Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
CanucksArmy’s Christmas wish list: Canucks’ prospects edition
By Dave Hall1 month ago
It’s been an impressive start for the entire Vancouver Canucks organization.
From the main club all the way down to the lower-tiered prospects, everything has been all-positive on all fronts for the first half of the 2023-24 season.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t wish for a little more, right?
With Christmas fast approaching, we thought it would be fitting to go over a few Christmas wishlist items, with a focus on the Canucks’ prospect system.
Whether it’s point totals, wishful call-ups, or a free agent signing, we’ve got a few things that we are asking Santa for this year.
Jonathan Lekkerimäki lights up the World Junior Championships
The Vancouver Canucks have just three prospects representing the organization at this year’s World Junior tournament, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Elias Pettersson, and Tom Willander, effectively turning the entire province into Sweden-West for the holiday break.
All three skaters are highly touted prospects whose performances will feature heavily under the microscope throughout this World Juniors tournament. However, none more than Lekkerimäki.
The club’s 15th overall pick from the 2022 NHL entry draft struggled massively during his draft-plus-one season, picking up 9 points in 29 games with Djurgårdens IF of the HockeyAllsvenskan, battling mono, a concussion, and a season-ending foot injury, all before turning 19 years old.
Now, in his draft-plus-two season, Lekkerimäki has enjoyed a strong bounce back, scoring 10 goals and 16 points with Örebro HK of the SHL. His return to form has re-established himself as this organization’s top-rated prospect.
While it’s important not to read too heavily into these tournament performances, Lekkerimäki needs to take the reins and shine brightest at this competition for Team Sweden.
This is his third go-around at the World Juniors, and he will be playing an integral role on the top line, including his usual spot on the half-wall for the top power play unit.
The hope is that he can parlay the confidence and offensive prowess he’s found at the SHL level this year and churn it into a successful showing, perhaps even etching his name into MVP talks.
Much of Sweden’s success will be banking on him and his linemate’s production, so there will be tons of pressure on Lekkerimäki from both a Canucks fanbase and a national perspective. Sprinkle in the pressures of being the host team, and all eyes will be on this kid to perform.
Luckily, he’s healthy, he’s confident, and his shot is as deadly as they come; it’s time for him to shine and show the fanbase that he’s worth occupying this organization’s top-prospect honours.
If Santa Claus could bring us anything this year, it’s a dominant showing from Jonathan Lekkerimäki.
Hunter Brzustewicz stays hot, finishing as the OHL’s points leader
Speaking of the World Juniors, we know who won’t be going this year: Hunter Brzustewicz.
Despite putting up godly numbers in the Ontario Hockey League, USA Hockey left him off the roster, meaning he will stay back and continue his tremendous run over in Kitchener.
This brings us to the next item on our Christmas wish list: Brzustewicz building a comfortable cushion as the OHL’s leading point-getter.
Currently, the 19-year-old shares the lead with Team Canada’s Carson Rehkopf, each boasting 55 points. Depending on how far Team Canada advances, Kitchener can be expected to play anywhere between three and six games while the Tournament persists.
Considering Brzustewicz’s impressive 1.62 points per game, he should be able to accumulate a healthy stock of additional points, positioning himself as the league leader with a comfy cushion throughout the second leg of the season.
After being snubbed, there is no better way to show the US program that they messed up than putting up 100-plus points and finishing as the OHL’s leader in points.
We aren’t sour. You are!
Jacob Truscott signs with Vancouver and joins the Abbotsford Canucks
We are approaching the second leg of the 2023-24 season, which means we are nearing NCAA free-agent watch.
A senior defenceman at the University of Michigan, already in the Canucks’ pipeline, Jacob Truscott is a strong candidate to step in and play minutes for Abbotsford on the backend.
Jacob Truscott, a senior captain with the Michigan Wolverines, is a hardworking, defensively-minded defender. His game has taken good strides over the past two seasons, and he’s even managed to sprinkle some decent offensive numbers into his stat sheet.
Penalty killing, hits, blocks, and all-around responsible two-way play are his true calling cards and what should be expected when he transfers his game to the pro ranks.
Abbotsford has seen a long list of defenders fall to injury this year, so adding a young left-handed option would be a tremendous boost to the group’s blueline.
As we have witnessed with NCAA skaters in the past, nothing is for sure until the pen is put to paper. However, the Canucks have a strong history of convincing drafted players who’ve played out their four years in the NCAA to sign. The farm has a spot for him to play right out the gate will surely help those negotiations.
Lucas Forsell finds a new stomping ground
Going back to Sweden, another item on our wishlist is for Lucas Forsell to secure a bigger role elsewhere in the SHL.
After 13 points in 35 SHL matches as a rookie last year, Forsell looked poised to embrace an elevated role while carving out an everyday top-nine spot as a 20-year-old for the SHL’s Färjestad BK this season.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite transpired over thus far.
Forsell has often been relegated to the fourth line and has only eclipsed the 11-minute mark of ice time just six times in 22 games of regular-season play.
With just two points through 22 (regular season) games and averaging only 9:30 of ice time, the situation has been less than ideal.
What adds to the frustration is Färjestad’s significant run in the Champions League tournament, where Forsell was given a longer leash. Although he still averaged just 12:13 of ice time, he had several auditions in the top six and had strong showings in many of them. In nine games of Champions Hockey League play, Forsell eclipsed 11-minutes of TOI five times.
Over the nine CHL games, he compiled five points, highlighted by a dynamic playing style that has the potential to make a significant impact on the ice. Yet, whenever they return home, he’s stuck to the bench. Something’s got to give.
In the words of Mark Wahlberg, he’s a peacock; you gotta let him fly.
Arshdeep Bains gets his shot in the NHL
We focus our last Christmas wish in Abbotsford, where we hope Arshdeep Bains finally gets an opportunity to show his game at the NHL level.
The Vancouver Canucks are firing on cylinders, currently sit tops in the NHL and aren’t in a rush to bring players up to the NHL. But as we know, that can change quickly, and if any prospect is ready to strut his stuff, it’s the Surrey native.
The 22-year-old came out the gate hot this year, amassing 16 points over his first ten games. Since then, his production rate has cooled considerably, but he has maintained a steady pace and a scoring touch over the last couple of games. Despite the cooldown, Bains leads Abbotsford with 26 points.
Of course, given his profile and the role he will be asked to fulfill at the NHL level, the point totals are an added bonus. Bains’ no-quit, ‘work hard in all three zones’ work ethic will endear him with the playstyle Coach Rick Tocchet is trying to establish in Vancouver. Given his versatility, you can plug him into any role; whether in an offensive or shutdown role, he can hold his own.
Of course, with players like Vasily Podkolzin, Linus Karlsson, and Aatu Räty also knocking on the door, there are a few options for the Canucks to choose from and more players for Bains to win a cup of coffee over.
However, with the pressures on Podkolzin and Räty to pan out into full-fledged NHL players, it’s ideal to let them develop and play big minutes for Abbotsford in the meantime.
In Bains’ case, he is an undrafted project that worked out exceptionally well under the organization’s development program. We think his game could translate well to the NHL, specifically under Tocchet, and would make for a well-written Christmas tale of overcoming the odds.
If the need is there, it’s time to give the local kid his shot at the NHL level.
Christmas is all about believing, and while a few of these items on our list may be a tall order for the big red man, none of them are extraordinary asks.
We hope the elves can get to work on short notice and ensure these items get delivered under our tree for Christmas this year.
Happy Holidays, everyone.
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