It’s been tough-slugging for the Vancouver Canucks as of late, but there may be a solution sitting in the AHL, who has quietly gone about his business in lighting up the scoreboard for the Utica Comets.
“I’m happy to be here, it’s good for my development.” Those were the words of Utica Comets defenceman Brogan Rafftery after his team’s loss to the Toronto Marlies two weekends ago. Since then, he certainly has developed and now sits second in the scoring leaderboard for AHL defencemen, only behind former teammate Derick Pouliot. It’s time to call Rafferty up to the big club.
The American league is meant to be a place to earn your spot on to the NHL, and that is exactly what the former Quinnipiac University defenseman has done in his first full professional season. In college, he was known as an offensive defenseman, a characteristic that has followed him into the professional ranks. The Canucks already have multiple offensive blueliners in Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers, but bringing in another scorer could give the offence the boost it needs.
If we are to look at some recent highlights of Rafferty, it’s easy to see where he could help. Below, we can see that his skating has improved from last year and is now fast, quick, near mind-boggling. He’s no Hughes, few players are — but if one compares this to anything that Chris Tanev does offensively, it is easy to see what he adds on this front. This is only one of his 22 assists this season but is one strong reason why he should be called up to the Canucks.
However, there is a wariness in calling up Rafferty. Many of his teammates have been called up and sent down as of late, without getting into any NHL action. I’m not suggesting that he should be flying back and forth across the continent like that, more so that he should be a permanent NHL’er.
So if he does come here in a regular role, who does he replace? It is still hard to see him pushing out a player such as Jordie Benn, but being on the roster while Alex Edler is shelved is certainly a tantalizing possibility. Currently, the sixth defenceman is Oscar Fantenberg. There is nothing special about Fantenberg, he is your average AHL callup d-man who can fare in the NHL when called upon.
He is of a similar skill set of Rafferty, possibly a little more stable on the defensive end of the rink, but he is 28, four years senior of the AHL rookie. With Rafferty at 24, it is time for him to begin to experience the top level of the game to see if he can take it. This is a perfect time, the old guard of Edler is out and the team is in a rut, there is no drawback to calling up and slotting in the 24-year-old Rafferty at this point.
Calling up Rafferty now would also harness something which is not always there for a player: Confidence.
He’s been on a roll and that is leading him to pull off riskier plays than usual. However, while riskier plays may seem like a gamble at first, Rafferty has discovered that he has the skills to pull such things off, making him a difference-maker over other players.
This is something that is only here because of his success and could disappear if his numbers begin to slide prior to a call-up. Not only is it the confidence to make plays, but also to integrate into a top-tier atmosphere off the ice. His confidence would let him flow right into NHL action without much of an adjustment period.
Lastly, he already has experience. After signing with the organization late last season, he played a trio of games with the Canucks where he picked up an assist. This experience in the league and with the current crop of players is invaluable in making his transition into the league.
This is still the same group of guys who welcomed him to the professional ranks and have helped him through his journey so far. Also, with players such as DiPietro and Brisebois currently on the NHL roster, he has familiar faces from Utica to fall back on.
There is no better time to bring Brogan Rafferty into NHL action. It will benefit him, and who knows, maybe even benefit the Canucks. He has developed to a point where he needs to take the next step- that next step is NHL action on Canada’s west coast.