Blackfish: Canucks’ NCAA prospects kick-start their season, Hunter Brzustewicz scores twice and more
Photo credit:Nick Barden
By Dave Hall1 month ago
Welcome to this week’s installment of the Blackfish Prospect report.
What an exciting week it has been.
NCAA hockey kicked open its doors and officially began its season on Friday, and with that, the remainder of the Vancouver Canucks prospects are off to the races, and prospect hockey is back in full swing.
We’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s just hop right into the action.
First, let’s check in with an update on the statistics as of Sunday evening:
The Abbotsford Canucks are in the midst of their training camp, so there is not much to offer in the updated news or clip departments.
Throughout the week, there have been multiple re-calls and re-assignments, as the main club works out the remaining kinks to finalize their official roster.
However, Arshdeep Bains, Filip Johansson, Aatu Raty, Max Sasson, Linus Karlsson, and Arturs Silovs were all called up briefly on Wednesday to help round out the roster for the Vancouver Canucks pre-season match but were sent back down shortly following the game.
The Abbotsford Canucks are set to begin their season on the road this Friday (October 13th), so expect a full breakdown in next week’s installment.
With a lot of other prospect news and clips to cover, we’ll keep it brief in the American League this week.
However, we will leave you with some slick hands from Arshdeep Bains.
The Ontario Hockey League is in full swing, with all three prospects taking part in multiple games this week.
Leading the charge, as expected, was Hunter Brzustewicz, who has been living up to expectations early in the season, and continues to solidify his name as one of the league’s crème de la crème from the backend.
Brzustewicz finds himself in the midst of a four-game point streak, contributing two goals and five assists in that span.
On Friday, he made this terrific play at the blueline, and finished with a heavy snapshot to grab his first goal of the 2023-24 campaign.
The next day, he jumped up into the play and found himself all alone to cash in for his second goal of the weekend.
Brzrustewicz capped off the week with two goals and an assist, six shots, two penalty minutes, and a minus-one rating.
He continues to patrol the ice as Kitchener’s go-to option in all situations and finds himself in the top three among defencemen scoring early on.
It was a relatively quiet week for Kirill Kudryavtsev, who managed to contribute just one assist over three games, along with four shots on goal.
His lone point came in Saturday’s match, where he provided a secondary assist in a convincing 7-3 victory.
Even with just one assist, Kudryavtsev finds himself comfortably neck-and-neck with Brzrustewicz for the OHL defensive scoring race – a theme we should expect throughout the entire season.
Finally, we have Vilmer Alriksson, who appears to be fitting right in at the OHL level.
Skating in two games this week, he grabbed his first assist of the season and a powerplay goal.
On Friday, he pounced on a stray puck on the man advantage to find the back of the net for the second time of the year.
You should probably get familiar with this type of goal, as setting up in this spot appears to be his bread and butter and something we saw a lot of in his pre-draft career.
On Saturday, he picked up a secondary assist in Guelph’s only goal of the game.
Alriksson, or as they call him in Guelph, Ricky, looks to be gaining confidence with every passing game. The transition from Sweden to North America can be tricky for some, but he seems to be holding his own on Guelph’s second line and powerplay unit.
With a 6-foot-6 frame, his length is proving to be a very nice attribute and seems to go a long way amongst his junior opponents. Whether it’s breaking plays on the defensive side, or combining his shifty hands to maneuver around opponents, he is certainly creating havoc as such an imposing presence.
It was a busy week for Ty Young and his Prince George Cougars, taking part in four games over six days. It began midweek when the team played back-to-back and Young drew in the crease on both occasions.
He was not particularly busy during the two and faced just 30 shots combined – allowing three goals – but extended his winning streak to a strong 4-0-0.
Moving to the weekend, he finally surrendered his first loss of the season on Saturday night, allowing five goals on 30 shots in the effort.
Here is his best highlight from the week.
It’s been an interesting year for the Alberta native early on. While he’s racking up wins, and shares the league lead with four, he hasn’t faced many shots – 106 to be exact. So although he appears to winning games, his play hasn’t been as strong as his ledger may present.
