Photo credit:MATT TIDCOMBE / CHL
Why selling high on Hunter Brzustewicz was the right decision for the Vancouver Canucks
By Dave Hall19 days ago
Here in Canucks Nation, we find ourselves navigating uncharted waters.
In recent memory, this time of year has been dedicated to discussions about whom the Vancouver Canucks might trade to provide salary cap relief. Or, perhaps a heavy conversation about whom the club may take with their hopeful lottery pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Not this year.
No, this year sparks a new revelation: a world in which the team’s recently extended management group shifted gears and shoved all of their chips in the middle to bolster their lineup in preparation for a deep playoff run.
In a groundbreaking move, the Canucks executed one of the more significant trades in the league, acquiring Elias Lindholm, locking up one of the NHL’s bigger fish to beat out the market and trade deadline frenzy.
“In acquiring Elias Lindholm, we feel that he vastly improves our hockey team. He is a proven front-line performer and will give head coach Rick Tocchet some more options when putting together our top two lines.”
This season has seen Lindholm take a dip in production, scoring just 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) through 43 games with the Calgary Flames. However, his 545 points (212 games, 333 assists) over 792 career regular season games split between Calgary and Carolina show that he can produce at a high level and is sure to add some immense firepower to an already blistering-hot offensive group.
Check out Stephan Roget’s breakdown of why Canucks fans should be excited about this trade.
But what about the haul that leaves the organization? After all, five assets for one feels like a tremendous price tag.
However, in the grand scheme of things, perhaps it wasn’t as high of a price as we think.
Of course, the main target was Andrei Kuzmenko, a disgruntled forward who simply could not get into Rick Tocchet’s circle of trust. While his inaugural season was chock-full of incredible ups, scoring 39 goals and contributing many positives to the team’s top-six, his sophomore year has sung a much different tune.
The Russian forward has just eight goals and 21 points through 43 games and has seen nearly a two-minute decrease in his average time on the ice.
It felt like parting ways was a matter of when, not if.
But what about the prospects?
Let’s delve into why selling these prospects was the right move by Patrik Allvin and company.
Let’s begin with Hunter Brzustewicz, a true gem discovered in the third round at 75th overall of the 2023 entry draft in Nashville.
Although never pegged as a first-round talent heading into the draft, not many – if any – outlets had Brzustewicz falling to the Canucks in the mid-stages of the third round. By all accounts, him falling into their laps felt a bit criminal and when a skilled right-shot defender is available to you this late, you don’t walk up to the podium, you run.
It did not take long for the Canucks to see results, either.
Following a scoreless season opener, the Michigan native exploded with four assists in the Kitchener Rangers’ second game, setting the tone for an incredible run that would continue throughout the season.
His stat line continued to snowball, and eventually, he would find himself atop the entire Ontario Hockey League in points — a feat that he has kept for the majority of the year.
Currently sitting third in OHL scoring with an impressive 69 points in 47 games, Brzustewicz has been a consistent force, registering multiple points in 21 of those games and has been held pointless just nine times all year.
Incredibly, he is only 31 points away from tying Ryan Ellis’ 100 points, the best season by an OHL defenceman in the 2000s era.
His season has been nothing short of stellar.
So, why consider selling now?
Simply put, the Kitchener Rangers, Brzustewicz’s current OHL team, have emerged as an offensive powerhouse this season, ranking second in the league for goals scored (210). While Brzustewicz plays a pivotal role in quarterbacking this potent offence, many of his assists are a product of the team’s high-scoring dynamics – not all, but many.
Of his incredible 69 assists, 46 of them have been secondary helpers, and the Rangers carry three of the league’s top-10 in scoring.
Despite Brzustewicz being a well-rounded and intriguing prospect – especially as a right-handed option – his value is likely at its peak.
Given his likelihood of transitioning to the professional ranks next year, a jump that is often met with various peaks and valleys for young defenders, a regression in point production is nearly guaranteed.
Throughout the year, concerns have lingered about his footspeed and overall quickness in executing plays. Although a versatile defender, he operates just a bit slower than most, which could pose challenges at the higher ranks. He does everything quite well, but nearly nothing at an elite level.
So, unless he secures solid power play minutes and quickly earns a top-four role at the AHL level, replicating the seamless production we’ve seen may pose some challenges.
Considering his long-term outlook, it’s likely he’ll be competing with more seasoned defenders in the depth chart in the coming years, potentially sending his offensive production into a nose dive.
Now, that’s perfectly normal in the developmental pathway for most prospects.
The concern arises because his incredible offensive output may have slightly skewed his value in the Canucks’ market.
As we’ve discussed, he’s an intriguing player with a versatile skill set. However, let’s not forget he’s a third-round prospect. While he might see higher placement in redraft scenarios, there are still valid concerns about his ability to perform consistently at an elite level among the higher ranks.
With a profile that leans towards a power-play specialist and top-four defender, there are no guarantees he’ll fulfill the extraordinary expectations set by his historic OHL numbers.
Considering the team’s existing power-play lineup and another right-handed prospect in the pipeline grabbing attention, Brzustewicz faces a challenging path to realize his full potential in Vancouver.
Of course, this is not to say that he would not climb the ladder and eventually earn his spot as Abbotsford’s top quarterback within a couple of seasons, but in terms of tangible trade value, there is a strong chance that it never truly hits where it is today.
While the Canucks lose a promising prospect in the trade, seizing this opportunity to sell at his absolute peak was a shrewd move.
Let’s shift our focus to the other prospect involved in this deal, Joni Jurmo.
There’s no denying that, at one point, Jurmo held value due to his intriguing skill set, which included solid mobility and impressive hands.
Coming off a breakout season in Liiga, tallying 13 points in 52 games as a 20-year-old defenceman, it appeared that we might finally see returns on the Canucks’ 2020 third-round investment.
When he attended the Canucks’ development camp this past summer, there was hope that he might sign with the team and spend the next year in Abbotsford. This would have allowed him to take his development by the horns alongside the Canucks’ coaching staff and acclimate his game to North American ice.
Unfortunately, that scenario never materialized, and he returned to Finland for his fourth year in Liiga without an NHL deal — and it has been a considerable struggle for Jurmo.
Despite initially seeing solid minutes with his new team, Ilves, he couldn’t find his rhythm, leading to healthy scratches and several games spent as the extra defenceman.
In the first 28 games, he managed just one assist.
Now on a recent loan with KooKoo, he seems to be regaining some momentum, with a goal and three points in seven games, showing signs of improvement.
The primary issue in his game remains his hockey IQ. While possessing undeniable tools, his decision-making, in both defensive and offensive zones, has raised considerable concerns. In his own end, he often appears panicked, resulting in turnovers and downright chaotic shifts.
With the Canucks having until this summer to offer a contract, it felt evident that the Canucks were unlikely to extend an offer based on Jurmo’s current trajectory.
If there was a time to make a move, it’s right now.
While the initial impact of this trade may seem substantial, the chance to acquire a player of Elias Lindholm’s calibre is rare.
Saying farewell to assets like a disgruntled forward, an overperforming third-round prospect, a likely outbound prospect, a supplementary fourth-round pick, and a late first-round pick may appear as a significant cost.
However, it aligns seamlessly with the broader vision of the team. It’s “cup or bust” time in Vancouver, and seizing this opportunity without sacrificing foundational prospects like Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Vasily Podkolzin, or Tom Willander is well worth tipping your cap to this management group.
Hunter Brzustewicz exceptional season performance is nothing to take lightly, but capitalizing on his peak trade value is the best way to put your foot forward to bringing the city of Vancouver its first playoff run in nearly a decade.
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