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The Globe and Mail

Future might be now for a few Vancouver prospects

Several years ago, a Vancouver Canucks development camp would have been long on development and short on prospects.

But as 35 young men - none of them named Cody Hodgson - gather at Rogers Arena for an indoctrination into the Canucks Way this week, the expectation is that someone will make his NHL mark during the 2010-11 season, and that more will follow in subsequent years.

Anything less would be a considered a failure for general manager Mike Gillis, who took the job two years ago vowing to ice a Stanley Cup contender while tending the farm and developing a pipeline of young, cheap players who could complement the Canucks' core group.

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On paper, Gillis appears to have succeeded given the thin farm system he inherited, and he has already said it is critical his regime starts adding homegrown pieces to the mix. The best bets this autumn are Hodgson, who is rehabilitating a back injury in Ontario, and forwards Jordan Schroeder and Sergei Shirokov.

Hodgson, a former Canadian Hockey League player-of-the-year, comes with a $1.6-million (U.S.) cap hit, and the Canucks are already tight to the league's spending limit. He and the organization have not always seen eye-to-eye regarding his development, and Hodgson has chosen not to work out this summer with Canucks director of player development Dave Gagner.

That didn't impress the Canucks, although management has given its blessing for Hodgson, the 10th overall pick in the 2008 entry draft, to continue his rehab program uninterrupted. He has twice attended this camp, and Gagner called him a dutiful player who doesn't need supervision.

Schroeder turned pro after his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota this spring, and immediately impressed. The former first-round pick had 15 points in 17 games as a 19-year-old playing against more seasoned competition in the American Hockey League.

Shirokov made the Canucks out of training camp last season, but was returned to the AHL's Manitoba Moose after just six games. Time is running out for the 24-year-old Russian, who has options back home, so the Canucks might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt if he's close to a roster spot again this fall.

Those are the players counted on for immediately help, while the long-range prospects count more defencemen. Here's a look at the next wave of Canucks prospects:

Defenceman Kevin Connauton

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He endeared himself with the Canucks by leaving Western Michigan University and signing with the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants last year. He set Giants records for goals (24) and points (72) by a defenceman. The Edmonton native could one day quarterback Vancouver's power play, but his defensive play needs to take several steps up before he is ready for the NHL. Already 20, Connauton is physically mature at 6 foot 1 and 196 lbs. If he fails to make the big-league team this autumn, he will likely begin his professional career with the Moose.

Defenceman Peter Andersson

The Canucks have compared him to current rearguard Alexander Edler, and the similarities are easy to see. Like Edler, Andersson is a long, lanky defenceman (6 foot 3, 196 lbs.) with some puck skills and a soft-spoken manner. He was a sleeper in the 2009 draft, going in the fifth round, but he took the confidence gained from his selection and produced a sensational season. Andersson, 19, was a late addition to Sweden's world junior team, after not being on the national-team radar previously in his career. He also played 21 games in Sweden's elite league before suffering a broken wrist. Andersson will return to Brynas this season, but could push for an NHL job in 2011.

Defenceman Chris Tanev

If he ever plays in the NHL, then Tanev will have set an example for undersized players everywhere. Gagner knew him as one of the best bantam players in the Toronto area, but Tanev was bypassed in the Ontario Hockey League draft because he was a pipsqueak. But over his past two years of school - when Tanev was playing high-school hockey and well off the beaten track for most legitimate prospects - he grew more than a foot, up 6 foot 2. He parlayed that late spurt into a scholarship with the Rochester Institute of Technology, then signed with Vancouver as a college free agent. The 20-year-old will likely play in Manitoba this season.

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