The Vancouver Canucks are playing meaningful hockey games for the first time in a long time and fans are excited at the prospect of a bright future for the team. Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, and Jacob Markstrom have put the rebuild ahead of schedule and the Canucks have not only been a winning team but one that is exciting to watch.
Recent events, namely the injury of Markstrom, have exposed issues in defensive coverage that will need to be shored up. With the pipeline looking bleak for prospects on the backend, undrafted 24-year-old Brogan Rafferty has blown expectations out of the water and created a flurry of hype. His great season has brought up the question of if the hype is deserved and how will Rafferty fit into Canucks’ future plans?
Canucks’ Situation on the Blue Line
The Canucks, propelled by goalscoring and strong goaltending, have exceeded expectations this season and are currently in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The team has been depending upon their young core upfront, as well as the stellar play of Markstrom to get them this far and his injury has revealed some deeper issues that the organization will need to take care of. Their defence group is not at the level it will need to be for the Canucks to compete with the true contenders of the league and this became evident when they no longer had the luxury of elite goaltending to clean up their mistakes.
This talent discrepancy between the forwards and defencemen is not isolated to the NHL level and is a result of the team having spent more draft capital and been more successful with it when selecting forwards compared to defenceman. This has led to not only a strong prospect pool but a number of forwards stuck in between the NHL and the AHL, offering depth pieces upfront that can fill in when injuries hit. The Canucks only exacerbated this issue when they did not select a single blueliner during the 2019 NHL Draft, instead opting to attempt to address the issue through free agency with the signings of Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn.
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Approaching this season it seemed as though the Canucks best prospects on the backend were Olli Juolevi, the highly selected 2016 Draft pick who has struggled with injuries; or Jack Rathbone and Jett Woo, players who are still a few years away from contributing in the NHL. Little did anyone know that Rafferty, a three-year player at Quinnipiac University, would step up and prove himself to be among the best of the Canucks prospects and have fans calling for him to be called up to the big leagues.
Who is Brogan Rafferty?
Unless you are a Canucks fan or follow the AHL it is unlikely that you have ever heard of Rafferty. He is a product of the USHL, a league where Canucks draft picks Tyler Madden and Adam Gaudette played as well. Upon finishing his USHL career, Rafferty played at Quinnipiac University, where he led the team in assists as a freshman. He never beat his point total of his freshman season yet inspired enough confidence that the Canucks signed him to a contract following his junior year.
Rafferty got in two uneventful games with the big club at the end of the 2018-19 season but it is his performance as a professional this season that has fans looking forward to his call-up. At the time of writing this article, he has 44 assists in 56 games, as well as a plus-18 plus/minus. He has looked strong on the power play for the Utica Comets and his offensive upside is what makes him an attractive NHL prospect.
Elite skating, smooth hands, and offensive awareness from the backend are something that the Canucks have been exposed to this season in Quinn Hughes, and if Rafferty could have a fraction of the impact that Hughes does then fans would be elated. His hands are displayed in this assist on an overtime winner by Kole Lind as he dances between defenders before passing the puck back to a wide-open Lind.
Rafferty was named to the AHL All-Star game this season, an impressive feat for someone playing in their first professional season. He is quickly putting his name into the history books as he now holds the Comets record for points in a season by a defenceman. Fans are excited for him to join the team in the NHL, but how exactly will he fit into the lineup and what can fans expect when he does?
Where Does Rafferty Fit?
Rafferty is right-handed and therefore will be expected to play on the right side of the blue line, a role where the Canucks currently have Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Myers. Myers just signed a long-term deal last summer and projects to be a presence in the lineup for a while. Tanev and Stecher are both unrestricted free agents this offseason, and it’s no secret the Canucks are up against the cap.
Even if the cap were to increase by a significant amount, it will still be difficult for the Canucks to sign everyone. The team will likely have to part ways with one of Tanev or Stecher and this could be Rafferty’s chance to get a full-time spot on the team. Even with his gaudy point totals, it should be taken into consideration that he is 24, quite old for a rookie.
The Canucks have been blessed to have rookies that have excelled right out of the gate and this may cause expectations to be high for future prospects, such as Rafferty. Playing an offensive-minded game, it will be normal for him to experience ups and downs through the beginning of his career. Canuck fans can be hard on players but hopefully, they allow him some time to get accustomed to the speed and play style of the NHL. If they do, we will hopefully see many goals like the one above in the future.