Canucks’ Top-10 Prospects: Pre-Draft Edition

With the regular season in the books and playoffs either going on or already completed, most of the top prospects for the Vancouver Canucks are getting set for the offseason and another push toward developing into professional hockey players in either the American Hockey League (AHL) or NHL. There were many prospects that took a step forward in that regard, turning in solid 2021-22 seasons in either North America or Europe and thus solidifying their spot in the top-10 before the 2022 NHL Draft throws it all out of wack on July 7 and 8.

Jack Rathbone, Aidan McDonough and Arshdeep Bains Top 10 Canucks Prospects

So without further ado, let’s start the countdown of the top-10 Canucks prospects as it stands going into the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal.

10. Jonathan Myrenberg, Right Defence

Busting into the top 10 for the first time as a Canucks prospect, Swedish defenceman Jonathan Myrenberg had a breakout season in the J20 Nationell posting a career-high eight goals and 31 points in 35 games with Linköping HC’s J20 team. Selected 140th overall in the 2021 Draft, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound right-hander also shone in the playoffs with four goals and eight points in eight games as his team won the 2022 Anton Cup (or J20 SM Gold Medal).

Quickly becoming a name to watch in the Canucks’ prospect pipeline, Myrenberg boasts an intriguing package of size, mobility and a strong point shot that he used often this season. His defensive game was also on display as he finished with an impressive plus-27 in the plus/minus column during the regular season and a plus-5 in the playoffs. With his skill set, could they have another Alex Edler on their hands?

9. Jett Woo, Right Defence

Heading into his fifth season in the Canucks’ organization after being selected 37th overall in 2018, Jett Woo is slowly but surely developing. Deployed on right-wing in the latter half of the season and into the playoffs for Abbotsford, he still hasn’t quite figured out how to be that same two-way force he was in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Calgary Hitmen and Moose Jaw Warriors. Finishing with 33 goals and 160 points in 242 games, there were high expectations that he could possibly translate that to the AHL and eventually the NHL, potentially partnering with Quinn Hughes on a dominant top-pairing.

While he looked good with Jack Rathbone at times in 2020-21, Woo still hasn’t been able to produce offence from the backend consistently since turning pro. In 70 career games, he only has 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists). Now 21 years old (not over the hill by any means), it appears that high-octane offence is not in his future. Being a right-hand shot, the Canucks need him to be an NHL defenceman one day, because they don’t really have a lot of them in their system at this point. No need to panic, yet, but it would be great to see him get some time in the NHL next season to find out how he looks against established forwards – and play his natural position of defence, not right-wing on the fourth line.

Woo has all the tools to be a serviceable top-four defenceman with his size (6-feet, 205 pounds), mobility and physical play. Now it’s time to find out if he can handle the speed and pace of an NHL game. Despite head coach Trent Cull playing him on the fourth line as a forward, the organization does see him as a defenceman, which is great to hear. So, I would expect him to get more time in the top four moving forward. According to Abbotsford general manager Ryan Johnson, he just needs to find his “pro identity”, whether it be a two-way defenceman like he was in junior or a solid Chris Tanev-Esque player who his head coach can pair up with offensively minded blueliners like Rathbone or Hughes.

8. Dmitri Zlodeyev, Center

As mentioned in previous Canucks prospect reports, Dmitri Zlodeyev just keeps increasing his stock. Unfortunately, as is the case with most Russian players, there is always a measure of uncertainty about whether they will ever get to see North American ice. Especially now with the NHL officially severing ties and communication with the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

Politics aside, Zlodeyev remains a tantalizing prospect in the Canucks’ system. If he ever comes over to North America, and debuts in the NHL one day, I think fans are going to be excited to watch him in action. After he was traded to the Spartak Moskva KHL franchise and was sent to their MHL team, MHK Spartak Moskva, he absolutely took off, as he finished the season with 17 goals and 34 points in only 18 games, along with a plus-22. He also starred at the truncated 2022 World Juniors in December where he had a goal in two games.

Known for his strong two-way game and offensive creativity, Zlodeyev could become a solid third-line center in the NHL that has the ability to pot 15-20 goals a season. Selected all the way down in the sixth round at 175th overall in 2020, he is looking more and more like a steal of a pick for the Canucks. Hopefully, for the franchise and its fans, his skills aren’t limited to a KHL arena in the seasons ahead, but Rogers Arena or Abbotsford Center instead.

