Photo credit:Nick Barden
Blackfish: Goodbye Hunter Brzustewicz, Canucks’ Arshdeep Bains delivers on the big stage, and more
By Dave Hall15 days ago
Welcome to another week of the Blackfish Prospect report.
This week was a thrilling one. The Vancouver Canucks pulled the trigger on a major trade, acquiring a top fish in the trade market pond, while bidding farewell to two beloved Blackfish prospects. Meanwhile, the spotlight shone brightly on the local talent, as AHL All-Star, Arshdeep Bains showcased his stuff on the big stage, and Sawyer Mynio continued to impress in his post-draft season.
But first, let’s start with a look at our updated statistics.
While we typically begin the week with our Abbotsford Canuck update, this week calls for an emergency response, as we say goodbye to two of our beloved Blackfish prospects.
Earlier in the week, the Vancouver Canucks made a big splash, bringing in one of the NHLs home run trade targets, Elias Lindholm.
Going the other way, however, the Canucks gave up their OHL feel-good story, Hunter Brzustewicz and a soon-to-be-out-of-the system Joni Jurmo.
Starting with Jurmo, the writing was on the wall. After failing to land a deal during his trip to B.C last summer, combined with his struggling in his current year, there was a sense that he was likely not going to make it past his contract deadline – this August.
While he appeared to have gained some traction since his Liiga trade before Christmas, he has been trending toward the “long shot” range for quite some time.
Perhaps the Flames will take their shot and bring him over this year, and he can begin to build his development around the North American game. He has intriguing tools, highlighted by good footwork and hands, but the mind felt just a few steps behind.
Brzustewicz, however, was in the midst of a stellar season with the Kitchener Rangers, ranking third in the league in points and pushing to become the first OHL defenceman to hit the century mark in points, since Ryan Ellis (2010-11).
The trade, rightfully so, has brought mixed feelings among fans. Parting ways with a prospect achieving historic feats at the junior level is never easy; it feels counterintuitive.
Yet, sometimes, drastic moves are necessary if you want to take a shot at the title.
Drastic Stanley Cup hopes, call for Stanley Cup measures.
As highlighted in our rationale for the trade, giving a prospect was inevitable. Completing a deal of this magnitude without including a high-end name isn’t typical business, but for them to come away retaining names like Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Tom Willander, or Vasily Podkolzin is a shrewd business move.
It’s important to recognize that, despite his fantastic skills and potential to develop into an NHL defenceman, Hunter is not a fully polished piece, and his transition carries its uncertainties.
He tends to play the game at a slower pace, and while excelling on a high-flying junior team is one thing, facing higher-calibre skaters is an entirely new ball game.
Brzustewicz is a top-four, powerplay potential type player, and given the young up-and-comers, and Quinn Hughes, his pathway toward filling out that potential becomes tough to predict.
This kid could end up being a great player, but there is a very strong chance that this represented his highest value possible.
With promising prospects in the queue, including Willander, Sawyer Mynio, and Elias Pettersson, among others, the team believes that Hunter’s potential to make a difference outweighs the risks. As the old saying goes, “Don’t fall in love with your prospects.”
For our final Brzustewicz update, he has been held scoreless in six games.
Best of luck to both prospects as they navigate the Calgary Flames depth chart.
Okay, now back to our regular Blackfish programming.
The Abbotsford Canucks delivered another weekend split, this time against the San Jose Barracuda. A recurring theme lately has been the Canucks dropping their series-opening game, as they have done in their last four attempts, only to rebound with a win the following night.
This past weekend was no different.
Not only have they dropped the series’ initial game, but seem to come out flat in their performance. Again, this weekend was no different, dropping a 2-1 decision on Friday.
The highlight of the weekend occurred in a quick two-minute stretch that transformed the entire outcome of the game.
Trailing by a goal with less than two minutes in the second frame, Arshdeep Bains – who picked up two assists over the weekend – showcased his tenacity on the forecheck, battling for possession in the corner and winning a crucial puck battle. As the puck popped out, Bains quickly spotted former Barracuda Nick Cicek alone in the slot and delivered an incredible feed from his stomach.
This assist catapulted Bains to a new career high in points, reaching 40 for the year, firing at a point-per-game pace.
Just one minute later, in the dying seconds of the period, the Canucks’ power play went to work – a rare occurrence given their league-worst power play record.
