Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Job Hunting - Part 1: The Goaltenders

The Vancouver Canucks main training camp opened on Monday, with players going through their physicals and an evening practice at GM Place. Unlike past years there are several jobs up for grabs, today I take a look at the goaltenders.

Dan Cloutier
After signing a two year deal in the off-season, Dan Cloutier is returning to Vancouver as the undisputed #1 goaltender. In the past three seasons Cloutier has played 62, 57 and 60 games respectively. The Canucks will once again be looking to lessen Cloutier's work load in an attempt to have a healthy Dan Cloutier for the playoff drive. Of course they have attempted this unsuccessfully with the likes of Petr Skudra and Johan Hedberg. However, this season the Canucks find themselves with arguably the best goaltending depth in franchise history...
Alex Auld
Auld is the leading candidate to back up Dan Cloutier. However his lead is based more on his contract than anything else. Auld is on a one-way contract, meaning he would have to clear waivers to be sent down to Manitoba and once again to be re-called to Vancouver. This gives Auld an advantage as the Canucks will not want to to lose him on waivers. Auld is coming of a disappointing season in the AHL in which he lost the starting job to Wade Flaherty and missed out on the Manitoba playoff run. If he can't keep the number one job in the AHL is he going to be able to keep the backup job in the NHL? So far in his career he has played much better at the NHL level and the Canucks would like to see if he is ready. Auld has the inside track for the backup job, but the one way contract by no means guarantees him the job, especially with two veterans looking for another shot at the NHL...
Brent Johnson
The 28 year old Johnson was signed to a two-way contract on September 1st. The former St. Louis Blue has had an up and down career. He was excellent in his first two years in St. Louis, but injuries and other issues saw him fall out of favour. On the ice Johnson has the ability to be a #1 NHL goaltender. However, off the ice those "other issues" are the reason why the Canucks were able to sign him to a two-way contract. Depending on who you talk to, those "issues" range from a poor attitude and laziness to "locker room cancer." Johnson will have his work cut out for him, but if he plays well he certainly has an opportunity to unseat Auld.
Wade Flaherty
Veteran goaltender Wade Flaherty is coming off an excellent AHL season in which he led the Manitoba Moose on a great playoff run. Flaherty was supposed to replace Tyler Moss and split time with Auld as the Canucks prospect was groomed for his NHL career. Flaherty exceeded expectations and became coach Randy Carlyle's go to guy down the stretch. While Flaherty played well last year, he has a tough job if he hopes to steal the backup job in Vancouver. Flaherty is not in the long-term plans for Vancouver and as such faces an uphill battle against the younger Alex Auld and Brent Johnson

The Rest of the Pack

Vancouver's goaltending depth does not stop after the top four. Also, in camp are Rob McVicar, Julien Ellis-Plante and 2005 3rd round pick Alexandre Vincent.

McVicar had a very solid season last year, splitting time between the ECHL and AHL. The signing of Brent Johnson hurts his chances of becoming the backup in Manitoba and as such he will likely be spending another year in the ECHL.

Julien Ellis has quickly moved up the prospect depth chart of the Canucks. By all accounts he had a very good prospect camp and, for now, is still around at main camp. He will likely be heading back for one final year in the QMJHL before he makes the jump to the pro ranks.

Alexandre Vincent was chosen in the 3rd round of this years draft and so far he has made a very strong impression at prospect camp. Vincent will be heading back to the QMJHL and will most likely be among the first round of cuts which are expected sometime today.

Not at camp is Vancouver's top goaltending prospect Cory Schneider. Drafted in the first round of last years draft, Schneider spent last season at Boston College where he started 18 games going 13-1-4 with a 1.90 GAA and .916 SvPct. He also played for the U.S. National Junior Team. Schneider will be back at Boston College as their starting netminder.

The Canucks goaltending depth is as good as ever and there will be some very strong competition during camp and the pre-season. Next up is a look at the battle on defense...

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