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Will the Canucks sign any 2024 development camp invitees?

The Vancouver Canucks had eight undrafted and unsigned invitees at their summer development camp, including Brett Mirwald, Kaden Shahan, and Callum Hughes.
Is Ohio State's Davis Burnside a future Canucks prospect after an invite to the team's 2024 development camp?

The Vancouver Canucks ran a small prospect development camp this past week, with 28 forwards, defenceman, and goaltenders working out on and off the ice at UBC.

That’s a significant step back from the 40 prospects they had at camp last summer, which was an intentional choice.

“What’s the purpose of a really big camp?” said development coach Mikael Samuelsson. “I don’t really know…I only see upsides with a smaller group.”

The upshot of a smaller group of players is more one-on-one time with coaches on the ice and a better chance for the team to really connect with the players.

“We’re building bonds this week,” said Samuelsson. “The management got to know the players and vice versa too. That’s what it’s all about.”

The smaller group, however, did not preclude the Canucks from inviting some players who are not part of their system. This year, the Canucks invited eight players from outside their system to participate in camp.

"A couple of these invites are really good players."

These undrafted and unsigned invitees are always intriguing because they represent an opportunity to add to the team’s prospect pool without spending an asset.

The Canucks have signed invitees several times in the past, most recently Christian Felton, a defensive defenceman out of Merrimack College who attended their 2023 camp. These invitees can become legitimate NHLers: Troy Stecher, Antoine Roussel, and Michael Carcone were once invitees at Canucks camps.

“The invites, it’s recommendations from our scouts, first of all,” said Samuelsson. “Once the draft is done, then you have to be really fast…Right after the draft, you have to give them a call and give them a heads up.”

According to Samuelsson, the small size of the camp is part of the pitch to the invitees, ensuring them that they’ll get plenty of time with not only coaches like Manny Malhotra and Yogi Svejkovsky but also the Canucks’ development staff, including Samuelsson himself, Mike Komisarek and, of course, the Sedins.

“As you can tell, a couple of these invites are really good players as well,” said Samuelsson.

How good are they and is there any chance that the Canucks will sign some of the invitees at this year’s camp? Let’s take a closer look.

Joe Arntsen - Left Defence

6’3” - 212 lbs - May 22, 2003 (21)
Swift Current, SK, Canada
Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL (66-6-18-24)

Technically, Joe Arntsen has a Canucks contract. It’s just that it’s an AHL contract with the Abbotsford Canucks, so he’s still an invitee in technical terms.

The 6’3” Arntsen has been the captain of the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL the past two seasons and is a two-way defenceman. He played a tough, physical, minute-munching style but he’s got a little bit of offence to his game, with an ability to jump up in the rush and a heavy shot from the point.

Arntsen has been praised as a leader and earned the Hurricanes’ Community Relations Player of the Year award the past two years for his work off the ice in Lethbridge.

“I mean obviously people care about the on-ice stuff but I think it’s the off-ice stuff that means the most,” said Arntsen. “In 10-15 years, I’m not going to be looking back and thinking about certain plays from certain games, I’m going to be thinking about the memories, the friendships, everyone I met along the way.

“You’ve got to be a good person off the ice…That’s how you get the fans, that’s how you build good character.”

Arntsen seems like the type of player who could win over the fans in Abbotsford. Is there enough to his game to attract attention from Abbotsford’s parent team in the NHL?

Benjamin Brunelle - Left Wing

6’3” - 192 lbs - Jun 7, 2005 (19)
Trois-Rivières, QC, Canada
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (67-20-22-42)

Benjamin Brunelle had a good showing at Canucks camp, as he showed he has soft hands to go with his size.

The big winger had 20 goals and 42 points for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL, a step up from his rookie season in his draft year. Keeping in mind that he was still primarily on the Huskies’ third line, there’s reason to believe that he might have more to give.

“He plays a physical and grinding game, using his superior strength and size to win puck battles,” reads a scouting report from The Hockey News. “Brunelle has a decent motor and forechecks hard.”

“Brunelle is at his best on the back wall of the offensive zone and near the net,” reads his draft year profile from Elite Prospects. “He can take pucks from the first area to the other by leveraging his imposing 6-foot-3 stature and his physical skills.”

