Report Cards: How the Abbotsford Canucks’ forwards fared in 2021–22
Photo credit:Cody Severtson
9 months ago
One month ago, the Abbotsford Canucks’ season concluded with back-to-back losses to the Bakersfield Condors in the opening round of the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The early exit was a bittersweet ending to a tumultuous season that saw the Canucks overcome plenty of adversity both on and off the ice.
First, the team started very poorly. Despite an overwhelmingly healthy roster to start the season, the Canucks struggled to win games. It wasn’t until December 5th when Abbotsford won just their fifth game in regulation.
Then, the Fraser Valley region suffered at the hands of an atmospheric river whose flooding displaced over 15,000 people from their residences. Several Canucks players were displaced due to the flooding, including rookie forward Karel Plášek, who was on crutches while rehabbing a knee injury. Vincent Arseneau led a large contingent of Abbotsford Canucks to assist with sandbagging efforts during the flooding.
In late December, the team then experienced a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 that resulted in multiple game postponements. Despite a seventeen-day gap between games, the team still wound up playing significantly shorthanded in their January return, playing with as low as fifteen skaters (10F/5D) on some game nights.
Additionally, the Canucks’ schedule was condensed heavily because of the postponements, resulting in the team playing fifteen back-to-backs in 2022!
Despite health and scheduling working against them, Abbotsford excelled in 2022. After normalizing after their COVID outbreak, they became a force in the AHL’s Pacific Division. The Farm picked up points in all but eleven of their final forty games.
The Canucks’ impressive record came despite key absences from their forward group. During their final twenty games, the Farm relied on ECHL PTOs Brandon Cutler, Yushiroh Hirano, and Matt Alfaro to fill in for Abbotsford’s injured/absent top-six, where they performed above expectations.
The PTO production in the top-six, combined with the stalwart production of rookie Chase Wouters, and a near point-per-game performance from the resurgent John Stevens, contributed massively toward the team’s stellar 14-4-2 record down the stretch.
Though Abbotsford’s final run of games didn’t result in any playoff success, Vancouver’s first year with a localized AHL squad did see plenty of positives. Several players found consistency all season, like Sheldon Dries, Nic Petan, Sheldon Rempal, or Jack Rathbone.
In contrast, players like Chase Wouters started slow, only to find their footing as solid AHL contributors by mid-season. Then there were the kids like Carson Focht, Karel Plášek, Jett Woo, and Danila Klimovich, who struggled all year to find consistency with their games at the AHL level.
Abbotsford dressed sixteen defensemen and twenty-four forwards throughout their sixty-eight game debut season. The forward contingent is first on the docket for CanucksArmy’s AHL report cards.
Matt Alfaro — C
Matt Alfaro joined Abbotsford at the end of March and quickly put up seven points over thirteen games in a third-line centre role. Alfaro might not get a shot with Abbotsford next year but, for the Canucks organization, finding an ECHL PTO who could step into a third-line role and produce well is a big win for a scouting program that has struggled to mine talent from the ECHL to the AHL for quite some time.
Vincent Arseneau — C-
As he’s known around these parts (my house), Le Grand Fella is a fan-favourite old-school heavy-hitter, possessing a snappy shot, Gaudette-like goal celebrations, and incredible work ethic on and off the ice.
During the season, Arseneau is the cliched first on/last guy off the ice at practice; Arseneau would stay out some 30-40 minutes after practice ended, working on his skills with whoever else stayed. Every pre-game warm-up, Arseneau could be spotted as the set-up man for rookie Danila Klimovich, who would crank one-timers on repeat until the final warm-up buzzer sounded.
Arseneau is well-respected in the locker room and the organization for his work ethic. It’s clear the organization values what Arseneau brings to the table, given how they signed him mid-season to a two-year extension. Even if his 5v5 defensive play is not exactly ideal, given his minutes, Arseneau delivers exactly what you’d expect from a fourth-line heavy-check forward. He’s clearly got a role carved out in Abbotsford, and he plays it well.
Justin Bailey — A-
Shoulder injuries plagued Bailey’s season for the second year in a row.
His first shoulder injury derailed what looked to be a breakout run of games during Vancouver’s abbreviated 2020–21 campaign in the all-Canadian North Division. This season, that same shoulder was re-injured during a scrum against the Tucson Roadrunners and, finally, in season-ending fashion, once more against the Bakersfield Condors. Luck was not on Bailey’s side.
Bailey was, once again, a flashy, Quad-A, all-situations producer this year while possessing (maybe) the fastest feet in the AHL. Unfortunately, as seen during his fourteen-game stint with Vancouver, Bailey’s ceiling might only be that.
Brandon Cutler — D+
Brandon Cutler is another mid-season PTO call-up who produced well in limited minutes but whose on-ice impact at 5v5 was less than stellar.
