Hockey is back! No, it’s not the regular season or even the preseason, but Vancouver Canucks fans will get to see the greatest game on earth be played tonight as the Young Stars Classic gets underway in Penticton at the South Okanagan Events Centre. The first game will see the Winnipeg Jets face off against the Edmonton Oilers at 4 pm PT, while the Canucks will play against the Calgary Flames in the nightcap at 7:30 pm PT.
Let’s take a look at a few players you should be watching from both the Canucks and Flames whether you’re in the building or watching/listening online.
Players to Watch: Vancouver Canucks
Signed in the offseason by Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin, Nils Aman comes over from the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) after the Colorado Avalanche decided not to sign him to a contract. Selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Young Stars Classic will be the first time Canucks fans will get to see him play in North America. He has spent his entire career in Sweden, most recently with Leksands IF where he finished the 2021-22 campaign with six goals and 14 points in 51 games.
Versatile enough to play both center and wing, Aman could be an intriguing piece for the Canucks down the road as he has the size, speed and willingness to go to the dirty areas on the forecheck. With the team’s organizational need for more depth down the middle, he might fill a role as a third or fourth-line center in the future. It will be interesting to see if he sticks out amongst his peers at this tournament, especially given the fact that he will be playing on the smaller ice surface. Regardless, he is someone to watch when the festivities get going in Penticton tonight.
By now, if you’ve been following my Prospect Reports here at The Hockey Writers or just the Western Hockey League (WHL) in general, you already know the name, Arshdeep Bains. Fresh off a monster season where he won the scoring title on the strength of 43 goals and 112 points, the former Red Deer Rebels star is ready to start turning heads in the pro leagues. That journey begins with pulling on the Orca at the Young Stars Classic, something he was beyond excited to do on Thursday.
The hometown boy who grew up in Surrey and played at the Burnaby Winter Club has overcome a ton of adversity in his hockey career. Passed over in both the WHL and NHL Drafts, Bains had to lean on his work ethic and support system to guide him to where he is today – on the cusp of playing in the NHL.
“My dad saw something in me and had me do extra stuff off the ice and I think he knew before me to be honest. He pushed me and by bantam (Burnaby Winter Club) I thought I could make it, but I took it one day at time. I had a good group around me pushing me so I was pretty lucky” (from ‘Canucks: Arshdeep Bains motivated by adversity, accountability, opportunity’, The Province, 9/15/22).
Whether that NHL debut comes this season or in the near future remains to be seen, but I have no doubt that Bains will do it someday. He has come too far to let anything stop him from realizing his dream of skating in a regular season game at Rogers Arena. Fans will get to see that determination firsthand tonight.
Players to Watch: Calgary Flames
Recently named THW’s third-ranked goaltending prospect, Dustin Wolf could be ready to take the NHL by storm in the next couple of seasons. Currently third on the depth chart behind Dan Vladar and Jacob Markstrom, the former seventh-round pick by the Flames in 2019 has had a meteoric rise up every prospect chart since putting together a tremendous rookie season in the AHL last year. Starring for the Stockton Heat (soon-to-be Calgary Wranglers), he finished with a 33-9-4 record and a sparkling 2.35 goals-against average (GAA) and .924 save percentage (SV%). Suffice it to say, he had a good first full season in the professional ranks.
Unless there are injuries at the NHL level, I agree with THW’s own Colton Pankiw when he said that Wolf won’t usurp Vladar as the backup this season. However, if Vladar stumbles or gets hurt, he definitely will get a chance to further solidify his status as the Flames’ goaltender of the future. Nevertheless, it’s going to be a treat to watch him in the crease this season wherever he plays.
Going from a prospect who stops the puck to someone that is adept at putting it in the net, Jakob Pelletier will be looking to make a good first impression on the Flames’ coaching staff ahead of main training camp. With a very successful rookie season with the Heat under his belt where he scored 27 goals and 62 points in 66 games, a spot on the opening night roster is his for the taking if he wants it bad enough. Heck, a lot of projections are already penciling his name in on the third line.
Jonathan Huberdeau, the newest Flames superstar, might have a crystal ball in that respect as he reached out to Pelletier ahead of rookie camp. “He texted me, just to say hello…I was kind of surprised and excited. It’s great. For me, I’m not too good in English, so it’s great for me to have a French guy and a role model to look up to. I think I can learn a lot from him” (from ‘Flames prospect Jakob Pelletier ready to push for roster spot’, Calgary Sun, 9/15/22).
Now Pelletier will hope to see his name on the opening night lineup alongside Huberdeau and the rest of the Flames’ improved roster. Touted as one of the more NHL-ready prospects the organization has in their pool, a strong camp and tournament will probably win him a spot as a top-nine winger given his skill level and potential as a goalscorer.
After two years in mothballs, the Young Stars Classic makes a return to Penticton and will give fans a glimpse into the future of their respective franchises. Hockey is back folks, and while it may not be established NHL talent like Pettersson, Huberdeau, J.T. Miller and Nazem Kadri, it will still be fun to watch. If nothing else, it just means we are that much closer to the first game of the preseason on Sept. 25 against these very Flames – but this time with those names potentially in the lineup.