With the conclusion of the 2019-20 season up in the air right now and all hockey being suspended for the foreseeable future, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a few American Hockey League (AHL) prospects that could have a chance with the Vancouver Canucks in 2020-21. The competition for roster spots will be fierce, so they will have their work cut out for them. Regardless, they all have had seasons that merit a look against NHL competition. With that said, let’s take a glance at three that could be coming to an arena near you.
Kole “Sophomore Surge” Lind
After a slow start to his professional career, Kole Lind broke out in a big way this season with the Utica Comets. At this point, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as he has done this his entire career. He doesn’t have sophomore slumps, he has sophomore surges.[table id=336 /]
In all the leagues he’s been in whether it be the Saskatoon Midget AAA Hockey League (SMHL), the Western Hockey League (WHL) or the AHL, he has started off slow in his rookie season and took off in his sophomore season. For Canucks fans’ sake, let’s hope he continues that trend when he debuts in the NHL. Better yet, maybe he can buck the trend and break out in his rookie season instead.
As for that NHL debut, we could see it as soon as next season. By all accounts, general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green wanted Lind to have a full season in the AHL before calling him up to the big leagues because when injuries struck the Canucks, it was players like Justin Bailey and Tyler Graovac getting the call, not him.
Lind has definitely turned his career around in 2019-20 and has reignited the hopes that everyone had when he was drafted 33rd overall in 2017. The things that he was doing so effectively in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets were happening on a nightly basis in the AHL with the Utica Comets. He was fast, physical and tenacious in front of the opposition’s net, all the things he did when he scored 39 goals and 95 points in his final season in the WHL. If he can translate that game to the NHL, the Canucks will have yet another prospect pushing for top-six minutes in the near future.
Lind may not get a full season with the Canucks in 2020-21, but his play has earned him the chance to push for a roster spot in training camp and be a regular call-up when injuries strike. One thing is certain, he’s an NHL option once again.
Is it Finally Juolevi Time?
Olli Juolevi has been a topic of debate amongst Canucks fans ever since he was drafted fifth overall in 2016. We all know that hindsight is 20/20, but when you look at the other defencemen that were drafted after him and total up the points, he just looks like a bad pick. Mikhael Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy, who were selected 9th and 14th respectively, are playing prominent roles with their respective teams and have 198 points between them, while Juolevi has yet to play one minute in the NHL.
But enough of the doom and gloom. Despite the fact that he’s yet to step foot in an NHL regular-season game, Juolevi is still a legitimate top-ten prospect for the Canucks. Major injuries to his back and knee have limited him to 63 games over the past two seasons, so it’s understandable that his development has slowed down a bit. He’s still only 21-years-old and has the tools to be a very effective defenceman at the NHL level.
Since Juolevi came back from his most recent injury, he has started to look like the player that was projected by so many outlets to be selected at the top of the 2016 draft. If you look back at what scouts were saying about him, it’s easy to see why Benning was so high on him.
Olli Juolevi of the London Knights is an incredibly competent player who makes the game look easy in all areas. He makes the essential and key plays at every turn. He shows mastery of his position under the most challenging of circumstances, and his poised, calm demeanour are the stuff of pillar-type defencemen.Craig Button, Director of Scouting at TSN
Even though he battled yet another injury this season, he still put up career numbers with two goals and 25 points in 45 games. There were many times when he showed the calm demeanor that Button stated in his scouting report along with tremendous poise with the puck coming out of his own zone. Unlike the flashy Quinn Hughes, Juolevi will just do his job and rarely get noticed. He probably will end up being the perfect partner for him in the future because of this.
The bottom line is, Juolevi needs to see some time in the NHL during the 2020-21 season, just for development’s sake. He’s started to show some consistency with the Comets, now we need to see if he can handle life in the big leagues. Hughes and Elias Pettersson, who were both selected in the years after him, have already become core players of the Canucks. Now it’s Juolevi’s turn to finally do the same.
Rafferty Becomes a Top Prospect
When Brogan Rafferty was signed by the Canucks at the end of the 2019-20 season, not many people thought he was going to become a legitimate NHL prospect. Fast forward to now, and he’s on everyone’s radar as a possible replacement for Troy Stecher if Benning ultimately decides he’s too expensive to keep around. What a difference a year makes.
All Rafferty has done this season is pile up the points and break Comets’ franchise records. His seven goals and 45 points are the highest point total since Bobby Sanguinetti put up 40 back in the 2014-15 season. He also played on the top pairing with fellow prospect Guillaume Brisebois and quarterbacked the power play. Basically he was the team’s best defenceman and arguably their MVP. Not too shabby for an undrafted free agent signing out of Quinnipiac University.
Throughout the season he showed tremendous mobility, poise, and creativity with the puck. His ability to jump up in the play and create offence made the highlight reel almost nightly, including this shorthanded beauty:
What’s even more amazing is that he’s doing this with limited vision, as he’s legally blind in one eye. He also didn’t start playing defence until his senior year in high school. Now that’s the definition of beating the odds.
Rafferty will probably join Stecher and Zack MacEwen as undrafted signings to make the NHL and make an impact in the lineup. They are just the latest examples that the draft isn’t the be-all and end-all. If you work hard and get noticed, the NHL can still become a reality. He will get the chance to prove that when the 2020-21 season gets going in a few short months.
Lind, Juolevi, and Rafferty are just three Canucks prospects that will be looking to break down the door in 2020-21, and we still haven’t talked about Nils Hoglander yet. With his inevitable debut just around the corner, the future of the team is an exciting one. Brace yourself, Canucks Nation, the ride has only just begun.