7. Lucas Forsell, Left Wing

Without a first-round pick in the last two years, the Canucks’ pool is filled with late-round selections that may or may not play in the NHL one day. Luckily for them, they have a few that appear to possess the potential of fellow late-round picks Ondrej Palat (208th overall in 2011) and Patric Hornqvist (230th in 2005). One of them is Swedish forward Lucas Forsell, who was drafted at 201st overall.

As one of the youngest forwards at the 2021 Draft, Forsell just turned 18 on Sept. 5, 2021, and has already played 30 games against men in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He acquitted himself well too, scoring four goals and six points along with an even plus/minus rating. In the J20 Nationell, he was even better, recording 15 goals and 34 points in 35 games and three goals and seven points in five relegation games to keep his team from being dropped out of the league.

Forsell had to battle through a lot this season playing for one of the worst teams in the J20 Nationell. Yet, he found a way to thrive, leading his team in goals, points and most impressively, plus/minus (tied with Sigge Grunditz at plus-1). His seemingly NHL-caliber shot, playmaking and hockey IQ in the offensive zone were on display all season long, making him yet another Swede to keep an eye on in the Canucks’ pipeline. He is still very raw when it comes to knowing how to use the tools in his toolbox, but that will come with time as he is still only 18.

“You can see that he [Forsell] has some skill and a lot of offensive sense, but he’s still kind of…awkward about putting the tools to use. [His] Brain is faster than [his] body.” – Derek Neumeier, FC Hockey

6. Arshdeep Bains, Left Wing

Signed as an undrafted free agent on March 11, Arshdeep Bains has quickly become a top-10 prospect for the Canucks. That is either a testament to the strides he’s taken as a player or an inditement on the prospect pool the franchise currently has. Or, maybe it’s both.

Arshdeep Bains Red Deer Rebels
Arshdeep Bains, Red Deer Rebels (Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)

Regardless, Bains had a monster season that not only translated to an NHL contract but Bob Clarke Trophy honors as well. Leading all skaters with 49 goals and 112 points, he became the first player of South-Asian descent to win the trophy and the second Red Deer Rebel to ever cross the finish line as the WHL’s leading scorer, joining Justin Mapletoft (43 goals, 120 points) in the feat. He also was named a WHL First-Team All-Star alongside his linemate Ben King, who had a record-breaking season as well with 52 goals and 105 points.

Related: Canucks Add Intriguing Skill With the Signing of Arshdeep Bains

Bains, usually lauded for his work ethic, playmaking and creativity on the ice, has also developed into an ambassador for the South Asian community off the ice. Red Deer Advocate editor Byron Hackett, a reporter who has covered him throughout his rise, saw more of that intangible as he grew into the player and person he is today.

“I think he realizes what kind of an impact he can have,” [Hackett] said. “He’s sort of starting to embrace that role as a mentor and as a public figure in the community. I think that’s something that has become more and more important to him as he’s grown” (from ‘Surrey’s Arshdeep Bains chasing pro hockey dream in Abbotsford’ Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News, 5/17/22).

Being from nearby Surrey, BC, Bains will have a unique opportunity to grow that role in his hometown, as the South Asian community is rather strong in that area of the province. Along with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate being in Abbotsford, he will be a huge role model for South Asians attempting to break into professional hockey.

Bains might have had interest from upwards of 20 NHL teams, but it was clear Vancouver was probably where he would end up. The fit was as perfect as it could get.

“It’s probably the best thing a kid could dream of when they start playing hockey,” [Bains] told CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi. “For me to get the opportunity to play in my hometown, it’s super special.”

5. Will Lockwood, Right Wing

Another one of those potential late-round gems is Will Lockwood, someone who has already shown the ability to play in the NHL in a bottom-six role. While he only played two games at the end of the season in 2020-21, his speed and forechecking skills were on display as he showed fans what he could be capable of in the coming years. Fast forward to training camp in 2021-22, and he was at it again, this time impressing media and fans in attendance with his sneaky physicality as he leveled 6-foot-2, 229-pound Luke Schenn with an open-ice hit.

