3 Canucks Defencemen Making Strong Cases For Roster Spots

The Vancouver Canucks have begun to reduce their training camp roster to something a bit more manageable. After 13 more cuts were announced on Tuesday, it now stands at 29 players with a few more subtractions to be made before the season starts on Oct. 12 against the Edmonton Oilers. The only real roster battle remaining is on defence with three depth players duking it out. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at each combatant as they fight to win a spot in the opening night lineup.

Christian Wolanin

Selected 107th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2015, Christian Wolanin has bounced around since debuting in the NHL during the 2017-18 season. After spending four seasons in the Senators organization shuttling between Ottawa and Belleville, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 2021 for Mike Amadio. Then, he rode the waiver wire between the Kings and Buffalo Sabres before landing back in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign where he finished with 18 points in 37 games and four points in the playoffs.

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Becoming a free agent in the offseason, Wolanin signed a two-year contract with the Canucks on July 14. His addition to the roster went mostly under the radar as most fans and experts just assumed he was destined for Abbotsford as one of the primary call-ups in case of injury. Well, after his performance against the high-powered Oilers on Monday, he might actually be starting the season as the seventh defenceman in Vancouver instead.

While the Canucks ended up being no match for the NHL-heavy lineup led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Wolanin impressed everyone with his poise, first pass and big shot on the power play. He also went up against the all-world duo multiple times and didn’t look overmatched, finishing the game with two assists, 22:12 of ice time, three shots on goal, three blocked shots and two takeaways.

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In fact, Wolanin’s play was probably one of the reasons why veteran Danny DeKeyser was released from his professional tryout contract (PTO) on Tuesday. That’s saying something considering DeKeyser has 547 NHL games on his resume and Wolanin has only 70.

Jack Rathbone

Will this be the season Jack Rathbone becomes a full-time NHLer? It sure looks that way based on his performance in the preseason so far. The 23-year-old from Boston, MA is exactly what the Canucks need more of on their blue line this season – someone that can move the puck effectively and be a consistent presence on the third pairing. Partnered with Schenn for most of training camp while Quinn Hughes took part in an experiment on the right side, Rathbone appears to be ready to take the NHL by storm in 2022-23.

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While it remains to be seen whether Rathbone can translate his superb first pass and vision to the big leagues consistently, he has all the tools to be a difference maker on a Canucks team that is in desperate need of one not named Hughes. With Travis Dermott potentially out for the beginning of the regular season, Rathbone’s spot on the defence corps is his to lose. Fortunately for him, Bruce Boudreau saw improvement almost immediately and praised his ability to take pointers from the coaching staff.

“From the first time he stepped on the ice until now he’s really come along…he takes direction well. He wants to play. I think he’s an up-and-comer and hopefully we’ll see if there’s room at the start and go from there.”

Jack Rathbone Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rathbone has played three preseason games so far and has been utilized as a top-four defenceman in almost every one of them. Averaging 21:50 of ice time and 3:57 on the power play, he has been held pointless along with six shots on goal and four blocked shots. Clearly, he’s being given every opportunity to succeed. Now it’s up to him to play to the best of his ability over the final two games. Starting in Abbotsford against the Oilers, a place where he had a lot of success last season with a career-high 10 goals and 40 points in 39 games, he will look to make a final positive impression on Boudreau and avoid being sent back there next week.

Kyle Burroughs

Kyle Burroughs was Wolanin last season as he surprised everyone and made the team. Not only that, but he stuck around and recorded five points in 42 games including his first NHL goal. He was also one of the more physical blueliners on the Canucks finishing with 122 hits, which ranked fourth on the team behind Tyler Myers (145), J.T. Miller (172) and Luke Schenn (273).

Kyle Burroughs, Vancouver Canucks
Kyle Burroughs, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During the preseason this year, Burroughs has been his usual physical self throwing big hits and getting into scrums after the whistle. Being a right-hand shot gives him a bit of a leg up on Wolanin as the Canucks don’t have a lot of options on that side. Throw in the fact that they didn’t add any physicality to the defence corps in the offseason, he might just be on the final roster two seasons in a row. But this time, it won’t be a surprise.

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Well Canucks fans, it’s almost time for the puck to drop on yet another NHL season in Vancouver. Interestingly enough, they will start 2022-23 the same way they started 2021-22, with a road trip to Edmonton and Philadelphia. By this time next week, we will see who of these three defencemen made the team and who was jettisoned to Abbotsford. Gear up everyone, the real games are about to begin!

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