For the first time in three years, the Penticton Young Stars Tournament has come and gone, and it’s gone about as well for the host Vancouver Canucks as anyone could have imagined.
The Would-Be Canucks went 2-1-0 on the long weekend, despite being the only team in the tourney without any first round picks on the roster — and with a serious lack of apparent big league potential in general.
The Vancouver roster had just seven players under NHL contract, along with an additional three that had been drafted. The rest were either on AHL contracts or trying out for one, and yet the Not-Yet Canucks came together to defeat much more loaded lineups from Calgary and Winnipeg before falling to Edmonton in the final game.
Now, here’s what the organization’s success in Penticton doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that pundits have been wrong to criticize the Canucks’ lackluster prospect depth, or that the franchise cupboard has become “underrated.” It’s less a tournament, and more a collection of three exhibition games that might naturally favour those players with more pro experience, but less overall potential.
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It certainly doesn’t mean that the Canucks have better prospects than Calgary or Winnipeg, or that they have worse prospects than Edmonton, although all three of those things could be true.
In reflecting back on certain performances at Penticton events in the past, success at the Young Stars is not even necessarily a predictor of an individual’s success in Training Camp, nor of their long-term viability as a player.
Really, by itself, success at the Penticton Young Stars Tournament doesn’t mean much. But that doesn’t mean that this weekend was meaningless for the Canucks, and there’s still an awful lot of positivity to be wrought from what happened on the ice.
First and foremost on the “good vibes” report is the simple fact that those Canucks prospects who were expected to perform the best actually did perform the best. No one likes a let-down, and the Canucks’ very best prospects each stepped up in a big way.
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Danila Klimovich, the second-highest-drafted and highest-rated player present for the Baby Canucks, looked noticeably strong, taking charge all over the ice despite a continued lack of polish. Heading into his sophomore AHL season and still just 19 years old, Klimovich might have needed a confidence booster, and he found it in Penticton.
Linus Karlsson, getting his first action in North America after breaking Elias Pettersson’s rookie records in the SHL, also looked to be a step above the average tournament participant. That’s encouraging from someone whose potential has supposedly skyrocketed over the past year, but whose long-term viability as a prospect is still in question. If Karlsson was the real deal, one might expect him to dominate the younger players present in Penticton. He did exactly that.
The only other top-ten prospect there was goaltender Arturs Silovs, who put up a shutout in his first appearance and then had a tougher game against the Quasi-Oilers, though not one that could be blamed on him. In general, Silovs looked to be building on his coming-out showing at the 2022 World Championships, and poised to take over the crease in Abbotsford.
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Other notable new additions, like WHL free agent Arshdeep Bains and former Colorado Avalanche pick Nils Aman, stood out. Between those two and Karlsson, the Abbotsford Canucks might just have an entire second line already built.
If one had been asked to list the Canucks’ best prospects heading into the tournament and their best performers coming out of it, they would have ended up with almost exactly the same list. That’s great news for a number of reasons, but chief among them is depth. Some of these players — Karlsson and Aman in particular — are on the list of call-ups-in-waiting for the Canucks in 2022/23. If they were truly prepared for NHL action, one would expect them to perform at a lower level of competition like they were ready to move beyond it. Karlsson and Aman each looked more than ready for the next level.
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It’s also fantastic news for the Abbotsford coaching staff, who look to be heading into the year with some pre-established chemistry and momentum on their side. Players who will play together all year gaining confidence together is never a bad thing, and the Jr. Canucks getting off to a hot start would be welcome by all.
Speaking of Abbotsford, the franchise may have even come out of the tournament with a new contracted player in the fold. After making his rookie pro debut in Abbotsford last season, Tristen Nielsen continued to turn heads in Penticton with his relentless drive and effort. There are many in the local mediasphere who believe he’s already earned an NHL deal, and if he gets one, that’s just one more piece of quality (and freely-acquired) depth.
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And if there’s one more positive that deserves to be drawn out here — and if you’ll forgive us being a bit corny — it’s that the tournament actually happened. As we mentioned at the outset, it’s been three long years since the Young Stars descended upon the city of Penticton. That’s three years in which the majority of players at Canucks Camp had to leave without ever having put on a Vancouver jersey in game action. That’s three years without all the on-ice experience and off-ice bonding and fan interactions and all the other great stuff that always comes with this tournament.
It’s hard not to see the Penticton Young Stars Tournament as a universally positive endeavour for each and every prospect present, but especially those brought there by the Canucks. Here’s to hoping that it can remain an annual fixture in the Okanagan, and that the Canucks can continue to start their seasons on a similarly positive note.
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