Blackfish: AHL Playoff outlook and a 2023-2024 Vancouver Canucks prospect recap

Photo credit:Nick Barden
Dave Hall
1 month ago
Welcome back to the Blackfish Prospect report.
First things first, I apologize for not delivering a report last week. It was my first missed report, and I am hoping for it to be my last.
We don’t have too many prospects remaining out there, but we have just enough to provide a solid report!
Let’s dive right in.

Abbotsford Canucks

It was a crucial week for the Abbotsford Canucks as they vied for home-ice advantage in the AHL playoffs, awarded to the top four teams in each division.
Unlike the NHL, where the first round is a best-of-seven series, the AHL playoffs start with a best-of-three round, all played in one venue.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Canucks had their work cut out for them to clinch home ice. They needed wins in both of their games against the Calgary Wranglers and hope for the Colorado Eagles to lose theirs to leapfrog them in the standings.
While Abbotsford lived up to their end of the bargain by winning both matches, Colorado won their final game and secured that fourth and final home ice spot. They also happen to face each other in the opening round.
Truthfully, this is the matchup we had hoped for.
Throughout the season, the Canucks and Eagles clashed eight times, and each game was marked by intense rivalry and animosity.
That built-up hatred dates back to October 25th, when Eagles’ defenceman Keaton Middleton took down Vasily Podkolzin with a late hit in the corner. The incident resulted in a scary incident and a head injury that led to nearly a month off.
Since then, it’s been a battleground.
Most recently, all hell broke loose in the dying second of their final meeting, where Jett Woo became public enemy number one.
The schedule:
Wed. Apr 24, 2024–7:05 PM PST
Fri. Apr 26, 2024–7:05 PM PST
Sun. Apr 28, 2024–3:05 PM PST *If necessary
With the regular season behind us, we thought we’d reflect and recap on the 2023-24 Abby prospects, shall we?
We’ll start with the forward group this week and work toward the defensive corps and goaltenders next week.
Of course, we have to start with the local kid, Arshdeep Bains.
The Surrey native enjoyed a significant breakout season in every statistical category and emerged as a go-to leader on this Abbotsford squad.
In his sophomore season as a professional player, he set highs in everything from goals (16), assists (39), points (55), and plus/minus (plus-18) while finishing second on the team in scoring.
Graphs courtesy of Cody Severtson of CanucksArmy
Bains’ ability to generate offence, particularly at even strength, was notable this year, as he led the team in 5v5 points per game and ranked second in even-strength primary assists. Almost nightly, he provided crafty passing plays, setting up teammates with no-look feeds and Spin-O-Rama efforts from the corners and behind the goal line.
He also acted as a regenerator for his club. Jeremy Colliton noted his ability to improve his linemates and frequently turned to him as a solution when a player was experiencing a slump.
When in doubt, stick him on Arshdeep’s line and let them go to work.
As you probably know, his efforts awarded him two stints in Vancouver. However, despite his impressive performance in the minors, Bains struggled to replicate his success, recording zero points and a minus-5 in eight games.
But hey, two years ago, he was an undrafted free agent brought to the professional circuit. Are we judging his future outlook by an eight-game NHL stint? Not at all. Or at least, you shouldn’t.
We’ve been steadfast in our prediction of Bains’ blossoming into a bottom-six option, and that can take time.
With the experienced he’s gained, he knows what needs to be worked on and given his history and work ethic, we can expect him to work his butt off in the off-season.
He took home a few accolades this season, which include the Pacific Divison All-Star MVP, Abbotsford Fan Favourite and ultimately, the team MVP.
If there was any player among this prospect pool to give us grief in terms of true projection, it’s Aatu Räty.
Simply put, he has been a player of both promise and inconsistency throughout the season, making us think long and hard about his future potential at the NHL level.
While he has showcased remarkable stretches of strong play, he has also endured prolonged periods of struggle.
On any given night, you just don’t know what you’re going to get from Räty.
He did finish the season with 18 goals and 34 assists and tied for third on the team in points with 52 in 72 games. He also had a 14-point surge over seven games at the tail end of the season, finishing fifth among U21 skaters.
Inconsistent or not, there were tons to like about his season, and one of the elements that stuck out to us was his lethal snapshot. Typically known as a playmaking two-way forward, he has shown the ability to score goals with a heavy release, beating goalies clean when given space and time.
With that said, some areas of his game still beg questions, and his positional fit highlights those questions.
While he plays a responsible two-way game, strong enough to play up the middle, he spent most of the season slotting in as a winger. At least, that’s where he enjoyed most of his success.
Though improved, his skating remains a concern, and we still question whether it’s worthy of driving a line up the middle at the NHL level. On top of that, he has yet to truly drive a line and show the ability to throw the team on his back.
While his playmaking abilities have been evident, much of his offensive production has come on the power play, and he has relied heavily on secondary assists (leads the team).
Do we see a world where Räty earns an NHL spot next season? Sure.
With the long list of looming free agents, there is certainly a need for young blood from the minor league team to step up and earn their spot.
However, there is still room to grow. It would be nice to see Räty rise as a go-to leader on his team, take the positive steps he’s taken this year and double down with a call-up option midway through the season.
