Vancouver Canucks Blue Line Taking Shape after Signing

When Jack Rathbone signed his new two-year, one-way deal it increased the Vancouver Canucks’ options.

Jack Rathbone Signed for Two Seasons

A few days ago, we mentioned the Vancouver Canucks busy and productive day. The contract we didn’t talk about was Jack Rathbone’s because we’re betting he isn’t going to be a prospect next season. The 2017 4th-round pick didn’t just work his way into the conversation, he brought a foghorn.

Injured for much of 2020-21, Rathbone still managed two goals and nine points in just eight AHL games. That earned him a tryout with the parent club. While he scored once and totalled three points in his eight games, his weak points were made clear. He opened 2021-22 in the NHL but given the Canucks weak start, returning to Abbotsford was for the best. While he focussed on improving his defence, Rathbone still managed 10 goals and 40 points in 39 AHL games. That 39 games includes missing a month after a nasty hit in February.

Don’t We Have One Of Those?

There’s a big difference between fast and quick. A fast player is hard to catch. A quick player is hard to catch with the puck. With Jack Rathbone signed on, the Canucks are getting two years of a left-side defender who is both. He can not only accelerate out of danger with the puck but in the event that his obvious skating route is blocked he’s already found an outlet pass. He thinks the game quickly, surveying the ice before moving. That’s quickness: the ability to act immediately and efficiently if needed.

His top-end speed isn’t the greatest ever, but it’s better than most defensemen and desperately needed on the Canucks. He’s deceptive as a puck carrier who moves into passing lanes as needed and always seems to have a plan. So why wasn’t he in the NHL already? The usual reason, unfortunately. His defence really did need work, as he’s so often on the attack that his defence turns into an it-works-or-it-doesn’t play. He ends up tight to the attacker, which limits their time to think. That’s fine but not as effective at the NHL level as it is in college or the AHL.

That 50/50 defence and the fact that he can get overwhelmed in his own end – he’s maybe 5’10” and 175 lbs – makes him a bit of a risk. If that sounds familiar to you, Canucks fans, it should. But just as Quinn Hughes worked on his defence, so has Rathbone. Don’t go expecting him to be another Hughes, but he will fit in nicely on a second pair.

What This Means

No NHL team is going to survive with just six or even seven NHL-level defensemen. Tyler Myers is the only player the Canucks have who played all 82 games last season, never mind the only defenceman to do so. Vancouver’s fifth defenceman in 2021-22 games played was Brad Hunt with 50.

That all being said, with Tucker Poolman hopefully returning, Noah Juulsen waiting in Abbotsford, a surprisingly physical Kyle Burroughs and new arrival Travis Dermott both able to switch sides, and Jack Rathbone signed, the chance of a defenceman getting moved out in trade has increased.

The obvious fingers point to the obvious: Tyler Myers. It might not be as hard as you think, either. Yes, his offence plummeted last season after he was asked to play with Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a shutdown pair. He actually did that job reasonably well, and it’s not like he suddenly forgot how to skate. His contract switched from having a full no-trade clause to a 10-team list this month, so a move is possible. The team would likely get better value in a deal if they held off one more year to bring the actual cash owed to a mere $1 million, but if the priority is making room both on the blue line and under the cap they won’t wait that long.

Ya Plays Yer Money, Ya Takes Yer Chance!

Trading away Myers – assuming a pick back and not much else – makes the defence a lot smaller. Replacing him with Rathbone increases their skill. It’s not a direct replacement, of course. That wingspan is hard to find! But finding someone to play defence as he was used shouldn’t cost $6 million, either. GM Patrik Allvin isn’t finished dealing, but if no other change is made to the blue line it still might work.

The biggest difference has to be philosophy. A defence via puck movers runs the risk of having a smaller, faster group of players. With both Rathbone and Hughes sharing statistics there, it’s hard to see who clears the netfront – especially on the penalty kill. Myers was a fixture there last season, which… Actually, a change there may be for the best.

Getting Jack Rathbone signed to a two-year deal at a rock-bottom price is an excellent move for the Canucks all on its own. What that signing means for the future could be even better.