Sometimes, sitting cold and going long stints without shots can be a negative to a goalie’s game, and with a 0.877 save percentage on the year, we may be seeing some of that as a result.
Of course, we love that he’s seeing all the action, and it’s great to see him grab wins early on.
Sawyer Mynio’s Seattle Thunderbirds played over the weekend, but Mynio did not dress. We are uncertain why he was out of the lineup, but we are working to get more information.
The Allsvenskan league received a significant boost in the Blackfish installment last week, thanks to the loan of Elias Pettersson (D-Petey).
Making his debut with his hometown club, Västerås, D-Petey began his stint on the third-pairing and penalty-killing unit.
Although, bottom pairing minutes didn’t stop the 19-year-old from making an impact on the scoresheet.
That’s right, it took him all of 11 minutes to grab the puck from behind his own net, go for a skate, and pick up his first assist with his new club.
Later in the next period, he set up his new defensive partner for his second helper of the contest.
There’s no better way to acclimate to a fresh new group than putting a few points on the board early, and Pettersson finished his debut with two assists, two penalty minutes, one shot, and a plus-one rating over 15:09 of ice time.
He was engaged all game and made a number of smart, heads-up plays such as this:
In game two, the minutes were spread out throughout the pairings and despite still deploying on the club’s third pair, he saw 19:50 of ice.
This game ended up being one to forget for Västerås (5-0 loss), but Pettersson was highly involved throughout, again.
Much like his first game, he was very active from the blue line, inserting himself into plays, and was very noticeable at both ends of the ice. He threw three shots on the net but was ultimately held off of the scoresheet.
It’s no secret that ice time is pivotal for a young player’s development.
So while the Allsvenkan League may be a step down from the 43 SHL games that he saw last year, getting into more games with the opportunity to log substantial minutes against older competition is exactly what the doctor ordered for Pettersson.
Looking ahead, it’s safe to expect EP26 to be a key contributor to the Blackfish report this season – something that we could not guarantee just one week ago.
Heading over to Västerviks, Hugo Gabrielson picked up his first point of the season this week. He contributed a secondary assist on an empty goal late in the third period to seal his team’s first victory of the year.
The 20-year-old continues to log top-pairing minutes at even strength and grow his defensive game. However, we have yet to see anything significant of note.
Over in the SHL, each of our prospects saw two games of action.
Saturday provided a big head-to-head matchup, as Örebro and Farjastad, teams ranked one and two in the league, were set to battle it out.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki was held off the scoresheet in both matches, so there’s nothing new to report on that front.
However, much like Faber reported last week, he continues to show progress in his game away from the puck.
While his off-puck game is still a work in progress, Lekkerimäki is doing his best to disrupt plays and get into scoring lanes.
Here is an example of two attempts to block shots, before breaking up the play in the defensive end (#88 in white). It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a positive that he’s willing to get in front of shots and make life a little tougher for his opponents.
And we really liked this next sequence.
Here, he sets a nice give-and-go, shows off a confident move at the blueline, passes off to set up the cycle, and sets up a beautiful chance in front. When it doesn’t go their way, he hustles back to cover in the defensive zone.
Keep a close eye on #88 in black.
Of course, it’s a small sample size of clips, but this is becoming much more common and when he’s not providing lethal shots to fill the net, he is doing what he can to chip in with assistance in other areas of the ice.
He’s also showing efforts in pressuring puck carriers.
Unfortunately, as has been noted many times this year, he needs to gain strength and he often ends up bouncing off opposing defenders with little effect.
But we appreciate the efforts, nonetheless.
There are several occasions throughout each game where he hounds puck carriers and makes attempts at rubbing them out. While the physical aspect needs significant attention, his effort levels certainly do not.
On the offensive side, his confidence continues to grow.
In the clip below, he makes a couple of very nice moves to hold onto and protect the puck and eventually drives a shot to the net.
All-in-all, the poise he is gaining game-by-game is intriguing and we are seeing plays like this on a much more common basis – something that wasn’t as evident last season.
His best opportunity to hit the scoresheet this week came in the final minute of Saturday’s game when he had an open net to tie the game late.
