The Vancouver Canucks cannot afford to ignore Jack Rathbone any longer
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang11 months ago
In the wake of Quinn Hughes being added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, the Vancouver Canucks recalled Ashton Sautner and Noah Juulsen to beef up the defence. Sautner and Juulsen will be expected to slide into the lineup and contribute over the next few games where crucial points are up for grab if the Canucks want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Just hours after Juulsen and Sautner practiced with the big club, Jack Rathbone put on a show for the Abbotsford Canucks. He had five points — one goal and four assists — and was one of the best players on the ice in a big 8-5 victory. He showed off his offensive talent with a bunch of impressive passes that led to easy goals.
Rathbone is likely the Canucks’ most exciting prospect at the moment and has shown flashes of offensive potential that makes scouts drool. He’s a strong skater, a great passer, and has an underrated shot. He shows many of the characteristics that teams are looking for in modern defencemen in that he can skate exceptionally well and carry the puck on his stick.
Yet with the Canucks’ best puck-moving defenceman leaving the lineup, they opted to keep Rathbone in the minors. The rest of the Canucks’ regular defence core is uninspiring — to say the least — in terms of their ability to create offence and get the puck up ice. Rathbone would make sense as a Hughes replacement — he can at least perform some of the same duties at a lower level, yet the Canucks have seemingly decided to go in a different direction.
Jack Rathbone’s Performance
If there’s any silver lining in this Quinn Hughes incident, it’s that Jack Rathbone could get another chance to prove himself at the NHL level. Rathbone got a nine-game audition earlier this season under Travis Green but didn’t earn enough trust to carve himself out a full-time spot, eventually getting sent back down to play in Abbotsford.
During those nine games, the Canucks didn’t do well defensively while Rathbone was on the ice. At 5-on-5, he had an expected goals against per-sixty-minutes of 2.85, the worst mark of any defender that’s played more than 50 minutes for the Canucks this season. He also failed to record a single point — not an encouraging sample.
However, Rathbone has obvious potential that is too much to ignore. Despite dealing with injury issues, he’s managed to record 12 points in 13 AHL games this season, including the five-point game on Monday night.
Rathbone plays a similar style to Hughes and that’s why it can be tough to have both of them in the lineup at the same time, especially when Rathbone is still so raw and making defensive mistakes. However, Hughes’ absence means that Rathbone could be given a chance to flourish.
Bruce Boudreau’s Reasoning
When asked about the decision, head coach Bruce Boudreau explained that the team was looking for a defensive defenceman at this point in time. The Canucks have done a good job at limiting opponents from scoring since Boudreau took over and it’s clear that keep games low-scoring moving forward. Rathbone’s struggles defensively were too much to overcome for him to get a shot this time around.
While Boudreau did mention that Rathbone will get an opportunity, he’s missing a great chance to offer Rathbone a challenge. Even if the Canucks want to play low-scoring hockey and rely on Thatcher Demko to steal them these next few games, putting Rathbone in the lineup would have meant at least one defender on the roster would be a threat offensively.
In addition, the Canucks played against the lowly Arizona Coyotes last night If the Canucks wanted to hide Rathbone from a dangerous offensive team like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who they play on Saturday, then that’s fine, but there’s no reason that Rathbone couldn’t play against the Coyotes tonight. Part of the benefit of moving the AHL affiliate to Abbotsford was to facilitate moves like this, but the Canucks won’t do it.
“I’ve heard a lot about him and they’ve talked a lot about him and I’m sure there’s going to be an opportunity for him coming down the road here,” said Boudreau when asked about Rathbone.
Rathbone’s future with the Canucks
When it comes time for Rathbone to play under Bruce Boudreau and the new regime, lots will be decided about his path. First impressions matter and depending on how he performs, it could be telling as to his future with the team. At some point, potential must start to be realized at the NHL level. While it’s not close to time to panic about Rathbone, he’s going to want to start building his case as to why he should be a regular NHLer next season.
Critics might point to the fact that it will be difficult to have both Hughes and Rathbone in the same lineup unless they improve in their own end and that’s a factor that the Canucks will have to consider. It’s not impossible but will require the other spots to be filled by defensive stalwarts, something the roster is currently short on.
It’s no secret the Canucks are going to need a big overhaul to their defence if they hope to be contenders. Can they afford to fit two undersized, offensive left-handed defencemen? It’ll take both of them focusing on their play in their own zone, something that Boudreau just made more clear with his comments yesterday.
Do you think that Jack Rathbone should have been recalled in Quinn Hughes’ absence? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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