The Young Stars tournament was a perfect opportunity for not just the Vancouver Canucks, but also their fans to see exactly what the organization’s prospect pool looks like. They were not disappointed as the Canucks walked away from the tournament going 2-1 with victories over the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. While most of the attention at these tournaments is usually focused on draft picks, this year was different as the stars for Vancouver came mostly in the form of signed free agents. Here are five standouts from this weekend’s tournament.
After a successful season with the Red Deer Rebels that saw him lead the Western Hockey League (WHL) in points, Arshdeep Bains decided to sign with his hometown team, the Canucks. A player that took a little more time than most to develop, the Surrey, BC native looked confident all weekend. Whether it was strong defensive zone play or driving the net hard to score the first goal of the tournament for the Canucks, he did not look out of place and outplayed some of the drafted players not just on Vancouver’s roster but also on Edmonton’s, Calgary’s and Winnipeg’s.
What stood out most about Bains was his anticipation or what some call hockey sense. He showed off his ability to read the defence, which helped him create offensive zone entries and scoring chances throughout the three games. As he is a hometown player, there will be some pressure on him to succeed in the American Hockey League (AHL) this season with Abbotsford, but he looks up to the challenge going into his rookie season as a pro.
It has been a long road for Linus Karlsson, but the 2018 third-rounder is finally ready to make his presence felt in North America. He was one of the top players at this year’s tournament, finding the back of the net three times, including twice against the Oilers. A prospect who has been in the Canucks’ system since 2019, the now 22-year-old forward should not only be a key contributor to the Abbotsford Canucks this season but may even get a shot in the NHL as the season goes on.
Karlsson showed a lot of confidence on the ice this past weekend. Case in point, his second goal against the Oilers, as he was able to beat the goaltender up high from a difficult angle beside the net. While most players may have tried to carry the puck around the back of the net, he noticed the goaltender was not positioned properly, and there was room between his shoulders and the crossbar. Not only does it take confidence to get the shot off, but he also showed off his skill in being able to execute the goal. The hope is that he can transfer his strong play from the tournament into training camp and make the decision whether or not to send him to the AHL at the start of the season a difficult one for the coaching staff.
Coming into the tournament, some Canucks fans may not have known who Tristen Nielsen was. The former Vancouver Giant was signed by the Abbotsford Canucks back in 2021 to a two-year AHL contract after finishing up his WHL career. While his statistics from the AHL last season might not blow people away with 11 points in 41 games, he continually got better as the season progressed and was moved up the lineup while being given more power play time. Now in his second pro season, the expectation is for him to take another step forward and fight for a top-six role at the AHL level.
As for his play in this tournament, well, he made a pretty good impression on new head coach Jeremy Colliton. Not only was Nielsen able to light the lamp twice, but he also showed strong chemistry with Danila Klimovich. He also wasn’t afraid to play physically and showed off his speed, scoring a highlight-reel goal versus the Flames. This is a player who is fighting for an NHL contract, and if he can bring the same energy he did at this tournament to training camp and the AHL season, it shouldn’t be long until the Canucks offer him one.
Coming into the Young Stars tournament, all eyes were on Klimovich. The 2021 second-round pick is entering his second season with the organization and looking to improve after a rookie season that saw him record 18 points in 62 games. A threat every time he touched the puck this weekend, he started to show some of the qualities that made Vancouver so keen to draft him 41st overall.
The main takeaway from Klimovich’s play this weekend was that he is ready to take the next step in his development. His passing game has improved from last season, and he is making smarter plays with the puck. When the play is in the offensive zone, he wants to be involved. Instead of standing in one spot calling for the puck, he moves around the zone looking for open space. On his goal, he was able to find some open ice at the side of the net, collect the puck and put it past the goaltender. A prospect who stayed in Vancouver all summer so he could learn English, this tournament showed he is ready to impress during the 2022-23 campaign at the AHL level and maybe even in the NHL.
The other Quinn in the Canucks’ organization, Quinn Schmiemann, came to play at his first Young Stars tournament. The former Kamloops Blazer captain, who signed an AHL contract this past summer with the Abbotsford Canucks was Vancouver’s most consistent defender through the entire tournament. Playing on a pair with Jett Woo, he played hard, didn’t make many mistakes and was able to generate some offence when given the chance.
Most of Schmiemann’s game will go unnoticed, but one play stuck out. With the Canucks down 2-0 versus the Oilers, he was able to race back to the blue line in the offensive end and save the puck before it left the zone. He then made a move to the outside with a defender on him to create space and fired a laser cross-ice pass to Nils Åman, who set up Karlsson for a goal. It is plays like this that show he is engaged and ready to do whatever it takes to win. Watch for him as, just like Nielsen, he will be fighting for an NHL contract this season.
Canucks Young Stars Shine Bright During Tournament
Overall, the Canucks should be happy with this weekend’s results. They saw strong performances from the majority of their group and got a closer look at some undrafted prospects that will once again be available, this time in the 2023 Draft. Most importantly, it was a chance for fans to engage with the team in an event aimed at families. It was a great tournament and will hopefully give the team’s prospects a boost going into training camp.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.