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Grade the trade: Vancouver Canucks improve RD depth in Rathbone trade

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Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Dave Hall
6 months ago
The Jack Rathbone Era is officially over in Vancouver.
Despite being active in shoring up their defence over the off-season, there has been one area of concern that continues to hinder the Vancouver Canucks – the right side.
Well, they got one step closer to filling that gap on Tuesday, as the Canucks sent Jack Rathbone and Karel Plasek to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for right-shot defenceman Mark Friedman and 23-year-old Ty Glover.
“I would like to thank Jack for all the time he spent with our organization and always pushing hard when competing for a spot,” Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said. “It has been a tough couple of years for him and this will give him a fresh start.”
Is it a blockbuster deal that will significantly move the needle for both clubs? Absolutely not. 
However, it marks a low-cost solution to a trade that brings in much-needed depth for assets that ultimately carry little-to-no value within the organization going forward.
Remember, depth is never a bad thing.
Let’s take a look at how the trade fairs for the Canucks, shall we?

First, a look at what’s gone

Jack Rathbone’s journey with the Vancouver Canucks has been a mixed bag. 
After signing with the team out of Harvard University, there were high hopes for him to blossom into an effective NHL defender and provide a solid one-two punch, riding backseat to Quinn Hughes on the club’s top-four and power play units.
Despite an odd start to his pro career, thanks to the Taxi-Squad debacle, his early performances in AHL games were promising. Firing at over a point-per-game clip, Rathbone racked up 40 points over 39 games in his official (AHL) rookie season in 2021-22, and with Hughes providing his own ascent up the Canucks’ lineup, everything was running according to plan.
Then came the injuries.
Over the course of four years, Rathbone has transitioned from a promising young prospect to an “offensive AHL defenceman.”.
While he possesses excellent skating ability and a powerful shot, he struggles with processing and decision-making, especially in his own end, and could never quite put it all together at the NHL level.  While he appears to pass the eye test, his on-ice performance just wasn’t enough to solidify a permanent spot.
Before we knew it, his position on the organization’s depth chart began to free-fall.
Over the last year, the Canucks began to accumulate defensive pieces, and with the addition of 24-year-old Akito Hirose, it became evident that Rathbone was fading from the Canucks’ long-term plans, and he was quickly leapfrogged on the depth chart.
This trade and fresh start was inevitable.
Although he’ll likely primarily play in the AHL, this move to Pittsburgh will offer him a new beginning.
Who knows, perhaps he benefits from being the “shiny new toy” in the organization, gets an opportunity, and carries out a deserved NHL career.
Rathbone’s tenure with the Canucks saw him score 18 goals and tally 64 points in 86 AHL games, and two goals and five points in 28 at the NHL level.
Karel Plasek, a 23-year-old forward, spent the 2022-23 season with HC Olomouc in Czechia, where he posted six goals, nine assists, and 15 points in 31 games. He appeared in eight AHL games with Abbotsford during the 2021-22 season, but ultimately is considered a depth piece in the North American pro circuit.

What’s coming back

Mark Friedman, 27, although not a high-pedigree name, brings one intangible that the Canucks are in dire need of…
He’s serviceable.
Described as an “impactful defenceman who has strong offensive instincts and plays with an edge” by his former General Manager, Ron Hextall, he offers a steady option to address the right-side defensive position immediately for the Canucks.
Over the last two seasons, where he played the bulk of his NHL games (49 games), he served in a bottom-pairing role and was utilized on Pittsburgh’s penalty-killing unit. During this time, Friedman’s performance showcases a 51.80 CF% and a 56.34 xGF%.
While these numbers don’t jump out as high-calibre, they do reflect an ability to contribute positively in terms of shot generation and expected goals.
Throughout his total 65 NHL games, over the course of four years, he’s collected 12 points (4G, 8A), 102 hits, 59 blocked shots, 49 penalty minutes, and a plus-two rating, while averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time.
While he may not show eye-popping numbers, his impact on the ice, strong defensive instincts, and the ability to play with an edge can provide value to the team and play a hard-nosed game that Rick Tocchet is known to enjoy.
At the end of the day, he’s serviceable.
Ty Glover, a 23-year-old forward, joined the trade as part of the exchange with Karel Plasek.
Glover is listed as a 6-foot-3, 201-pound forward, who can play on the wing, or up the middle. Undrafted, he was signed as a college free agent by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2021-22, after putting up 13 goals and 32 points over two years with Western Michigan.
While he has not played a game this season, he had a promising rookie AHL season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2022-23, contributing 7 goals and 12 points over 49 games and was considered the club’s most improved player over the year by his former Head Coach.
For someone who hasn’t put up high numbers as a pro yet, he’s got some decent hands.

Overall Grade: B

Let’s get one thing straight.
No matter the pedigree, the Canucks addressed a blaring need and gave up very little to do so. With that, it gets a passing grade.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, this trade does not move the needle much in terms of tangible upside, but the Canucks likely do come out as microscopic winners of this deal.
From what we have seen early on in the 2023-24 campaign, Noah Juulsen has struggled to fill the need as a third-pairing NHL defender.
Sure, he had some positive stints with Quinn Hughes last season, but it’s evident that he’s a far stretch to make an impact paired with the calibre he’d see with lower minutes.
Cole McWard, who was thrown into a test run over the pre-season, is also an option.
However, is it the best to accelerate another prospect – and don’t get it twisted, he is still a prospect – into an NHL role this early? Or, is it better to slow-cook him, allowing him to grab heavy minutes in Abbotsford?
It’s probably the ladder.
Friedman offers NHL Experience and tailors his game to run as a third-pairing option.
The Canucks were able to bring in help without breaking the bank and sacrificing ever-so-precious cap space that they have worked to gain over the last few months.
Instead, the acquisition represents a low-risk solution for the Vancouver Canucks, as he comes in on a league-minimum contract set to expire at the end of the year.
 
While it may not serve as a long-term/full-time solution, it’s important to consider the club’s additional avenues.
With rumors still circulating around Conor Garland, there are still chips on the table to bring in another right-shot, perhaps more permanent, NHL defender in the future. Ethan Bear continues to linger as an option down the line, as well.
It may be disappointing for fans who had high hopes for Jack Rathbone, but this trade should be a positive for the Canucks and offers a new beginning for a disgruntled defender.
Check-in with what the fans had to say:
Friedman is expected to join the Canucks on their current road trip and could potentially make his debut as early as Thursday when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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