2021-22 Abbotsford Canucks: 5v5 on-ice shot attempt control metrics (CORSI FOR %)
From AHLNucksHarvest’s shot attempt tracking data, Cutler finished the season with the second-worst shot attempt control rate among forwards through a forty-one game sample size. During his time on ice at 5v5, opponents outscored the Canucks’ by a near three-to-one margin.
These underwhelming metrics aren’t unusual for young and inexperienced ECHL PTOs. Fortunately, Cutler wasn’t a complete disaster for Abbotsford, picking up eight points, including five at 5v5, while earning reps on the penalty kill down the stretch. Given Cutler’s status as a “scratch” during playoffs, I doubt the Abbotsford brass will be racing to sign him to an AHL contract anytime soon.
Phil Di Giuseppe — A
Phil Di Giuseppe had a career year with Abbotsford and earned himself two call-ups to Vancouver. Unfortunately, despite his stellar play this season, he never saw NHL ice.
Di Giuseppe was solid in all situations for Abbotsford. The big knock against Di Giuseppe making Vancouver’s starting roster out of training camp was his lack of penalty-killing experience. While in Abbotsford, Di Giuseppe earned plenty of reps on the PK and did not look out of place.
As a 28-year-old UFA, there’s a good chance that Di Giuseppe will take his services elsewhere. But it would be nice to see Vancouver give him a second chance to see what he can do in the NHL.
Justin Dowling — A
Justin Dowling was okay for both Canuck teams this season. Possessing a high work rate and good speed, Dowling was relied upon in Abbotsford to chew tough minutes on a second line with Nic Petan and Will Lockwood.
With Nic Petan called up to the Canucks, the coaching staff pivoted Dowling to centre. There, he provided a stable veteran presence to a rotating list of rookies, including Danila Klimovich, Marc Gatcomb, and Jett Woo (as a forward). While his NHL tenure wasn’t exactly a standout, Dowling was a reliable depth option for the club when they missed Tyler Motte from the lineup.
Dowling has one year left on his current deal at a $750,000 cap hit, good value for his versatility in the AHL and ability to contribute decently well at the NHL level.
Sheldon Dries — A+
It’s wild to think back on past Vancouver Canuck farm team construction, where the AHL team would ice one NHL calibre depth centre, and that’s it. It was just last season that the Canucks moved Lukas Jasek and Kole Lind from off of the wings to address the organization’s severe lack of centre depth.
Between Nic Petan, Sheldon Dries, Justin Dowling, and John Stevens, the Canucks had four legitimate centres on the Farm who could jump into the top-six whenever required. All four centres featured heavily at 5v5 and on the powerplay and PK for Abbotsford.
Dries was incredibly good for Abbotsford. His impressive play earned him a cup of coffee with Vancouver, where his glowing 5v5 metrics continued. With Vancouver, Dries held a positive control of shot attempts (50.8 CF%) and a team-leading expected goals-for percentage of 60.4%.
The only minor asterisk on Dries’ season is his sky-high shooting percentage of 23.81%. His second-highest shooting percentage season came back in 2018–19, with the Colorado Eagles, when he shot 16.7% to record his first twenty-goal season in the AHL.
A shooting regression might mean Dries fails to repeat his thirty-five-goal performance this season. But, his underlying data down the stretch for Vancouver show that the Canucks finally got significant value from their AHL depth centreman.
Carson Focht — F
Carson Focht had an encouraging debut with the Utica Comets last season when he posted four goals and eight assists over twenty-eight games played. Expectations weren’t necessarily high for the 2019 5th-round draft pick. But, Focht set a bar on what he could do in the AHL.
Focht’s sophomore season started quite strong, including three points in his first five games and time spent on the Canucks’ second powerplay and penalty-killing units. However, over the remaining sixty-three games of Abbotsford’s schedule, Focht dressed in only thirty-eight more games.
During that stretch, the coaching staff took Focht off the powerplay and the penalty kill. Focht added just seven more points over his final thirty-six games played. Included in his season was a conditioning loan to the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings and multiple stints in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Considering the opportunities handed to Focht at the start of the season, it’s hard not to look at his season as a disappointment. Focht finished the year with the fourth-worst shot-control rate among forwards and missed the entirety of the team’s playoff series as a healthy scratch.
Despite his lacklustre underlying data at 5v5, Focht did show some promising results on the PK early on in the season. I wonder if the organization gives him another chance to rebuild his stock as a prospect.
Marc Gatcomb — D
Marc Gatcomb’s time as a Canuck was relatively quiet, recording two shots on goal over six games played towards the end of the season. Though Gatcomb spent the team’s playoff run as a scratch, the Canucks scouting group thought enough of his play in the NCAA to sign him to an AHL contract that runs through the end of next season.
