VANCOUVER, BC — When Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning says he’s going to be aggressive in the offseason, he really means it. A total of 15 moves on the first day of free agency was the cherry on top of an already eventful period for Vancouver fans.
Though some of the signings and trades were meant to address the big club, quite a number of them will be playing an hour away in Abbotsford. The Canucks relocated their affiliate this offseason from Utica, which now hosts the New Jersey Devils affiliate. Combining these acquisitions with the existing crop of players that are joining the team from the Comets, all of a sudden, this roster has already begun to take form.
Sources tell me that the Abbotsford Canucks aren’t finished getting business done today.
Lots of off-ice work is being done today and early next week.
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) August 13, 2021
With Abbotsford GM Ryan Johnson still looking to make moves, as per Chris Faber, this preview is subject to change. However, there is much to get excited about already.
In this first of a two-part season preview of the Canucks, I’ll be taking a look at the forward core currently being assembled in Abbotsford.
A Potent Offense
Tragically, Canucks fans alike have been denied the dreams (and memes) of Loui Eriksson playing in Abbotsford. However, I have a feeling that GM Johnson isn’t fussed over it with what he’s got.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canucks’ farm team was in a weird time-share agreement with the St Louis Blues last season. This essentially meant that half the team needed to be filled in as they moved closer to home, but that seems to be something both the big club and Johnson achieved in a big way.
Legacy of the Comets
Returning from Utica are some familiar faces up front. Jonah Gadjovich broke out last season and put up 18 points in 19 games, earning him a look with Vancouver late in the NHL season. While he’ll be fighting to stay up full time at training camp, it’s more likely than not he’ll be given more playing time with Abbotsford. An experienced AHLer already at the age of 22, his fourth season will be crucial to not only his own development but also helping Abbotsford get off on the right foot. They’ll be looking to Gadjovich for leadership and a hard-nosed net-front presence to pot goals in.
Another name the Canucks are bringing to Abbotsford is 2016 third-rounder William Lockwood. The former Michigan Wolverines captain has suffered through quite a number of injuries throughout his collegiate career, but in his first professional season, it seemed to be nothing but an afterthought. A strong rookie campaign that saw 11 points in 24 games earned him a couple of appearances with Vancouver. Lockwood, too, will probably be returning to the AHL, with the top 9 essentially set in stone. He’ll be looking to build off of a strong start to his pro career and hopefully find himself as one of many options Vancouver can call up.
Speaking of players Vancouver can call up, Phillip Di Giuseppe, Sheldon Dries, Nic Petan, Sheldon Rempal, and John Stevens were among the players the Canucks brought in during free agency on two-way contracts. In my opinion, we’ll be seeing some of these names in the NHL once the annual Vancouver injury bug really kicks in. But until then, all of these forwards offer proven production at the AHL level.
Dries, in particular, will be one to watch. In 2019-20, the Michigan native led the Colorado Eagles in goals with 21 and was third in team scoring with 35 points. He posted a team-high of 12 power-play goals, something that the Canucks will look to get out of him this season.
Di Giuseppe has already earned a feature in the all-name team, but it doesn’t end there. The Wolverine also offers a ton of offensive upside at the AHL level, posting 54-73-127 in 227 career games. He’s my dark horse candidate to earn a fourth-line spot with the big club, but if Di Giuseppe comes to Abbotsford, he not only can put up the points but gives some heavy sandpaper to the team.
The Youth Factor
2021 second-round pick Danila Klimovich comes with a ton of intrigue. The mysterious Belarusian shot up many scout’s draft boards with a strong U18 World Juniors performance. Six goals in the first three games will do that for any prospect. It is a swing for the fences type of pick, but his potential is undoubted. Klimovich signed his entry-level contract earlier this summer and looks to crack the Canucks roster. Benning says that Klimovich will start in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but I’m willing to bet he’ll get an appearance or two in Abbotsford. Regardless, I’m excited to see his development. Daniel Gee of DailyHive Offside posted a very in-depth scouting report of Klimovich.
The last forward I’d like to mention is newly signed Tristen Nielsen from the Vancouver Giants. Undrafted but not unheralded, the 21-year-old comes to the Canucks with high-flying offense. Starting his Western Hockey League career with the Calgary Hitmen, the 5’10″ center put up an impressive 82 goals and 175 points over 241 career games. In his last two years with the Giants, he was over a point per game.
Abbotsford Canucks General Manager Ryan Johnson announced today that the club has signed forward Tristen Nielsen to a two-year AHL contract.
— Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) August 13, 2021
Stats don’t tell the whole story either when it comes to his game. Nielsen was not only a leader in points but a tremendous leader in the locker room. Offering energy and hard work each and every shift, it’s an extremely good signing in my eyes, and I’m excited to see him continue his hockey career in the lower mainland.
Carson Focht is not one to be left out either. A fifth-rounder by the Canucks in 2019, he had his own professional rookie year during last season’s pandemic-affected play. A strong, intelligent, and hard-working center, Focht put up 12 points in 28 games last year and looks to jumpstart his own development. He’s produced at a similar rate in junior as the aforementioned Nielsen, so it’ll be an interesting battle to see them on the same team.
Nielsen is 19 days younger than Carson Focht and produced at a better rate than him in all but *one* season (their 2018-19 draft season) #howneatisthat
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) August 13, 2021
Overall, the Canucks are looking very good up front. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this forward group one of the most exciting in the AHL. There’s scoring, two-way players, grit, hunger. Combining older players with NHL experience with exciting young pieces looking to develop and make their names known bodes well in creating the winning culture that this organization so emphasizes.
Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll be going over Abbotsford’s defensive core and goalies!
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