Canucks on the Farm: Homegrown Talent a Focus This Offseason

After eight seasons with the Utica Comets as their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Vancouver Canucks decided to cut ties with them in the offseason and establish their own franchise closer to home. Only an hour away from Rogers Arena and nine minutes from Abbotsford International Airport, the farm system is now conveniently situated for call-ups any time and anywhere.

Related: Canucks Run of Successful Prospects Will Continue With Podkolzin

If the Canucks require an emergency recall from Abbotsford in the middle of a road trip, the chosen player can get on a plane in minutes and be flown anywhere the team needs him. Conversely, if they need someone in Vancouver, they can easily hop in a car and be at Rogers Arena in a little over an hour. Gone will be the days of emergency goaltenders and prospects being wasted away in the press box or on Taxi Squads.

That’s just one of the benefits of having the Canucks’ farm team in Abbotsford. Apart from the convenience of the location, it appears that the province of British Columbia is also a draw for young free agents, skilled undrafted prospects, and seasoned AHL veterans as well. The team has become a bit of a hotspot for homegrown talent too, as five of the recent signings were born and developed right here in BC. So, in the first Canucks on the Farm article of the season, let’s find out more about them as they prepare to make history as part of the Abbotsford Canucks inaugural roster of 2021-22.

Kyle Burroughs – Defence (Vancouver)

From the Langley Eagles of the Pacific Coast Bantum Hockey League (PCBHL) to the Colorado Eagles of the AHL, Kyle Burroughs has been around the block a few times since starting his hockey journey back in 2009. Now 26 years old, he has played for eight teams, including one that hails from my hometown of Aldergrove, the Aldergrove Kodiaks. Selected 47th overall in the 2010 Bantam Draft by the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League (WHL), he went on to become one of their biggest leaders.

Before becoming captain of the Pats in 2013, Burroughs was selected 196th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2013 Draft. Lauded for his compete level, physicality, and overall hockey IQ, Burroughs was described as a potential sleeper leading up to the draft by USA Today’s Kyle Woodlief.

His smart pinches and puck distribution stamp him as a savvy and poised player. There will be persistent doubters because of his size, but he still plays a physical game and competes hard in the battle areas. Very much an under-appreciated hidden gem.

Kyle Woodlief (from ‘Ranking the top 10 defensemen in NHL draft’, USA Today, 6/11/13)

Ending his Pats career with 103 points in 220 games, including a career-high 8 goals and 40 points during his draft-plus-one year, Burroughs finished his WHL stint with the Medicine Hat Tigers when he was traded there in 2015. From there, he played parts of five seasons in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he donned the “C” for the second time in his career. Finishing with 82 points in 313 games, he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche during the 2020-21 season and made his NHL debut on Apr. 5, 2021 against the Minnesota Wild. He only played 6:17, but realized a dream that was 12 years in the making.

Kyle Burroughs, Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Kyle Burroughs, seen here with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After signing a two-year, two-way deal with the Vancouver Canucks in the offseason, he will now have a legitimate shot at realizing another dream of playing for his hometown NHL team. If nothing else, he will be playing close to home for the first time in over a decade. From his interviews, you can tell he’s excited.

Being a hometown kid, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the opportunity. Obviously the opportunity came about and it was too exciting to pass up on. I’m just ecstatic.

Kyle Burroughs on joining the Canucks (from ‘Joining Canucks ‘too exciting to pass up’ for Langley’s Kyle Burroughs, The Province, 8/12/21)

Even if Burroughs doesn’t make it to Vancouver, he will bring a competitive, team-first attitude to Abbotsford’s dressing room. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him don the “C” as one of its inaugural leaders.

Devante Stephens – Defence (White Rock)

From nearby White Rock, Devante Stephens is another graduate of the WHL. Playing for the vaunted hockey factory of the Kelowna Rockets that has produced the likes of Alex Edler and Tyler Myers, he made a name for himself as a tough-as-nails defenceman that never backed down from a fight. Sticking up for teammates and providing a physical presence was his game. Despite not being much of a point producer in his draft year, the Buffalo Sabres decided to use their 2015 fifth-round pick on him.

Related: Vancouver Canucks’ Aggressive Offseason a Success So Far

After a career-high 13 goals and 35 points in 2016-17, Stephens graduated to the pro game with the Rochester Americans. Splitting his time between the AHL and ECHL, he has struggled to gain a foothold in the professional leagues over the past four seasons. He could still develop into a solid seventh defenceman in the mould of Alex Biega, but time is starting to run out as he’s already 24 years old and has yet to step foot into the NHL.

Regardless, Stephens has the chance to be a fan favourite in Abbotsford with his brand of physicality and toughness. The chance to play only 51 minutes away from his hometown in front of his family and friends might be the motivation he needs to stick around for an entire AHL season. Seeing that the Canucks’ ECHL team is in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I’m expecting him to fight hard to stay on the roster.

Jarid Lukosevicius – RW (Squamish)

Moving north to the interior and Squamish, BC, Jarid Lukosevicius (try saying that name five times fast) is one of the latest players to join the BC brigade in Abbotsford. Undrafted out of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), he first started turning heads with the Powell River Kings where he recorded 59 goals and 135 points in 116 games. He was a lethal goal scorer and point producer that made his living with his speed and shot.

