logo

Blackfish: All-Star Arshdeep Bains, top pairing Tom Willander, historic Hunter Brzustewicz, and more

alt
Photo credit:Nick Barden
Dave Hall
5 months ago
Welcome back to the Blackfish Prospect Report.
We are now comfortably in the second half of the 2023-24 campaign, which means we have begun to explore prospect options beyond the Vancouver Canucks system.
We delved into some NCAA options a few weeks ago, and this week, we began our dive into NHL Draft Eligibles. Stay tuned to CanucksArmy for ongoing coverage of prospects in the coming months.
Returning to the Canucks’ system, we have several storylines developing as we get set for the final stretch of the season.
Arshdeep Bains is cementing why he’s the Abbotsford Canucks’ All-Star selection, Hunter Brzustewicz is hunting to put his name next to some noteworthy company, Tom Willander is discovering his offensive touch, and Ty Mueller is continuing to impress in his draft-plus-one season.
Now, let’s take a look at the updated statistics.

AHL

It was a busy week for Abbotsford as they trooped through four games in six nights, splitting each of their doubleheaders with the Ontario Reign and San Diego Gulls.
After a downright dominant November, it’s been a rather inconsistent stretch for the club, having dropped six of their last 10 games, three of which have been shutouts.
Of course, ailments play a considerable part in this. Week-to-week, they seem to consistently suffer a revolving door of players falling victim to various injuries. Still, on any given night, you do not know if you are in for the game of their season or a complete egg. It’s a true 50/50 gamble as to what team you can expect.
Each goalie saw two starts, with Arturs Silovs and Nikita Tolopilo each posting a 1-1-0-0 record and Tolopilo finishing with a slight edge in save percentage.
Much like the team itself, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag with the two netminders. On any given night, they can either play out of their minds or allow multiple squeakers. This year has been all about inconsistency, as both have struggled to get a solid rhythm going for a consecutive stretch.
Of course, the AHL schedule certainly plays its part, being primarily a weekend-based league with multiple games on back-to-back nights ensuring split starts for goalies. That said, both have intriguing NHL upside, and they can put on a clinic when they are on.
The soon-to-be AHL All-Star, Arshdeep Bains, picked up three assists over the week but unfortunately saw his four-game point streak snapped on Sunday. We’ve spoken highly of Arshdeep throughout the year, and he continues to justify that praise with each passing week.
While they did not connect for any goals, he and Vasily Podkolzin created several huge opportunities on a line together.
Currently, he shares the sixth spot in league scoring, maintaining a point-per-game clip with 35 points on the year. Over the weekend, he reached his official 100th AHL game, becoming just the seventh player to achieve this milestone in franchise history. He currently sits fifth among all-time Abbotsford point-getters.
Without placing too much pressure on him, if he can continue to produce at his current 70-point pace, he’d pass Sheldon Rempal’s 2021-22 69-point season to overtake the organization’s best statistical year.
Speaking of 100 games, Linus Karlsson also took part in his 100th game, following Arshdeep as the eighth skater in the organization to do so.
We shared our mid-season thoughts on the team’s defensive players last week, and Jett Woo must have seen our positive thoughts toward him as he picked up his first multi-goal game of his AHL career.
Of course, neither goal was highlight-worthy. One was a fanned-on backend that just happened to catch the out-of-positioned netminder and the other an empty-net goal, but it continues to validate his solid year.
He’s now up to five goals and 13 points on the year, tracking to surpass his career highs set last season (21).
Filip Johansson contributed a goal and an assist over the week as he continues to make his case for a contract over the summer.
Stepping onto the ice off the bench, the 23-year-old rookie had the puck slide right to him on the point. He seized the opportunity, firing a seeing-eye shot for his second goal of his AHL career.
If there was one thing we’ve loved about his game, it’s his booming shot.
By now, we know that it hasn’t been the most impressive rookie season for 24-year-old Aidan McDonough. Coming in as a noted sharpshooter at the college level, with well-documented deficiencies in his skating and overall 200-foot game, you can tell that it’s been a tough adjustment to the pro ranks.
For years, he had been accustomed to having the time and space to pull off any shot of his liking, which he is not afforded at the pro ranks. The AHL forces players to play a much more well-rounded game, with quicker decision-making on and off the puck. So far, it has offered McDonough a fair share of hurdles to overcome this year.
This past week was probably the best we have seen him since his transition. He looked slightly more engaged and dangerous, generating several good chances these past four games. He even scored his fifth of the season due to a tremendous pass from Tristen Nielsen.
Over the weekend, McDonough joined Abbotsford’s play-by-play announcer, Brandon Astle, and spoke about his transition to the pro level.
“The coaching staff has worked with me a lot. I’ve had a lot of meetings, a lot of video, and I’m just trying to work on the things they’ve been preaching to me—that’s led to more success in terms of being in the offensive zone more, getting out of my zone and being able to give my linemates time with the puck.”
“As you do those little things, and the coaches gain a little more trust in you, and that gives you confidence to go out there and make a play.”
All you can ask for is progress; this week, McDonough has shown that.
Max Sasson contributed a few points this week, including the game-winning goal in Wednesday’s clash against the Ontario Reign. After some solid work by McDonough to chip the puck open, Sasson turned on the jets to initiate a two-on-one opportunity. With the goaltender showing daylight, he seized the chance to snap it short side for his 11th goal of the season.
He’s now ranked sixth among AHL rookies in scoring, surpassing the 20-point mark over the week (now sitting at 21). His assist came on Danila Klimovich’s first goal of the season, executing a quick cutback before feeding the puck to the slot to be banged home (see below).
Once again, both Sasson’s points came at even strength this week, which is not a huge shock. He ranks second on the team, with 18 of his 21 points coming at 5-on-5, trailing Bains (21) only. He and Tristen Nielsen lead the field in even-strength goals this season with nine apiece.
That’s right, folks, you read that correctly. Danila Klimovich picked up his first goal of the 2023-24 campaign, jamming in a loose puck from the side of the goal.
There is no sugarcoating it: it’s been a challenging season for the young Belorussian. Between two extensive stints on IR, Klimovcih has contributed just three points through 12 games. However, it’s not entirely fair to say “12 games”, as he left two of those matches midway with said injuries.
In the past few games, his ice time has slowly begun to increase, and we’ve seen a bit of a pep in his step, which is key. Klimovich is at his best when he’s forechecking and inserting himself into the game, and it feels like he is slowly getting back to that. Unfortunately, the lack of playing time delayed his ability to generate any sort of rhythm. In terms of his projection, panic if you’d choose, but it’s certainly not time to hit the eject button with a 21-year-old going through hardship.
Believe it or not, Cole McWard was on a shooting rampage this week, registering 11 shots in four games, which was the second-highest among Abbotsford players (one behind Sasson/Nielsen). Unfortunately, the frenzy did not lead to any goals, but he did contribute two assists.
One of them was a primary drop pass to set up Mark Friedman, who fired home his first goal as an Abbotsford Canuck.
He now sits 10th in rookie defensive scoring, with 11 points on the year. More importantly, we’ve liked his transition to the pro level. McWard has played quite solid throughout the year. The Canucks may have found themselves a steady defenceman to play premium minutes in Abbotsford while acting as a reliable call-up option if necessary in the immediate future.
It was a quiet week on the scoresheet for Aatu Räty, who was deployed in a third-line role throughout the week. However, fans who want to see him slot in as a centre got their wish in a few matches, as he bounced back and forth between that and the wing all week.