Aatu Räty, Linus Karlsson, and Max Sasson orchestrated a beautifully executed tic-tac-toe play, with Saason cashing in from the bumper position.
The goal stood as the game-winner, marking Sasson’s second consecutive Saturday with the game-winning tally. He finished the weekend with a goal and an assist.
We mentioned the Aatu Räty assist, which marks just his sixth point in 2024 (14 games). He has just one goal in that time, with his last tally coming way back on January 3rd.
He’s been primarily used in a third-pairing role, so a dip in production is somewhat expected. However, such excuses can only last for so long. Given his usage on the man advantage, he, along with a handful of Canuck forwards, needs to pick things up, should they want to get back into call-up talks anytime soon.
Speaking of no points, Danila Klimovich had a relatively quiet weekend on the scoresheet, failing to register any points.
However, he made his presence felt in other ways, leading the team in shots on Friday, firing six on goal in a single game and seven on the weekend.
It’s not much, but given his incredibly unfortunate season, thus far, we are grasping at straws to search for positives. He’s playing much better hockey in recent weeks, and taking a ton of shots is just one of the indicators of that. So, while they aren’t all going in right now, the small victories are noteworthy and important to acknowledge as he attempts to get his game back.
Jeremy Colliton must think so, as Klimovich had a slight bump in usage over the weekend, moving up to the third line alongside Aatu Raty and Linus Karlsson (swapping with Marc Gatcomb on Saturday).
Again, a small victory, but that, plus his addition to the team’s power play are just small signs that he’s working the kinks out.
Jeremy Colliton delivered some disheartening news on Friday, confirming that both Christian Wolanin and prospect Akito Hirose would be sidelined for an extended period for the Abbotsford Canucks.
Adding to the injury concerns, Filip Johansson, who suffered a nasty hit last week in Bakersfield, remains out as well.
In their absence, Jett Woo and Cole McWard have stepped up to the plate, not only logging increased minutes but also taking charge of power play units.
With that, McWard has showcased an impressive two-way game. Despite not registering points, he has proven to be a stalwart on the defensive end and does a terrific job at playing calm two-way hockey.
He leads the defensive corps, and sits third on the team in plus/minus and 5v5 goal differential, with a plus-9.
He’s been using his booming shot, and doing his best to insert himself into the offence to try and give the team a boost, and, as mentioned, has been manning the power play.
Throughout the year, he has been making a very strong case for a top-unit defender role and a steady rotation in the Vancouver lineup for the upcoming season.
The Abbotsford netminder split the weekend.
Nikita Tolpilo, who started the team’s second game, made his first appearance in six games.
Despite letting in his first shot of the game – off a stringy deflection – he had a respectable outing, stopping 24 of 26 shots to pick up his 10th win of his AHL rookie season.
As for Arturs Silovs, he dropped a 2-1 decision in his fifth consecutive start, giving him a 13-8-5 record on the year.
His record paints a pretty good picture of how his season has gone, as he grinds through ebbs and flows this year.
At times, he reverts to his form from last year, where he looks primed and ready for the NHL jump, while others, simply look flustered and out of position. Now, technically, I’m not a goalie guy, so I can’t trace that to anything inarticulate, but it just feels like a bit of an odd stretch for him.
We’re slightly deviating from our usual Monday-Sunday update format as the local Surrey native, Arshdeep Bains took part in this year’s AHL All-Star game in San Jose.
Unfortunately, extreme weather conditions in the Bay Area prevented Bains from participating in the Skills Competition, where he was slated for multiple events including the Fastest Skater, Pass and Score, and Breakaway Relay.
However, he made it in time for the main event and boy, did he show up.
The tournament format was fantastic, with all four teams playing three 12-minute round-robin games, followed by a championship match between the top two teams.
Bains not only posted points in each of their matches but scored a goal in the dying seconds of the Championship game to bring home the victory for Team Pacific.
Finishing the event with two goals and three assists, Bains was awarded the 2024 AHL All-Star MVP, setting Canucks Nation ablaze.
Matthew Perkins, Vancouver’s 2023 fourth-round pick, takes this week’s college headline with an outstanding weekend as a freshman with Minnesota Duluth.
He delivered two goals and an assist, bringing home the NCHC Rookie of the Week honour.
The highlight of the weekend was his first goal, where he received a pass in the slot and proceeded to drive the net, snapping the puck to the far side top shelf.
