At the beginning of each of the last couple of seasons, I have thrown together a list of prospects that could make their NHL debuts in that campaign, along with my estimation at the likelihood of those debuts coming to fruition. In the 2016-17 season, four of the eight players I listed (Anton Rodin, Troy Stecher, Joseph LaBate and Brock Boeser) made their debuts, plus Evan McEneny (who really came out of the blue that year), and Griffen Molino (remember him?), who was signed near the end of the year.
At the beginning of last season, I listed seven more players that had potential to make their debuts. Here’s how those predictions turned out:
|Jordan Subban||Highly Likely||No (Traded)|
|Philip Holm||Highly Likely||Yes (Then also traded)|
|Adam Gaudette||Probably||Yes (March 29th)|
|Thatcher Demko||Possibly||Yes (March 31th)|
I hit on three of seven, missing Ashton Sautner entirely (though I did have him on my 2016-17 list), but the Canucks only got one total game out of the players that I labeled “highly likely”.
Last season was admittedly a bit of an odd year for debuts. Despite the Canucks being in a rebuilding year, most of their high end prospects were over in Europe, the NCAA and the CHL rather than in Utica where they could be called up when the need arose. This season could be substantially different, with the Utica Comets receiving a huge influx of Canucks prospects, many of which are on the verge of being ready for professional hockey.
Players Not On This List
Before I get into the list itself, let’s run through a list of players that won’t be eligible for inclusion.
An obvious one to start with is Elias Pettersson: not sure if you heard, but he already made his NHL debut.
Enjoy it, kid. 😏 pic.twitter.com/6MxqgTZrEq
— NHL (@NHL) October 4, 2018
After that, we have Adam Gaudette, Thatcher Demko and Ashton Sautner, who debuted last season, and Evan McEneny, who played a single game in 2016-17. Each of these players will be high on the list of potential call ups this season, so even though they don’t get to be included in the meat of this article, their relevant in that they play a role in how difficult it will be for some of the rookies below to get into their first NHL game.
Speaking of making things difficult, players looking to make debuts will also have to compete for call-ups with the likes of Sam Gagner, Brendan Gaunce, Reid Boucher, and Darren Archibald. Again, these players will be on the forefront of the call-up brigade, depending on the type of injuries that the Canucks sustain (when they inevitably sustain them) – Gagner and Boucher are likely to get calls following top six injuries, while Gaunce and Archibald are better suited to filling for bottom six players.
With that out of the way, let’s go through the list of prospective debutantes and handicap their likelihood of getting into an NHL game before the season is over.
Canucks fans have had a complicated relationship with Olli Juolevi since he was drafted 5th overall in 2016. What was viewed as a justifiable (if overly safe) choice has since been cast into doubt and criticism following the near immediate NHL success of players selected after Juolevi, most notably Mathew Tkachuk, who went to divisional rival Calgary just one spot later. With each new debut, including Jakub Chychrun, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy and Tyson Jost, the patience of many Canucks fans diminishes. Hindsight doesn’t explain it away either, as Canucks Army had each of Tkachuk, Keller, Sergachev and Chychrun ranked above Juolevi in 2016, as did many of other draft prognosticators.
The angst surrounding Juolevi’s underwhelming draft-plus-one season was quelled to some extent by a strong draft-plus-two campaign back in Finland. Many had high hopes for Juolevi at Canucks camp this season, but he failed to stand out and subsequently failed to make the team.
Eaely reviews in Utica have been positive, as he pairing of he and Jalen Chatfield has been a strong one for Trent Cull and company. Juolevi is undoubtedly on the short list for call-ups this season, both because of his draft pedigree and because depth on defence is a glaring weakness for the Canucks next to the relative strength of their forward group.
The Canucks seventh overall pick at this past draft is a shoe in to debut with the Canucks at the end of this season, as Adam Gaudette and Brock Boeser have done the past two years. The one thing that would prevent Hughes from dazzling in blue and green this season is if his Michigan Wolverines make it all the way through the NCAA playoffs to the Frozen Four tournament in April. There is a non-insignificant chance of this happening, but the odds are in favour of young Quintin quarterbacking a powerplay that has him dishing passes to Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. Commence salivation.
