The Young Stars Tournament and prospects camp in Penticton had become a tradition for Vancouver Canucks fans. Without the annual get together of young talent, it will feel like something is missing this season. It served as a preview to training camp and gave fans a chance to see prospects that normally would not get much ice time in the preseason.
Instead, it will be informal skates and scrimmages without an outside competitive component. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the results of the hard work that the prospects have put in during the summer. It is also a sign that hockey has returned to the West Coast.
The exciting thing about this year’s prospects camp is that it is open to the public. Canucks fans will be able to get a glimpse of the next generation of players as they prepare for the main camp. Here are three that you need to keep an extra close eye on.
Olli Juolevi (D)
By the time prospects camp starts, Olli Juolevi will have rehabbed his second major injury in the past two years. Both injuries have been to major parts of a hockey player’s body, the back and the knees. That is a hard road back for anyone, let alone a young prospect trying to make the NHL.
Amid reports that Juolevi would be missing both training camps, general manager Jim Benning announced that he was good to go, but with an asterisk. If the knee shows signs of stress, he gets pulled back. Ultimately, time will tell if he is indeed recovered enough to legitimately compete for a spot on the roster. Because of these mixed messages, fans and the media will have their binoculars on whenever Juolevi is on the ice this weekend.
All we can do is hope that there are no setbacks. If he can get through a season relatively injury-free, he may finally take the next step and play a major role in the NHL. It certainly seems like he is up to the challenge.
I have the confidence all the time… I know I am good. I knew last year whenever I got the chance, I was going to be helpful to the team. That’s the same mindset now. When I’m fully healthy and ready to go, I know I can help this team. Of course, you’ve got to be healthy to achieve your goals.Olli Juolevi
That sounds like a confident hockey player. When healthy, Juolevi is a smooth-skating, two-way defenseman capable of moving the puck up the ice. He is the type of player you want on your team in the new NHL. Despite many fans writing him off as a bust, I still believe he can be an impact defenseman. Let’s hope we see a glimpse of that in prospects camp and eventual debut in the NHL.
Carson Focht (C)
Admittedly, I was not excited to see the Canucks select Carson Focht when the fifth round came around in June. Since then, he has become a player to watch in prospects camp and beyond. Immediately following the draft, the World Junior Summer Showcase (WJSS) gave Focht the stage he needed to showcase why the Canucks thought he was worth a pick.
In the tournament back in August, he was one of the standouts on a team littered with first and second-round picks. In fact, one of his passes looked like it came from a first-rounder. He steadily improved as the tournament progressed and put himself on the radar of Team Canada brass for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.
It will be interesting to see how he looks playing with older players who have experience in the professional leagues. If he can stand out in prospects camp, he may get an invitation to the main camp. Then we will see how he looks against NHL competition. Could the Canucks have a sleeper prospect on their hands?
Jett Woo (D)
This season is a pivotal one for the 2018 second-round pick from Winnipeg. Unlike his future Calgary Hitmen teammate, Focht, Jett Woo did not have a solid showing at the WJSS. I would not look too deeply into that, as he was coming off minor knee surgery. It is worth mentioning though, as we go into prospect camp. His skating will ultimately tell us if he is fully recovered.
After a season of pure domination (66 points in 62 games) in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Woo will try to make a case for an NHL spot. However, all signs point to a return to the WHL and a new team in the Hitmen. Once there, he will try to force his way onto Team Canada for the World Junior Championships in December.
If all goes well, Woo is a member of the Canucks or at the very least, the Utica Comets by the 2020-21 season. Enjoy watching him this season, Hitmen fans, he will be terrorizing the NHL soon enough.
Of course, it goes without saying that Quinn Hughes will be in the spotlight, as well, as he should be. After a summer of conditioning and hard work, it will be a treat to see what tweaks he has made to the elite package he already possesses.
Apart from Hughes, those are three players that should get a closer look this weekend. Get ready, Canucks fans, hockey is just around the corner and prospects camp is just the beginning of the fun.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, 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.