Former Vancouver Canucks prospects Matt Brassard and Kyle Pettit never played for the club. Here’s a look at what they’re up to now.
These are ones that many may be unfamiliar with: Canadian university hockey, better known as U Sports hockey.
Pettit and Brassard and were drafted 156th and 188th overall in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Some of their fellow draftees from those Canucks draft classes have gone on to have significant impacts on the team (Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Thatcher Demko and Elias Pettersson).
Of the two players, the one that may be more familiar to fans is Brassard. The seventh-rounder out of the OHL was drafted as an overager, and some thought that he may be able to crack an NHL lineup. He attended Canucks rookie camp, but Brassard never signed. He played out his Canucks draft eligibility in the OHL, before leaving junior hockey without an NHL opportunity.
This past season, Brassard went to play in the ECHL, but only lasted 14 games. After just over a dozen appearances in pro hockey, school came calling. Brassard became a mid-season addition to the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Panthers, where he played out the rest of the 2019-20 season.
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Although still on the ice, playing university hockey in Canada is diffferent. In the USA, it is common to take an easy academic load if you are an elite athlete. Not the case in Canada, where athletes are usually a student first, athlete second. While Brassard was facing off against fellow university opposition, the Barrie native was adjusting to a whole new way of life.
Brassard, who’s working on his Bachelor of Business Administration, studies extensively while playing hockey on the side. Coming into the team mid-season is hard enough, but entering the school year between first and second semesters is a tumultuous task in itself.
Having played pro hockey for a brief period, Brassard slotted well into the Panthers lineup, which included some other former OHLers.
Although his addition to the lineup was immediate, it was not a cakewalk for the draft pick. He was solid defensively, but not outstanding, as the struggling defence of the Panthers continued to regularly concede more than five times per game. He scored six points through 13 games in the regular season, before UPEI fell in the first round of the playoffs.
Brassard was certainly an interesting player for the Canucks when he was in the system, but after not being able to make the NHL, his decision to go to school is an interesting one. Although he did not dominate his first season, the possibility for improvement is very likely, as he is now familiar with the rigours of his degree as well as what it takes to be a student-athlete in Canada.
Pettit has a similar, yet different story to Brassard. Picked in the sixth round, there was little in Vancouver about the former Erie Otter. Like Brassard, he ran out his Canucks eligibility in the OHL, however, he did not go on to play pro. After playing with teammates such as Connor McDavid and Travis Dermott, Pettit committed to Western University Mustangs in London, Ontario.
Coming to the school in 2017, Pettit joined a Western University team that had finished second last the year prior. As one of the headline recruits, it was on his shoulders to help lead a resurgence of the program. While studying social sciences, Pettit quietly led the resurgence of the Mustangs to three straight playoff appearances, which eventually led to one of the craziest playoff runs in university hockey history.
The former Canuck prospect was part of the Mustangs team that finished eighth this past season, before taking down all the top seeds to finish third and qualify for the national tournament. The eighth seed winning the bronze medal is a rare sight and something that Pettit got to be apart of.
Although Western’s playoff run is one thing, there were some Pacific Division rivalries intertwined in their run. Pettit and company knocked out Calgary Flames’ pick Riley Bruce and the University of Toronto in the first round, before getting past L.A. Kings draft pick, Matt Mistele and Ryerson University in round two. While the players may be representing schools rather than NHL teams, the Pacific Division rivalries bleed all the way to U Sports hockey.
Neither may have made it to the NHL, but the education and life lessons they are learning while playing U Sports hockey will value them much more than any hockey game ever could.