‘You have to use every opportunity you have’: A chat with AGM Ryan Johnson ahead of Canucks’ Young Stars Tournament
By Faber2 months ago
All eyes were on Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson as they made their triumphant return to Vancouver and took to the ice on Tuesday for a surprise scrimmage. With training camp just over a week away, the season is upon us and we will have plenty of time to discuss the third pairing battle and which centre Andrey Kuzmenko should play with.
That can all wait.
Because first, this is my freaking weekend.
For those who don’t regularly read this website, I have a lot of questions, number one — how dare you?
Secondly, I spend a lot of my time here writing about the Canucks’ prospects and watching countless hours of junior or European pro hockey.
This weekend is the Penticton Young Stars Tournament — AKA that thing I’ve been mentioning in every article I’ve written over the past two weeks. The Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and your Vancouver Canucks are sending prospects to Penticton to battle it out before they make their way back to junior hockey or to the AHL to continue developing.
I’ve been waiting to see what Nils Åman and Linus Karlsson look like at five-on-five.
Or what Arturs Silovs is going to do with the boosted confidence from playing in the World Championships and posting a .952% save percentage. The 21-year-old posted a .968% save percentage over six international games with Latvia this year! Why doesn’t Quads ever talk about that?
The Young Stars Tournament is more of a showcase in many people’s eyes. The Canucks won’t be bolstering the most exciting prospect group as the Oilers are sending Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg, the Flames will bring Dustin Wolf, Jakob Pelletier, and Connor Zary, and the Jets are excited to see Cole Perfetti and Brad Lambert.
For the Canucks, there are no first-round picks in attendance but the team is sending a group that will feature a lot of young players who will be with the Abbotsford Canucks and that is why we wanted to speak with the Canucks’ Assistant to the General Manager and Director of Player Development Ryan Johnson.
Johnson also holds the title of General Manager of the AHL team and will be spending a ton of time around the players who have shown up on the Canucks’ roster for this tournament. Johnson is looking at this tournament more as a showcase than a time to evaluate. He wants to see what the players have for skill as well as effort level.
“You can control that you’re moving your feet and that you’re physical,” said Johnson. “You’ve got to be on your horse and be disrupting. I’d rather see these guys make mistakes and sloppiness that way than sit around and be over-controlled and stand around watching the game. I want to see the guys come in and compete. I like to watch our bench to see how quickly guys come together as a group. We’ve got a very good group of leaders and guys that want to take the initiative to take pride in the organization. I also want to see how well new guys become adjusted and feel a part of this environment.”
In our conversation with Johnson, he confirmed that the Canucks will be using the Abbotsford Canucks’ coaching staff with the addition of one rotating development coach behind the bench for the three games. We won’t be seeing the Sedins behind the bench but Jonhson says that the twins are going to be a big part of working with the players around the rink and assisting them with whatever they need during the weekend.
Henrik is going to be doing the assisting while Daniel is going to be helping the prospects reach their goals.
As for the development staff that will be on the bench, Mike Komisarek, Mikael Samuelsson, and Chris Higgins will be rotating through and joining the team on the bench in their three games.
Two players to keep an eye on are the two Swedish players who played in the SHL last season: Linus Karlsson and Nils Åman.
We asked Johnson what his expectations are for the two players looking to make a smooth transition to pro hockey in North America.
“I expect those two guys to have a presence and take on some onus of not just the play but being a part of building that environment,” said Johnson. “Those guys are obviously going to be relied on and played quite a bit. But they should be because they are more experienced. I think [the tournament] should be in a situation where hopefully they can come in and thrive, and be a big catalyst for the group.”
When Nils Åman’s name got brought up, we wanted to confirm his willingness to play for the AHL team in the likely scenario where he doesn’t make the NHL roster out of training camp. Johnson confirmed that Åman is being brought over here to develop and grow with the group of young players. Johnson wants to see Åman play centre for this organization this season and that’s a nice pickup for the organization.
“I like him at centre,” said Johnson when asked about Nils Åman. “He’s good [at] faceoffs. He’s smart and is on the right side of pucks. You look at him statistically and you go ‘okay, well,’ but he makes smart plays, distributes the puck, he’s a big body that can get to the net and be trouble just because of the way he skates. He’s got size and reach. So there’s a lot to like about him down the middle of the ice.”
As for the crease, the prior mentioned Silovs should be the horse for the Canucks at this tournament. Johnson wants to see a lot of hockey out of Silovs and give him a running start into training camp.
We are expecting to see Silovs battle for starts in Abbotsford this season with the big goal being him winning the starter’s role by the time the playoffs roll around.
Johnson just wants to see these players work hard and will make it clear to the prospects that every shift matters.
This tournament represents a chance for these young players to impress or disappoint.
You think of a prospect like Connor Lockhart, who is fighting for an NHL contract.
Tristen Nielsen needs a contract to continue to stay in professional hockey after this season.
Chad Nychuk and Quinn Schmiemann want to avoid being AHL practice squad players all season.
These prospects have a lot to prove.
“I tell the players, you have to use every opportunity you have as a chance to get your foot in the door,” said Johnson. “Training camp is a crazy animal itself where one practice or one period can change the outlook of your camp moving forward. You could be a guy pencilled in to go down at a certain point in you can make a play or have a period or a 10-minute push where they go ‘no he’s going to stick around,’. That’s how players make a name. That’s how players take jobs
“It’s just encouraging our guys, every practice you have an opportunity to change somebody’s outlook on him. And Penticton is a chance where somebody’s pencilled in a certain spot and we walk away from that going ‘wow, we’re gonna need to see more of this guy or we want to reward him,’. Every opportunity these guys step on the ice they have a set of eyes watching and a chance to change the whole look for short term and long term.”
The Canucks play Friday night at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm, and Monday at 2:00 pm.
I’m on the road for four hours early Thursday and will have clips, interviews, and much more from Penticton all weekend long.
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