SHL/Allsvenskan

No points across two games for Jonathan Lekkerimäki as he slipped down to the third line for the first time in a few weeks. The reason? Well, Örebro, who had started the year strong, has slipped in the standings quite significantly during the last few months and has brought in a new head coach after firing ex-Canuck Johan Hedberg.
His minutes didn’t necessarily take a huge dive, primarily because he continues to spend tons of time in the final minutes of games where they need offence, which they needed on both occasions this week. However, the new bench boss was trying out a few new looks, hoping to spark some life into his struggling team.
Considering he’s second on the team in goals and fourth in points, the likelihood of him seeing a diminished role is minor. However, it’ll be something to keep tabs on over these next few weeks.
In the two games since the new coach has come in, the team has yet to score a goal.
He can’t come over to North America soon enough.
In our previous Blackfish instalment, Elias Pettersson secured a spot on Västerås’s top line, which carried into this week.
He took that promotion and turned it into production on the scoresheet, netting a crucial game-tying goal against his fellow Canuck defensive prospect, Hugo Gabrielsson. He now has two points in three games since his return from the World Juniors.
As we’ve said before, he’s a brute on the back end but can sprinkle in some offence, too.
As mentioned, Hugo Gabrielsson picked up a secondary assist on the power play. He’s up to four goals and 11 points on the season.

