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Express netminder Manji’s stock continues to rise

Heading into his third B.C. Hockey League season in 2023-24, Coquitlam Express goaltender Adam Manji is rising the ranks of netminders in the league and according to renowned player resource website The Scouting News, is a strong candidate to attract National Hockey League attention.

“(There’s) very high upside for this goaltending prospect… he’s getting more athletic, a bit of a late developer. He’s really come into his own, but I like the confidence level that he’s playing with this year. He moves well for a bigger man, he’s got (an) athletic frame, (and) he gets across the crease really well,” posted The Scouting News in a recent article. “He’s put on a little weight, he’s getting stronger, (and) his game has just started to come along right now.”

Manji, who hails from Burnaby, B.C., was a workhorse for the Express this past season, finishing with an 18-9-0 record, a 2.99 goals-against average, and a .912 save percentage in 37 games. He played more games than his Mainland Cup counterparts in Surrey and Chilliwack, and only seven goalies in the league saw more minutes than Manji. In 13 of his 37 appearances, he allowed two goals or less.

He may have even played more games for Coquitlam if not for a late-season injury on March 10 against Trail. Despite a valiant effort by Express backup goalie and rookie Brady Smith in the first round of the playoffs against Chilliwack, Coquitlam missed Manji’s presence between the pipes in a five-game loss to the Chiefs.

“(He’s) certainly one of the better 2003 goaltenders playing junior hockey anywhere in Canada. The level of improvement he’s made has been tremendous,” continued The Scouting News. “The thing I like the most about him is that he’s very athletic, he’s composed, he’s a very hard worker, and he’s committed to being the best goalie that he can be. Clearly, this is a guy who will have a very good future moving forward.”

The potential trajectory from BCHL to NHL

If there was a solid comparable for Manji in terms of trajectory, it might be eight-year NHL veteran goalie Andrew Hammond. The product of White Rock, B.C. spent his 17-year-old season playing junior B with the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s Grandview Steelers.

Manji’s 17-year-old season of 2020-21 was halted due to COVID-19 shutdowns, but he signed with the PJHL’s Port Moody Panthers that year and also spent the entirety of the BCHL’s extended training camp bubble in the fall of 2020 with the Victoria Grizzlies.

One main difference between Hammond and Manji’s 18-year-old seasons is that the “Hamburgler” played another year with the Steelers while Manji moved up to be a full-time BCHL player as a rookie with the Express. In junior B as an 18-year-old in 2006-07, Hammond went 16-5-4 with a 2.41 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage, and three shutouts.

Manji’s numbers as an 18-year-old weren’t as solid as Hammond’s on the surface, but bear in mind, he was playing a league higher. In 18 games with the Express during the 2021-22 season, he posted a 4.11 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage to go along with a 6-9-4 record as the backup to Carter Woodside. However, Manji had a goals-against of 3.00 or less in six of 17 complete games, including a stretch of five straight games from February 27 to March 19.

Both Manji and Hammond were firmly entrenched as BCHL players during their respective 19-year-old seasons. In Hammond’s case, he finished with an 18-14-2 record, a 3.27 goals-against average, an .898 save percentage, and two shutouts in 38 games as a rookie. He played 30 games for Surrey to start the 2007-08 season before being acquired by Vernon at the Jan. 10 trade deadline. The Semiahmoo Minor Hockey alumnus got into eight games to wrap up the season with the Vipers.

As the number-one netminder for the Express this past season, Manji had as many wins as Hammond did in his 19-year-old season in one less game. However, Manji’s goals-against average and save percentage were markedly better than Hammond’s at the same point of his career.

Hammond returned to the Vipers as a 20-year-old in 2008-09 and had a season for the ages. He led the BCHL in goals-against average, was named the league’s top goaltender, and nabbed the Wally Forslund Memorial Trophy as part of the goaltending duo with the best-combined goals-against average. Hammond also helped lead Vernon to a Fred Page Cup as BCHL champion and an RBC Cup as national junior A champion, before embarking on a four-year NCAA Division I career at Bowling Green University in September 2009.

How Manji’s final season in the BCHL goes is yet to be determined before he heads off to American International College to forge his own path as an NCAA Division I netminder. For Manji, who’s a Burnaby Minor Hockey Association and Burnaby Winter Club alum, if his 20-year-old season in 2023-24 is anywhere close to that of Hammond’s, it will be one to remember for all Coquitlam Express fans — and pique the interest of NHL scouts even more.