Every year, a new group of hockey prospects sets foot on NHL ice for the first time. These days, it’s often by themselves, doing laps around a rink alone in a “prank” that definitely hasn’t gotten tiresome and played out.
But if it had gotten tiresome and played out, it would probably be because we’ve seen so many NHL debuts over the past few seasons in Vancouver. Often, that goes hand in hand with a rebuild. The current management regime also seems to relish the opportunity to get young players a game of NHL action, even if it’s only one (except Jordan Subban that is; he gets none).
Last year at this time, I wrote an article on a handful of prospects that I thought might debut that season. Here’s how I did:
|Anton Rodin||Guaranteed||Yes (December 23rd)|
|Troy Stecher||Highly Likely||Yes (October 25th)|
|Jordan Subban||Probably||No (Called Up)|
|Joseph LaBate||Probably||Yes (November 23rd)|
|Thatcher Demko||Long Shot||No (Called Up)|
|Brock Boeser||Long Shot||Yes (March 25th)|
So I got half of them right, and missed Evan McEneny entirely, who later in the season became my favourite darkhorse prospect.
Each year I learn something about predicting NHL call ups: namely that it’s extremely difficult to predict NHL call ups this early in the season. The best strategy I think I can employ now is to throw out a whole bunch of names, just to see what sticks.
With that in mind, here are seven Canucks prospects that could make their NHL debuts this season, loosely ranked in order of predicted likelihood of debuting.
This may be hard to believe given the events of the past couple of seasons, but I really do think that Jordan Subban is going to get into some NHL games this year. The main reason for that is the change behind the bench.
Willie Desjardins was simply never going to give a high event defenceman like Subban a try, something I wrote about midway through last year:
As a side note on Subban, there’s an argument to be made that he just isn’t Willie Desjardins preferred type of defenceman. He’s a high event player that producing offence while also bleeding it in the other direction. Even though he might come out on top in the end, that doesn’t exactly mesh with the low event, outscore-the-opponent-2-1 hockey that the Canucks have been attempting to play for a lot of this season.
It’s not that Travis Green is risk averse – he’s still an NHL coach, and risk aversion is a prerequisite for the job these days – but what he does have is some familiarity with Subban, having coached him the last two years in the American Hockey League. He’s also the type to give a player a fair chance before completely writing them off.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) September 17, 2017
This isn’t where I’m going to make a case that Subban is a legitimate NHLer. I’ve long been supportive of him, but he has hurdles that he has yet to clear and honestly he was probably about the fourth best defenceman at training camp that didn’t make the roster. All I’m saying here is that I have a high degree of confidence that Green will give Subban a chance this season. What happens after that is a whole lot harder to predict.
Likelihood: Highly Likely
Swedish free agent Philip Holm came into training camp with a little more fanfare than I would have expected. Undrafted and signed out of the SHL, I figured that Holm was this year’s version of Tom Nilsson, but the Canucks do seem intent on using Holm as NHL depth at some point.
Holm is a pretty well rounded defenceman, without too many shining strengths or glaring weaknesses. There were little things to pick out in training camp though. On the offensive side, he controls the puck along the blue well and he shoots the puck surprisingly hard and accurately, which earned him a goal in preseason as well as a couple of posts.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) September 17, 2017
In his own end however, he can be a little hit or miss. He seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by both the speed and strength of NHL competition, but he did appear to improve over the course of the exhibition games. With some seasoning, Holm could indeed fulfill that role as NHL depth.
His upside isn’t likely to be that great though. He’s already 25-years old and he demonstrated virtually no offensive potential until last season, when he tallied 21 points in 52 SHL games. The three points he put up in seven games in the World Championships last Spring (the tournament that essentially earned him a contract) were also a bit of a mirage, as Pass It To Bulis’ Daniel Wagner points out:
Holm’s three points at the World Championships all came in one game, an 8-1 victory over Italy. Though he’s described as playing in seven games, he really only received ice time in two of them, both against lesser opponents Italy and Latvia. For his other games, he sat on the bench as the seventh defenceman.
Still, he’s an older player with some experience at the professional level, and he didn’t look too out of place against NHL competition in preseason once he settles in. The fact that he doesn’t need waivers might also help him – the team could bounce him back and forth if they wanted without having to worry about hitting a 30-day/10-game limit like Andrey Pedan nearly did last year. I think you’ll see him as one of the earlier call ups this season as the younger players get pro games under their belts.
Likelihood: Highly Likely
One of the defensive prospects that upstaged Subban in preseason was this young man, Jalen Chatfield. Signed as a CHL free agent from the Windsor Spitfires, Chatfield came into camp with low expectations, and then proceeded to blow the doors off. Even I was surprised when he didn’t get into one of the two final preseason games after he put up five points in the two games he did play.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) September 23, 2017
The 21-year old showed a ton of poise and potential in his brief time here, and even though I don’t think we should expect a wealth of production from him on a regular basis, he has the tools to push the flow of the game against the competition, be it with good defensive zone coverage, breakout passing, or offensive zone play.
Chatfield is pretty new around here, but he is already 21, having played an overaged season in the OHL. Because he’s heading into his rookie professional season, I don’t think he’ll be one of the first couple of defensive call ups (those will more likely go to Patrick Wiercioch, Evan McEneny, or the aforementioned Holm and Subban), but at some point this season, I do think the Canucks will want to give Chatfield and shot and see if he can rekindle some of the magic he showed in preseason.
Finally breaking the trend of defencemen here, Michael Carcone is my bet to be the first forward to make his debut this season. He’s certainly trending in the right direction, after putting in an amazing showing at the Young Stars tournament and a genuinely strong, albeit brief NHL preseason.
The 2nd period is A GO!
