Vancouver Canucks’ Top Prospects #11-20

We should call head amateur scout, Judd Brackett, the late-round whisperer as he has been the architect of many of the picks who have surprised us in recent years. Since he took over the scouting throne in 2015, the Vancouver Canucks have made 27 picks in the third round or later. Of those, there are at least 10 that could legitimately be projected as National Hockey League players. That’s a pretty good success rate for the later rounds.

One of them that jumps off the page right now is Finnish-born defenseman Toni Utunen who dazzled us at the World Junior Summer Showcase with two goals in the opening game. He was not a flashy pick in the fifth round but could turn out to be a steal if recent performances are any indication. He is just one of many that have the potential of surprising us in the future.

Now that we’ve gone through the cream of the crop in the top 10, let’s delve into the next tier of top prospects for the Canucks. Looking through the list, there are a few names that could conceivably have been put into the top 10. This is a great problem to have, in my opinion, as it shows the depth of the Canucks’ current prospect class.

Vancouver Canucks Top Prospects 11-20
Jonah Gadjovich, Toni Utunen, Jack Rathbone (Vince/The Hockey Writers Archive)

Some of these names could be lesser known to Canucks fans, as they are not as flashy as Quinn Hughes and Vasili Podkolzin. But they could be the sleepers that leap past everyone and become important pieces of the team going forward.

Without further pomp and circumstance, here are the prospects who currently rank in spots 11 through 20. Note, the projections are more on the optimistic side of where they could end up in the National Hockey League.

20. Ethan Keppen (LW)

Acquired: Fourth Round (122nd overall), 2019 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Flint Firebirds (OHL)

2018-19 Stats: 57 GP – 19 G – 40 A – 59 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Flint Firebirds (OHL)

Ethan Keppen is another interesting prospect in the Canucks’ pipeline. Going into the 2019 NHL Draft, the Canucks appeared to have had grit and size as checkboxes on their draft boards. Keppen has these in spades. Coming in at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, he plays a hard, physical game. Add in the 200-foot game he also possesses, Keppen could be a solid NHL player down the road.

Following the draft, he attended development camp and revealed that he was on the Canucks’ radar immediately after his season ended with the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League. Knowing this, Canucks fans and management alike will be watching his development closely.

In 2019-20, Keppen will return to the Firebirds and attempt to improve on the 30 goals he had last season. However, he will have to improve his defensive game, as he was a combined minus-47 in the last two seasons. But that could be the product of being on a poor team.

Projection: Bottom-six, two-way forward

19. Ashton Sautner (D)

Acquired: Undrafted Free Agent

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

2018-19 Stats: 31 GP – 3 G – 5 A – 8 PTS / 17 GP – 0 G – 1 A – 1 PT

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

The only undrafted defenseman in the top 20, Ashton Sautner has progressed nicely over the past four seasons. Now the veteran of 189 American Hockey League games, he earned several call ups to the Canucks during the 2018-19 season. By the end of the season, he had played 17 games with the parent club.

Ashton Sautner Tyler Wong
Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ashton Sautner checks Vegas Golden Knights forward Tyler Wong during a preseason game on 9/17/17 (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

During his time in the NHL, Sautner displayed a calm and consistent presence on the blueline. Injuries to top defenseman Alex Edler and Chris Tanev forced him to play further up the lineup in tougher situations. Fortunately for the Canucks, he did not look out of place. He eclipsed the 20-minute plateau multiple times and had a decent, albeit not spectacular, 48.1 Corsi-For percentage. If he can continue being a maintenance-free defenseman, the Canucks will not hesitate to call him up when the inevitable injury bug hits.

Projection: Number six/seven defenseman

18. Petrus Palmu (RW)

Acquired: Sixth Round (181st overall), 2017 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) / TPS Turku (SM-liiga)

2018-19 Stats: 12 GP – 0 G – 1 A – 1 PT / 29 GP – 4 G – 14 A – 18 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: TPS Turku (SM-liiga) or Utica Comets (AHL)

Petrus Palmu had a difficult start to his professional career. Beginning the season in the AHL, he only got into 12 games and was at odds with Comets’ head coach Trent Cull and the management group. It became so bad, that Palmu thought that the best thing for his development was to return to TPS Turku of the Finnish SM-liiga.

