Analyzing why those three Abbotsford Canucks got called up, and not the other qualified candidates
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
With nine days between games (for everyone other than Elias Pettersson), the Vancouver Canucks have nothing but time on their hands.
Time…and some important personnel decisions. The Canucks went into the All-Star break with just ten forwards and 20 players total on their active roster, leaving space for up to three forward call-ups.
With Tanner Pearson and Ilya Mikheyev both out for the year, and Mikheyev recently placed on LTIR, cap space is not an issue, and so the Canucks were free to recall anyone of their choice.
Also not at issue were the abundance and quality of the potential call-ups. With more than a half-dozen valid candidates to consider, the Canucks decided to promote Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Åman, and Phil Di Giuseppe.
Why those three, and not, say, Nils Höglander, Linus Karlsson, Justin Dowling, or Aatu Räty?
We explain below.
Why Vasily Podkolzin?
If Podkolzin were still considered a prospect, he’d probably top the organizational rankings, even after the arrival of Aatu Räty. The Canucks still aren’t sure where Podkolzin will fit into the lineup long-term, but in the short-term, the answer is ‘all over the place.’ Podkolzin was sent down for more seasoning in his sophomore season, and after 28 reasonably successful games, he’s got it. Throw him into Vancouver’s top-six or bottom-six right now, and either way, Podkolzin can probably handle it. With plenty of roster uncertainty in the near future, that flexibility is key.
If the longest-term vision for Podkolzin is that of a top-six scorer, then he arguably hasn’t quite yet reached the offensive heights one would hope for from an AHL demotion. But, as a burgeoning power forward, there’s also probably some impetus to get Podkolzin some direct tutelage under Rick Tocchet as soon as possible.
Why Not Nils Höglander?
At 141 NHL games already, Höglander has the most experience with the Big Canucks of anyone else in Abbotsford. He was sent down because of a lack of scoring role opportunities in Vancouver, and because he didn’t seem to get on well with Bruce Boudreau — and now both of those things are significantly less of a factor. And, as someone who also played bigger than their size, Tocchet might appreciate the game of Höglander far more than Boudreau did. Höglander’s numbers with Abbotsford might suggest he’s more ready for a call-up than Podkolzin.
But, similarly to Podkolzin, if the intention here is to avoid stunting Höglander’s growth and maintain his chances of developing into a top-six forward, then maybe Abbotsford is still the best place for him. Unlike Podkolzin, Höglander’s future is more closely tied to a spot on a scoring line, and he doesn’t have all of those well-rounded attributes that would help him fit elsewhere as of yet.
The Canucks’ wing depth chart is a little overstuffed up top right now, and Höglander does seem to have a good thing going with his recently established chemistry alongside Linus Karlsson (and the recalled Åman.) Maybe letting him keep cooking down in the AHL is worth more than another NHL audition, of which he’s already had plenty. Höglander is also just two games away from losing his waiver eligibility, which has to be a factor.
Why Not Aatu Räty?
If it ain’t Podkolzin, then Räty is definitely already the organization’s top prospect, just days after his acquisition from the New York Islanders. Räty oozes skill and versatility, is a natural center, and could realistically fit on a line with any of the Canucks’ wide swath of available wingers.
If excitement is the goal with these call-ups, he’s undoubtedly the option that would generate the most headlines.
And those same headlines are also the biggest reason not to call-up Räty quite yet. As soon as he arrives in Vancouver, the 20-year-old becomes the face of the Horvat trade. That’s a lot of pressure, so why not let Anthony Beauvillier handle it for a while before throwing Räty into the fire?
Also, the guy just got here, so it’s perfectly reasonable to let him get his feet wet in Abbotsford for at least a few weeks before even considering a trip to Vancouver.
Why Nils Åman?
There was a time when Åman looked like an immediate and permanent addition to the Canucks’ big league roster. He hit a bit of a rookie pro wall, however, and his time in the AHL has had the desired effect of re-invigorating the well-rounded nature of his game.
If getting a look at a player is important to the Canucks, one can definitely reason that they’ve got plenty of views of Åman already in his North American debut season and that, development-wise, Abbotsford is probably exactly where he should have been all this time.
But Åman has one major advantage over Podkolzin and Höglander, the two other Abbotsforders who started the season in Vancouver, and that’s that he can play center. With Bo Horvat out the door, that’s a big deal. At least one, if not two, of the Canucks’ three call-ups needed to be able to take faceoffs, and Åman is it. In fact, he could easily supplant Sheldon Dries on the depth chart and spend the rest of this season as the Canucks’ de facto 3C.
Why Not Linus Karlsson?
Of all the genuine prospects in Abbotsford, Karlsson is easily the most prolific, and he’s doing it as a North American rookie pro. Since being acquired by the Canucks, Karlsson has continually outperformed expectations, and after his performance in Abbotsford, it’s reasonable to assume that he might do so again whenever he gets a chance in the NHL.
Karlsson has played on the wing in Abbotsford, but he does have center experience, and could get some reps there filling in for the departed Horvat. Or, he could get an early audition at a middle-six winger role for next season. Versatility is a strength.
On the flip side, we know we’re getting repetitive here, but Karlsson has a good thing going down in Abbotsford, both with the Tre Kronor unit he was part of and just on an individual basis. The plan was probably always for him to spend his season in Abbotsford, and the plan appears to be going very well, so why change it up now? Taking a peek at Karlsson later in the year is fine, but his Vancouver focus should primarily be on next year.
Why Phil Di Giuseppe?
Right behind Justin Dowling and Karlsson in the scoring race is Di Giuseppe, who has been on the cusp of a call-up since signing with Vancouver as a UFA. In many ways, Di Giuseppe has been downright unlucky to not get more NHL time over the past two seasons, but he’s been there before, and does have the most big league games of any of these options with 202.
For a third or fourth line wing role, Di Giuseppe is the safest play. At age 29, he’s also the safest play for someone to just sit in the pressbox without harming their development.
Di Giuseppe isn’t really an exciting call-up, nor is he one with much of a future in the organization. That he’s not an expert penalty killer probably also hurts his chances of actually getting into the lineup on a regular basis.
But you can’t say the dude hasn’t earned it!
Why Not Justin Dowling?
Remember this guy? Oft forgotten about, Dowling is Abbotsford’s top forward scorer in 2022/23, quietly going point-per-game without much notice at all.
He’s been a trooper for the organization since joining it as a free agent, and he’s got ample experience at the NHL level as a bottom-six checker and as a center. He might be one of the more ‘boring’ options for a call-up, but he’s also mighty handy.
Then again, if the 2022/23 season is a bust — and it is — then maybe practical isn’t what the Canucks are shooting for with a call-up. Dowling doesn’t have much a future with the club, and so the organization might want to get a look at someone they’re considering for a roster spot in 2023/24 over Dowling. Everyone already knows what this person brings to the table.
The Canucks needed one veteran call-up to ride it out in the pressbox, and it was probably down to Di Giuseppe or Dowling. The team went with Di Giuseppe.
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