— Darryl Keeping (@dkeeping) October 7, 2018
Likelihood: Highly Likely
After dazzling fans in Penticton at the annual Young Stars Classic in September, Jonathan Dahlen faded a bit as training camp wore on. By the midpoint of the exhibition series, it was clear that Dahlen wasn’t going to start with the NHL club, partly because of lack of result and partly because of lack of opportunity – it didn’t seem like the Canucks coaching staff deemed Dahlen ready for the next level.
All the same, Dahlen is a prime candidate for an NHL call up this season. He’s one of the most skilled players in the pipeline and has years of history of producing at the professional level already. Dahlen has a pair of primary assists to show for two games in Utica so far this season.
Likelihood: Highly Likely
Zack MacEwen was a tremendous story last season for the Comets. The undrafted forward came along in leaps and bounds in his first professional campaign, and clearly earned the favour of coach Trent Cull, garnering himself time on both the top unit power play and on the penalty kill, as well as playing up the lineup at even strength.
Early on in the 2018-19 season, MacEwen has a goal and three assists in two games. Combining his size, production, playing style and being in the coach’s good books, it seems like it will only be a matter of time before MacEwen finds himself getting a cup of coffee in the National Hockey League. It’s a good thing no one counted him out before his professional career even got started…
Okay, that was me, I did that. But in my defence, I have already written a lengthy follow up about the folly of firmly judging a player’s potential so early in his career. I’m happy to have been wrong about MacEwen, who looks like he could be an effective bottom six player in short order. He still sits behind a couple of players on the call up chart (in terms of replacing bottom six players, he likely comes after Adam Gaudette and Brendan Gaunce), but the odds seem good that he’ll at least get to make his debut at some point this season.
There has been a fair amount of excitement surrounding the two players that the Canucks took in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft (those being Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich) and rightfully so. They continued to have strong junior seasons the following year (Lind more so than Gadjovich if we’re being honest) and their graduation to the pro ranks is being closely monitored, with many seeing them as potential depth scorers in the years to come.
That’s in the future though. If we’re talking about the present, then it is Gadjovich’s former Owen Sound linemate, Petrus Palmu, who is closer to being NHL ready. Palmu is, shall we say, vertically challenged, at just 5-foot-6, but he’s built like a fire hydrant and has already spent a year playing against men. That would be last season in the Finnish Liiga, where he was crowned rookie of the year at season’s end.
Palmu has returned to North America, and after a strong Young Stars and preseason series, he’s knocking on the door for an NHL stint. Like every other forward on this list, he’ll be in tough to move ahead of the myriad of options Travis Green and Jim Benning will have when call ups need to be made.
What can you say about Guillaume Breezebah?
All that remains of the Eddie Lack trade prior to the 2015 NHL Draft, Brisebois has a whole lot of raw talent, including excellent skating and a hard shot, but is competitiveness has been a source of criticism and he’s still prone to the occasional blatant lapses in judgement.
Brisebois dumping the puck into the corner on a zone entry with a delayed penalty is, in a word, perfect.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) September 21, 2018
It’s not as if Brisebois has been all bad. There seems to be a discrepancy in the team evaluation versus some of the fans and media, but I still see the potential for a bottom pairing NHL defender here.
The Canucks though, they love this kid, and it stands to reason that they’ll give him a shot in the NHL at some point. Why not this year, with a dearth of depth on the back end?
I had Jalen Chatfield on this list last season, following his brilliant showing at the 2017 Young Stars tournament and subsequent NHL preseason (where he put up five points in three games). Chatfield ended up having a pretty quiet year in Utica (unsurprisingly, as high point totals are actually pretty out of character for him), and never got that call up that he seemed destined to get when he was lighting it up exhibition games. Beyond the lack of production, Chatfield struggled in his transition to the pro game from a defensive standpoint, and it took him a good long while to look comfortable in his own zone in Utica.
