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Why Carson Soucy’s injury marks the perfect opportunity for an extended Akito Hirose audition

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
A lot of folks will tell you that the Chinese word for crisis is comprised from a conjunction of the words “danger” and “opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy said it. Condoleezza Rice said it. Homer Simpson called it “crisitunity.”
Well, as it turns out that isn’t true and never has been true. But just because this might be a linguistical falsehood, doesn’t mean there’s not some sand to the general concept of finding new opportunities within moments of crisis.
The Vancouver Canucks have a crisis on their hands with top free agent addition Carson Soucy now out of the lineup for up to eight weeks with a lower-body injury.
But with that crisis comes an opportunity for an extended Akito Hirose audition.
Through two games of his absence thus far, Soucy has been replaced in the lineup by RHD Noah Juulsen, who played 11:25 against the Islanders and 15:12 against the Flames.
But one has to imagine that inserting Hirose into the lineup in place of Soucy is the long-term plan with this long-term injury. For one, the Canucks probably wouldn’t call up a rookie pro to just sit in the pressbox as an extra defender for two months.
For another, Hirose is probably capable of offering more short- and long-term value to the lineup than Juulsen, or any of the other potential replacements. And, if not, that’s probably valuable information for the Canucks to acquire.
This audition wouldn’t exactly be Hirose’s first. He signed out of the NCAA and made his NHL debut in early April of last year, playing out seven games for the Canucks at the tail-end of the 2023/24 campaign. Even in that short stint, Hirose managed to turn heads. He picked up three points, played an average of 17:27 a night, and was on the ice for more goals for than against. More than that, however, Hirose looked shockingly poised, calm, and steady for a free agent fresh out of college. He spun neatly out of corners. He made clever plays with the puck.
He looked good, is what we’re saying.
Hirose also managed to get into the first two games of the 2023/24 season, also in place of an injured Soucy. He’s spent the rest of his time down in Abbotsford, where he hasn’t exactly set the place on fire. Through 11 AHL games, Hirose has been held without a point. But he’s still been a regular in the lineup, he’s still a +2, and he still hasn’t looked out of place.
This happens, sometimes. Bo Horvat once went pointless in a short stint with the Utica Comets before being called back up to the NHL and never looking back. For a more Hirose-relevant example, Troy Stecher had a very similar experience during his rookie pro campaign.
Hirose has clearly looked good enough to earn this particular call-up over the likes of Christian Wolanin and Matt Irwin. Either that, or GM Patrik Allvin and Co. (correctly) reckon that Hirose has the most prominent future with the organization.
Either way, the right call was made in recalling Hirose. Now, he just needs to get into the lineup and onto the ice for another shot at showing what he can do.
It’s worth noting at this juncture that Hirose is already 24, and will be 25 before the 2023/24 campaign is called to a close. That’s young by almost any other standard, but it’s fairly old for an NHL prospect. If Hirose had been drafted in the third or fourth round back when he was first eligible, he’d already be at a “make or break” point in his career.
That might not really apply to Hirose, being a rookie pro, but it doesn’t not apply to him, either. Hirose could lose his waiver exemption as early as next year. The sooner the Canucks can see what they have in him, the better. And, more specifically, the sooner they can see if he can maintain that same excellent level of big league play that he demonstrated last year, the better.
Thanks to the Soucy injury, sooner could be now.
Context-wise, there’s not going to be a better time for Hirose to show he belongs. The Canucks are clipping along at a record pace, and the overall quality of the team’s play has brought up the performance of literally every player on the roster.
Hirose came into a less-than-stellar situation with the Canucks last year and still thrived. If he can fit in with the current top-of-the-conference Canucks, well then he can fit in anywhere, and suddenly we’ve got a genuine NHL defender on our hands.
That’s got to be more valuable than any marginal difference in quality of defence that might be offered up by Juulsen or Irwin at that time, and that’s undoubtedly the largest reason why Hirose got the call-up over them.
Then there’s the question of minutes. As it stands, head coach Rick Tocchet has jumbled his defence pairings without Soucy, even going as far as to break up the Quinn Hughes-Filip Hronek pairing for a spell.
But Hughes-Hronek was working oh so well. And so too was the pairing of Ian Cole and Mark Friedman, so long as they weren’t asked to take on too many minutes. Having a bottom pairing of Soucy and Tyler Myers, easily capable of handling at least 18 minutes a night, was a major boon to the overall structure and strength of the Vancouver blueline.
Hirose truly filling in for Soucy would likely mean his partnering with Myers for the next couple of weeks, offering up some 16-18 minutes per game on the ostensible third pairing, along with a reasonable amount of special teams time.
Hirose’s steady nature might be great at keeping Myers settled down back there, as might the responsibility of Myers having to “cover” for a rookie partner.
That would allow the Canucks to keep the situation as stable as possible minus Soucy, and avoids them having to massively reconfigure a blueline that was definitely working.
And if Hirose succeeds in that role over the next two months, what happens then?
Simple. Soucy returns, Hirose goes back down to Abbotsford, and the Canucks sit secure in the knowledge that his NHL skills are for real. They can thus plan on having Hirose firmly in the picture next year, and build their roster accordingly.
The opportunity to find out whether that’s going to be prudent and possible is now. Tocchet just needs to put Hirose in the lineup and trust him with some minutes. The rest is entirely in Hirose’s hands.

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