The invite of James Sheppard, formerly of the Kloten Flyers in the Swiss A League, to Canucks training camp caught many fans off guard. Being that Sheppard ranked only 61st in league scoring, it stands to reason that there might be plenty of other potential invites hiding amongst the European leagues.
In making this list, I tried to focus mainly on forwards, particularly those that could challenge for the 4th line center spot, like Sheppard, or those that had any sort of potential as scoring wingers. I also looked for invites that would help the Canucks fill out their veteran requirements for the preseason, as several Canucks will be busy at the World Cup.
In reality, the Canucks will probably not invite anyone on this list, and at the most maybe one or two of them. It’s meant to be half serious assessment, and half “hey, remember this guy?” so take it with a grain of salt.
From the Swiss A League (NLA)
Josh Holden, 38, C
2015-16 Club: EV Zug
2015-16 Stats: 48 games, 18 goals, 30 assists, 48 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Toronto Maple Leafs (2003-04)
Last NHL Stats: 1 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points
-Still putting up a point per game at the ripe age of 38, it might be time for the Canucks to finally cash in some value on their 12th overall selection of Holden in 1996. Not a serious suggestion, but good to see he’s doing well. He would meet the veteran requirements, and might still be able to tear it up in the AHL, however.
Matt D’Agostini, 29, RW
2015-16 Club: Geneve-Servette HC
2015-16 Stats: 46 games, 20 goals, 20 assists, 40 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Buffalo Sabres/Pittsburgh Penguins (2013-14)
Last NHL Stats: 57 games, 5 goals, 7 assists, 12 points
-D’Agostini is an offensive dynamo on a less-than-stacked Swiss team, and has produced at least one solid offensive season in the NHL. However, not a realistic contender for a top-6 spot in the NHL, and too weak defensively for bottom-6 duty.
Robert Nilsson, 31, LW
2015-16 Club: ZSC Lions
2015-16 Stats: 48 games, 12 goals, 40 assists, 52 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Edmonton Oilers (2009-10)
Last NHL Stats: 60 games, 11 goals, 16 assists, 27 points
-Son of a former superstar, and a 15th overall pick himself, Robert Nilsson has always had plenty of potential. He showed flashes of it at the NHL level, but never consistently. He seems to have found his game in Europe, although his production in 2015-16 is partly due to Auston Matthews’ presence. Nilsson has produced fairly consistently in the NLA and KHL, and might be an intriguing invite.
Tommi Santala, 37, C
2015-16 Club: Kloten Flyers
2015-16 Stats: 48 games, 13 goals, 26 assists, 39 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Vancouver Canucks (2006-07)
Last NHL Stats: 30 games, 1 goals, 5 assists, 6 points
-Once touted by Canucks management as the best 4th line center in the NHL, Santala didn’t even manage to live up to that backhanded compliment. He was Sheppard’s teammate in Kloten, and did outscore him by a fair margin, but is probably pretty content in Switzerland at age 37.
Ryan Shannon, 33, RW
2015-16 Club: ZSC Lions
2015-16 Stats: 42 games, 9 goals, 26 assists, 35 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Tampa Bay Lightning (2011-12)
Last NHL Stats: 45 games, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points
-Another former Canuck, Shannon also got a boost playing with Matthews this year. He’s been a consistent scorer overseas, and has a history of production at the NHL level, but a combination of size and age make Shannon an unappealing invite.
Jim Slater, 33, C
2015-16 Club: Geneve-Servette HC
2015-16 Stats: 32 games, 15 goals, 13 assists, 28 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Winnipeg Jets (2014-15)
Last NHL Stats: 82 games, 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points
-Slater is a former first round pick, but made his living as a character center. Generally had solid faceoff stats and provided grit and penalty-killing ability. He put up nearly a point per game in his first season overseas, and could be looking to come back with another NHL team looming.
Swedish Elite Leage (SHL)
Ryan Lasch, 29, RW
2015-16 Club: Frolunda HC
2015-16 Stats: 51 games, 15 goals, 36 assists, 51 points
Last AHL Season, Club: Toronto Marlies/Norfolk Admirals (2012-13)
Last AHL Stats: 30 games, 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points
-Lasch has no prior NHL experience and was never drafted, likely due to his stature of 5’7”. Despite this, Lasch has been a very consistent scorer in Sweden since crossing over, and his production has exploded since coming to Frolunda. Had the second highest PPG in the league after Anton Rodin.
Patrick Thoreson, 32, LW/RW
2015-16 Club: Djurgardens IF
2015-16 Stats: 49 games, 15 goals, 33 assists, 48 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Edmonton Oilers/Philadelphia Flyers (2007-08)
Last NHL Stats: 38 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
-Thoreson has scored everywhere but in the NHL. He had a long and productive stint in the KHL, before tearing up the SHL for a year in 2015-16. He just put up four points in three games to help Norway qualify for the Olympics, and is set to play 2016-17 in Switzerland. He obviously doesn’t mind travelling, so maybe a quick jaunt overseas to try out for an NHL club is enticing.