Vancouver Canucks Petrus Palmu
Vancouver Canucks forward Petrus Palmu (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

While there, he played top minutes for the club, racking up 18 points in 29 games. Despite all the turmoil, Palmu is still a legitimate prospect and should be treated better going forward. Short, but immensely skilled and built like a tank, he is perfect for the new NHL. The Canucks would do well not to let him go quietly into the night.

Projection: Top-nine scoring forward

17. Lukas Jasek (RW)

Acquired: Sixth Round (174th overall), 2015 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

2018-19 Stats: 63 GP – 9 G – 20 A – 29 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL), call ups to the Canucks

Lukas Jasek has rapidly ascended the prospect rankings since his debut with the Comets in March 2018. After signing an NHL contract weeks later, Jasek finished the season with seven points in six games. In 2018-19, he made the Comets out of camp and put together a respectable 29 points in his first full professional season.

Vancouver Canucks Lukas Jasek
Vancouver Canucks forward Lukas Jasek (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

His speed and tenacity were evident throughout the season, making him an ideal candidate for the third and fourth lines in the NHL. For a sixth-round pick who was almost forgotten about, that’s found money for the Canucks.

Projection: Top-nine energy winger

16. Linus Karlsson (C)

Acquired: Trade with the San Jose Sharks

2018-19 Team: Karlskrona HK (Allsvenskan)

2018-19 Stats: 52 GP – 5 G – 13 A – 18 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Karlskrona HK (Allsvenskan)

Acquired in the trade that sent Jonathan Dahlin to the San Jose Sharks, Karlsson is a more well-rounded forward then the former Canucks prospect. Before he was drafted by the Sharks, Ryan Biech of Canucks Army liked his shot and puck handling in the offensive zone. However, he was not a fan of his skating, describing it as “choppy and lacking high speed.”

He is also a smart, hard-working centerman that is good in his own zone and can contribute offensively, as well. He fits in nicely with all the other forwards that general manager Jim Benning has acquired over the last couple of seasons. In 2019-20, Karlsson will return to Sweden and continue his journey to the NHL. Look for him to come over next season and compete for a job in the AHL with the Comets.

Projection: Number-three center

15. Jonah Gadjovich (LW)

Acquired: Second Round (55th overall), 2017 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

2018-19 Stats: 43 GP – 4 G – 6 A – 10 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

After a solid final season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Owen Sound Attack, Jonah Gadjovich looked poised to bring that success to his first professional season with the Utica Comets of the AHL. However, things did not go as planned, as he only put up a paltry 10 points in 43 games.

Jonah Gadjovich, OHL, Owen Sound Attack
Jonah Gadjovich (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

He struggled to adjust to the quickness of the game and did not play the same style that made him successful in the OHL. Gadjovich is another example of a player who potentially requires a season to adjust to the professional game. Just like fellow second-round pick Kole Lind, his first year in the OHL was not pretty, putting up nine points in 60 games. He followed that up with 146 points in 168 games to finish his OHL career. So, it’s probably not a good idea to count Gadjovich out just yet.

He also has an impressive package of size, skill and a knack for scoring a few feet from the goaltender. The Canucks have not had a power forward who could do that since Todd Bertuzzi. He probably won’t have the career Bertuzzi had, but Gadjovich could still be an effective player for the Canucks in a bottom-six role.

Despite the early struggles, he did improve towards the end of the season, which bodes well for the future of the burgeoning power forward.

Projection: Number three/four winger

14. Guillaume Brisebois (D)

Acquired: Third Round (66th overall), 2015 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

2018-19 Stats: 49 GP – 3 G – 8 A – 11 PTS / 8 GP – 0 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)

It was not long ago that Guillaume Brisebois was the Canucks’ top defensive prospect behind Olli Juolevi. This is not a knock on Brisebois, but realistically he projects as a bottom-pairing defenseman at the NHL level. Now that the Canucks have prospects like Jack Rathbone, Toni Utunen, Quinn Hughes and Jett Woo who project higher than him, the expectations for Brisebois are much lower. For the third-year pro, this is a good position to be in. He can now just go about his business and attempt to develop into a serviceable NHL defenseman.

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Guillaume Brisebois makes his NHL debut with the Canucks

Brisebois was able to get into eight games with the Canucks last season and looked average. For a defenseman making his debut in the NHL, that’s about all you can ask for. Brisebois has made strides every year he’s been in the professional ranks. The production he displayed in Juniors has not translated well to the professional game. However, he has shown the same hockey IQ that impressed scouts when he was drafted. This bodes well for his future in the NHL.