Nicolas Guay — F
Nicolas Guay’s sixteen-game was highly unremarkable. Plucked from the University of New Brunswick to provide lineup relief during Abbotsford’s COVID outbreak, Guay featured exclusively on the team’s fourth line, recording just three shots on goal.
Ethan Keppen — F
Ethan Keppen is a good egg, but he simply could not keep up with the AHL competition. Often looking lost in the defensive zone and a step behind with reading plays developing off the rush in the neutral zone. Though he plays hard and did spark some decent plays off the forecheck, he struggled to earn the coaching staff’s trust and was returned to the Flint Firebirds to conclude the year. It is doubtful that the 2019 4th-round pick will return to Abbotsford next season.
Danila Klimovich — C+
Let’s be clear: Danila Klimovich’s first season of pro hockey was quite impressive. Between the language barrier, North American rink size, the competition level, and the AHL schedule, Klimovich faced a world of adversity in his pro debut. Not to mention how few forwards have made the jump as early as Klimovich has.
Since the 2014–15 AHL season, there have only been eight forwards (including Klimovich) to debut in the AHL before turning 19-years-old.
AHL U19 Forward Debutees since 2014-15
Another encouraging aspect of Klimovich’s debut season was his incredibly high involvement percentage on shot attempts with him on the ice at 5v5.
Through AHLNucksHarvest’s tracking data over forty-one games, Klimovich ranked second behind Sheldon Rempal among forwards. Of the 331 shot attempts for the Canucks to occur with Klimovich on the ice, he was directly responsible for 44.41% of them through individual shots, shot attempts, assists, shot attempt assists, and secondary assists.
The kid put in a lot of work to try and score but was quite snakebitten. During that forty-one game stretch, Klimovich had one of the worst on-ice shooting percentages on the team at 3.83%! By season’s end, his on-ice shooting percentage had risen considerably, but frustration had set in, and fans frequently bore witness to Klimovich’s blatant expressions of frustration and anger.
2021-22 Abbotsford Canucks: CORSI Involvement % (41 GP sample)
Now, a low production rate as an 18-year-old isn’t a reason to write him off. However, there were aspects of Klimovich’s playstyle that did throw up red flags. For Klimovich, the elements of his game in greatest need of improvement for next season are his skating, foot speed, and work rate away from the puck. Too often this year, Klimovich got turnstiled in the neutral zone due to a problematic amount of flatfootedness.
Klim remains an intriguing prospect despite the red flags due to his crisp puck-handling, lethal shot from range, and size. Unfortunately, his areas of weakness might make him a “project prospect” that takes much longer to arrive than some might have been hoping.
Will Lockwood — B+
Will Lockwood was perfectly fine in his sophomore AHL season. At this point, fans know what to expect from Lockwood: A+ wheels with a bowling ball-like approach to the forecheck. After leaving the NCAA, one of Lockwood’s playstyle concerns was whether his body could hold up. Those concerns resurfaced when an upper-body injury sidelined Lockwood through the final three games of the season. Though he only played thirteen games for Vancouver, he finished with the fifteenth-most hits on the team with forty-nine total.
The Canucks have expressed a need for more sandpaper in their lineup, and Will Lockwood’s reckless physicality and willingness to fight certainly ticks that box. Lockwood, however, needs his body to cooperate over an entire season to fill that niche.
Jarid Lukosevicius — B
If we were grading Abbotsford skaters on “infectious enthusiasm,” Lukosevicius would easily earn an A-plus. Lukosevicius’ excitement to play for his hometown organization was a highlight anytime he was a part of the post-game media availability.
On the ice, the Squamish native had his best year in terms of production, scoring ten goals and nine assists over sixty-two games played. Lukosevicius was a hard worker who almost exclusively featured at 5v5 before earning some powerplay time late in the season.
Lukosevicius finished the season with the second-most shots on goal among all skaters at 5v5; not bad for a local kid on an AHL deal!
Brannon McManus — C
Unlike fellow NCAA tryout signee Marc Gatcomb, Brannon McManus joined the Abbotsford Canucks late in the season without guaranteeing a 2022–23 return. Though he displayed decent speed and a penchant for scoring at 5v5, he nonetheless featured as a healthy scratch during the Canucks’ playoff run.
There could be something there with McManus? But more likely than not, he’ll end up in the Seamus Malone-tier of “guys who signed ATOs out of the NCAA, lived off a high shooting percentage during their brief debut. Only to ultimately become nothing.”
Tristen Nielsen — C+
For whatever reason, despite evidence of good footspeed, a nose for the net, penalty-killing ability, and a high work rate, Tristen Nielsen struggled to earn Trent Cull’s trust to maintain a spot in Abbotsford’s lineup.
Nielsen’s work on the PK was short-lived, but the underlying numbers were promising. In limited shorthanded ice-time, the Abbotsford Canucks had a save percentage that fared 8.43% better with Nielsen on-ice than without him. Nielsen’s contract runs through 2022-23, and I would hope the team entrusts him with more time on the PK to maximize his strengths.
