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Keep An Eye Out For Joe

Jason Chen


Certain Canucks players and fans may not be so quick to make bold statements, but here's mine: write it down, the Vancouver Canucks are your 2011 President's Trophy winners. No other team in the NHL has cracked the century mark and the Canucks are already 5 points over. Now that's settled, I want to shift you attention to the big March tournament. No, not the one where Mike Krzyzewski's helmet-hair and Kansas' Morris twins are the prime time feature. The OTHER NCAA tournament, the one with Canucks goaltending prospect Joe Cannata.

<img src="http://www.merrimackathletics.com/images/mice/2007-09_Images/2008_vs._BC/Joe_Cannata_3.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Cannata was drafted in the 6th round, 173rd overall in the 2009 draft, the 13th ranked North American goalie and a product of Boston College High School and the US Development Program, where he led the U-18 American squad to a championship at the Five Nations tournament. Now in his junior year with the Merrimack Warriors, who play out of North Andover, MA, Cannata has led his team to the school's first NCAA Division I birth since 1988. It's quite a feat considering the staying power of more well-known hockey programs like Michigan, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Boston U, Boston College, and North Dakota.

With 25 wins, a 2.44 GAA and a save percentage north of .910, Cannata has been the Warriors' MVP all year. Like Steve Nash during his days at Santa Clara, the two unheralded athletes have led their mid-level programs to NCAA berths, and considering how many schools are part of the NCAA family, it's quite a feat, surely one that won't go unnoticed by Mike Gillis.

There's been questions about the Canucks' future in net, and with Cory Schneider's strong play some have been brave enough to put forth the notion that the Boston College product should be Vancouver's no. 1 netminder. But these types of questions and headaches are the ones GMs love to have, and that's not mentioning that the Canucks have a promising Swedish import in Eddie Lack, currently polishing his craft with the Moose. Like Schneider, Cannata is a Massachusetts native and NCAA product. It seems as though the Canucks may have found their goaltending goldmine.

For a complete list of drafted players in the tournament and the 16-team bracket, click here. Merrimack will play ninth-ranked Notre Dame Irish in the first round, highlighted by Riley Sheahan, a Red Wings pick that may eventually turn out to be a solid third-line checking centre.

Other players to watch:

Carolina's Brian Dumoulin (Boston College) and Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth), two of the higher ranked prospects in the Hurricanes system whose playing styles translate very well to the NHL game.

Columbus' Cam Atkinson (Boston College), drafted 157th overall in 2008, the 5'8" winger has some of the best wheels and hands in the college ranks. With his second consecutive 30-goal season for the Eagles, some scouts compare him to Boston College alum Brian Gionta, who scored 30+ goals three times for the Hockey East heavyweight.

Detroit's Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame), who will face Cannata and the Warriors in the first round. While he doesn't do anything particularly well, he's a player that projects to be an effective NHL player given a couple more years in the NCAA and Grand Rapids.

Los Angeles' Derek Forbort (North Dakota), who I think is the reason why the Kings were so willing to part with Colten Teubert in the Dustin Penner deal. The 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the 6'5" defenseman plays both ends of the ice very well.

Minnesota's Jason Zucker (Denver), who flew way under the radar in the draft and was plucked by the Wild 59th overall and represented USA at the most recent World Jr. Championships. Zucker, only a freshmen, has potted 21 goals this year, compared to Cam Atkinson, who had less than 10 in his first year.

Montreal's Danny Kristo (North Dakota), who was Zucker's teammate at the WJC. The Habs have always been pretty good at finding NCAA talent (Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, Louis Leblanc) and Kristo is no different.

New Jersey's Jon Merrill (Michigan) is one of the most highly-touted prospects in the NCAA. Those who the Devils gave up a lot to get Kovalchuk forget that their pipeline isn't that bare - Merrill's mobility and puck skills are top notch and Jacob Josefsen, Mattias Tedenby, and Alexander Vasyunov are slowly making their way into the big leagues.

The Islanders' Blake Kessel (New Hampshire) is Phil's younger brother, but unlike Phil he's a defenseman.

The Rangers' Chris Kreider (Boston College) is a guy you have to watch. The big, burly power forward can score at will, and with 10 goals in two years for USA at the WJC he's already tied with Modano and LeClair and trails only JR's 13 and Gionta's 11. He was recently named MVP of the Beanpot Classic, an annual matchup between Boston U and BC.

Ottawa's Loui Caporusso (Michigan), one of the few seniors to watch who will undoubtedly make the jump to Binghamton next year.

Pittsburgh's Beauregard Bennett (Denver), better known as 'Beau', is seen as the long-term solution to Crosby's wing.

St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College), who is one of two Schwartz brothers that makes up 2/3 of the Tigers' top line. I thought Schwartz was the best forward for Canada at the WJC until his injury when Ryan Johansen stepped up, but despite his small size Schwartz is a can't-miss prospect.

Toronto's Jimmy Hayes (Boston College), who has 20 goals this year and joins an impressive crop of NCAA forwards in Toronto's system that features Christian Hanson (Notre Dame), Tyler Bozak (Denver), and Jerry D'Amigo (RPI before leaving for Kitchener).

My readers (... however few) will know that I'm a big fan of NCAA hockey. Well, that's my shameless plug for the tournament but at least there's a Canuck in there, which really doesn't happen all that often. C'mon, wouldn't you have loved to see what kind of player Kesler was when he was at Ohio St.? Or how fast Mason Raymond was compared to his peers at Minnesota-Duluth? Or even see if you think Kevin Bieksa would've made the NHL after watching him at Bowling Green?


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