Brisebois will look to improve and take the lessons he learned at the NHL level into the 2019-20 season with the Comets. With all the depth the Canucks have acquired on the blueline this offseason, Brisebois may not get into a game with the Canucks this season. However, he will be a viable option should they need him.

Projection: Number five/six defenseman

13. Toni Utunen (D)

Acquired: Fifth Round (130th overall), 2018 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Tappara Tampere (SM-liiga)

2018-19 Stats: 43 GP – 1 G – 2 A – 3 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Tappara Tempere (SM-liiga)

Toni Utunen has rocketed up the prospect rankings for the Canucks since he was drafted in 2018. He has also broken the hearts of Canadians along the way. It was Utunen who sent Team Canada home when he scored in overtime in the Quarter Finals of the World Junior Championships this past year. Then he did it again when he scored two goals in an 8-3 drubbing of Team Canada in the World Junior Summer Showcase last week. He probably wishes he could play Team Canada every game!

Utunen is not known as an offensive dynamo, so it’s surprising that he is in the news for his offensive game. It may never move over to the professional game, but just seeing it is encouraging.

Toni Utunen of LeKi
Toni Utunen of LeKi (photo courtesy LeKi)

If he could add a consistent offensive element to an already impressive defensive game, his ceiling will be much higher. Even if Utunen does not become an offensive threat at the highest level, he still has exceptional hockey IQ and strong leadership qualities. That alone increases the odds of him becoming an NHL defenseman. He has already captained Team Finland to a gold medal and looks poised to ride that momentum into 2019-20. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do for an encore.

Projection: Number four/five defenseman

12. William Lockwood (RW)

Acquired: Third Round (64th overall), 2016 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: University of Michigan (Big-10)

2018-19 Stats: 36 GP – 16 G – 15 A – 31 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: University of Michigan (Big-10)

William Lockwood had a breakout season in his junior year at the University of Michigan. He showed tremendous chemistry with Hughes and finished second in team scoring with 31 points. Blessed with tremendous speed, Lockwood improved throughout the year and showed us why he is a prospect to watch going into the 2019-20 season.

One area he improved in was his anticipation and hockey sense as he seemed to know where the puck was going to be before it even got there. This, of course, will become very important when he finally makes the NHL. I actually see a lot of former Canuck Jannik Hansen in his game. If he can carve out half the career he had, the Canucks will be happy.

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William Lockwood Profile

In September, Lockwood will enter his senior year at the University of Michigan with the captain’s “C” sewn on his chest. At the end of the season, look for him to sign a contract with the Canucks and potentially join them for a playoff push or a first-round playoff series.

Projection: Number three/four winger

11. Jack Rathbone (D)

Acquired: Fourth Round (95th overall), 2017 NHL Draft

2018-19 Team: Harvard University (ECAC)

2018-19 Stats: 33 GP – 7 G – 15 A – 22 PTS

Projected 2019-20 Team: Harvard University (ECAC)

You would be forgiven if you forgot about Jack Rathbone. After the season he just had, you have no excuse for not knowing his name, though. In his first season in the NCAA with Harvard University, he finished with 22 points, which was good for third among defenseman. As a freshman, he became a large part of head coach Ted Donato’s defense core. It only took a couple of months for Rathbone to be placed on the top pairing with another top prospect, Adam Fox.

Throughout the season, he displayed a quick transition game, as well as the ability to run a power play. He has quickly become another exciting defensive prospect the Canucks have in their system. That is very impressive, coming from a fourth-round pick, not expected to be a top-end defenseman in the NHL. It seems like Brackett struck gold again.

Former Cape Cod Whalers defenseman Jack Rathbone (THW Archives)

As Rathbone enters his sophomore season with Harvard University, he will look to build upon the success he had in 2018-19. With Adam Fox turning pro in 2019-20, he will be tasked with more responsibility. It will be up to Rathbone and New Jersey Devils’ prospect Reilly Walsh to lead Harvard’s attack from the blueline this season. If this past season was any indication of Rathbone’s upside, Canucks fans should be very excited about the future.

Projection: Top-four defenseman, power play quarterback

There you have it, the top 20 Canucks prospects. It’s going to be exciting to track their progress as the 2019-20 season unfolds. The talent that Brackett, Benning and the scouts have put together gives Canucks fans hope for the future. A hope that has not been prevalent for a very long time. Put your sunglasses on folks, the future is very bright for this franchise.