While he ultimately missed this one, we continue to preach the timestamps in which we see him out on the ice. It’s not all that common for a 19-year-old to play in every crucial moment, but he is continuously called upon to provide a much-needed offensive boost in dyer moments of each game.
In the final minutes, he’s patrolling the half-wall, and it is evident that Örebro’s offense funnels towards him to utilize his booming shot.
He finished the week with six shots and a plus-one rating.
The highlight of Lucas Forsell’s week came in the form of the “SHL Assist of the Week”.
Forsell continues to face limited ice time on a top-ranked SHL team, clocking just over 12 minutes in one game and a measly 6:59 in the next.
While he patiently awaits a more substantial opportunity, Forsell hasn’t let his limited ice time deter him. His strong work ethic is evident in every shift he takes on the ice.
Of course, spending most of the game on the bench means he has a reserve of energy to unleash when he does get the chance to play.
To give you something in the form of clips, one of his standout moments came from the Saturday match, where he faced off against fellow prospect Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
Forsell (#29 in white) set up a nice give-and-go with a teammate behind the goal and quickly positioned himself in a prime spot for a scoring opportunity. When the play continues, he rushes straight to the front of the net to take a beating, while nearly contributing to a scoring chance.
With limited ice time, we’re eagerly grasping at any signs of Forsell’s potential and determination to show for the Blackfish reports. He’s a gritty, skilled prospect, but with his team stacking up wins, it’s going to be tough for him to find significant minutes going forward.
It was another sleepy week in Liiga.
Viktor Persson remains out of the Pelicans lineup, and Joni Jurmo was dropped to Ilves’ seventh defenceman in both of his matches.
After a few stints on the second line earlier in the year, Jurmo found himself in an extra defender role for the week, skating just 13:33 and 10:18 over the two.
Although he managed to maintain a plus-one rating over the week, he was held off the scoresheet for the 9th/10th time in 11 games.
While Jurmo’s demotion is certainly unfortunate, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
Now in his fourth year in Liiga, there were high hopes for the 21-year-old to make significant strides in his development. However, he seems to be struggling to piece everything together into a cohesive and effective all-around game.
His decision-making, especially in pressured situations, is the most noticeable deficiency, which raises deep concerns about his ability to transition to the higher ranks – especially when you envision him on a tighter ice North American ice surface.
We like Jurmo, and he is still a young project. However, early on, his progress appears to be going in the wrong direction.
It’s set up to be quite an exciting year for Canucks prospects within the NCAA circuit.
Not only are there 11 full-time participants (12 if you include goaltender, Matthew Thiessen), but most of them are poised to play significant roles for their respective teams.
For a quick breakdown, this year the slate consists of four freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors, and three seniors in the mix.
On opening night, here’s how each of them lined up:
That’s right. With the exception of Aiden Celibrini, a freshman rearguard for a powerhouse Boston University Terriers, each skater found themselves in a top-six or top-four pairing role.
For the record, Matthew Perkins ended up centering UMB’s second line.
If these early lines are any indication, it should be a fun year.
Jacob Truscott, the lone captain among this group of Canucks prospects, was one of two NCAA skaters to play multiple regular season games over the weekend.
As expected, the Senior played heavy minutes, getting time in all situations for the Michigan Wolverines. He was used in the club’s primary penalty-killing unit and ran their secondary powerplay unit.
Before a hand injury abruptly cut his season short, he was on the verge of shattering nearly all of his previous career highs last year. We anticipate him to back that up with a similar trajectory this season and are expecting big things from him.
With hopes that he becomes an Abbotsford Canuck by season’s end, Truscott will be a name to keep very close tabs on throughout the year.
His agent has a well-documented history of walking his collegiate clients to free agency, but with the Canucks strong history of signing NCAA players, we remain hopeful.
Noted as a two-way threat, Truscott’s defensive prowess is really what separates him from the pack. He’s an effective defender and makes smart plays in all three zones. He’s not afraid to insert himself into the rough stuff and is a known penalty-killing specialist.
We certainly like the sounds of that.
