VANCOUVER, B.C. — It’s been a bit of a wait, but the Vancouver Canucks training camp is right around the corner. With the return of the AHL to Abbotsford, it was fitting that they would be hosting their camp in Abbotsford Centre, giving the locals a glimpse at some of the players they’ll be seeing on a regular basis.
With rookie camp at Rogers Arena also wrapping up, here are some points to keep an eye out for as training camp is set to begin.
Competition on the Back End
With Vancouver’s top-four all but set, the question now is who will be rounding out that bottom left-defense slot. Three big names stand out in Jack Rathbone, Olli Juolevi, and Brad Hunt, all three of who have a real shot at sticking with the big club.
While the discussion for who will stay up is best left to the Vancouver hockey media (and Twitter), I’ll be reframing it to see what each of these players have to offer Abbotsford should they be there.
In Rathbone, the Canucks have a dynamo on the back end. Joining the Utica Comets during the 2020-21 season, he posted nine points in eight games before earning a call-up to Vancouver. Without missing a beat, Rathbone looked right at home in the big leagues, scoring on his debut.
First NHL goal for Jack Rathbone! ? pic.twitter.com/h7vDtQXWVT
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 7, 2021
A strong two-way defender, Rathbone has already shown himself to be an excellent skater who can easily close defensive gaps. While playing in Vancouver during the gong show that was the last few games of the year, he’s endeared himself to many in the fanbase. If he does come to Abbotsford, it won’t be for long, and we’ll be seeing a lot of points racked up by this young man.
Juolevi presents a more complex case. The fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft has suffered through many injuries in his young career. The 23-year-old got his first real shot with Vancouver this past season, and although there were some concerns with his skating, overall it was a solid year for the Finn.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) January 26, 2021
He still commands many of the tools that he was drafted for. With good defensive awareness coupled with puck-moving ability, it’s a shame that his development has been hampered so far. The important part now is getting Juolevi into more games in a bigger role. That has become a concern this year, with the defenseman now waiver eligible. Does Vancouver risk losing a young defender for nothing? It’s a tough decision to make, but if he somehow ends up in Abbotsford he will reprise the top-four role that he took with Utica. The Canucks should expect his puck-moving ability to translate well while being a smart, responsible defender that limits high danger chances.
The third name in the mix, veteran Brad Hunt has made things interesting in the conversation. Undrafted, Hunt worked his way up from the BCHL all the way to the NHL, appearing in 45 contests in the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season, tallying a then career-high 18 points.
With that goal, Brad Hunt became the 22nd different Golden Knight to score a goal this season. pic.twitter.com/fo1HtgcLeY
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 24, 2018
Though he only stands at 5-foot-9, Hunt is anything but just an offensive defenseman. A hard, high-energy player, as a member of the Minnesota Wild, Hunt was incredibly solid defensively, limiting his opponents to mostly perimeter chances. If Abbotsford has him to start the year, look for Hunt to take on a leadership role, using his experience and hard-working playstyle to his advantage in the minors.
Rookie camp has revealed a plethora of details about the prospects in the Canucks system. Chiefly, how literally every player is in a bromance.
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) September 14, 2021
Jokes aside, there are many intriguing names that took to the ice at Rogers Arena, with some Abbotsford signees among them. Some of these prospects will get returned to their junior teams or stay with the big club, but there are a couple of names that might be sticking in the AHL.
Danila Klimovich has made it no secret that his goal is to earn a spot with Vancouver. He’s shown off why the Canucks scouting brass was so high on him, with a motor level that matches his speed and compete level.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) September 17, 2021
Though Vancouver GM Jim Benning has stated that Klimovich will head to the QMJHL, there is an outside shot that he could be seeing time with Abbotsford. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a contract and get a couple of games in with the farm team later on this year, from what we’re seeing.
Michael DiPietro has had an exceptionally strong showing at rookie camp as well. Right from the get-go, the young goalie was stopping everything thrown at him.
It’s DiPietro’s world and everyone else is just living in it.
This kid looks different. pic.twitter.com/MYTAy47lHY
— ????? Faber ?? (@ChrisFaber39) September 17, 2021
He’s been absolutely stellar and the same should continue through to training camp. Mikey is a competitor, and won’t be giving up the backup spot in Vancouver without a fight. Abbotsford fans, it’s time to get used to hearing “big save DiPietro.”
A dark horse to watch in Abbotsford could be Connor Lockhart. The third-overall-pick in the 2019 OHL bantam draft saw his stock fall as a result of the canceled season. Slipping to Vancouver at the 178th pick, the speedy center has had a chip on his shoulder to prove teams wrong.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) September 18, 2021
Though as of right now he is bound for the juniors, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see Lockhart coming to Abbotsford later in his career with a strong showing at training camp and the Erie Otters.
The Woo Leap
Much has been made of Jett Woo’s lack of progress in the pro ranks. He’s seemingly stagnated after a very good 2018 season that saw him become Vancouver’s second-round pick. Woo is only 21 though, and there have already been encouraging signs from him in the AHL.
?? WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ??
Jett Woo with his first pro goal and it is a beauty! Jasek picks off the pass at the front of the net while being tied up. Woo rifles a shot, picks up his own rebound, then dekes forehand/backhand to make it 3-1 Utica!#Canucks #UticaComets #Woo pic.twitter.com/UwxpaGDxsk
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) April 15, 2021
He made his pro debut last year and looked solid, if unspectacular. Five points in 28 games doesn’t tell the whole story as Woo was thrown into tough matchups. He’s shown that he can disrupt plays, getting his stick active in passing lanes and defend without taking any penalties.
Woo really impressed me during last season’s training camp scrimmage, showing off his physicality and shot from the point. It will be a huge year in terms of his development, as no doubt the Canucks organization will want him on the top pairing in Abbotsford.
Paired with Rathbone last year in Utica, it will be interesting to watch as he returns to the AHL, slightly more experienced but in new surroundings still. However, being so close to Vancouver means that Woo is never unnoticed by the big club, and can develop with the meaningful game experience that he needs to take the next step.
Jett Woo: It's going to be really exciting. To come here and be around all of these #Canucks fans reminds me of when I was in junior with Calgary and being able to play out of the Saddledome. I'm really excited to be a part of @abbycanucks and get things started. @Sportsnet650
— Brendan Batchelor (@BatchHockey) September 17, 2021
I’m expecting this to be a big year from Woo, where he can continue to develop his defensive game, while also rediscovering the scoring touch that made him the feared two-way threat that he was in junior.
It’s an exciting time to be an Abbotsford Canucks fan, with skill, leadership, and talent like nothing else before. The team looks to be extremely solid on paper, and it will be great to get a glimpse of some of the players at training camp ahead of the AHL season.
— Ben Lypka (@BenLypka) September 17, 2021
The Vancouver Canucks training camp runs from September 23-25 at Abbotsford Centre. Tickets are available for the event on September 20th at 10 am.
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