actually in his draft year this past season. Namestnikov even landed on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, albeit at 211th overall among North American skaters.
The 18-year-old had a strong season on Sarnia’s second line in the OHL, putting up 16 goals and 40 points in 68 games. That type of production might have earned him some consideration as a late-round pick were it not for his 5’8” stature.
“He is a player who likes to make quick snap passes through opponents and set his teammates up net-front,” said FCHockey’s Olivia McArter. “He has quick feet when challenging his opponent, moving his feet with every stick movement to make sure he stays with his man and shows his quick edges while following in the corner.”
Namestnikov actually has power forward tendencies despite his small stature, unafraid to play the body even on much larger players, using his strength and low leverage to knock opponents off stride to win puck battles. He’s got quick feet and quick hands, making him dangerous in transition and around the net.
Aside from his size, the other issue for Namestnikov was a lack of consistency. He could explode with an attention-grabbing offensive effort one night, then disappear for long stretches. It doesn’t help that he lost a year of development when the OHL cancelled the 2020-21 season.
Namestnikov is the younger brother of veteran NHL forward Vladislav Namestnikov, who is four inches taller than Max. Perhaps there is a late growth spurt on the way. Even if he doesn’t, Namestnikov could still develop into a dynamic prospect in the coming years.
Tristen Nielsen - Centre
5’10” - 192 lbs - Feb 23, 2000 (22)
Fort St. John, BC, Canada
Abbotsford Canucks, AHL (41-7-4-11)
Tristen Nielsen still qualifies as an invitee even though he’s already played for the Abbotsford Canucks for a season, as he’s only under an AHL contract. Still, the players who have already been with the Canucks for a year are a little bit different from the other invitees.
Nielsen played a somewhat limited role for the Canucks last season and was used primarily on the wing despite being a natural centre. He’s got some good speed, a decent defensive game, and can kill penalties, though he wasn’t always used in that role.
“For whatever reason, despite evidence of good footspeed, a nose for the net, penalty-killing ability, and a high work rate, Tristen Nielsen struggled to earn Trent Cull’s trust to maintain a spot in Abbotsford’s lineup,” said CanucksArmy’s Cody Severtson.
With his decent hands and an accurate shot, it’s possible that Nielsen could work his way into more of an offensive role in the coming season under new head coach Jeremy Colliton.
Chase Wouters - Centre
6’0” - 194 lbs - Feb 8, 2000 (22)
North Battleford, SK, Canada
Abbotsford Canucks, AHL (60-5-13-18)
Chase Wouters was the first player ever signed by the Abbotsford Canucks and he impressed enough in his first year in Abbotsford to earn a two-year contract extension.
While Wouters didn’t consistently score in the AHL, he became a trusted defensive presence, a go-to penalty killer, and became a fan-favourite.
“As the high-man on the Canucks’ PK, Wouters’ endeared himself to the Abbotsford faithful as a relentless disrupting force along the perimeter,” said Severtson. “His work rate earned him the fanbase’s majority vote for the team’s Unsung Hero Award.”
With his defensive game, speed, and a decent scoring touch when the opportunity arises, Wouters might have an NHL future as a bottom-six forward. He’s one to watch.