Although the NHL’s regular-season play is suspended, the Vancouver Canucks are still generating news. Little of that news involves players on the ice – except for Elias Pettersson who’s skating back in Sweden, which apparently is upsetting others in the NHL. Other Canucks players are spending time self-isolating at home during the COVID-19 disruption.
In this post, I’ll try to keep Canucks fans more up-to-date on news emerging from the team.
Item One: Can the Canucks sign Mathias Brome?
Rick Dhaliwal of TSN reports that both the Canucks and the Detroit Red Wings are seeking to sign Mathias Brome, a 25-year-old left-winger who’s played the last three seasons in the SHL. Dhaliwal notes that it sounds as if Brome will sign with one of those teams.
If so, there’s a chance Brome would be able to jump right into NHL competition next season. He scored 17 goals and 43 points for Orebro HK in the 2019-20 season, which ranked him sixth in SHL scoring. He’s seasoned and he’s good, but is he a future Canucks player?
Item Two: Elias Pettersson’s in Sweden and He’s Skating
After the NHL shut down on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Elias Pettersson returned home to Sweden to self-quarantine. However, because Sweden differs from Canada in the number of restrictions placed on the population, Pettersson’s been able to find time and space to skate. Obviously, that opportunity doesn’t sit well with everyone.
TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke about that last week when he noted, “The local authorities, in this case in Sweden, allow for this type of activity, players are allowed to skate. I can tell you that there are some NHL players in North America who do not like the idea, given the competitive edge that you might see.”
Although Dreger was speaking specifically about Pettersson, he was also unveiling the complexity of actually re-starting the 2019-20 season. For example, Dreger asked, “What happens when these players are welcomed back to North America? No doubt about it, these players will be quarantined and there are some guys who believe that the players will also face mandatory NHL testing.”
As Dreger hints, making a decision to re-start the season is one thing; however, actually doing what needs to happen to make that decision a reality might be totally different.
Item Three: Jacob Markstrom Wants to Stay in Vancouver
Brendan Batchelor, the play-by-play voice of the Canucks on Sportsnet650 Radio, noted that although he could become a UFA (an unrestricted free agent) at the end of the 2019-20 season, Canucks’ goalie Jacob Markstrom doesn’t want to go anywhere. His goal is to return to the team.
Markstrom stayed in Vancouver to ensure his knee injury was fully rehabbed, but then he too – like teammate Pettersson – returned to Sweden to complete his self-quarantine. His knee feels fine and, perhaps this is just a goalie thing, unlike his young teammate he’s not skating.
Markstrom’s clear on what he wants to happen for the 2020-21 season: he wants to stay in Vancouver. “In my mind, that’s my goal,” he noted.
He’s also optimistic that the season isn’t over yet and that if it isn’t, he can play this season. As he said, “I’m still hoping we can come back and play.”
Item Four: Canucks Top Four Prospects on Defense
On April 19, Peter Harling of My NHL Trade Rumors did a nice piece on the top Canucks prospects in the organization. He argued that, given general manager Jim Benning’s work in the NHL Entry Draft over the past seasons, the organization has a number of great young prospects who soon might move to the team. His top four on defense are:
Defensive Prospect #1: Brogan Rafferty, Utica Comets (AHL)
Brogan Rafferty is a 24-year-old, 6-foot-2, 198-pound defenseman who signed as a free agent in 2019. Interestingly, after a great NCAA career at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, he wasn’t drafted. However, he had a great 2019-20 rookie AHL season with the Utica Comets scoring seven goals and 45 points in 57 games, which led all AHL defensemen.
Rafferty’s a smooth-skater and a good puck-mover. Because he’s older and more experienced, the Canucks will likely give him a chance in their preseason training camp to make the team. His numbers suggest he could help the team’s offense.
Defensive Prospect #2: Olli Juolevi, Utica Comets (AHL)
Olli Juolevi is a 21-year-old, 6-foot-3, 198-pound Finnish defenseman the Canucks drafted fifth overall in round one of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. However, he hasn’t progressed as much as some of the other players in that draft – the Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk and the Arizona Coyotes’ Clayton Keller, for example.
Juolevi was slowed because of a series of nagging injuries. In addition, sometimes it takes young defensemen longer to develop. However, he’s young and had a solid AHL 2019-20 season with two goals and 25 points. Because he has a good chance to become a good NHL player, the Canucks won’t likely give up on him. From what I’ve read, he’s in the mold of Alex Edler – a player who might one day play big minutes.
Defensive Prospect #3: Jett Woo, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Jett Woo is a 6-foot, 189-pound defenseman the Canucks drafted in the second round (37th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old Chinese-Canadian is a banger. Although he suffered a disappointment not making the Canadian World Junior roster last season, Woo served as a full-time alternate captain for the Calgary Hitmen and played an increased leadership role with the team.
Woo isn’t flashy and he won’t put up the kind of numbers a Quinn Hughes will, but he’ll be a solid partner to an offensive defenseman. My prediction is that if he ever plays in Vancouver he’ll become a fan favorite.
Defensive Prospect #4: Jack Rathbone, Harvard (NCAA)
Jack Rathbone is a 20-year-old, 5-foot-11, 190-pound defenseman who was drafted by the Canucks in the fourth round (95th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Rathbone is soaring up the Canucks’ depth chart and has now finished two collegiate seasons. In his first season at Harvard, he scored an impressive 22 points in 33 games. Last season was even better, and he scored 31 points in 28 games.
Few young defensemen at any level score more than a point-a-game, and it would be understandable if the Canucks would like to see him in the NHL sooner rather than later. However, I hope stays at Harvard both to develop his game and to prepare for life after hockey.
A Havard education from is a rare opportunity for anyone and by the time he’s finished four collegiate seasons, he should be prepared for either the AHL or the Canucks roster.
What’s Next with the Canucks?
The Canucks, similar to all other NHL teams, are simply waiting to see how the rest of the season unfolds. One issue at play is the fate of Tyler Toffoli. He looked like a great addition to the team. However, as more time goes by and more revenue is lost, the possibility of Toffoli returning seems more remote. For NHL fans, there’s still lots up in the air for 2019-20.