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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: Prospects to watch at the World Juniors, Rathbone’s health, and the NHL taxi squad situation

Hopefully, you’ve managed to enjoy some downtime throughout the holidays.

The Vancouver Canucks practiced yesterday, but had their game that was originally scheduled for tonight postponed as we await a restart to the NHL season.

As we wait, we will continue to bring our regularly scheduled programming here at CanucksArmy.

With another Monday, comes another mailbag. We had a smaller bag than usual this week but I understand that a lot of people are taking some time off Twitter. That being said, we do have a handful of great questions to get into as we approach the return to Canucks hockey.

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Let’s rip open the mailbag and see what we have this week!

The latest I have heard on Jack Rathbone’s injury is that he is close to returning. It’s not long-term and we could see him in action before the new year.

There have been no complications with his recovery and he is expecting to be back soon at 100%. The Abbotsford Canucks are scheduled to play back-to-back games against the Manitoba Moose on December 30th and 31st. The team will likely travel on Wednesday and we will keep you updated if any more postponements come down the pipe.

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I’d expect Rathbone to be back in the lineup for those games. It is tough to get information out of the Abbotsford organization when they are on the road or going through these postponements. I will have more information on this later in the week.

I’ve mentioned that I like the idea of taxi squads for a while now. I truly believe it will help the Canucks provide added minutes for their AHL prospects and brings the AHL down in skill so that young players can build more confidence.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet wrote about the highlights from the new taxi squad situation that is in place until the All-Star break. Currently, taxi squads are optional for teams, and they may use up to six players. A new and intelligent change is that no player can be on the taxi squad for more than 20 days. A player can’t be on the taxi squad if they were on an NHL roster as of Dec. 22 with the exception of emergency recalls or those who have played on the NHL team in 16 of the team’s last 20 games.

There has also been an “emergency cap exemption” added in which teams in danger of dressing fewer than two goalies, six defencemen, and 12 forwards can make an emergency recall for a player whose cap-hit is under one million dollars. This is great for the Canucks with Abbotsford so close to their NHL team and loaded with fringe NHL players. The Abbotsford Canucks are also home for two weeks after their quick back-to-back in Manitoba.

When it comes to the Canucks’ taxi squad, I’d assume they go with two or three forwards, two defencemen and one goaltender.

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My ideal taxi squad has Justin Bailey and Nic Petan as the forwards with Sheldon Rempal being a third forward option. With the current instalment of the taxi squad, Phil Di Giuseppe makes a lot of sense but he was a non-emergency recall on December 14th and has been a part of the Canucks’ NHL roster prior to December 22nd, so we will have to see what happens there.

Bailey and Petan have some offence and will be hungry to get another opportunity at the NHL level if COVID permits it. As for Rempal, he may be the Abbotsford Canucks’ most dangerous forward this season. Thanks to some excellent tracking by Cody Severtson of AHLNucksHarvest, we know that Rempal is leading the AHLNucks in shot attempts, individual primary shot assists, and primary assists. Rempal is currently second on the team in scoring with 20 points in 22 games. He is an excellent AHL passer and his hockey IQ could warrant him a shot in the NHL in a pinch.

As for the defence, it’s a tough decision. You’d love to see Jack Rathbone get into NHL action as soon as possible but his re-emergence in the NHL should come from a legitimate call-up before he gets stuck on a taxi squad without game action. He needs to continue to play games and with some other defencemen going to the taxi squad, we should see Rathbone playing 22-26 minutes a night in the AHL.

For defencemen, I’d like to see Madison Bowey and potentially Noah Juulsen or Ashton Sautner on the taxi squad. Juulsen was a non-emergency call-up so his status to the taxi squad is going to take some more research to figure out. As for Sautner, he was signed to an NHL contract but not technically recalled yet. I’d expect to see Bowey and Sautner be the two defencemen on the taxi squad. Guillaume Brisebois is another potential taxi squad candidate as he was an emergency call-up and still remains on the Canucks’ active roster as of Sunday night.

The goaltender is easy, it has to be Spencer Martin. The 26-year-old goalie has a 1.98 goals-against-average and sports a crease-rocking .930% save percentage. His addition to the taxi squad helps provide a more veteran goalie while giving the opportunity for the youngsters, Mikey DiPietro and Arturs Silovs, to get more AHL starts.

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After some clarification, this question was about which players I’m most interested in from the World Junior Championships. From a Canucks perspective, I’m keeping an eye on Brad Lambert. In a similar fashion to Aatu Raty, Lambert was once looked at as one of the top prospects in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft but has fallen down the rankings due to inconsistent play in his draft year.

Early on, Lambert has made some strong plays for Finland and was named their player of the game on Boxing Day. Many hoped that Lambert’s shot would improve in his draft year but it hasn’t and the worry is that it will not get to an NHL level. His view of the ice is great and he should still be a mid-first-round pick. He could be there for the Canucks if they end up falling somewhere in the 12-18 range of the draft.

Though Slovakia doesn’t have a loaded team, one of the draft-eligible players is Juraj Slafkovsky. I don’t think he will be available for the Canucks to pick unless they fall apart this season and finish in the bottom-10 of the league. He’s a big body who is fun to watch and looks to be one of the players who may jump right into the NHL after this summer’s draft.

A projected mid-round pick in the 2022 draft is Austrian winger Vinzenz Rohrer. He is currently playing in the OHL and should be a mid-round pick in this summer’s draft. He is rising in the ranks due to his hot start in the OHL and may be a top-80 pick.

Finally, the top two prospects from the 2023 draft are going to be fun to watch all tournament long. Matvei Michkov (RUS) and Connor Bedard (CAN) are extremely talented young forwards and will be so much fun to watch over the next couple of world juniors. Michkov has already made his presence felt in the tournament as Bedard looks to build on his opening game performance and work his way up Canada’s lineup.

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Well, that wraps up another Monday mailbag here at CanucksArmy. Enjoy the world juniors as they continue on as we hope for the return of Canucks hockey sooner rather than later.

Stay safe, have a happy new year and we will see you in 2022!