Every team needs depth defencemen and as you can tell by the way our countdown of the top prospects in the Canucks’ system has unfolded so far, the team seems to have a handful of these type of players who are in the midst of developing at the next level. Jack Rathbone is perhaps the most notable among these B-list Canucks defensive prospects, playing with Harvard in the NCAA, showing off his puck moving ability and thriving in a role as one of the team’s major offensive contributors from the back end.
In keeping with past lists, we’re considering a prospect to be any player who is 25 years of age or younger and who has played less than 25 regular season games at the NHL level. This is a slightly modified and simplified version of the qualifications for the Calder Trophy.
As of the 2018/19 season, both Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette have graduated from prospect status.
By The Numbers
Jeremy Davis prospect Graduation Probabilities system indicates that Rathbone could have a very bright future if things shake out well for him. When compared against some of the other players drafted outside of the first round, his XLS% of 27.7% looks mighty impressive, equivalent to the value of roughly a late first or early second round pick.
While most of the players in Rathbone’s cohort washed out of pro hockey, a good chunk of the successful players went on to become second or even first-pairing defenders.
I’d take that from a fourth round pick any day of the week. At this point, the Canucks seem like they could be rewarded for taking a risk on a high school player who didn’t play against the most difficult competition but showed enough talent to earn the attention of Judd Brackett and the scouting staff.
Harvard’s hockey program was more than a little unorthodox this past season, with defensemen comprising three of their top six spots in team scoring. First among all those players was Rathbone’s defensive partner Adam Fox with whom Rathbone found immediate chemistry as the two played together for most of the 2018-19 season at Harvard. Adam Fox will be moving on to play with the New York Rangers this season but Rathbone could possibly get to play alongside New Jersey Devils prospect Reilly Walsh this coming season, who potted an impressive 12 goals and 19 assists in his most recent college campaign.
Rathbone has been a puc- moving offensive defenceman throughout his hockey career, developing at the Dexter Prep High School where he scored at a goal-a-game rate in his final season. Rathbone was coached through his youth by his father and also played alongside fellow Canucks prospect Aidan McDonough.
Rathbone has been on an upward trajectory since being drafted out of the Dexter Prep High School program. You don’t see a lot of players drafted out high school, largely because of concerns about low levels of competition, but the good news has been that he has excelled so far against tougher opponents in the NCAA and is poised for a leadership role with the Crimson next season.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) July 5, 2017
Rathbone’s ability to move the puck up the ice and contribute offensively is likely his most noticeable skill, as he and Adam Fox formed one of the NCAA’s most formidable offensive D-pairings.
How he fares this season at the NCAA level without his Hobery Baker-nominated defense partner will be a very telling sign for Rathbone’s future. He’s shown he can more than keep up with college-level competition, which should at the very least improve his confidence, but it remains to be seen whether or not that will be enough for him to continue improving. If things go well for him, there’s a possibility he could turn pro at the end of next season, making a brief audition with the Canucks or perhaps signing an ATO with the Comets if the big club doesn’t have room to accommodate him.
Rathbone’s stock could rise dramatically if he can put together another solid season with Harvard and I don’t think it would be surprising if he continues to score some nice goals from the point this season and possibly flirts with top-25 territory in NCAA scoring by defensemen. There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to Rathbone, but the upside is definitely there. He’ll just have to prove he can generate offense on his own if he wants to continue to move up our annual rankings.