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Photo Credit: NHL.com

Canucks prospect Jack Rathbone picks up three assists in his professional hockey debut with Utica Comets

Jack Rathbone made his professional debut on Friday night and he exceeded all expectations.

“I thought it went pretty good,” said Rathbone minutes after his professional hockey debut. “I was just excited to play a hockey game again. It’s been a while.”

Aside from a couple of scrimmages at the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp, Friday night’s match was the first time in 356 days that he had played a hockey game. Even with the long time away from the game, he did not miss a step. He looked so comfortable with the puck and made great passes through the neutral zone to spring forwards into the offensive zone.

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“I was a kid in a candy store,” said Rathbone. “I got to come to the rink with a smile on my face and work hard.”

After skating with the Taxi Squad for the past five weeks, Rathbone was sent down to the AHL this past week. He immediately slotted into the Utica Comets’ lineup and was saddled alongside fellow Canucks prospect Jett Woo.

We all know that Rathbone can skate and pass, but the first thing that popped off the screen in his debut was his ability to defend against AHL competition. He had an active stick and was rarely found out of position.

“For a guy who hasn’t played in those five-on-five situations in a long time I thought he did a good job,” said Cull when asked about Rathbone’s defensive side of the game.

Cull broke down how Rathbone’s best defence is his ability to get pucks out of his zone quickly saying, “he’ll be a guy that we can’t wait to coach more of. I mean he’s such a good student, he wants to learn and he’s just a really good kid. Then you see how he snaps pucks and has that ability to move it and do it at a really good level. It’s something that’s a blessing. Every coach loves that, you love when a guy can snap and move pucks because that means you’re not spending time in your D zone.”

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His defensive game was the thing that caught my eye early on, but the offence couldn’t hide for long. Rathbone did a tremendous job along the blue line when the Comets were in the offensive zone. He was creating space out of thin air with his fake shots and dekes around checking forwards. “Jack walks the line in the o-zone as good as anybody I’ve seen in this league,” said Cull when asked about Rathbone’s offence. “His head is always up when he has the puck, and he snaps pucks like an NHLer, you can see that immediately.”

He struck the scoresheet early. Just four minutes into the game, Rathbone registered the first professional point of his career.

Rathbone was used as the quarterback on the second power play unit and looked very comfortable in that role. He moves around the ice with such ease and is a perfect fit for what the Comets need at the point with the man advantage.

There’ really weren’t any negatives from his first pro game. He took a big hit in the first period but his defence partner Woo stepped in to give some shots back to their opponent.

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The pairings were then swapped in for the final two periods of the game. Woo went on to have one of, if not the best game of his career. Woo had five shots on net and was physically involved from puck drop to final horn. Our very own Cory Hergott will have a lot more on Woo in Sunday’s Comets wrap-up.

Rathbone went on to put up his second assist of the game later on when Sven Baertschi took a pass from him on the power play and ripped in his first of the season.

Rathbone wasn’t done there. He tallied up his third point of the game when he made a sneaky fake shot deke from the point and walked his man before firing the puck on net, where Jonah Gadjovich scored his sixth goal in six games. Cory will have more about this on Sunday.

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Like I said earlier, nothing really went bad for Rathbone in his debut. You really couldn’t pick apart his game and say that anything was a consistent worry in his game. He looked confident in his first pro game and fit right in as one of, if not the best defenceman in the game.

Cull raved about the quick snap passes out of the zone. It looked like every time Rathbone went to break out the puck, it was a 100-foot snap pass on a rope. He’s got a bright future and should be in a Canucks uniform very soon.

Rathbone has been with the Canucks’ Taxi Squad for five weeks. He travelled to Utica earlier this week and was very happy just to play a game. “I was psyched. Obviously, it’s awesome to get a taste up there. It’s the dream,” said Rathbone. “I was able to learn a lot both on and off the ice with my time there and kind of bring that down here. I want to approach this as a time where I can develop and work on my game to hopefully achieve that ultimate goal and play up there.”

It’s one game, but this kid just came in and was one of the best puck movers I have ever seen in my years of watching the AHL.

The Canucks could use that type of puck-mover, but in the meantime, the Comets will enjoy having a talent like Rathbone down on their squad. The broadcasters were completely amazed at the talent from Rathbone in his debut. He is a treat to watch play defence in the AHL. That was some of the most fun I have had watching a hockey game in weeks.

We will continue to monitor Rathbone and the other young AHL prospects’ progression with coverage from both Cory Hergott and myself here at CanucksArmy.