Related: Canucks’ Offense Will Be Much Better Next Season

Committed to the college track, Lukosevicius started his journey in the NCAA at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. After an underwhelming freshman season where he put together only six goals and 10 points in 34 games, he improved to 16 goals and 32 points in 43 games before the proverbial dam burst in 2017-18. Scoring a hat trick and being named the MVP of the Frozen Four turned out to be the boost he needed to finish strong during his final two seasons.

Interestingly enough, Lukosevicius has already slipped on a Canucks jersey. Back in 2018, he took part in their development camp where he impressed fans with his skill and compete level. Ultimately going unsigned, he returned to Denver the following season and proceeded to become a highly sought-after prospect.

Breaking out with 21 goals and 34 points in 41 games and 19 goals and 29 points in 40 games respectively, Lukosevicius drew the interest of several teams after graduation. Lauded for his personality, work ethic, and overall 200-foot game, he was a favourite of his head coach Jim Montgomery, who is now an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues.

Fun-loving kid who brings a smile to his teammates’ faces regularly, and a player who has grown immensely on and off the ice…He’s become a glue guy — not only a nucleus in the lineup — but off the ice too. He holds his teammates accountable and he relishes his role on our team and loves being a Pioneer…His work ethic on the forecheck and on the backcheck — he’s become a 200-foot hockey player…Last year, there’s no way he would have been out with a one-goal lead in the last five minutes of the game. He’s out there all the time now.

DU Head Coach Jim Montgomery (‘Jarid “Luko” Lukosevicius becoming household name for Denver Pioneers hockey’, The Denver Post, 2/21/17)

Opting to sign an AHL deal with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2019, Lukosevicius is still trying to find his way in the professional leagues. Since his time in the NCAA, he only has seven goals and 10 points in 46 games and has been in and out of the Griffins’ lineup. It will be interesting to see how he plays on home soil. If the Canucks are lucky, maybe he can rekindle the magic that saw him light up opponents in Powell River back in 2014-15?

Tristen Nielsen – C (Fort St. John)

Staying up north in the interior, we move to Fort St. John and Tristen Nielsen’s hometown. If you are a Vancouver Giants’ fan, his name should be very familiar. Starring for the club that calls the Langley Events Center home, he has become a cult hero over the past few seasons. Bursting onto the scene with 14 goals and 35 points after a 2018 trade with the Calgary Hitmen, he endeared himself to the faithful rather quickly. He was a star during their 2019 Playoff run that saw them make it to the WHL Final against the Prince Albert Raiders, and then became one of their top snipers only a season later.

Tristen Nielsen of the Calgary Hitmen
Tristen Nielsen, seen here with the Calgary Hitmen (Candice Ward/Calgary Hitmen)

Hitting a career-high 30 goals and 65 points in 61 games during the 2019-20 season, Nielsen was rewarded with an “A” on his jersey at the beginning of 2020-21. He then continued to produce during his final season in the WHL with 15 goals and 32 points in 22 games. Like Lukosevicius, Nielsen’s game is built on speed and skill. He also has an underrated shot and isn’t afraid to go into the corners.

My speed is definitely my best attribute…I’m very fast and I’m not afraid to go to the dirty areas but I also have a good, heavy shot, so my speed helps me get that away. I think my speed allows me to get open to use it so I think those would be my two biggest strengths.

Tristen Nielsen

Fortunately for Giants fans, they won’t have to go too far to see him continue his hockey career. Now just minutes down the freeway in Abbotsford, he should be one of the stars on a roster that is bursting with talent and potential.

Nic Petan – W/C (Delta)

Last but certainly not least, we go back down to the city of Delta and the familiar name of World Junior star Nic Petan. Originally a second-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets back in 2013, he has bounced around a bit since graduating from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Still trying to establish himself in the NHL at 26-years-old, he has logged almost as many games in the NHL as the AHL with 136 and 147 games respectively.

Clearly a scoring machine in the lower leagues with 358 points in 252 WHL games and 135 points in 147 AHL games, Petan has not been able to translate that scoring touch to the NHL. He definitely has the tools to succeed in a bottom-six role but has yet to cement a spot for himself in any lineup so far. However, like most of the signings Abbotsford and Vancouver have made, he will bring an extremely high compete level to the rink along with speed, skill, and leadership.

Nic Petan, seen here with the Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Petan will also be a good call-up for Vancouver should they get into injury trouble. He has the versatility to play up and down the lineup and has the skill to play on the power play too. Despite not hitting his ceiling as a second-round pick, he still can provide value as an injury replacement and extra excitement to the fanbase in Abbotsford.

Homegrown Talent Will Bring Leadership and Character

All five of the players both versions of the Canucks have signed since the beginning of the offseason all have three things in common, work ethic, character, and leadership. Three of them have worn a letter on their jersey at some point and all of them have displayed immense character throughout their career so far. Abbotsford is well-positioned to have a successful first season on and off the ice with these five personalities potentially on the roster.