Combine that with the fact that Olli Juolevi has returned to North America, and the Canucks have added Quinn Hughes to their system, and I’m less confident than I was a year ago that Chatfield will find a spot in the NHL lineup this year. Still, that aforementioned lack of defensive depth is sticking out like a sore thumb, and if the Canucks sustain more than one injury on the blue line, who’s to say that Chatfield is any less likely than Ashton Sautner or Evan McEneny or Guillaume Brisebois to get the call?
Lukas Jasek has been a highly amusing storyline since his draft in 2015, when former Canucks Army contributor MoneyPuck proclaimed that Jasek “may very well be the biggest late round steal in the 2015 NHL draft”. Jasek then faded into the relative obscurity of the Czech hockey leagues, bouncing around between various professional tiers and the junior system. When he chose to sign a multi-year contract in his homeland in the Spring of 2017 instead of coming to North America, many thought that it meant he’d stay there indefinitely. But then, just eight months later, Jasek showed up in Utica and put on a show, tallying seven points in six games and earning himself an entry-level contract with the Canucks.
— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) April 1, 2018
Well, it’s been nearly six months since then, and Utica has gotten a lot more crowded. Suddenly the guy that burst onto the scene and put up points can’t find his way into the lineup, sitting in the press box with the likes of Petrus Palmu, Kole Lind, and Jonah Gadjovich. If Jasek can’t crack the AHL lineup on a nightly basis, what does that say about where he is the order of potential NHL call-ups?
This isn’t to cast aspersions on Jasek’s potential – he’s still only 21 (and just recently so), and in the first year of his ELC. I’m just saying that there might be a number of players in line ahead of him, and his debut could end up being pushed back to 2019-20.
Very much in the same situation as Quinn Hughes, only with much less hype, Will Lockwood could possibly follow the footsteps of Boeser and Gaudette and get in a few games with the Canucks at the end of this season. Closer in pedigree to Gaudette than Boeser, it nonetheless stands to reason that Benning and co will burn a year of Lockwood’s entry level contract in order to entice him to sign before he goes back for his senior year of college, especially if he has a solid season in Michigan.
— RD (@BuckFoston_) October 7, 2018
“Why isn’t anyone calling up Kole Lind” may be a question that we hear down the road, but first we’ll have to contend with “why is Kole Lind getting healthy scratched in the American League?”.
As a first year pro, Lind is more than likely going to need at least a full year of seasoning down in the AHL, if he even stays there – the WHL remains a possibility for the young forward, and while that may seem redundant to a lot of fans, it’s fairly standard: many of his peers taken in the second round of the 2017 draft are already back in junior playing games. If Lind sticks in the AHL, that’d be impressive enough, without the expectation of an NHL debut before his 21st birthday.
The Man Child, as he is known in the Ontario Hockey League, would certainly be NHL ready if one only considered size and beard-growing ability. Heck, if you planted Jonah Gadjovich in front of the net in a regular season NHL game right now, I think his puck skills are good enough to whack in the occasional goal as well.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to it than that, and Gadjovich needs plenty more development time in most other areas of his game, notably his skating and passing.
Despite his NHL size and nose for the net, I think you’d be hard pressed to make the case that Gadjovich is close to ready for his first taste of NHL action. Plus, given the current situation in Utica, it seems as likely as not that Gadjovich will find himself back in the OHL fairly soon. That of course would eliminate any chance of them returning to pro hockey until those junior seasons are over.
The other option of course, which was brought up recently (and this works for either Lind or Gadjovich) is a further reassignment to the ECHL. That would at least leave them available to return to Utica when injuries occur. While it isn’t out of the realm of possibility, the Canucks have seemed reticent to use their ECHL affiliate for legitimate prospects over the past several years. I would hazard a guess that if pressed, they’d rather return high end prospects like Lind and Gadjovich to their respective junior teams while their eligible.