Will Lockwood Vancouver Canucks
Will Lockwood, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Lockwood didn’t make the opening-night roster but went down to Abbotsford – presumably – as one of the primary call-up options. He didn’t end up getting the call until later in the season, though, so most of his campaign was spent playing for Cull down the highway in Abbotsford. He didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard but finished his rookie season with nine goals and 25 points in 46 games. Then, when Tyler Motte was traded to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, he got the chance to be a regular in Bruce Boudreau’s lineup.

While Lockwood was held off the scoresheet, save for nine penalty minutes and a minus-3, he showed everyone why he could become an effective energy player in the NHL. Using his speed, physicality and relentless forechecking, fans saw flashes of Motte and Jannik Hansen in his game. Boudreau ended up using him on the penalty kill too, which will probably become a staple of his in the future as he develops into a full-time NHLer – which could be as soon as next season.

4. Linus Karlsson, Center/Right Wing

Like many of the prospects on this list, Linus Karlsson had a breakout season in 2021-22. Not only that, but he also broke Elias Pettersson’s rookie mark in the SHL for points, finishing with 26 goals and 46 points in 52 games. Now, many point to the fact that Pettersson did it at 18 rather than 22, but that shouldn’t devalue the accomplishment. He still broke it and will remain the record-holder until another rookie breaks it in the future. As a cherry on top, he also was named the SHL’s Rookie of the Year over Detroit Red Wings’ top prospect Simon Edvinsson. Talk about a solid season.

Linus Karlsson Skellefteå AIK
Linus Karlsson, Skellefteå AIK (Jörgen Bergkvist / Skellefteå AIK)

In addition to all that, Karlsson was named to Team Sweden’s roster at the 2022 World Championship in Finland alongside future teammate Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He has yet to suit up for a game, but Karlsson has proven this year that he could be a productive NHLer when (not if) he makes it over to North America. Boasting an NHL-ready shot, playmaking from the point on the power play and improved mobility, he might turn out to be one of the biggest signings the Canucks make this offseason (from ‘Boudreau, Kuzmenko, staff changes: What we’re hearing about the Canucks’ offseason priorities’ The Athletic, 5/13/22).

3. Aidan McDonough, Left Wing

On a list full of late-round picks at forward, Aidan McDonough could end up being the best of the bunch when he hits his prime. He’s got size, an NHL-level one-timer, and now that he’s improved his skating, an NHL power forward in the making. Playing for Northeastern University last season, he scored a career-high 25 goals and 39 points and finished second only to Ethen Frank of Western Michigan University in goals in the entire NCAA. He also finished in the top-25 in points. To put that season into perspective, his last career-high was only 11 goals, set during his freshman campaign in 2019-20.

Along with those career numbers, his team also came home with some hardware as the Huskies prevailed over Merrimack to win the Hockey East regular-season title with McDonough scoring the game-winner in overtime. Unfortunately, they were denied a chance at the NCAA Championship when Western Michigan scored 1:33 into overtime to eliminate them in the opening round in March. Because of that, he decided against signing with the Canucks for the 2022-23 season so that he could return to the Huskies for another kick at the can. He will have a new letter on his chest as well, as he was voted the next captain by his teammates, a role he’s excited to embrace.

“It’s amazing, it’s such an honour…I’ve had some great captains to look up to and I’ve always wanted to be like them and lead as they did. I’m really looking forward to leading these guys next year. It hasn’t fully hit me just yet but that first game with the ‘C’ on my chest is going to be super special. In 30-40 years, it’ll be something I look back and will probably just say ‘wow’. It’s not just about hockey to me though, it’s about being a leader and having this experience. This inspires me in life and in a lot of ways. I’ve never been a captain, we didn’t have captains in high school, then I only had one year in junior. This is going to be a really good learning experience for me and I am so excited to lead.”

Aidan McDonough, NCAA, Northeastern Huskies
Aidan McDonough, Northeastern Huskies (Jim Pierce / Northeastern)

McDonough will be attending Canucks’ development camp in mid-July at UBC, so it won’t be too long before fans and media can see him in action. He won’t be playing for the Canucks this season or be at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, but everyone should rest easy now that he’s confirmed that he will be signing on the dotted line once his senior campaign at Northeastern is complete.

My plan is to sign with Vancouver at the end of my NCAA season.

Aidan McDonough

Buckle up Canucks fans, 2023-24 is going to be fun.