He grabbed his first point of the year in his second game, running the club’s powerplay, and it doesn’t come much easier than this.
Did we mention that he’s not afraid of the rough stuff?
Daimon Gardner, a Freshman making his NCAA debut, was the other prospect to see multiple (regular season) games over the weekend.
Despite being a 19-year-old rookie, he came into the season listed as a 6-foot-5, 205-pound forward and was instantly handed top-line minutes and deployed on the top powerplay unit.
Yeah, he’s a big boy.
While he did not contribute any points, he fired four shots and was a physical presence on the ice all weekend.
Here is a nice hit that gave in the first period of his debut.
He brings a very intriguing blend of size and offensive skill, and appears to be quite the analytical darling:
Given his intriguing profile, there could be some very sneaky pro-potential here. He is a prospect we will be watching closely over the next few years.
Another prospect to keep an eye on is Jack Malone. After three years with Cornell University, Malone was one of a hefty list of players to transfer to Boston College this summer.
He joins a list that includes 2023 first-rounders such as Will Smith, Gabe Perrault, and Ryan Leonard.
Given these additions, we expected Malone to slot somewhere in a middle-six role, but BC surprised by placing him directly on the team’s top line alongside offensive stud, Cutter Gauthier. This unexpected move is a pleasant surprise and could make for an exciting addition to this year’s Blackfish report.
He provided a secondary assist in an overtime winner from Gauthier – from the bench, I might add. Malone made a drop pass before completing a line change, so it wasn’t anything clip-worthy.
Matthew Perkins is one of the four freshmen among this group of Canucks prospects and was slotted in as Minnesota-Duluth’s second-line center.
In a 2-2 nail-biter, he did not contribute anything to the scoresheet and was a minus-one in the game.
As is the case with so many freshmen, expectations for Perkins should be kept light this year, as he acclimates to higher competition. However, with 44 points over 60 games with USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms one year ago, there is some offensive history to contribute some numbers.
After four years of thrilling Aidan McDonough one-timer action at Northeastern, the spotlight is on Jackson Dorrington.
He hit the ground running as a sophomore and is expected to see a much more significant role on the team’s second pairing this year.
He wasted no time taking advantage of this heavier role and scored his first Collegiate goal of his career. This is great to see so early, as he contributed just six assists in 35 games last year with a limited role.
With a pump fake cut in like this, you’d think he was a pure 20-goal scorer.
Dorrington is an early candidate to make an attempt at suiting up for Team USA at this World Juniors. Between that and his elevated role, it’s shaping up to be a good year for the 20-year-old defender.
Aiden Celebrini was listed as the extra defender for Boston University’s season opener. As a rookie defender, minimal ice time is expected. However, we hope this isn’t a regular occurrence and he can get himself into some action on a Championship-worthy NCAA team.
Of course, the biggest addition to the Blackfish report is Vancouver’s most recent first-round pick, Tom Willander. As previously reported, he was forced to sit out BU’s season opener as a result of him suiting up in SHL matches last year – despite not actually playing any minutes.
He’s been hitting the ice alongside standout Montreal Canadiens prospect, Lane Hutson, throughout camp and split-squad games, so it looks like that could be the pairing going forward. Willander is expected to be in the lineup for their next game on October 17th.
Jackson Kunz, A Junior with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, took part in an Exhibition match against the University of Manitoba this weekend.
He put up two goals, including this beauty.
As a past performer in lower tiers and a 2020 fourth-round pick, we hope to see more from Kunz this season. He’s contributed just 11 points over 55 NCAA games.
Ty Mueller, now a Junior with Nebraska-Omaha, took part in an exhibition matchup and he was placed right back to the spot where he deployed much of the seasons last year as top-line center. He did not contribute any points, but was on the ice for his team’s only goal, got a blocked shot, and went 8-for-18 in the face-off dot.
Aku Koskenvuo’s Harvard University team is set to begin their season a bit later, on October 27th.
Well, that wraps up this week’s Blackfish Prospect report.
I want to end the report by congratulating Chris Faber on his recent wedding and thank him for letting me contribute to this fantastic report.
You can expect Faber back for next week’s installment.
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