While Brunelle is good at protecting the puck and can finish around the net, his skating needs work if he wants to leverage his motor and pay off his potential to be a checking winger at the NHL level.

Davis Burnside - Right Wing

6’0” - 181 lbs - Sep 22, 2003 (19)
La Grance, IL, USA
Ohio State University, NCAA (38-9-17-26)

Another high-motor, hard-forechecking winger, Davis Burnside has put together a couple of solid seasons with Ohio State University in the NCAA to get himself on the radar for NHL teams.

Burnside is a smart two-way forward who drives puck possession with his detailed game. He’s the type of winger who breaks up possessions in the defensive zone, then wins battles along the boards to get the puck to his teammates.

“An enthusiastic, intelligent forechecker, Burnside launches himself at opponents on offensive zone puck retrievals, making second and third efforts to pry pucks loose from defencemen,” reads his 2023 Elite Prospects scouting report. “The Buckeyes winger tracks well, backchecks diligently, and supports his defenders during sustained in-zone pressure.”

Though he’s not the most skilled player, Burnside knows where to go on the ice to finish off plays and has been reasonably productive in the NCAA.

The strength of Burnside’s game, however, is in the defensive zone, where he reads the play well, gets in lanes, and picks off passes. It makes him a very effective penalty killer.

“Burnside’s promise as a high-octane offensive asset isn’t nearly as prominent as his value as a gritty, tenacious presence in the neutral and defensive zones,” reads his 2022 scouring report from Recruit Scouting. “He closes gaps well and converts broken-up plays into quick movements up the ice with great effectiveness.”

He’s one to keep an eye on as he heads back to Ohio State next year.

Hyde Davidson - Left Defence

6’2” - 170 lbs - Jan 23, 2006 (18)
Edmonton, AB, Canada
Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (50-0-5-5)

With no goals and just five assists in 50 WHL games this past season, it’s understandable that Hyde Davidson didn’t get drafted in his first year of draft eligibility.

It was a bit of a disappointing season considering he entered the WHL as a 16-year-old last year and held his own. He entered the season on NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list but slid completely off Central Scouting’s rankings by the time of the draft.

Still, the Canucks would have gotten a good look at Davidson while keeping tabs on his Seattle Thunderbirds teammate, 2023 third-round pick Sawyer Mynio. The assumption is that they must have seen something in Davidson that made him worth a longer look.

He’s a decent enough skater, he’s got good hands with the puck, and he played 53 WHL Games in his draft-1 year — what was missing this season? And, if that something missing can be dealt with, does Davidson have potential as a prospect?

Ethan Gardula - Left Wing

5’11” - 174 lbs - Feb 28, 2005 (19)
Princeton, MA, USA
Sioux City Musketeers, USHL (58-20-29-49)

In his second year of draft eligibility, Ethan Gardula had a solid season in the USHL, putting up 20 goals and 49 points in 58 games. That wasn’t enough to turn the heads of NHL scouts and he once again went undrafted.

Gardula is a smart playmaker with good vision and passing, complemented by a decent shot that makes him a dual offensive threat.

“Gardula will regularly sell a pass with his eyes, only to leverage a deceptive wrist shot in transition,” reads his 2023 scouting report from Elite Prospects. “Gardula is daring in what he attempts — slips, hooks, layering, and even passes into space — but a negative blend between his hands and skating ability represents a major hurdle in his projection.”

In other words, Gardula’s mind is ahead of his physical tools, as he’s not the best skater or puck handler. If he can develop those physical tools, however, there might be a prospect there.

Gardula was teammates in Sioux City with another Canucks invitee, Kaden Shahan, and both are heading to the University of Connecticut in the fall. Shahan is the more promising of the two but both are worth keeping an eye on.

Callum Hughes - Left Wing

6’1” - 170 lbs - Jan 22, 2006 (18)
Basking Ridge, NJ, USA
West Kelowna Warriors, BCHL (54-23-19-42)

Callum Hughes traveled a long way from his home in New Jersey to play junior hockey in B.C., spending his draft year with the West Kelowna Warriors in the BCHL.