2. Danila Klimovich, Center

It didn’t take long for fans to see what Danila Klimovich could bring to the NHL one day. It started immediately at rookie camp when he was firing snipes into the net and wowing the crowd with his soft hands, incredible edges and seemingly endless creativity. Selected in the second round by the Canucks at the 2021 Draft, there were some questions as to where he would start the season. Would it be in the NHL, AHL or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)? Turns out his performance at training camp was enough to convince them that the best place for the 19-year-old Belarusian was in Abbotsford under the watchful eye of Ryan Johnson and the Sedins.

Klimovich hit the ground running with two goals in his first two games, but cooled off as the season went on. There were flashes of his skill but not a lot of tangible numbers to show for it, as he finished with only eight goals and 18 points in 62 games. Despite the lack of production, Johnson has high hopes for the future after seeing growth from September until now.

“He’s come an extremely long way since September, with just his ability to use linemates, his puck management, his decisions down low,” said Johnson…”For a kid that young to get his first kick at the can in the American League, the cultural change, and to think he could end up with 10 goals … there’s a lot of growth there” (from ‘Canucks prospects tracker: The head of player development weighs in’, Mike Raptis – The Province, 4/25/22).

Klimovich didn’t end up with ten goals and got benched in the playoffs by Cull, but there’s still a lot of excitement when it comes to his potential in the NHL as a goal-scorer in the top six. From his domination at the U18s in his draft year to the various times he either snuck his way past a defender with his soft hands or sniped a laser of a shot top-corner, it won’t be too long before Al Murdoch is announcing his name as part of the starting lineup at Rogers Arena.

1. Jack Rathbone, Left Defence

This was a tough decision, but Jack Rathbone has taken over as the Canucks number-one prospect. With how much potential he has, it’s hard to fathom how he got selected all the way down in the fourth round at 95th overall. Yes, he’s had his share of growing pains and a scary injury this season, but he still remains the best chance the franchise has at another elite puck-moving top-four defenceman. They already have one in Hughes, but that’s about it.

Like Hughes, Rathbone still has some work to do defensively, but his offensive prowess, skating, hockey IQ and playmaking abilities are off the charts. Not to mention the one-timer and vision he has on the power play. It was somewhat disappointing to see him get sent down after the successful stint he had at the end of the 2020-21 season when he scored his first NHL goal, but it was clear he still needed some development to do in the AHL before taking over a full-time role with the big club.

Jack Rathbone Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Somewhat expected after the nine points in eight games he had with the Utica Comets last season, Rathbone ended up dominating the AHL landscape with a cool 10 goals and 40 points in 39 games. When the season ended, he had wrapped up a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team and team awards of Fan Favourite and Rookie of the Year. He also finished third among rookie defencemen in assists and solidified himself as one of the most exciting players in Abbotsford. With any luck, he will be doing the same thing in Vancouver next season as they look to become a faster, more structured team out of their own zone.

Related: 3 Canucks Prospects Who Need To Have an Impact in the Next 5 Years

With his immense toolbox on offence and the growth Hughes saw defensively after being criticized for the same things Rathbone is right now, there shouldn’t be any doubt in anyone’s mind that he could become just as well-rounded as he is. In fact, Johnson is seeing some improvement on that front already.

“He has improved dramatically in his reads in the D-zone with time and space, and being able to defend in all situations to give him a chance to be adaptive…He’s a competitor. He has faced everything with a smile on his face and he keeps coming back stronger. I don’t think we’re anywhere near his ceiling yet” (from ‘Canucks: Can promising Jack Rathbone cure poor structure, defensive-zone breakouts?’ The Province, 5/4/22).

In the end, Rathbone has the potential to make a huge difference on the Canucks’ defence next season, both at even strength and on the power play. That’s why the recently-turned 23-year-old is now their top prospect (pending the results of the 2022 Draft, that is).

There you have it, the Canucks top-10 prospects as it stands before the 2022 NHL Draft in July. It may not be the strongest of pools, but there are a lot of interesting players that could potentially become prominent NHLers one day. As we all know from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success with Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and Brayden Point, sometimes it’s the later picks that end up being the most important when reaching for a Stanley Cup. Hopefully, for the Canucks’ sake at least a couple of them hit their potential and become even a fraction of what that trio has accomplished so far in their careers.

All stats were taken from Elite Prospects

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