Jack Rathbone looks ready to make the jump full-time during the 2022-23 season, much to the delight of Vancouver Canucks fans. The former 2017 fourth-round pick is projected to be the team’s third-pairing left-shot defenceman after being named to the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Rookie Team last season.
While he has shown that he deserves to be in the lineup, the Canucks still need to be careful when it comes to the development of their top defensive prospect.
Right Partner Makes All The Difference
Rathbone is a mobile defenceman whose game is centred around his offensive capabilities. His defensive game really improved this past season in the AHL and looked to be at the level required to have success at the NHL level. Now all he needs is to be put with the right partner that will help him make a smooth transition to becoming an everyday member of the Canucks.
Going into training camp, Travis Dermott seems like the best bet to be partnered with Rathbone. The former Toronto Maple Leaf knows all about the pressure of being a highly-touted prospect in a Canadian market and should help his transition to the NHL. Unfortunately, the two did not get the opportunity to play together last season, but based on their playing styles, they should work well as a third pair.
With the two so close in age, being 23 and 25, this pairing has the potential to be one the Canucks use for several years. Fans have already seen what a strong partnership can do for a young defenceman in the Quinn Hughes and Luke Schenn pairing, which is why there is so much optimism when it comes to Rathbone and Dermott. If this duo performs as expected during training camp and the preseason, it will help Vancouver solidify their third pairing rather than have a rotation of players, which has been the norm the past few seasons.
Rathbone Must Be Played Consistently
In order for the Canucks to avoid another Olli Juolevi-type situation, they need to play Rathbone consistently throughout the season. That means allowing him to make mistakes without fear that he is going to be benched or pulled from the lineup. Don’t be mistaken; if he isn’t playing well consistently, that is a different story, but the best way to ensure he develops is by getting him into as many NHL games as possible.
A good example is Travis Sanheim of the Philadelphia Flyers. He started his career as a third-pair defenceman but was allowed to develop properly and now has become a staple in the Flyers’ top four. While Rathbone may not have been a first-round pick like the former member of the Calgary Hitmen was, he has the potential to become a top-four defenceman in this league for a long time.
While it may not be right away, the Canucks should also try and get him some power play time. He has already been given some opportunities during his short 17-game NHL career, but should be given more and more opportunities as the season goes on. By the end of the year, he should be on the team’s second unit as he has the skillset to make a difference with the man advantage.
Canucks Fans Need To Temper Expectations
Another thing Canuck fans need to be careful of is putting too much pressure on Rathbone next season and just letting him play his game. The Vancouver market is traditionally tough on its players, especially talented prospects who struggle during their first season. The last thing that needs to happen is that he loses confidence based on unfair expectations heaped on from the fan base. If they simply focus on his overall play rather than pick apart his game shift by shift, they should see steady development throughout the season.
The good news is that he looks ready to make the jump to the NHL and be a positive factor night after night. It is also an important stepping stone for the Canucks organization as it shows they are capable of drafting and developing defencemen who can play in the NHL. From the 2010-11 season until now, there have only been four defencemen drafted by the team who have played at least 100 games for Vancouver. Rathbone should become the fifth member of this group very soon as he looks to play a key role on the Canucks during the 2022-23 season.