Finnish Elite League (Liiga)
Aaron Gagnon, 32, C
2015-16 Club: Lukko
2015-16 Stats: 60 games, 25 goals, 23 assists, 48 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Winnipeg Jets (2012-13)
Last NHL Stats: 10 games, 3 goals, 0 assists, 3 points
-Gagnon is a long-time NHL tweener who seems to have found a home in Lukko. After three solid seasons there, he’s unlikely to leave, and is quite a long-shot for an NHL job. He is from BC, however, so a quick tryout with the Canucks could be fun.
Josh Green, 38, C/LW
2015-16 Club: KooKoo
2015-16 Stats: 58 games, 19 goals, 24 assists, 43 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Edmonton Oilers (2011-12)
Last NHL Stats: 7 games, 1 goals, 1 assists, 2 points
-Green would meet the veteran requirement, and can win some faceoffs, but that’s about it. Call this entry half “hey remember this guy?” and half “look at that zany team name!”
-A special note on the KHL. Its season has already begun, and at this point players are unlikely to come over to the NHL for any reason, much less a tryout, and few have NHL out-clauses, anyway. In addition, some players are obviously in the KHL to stay, like Nigel Dawes, Dustin Boyd, and Brandon Bochenski, three North Americans who gained Kazakh citizenship to play for Team Kazakhstan. Still, outside of these players, there are some interesting names.
Matt Ellison, 32, C/RW
2015-16 Club: Dinamo Minsk
2015-16 Stats: 54 games, 26 goals, 29 assists, 55 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Philadelphia Flyers (2006-07)
Last NHL Stats: 2 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 2 points
-This guy was once traded for Patrick Sharp! Since that career highlight, Ellison has been providing consistently dominant offense in the KHL. He’s been there for nearly a decade, and seems unlikely to leave, but is young enough to maybe want another crack at the NHL.
Wojtek Wolski, 30, LW/RW
2015-16 Club: Metallurg Magnitogorsk
2015-16 Stats: 54 games, 18 goals, 29 assists, 47 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Washington Capitals (2012-13)
Last NHL Stats: 27 games, 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points
-The former Avalanche had some great seasons in Colorado, and then his NHL career tapered off severely. He’s regained his scoring touch in the KHL, and may want another chance at NHL success. He’s Polish-born but has Canadian citizenship, so a shot with a Canadian club may entice him.
Cam Barker, 30, D
2015-16 Club: HC Slovan Bratislava
2015-16 Stats: 55 games, 9 goals, 31 assists, 40 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Vancouver Canucks (2012-13)
Last NHL Stats: 14 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points
-It’s nice to see Cam Barker finally having success somewhere. The Canucks really shouldn’t give Barker another chance, and they’re loaded on defense, anyway, but Barker’s point totals give reason to tamper expectations on Philip Larsen, who Barker outscored.
German Elite League (DEL)
Will Acton, 29, C
2015-16 Club: Schwenninger Wild Wings
2015-16 Stats: 46 games, 16 goals, 39 assists, 55 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Edmonton Oilers (2014-15)
Last NHL Stats: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points
-Sure, it’s the German league, but Acton ripped it up, placing third in scoring and being the only one on his team in the top-20. Acton is a veteran grinding center when it comes to North American hockey. He has some experience with the Comets.
Jason Jaffray, 35, C/LW
2015-16 Club: EHC Munchen
2015-16 Stats: 52 games, 21 goals, 18 assists, 39 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Winnipeg Jets (2011-12)
Last NHL Stats: 13 games, 0 goals, 1 assists, 1 points
-Remember Jason Jaffray? He might be the only player I’ve ever witnessed get a fighting major in an overtime period. He was in the Canucks’ system for years, but there’s really no room in the organization for him anymore. It is nice to see him having success in Germany, however.
Dany Heatley, 35, LW/RW
2015-16 Club: Nurnberg Ice Tigers
2015-16 Stats: 46 games, 17 goals, 15 assists, 32 points
Last NHL Season, Club: Anaheim Ducks (2014-15)
Last NHL Stats: 6 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points
-Anytime you can add an NHL All-Star, you have to do it, right? Probably not. Heatley was less-than-stellar in the regular season for Nurnberg, but did put up 14 points in 12 playoff games. Here’s hoping this is a happy ending for his weird hockey story.
There’s a defenseman in the Dutch league named Jasper Jaspers. He has two points in four seasons with the Amsterdam Tigers. I don’t think he should get a camp invite, but he has a great name.