The Vancouver Canucks new captain might not be who everyone expected, but was the best choice. In Penticton, meanwhile, their prospects have gathered in a reborn tournament. The NHL season is finally, officially, upon us.
New Captain, New Prospects, New Season
This year marks the tenth Young Stars Tournament the Canucks have hosted in the Okanagan. It hasn’t always included all of the Western Canadian teams, and it hasn’t happened every year, but this one has a full slate. The Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets are all in attendance for the four-day series.
The Canucks younger players will represent the team, but not everyone can attend. The players already involved in European play, for instance, or those preparing for the NCAA season. There are a few names that even diehard Canucks fans will have a hard time recognizing.
27 players will take part in the 2023 Young Stars tournament in Penticton this weekend.
Grab your tickets to see the future of the Canucks up close.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) September 12, 2023
The NHL Veterans
A few names do stand out. Aatu Räty, Aidan McDonough, and Akito Hirose all had brief stints in Vancouver during 2022-23. Indeed, all three are under some pressure to show up again this season, though for different reasons.
McDonough, drafted in 2019, finished four years at Northeastern University before turning pro. Given his seventh-round selection, it is impressive that he reached the NHL at all. He won’t be content with an AHL career but is hard-pressed to make this much deeper team.
Hirose played three seasons at Minnesota State before signing with Vancouver. He managed three assists in his seven-game tryout and was widely praised for his calm, intelligent play selection. Not every game was a great one for him, but he’s expected to push for the third-pair left-side slot. Like McDonough, Hirose’s got a more difficult path than last year.
As university vets, McDonough and Hirose are 23 and 24 years old. That’s not particularly old for an NHL player, but neither one is established yet. Both are likely AHL starters, but the team wants to see rapid improvement from them – and soon. Even free money needs to prove it’s worth having.
Räty, on the other hand, has a much longer runway. Acquired as a centrepiece in the Bo Horvat deal, the 20-year-old has just started dipping his toes into the NHL pool. He played 12 games with the New York Islanders before switching coasts, scoring two goals. After three games in Vancouver, he was sent to Abbotsford for more ice time and to learn the new system.
As a former top prospect – and still a top-three one for Vancouver – expectations for Räty are high. But he does have more time to reach them than the other two mentioned here.
Speaking of Which…
An Abbotsford Canucks new captain hasn’t been officially named for 2023-24, but it’s undoubtedly going to be Chase Wouters again. Abbotsford’s first ever contract player is in the second season of a two-year deal with the club. He joined them after completing his overage season in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades, captaining that team for three years.
Wouters won’t be attending the tournament, but one of the more interesting prospects in Vancouver’s system will in Arshdeep Bains. The undrafted Bains was signed when he led the WHL in scoring as an overager – not usually a good sign, prospect-wise. But his move from the CHL to the pros was as seamless as could be hoped with 13 goals and 32 points in 66 AHL games.
That Bains took on a leadership role with WHL Red Deer is no surprise. That’s a role expected of any overaged players in a league that includes 16-year-olds. But that frequently means that the player was passed over for the NHL entry draft repeatedly. Even if he dominates scoring, he’s doing it against younger, less-developed players.
A transferrable skill that can come into the pros for such a player is hard work and leadership. His point totals were a pleasant surprise, but his play style is what the Canucks are watching. He is unafraid of the dirty areas and celebrates his teammates’ points as much as his own. Vancouver would like nothing more than to see Bains earn a letter this year or next in Abbotsford.
Introducing Canucks New Captain
Not much introduction is necessary. If there is anyone in Vancouver who doesn’t know Quinn Hughes, then we hope the rock they live under is rent-controlled. For everyone else, Hughes was one of a few decent choices available to the team.
Elias Pettersson is probably as close as it gets to competition for the title. He has no problem talking about what he’s looking for on the ice, and his negotiations with the team show his willingness to stand up for himself. But captaincy goes far beyond the ice surface, and it’s hard to picture him embracing that side of the job just yet.
J.T. Miller‘s passion is there for all to see, on and off the ice. A prime consideration for any captain of any team is caring deeply about how well it does, and you won’t find anyone who cares more than Miller. Which, when things are going well, is amazing. Players like that glow like beacons and draw the team on. When they aren’t going so well on the other hand…
Thatcher Demko was also in the room during the press conference and is a well-established part of the Canucks core. Given Vancouver’s history with goaltending captains, he would have been a surprising choice. But to anyone in the room, he could well have been the Canucks new captain. As it is, the team may still put an A on his mask* this year.
Hughes, Pettersson, and Miller were all alternates in 2022-23, so when people talk about core players, this is them. For better or worse, where they lead, the Vancouver Canucks are going to follow.
*Like with Roberto Luongo, the league refuses to acknowledge the captaincy of a goaltender, and that goes for alternates, too. Weirdos.
Main Photo: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports