It’s been a difficult ride through the first half of the season for the Vancouver Canucks’ top prospect, Jack Rathbone. The 22-year-old offensive defenceman made the NHL team out of camp but was sent down to the AHL at the beginning of November.
A lot has changed with the big squad since his demotion to the AHL and it’s been somewhat of a tough ride for Rathbone in the minors. He had a shoulder injury keep him out of game-action for five weeks and caught COVID just last week after making his return to the lineup for three games.
“No one ever wants to be hurt,” said Rathbone. “Yeah, it’s been a little bit of a tough stretch here with the shoulder injury being worse than we expected. The training staff here in Abbotsford have been really good in terms of setting up a plan and a little bit of a routine for me to stick to. Rehab went great and I was able to get back to playing a couple of games on the road in San Diego and Ontario and then COVID hit me and I was like man, it was just another hoop to jump through. But now I’m all healthy now and I’ll be back this weekend in Manitoba.”
Through the tough bounces, being sent down, battling a shoulder injury and then COVID, Rathbone has been tested mentally but says that he is lucky to be surrounded by a great group of guys in the locker room who have really made it easier on him as he is disappointed in the way the season has gone so far. Rathbone mentioned that assistant coach Gary Agnew and head coach Trent Cull have been great for him off the ice whether it be as a sounding board or as a person who is helping him find a daily routine that will help him get back to the NHL.
One of the things that the old regime of Travis Green and Jim Benning wanted Rathbone to improve on was his in-zone defending. Rathbone says that he has spent a lot of time in the video room with Cull and Agnew.
“Video work has been huge,” said Rathbone. “Cully [Trent Cull] and Ags [Gary Agnew] do a great job in the film room whether it be looking at trends that they consistently see in my game or little things that they like to nitpick on. The things they bring up are things that are going to make the difference for me to make that jump to the next level. So, yeah, video work over the past six weeks has been huge.”
Rathbone’s shoulder injury kept him out of action from December 5th all the way to January 14th. It was determined by the training staff to keep Rathbone out of the lineup for an extra five days to make sure that the shoulder had more than enough time to heal before getting back into the lineup.
“We took an extra five days to make that I was 100% before going back into a game and that was something that was pretty key for me,” said Rathbone. “With it being three weeks with the injury, another five days was going to give a bit of extra certainty. So, we circled those dates in San Diego for the return. It definitely took me a game to back into the rhythm, you could probably see that in my first game back but then I felt that I was able to get back to my game in the following two games and I was able to have a lot of fun and get some big W’s.”
He was definitely having fun in those final two games of his return as he scored a goal and added an assist in the first game and then had seven shots on net in his second game.
It’s clear that his offensive game is at an NHL level, and with a new aggressive style of defending being used by the big club, Rathbone is jacked up to get an opportunity to play for a coach like Bruce Boudreau when he gets the call back up to the NHL.
“I’m really excited to hopefully get that opportunity to play for Bruce [Boudreau],” said Rathbone when asked about the changes at the NHL level while he’s been down in the AHL. “Obviously, what he’s preaching suits my game. I’m excited to get that opportunity and make that jump but I think there’s a lot of work to be done still.”
With Brad Hunt and Kyle Burroughs getting swapped around as the left-side defenceman on the third-pairing, it makes a lot of sense to get Rathbone into the spot as soon as he finds his rhythm. Rathbone has talked about how important it is for him to practice and play with the puck on his stick a lot. He is given that chance in the AHL as he is consistently playing on the team’s top defence pairing and is quarterbacking the first power play unit.
Rathbone is excited for the next few weeks as the Abbotsford Canucks have a lot of hockey to play. They have games to make up on top of what was already a busy February and March schedule. Rathbone isn’t looking at the two months as a whole but instead wants to take it day-by-day, stay healthy and play hockey.
“I try not to look too far ahead,” said Rathbone. “Honestly, I’ve just got to take it game by game and play a good stretch here. I don’t want anything to keep me off the ice, whether it’s injury, COVID or whatever, I’ve been dealing with stuff for the past few months and it’s time to play. I’m just trying to play a consistent stretch of games here and get back into the rhythm that is pro hockey. Games are coming pretty hot and heavy here over the next month. I’m going to work on my game to an extent where it’ll make that transition to the NHL as seamless as possible. Honestly, I’m just so excited to get going here.”
We spoke a bit about Rathbone’s childhood friend Aidan McDonough, who has had an incredible start to his NCAA year and could end up signing with the Canucks after his season concludes. Rathbone said McDonough has been one of the hottest scorers in the NCAA but didn’t have any insight as to if McDonough plans to sign or return to Northeastern for his senior season. Rathbone did say that his own process of signing with the Canucks was quick and painless and took less than 48 hours to finalize.
“My dad coached us for the first actual competitive stretch of hockey that we played when we were younger,” said Rathbone. “I’ve played with him all throughout our childhood, high school and then right before he went to college. I played with him all the way up until that point, so yeah, maybe we will reconnect here in pro hockey, that would be that’d be pretty special.”
It’s now time for Rathbone to work his way back into the NHL and he’s ready for the challenge as he’s been facing challenges all season long. He says it’s definitely been a tough year but he is going to do everything he can to get back to the NHL.
“It’s pretty obvious, no one likes getting sent down from the NHL,” said Rathbone. “Once I made the team out of camp I was hoping to stick there. But obviously, I know that everyone has their own development path and I have a lot of confidence in my abilities and that I will get back there pretty soon and make an NHL career out of this. Being able to come down here and work with an amazing group of guys like the coaching staff down here makes it a lot easier just in terms of being able to come to the rink with a smile on your face every day. I love playing for guys like Cull and Agnew. We have a really good group of guys on the ice and off the ice here in Abbotsford. It’s been great here this year and really excited to hopefully keep going.”
In the end, through the ups and downs of the season, Rathbone is using the demotion to the AHL as motivation.
“I’m definitely motivated, it’s everyone’s dream to play in the NHL,” said Rathbone. “When you’re not there, it stings. It’s definitely something that’s always in the back of your mind. I think for everyone playing in this league, it’s in the back of your mind to try and push yourself every day to hopefully make that jump to the NHL as soon as possible.”
That day will come for Jack Rathbone and through the battles he has faced this season, we are all excited to see what he can do with the new-look Canucks under Bruce Boudreau. There’s a spot for him to take in the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup and we will see if he can find that rhythm over the next few weeks and work his way back to the NHL.
For now, he will get back on the ice this weekend with the Abbotsford Canucks as they travel to face our old pals, the Manitoba Moose, for some afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.