Jack Rathbone vs. Travis Dermott will be a Canucks training camp battle to watch
Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang3 months ago
With the Vancouver Canucks’ 2022 training camp set to begin little over a month from now in beautiful Whistler, B.C., much of the roster is firmly set in place.
Barring any last-minute trades, the Canucks look to have their strongest forward group in years and a true franchise goaltender. If you only heard those two pieces of information, you might think that the Canucks are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Instead, the Canucks are expected to have to battle for a playoff spot because of a weak defence corps filled with a mix of overpaid veterans and unproven players. Despite significant salary commitments, there isn’t a commensurate amount of talent on the Canucks’ blueline.
Not only do the Canucks not have a lot of high-end NHL talent, but they also don’t have a lot of organizational depth. This leads to a situation where the Canucks have below-average NHL players pencilled into the lineup with little to push them.
However, there is one training camp battle that will be interesting to keep an eye on, and that’s Jack Rathbone and Travis Dermott both vying to be the left-side defenceman on the Canucks’ third pairing.
As it stands right now, Quinn Hughes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson will hold the left-side spots in the top four for years to come. This arrangement leaves hopefuls like Dermott and Rathbone to battle it out for just one spot.
Of course, there’s a very real possibility that the Canucks try Ekman-Larsson or Dermott on the right side to even out the defensive group. However, just for today, we’re just looking at the Canucks’ left-handed defenders in a vacuum.
The case for Travis Dermott
The Canucks acquired Dermott from the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this year in exchange for a 2022 third-round selection. Spending that draft capital on Dermott means that the Canucks will want to see him play a regular role for the team. If Dermott is relegated to being a healthy scratch, losing that draft pick would look like poor asset management by the Canucks.
Dermott played in 17 games for Vancouver down the stretch in 2021–22, picking up two points over that span. It’s difficult to draw conclusions from such a small sample size, but Dermott’s underlying numbers during that period looked solid. He helped the Canucks outscore opponents 12–8 and control 50.64% of the expected goals while he was on the ice at 5-on-5.
Dermott never looked out of place playing for the Canucks. He’s still just 25 years old and is a strong skater, and uses that mobility to get himself out of tough situations and move the puck up ice. Dermott has one year left on a deal that carries a cap hit of $1.5 million, easily affordable for any team.
While Dermott still has the potential to take another step and turn into a reliable second-pairing defender, he will be pushed for playing time by another young defender.
The case for Jack Rathbone
Canucks fans have been patiently waiting for Jack Rathbone to announce his arrival and this season finally seems like the year that everything falls into place.
Some were hoping Rathbone would make the transition to full-time NHLer last year but he had a tough start to the season — as did many Canucks — and ended up playing the majority of his games in the American Hockey League.
Rathbone is a dangerous creator from the back end with the ability to consistently put up points. He has a good shot that he unleashes from the point and is a strong distributor, both in his ability to find creative outlets as well as his ability to execute difficult passes.
The 23-year-old lefty has been one of the Canucks’ most exciting prospects for the past few seasons, and it’s time for him to start to realize some of his potential. However, to do that, the Canucks need to make space and provide an opportunity for him to grow into an NHL role.
The early verdict
The easy cop-out answer to this issue is for one of the players to switch sides. Dermott has played the right side in the past and it seems likely that he will do so this year, especially if Tucker Poolman is still injured to start the season. Rathbone and Dermott could potentially form a solid third pair for the Canucks.
“I’ve played the left side as a left shot, but love playing the right side,” Dermott told reporters near the end of the 2021–22 season. “It opens up the game in a different way and one-timers in the offensive zone.”
If only one of these players can get consistent minutes to begin the season, the Canucks should ensure that Rathbone has an opportunity to play. Just take a look at Michael DiPietro’s trajectory to see what a season of sitting in the press box can do to a young player’s development.
The Canucks need to prioritize Rathbone, with his higher ceiling, and ensure he gets consistent minutes. This doesn’t mean Dermott needs to be pushed out of the lineup — he’s an intriguing potential long-term fit in his own right — but Rathbone represents a chance for the Canucks to develop their own bona fide offensive dynamo.
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