It’s been a busy news week for Vancouver Canucks prospects as Aidan McDonough made his NHL debut against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Abbotsford Canucks clinched a spot in the American Hockey League (AHL) Playoffs for the second season in a row.
Meanwhile, Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin dipped into the NCAA free-agent waters and signed Max Sasson from Western Michigan University to a two-year entry-level contract (ELC), and is reportedly close to inking Minnesota State University (Mankato) defenceman Akito Hirose as well. With all that said, let’s dive into this week’s edition of the Canucks Prospects Report.
McDonough Gets First Taste of NHL Action
It took a few practices and valuable one-on-one time with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, but McDonough finally made his NHL debut on Sunday (March 26) in front of family and friends at the United Center in Chicago. Backed by a large cheering section wearing Northeastern Huskies jerseys with the name “McDonough” etched on the back, he played a solid game on the third line with Conor Garland and Sheldon Dries.
McDonough’s memorable night began with Andrei Kuzmenko shouting his name as part of the starting lineup alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. He then took the traditional solo rookie lap in warmup and surprisingly lined up as a center for the opening draw and won his first NHL faceoff against Jujhar Khaira. After a 50-second opening shift with the top-two point-getters on the team, he returned to his bottom-six spot with Garland and Dries. By the end of the night, he had a shot on goal, two hits, a 66.7 Corsi for percentage, and three chances (two high-danger chances and one regular scoring chance) to score his first NHL goal – all in only 10:03 of ice time.
McDonough also got to experience his first shift and first game with his childhood friend Jack Rathbone. All in all, apart from scoring a goal, I don’t think he could have asked for a better debut.
Just to have so many friends and family here…And to share it with my best friend since 1st grade, Jack Rathbone, to be out there with me, and to get the two points…Everything you can dream of.Aidan McDonough postgame after making his NHL debut against the Blackhawks
After a strong finish to his NCAA career with the Huskies where he was the captain and accumulated 66 goals and 124 points in 124 games, McDonough will look to build upon his impressive first NHL game on Tuesday when the Canucks take on the Blues in St. Louis.
Two-Way Dynamo Max Sasson Signs With Canucks
The same day one NCAA prospect made his NHL debut, the Canucks signed another in Max Sasson. The Western Michigan standout was one of his team’s best players throughout the 2022-23 season and was a popular NCAA free agent with reportedly half the league interested in signing him. Allvin might have had a leg up on the competition, though, as his agent is Dan Milstein of Gold Star who reps Andrei Kuzmenko, Ilya Mikheyev, Vitali Kravtsov, Danila Klimovich, and Kirill Kudryavtsev. Needless to say, Milstein knows the Canucks.
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Sasson was a productive player in the NCAA this season with Western Michigan where he finished with a team-leading 15 goals and 42 points in 38 games. He was also relied upon in all situations and sometimes played upwards of 24 minutes a night (from ‘The EP Rinkside 2023 NCAA Free Agency Guide’, EP Rinkside, 3/2/23). With his two-way skillset, high hockey IQ, and relatively young age (22 years old), he could become a good third-line center like Max Lapierre. He could also be nothing more than a frequent call-up or AHL journeyman. But considering he was a free asset that only cost money to acquire, it’s a calculated risk by Allvin that could pay off big time in the future.
Sasson will make his pro debut in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks on an amateur tryout agreement before his two-year ELC begins in 2023-24. That means fans won’t see him at Rogers Arena until next season at the earliest, but they can watch him in the AHL Playoffs when they begin in April.
Hirose West Coast Bound From Minnesota?
It appears Allvin might not be done signing NCAA free agents. According to Rick Dhaliwal and further confirmed by Elliotte Friedman, Hirose could be on his way to the West Coast as well. After three seasons with Minnesota State University (Mankato) where he put up seven goals and 68 points in 104 games, he has reportedly decided to return to British Columbia where he played with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL). Highlighted by a 2019-20 season where he captained and led the team with nine goals and 51 points in 57 games, the Calgary, AB native might be another NCAA diamond in the rough.
Hirose started to turn heads back in his freshman season with Minnesota State. Described as a defenceman with “ice in his veins”, his associate head coach at the time, Todd Knott, had nothing but good things to say about his upside in the future.
There hasn’t been the good day/bad day, good game/bad game — I don’t see an emotional swing. He just goes about his business, and that’s what makes him special, that’s why I think there’s such an upside.
Hirose’s work ethic, vision, and mobility could be assets at the next level. It will be interesting to see him develop in Abbotsford if the Canucks do in fact sign him to an ELC.
Abbotsford Canucks Clinch a Spot in the Postseason
Speaking of Abbotsford, they clinched a playoff spot for the second straight season on Sunday (March 26) when the Bakersfield Condors defeated the San Jose Barracuda. Led by Linus Karlsson’s 20 goals and 45 points up front and Christian Wolanin’s amazing 55 points from the blue line, the baby Canucks rock a 35-23-3-4 record (77 points) and are currently tied for third in the Western Conference. As of March 27, they have seven games remaining on their schedule against the Manitoba Moose (twice), Ontario Reign (twice), and Calgary Wranglers (three times).
That does it for this edition of the Canucks Prospects Report. Stay tuned for another one later in the week as we will take a look at Josh Bloom and Connor Lockhart, who are gearing up for the OHL Playoffs, and Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Lucas Forsell, and Elias Pettersson, who are currently taking part in the postseason overseas. Of course, we will also recap all the biggest performances coming out of the NCAA, United States Hockey League (USHL), and overseas as the 2022-23 season comes to a close.