The 20-year-old freshman now sits with a total of four goals and 12 points in 25 games.
Similarly, another low-key NCAA player, Jackson Kunz, has been heating up as we approach the final weeks of the 2023-24 season and has found himself in a first-line role with North Dakota.
Kunz is currently on a three-game points streak, contributing two goals and two assists in that span.
Both Perkins and Kunz, who are both categorized as lower-grade prospects, are showing some life as we track close toward the final stretch of the season.
Perkins will be on our radar for a hopeful “pop off” season as a sophomore.
Jackson Dorrington put himself back in the goal column over the weekend, grabbing his fifth of the year, which leads all Northeastern defenders – not bad, considering his shutdown defensive profile.
His defensive game shows up in the other category, though, where Dorrington leads defenders in the plus/minus category, ranking second on the team with a plus-13 for the year.
Jack Malone continued his goal-scoring form, notching his third goal in four games with a quick snapshot off the rush. He’s up to seven goals and 13 points in 25 games for Boston College, driving his own line as their third-line centre.
Jacob Truscott, the Captain of the Michigan Wolverines, contributed an assist from a deflected shot. He’s up to 13 points in 26 games.
As the regular season enters its final month, we are officially “Truscott watch,” anticipating that the 2020 fifth-round pick will sign his first professional contract. As we mentioned last week, everything appears to be tracking positively with him signing with Vancouver.
After a productive run of four points over his initial five-game return from World Juniors, things have quieted down on the Tom Willander front.
Not only did the offence dry up, but he was dropped down to the second pairing and had played “okay” over the last few weekends.
He did manage to pick up an assist over the weekend, though, breaking a four-game point drought. Credit to Macklin Celebrini, who executed a stellar deflection on a shot that was originally heading wide of the net.
All good things must eventually come to an end. Just ask Aku Koskenvuo, whose three-game streak was snapped over the weekend. Despite his best efforts, making 37 saves in a 2-1 decision, Harvard couldn’t find the equalizer. Chalk this one up to another great performance, but bad result from the Finn netminder, who now sports a 3-5-2 record, with a .908 save percentage average.
Ty Mueller contributed an assist over the weekend, making an impact just 19 seconds into one of their two matches. Winning an offensive zone faceoff, Mueller quickly grabbed his 22 points(eight goals, 14 assists).
It’s been a challenging stretch for Jonathan Lekkerimäki, enduring nine games without a goal since his return from his MVP-worthy World Juniors trip. However, that all changed over the weekend when he picked up his 11th goal in typical Lekkerimäki fashion.
Working the man advantage in overtime, the 19-year-old was given the space –-too much space– to pick his shot, which you simply do not want to let happen. He rifled a labelled wrist shot, cleanly beating the netminder to seal the game.
With this goal, he became the first U20 skater to hit the 20-point mark of the season. Lekkerimäki now shares the lead on his team in goals and stands out as the leader with four game-winning goals.
After what has felt like an entire season of negative updates, we finally have a positive note with Lucas Forsell. In typical Forsell fashion, he found his way to the net, utilizing pushing off his check before deflecting home his third goal of the season.
For those following this report closely, it’s no secret that Forsell has faced challenges in finding consistent minutes this season, averaging just 8:53 per night.
The only positive from this season is that Forsell should be a part of a strong playoff push, as Fajestad is a top-ranked team, sitting second in the SHL table. Hopefully, they will utilize his waterbug attitude a little more come playoff time, but we aren’t holding our breath.
Elias Pettersson missed all of his games last week with an undisclosed injury. We aren’t certain what is keeping him put this time, but he did miss a few games earlier in the season with a concussion he suffered at the Five Nations tournament back in November.
Sawyer Mynio just continues to impress over in Seattle, and added another four points to an already career year.
Apart from impressing us with his entire game, one thing that has truly stood out has been his booming shot. The one-timer he lets off is pro-ready, and this week, he showed that off with this tremendous bomb from the point – bye-bye water bottle.
He now shares the sixth spot among all WHL defenders with eight goals, while his 38 points fall just outside of the top 10.
The added offensive dynamic that he’s shown this season is quite something…
Ty Young suffered a loss in his only game of the week, stopping 26 of 29 shots. He sports a 16-11-0 record on the year.
That’s all for this week, folks. As always, please feel free to drop a name in the comments that you’d love to hear more about, and I’ll make sure to for next week’s edition!
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