OHL

Relative to the extraordinary numbers Hunter Brzustewicz has been collecting this season, it was a relatively quiet week for the third-round gem, registering just two assists over three games. This week marked only the seventh time this season that he was held without a point in a game.
Despite the quieter week, the 19-year-old defenceman is still on track to put his name alongside some pretty incredible company.
Bear with me here. With 69 points accumulated this season, he is now just 15 points away from tying Ryan Ellis’ record for the most assists by a defenceman (76), set back in 2010-11.
At his current pace of 104 points, he is poised to surpass Ellis as the points leader among defencemen, with Ellis holding the current record at 100 points.
We’ll specify the record timeframe as the 2000s, acknowledging that the 70s and 80s saw a host of ridiculous point totals, including Bryan Fogarty’s 108-assist campaign back in 1988-1989.
Still, Brzustewicz is on track to finish with 92 assists, which would place him 3rd in all-time single-season assists by a defenceman.
Kirill Kudryavtsev’s production has tapered off in the last month, but he continues to patrol one of the OHL’s best defensive units. The points just haven’t necessarily been there.
That’s not a problem. Last year, Faber had mentioned in his yearly review that he had hoped to see work and show progress in his defensive side of the puck, and I think we can confidently say he’s done that.
Despite all the minutes he’s eating up, he’s managed to rack up a plus-23 on the season—a plus-38 difference from last year—which sits second on the Greyhounds roster. He’s blossomed into a true leader for the club and a responsible two-way defender.
We almost forgot that he also dropped four assists in three games over the week. His 33 points is 10th among defender scoring on the year.
Josh Bloom continues to thrive in top-line minutes alongside the highly skilled trio featuring him, 2025 draft-eligible Michael Misa and Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck.
Bloom added another four points to his ledger this week, including his first goal of the season,  executing a spin move and capitalizing with a slick backhand shot.
Plays like the one below are ones that we should get used to, as Saginaw is loaded with a plethora of skilled teammates, such as draft-eligible defender Zach Perehk. Here, you’ll see Bloom at the top of the triangle, taking part in an impressive tic-tac-toe play.

NCAA

We knew that when Tom Willander began lining up next to Lane Hutson, the points would start to rack up; it was simply a matter of time.
Well, over his two games this week, he dropped three assists, which included this incredible heads-up cross-ice feed. The way he takes the puck and takes the quick look before snapping it off is tremendous awareness and just a hair of what makes him such an enticing prospect.
With his defensive side of the game already quite sharp, we’ve touched on his need to get better equipped in the offensive department.
Suddenly, he has three goals, 12 assists on the season, and five points in as many games.
We are just a few weeks away from the annual Beanpot tournament, which is always primed to offer tremendous college hockey. For those not privy to the tournament, here is the description from the event website:
It has become Boston’s “social event of winter season.” The first two Monday nights of February in Boston are reserved for the Dunkin’ Beanpot, an annual hockey tournament that features Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern. It all started on Dec. 26, 1952 at the old Boston Arena. The next year the Beanpot moved to the Garden, where it has been played ever since and become the official battle for Boston’s hockey bragging rights.
The Canucks will have a representative from each team, which includes Tom Willander (Boston University), Jack Malone (Boston College), Aku Koskenvuo (Harvard) and Jackson Dorrington (Northeastern).
Speaking of Jack Malone, he picked up his second multi-goal game of the season this weekend en route to an offensively potent weekend for Boston College.
His second came off a rocket of snapshot off a two-on-one. He’s up to six goals and 11 points on the year.
Coming off his recent NCHC Player of the Week Award, Ty Mueller maintained his scorching season form, adding another goal and assist to his tally over the weekend. Mueller’s goal was yet another blistering one-timer from the top of the circle.
With this performance, he extends his point streak to four games, accumulating seven points in his last six appearances.
Mueller continues to impress in his draft-plus-one year, solidifying his standing among the top prospects in the Canucks’ system. As we speak, we are in the process of preparing an updated Canucks top prospects list, where Mueller’s ascent will undoubtedly be notable.
Aku Koskenvuo, after securing his first win of the season with an impressive shutout last week, continued his success with another victory over the weekend. Making 28 saves, he has now accumulated a 2-4-2 record, maintaining a .901 save percentage while adding another shutout to his name.
Slowly but surely, Koskenvuo is piecing together a respectable campaign.
WHL
Ty Young only started in one game this week, suffering a 28-save 2-1 defeat to the Portland Winterhawks. The Winterhawks are a potent offensive team—second in the WHL in goals—so it’s a pretty impressive outing all things considered.
It’s been a far better second half for Young, having only allowed more than two goals in a game once over his last seven starts.
He also grabbed what may be the save of the year.
Sawyer Mynio collected five assists this week, four of which were primary helpers. This brought his season totals to nine goals and 32 points, surpassing his previous career highs in just half of the games (34).
Being only 18, Mynio will not turn 20 until next April (2025), meaning there is no way he’ll be able to leap to the next level yet—assuming he doesn’t flat-out make the Vancouver Canucks—so his recent dominance in the WHL is only beginning.
Initially drafted as a steady two-way defender with penalty-killing skills, Mynio’s development within the Canucks’ system has propelled him to new heights, occupying all of Seattle’s top units.
We had some initial concerns that a significant portion of his production stemmed from power-play opportunities. However, Mynio has silenced those doubts in recent weeks, achieving a more balanced contribution with 15 points in 5v5 play—a testament to his versatility and growth this season.
That’s it for this week, folks. Please make sure to comment below if you have any questions at all, and we will do our best to answer a few next week!

Check out these posts...