Hughes can flat-out fly, which makes it pretty understandable why the Canucks invited him to camp.

“Hughes is a lightning bolt on the ice,” reads his draft profile from Elite Prospects. “A straight-line advantage creator, his motor separates him from others at this level. He backs off defenders, draws penalties by tactically skating through their checks, and he’s always looking for breaks to exploit his speed advantages.”

Hughes is a diligent worker at both ends of the ice, giving him some defensive value as he chases opponents on the backcheck and closes out checks with speed to create turnovers.

The catch for Hughes is that his hands and hockey sense are lagging behind his feet. His limited puckhandling ability and lighter weight combine to make it hard for him to protect the puck and he doesn’t attack with much creativity. In the BCHL, that’s not a problem as his speed makes a simple approach work but as his opponents catch up to his speed at higher levels, his advantage will taper off and he’ll need to be more creative.

Hughes did enough to earn a spot on Team USA for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, though he suffered an injury in the first game of the tournament on a hard hit and ultimately finished with no points in three games.

While his offensive upside might be limited, scouts suggest that Hughes has the potential to be a bottom-six energy winger in the future with his skating and effort, especially if he adds more strength. It’s also worth noting that Hughes’ offence came on as the season progressed, so perhaps there’s more there. He had just 9 goals and 15 points in his first 28 games of the season, then put up 12 goals and 27 points in his final 26 games before adding 3 goals and 9 points in 6 playoff games.

“From the first game until Christmas break, I thought I was playing pretty well, but things weren’t going in for me,” said Hughes. “In the second half, I came back and knew what to expect. Things just started to click.”

While Hughes has committed to playing for Boston University, he’s planning on spending another year in the BCHL.

Jonathan Lemieux - Goaltender

6’1” - 194 lbs - Jun 8, 2001 (23)
Saint-Hyacinthe, QC, Canada
Kalamazoo Wings, ECHL (39-2.84-.911)

Like Joe Arntsen, Jonathan Lemieux has a contract with the Abbotsford Canucks. Lemieux has been at previous Canucks camps and even played for the Canucks at last year’s Young Stars tournament.

Lemieux signed with Abbotsford after an outstanding season with Concordia University, where he was named rookie of the year and goaltender of the year with a sparkling .933 save percentage.

“Academics have always been important in my family, even if I was doing well in sports. But let’s face it, I still have a passion for hockey,” said Lemieux. “I’ve always been serious about my studies. I think it’s important to have a good Plan B. I want to play hockey as long as possible, but I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.”

Lemieux was on the older side of development camp, having just turned 23 amongst a bunch of teenagers. He’s coming off a strong rookie season in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings, posting a .911 save percentage in 39 games, though that was behind veteran K-Wings netminder Hunter Vorva’s .920.

In the playoffs, Lemieux played just one game for the K-Wings (making 48 saves on 52 shots) before getting called up to the Abbotsford Canucks after Thatcher Demko’s injury.

“Jonathan had a very productive rookie season with Kalamazoo, and we are happy with the progression we have seen him achieve over the past year,” said Abbotsford general manager Ryan Johnson after re-signing him to a one-year deal.

While the odds are against Lemieux becoming an NHL prospect, he could get into some AHL games this coming season, especially if there are injuries.

The Canucks’ goaltending depth is essentially Thatcher Demko, Arturs Silovs, new signing Jiří Patera, and Nikita Tolopilo. Assuming Silovs wins the backup role — not necessarily a given — Patera and Tolopilo will battle for starts in the AHL, with Lemieux behind them in the depth chart. An injury to any one of those four goalies will see Lemieux in the AHL, at which point, who knows?

“There are four other goalies ahead of me in the Canucks organization,” said Lemieux. “I'm still young and it's normal to play in the ECHL at that age. These are exceptional cases that end up in the American League right from the start."

Brett Mirwald - Goaltender

6’0” - 194 lbs - Sep 13, 2003 (20)
Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Vancouver Giants, WHL (55-3.10-.913)

The Canucks looked to their own backyard for their second goaltender invite, bringing in the Vancouver Giants’ netminder, Brett Mirwald.