Also, here's another look at the Carcone goal. Pretty good vision if you ask us. pic.twitter.com/ggSZdgs3BL
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) September 23, 2017
Signed as a free agent out of the QMJHL following a 47-goal campaign in 2015-16, Carcone had a nice rookie season in the AHL, also under Travis Green of course. The best part about Carcone’s season last year is that he just kept getting better along the way. We love progression, and so do coaches.
As Carcone improved over the course of the season, he became a more central part of the Comets’ offence, showing a steadily increasing share of the team’s production, as demonstrated below. Both the percentage of 5-on-5 team goals that he was on the ice for and that he had a point on doubled from his first 30 games to his next 30 games.
After demonstrating to the organization that he took another step forward this offseason, I think it’s only a matter of time before the Canucks give him a cameo with the big club. I don’t think it’ll be an extended stay, but I do expect a game or two at least.
I know I said I loosely ordered this list by likelihood, and so having Gaudette this far down might be a little confusing. He seems like a slam dunk to take the path that Brock Boeser took last season, turning pro shortly before the end of the year and getting into a handful of NHL games. While we know that the Canucks would have plenty of interest in this scenario playing out, there’s a potential road block: Northeastern University has to be out of the running nice and early.
Last season, Boeser’s North Dakota Fighting Hawks exited the college playoffs far earlier than they would have liked, and that worked out nicely for the Canucks. Northeastern certainly isn’t a lock to go deep this season; they were knocked out in the Hockey East quarterfinals last season, and went on to lose the likes of Zach Aston-Reese and John Stevens to professional contracts. But they do still have Gaudette and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Dylan Sikura, both of whom were among the NCAA’s top ten point producers last season, as well as St. Louis Blues prospect Nolan Stevens, undrafted senior blueliner Garret Cockerill, and undrafted freshman Zach Solow, who had four points in his NCAA debut last night.
NCAA hockey regional run through the month of March, with the finals taking place on the final weekend. If Northeastern manages to get through, they’ll play in the Frozen Four in early April. Honestly, that seems highly unlikely at this point, no matter how sexy Gaudette’s moves are.
Adam Gaudette with an even better goal for his second of the night.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 1, 2017
What I’m pretty certain of is this: if Gaudette does finish his NCAA while the Canucks still have a few games to go, you can bet that he’ll get into some games. It won’t have the hype of the Boeser debut, but Gaudette is still a hell of a prospect, and it’ll be a happy day when he finally dons Canuck colours in the regular season.
I had Thatcher Demko on last year’s list as well, and the reasoning is much the same. Down the stretch, if he plays well, and there are injuries to one of Jacob Markstrom or Anders Nilsson, I can see the Canucks spotting Demko in just once or twice, simply so he can get a feel for what mid-season NHL is really like. I’m still otherwise fully on board with keeping him in the minors for the entirety of the season.
In fact, if there is an early injury to a Canuck goalie, I’d much rather they call up Richard Bachman to back up whoever’s healthy, and have Demko continue to start piles of games in the minors. He already should be taking the starter’s job from Bachman, and I don’t think it’s necessary to disrupt his rhythm early on.
Later in the season though, sure. Canucks fans and management alike have high hopes for Demko’s future. A spot start or two in March could be a nice reward for everybody.
This list is not merely for players that I think will earn an NHL debut this season; it’s also for players that I think will get that opportunity regardless of whether they earn it. Which brings me to Guillaume Brisebois.
Now, cards on the table, I’ve been supportive of Brisebois in the past. I noted that during his time with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, he seemed like the only player on his team capable of removing the puck from his own zone, and that by my small sample, hand tracked relative Corsi, he came off quite well. I’ll also admit with no hesitation that his final QMJHL season with the Charlottetown Islanders was successful in more ways than not.
That said, in every situation that I’ve seen him play against older, bigger, more professional competition, he’s been thoroughly disappointing, and this preseason was no exception. He had a Corsi-for percentage of 41.2% in the preseason, including a 22.7% shot share in his final exhibition game against the Oilers. He was also decidedly underwhelming at the Young Stars tournament, and overall has looked overmatched and miles away from being NHL ready, if he ever is to be.
And yet, at nearly every chance they got, members of the Canucks’ brass heaped praise on Brisebois this fall, from John Weisbrod to Trent Cull to Jim Benning. He managed to be one of the last defensive cuts, despite being noticeably worse in training camp than Evan McEneny or Jalen Chatfield, who were sent to Utica first.
[Preseason/Rookie Tournament Goal Footage Not Found]
Whatever it is that the Canucks are seeing in Brisebois, I’m not seeing it. The numbers certainly aren’t picking it up either. But, Canucks management are the ones making the roster calls, and that’s why I’ve thrown him on this list. Maybe they’ll keep seeing that thing they’re seeing and reward with a call up because of it. I’ll likely be just as confused then as I am now.
When I originally began drafting this article early on in training camp, I had a couple more prospects that seemed fairly likely to get at least a couple of games in. Since then, however, both have been shipped off to Europe. I’m referring of course to Olli Juolevi and Jonathan Dahlen, who have be reassigned to the Finnish Liiga and the SHL, respectively.
Now, I think the most likely scenario here is that both of these players stay in Europe for the duration of the season, and then head into the summer with some special workout plans and get ready to challenge for roster spots in 2018-19. But maybe – just maybe – one or both of them will get airdropped in to a late season debut, Nikita Tryamkin style. The regular seasons of both leagues end well before the NHL season does. However, both TPS Turku and the Vaxjo Lakers (I’m operating on the assumption that Dahlen will be headed to play with Elias Pettersson) are very strong teams this season, and are likely to make the playoffs in their respective leagues. That could take them right past the end of the Canucks’ season.
So, it’s unlikely that we’ll get another North American glimpse of those players this campaign, but we can dare to dream anyway. Thank God for internet streams.