While Arshdeep Bains may have been the MVP, Max Sasson was the team’s motor that won’t quit.
Unlike our concerns with Räty, the 23-year-old rookie has shown the ability to drive a line all season and rarely takes shifts off, if ever.
Sasson finished 10th in rookie scoring and fifth on his team with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 56 games. However, he did much more than his points suggest. He led the team in 5v5 goal differential (plus-18) and held that crown all season.
At even strength, he finished second in goals (13), third in primary assists (13), and second in points per game (0.55).
All this to say, he’s an even-strength beast.
Furthermore, he’s a pure centre and hasn’t faltered off that path at any point during the season. He’s got the wheels, the work ethic, the skill and could likely fulfil a bottom-six role for the Vancouver Canucks down the road.
Look out next fall; he may catch some eyes.
If you are looking for some fun on the ice, Tristen Nielsen is your guy. He plays the game with intensity and if hits were tracked at this level, he likely leads the charge in Abbotsford.
Offensively, he’s not too shabby, either. While he posted a modest 16 goals and 34 points across 59 points, he carries some of the softest hands on the team and often provides us with some pretty highlights each game.
With that said, if there is any element that will get him a look at the NHL level, it’s his feistiness. Despite being undersized, he does not shy away from a big hit or a scrum and provides energy every shift.
At this point, we are probably looking at a fringe player. But with one year remaining on his current deal, he is poised to be a key member of this Abby team next season.
For years we had been awaiting the arrival of one of the more intriguing sixth-round picks in Canucks’ draft history. After a potent four-year stint in Northeastern where he scored 66 goals and finished as a point-per-game player, Aidan McDonough’s rookie year in Abby was…okay.
He finishes with 11 goals and 19 points and has recently enjoyed some caught chemistry with Arshdeep Bains. Then again, as we mentioned at the top, Bains can bring out the best in his linemates and has scored six of his 11 goals since March 1st.
The difference between his play since March 1st is that he’s finally shooting.
We know all too well what confidence can do to a player, and for McDonough, it’s incredibly obvious. After potting a few, we finally see him comfortable getting his shot off and trying things out on the ice — something that we did not see in the first half.
His skating is still a major concern, and now that we have seen him at the pro level, we have seen where he fits in. He simply doesn’t have the ability to get the extra step on defenders and struggles offensively as a result.
He’s an RFA this summer, and with so many bodies around the club, is there a world where McDonough does not receive an offer? Probably.
Ty Glover showed flashes of intrigue, but at the end of the day, that intrigue likely caps out at the AHL level.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, he brings heavy size and has swift wheels to cap it off. He certainly plays a physical game and has a good shot, which he showcased at the ECHL level scoring 12 goals and 23 points across just 12 games earlier in the season. However, as a package, there is still some work to be done.
While he certainly plays a “Tocchet type” of game, we question whether his awareness or IQ will be able to make that jump. He’s likely depth, but a fun addition for this Abbotsford squad.
Look, there’s not much to say about Danila Klimovich that hasn’t been said all year long. After a strong breakout season just one season ago, it’s been a tough year for him.
Riddled with injury and inconsistency, he played just 24 games and had just two goals and two assists to his name. Forget the points; he looked somewhat disinterested in being on the ice at times and showed an obvious struggle with confidence in his game.
The club has been good at keeping hush-hush on his status, but after chatting with those close to the team, he appears healthy.
At his best, he is a pesky forward with a heavy shot and nose for the net. Hopefully, he can take some much-needed time in the off-season and arrive to camp with a fire under him and rekindle some of the spark that he found last year.
There’s no sugarcoating, it was a grim season for the Klim Reaper.

Around the world

Josh Bloom and Kirill Kudryavtsev have been clashing for the past two weeks, facing off in round 2 of the OHL playoffs.
Kudryavstev has five assists in six games of this series, putting him up to nine points in 10 games this postseason. With game seven on Tuesday evening, we will know whether to be on pro watch or if he will advance to the third round.
As for Bloom, he will stay in the OHL regardless of the result of game 7. His Saginaw Spirit will receive an automatic berth into the Memorial Cup as the host team. For this alone, we are cheering for the Soo Greyhounds in hopes of setting up a Memorial Cup clash between the two prospects.
Bloom came into this series riding a 16-game point streak. However, he’s posted just two assists in this series so far.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki is back overseas and making his next attempt at securing a roster spot for the upcoming World Championships in May.
So far, things have worked out nicely, having played both of their exhibition games on Sweden’s top line.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any available stats for these games, but we do know that he picked a primary assist on the power play.
Since the team’s first two games, Sweden has added some NHL-calibre names up front, such as Andre Burakovsky. However, Lekkerimäki’s name doesn’t seem likely to be on the chopping block to make room for these new faces.
At this point, it’s probably safe to assume we have seen the last of him in Abbotsford this season.
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