Anything other than seeing defencemen on the wings again.
Nic Petan — A
Though CanucksArmy’s master of negativity, Lachlan Irvine, felt that a D+ was appropriate for Nic Petan’s NHL season. I am kind and thought that an A-grade was befitting of Petan’s time in the AHL. There isn’t much else to say bout Petan’s stellar season. He was a force to be reckoned with on the powerplay and equally as reliable on the penalty kill. Abbotsford’s on-ice save percentage was 6.15% better with Petan on the PK than without through thirty-seven games played.
At the NHL level, Petan held a positive control of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, and expected goals. While in Vancouver, the Canucks had an on-ice shooting percentage of 2.41%, with Petan on the ice at 5v5. Perhaps if PDO regression was on his side, that D+ rating may have bumped up slightly. Petan was good for both clubs, and his on-ice impact at both levels marks another win for the organization’s scouting department.
Karel Plasek — D
It’s tough to evaluate Plasek’s AHL debut due to the devastating in-game knee injury that sidelined him for over 50% of the season. When Plasek was healthy, he displayed some decent wheels. However, nothing about Plasek’s game jumped off the page before his injury.
Sheldon Rempal — A++
Sheldon Rempal represents a massive win for the Vancouver Canucks AHL scouting department. Before joining the Canucks, Rempal had mild AHL success with the Chicago Wolves and the Ontario Reign. This season, no one could have predicted the quantum leap that Rempal took with his offensive game.
2021-22 Abbotsford Canucks: CORSI Involvement % (41 GP sample)
Rempal was a force at 5v5, finishing the season with the highest on-ice goal differential, the best on-ice involvement percentage, and the most individual shots on the team. Via AHLNucksHarvest.com’s forty-one game sample, Rempal led the team with the highest involvement percentage on on-ice shot attempts among all forwards. AKA of the 435 Abbotsford shot attempts-for, Rempal directly contributed 45.06% of them through individual shots, shot attempts, shot assists, shot attempt assists, or secondary assists.
Truthfully, his season probably warranted more than a single game look at the NHL level. Rempal was a utility forward in the AHL, excelling at evens and on the powerplay and penalty kill.
At only $125K, Rempal was an absolute bargain for Abbotsford this year.
John Stevens — A-
John Stevens (the player) has had a fascinating journey. Stevens first popped up on the Canucks radar as an invitee to their 2015 Development Camp. After two seasons with Northeastern University, Stevens signed a two-year ELC with the New York Islanders to play with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
After a less than promising 2018–19 campaign, Stevens signed an AHL contract with Bridgeport, where he then struggled to find consistent playing time in the Sound Tigers’ lineup. The Canucks then circled back on their former development camp invitee and acquired Stevens for future considerations.
During the abbreviated 2020–21 season, the coaching staff promoted Stevens to their first-line center between Sven Bartschi and Sam Anas. They controlled play very well at 5v5 (54.5 CF%) as a trio but combined for only two goals. Despite the underwhelming production that came with his promotion, Stevens earned himself a second NHL contract from his reliable two-way prowess and PK ability.
While the upgrade from AHL contract to NHL contract seemed odd, it ended up being a completely worthwhile deal. Stevens effectively provided a Brandon Sutter-like role for Abbotsford. For most of the season, Stevens played “veteran” duty to players like Danila Klimovich, Carson Focht, and Chase Wouters at 5v5.
During Vancouver’s run of injuries and call-ups in the final stretch of the regular season, the coaching staff tasked Stevens with providing top six centreman duties in relief, where he continued to perform admirably. Stevens finished the season having led Abbotsford in shorthanded goals and posting his highest goal total since his 2007–08 season when he was thirteen years old.
Chase Wouters — B
Chase Wouters’ tenure as a member of the Canucks organization started with a bang when he scored the go-ahead goal against Adam Werner during a Canucks pre-season game against the Calgary Flames.
Though it took a considerable amount of time for Wouters to produce points in the AHL, the coaching staff gave Wouters the time to find his game at the start of the season. Eventually, Wouters’ work ethic earned him an audition on the penalty kill alongside John Stevens.
Once there, Wouters established himself as a first-out PK guy as the puck-hunting F1. As the high-man on the Canucks’ PK, Wouters’ endeared himself to the Abbotsford faithful as a relentless disrupting force along the perimeter. His work rate earned him the fanbase’s majority vote for the team’s Unsung Hero Award.
During CanucksArmy’s post-deadline prospect rankings, Chris Faber confidently declared that Wouters would play NHL games for the Canucks down the road. While I disagree with Faber’s opinion that White Spot pickles are good, I do agree with him that there is something there in Chase Wouters.
Stay tuned for defencemen and goalie report cards coming soon.
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