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Blackfish: Abbotsford on the brink of elimination, a review of goalie prospects, and more

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Photo credit:Nick Barden
Dave Hall
1 month ago
Welcome back to the Blackfish Prospect report.
Well, it’s that point of the season. As of Monday night, the only prospects with games remaining in their season are in Abbotsford. The rest have officially begun their off-season regiments.
All-in-all, it’s been a tremendous season to cover prospects within the Vancouver Canucks’ system. We saw several players take tremendous leaps in their development, a few of which took us all by surprise.
It’s almost time to shift toward the 2024 Entry Draft, where the Canucks will have five picks to their name. However, their draft will not begin until the third round.
For now, at least.

Abbotsford Canucks

The baby Canucks find themselves with their backs up against the wall, trailing the Ontario Reign 2-0 in their best-of-five second-round matchup.
Heading into the series, the Canucks couldn’t have anticipated a more evenly-matched opponent. The two clubs split their eight-game regular season series, dead even in nearly every category.
This includes a four-win and four-loss split.
Unfortunately, their playoff series has taken a different turn, with Ontario appearing more balanced and dominant than Abbotsford.
And no, goaltending hasn’t been the issue.
Through two games, the Canucks’ top players have struggled to make an impact. Against Colorado, the young guns came up big with ten goals over three games. Against Ontario, they’ve managed just a single goal.
Unsurprisingly, Max Sasson scored their lone goal, leading the team with ten shots over the series so far.
Abby will host their first playoff game of the season on Wednesday in a do-or-die match. Should they stave off elimination, game four will be on Friday. Should they even the series on Wednesday, game five will be on Sunday.
With only two games to cover on the Abby front, let’s wrap up our series of retrospectives. This week, we go between the pipes, where the team has split the season with two promising netminders.
First on the docket is last year’s World Championship Bronze Medal winner and tournament MVP, Arturs Silovs.
By now, you’re probably well aware of what the 23-year-old has been up to in recent weeks. After swapping starts in Abbotsford all season, he was abruptly tasked with NHL playoff duty and has not only passed the challenge but has likely taken over the starter’s crease for the rest of the playoffs.
In fact, with 28 saves in game 6, he became the youngest netminder to record a shutout in franchise history and became the first rookie to clinch a series.
It’s customary for there to be a Cinderella story in the NHL playoffs each year, and Arturs may hold that candle for now. He simply does not seem to be fazed by the moment.
Are we shocked? Of course not. Last season, he showed that his upside and skillset could lead directly to quality NHL starts.
Yet, it’s not as if his 2023-24 campaign in Abbotsford blew it out of the water.
With a 16-11-6 record and a .907 save percentage in the AHL, his year has seen both stretches of brilliance and frustration. Heck, he even lost his starting role to the newcomer Nikita Tolopilo down the stretch.
Simply put, his game felt a bit off and uncharacteristically scrambly between the pipes sometimes.
Nevertheless, Silovs’ technical composure earned him the call and has since shaken the scramble AHL play to provide results that will go down in Canucks Playoff legend.
His contract is up for renewal this summer, but an extension is a no-brainer given the price tag that most veteran backup netminders tend to come with. Silovs’ performance this spring likely solidified his spot as Thatcher Demko’s backup next year.
Silovs has shown he can be a reliable, cost-efficient backup netminder for two seasons in a row. Sorry to say for Abbotsford fans that it’s likely time for the Arty Party to graduate to Vancouver.
Then there’s Nikita Tolopilo, who may not see action during Abbotsford’s playoff run.
Vancouver had to call up both goaltenders at a crucial time, and even though Tolopilo isn’t serving as the backup, he’ll remain the team’s emergency backup goaltender (EBUG) for precautionary reasons until Demko is ready to play again.
Considering Tolopilo’s impressive inaugural AHL campaign, it’s a shame he’ll miss playoff action. He’d done a great job wrestling away the starter’s crease from Silovs during the team’s mid-season struggles.
If our assumptions about Silovs earning backup rights are correct, any 2024-25 goalie controversy in the AHL would be resolved, with Tolopilo taking the starter’s position.
It’s tough to say this now, as Silovs is having himself a remarkable NHL run. However, Tolopilo felt like the more “calm and collected” option between the pipes for much of the AHL campaign. Since his debut, Tolopilos’ approach to the game has been quietly impressive, rarely needing to make hail-mary, scramble saves, or falling prey to the chaos of the AHL’s broken-play dependant offence.
If this season has taught us anything, it’s that the 24-year-old Belorussian was one of the better off-season pickups by the organization. With a year remaining on his deal, Tolopilo offers incredible value as a potential depth option going forward, especially with Silovs’ most likely graduation.
He finishes his rookie year with a better overall record than Silovs (20-13-1) and very similar save percentage statistics.

Around the world

Europe
Jonathan Lekkerimäki participated in one last tournament over the weekend as Sweden finalized their upcoming World Championship roster.
He officially played in two out of three games but saw limited ice time, just 1:57 in his second game. In his first appearance, he logged just over 13 minutes of ice time and saw time on the second powerplay unit, but did not make an overly significant impact on the game with no shots or noteworthy plays.
With notable players like Adrian Kempe and Lucas Raymond joining the team, Lekkerimäki’s status as a full-time member feels less certain. Sweden now carries a surplus of forwards, which must be trimmed over the coming days.
CHL
It’s official: the last two non-Abbotsford prospects played their last playoff game, with Josh Bloom and Ty Young eliminated from OHL and WHL Playoffs last week.
Bloom had cooled off substantially down the stretch, managing just one goal and two points over his last ten games. The dropoff came after a remarkable stretch that saw him score 38 points across the previous 24 games.
Bloom and his Saginaw Spirit will take a few weeks off before gearing up to compete against the CHL’s best in this year’s Memorial Cup. The tournament will be Bloom’s final kick at the Junior-level can, as he’ll officially age out and begin his second attempt at pro hockey in 2024-25.
Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks eliminated Ty Young’s Prince George Cougars from playoff contention in a thrilling double-overtime Game 6 match.
Young began the year as an inconsistent starter, ultimately losing the starter’s crease to 17-year-old Joshua Ravensbergen, who went gangbusters in his rookie year. In Young’s two starts against the Winterhawks, the Cougars lost by a combined score of 9 to 3. He finished his playoffs with a 1-3 record.
With the season nearing its end, post some questions in the comments, and I will devote next week’s column to answering as many as possible. Call it a mailbag, if you will.
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