The Vancouver Canucks prospects appearing in the Young Stars tournament last weekend were supposed to stand out. They had a number of NHL and AHL veterans on the squad, after all. And some of those – including one we forgot to mention last week – are looking to make an even bigger impression this weekend.
Canucks Prospects Challenge Pros
So far, Vancouver has yet to sign any professional tryout (PTO) contracts. They haven’t normally gone big on PTOs, but none at all by now is unusual. Partly, that shows increased depth in all positions over recent years. Partly, it may be a feature of being pressed against the salary cap. The bottom line is that standing out at a prospect tournament is good, but at a training camp is better.
The Old Guard
Vancouver shifting their focus to NCAA free agents and late picks lets the team take time with their prospects. That appears to have paid off, though just how much is hard to say yet. That age difference stood out, with excellent results coming from Akito Hirose (24 years old) and Aidan McDonough (23). Neither was perfect, but both were very visible.
Hirose was an island of calm in what is often a chaotic series. Let’s face it, these are young players, most of whom haven’t played in the same league, never mind being teammates. Give them a new coach and little practice and games can be messy. The play of individuals rather than teams is being judged, here.
None of that affected Hirose or McDonough outside of providing them with a showcase for their work. Hirose’s one goal and four assists were a fine thing to see, likewise McDonough’s three power-play goals. More important was how they found space and time for themselves and their teammates. While those players were scoring leaders for Vancouver, it’s the all-around play that the team is looking for here.
The Canucks prospects have more depth to get through this year than when they signed, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Without more trades happening, neither is likely to start in Vancouver, but injuries are just part of life in sports. Both should keep close to their phones this year.
The tournament was a promising continuation for Arshdeep Bains, too, who incorporated his linemates well in plays while finding his own spots to shine.
Middle of the Pack
Bains is a very smart player, which is good because he’s not the fastest guy on the ice or the largest. But he looks better at holding the puck and recognizing when to get it to teammates or just to safety. If he makes it to the NHL – and it looks promising – then it will likely be as a defensive specialist. That covers a lot of ground, but his version is going to be all about puck retention and chipping in some points.
His pro career is off to a good start in Abbotsford, and that’s where he will likely be come opening night. With the Canucks moving out one winger he may well get a shot at the NHL level this season. He may get a few games in, but the team probably wants him to be a leader while improving his skills in Abbotsford for now.
On the flip side of that is Aatu Räty. While centre depth has improved for Vancouver, they desperately want the 20-year-old Räty to be a player – and soon. He is caught a bit in a Twilight Zone of his best skills – fetching the puck and disrupting opponents – are classic “winger” abilities.
He did very well in this tournament, even if his point totals were nothing special. His only goal was into an empty net, but the passing was very good and more importantly showed improved timing. He recognized where the dangerous areas on the ice were and got the puck there, though his teammates only finished two.
It’s worth mentioning that Räty had four coaches last season, playing in two leagues with four cities. If his production wasn’t quite as high as hoped, that’s understandable. A bit of stability this season is going to do him well. While it feels like he’s been around for years, this will be just his second full pro season in North America.
The Canucks have effectively bought him some time with the signings of Teddy Blueger and Pius Suter in addition to Nils Åman. There’s Sheldon Dries as an emergency call-up should Vancouver need one and Max Sasson to support him in Abbotsford.
That all being said, the sooner Räty can look like an NHL centre, the better.
Any Other Canucks Prospects We Should Mention?
Okay, yes, Cole McWard had a very good series and we really should have mentioned him in the list of NHL-experienced Canucks at the tournament. Beyond his two goals and two assists, McWard was a big part of the Canucks penalty kill and very much looked at home.
While Hirose is the better player, McWard has a better chance of playing more NHL games. That’s simply by virtue of being on the right side, where it’s unknown how long Tyler Myers will remain with the team.
But McWard has more to prove than five NHL games and a prospects tournament. What are the odds of him being the replacement should the right side of the defence become depleted? He has Matt Irwin, Ian Cole, and Noah Juulsen to pass, first.
And he – along with Hirose and McDonough – has one more week to prove he’s worth consideration.
Main Photo Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports