Photo credit:Nick Barden
Blackfish: Arshdeep Bains shows off his All-Star pedigree, Ty Mueller takes home Player of the Week, and more
By Dave Hall1 month ago
Welcome back to another edition of the Blackfish Prospect report.
As we navigate through January, we’ve officially crossed the midpoint of the 2023-24 campaign, which signals an exciting time for those interested in the prospect world.
With that in mind, we delved into a selection of NCAA forward free agents worth taking a look at for a potential contract this spring. While we always hope these talents flourish in Vancouver, there’s a broader perspective to consider and whether it’s to help out in the AHL or NHL, strengthening your pipeline is always the goal.
In the upcoming weeks, keep an eye out as we not only cover NCAA free-agent defencemen, but also turn our attention to promising NHL Draft prospects.
This week’s report brings some fantastic news for local talent Arshdeep Bains. Additionally, we witnessed the three silver medalists return to their respective club teams and finally, we saw a quietly impressive NCAA prospect continue to contribute points.
As always, let’s kick things off with the latest statistics.
In Abbotsford, the spotlight shines on local talent Arshdeep Bains.
On his 23rd birthday, news broke that the Surrey native will represent the Canucks in the 2024 AHL All-Star game in San Jose.
With the selection, he becomes the second player in franchise history to represent the Canucks following Christian Wolanin’s inaugural selection last season.
Bains caught up with Randip Janda on Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi on Saturday and touched on his unique, and rather impressive journey, thus far.
Despite the team laying a massive goose egg in their Friday match – the first leg of a weekend doubleheader – Bains stole the show as the man of the week, showcasing his all-star pedigree with a goal and two assists.
His first helper came via a tremendous one-touch assist, thanks to the hard work of Vasily Podkolzin to feed John Stevens.
Two minutes later, he lit the Abbotsford Centre on fire with a strong individual effort, showcasing some filthy hand-eye before feeding John Stevens, who would later net a hat-trick.
He capped off the night with a goal of his own with the help of Podkolzin, who channelled his inner Mario Lemieux and allowed the puck to feed through his legs before Bains confidently snapped the puck home.
With that, the undrafted gem is up to nine goals on the year and six in his last nine games.
His 25 assists place him fifth league-wide, while his 34 points have him sitting sixth.
Patrik Alvin spoke to Chris Faber of Canucks.com earlier in the week and alluded to the strong pool of depth down in Abbotsford.
“I’m very confident based on the reports I get all the time from Ryan Johnson and the staff down there in Abbotsford that several players are in the discussions for a call-up whenever that situation comes up. We’re excited to see those guys get a game or more up here. Absolutely,” Allvin said.
Vasily Podkolzin picked up his third point in as many games with a secondary assist on John Stevens’ first of three goals last Saturday (shown in the Bains update).
Displaying his trademark aggressive forechecking style, Podkolzin initiated the play to poke the puck through to Bains, who swiftly executed a quick touch pass for the goal.
While Podkolzin’s point production may not be as dominant as desired, he maintains a respectable 48-point pace with 19 points this season. He is shooting a ton, leading the team with 103 on the year, and delivers a strong drive to the net at least once a game – now he just needs to execute.
Tristen Nielsen remains a steady eddy for the Canucks, making an impact not only on the scoresheet but through his extracurricular efforts.
In Saturday’s game, Nielsen netted his ninth goal of the season courtesy of a Max Sasson pass, unleashing a short-side shot that beat the Roadrunner goaltender.
He has now accumulated 17 points for the year, including an impressive eight points over his last nine games.
We had a Danila Klimovich sighting over the weekend, getting the nod in Saturday’s game for Abbotsford.
Although held pointless, he had some good shifts where he generated some buzz, moving his feet and finishing checks. He fired four shots on net while zinging one off of the crossbar once.
During an intermission, Head Coach Jeremy Colliton spoke to Abbotsford’s play-by-play announcer, Brandon Astle and spoke in detail about Klimovich’s game.
“It’s hard. He had a breakthrough in some ways last year with his production and was able to earn more ice time and a role at different times and the next year it just doesn’t seem to happen,” said Colliton.
“There’s injuries that can play into it, but ultimately if you want to play and, hopefully, show you can help us win, there’s certain things we need: work ethic away from the puck, puck management, attention to detail — and that may be in practice — and if you do that, you put yourself in a position to succeed when the games start.
“So it’s part of the process in his development and when you go through adversity, if you’re able to push through it and be determined enough to stick with it, then you can be rewarded. But it doesn’t always happen right away for you.”
Klimovich is playing his best hockey when he’s running amok on the ice, hitting the opposition and staying engaged – much like we saw on Saturday. Hopefully, he can maintain that momentum and bring that same energy when, and if, he is slotted in on Tuesday when they host Ontario.
Speaking of engaging, Jett Woo continues to carve his path in Abbotsford, playing tough minutes and utilizing his imposing playing style on a nightly basis.
After signing a one-year deal during the summer — a sort of “do it again” contract — Woo has done a respectable job of building off his rebound campaign from 2022-23.
At 23, the Manitoba native brings a predictable yet valuable skill set to the ice. Renowned for his robust style of play and ability to handle challenging minutes, including penalty kill duties, he has become a bit of a staple among this Abbotsford defensive corps.
This season, Woo has continued to progress in his offensive game, building on last year’s career-high 21 points. He is now on track to slightly exceed those numbers, boasting three goals and 11 points in 32 games.
In reality, those numbers don’t necessarily mean all that much, considering they do not translate to the role he projects to play at the NHL level. What matters is that he is progressing, and now stands as a good role model for the younger players walking through the door.
Of course, his contract will be up for renewal this summer and with two seasons of consistent performance under his belt, Woo might explore the market for opportunities that bring him closer to NHL action. However, given his presence on the team, and the character he brings to the backend, we would certainly not be opposed to seeing him back to continue his role in Abbotsford.
He brings grit and leadership, and although we have yet to see it in the NHL, could probably hold his own as a third-pairing option in a pinch.
Filip Johansson is also approaching that juncture, as he will also need a new deal this summer at the age of 23.
Assessing Johansson’s performance this season has been interesting, with fluctuating nights where he either stands out or fades into the background.
An obvious notable strength that Johansson brings to the table is his powerful shot, making him a valuable asset on the power play. Aside from that, however, he has yet to showcase anything noteworthy that screams “NHL-ready”.
In comparison, Jett Woo boasts superior numbers and exhibits a more well-rounded game suitable for experimenting on an NHL third-pairing, whereas Johansson plays a fine two-way AHL game, but doesn’t necessarily offer much to suggest anything further.
Given the probability of right-handed prospect Hunter Brzustewicz making the jump, it will be interesting to see if the Canucks decide to sign both RFA’s, or let one — or both — walk.
While neither appears to offer any huge NHL upside, Woo may emerge as the more promising option considering their playing styles.
Of course, there is another RHD that factors into this decision.
Cole McWard has been flying under the radar as a consistently sound rookie defender.
While lacking flashy elements, McWard maintains a straightforward and relatively mistake-free playing style and an ability to play in all situations.
Recording two goals and nine points this season, McWard has produced two more than Johansson, and trails Woo by just two points (in four fewer games).
A standout aspect of McWard’s game is his ability to keep the puck out of his own net, which, as a defenceman, is key.
Through 28 games, he’s co-leading the team (alongside Max Sasson) with a plus-10 goal differential at 5v5, and he sits behind only Arshdeep Bains with a plus-11 (plus/minus) on the year.
When considering potential call-ups, McWard likely emerges as the go-to option.
Finally, we have Akito Hirso, who simply hasn’t played enough to warrant a proper mid-season look. He’s not only been injured in recent weeks but also spent a month in limbo, riding the press box in Vancouver as the call-up option.
He has zeroes across the board in 13 AHL and three NHL games.
Hunter Brzustewicz has basked in the limelight as the OHL’s top point producer for many weeks, but his reign finally hit a roadblock this week as 2024 Draft-eligible Anthony Romani surged ahead, all thanks to a 34-point, 17-game hot streak.
Undeterred, Hunter responded emphatically with a three-point performance to close out the week on Sunday, crawling back to regain a share of that top spot.
This capped off yet another stellar week for the 19-year-old defenceman, tallying five assists across two matches while providing his 21st multipoint efforts this season–exactly half of his games have been multipoint efforts.
Like other top-tier OHL squads, Brzustewicz’s Kitchener Rangers are making a strong push for the Memorial Cup, bolstering their lineup at the deadline, which includes the addition of Eduard Sale–a Seattle Kraken first-round pick, who joins the team with 20 points through 25 games.
The injection of additional firepower to an already stacked team not only keeps Brzustewicz’s point production thriving but positions him for a deep playoff run in the quest for this year’s championship.
Josh Bloom secured his first OHL points with the Saginaw Spirit.
Teaming up with Michael Misa and the recently acquired Montreal Canadiens draft pick, Owen Beck, the trio delivered a remarkable performance, combining for a total of 12 points in a single game with Bloom contributing three assists.
Being a 20-year-old playing on the top line, we had hoped for a little more offensive production. Yet, four points through five games is nothing to scoff at.
Vilmer Alriksson maintained his steady performance in his OHL rookie season, adding another goal through two games this week.
Positioned at the netfront, the 6-foot-6 winger showcased his lengthy reach by collecting a rebound in the slot and netting his ninth goal of the year, marking his second in three games at that time.
He currently sits fifth in rookie scoring with 24 points.
A notable aspect of Alriksson’s game is his penchant for shots on goal, collecting another seven over his two-game stretch. With a total of 84 shots in 41 games, he’s averaging a pinch over two shots per game.
Whether it’s banging rebounds from the slot, quick snaps from the half-wall, or collecting them from the rush, Alriksson’s ability to generate scoring opportunities has been solid.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki returned to his usual spot in Örebro, deploying on the team’s top line.
He failed to score across two games, but fired five shots and collected an easy primary assist from his typical spot on the half-wall.
His first of two games was one to forget, and his top highlight came in the form of a pickpocket, which resulted in a two-on-one give-and-go.
His 10 goals continue to lead all U24 SHL skaters, while his 17 points sit second among that group (seven fewer games).
Elias Pettersson returned to the Allsvenskan after an impressive silver medal run at the World Juniors. Unfortunately, Västerås, his club team, had a forgettable outing, suffering a lopsided 6-2 defeat.
Pettersson received a small bump in the lineup, finding himself on the club’s second pairing, and logged just under 19 minutes of ice time. He managed to collect an assist in his return, displaying some puck protection before handing the puck off to his partner for an easy second assist.
He would finish the game as a minus-one, but in comparison to his defensive teammates, that was a fairly positive stat.
There was a play, as seen in the above clip, where he was directly involved in a goal against, slipping and allowing the opposing player to walk in freely. While the goalie might want that one back, it wasn’t Pettersson’s finest moment.
Last week, we highlighted Joni Jurmo’s transfer to KooKoo (Liiga). Through four games with his new club, we have seen a slight–emphasis on slight–offensive uptick.
After 30 scoreless games, Jurmo netted his first goal of the season.
Trailing the play, the 21-year-old received a pass from the slot before finding an open lane for an unrestrained shot to hit the back of the net for the first time in nearly a full calendar year.
Goals like this provide a glimpse into his good but under-utilized release. He can shoot and has solid footwork and hands, but just has not been able to put it all together consistently.
Jurmo’s ice time has varied across four games with his new team but saw a high of 16:18 minutes.
Hey, it’s not much, but it’s progress.
Ty Mueller continues his impressive draft-plus-one campaign, leading the Canucks’ prospect field with a goal and three primary assists this week.
In the clip below, you’ll see three of his points combined.
First, he showcases some soft touch, sending through a remarkable saucer pass on a two-on-one opportunity. Second, Mueller displays slick vision with a cheeky behind-the-back pass, followed by his lethal one-timer to find the back of the net.
He capped off his week by being named for his first NCHC Player of the Week honours for the first time in his NCAA career.
Mueller is setting the pace for Nebraska-Omaha, tallying seven goals and 17 points in 20 games.
Tom Willander returned to action, after what we can only assume was one of the more awkward plane rides home alongside Lane Hutson, who was basking in his recent Gold Medal victory.
They would be forced to bury the hatchet quickly, as Willander was handed a top pairing role alongside Hutson, who is considered one of the NCAA’s top defenders.
Given both prospects’ strong skating ability, mixed with Hutson’s offensive prowess and Willander aggressive shutdown ability, it’s shaping up to be a fun year in Boston. Whether it’s orchestrating dynamic plays or the Canuck prospect providing security for his smaller framed partner, the two are a match made in heaven.
He collected a secondary assist in a game-winning goal against New Hampshire, pushing him to three goals and nine points on the season.
The long-awaited moment has arrived as Aku Koskenvuo clinched his first victory of the 2023-24 campaign. Of course, he did so in spectacular fashion, making 21 saves for his first shutout of the season and his NCAA career.
This win put an end to Harvard’s nine-game losing streak and propelled the Finnish netminder’s save percentage to .900 for the first time this season.
Although his current record stands at 1-4-2 with an unappealing 3.41 goals-against average, Koskenvuo’s performance on the ice has been more positive than the numbers suggest. Let’s hope that he can carry a little momentum into this next week as they take on the also struggling Rensselaer Polytech Institute.
Jackson Dorrington’s shot was on display over the weekend, seizing a one-timer to stylishly find the top corner for his third goal of the season and NCAA career.
His shot isn’t something that we’ve seen often from him, so it’s a nice change of pace to know that it’s lying there when given the time and space.
Adding a secondary assist on an empty-net goal in Saturday’s match, the 19-year-old has now surpassed his freshman-year numbers, amassing seven points in just half of the games.
He was promoted to the team’s top four roughly nine games ago and has since crafted six of his total seven points in this span. While his defensive acumen remains the cornerstone of his game, point totals are a welcome bonus.
Jacob Truscott picked up an assist just seconds into Michigan’s first game of the week. He’s now up to two goals and 11 points on the year, just five shy of his 2022–23 totals.
Jack Malone grabbed his fifth assist and ninth point of the year this weekend. Following a stint on the top line to start the year, the 23-year-old has transitioned to carry his own unit as the centerman for Boston College’s third line.
The Canucks have until August 15th to offer Malone, after which he will become a free agent for any team to grab. As mentioned above, we brought forth a list of promising NCAA free agents worthy of a gamble, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Malone receives an offer.
Matthew Perkins contributed a primary assist in an overtime winner for Minnesota Duluth on Friday, marking his eighth point of the season. While the transition for the 18-year-old freshman has presented its challenges, his second-line centre role offers optimism that Perkins can use these building blocks to carve out a stronger sophomore season.
Aiden Celebrini collected a secondary assist over the weekend, snapping a 10-game pointless skid. He’s up one goal and five points, sliding in and out of the lineup with 15 games.
Sawyer Mynio faced an unsettling start to the week when the Seattle Thunderbirds’ team bus, en route to Kelowna, had slid off the road into a ditch. Thankfully, as noted in their “X,” everyone on the bus came out unscathed and made their way into town via the Kelowna Rockets team bus.
The 18-year-old brought his A-game to Kelowna, contributing a goal and an assist, while seeing points in both games this week.
With a goal and two assists in two games, he brought his point total to 27 points, which sits second among Seattle Thunderbirds’ leaderboard.
The third-year WHL veteran is on pace to eclipse the 50-point mark for the first time in his young career.
In response to the unforeseen weather and the recent scare, the WHL decided to postpone their third scheduled game of the week, originally planned for Portland, Oregon.
Stay safe on the roads, everyone.
Don’t look now, but Ty Young picked up another victory this week with 25 saves in his lone start. With the win, he’s now 5-2-0 in his last seven games and sports a 93.9 save percentage during that span.
Despite an inconsistent start to the season, he’s been playing much more solid in recent weeks.
That will do it for another prospect update. Thanks for checking in!
Recent articles from Dave Hall
- Vancouver Canucks 3 stars of the week: J.T. Miller dominates, Brock Boeser’s clutch, and Arshdeep Bains makes his NHL debut
- Abbotsford Canucks weekend recap: Aatu Räty grabs five points in a weekend doubleheader sweep against the Barracuda
- Instant Reaction: Tired Canucks drop fourth straight game with 5-2 loss to Seattle