Let’s Talk About Jack Rathbone

Even though the hockey season is well in the rearview mirror and we’ve turned our attention to some summer holidays, the news never stops. Even in mid-July, there are still items worth discussing. One of those topics is Canucks 2017 fourth round draft pick, Jack Rathbone.

I’ll admit that United States High School Hockey is still a blind spot for someone like myself. I’ve only so much time to watch hockey, and due to the relatively low success rate and volatility with players coming out of high school hockey, it’s not something we can generally justify investing our time in.

I had the chance to watch Rathbone at the Canucks Development Camp, though. So with that, let’s do a little housekeeping.

If you haven’t read about Rathbone’s story, you should follow this link and do just that. The kid has his priorities straight and seems highly intelligent.

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From a pure hockey standpoint, his decision to play High School hockey again next season does throw a ‘wrinkle’ in the standard development curve. That is something we will explore from an analytic side in the coming weeks, but it does slightly change how long the Canucks retain his rights.

Rathbone’s Contract and Rights Status

Several of my Twitter followers asked me about Rathbone’s status as it pertains to his rights and how long the Canucks will hold them, so I figured it was worth looking into a bit further. The conclusion of my investigation was exactly what I expected.

College players and their rights are broken down in Article 8.6c of the NHL/NHLPA CBA. Usually, the player will go directly to the NCAA, and the drafting team will retain his rights until Aug 15th after his senior season, or they will have 30 days after he declares to be leaving College early to sign him — a clause that goaltender Cal Petersen used to leave the Sabres organization and sign with the Kings. Since Rathbone is going to play USHS next season and then go to Harvard in 2018-19, it adds an extra season in there. Despite being a somewhat unique scenario, it’s broken down in Article 8.6c (iii):

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Since Rathbone will start school in August 2018, he falls under the ‘second June 1’ part of this. The Canucks will have just to present him with a contract offer, he declines and then heads to Harvard. The same rule about 30 days after declaring that he is leaving school early also applies, and is outlined in Article 8.6c (iv)

The Canucks retain Rathbone’s rights in the same way as any other NCAA player but have an extra year due to the upcoming USHS season.

If Rathbone completes his high school season and then four years of NCAA hockey with Harvard, the Canucks retain his rights until August 15, 2022. It’s good to see that there is no pressure to ask Rathbone to leave early to ensure they don’t lose his rights. In fact, Rathbone takes education very seriously, so we likely won’t see him until the end of his Junior or Senior season with the Crimson.

Development Camp Observations

When the Canucks selected Rathbone, Jeremy Davis mentioned that there isn’t a lot of data to work with when looking at HS players. With that said, the scouting reports that are out there shed a good light on the Canucks prospect. Generally, they point to his skating and puck moving abilities as Rathbone’s calling card.

Observing Rathbone at Canucks Development Camp practice on Tuesday and the game on Thursday, his skating was immediately apparent. He was very fluid in his movements and had the ability to pivot with speed. Despite his smaller stature, he was able to use his noticeable skating skills to keep forwards to the outside. His first pass out of the zone was usually right on the tape of his teammates, or he was able to take a couple of strides to create lanes.

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At times, he appeared to be overmatched physically and structurally. This was Rathbone’s first time facing players like Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Jonathan Dahlen. Those are elite players in the peer group and something that Rathbone just hasn’t faced so far. Furthermore, he likely hasn’t dealt with players like Zack MacEwen in high school — a player who can just bull their way to the net. He didn’t shy away from the physicality, at one point getting into it with Justin Parizek. Shin pads were slashed, a couple of words were said, and everyone moved on.

But he did do well to adapt, learn, and be better the next time. You could see improvements from shift to shift in the practice and game.

On the defensive side of the game – there were a few times where he was noticeable with his active stick and his ability to be active in pressure. During the two on one drills, he routinely broke up the play.

There are things to work on, but the skating, puck moving and quickness is there.

