The next wave of young defencemen for the Vancouver Canucks are of the utmost importance, especially in these uncertain times.
The Vancouver Canucks are facing serious questions on their blue line.
With a great deal of perplexity surrounding the many issues faced by the National Hockey League going forward, salary cap concerns are at the forefront. The revenue lost due to COVID-19 will assuredly bring about a much lower than projected spending limit. Therefore, having players contribute while on entry-level contracts is more vital than ever before.
As veteran contracts expire, younger, more cost-efficient players need to fill those roster spots. Chris Tanev and Oscar Fantenburg are unrestricted free agents at the end of the current season, and Troy Stecher a restricted free agent. Alex Edler and Jordie Benn, each with only one year remaining on their contracts, signify that changes are coming.
In my opinion, the Canucks should prioritize re-signing Jacob Markstrom and Tyler Toffoli ahead of Tanev, mainly due to his age and injury concerns. Both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are deserving of significant pay increases, which will kick in for the 2021-2022 seasons. The anticipated cap restraint may also hamper the chances of inking any other notable UFA defenders. The Canucks may need to add from within the organization.
Let’s look at some of the possible candidates:
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Right-handed puck-moving defenceman Brogan Rafferty enjoyed an exceptional rookie season with the Utica Comets. Rafferty amassed seven goals and 45 points in 57 games. That point total sat third among American Hockey League defencemen. With the puck on his stick, Rafferty is an NHL-calibre defenceman.
Without it, some concerns may get exposed at that level. With the tremendous success he experienced, expectations by many fans may not be attainable.
Realistically, I feel the soon-to-be 25-year-old defender may slide in as a bottom pairing defender with the capability to run the second power play unit. At $700,000 per season, the salary cap savings should outweigh any deficiencies in his game.
The return of mammoth 6-foot-7 defenceman Nikita Tryamkin appears to be temporarily on hold until the salary cap situation gains some clarity. Having watched a number of his games in the Kontinetal Hockey League, I am confident of Tryamkin’s ability to step comfortably into an NHL role.
His skating and puck-moving skills are much better than they were in his previous NHL stint, and his physicality is an obvious need. Using him alongside Rafferty seems like a good fit, should the Canucks manage to sign him to a reasonable contract.
Of all the Canucks’ prospects, the defenceman that excites me the most is Jack Rathbone. His ability to transition the puck from the defensive zone is exceptional. He is an elite skater, and his passes are both crisp and accurate.
Rathbone completes long stretch-passes at a highly successful rate and possesses a hard point-shot. Similar to Rafferty, Rathbone needs work on his coverages in the defensive zone. The Canucks currently await Rathbone’s decision on turning pro or returning to Harvard for another season.
More of my thoughts on both Rathbone and Tryamkin are available in my recent article ” Canucks: Latest analysis on Nikita Tryamkin, Nils Hoglander, more. “
The post-draft hockey career of once highly touted defenceman Olli Juolevi is one plagued by numerous injuries. Each time that he is healthy and showing steady progression, he seems to suffer another setback. Hopefully, when hockey resumes, the time off will have allowed him to heal, and he remains healthy.
With each passing season, he slips a little further down the depth chart. I believe that Juolevi has NHL potential. However, I don’t think he’s quite there yet. Starting next season with the Comets is likely his best avenue and being ready when a callup is needed. Fans may finally get to see Juolevi in a Canucks’ uniform at some point in the 2020-2021 season if all goes right.
Watching Jalen Chatfield play with the Comets reminds me so much of a younger Tanev. His one-on-one coverage is excellent, as is his defensive positioning. Chatfield will be an RFA when the season finally ends, with arbitration rights. Never having played an NHL game, however, will limit the amount that he will earn, as will his limited offensive upside. Chatfield likely slots in as the first right-handed call up from the Comets.
In his brief time in the NHL, Guillaume Brisebois has not looked out of place. His next contract should still be cap friendly as he is yet to establish himself as a full-time NHL defenceman. His potential may be as a bottom pair defenceman or possibly rotating into the lineup as the number seven blueliner.
A season or two in the AHL is the probable route that Jett Woo will need. Very few defencemen ever make the jump from junior hockey directly to the NHL. His future role with the Canucks is likely to be as a second-pairing stay-at-home defender with solid puck-moving skills. Woo possesses the ability to throw solid body checks and may fit in as a shutdown option.
The Canucks have drafted well and added some key signings in recent years. Now is the time to see if the development of these prospects has been sufficient.