Monday, March 21, 2005


Vancouver Giants Wrap-Up

The Vancouver Giants recently wrapped up their regular season with a physical 5-1 victory over the Kelowna Rockets. With the win (the only one this year against the Rockets), the Giants finished a rather dissappointing 34-30-4-4.

Before the season, there was some talk that theGiants could compete for the Memorial Cup. Marek Schwarz and Andrej Meszaros, two of the best European prospects in the 2004 Entry Draft, committed to come over to play on the Giants. Combine these two with 2005 uber-prospect Gilbert Brule, 20 year-old Wild prospect Adam Courchaine, and Stars 1st rounder Mark Fistric, and the Giants had 5 of the top talents available in the CHL.

Injuries, poor play by the depth players, and other factors saw the Giants wallow in medicrity for most of the season and now they have to face the very tough Kelowna Rockets (oh no, not again!) in the first round of the WHL Playoffs.

Here’s my look at what went right and what went wrong:

Andrej Meszaros, D (59GP 11-30-41 +7 94PIM) – Definitely the most positive surprise for the G-men this season! Meszaros showed the offense and skill set that we knew he had, but also showed a physical side that most never expected. Meszaros showed no fear in laying the body and was/is more physically mature than most WHL players. Meszaros also displayed a gung-ho attitude when it came to shooting the puck, which is in stark contrast to most European defensemen (think Tomas Kaberle). If the NHL starts up next season, Meszaros could very well be with the Senators and not back with the Giants.

Missing time to injury could cost Meszaros the WHL Rookie of the Year award to Red Deer’s Roman Wick.

Marek Schwarz, G (56GP 26-24-4 2.67GAA .900SV%) – While Meszaros was a positive surprise, Schwarz turned out to be quite the opposite. While the raw athleticism is hard to miss, Schwarz looks like he needs a few months with legendary goaltending coach Francois Allaire. There were periods when Schwarz was brilliant (like his WJC stint with the Czech Republic,), but then many nights where he’d let in 5-6 goals because he was 10 feet out of his net. Schwarz finished 22nd in Save Percentage and has a lot of work to do on his fundamentals.

Gilbert Brule, C (70GP 39-48-87 +4 169PIM) – While Brule may have dropped from the #2 spot in various rankings, Brule did everything as expected and was the brightest star for the Giants most nights. Brule capped off a great season with MVP honours at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Brule carried the Giants and had very little support on his wings. Shawn Vey, Tim Kraus, and other wingers he was paired with did very little to help out offensively. Once Brule learns to use his linemates a bit better, he’ll be even more of a star.

Adam Courchaine, C (71GP 28-50-78 +8 32PIM) – Courchaine led the Giants with 50 assists, but he was expected to challenge for the overall WHL scoring crown in his age-20 season. Courchaine failed to progress at all this season, and all often was not factor he was last season. If you don’t progress at this stage of the game, then it doesn’t look good for your NHL chances. Courchaine will probably have a tough time in his AHL debut next year unless he learns to be more assertive.

Mitch Bartley, W (70GP 30-25-53 +9 99PIM) – The industrious Bartley hit the 30-goal mark and floated in between Courchaine’s line and Brule’s line. Like Courchaine, Bartley didn’t progress offensively this season and was expected to do more. One thing I noticed is how Bartley seems a lot bigger this season than he used to be. Since Bartley’s speed his been his main drawback, I don’t think the extra size will benefit him in the long run. I expect Bartley to get a free agent contract from some organization after he (likely) goes undrafted again.

Mark Fistric, D (15GP 1-5-6 +7 32PIM) – The two jaw injuries to Fistric really threw the Giants plans into chaos. With his absence so profound, the Giants were forced into making trades for other defensemen (like Max Gordichuk and Brad Festerling). Fistric has been getting his wheels back and looks in good shape heading into the playoffs. It was a lost season for Fistric, but his future looks bright.

Shawn Vey, C/W (74GP 7-16-23 -12 36PIM) – The big 6’3” C/W came into the season as a potential 2nd round draft pick in 2005. After being selected in the 2nd round of a previous Bantam draft by the Giants, Vey looked like the perfect player to match up with either Brule or Courchaine. Vey was a complete distaster with the giants as he totalled 1 whopping goal in 38 games with the G-men. Frustrated at his own lack of progress,Vey asked for, and was granted, a trade. Vey was dealt to the Tri-City Americans and didn’t exactly flourish there, either.
I don’t think Vey would even be drafted if the 2005 Entry Draft was held. Vey showed absolutely no offensive creativity, and he didn’t seem to use his size well enough down low in the offensive zone. Vey’s stock crash certainly was a big factor in why the Giants didn’t meet expectations.

Tim Kraus, RW (63GP 16-19-35 +8 34PIM) – The speedster from Garden Grove, California, was just like most things from that region: All hype and no substance. Kraus showed very little away from the puck and floated around most nights. Like Vey, Kraus pretty much buried his draft chances with putrid production. It looks like many Californian-bred products (Jason Reese and Ray Kraus are just two examples) fare poorly in the WHL. While they have the speed and raw skills, the level of competition in California must make them look a lot better than they really are. When these Californian kids get to the WHL, they are over their heads and they don’t seem to have the ‘brains’ for the game.

So, going into the series against the Rockets, I don’t have any faith that the Giants can pull off a stunning upset. The Rockets have owned the Giants this year (Giants went 1-5-2 against them) and play the most stifling of defensive systems.
I predict the Rockets will prevail in 6 but hope the opposite happens.

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