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Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald

Jack Rathbone is going to be a wild card at Vancouver Canucks training camp this season

Coming in at number 3 on the CanucksArmy 2020 Vancouver Canucks prospect rankings is defenceman Jack Rathbone.

When Jack Rathbone signed with the Vancouver Canucks in July, it came as a major relief to fans.

Rathbone could have followed in recent Harvard defencemen’s footsteps and finished his degree before heading to the NHL, at which point he would have been able to sign with any team he pleased.

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“I mean, you’ve seen guys do it before,” said Rathbone on if he ever had thoughts of going the free-agent route. “You know it’s a possibility but from the Canucks’ player development staff, management, coaches and two development camps I got a great feeling and loyalty is something that’s pretty big to me. So I knew they took a chance on me. The decision to go to the USHL or to go back to prep school, I think they were great. They gave me space to be able to make that decision on my own. They have been great to me and whether it’s with the relationship with Chris Higgins or Ryan Johnson, those guys have been great for me in terms of trying to grow as a player. I think that was something that I knew I wanted to be a part of this kind of an organization and work alongside guys like that.”

The 21-year-old is a smooth-skating defenceman who can wheel the puck up the ice with confidence or launch a stretch pass out of his own zone to begin the transition up the ice. He possesses a booming slapshot from the point that he can fire off in a hurry, and is extremely deceptive in creating open space for himself to let it go. He’s got excellent acceleration and fantastic edge work, which will certainly help the Canucks in their breakout efforts and transitional play when he arrives on the scene.

The question is, when will that be?

You don’t need to look hard to see that the game is shifting in a direction that benefits smaller, smooth-skating defencemen perhaps more than ever before, and Rathbone recognizes this.

“Whether it’s getting the puck in the forwards’ hands and letting them do it themselves or if you have to jump in and be that fourth forward I think the way the game is trending right now, d-men are almost rovers in the offensive zone. There’s no more set structure. I think that suits my game and something that I’m excited to hopefully get the opportunity to do at the highest level,” said Rathbone.

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You also don’t need to look far to realize that head coach Travis Green is willing to give young players significant roles if they’re up for the challenge. With the third pairing basically wide open heading into camp, Rathbone could be a major wild card to jump ahead of more established names such as Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty, and even Jordie Benn to snag a spot with a strong showing.

Juolevi and Rathbone bring completely different things to the table. While Juolevi is more defensively minded and can be relied on to kill penalties, Rathbone is a much better skater and would be best suited in a power-play role. It’s still an unknown if he can defend well enough at the professional level, whereas with Juolevi, the Canucks got to see a glimpse of it and liked what they saw from him.

It won’t be easy to make the Canucks out of camp, as the coaching staff’s ideal lineup construction may not feature both Rathbone and Hughes in the same defence corps.

With the AHL announcing an intended start date of February 5th, Rathbone now knows he’ll have a place to play and develop if he doesn’t make the team out of camp. However, Rathbone fully intends on making the Canucks out of camp.

“I’m confident in my game. You always work to play at the next level and now I’m finally here and ready to play professional hockey, and hopefully play in the NHL. I’d like to think that I am,” said Rathbone when asked if he feels he’s NHL ready. “I’m confident in my abilities — and I don’t want to speak out of line here — but I’m excited to go into a camp and make it a hard decision for them and achieve my dream of playing in the NHL sooner rather than later. I think that’s definitely a goal of mine; to play in the NHL this year. Honestly, I just want to learn as much as possible with this being my first-year pro. I just want to be a sponge, try and learn as much as possible from the older guys and anyone who attends camp. That will be an incredible opportunity for me and it’s something I’m excited to get going.”

Rathbone’s skating ability helps him defend the rush effectively, but says that his play in the defensive end is where he sees the most room for improvement for himself. Here’s what Brett Lee had to say about Rathbone’s abilities in his own end:

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When defending against sustained pressure, Rathbone’s work ethic is unquestionable. He reminds me of a little bit of Troy Stecher in how hard he competes for pucks along the boards. He also doesn’t shy away from battles in the corners. He likes to attack by first engaging in a quick stick lift and then follow up by throwing a hit along the boards. It’s almost a throwback style of defending and is uncommon for defenders of his stature. I’m curious to see how this translates in the NHL but fans will notice quickly how aggressive and willing he is to lay the body.

Some seasoning down in Utica under the watchful eye of Ryan Johnson while getting top pairing minutes will be massive for his development as a whole, and certainly won’t do him any harm.

That being said, Rathbone is a special player, and he’s going to try to prove it right away when he arrives at camp this winter.