The Canucks went into their training camps this year with a very bare roster, keeping invitees to a minimum. This is not common; often, the invitation system is used as a platform by NHL front offices to get their eyes on talent that they might want to add to the roster. Jim Benning might make us scratch our heads with some of his management decisions, but he does have an eye for talent. This makes the few players he did invite much more desirable to keep tabs on.
Outside of Utica Comets skaters the Canucks only invited 4 players to the camp: Rodrigo Abols, Jon Martin, Reid Gardiner and Jackson Whistle. Given their draft status, it isn’t possible to sign them now; they must be drafted in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. They’d be older picks if the Canucks were to take a chance, but let’s take a look at how they have been performing in their first month back in the CHL.
In his fourth and 19-year old season in the WHL, Reid Gardiner has had an exceptional start to his year. His Prince Albert Raiders are currently the top ranked team in the WHL despite the fact they are a middle of the pack possession team. This is largely a result of their high shooting percentage (11.7% vs 10.1% league average). Gardiner is currently leading his team in all situations ice time and riding the first line as the top C/RW.
As a result, he has exploded out of the gates with 23 points (9 goals and 14 assists) in 13 games. His usage typically sees him along the median of his team in terms of Quality of Teammates and Competition with his most common linemates being Simon Stransky and Austin Glover.
The sample is small, so I have my doubts as to whether he can keep up this high level of scoring. If he does, though, that’ll project to a 28.99% PCS, with Marc Recchi being one of his comparables.
Rodrigo Abols is a guy that I was very high on coming into the season. He spent the last few years playing in the MHL and even had a good stint in the KHL last season. His scoring rate for an 18-year-old was very good, even higher than Canucks Prospect Lukas Jasek (sorry JD).
Abols jumped over to the WHL this season, suiting up for the Portland Winterhawks. Because of their “cheating” scandal, where the Winterhawks were caught giving players benefits that they were not allowed to, the team sacrificed four first round draft picks. As a result, the Winterhawks are struggling for the first time in recent memory. They remain second in their division, but it’s a weak one. Moreover, they are near the bottom of the league in most possession metrics. They are posting a positive PDO suggesting that it is likely they will start dropping soon.
Rodrigo Abols currently has 11 points in his first 11 WHL games; 3 goals and 8 assists. He is playing on the top line in all situations while playing with strong teammates against weak competition. Paul Bittner and Evan Weinger have been at his flanks while Abols has been pivoting the top line.
Because of his age and his low scoring Abols PCS% is being hurt. At a mere 14.37% (n=160), his closest comparables are listed as Paul Gaustad, Colin Fraser, and a bunch of other non-noticeable players.
Intuitively it’s hard to say which way he is likely to trend. Given the strong signal he has had in his past, I am not going to write Abols off so quickly but he will be interesting to watch through the draft and to see if he is still on the Canucks radar.
Jonathon Martin was traded at the beginning of the year from the Kootenay Ice to the Swift Current Broncos. His production has exploded this year, going from less than half a point per game to almost 2 points a game. He currently has 16 goals and 11 assists in 15 games played.
There could be a couple of factors that are greatly benefiting him his season. Playing as an overager makes it easier to score. Interesting is that he is scoring in spite of his team as Swift Current is the 2nd worst possession league in the league (right after Kootenay). Their PDO is normal thanks to really high goaltending but they have been having terrible puck luck.
Martin is currently leading Swift Current in Points/Game, Primary Points/Game, and Even-Strength Points/Game. Martin leads all forwards in ice time and without him on the ice the Broncos are a terrible team in every way. Skating most often alongside him so far this season is Jake DeBrusk and Glenn Gawdin which brings into the question his usage as he has one of the highest QoTs for his team (but still bottom of the league) while only facing middling competition.
As good as I am building him up, the PCS model does not favour Martin given his overage status. So far on the year he has a PCS% of 7.14% (n=14) which is below league average. The only person in his cohort who went on to become an NHLer was Troy Brouwer. So there is hope for him, but he’s a definite long shot.
You know nothing, Jon Snow Martin.
Jackson Whistle is a goaltender who has been invited many times to Canucks development camps over the past two years and it’s likely that he could receive a depth contract with the system. He is an overager and is on the small end of goalies (6’0”) but has been consistently above average save percentage in the WHL.
One of the first pieces I wrote with Rhys Jessop was on CHL goaltenders and the basic idea of analytically evaluating skaters applies to goaltenders: those who are the best amongst their peers typically have a better chance of moving onwards.
To start off the year, the Kelowna Rockets have been a surprisingly bad team. Their possession numbers are just below average while they are the 6th worst team in shots against per game.
Jackson Whistle is currently posting a .916 save percentage which is almost 2% higher than league average. He is currently 12th amongst all WHL goalies but has only faced just over 300 shots. With a sample that size, it’s too difficult to predict.
Given his career in the WHL, it’s likely he will continue to be a strong goaltender. If his season continues to be positive then he should be considered to be signed.