After losing six of their last seven games and the playoffs all but officially out of reach, the Vancouver Canucks need to play some of their prospects for the remainder of the regular season (eight games). Vancouver now sits 14 points out of the fourth and final playoff spot behind the Montreal Canadiens, and would not only have to essentially win out but would need a million things to go their way to make the playoffs.
The chances of that happening are slim to none, so why not use the remaining eight games to see what the Canucks have in their youth and pipeline? It’s an opportunity to give some of the veteran players a rest down the stretch and bring some players up to allow them to showcase what they’ve got. Even if it doesn’t result in victories, it’s a step in the right direction of the future for the organization.
Who to Look Out For?
We all know of some of the youth on this team that has immediately had an impact already. Quinn Hughes has clearly demonstrated he’s one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL at just 21 years of age and is very much a big part of the core group moving forward. But there are some other players, whether they’re still on their entry-level deals or guys who have been in the system for a bit now, that still have many question marks surrounding them on whether or not they can make the jump or not.
Kole Lind is a name that was just re-introduced to Canucks fans. A second-round pick back in 2017, he is still just 22 years old. Last season with the Utica Comets, he racked up 13 goals and 30 assists in 61 games and was a point-per-game player this year, with eight points in as many games. He has already played in four games with the Canucks this season, and though he has failed to record a point, he’s averaging over 15 minutes in TOI per game and should get an extended look over the final few weeks of the regular season.
Another player to look out for is defenseman Jack Rathbone. Another 2017 draft pick (fourth round) could get some solid NHL action in the final eight games. He made his NHL debut against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday and scored his first NHL goal against them Thursday. While only 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, similar to Hughes, is a highly intelligent offensive player.
Over two seasons in the NCAA at Harvard University, Rathbone had 53 points in 61 games, and in eight games with Utica, this year had two goals and seven assists. No, this isn’t a comparison to Hughes, but there are some similarities dating back to their college days. Hughes produced 62 points in 69 games over his final two seasons at Michigan University and also played in a limited capacity his first NHL season before bursting onto the scene last year.
Increased Role for Some
Other younger players on the roster have already stuck around for the majority of the season, and to their credit, have faired very well. Nils Hoglander has had a nice rookie campaign, compiling 22 points in 47 games, and has been given the opportunity at times to play in some big roles this season, but what about doing so for an extended period of time?
Hoglander has averaged 15:28 TOI (time on ice) per game, but why not give the 20-year-old an even larger role. With Elias Pettersson expected to miss the remainder of the regular season, and a barrage of injures to other players like Brandon Sutter, Tyler Motte, Antoine Roussel, and Micheal Ferland, this is as good a time as ever to get some experience playing bigger minutes against better competition.
What About the Goaltenders?
Thatcher Demko seems to be the goaltender of the future for the Canucks, but another good young goaltender is coming up the ranks. 21-year-old Michael DiPietro had a rocky start to his NHL career back in 2018, where he surrendered seven goals on 24 shots, but the youngster has looked good in the AHL. In 36 starts with the Comets last season, DiPietro owned a 2.79 goals-against average (GAA) and .908 save percentage (SV%).
He was also one of the premier goaltenders in the Ontario Hockey League for the better part of his final two seasons, and at some point, Vancouver will have to give him another chance to see how he fares in his 2nd NHL start. It’s a good problem to have, but why not showcase him and give him a couple of starts down the stretch?
It’s disappointing not to head to the postseason after last year’s success, but like most teams, this is a chance to get a head start on your development and have a glimpse at what the future of the Vancouver Canucks looks like. And who knows, a player or two might make the most of the opportunity.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.