It’s time for another edition of the Vancouver Canucks prospects report! Highlights include Jonah Gadjovich’s assault on the American Hockey League’s (AHL) leaderboard, Lukas Jasek’s emergence as an offensive threat, and Jack Malone’s continued offensive presence in the USHL. Jack Rathbone also left the AHL to join the Canucks as they continue to battle the effects of COVID-19 and despite Vasily Podkolzin and Linus Karlsson’s best efforts, their seasons have come to an end overseas.
That and a whole lot more as we continue to recap and analyze the top performances of prospects throughout the Canucks pipeline.
Utica Comets Update
The Comets continued their truncated 2020-21 season this week with two games against the Syracuse Crunch and their first meeting with the Providence Bruins. They ended up winning both games against the Crunch by scores of 5-1 and 3-2 and then closed out the week with a humbling 6-2 blowout defeat to the Bruins. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the highlights that came out of the Canucks’ farm team this past week.
Comets Moving Out West?
The games weren’t the only news that came out of the Comets this week, as reports of re-location also came to light (from ‘Canucks’ AHL affiliate may move from Utica’, The Province, 4/17/21). Prompted by president Robert Esche’s registration of the “Utica Devils” trademark and news that the New Jersey Devils would be changing affiliates ahead of the 2021-22 season, there definitely seems to be some truth to the report.
Ever since the Abbotsford Heat halted operations in 2014, whispers of the Canucks moving their AHL team closer to home have never really stopped. The great relationship they have with the Comets and their management group has kept the partnership alive, but if the obvious connection between the Devils is true, they may be forced to change it. Given the fact that they have an out-clause at the end of the season, this might be the perfect time to cut ties.
Having their prospects close by instead of across the country would also make callups easier, and Canucks fans would be able to watch their development from their own backyard. Abbotsford Centre is also empty and fully equipped to handle an AHL franchise. It makes so much sense to just move them and let the Devils have the closer proximity of the city of Utica and the Canucks have either Abbotsford Centre down the freeway or the Pacific Coliseum just a few blocks down the street.
Rathbone Gets the Call
Once the Canadian government relaxed the 14-day quarantine to seven days, it was only a matter of time before uber-defensive prospect Jack Rathbone got the call to the NHL. After bursting onto the scene with the Comets to the tune of two goals and nine points in eight games and impressing everyone with his hockey IQ, mobility, and overall two-way game, he is ready for the big stage.
Rathbone won’t be eligible to play until Apr 23, but his debut will still be highly anticipated. I predict he will eventually have as big of an impact on the roster as Quinn Hughes has had. Considering he was a fourth-round pick instead of a highly rated first-rounder, that’s saying something about how far he has come as a prospect.
Gadjovich Can’t Stop Getting on the Scoresheet
Gadjovich’s third season in the AHL has been nothing short of spectacular. He scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season on Tuesday and doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon. He is now only two goals away from matching his output from the 2019-20 season and could potentially hit 20 goals before it’s all said and done in a few weeks.
Gadjovich is looking more and more like the prospect the Canucks drafted in the second round out of the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Owen Sound Attack in 2017. His work in front of the net on both the power play and five-on-five has impressed not only his fans but his head coach as well.
Jonah is great on the forecheck, he’s so good at the net front, he’s got great hand-eye. I don’t only want to talk about him on the power play. He’s been great at 5-on-5.Comets’ head coach Trent Cull on Jonah Gadjovich
With the expansion draft coming up in a few months, the Canucks are going to have to make a tough decision on whether to protect him or leave him exposed to potentially get selected by the Seattle Kraken. I’m sure Ron Francis and company are watching his development very closely, especially during the hot streak he’s currently on. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s squarely in their scouts’ sights as we speak.
Jasek Heating Up
Since the Comets returned from their forced hiatus due to the pandemic, Jasek seems to have found another gear offensively. He is currently on a three-game point streak and was a factor in all three games this week, posting a goal and five points. If the Canucks continue to need bodies for their roster and the Taxi Squad, look for his name to be one of the next call-ups, next to Sven Baertschi and Gadjovich of course. His season total now sits at two goals and 13 points in 14 games.
Comets’ Next Games: Apr 19 vs. Syracuse Crunch, Apr 21 vs. Binghamton Devils, Apr 23 vs. Rochester Americans, Apr 25 vs. Syracuse Crunch
Vasily Podkolzin – SKA St Petersburg (KHL)
After playing the hero in Game 5 last Saturday and extending the series to a Game 6 on Monday, Podkolzin couldn’t do it again as he was held off the scoresheet. In fact, his entire team was held at bay in a 2-0 defeat that eliminated them from the KHL Playoffs.
Podkolzin played 15:19 in the loss and finished with two shots on goal. His KHL career is effectively over as his contract comes to an end in just a couple of weeks. According to his agent, he won’t be coming over to North America any time soon. Considering the length of time it would take to get a visa and fulfill the COVID-19 protocols coupled with the low probability of a Canucks playoff run, it really makes no sense for him to come over right now.
Podkolzin finished the playoffs with an impressive six goals and 11 points in 16 games, and will now prepare himself for next season where he will have a chance to ride shot gun with Bo Horvat and Nils Hoglander on the Canucks’ second line.
Linus Karlsson – BIK Karlskoga (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Karlsson did all he could to extend his team’s playoff run last week with five goals and nine points in the final three games. He even led a ferocious comeback that almost saw them erase a 6-1 deficit in Game 7 with his first and only hat trick of the season.
Karlsson finished the playoffs with a staggering eight goals and 15 points in 11 games to go along with the 20 goals and 51 points he posted in 52 regular season games. Unfortunately, unlike Podkolzin, he won’t be bringing his game to the Canucks next season as he has reportedly signed a contract with Skelleftea AIK for the 2021-22 season.
Toni Utunen – Tappara (Liiga)
After posting an assist at the beginning of the month, Toni Utunen scored his second goal of the season on Monday against Karpat. For him, two points in a month is an offensive outburst as he went ten games without a point before that. His two goals tie a career-high he set during the 2017-18 season in the Mestis. His season total now sits at two goals and six points in 51 games.
Jack Malone – Youngstown Phantoms
Like many of the Canucks prospects this past week, Jack Malone had a strong showing with his eighth and ninth goals of the season. He even scored the overtime game-winner against the Muskegon Lumberjacks with a deft wrist shot after making a quick lateral move across the ice. The goal marked the completion of a comeback that saw his team come back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period. After going seven games without a goal a few weeks ago, he now has two goals and four points in his last three games, which gives him a total of 9 goals and 36 points on the season.
Slower play, it seemed to be, as I took it over the line there…I saw some ice, took it, found myself near the slot. Threw it on the net, it went in.Malone on his game winning goal on Saturday
Next Games: Apr 22/23/24 vs. Team USA
Jackson Kunz – Greenbay Gamblers
Kunz is now a 20-goal scorer. He hit the milestone on Saturday night against the USNTDP Juniors and sits first on the Gamblers in goals just ahead of undrafted forwards Camden Thiesing and Ryan Kirwan. Unless he fixes up his skating and overall mobility, he probably won’t hit that milestone in the NHL, but it’s still impressive nonetheless. Once he gets to the NCAA, we will see if this season was just a fluke or the start of something great.
Next Games: Apr 19/23/24 vs. Dubuque Fighting Saints
That does it for another edition of the Canucks prospects report. Stay tuned for more next week as we continue to bring you all the updates from here and overseas!
All statistics were provided by Elite Prospects
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.