Jack Rathbone was given every opportunity to showcase what he can bring in the Vancouver Canucks’ first preseason game of 2022.
He led the Canucks with 25:45 of ice time, which included 8:00 on the power play and 5:07 on the penalty kill in the club’s overtime loss on home ice to the Calgary Flames.
“I thought he got better as the game along,” Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He ended up playing 25 minutes and he started to look a lot more comfortable out there. I think it was very positive, what I saw from him.”
Rathbone is in a great spot with Luke Schenn as we continue to see the Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Quinn Hughes pairing skate together.
Schenn is the type of partner who is nearly perfect for Rathbone to showcase his strengths. Rathbone mentioned Schenn makes life easy on him with his style of play and how much he communicates on the ice as well as on the bench.
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“Yeah, it’s good, there’s a lot of dialogue on the bench, and a lot of talk on the ice,” Rathbone said. “Once we get a few games under our belt, I think we can just add to that chemistry and hopefully build on what we’ve been doing so far.”
Not surprisingly, Rathbone looked most comfortable during his eight minutes of power-play time. He only attempted three shots on net but utilized the two players on the half-walls to create offence.
“There’s a ton of skill on that unit,” said Rathbone when asked about his time with the first power play group. “I think it’s kind of my job to just distribute there. [I’ve] got Pettersson on the flank and then Garland on the other side so I can’t really make a bad decision with the puck. I’ve got to be a little bit more of a shot mentality when I do get it but that comes with time and game reps.”
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Boudreau also liked what he was from the 24-year-old defenceman on the man-advantage.
“He’s good,” Boudreau said when asked about Rathbone on the power play. “I mean, when you’re a good puck handler, you’re good puck handler and you gain confidence. I thought he made some really good reads on that on the power play from the point and you know why he was one of the leading scorers in the American League from defence. So that’s really good. It’s a really good sign for us.”
As much as his time on the power play was talked about, Rathbone being on the first unit isn’t likely something we’ll see during the regular season. There’s a chance he pushes for time on the second unit but if he is a consistent NHLer this season, he’ll need to do damage at even-strength.
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Rathbone showed well in that aspect on Sunday night. He led the Canucks in shot attempts and shots on net at five-on-five.
When you look at this defence corps, Rathbone has the most potential to beat goalies with his shot. Rathbone possesses a strong and accurate slap shot that can’t be found on the Canucks.
He is able to get one-timers off from the right side but also does a good job of jump-stepping to his left and going down the boards to open up a pass-shoot lane near the left half-wall.
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With the OEL-Hughes pairing looking like it’s going to get an extended look throughout the preseason, Rathbone will need to continue to show that he can provide offence on his pairing. Continuing to get shots on net is key and if he can develop chemistry with Schenn, we could be looking at a third pairing with some pop at both ends of the rink.
Rathbone’s defensive game improved last year from his work in the AHL and it feels like he is ready to graduate to the NHL and be a player that provides depth scoring on the defence. In a third-pairing role, Rathbone isn’t going to be tasked with taking on Connor McDavid or Jonathan Huberdeau.
Instead, he will need to show well against other teams’ bottom-six lines, and if he can hold his own defensively while contributing to the offence in a big way, Rathbone should stick as an NHLer this season.
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Sticking in the NHL is the goal for Rathbone and he’s learned a lot over the past 12 months about what he needs to accomplish to get that opportunity.
“If you don’t, then why come to camp,” Rathbone responded when asked if he believes he is an NHLer. “Everyone’s goal coming in here is to make the NHL club. I don’t think anyone’s goal is to just have a good five days of fun and skate around a little bit. You come here to make the 23-man roster and that was my mindset all summer. Hopefully, I get some exhibition games here to play a little bit more and show them what I can do.”
We will likely see more preseason games where Rathbone is up over 20 minutes of ice time and those games, as well as some games late in preseason where he plays 13-17 minutes, will be the final indicator of if he makes the NHL out of camp or not.
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And if the OEL-Hughes pairing sticks together, there’ll be even more room for Rathbone to do damage as a member of this defence group.