When watching Rathbone, you can see what would be attractive about him as a prospect. He plays the way the NHL is trending. He does it well enough that you can overlook his smaller frame at 5’10” and 170 lbs.

The longer development path for him does affect his success rate from a statistical view, but his reasoning for wanting to spend another year in high school should qualm those concerns. He will almost become a forgotten prospect due to that path, which isn’t a bad thing.

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Rathbone is exactly the type of player that you take in the latter parts of the NHL Entry Draft. It will be interesting and fun to track he does over the next couple of seasons, in particular, the 2018-19 season where he will be a freshman in the NCAA.

    • Forward Thinker

      He is high on character though. His decission is based on his brother health. I think his brother is Autistic and close to him so he wanted to be close to home longer to support him. While that may not weigh into his prospect ranking, it dies rank him as unselfish and high in character.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Interesting piece, Ryan. And it looks like the right kind of bet to be making in the later draft rounds: long term project, long development arc, but very high potential gain down the road. We shouldn’t expect him to challenge for an NHL spot for several years, but the CBA also doesn’t force us to worry about that prematurely, while he grows up physically and mentally. They don’t let just anyone into Harvard either (unless they can buy their way in, see Bush, George W.) so I would imagine he has a good head on his shoulders, always a plus.

  • wojohowitz

    Great stuff. Just what I was hoping for. Let`s discuss some of the performances from the Prospect Game. Rathbone just might be a Makar clone – the difference being a 4th overall pick to a 95th overall pick and that shows just what a crap shoot the draft is. Nobody knows what this kid will be in 4 or 5 years. The next indicator will be if he gets an invite to the WJC tryout camp.

  • Pat Quinn Way

    Guys, I personally would have no interest in drafting college players unless they changed the CBA or were Jack Eichel type talents that were commited to join the NHL team that drafted them. These kids have way too much power and call all the shots, as we have seen from the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Blake Wheeler, Cal Petersen, Kevin Hayes and Justin Schultz, who all walked away from the teams that drafted them.

    As Nashvilles GM stated after Vesey walked “It’s disheartening because you think you made a good pick and you spend a lot of time and energy with these young players. I don’t want to say you’re hoping because you’re actually expecting they will sign, so it hurts.”

    No way i let a punk-ass college kid call the shots like that!

    • TheRealPB

      Those players who forgo signing with their draft team are the exception not the rule. It’s like saying that you shouldn’t draft players from major junior because they might choose not to sign with you and go back into the draft. We’re not talking about Lindros here – 17 picks from 2013 (including 2 second rounders) went back into the draft, out of 211 selections. Similarly the vast majority of college or college-bound draft picks go on to sign with their teams. No matter all the artificial drama about Demko, Boeser, or Gaudette, they all eventually signed, as do most others. This is a completely ridiculous fear and it certainly doesn’t deter teams from picking them. Last year most NHL teams had 8-10 draft picks playing in the NCAA. Chicago had 16.

      • DJ_44

        Exactly this. Or you could put arbitrary, self-imposed, rules- to-live-by and restrict yourself from drafting 20%(a guess) of the available prospect pool. Don’t ever change PQW.

      • Boddy604

        Just to clarify one little bit here, Gaudette has NOT signed. If he did he’d be ineligible to play NCAA next year which is exactly what he’s doing. The hope is he signs after this coming season otherwise he only needs one more year after to enter free agency.

        • TheRealPB

          Right, sorry, Gaudette isn’t signed yet. Just saying that Rathbone’s pathway isn’t an unusual one and in fact might be a much safer bet for the Canucks and other NHL teams to make when you have such a longer developmental window for guys who are late bloomers. Also, given the fact that about 2% of prospects actually make the NHL, I think the Tier 2/USHL to NCAA route is a much better one for the players as it gives them better life options. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of college players in the last few years about why they choose this path and it’s pretty eye-opening. I think Rathbone has made some pretty smart and mature decisions not only in terms of his hockey career but his life in general in this respect.