“Vancouver feels like a second home for me, being here for the last two seasons, so it’s nice to be somewhere familiar,” said Mirwald about getting the invite from the Canucks. “I’m hoping to go pro but I don’t have anything lined up yet.”

Mirwald was named the WHL’s goaltender of the year last season after facing the most shots in the league — 107 more than the next WHL goaltender — and making the most saves in the league — 129 more than the next best goaltender.

He finished the season with a .913 save percentage and frequently had to stand on his head for the Giants: he had 10 games with 40+ saves, including a 48-save shutout. He added two more 53-save performances in losing efforts in the playoffs, doing everything he could to keep the Giants in games.

While Mirwald lacks the size of a typical NHL goaltender at 6’0”, he makes up for it with his excellent reads, athleticism, and competitiveness. Most of the time, he makes saves look easy by simply being in the right place at the right time, but he can come up with spectacular saves when necessary.

“Obviously, I’m not 6’3”,” said Mirwald, “but I’m not overly small and I think I just need to use that size that I do have to present myself well.”

Mirwald’s junior career is over, as he’ll turn 21 in September, so he’s in need of a pro contract. Could that be with the Canucks, adding a fifth goaltender to their depth chart? He might be worth a shot but Mirwald might be able to get an opportunity with another team that can promise him more games in the AHL than the Canucks can.

Kaden Shahan - Right Wing

5’11” - 170 lbs - May 24, 2005 (19)
Everett, WA, USA
Sioux City Musketeers, USHL (56-39-18-57)

Ethan Gardula’s Musketeers teammate Kaden Shahan turned heads at development camp with his nose for the net and dangerous shot. He was one of the most impressive players on the ice at the scrimmage that ended camp. If he wasn’t heading to the NCAA next year to play for the University of Connecticut, you have to wonder if the Canucks wouldn’t have signed him right then and there to join their prospect pool.

Shahan has played for the Canucks before — the BC Junior Canucks at the famed Brick Invitational tournament when he was ten years old, where he was teammates with Connor Bedard and current Canucks prospect Sawyer Mynio.

Last season, in his second year of draft eligibility, Shahan was third in the USHL with 39 goals in 56 games and he’s the only one of the top-eight goalscorers in that league to go undrafted. His brilliant start to the season earned him a chance to play at the World Junior-A Challenge in December, where he had 6 points in 6 games for Team USA.

The hallmark of Shahan’s game is his motor, as he’s constantly in motion to get into scoring areas. That makes him a nightmare for defenders, who have to keep an eye on him at all times or he’ll find a soft spot for a teammate to find him. From there, his quick release puts the puck in the back of the net.

“He plays a give-and-go, high-pace game, always pushing play through the neutral zone with speed,” reads his draft profile from Elite Prospects. “He funnels pucks to the middle, pops into space at the right times, and instantly fires.”

Combine that with strong defensive effort, a willingness to throw hits and establish body position, and an ability to draw penalties and you have the makings of a potential energy-line winger with some finishing touch.

“No matter how his game is going, Kaden gives us energy, both on the ice and in the room,” said Sioux City general manager Sean Clark. “He finds a way to get his stick on pucks, he creates odd-man rushes, and he’s a shot-blocking machine. And, obviously, we’ve all seen when he gets a clean look at the net, he’s going to finish more times than not.”

“He really shines in the defensive zone as a top-notch play-killer,” reads one scouting report from Upside Hockey. “He's proactively aware of incoming threats and jumps on them, racking up stops by shutting down lanes, picking off passes, engaging physically, and angling opponents away from danger.”

There are some red flags with Shahan, however, and they’re probably what kept him from being drafted.

One is his size, as he’ll need to add a lot more strength and weight to play his style of game at the NHL level. Another is his sky-high 24.5% shooting percentage, which suggests that his goalscoring pop this season might not be sustainable. Finally, he had just 18 assists — his offensive game is a little bit one-dimensional right now.

“To bring this game to the NHL, Shahan has to become a better playmaker,” says Elite Prospects. “He moves pucks too quickly and seldom creates advantages for his teammates.”

Since he’s going the college route, Shahan has time to develop a more multi-dimensional game. If he does so, establishing connections at this development camp could give the Canucks the inside track to sign him as a college free agent.