We saw a lot of ups and downs last season for the Vancouver Canucks’ minor league affiliate in their inaugural season.
The Abbotsford Canucks had a lot of exciting moments at the Abbotsford Centre and put together a strong lineup that unfortunately couldn’t do anything in the playoffs and were swept in the play-in round.
Even with the outing in the first round of postseason play, Abbotsford accomplished a lot on and off the ice. They are now establishing themselves as a part of the Fraser Valley community and showed that they provide a very high level of exciting hockey.
Now, Abbotsford has a new boss behind the bench as former Chicago Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton has taken over head coaching duties. The 37-year-old Colliton is given a good mix of AHL talent to work with and expectations should once again be high for the Abbotsford Canucks as they roll into their sophomore season.
We wanted to project what to expect for a lineup in Abbotsford on opening night. As I learned last year from my conversations with Trent Cull, who is now assistant coach of the Vancouver Canucks and former head coach of the Abbotsford Canucks — an AHL lineup can change every six hours with how the AHL works. We have a basic idea of who is available to select for this lineup but there will obviously be movement with whatever happens to the NHL team.
Let’s project what we expect to see in Abbotsford on night one and give a quick thought or two about the line or pairing.
Line 1: Phil Di Giuseppe – Sheldon Dries – Will Lockwood
This line had some time together last season and likely has the three most NHL-ready players in the lineup.
This line has an abundance of speed and skill at the AHL level. Will Lockwood needs to find more offence to become an NHL regular and putting him up with two of the most skilled players on the AHL roster gives him the best opportunity to generate offensive confidence.
Phil Di Giuseppe and Sheldon Dries are top-tier AHL players and we expect them to put up big numbers and be point-per-game players if they spend significant time in the AHL this season.
Line 2: Justin Dowling – John Stevens – Linus Karlsson
Coming off a career year that saw him put up 43 points in 68 games, John Stevens will centre a line with AHL-NHL tweener Justin Dowling and exciting prospect Linus Karlsson.
This trio has two trusted veterans who are responsible in their own zone and that should help Karlsson make the adjustment to the North American professional game. Stevens was one of the most underrated players last season in Abbotsford and he took a huge step in the offensive end of the ice where his production more than doubled his previous career high in points.
Expect to see all three of these forwards being given some penalty-killing time as well. This is a nice two-way second line that will compliment the speed and skill of their first line.
Line 3: Arshdeep Bains – Nils Åman – Danila Klimovich
The third line will be full of youngsters as first-year pro Arshdeep Bains teams up with newcomer Nils Åman and 19-year-old Danila Klimovich.
If Åman decides to go to the AHL, he could really push for a top-six role with this team. They may end up using him as the 2C but I see him sliding down to 3C and cementing what could be a very exciting start to Abbotsford’s bottom-six.
Klimovich shows so much potential, and I like the idea of him being lined up across from Bains and his high-end hockey sense. Åman skates with a ton of pace and this trio has the potential to perform well against other AHL bottom-six lines.
Line 4: Vincent Arseneau – Chase Wouters – Marc Gatcomb
This is a solid AHL fourth line. In the small sample size, we liked the speed, size, and aggressiveness of Marc Gatcomb. There might even be more offence to his game but he knows the role that this team wants him to play and he can execute on a physical fourth line.
Vincent Arseneau is the heart and soul of this team. The dude is a leader when it comes to creating momentum for the Abbotsford Canucks and will drop the gloves with anybody at any time. He’s a great protector of the youth in Abbotsford. With Arseneau in the lineup, opponents don’t often take runs at the young talent on this team.
As for the centre, Chase Wouters really impressed us last season with how he progressed in his rookie season. We would love to see his game grow into something that may end up having NHL fourth-line potential. His work in the faceoff dot and the defensive zone was impressive. Wouters is also willing to drop the gloves if he needs to stick up for a teammate.
Extra Forwards: Tristen Nielsen, Yushiroh Hirano, Carson Focht, Karel Plasek, Matt Alfaro
There’s some depth to the lineup with these five forwards being available.
First off, I think Tristen Nielsen really impressed last year but I couldn’t find a spot in my lineup for him. He would be the 13th forward in my eyes as he can play both wing and centre. Nielsen had a hat trick last season and really impressed at the scrimmage during development camp. He has breakaway speed and if he can continue to work on his finishing, he will be a nice depth piece for Abbotsford.
You can get some scoring on the wing from both Yushiroh Hirano and Karel Plasek.
Hirano has a wicked shot but not the best pace.
Plasek battled injury for most of last season but has shown good hands in the past. We’d like to see Plasek stay healthy and try to work his way into the lineup this season.
Carson Focht didn’t look great last season but had a couple of games where he was arguably the best Abbotsford Canuck. He isn’t making the cut for our top-12 forwards right now but he has the option to play both wing and centre. Focht is still very young and showed well in his rookie AHL season two years ago. Let’s see if he has improved at all because if he has, he could be a good piece in Abbotsford’s bottom six.
Matt Alfaro had a short run with the Abbotsford Canucks last season. He played 13 games and scored four goals to go along with his three assists. He is a fine AHL depth piece and a former USPORTS athlete with the University of Calgary Dinos.
1st Pair: Jack Rathbone – Noah Juulsen
Yeah, I’ve got Jack Rathbone starting the season in the AHL because I don’t believe that he will beat out Travis Dermott to be the defenceman who plays on the left side of the third pairing.
This pairing of Rathbone and Noah Juulsen will be elite at the AHL level and I’m expecting to see Rathbone really push for the NHL and be the first defenceman called up regardless of which of Vancouver’s starting six defencemen gets injured first.
It would sure be cool to see the Abbotsford Canucks name Abbotsford-born Juulsen as the team’s first captain. I also think that Stevens or Arseneau are good calls to wear the ‘C’. It would be nice to see the team have a captain this year. Juulsen plays at a high level and would be a cool choice to be captain. The only worry I have here is that Juulsen is likely to see some NHL action next season. He held his own last year in eight NHL appearances.
If this pairing begins the season together, they will be one of the best defence pairings in the AHL.
2nd Pair: Christian Wolanin – Brady Keeper
Here’s to hoping that Brady Keeper has made a full recovery from his broken leg that occurred at last year’s training camp. If healthy — and we expect him to be healthy. — Keeper will bring physicality and solid AHL puck-moving ability to the top-four.
Christian Wolanin is a 27-year-old veteran who has 70 NHL games under his belt and should be a nice boost to the defence corps.
3rd Pair: Wyatt Kalynuk – Guillaume Brisebois/Jett Woo
Wyatt Kalynuk is another veteran AHL defenceman that Abbotsford has brought into the fold. He had seven goals and 20 assists in 52 games last season with the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate. Kalynuk is 25 years old and has played in 26 NHL games — he has four goals in those 26 NHL games.
On the right side, it will be a combination of Guillaume Brisebois, who is coming into his sixth season with the Canucks’ AHL team. Maybe he’s an option for the captaincy. Brisebois has the ability to play the right side in a pinch and he could very easily be used over Jett Woo if head coach Jeremy Colliton is looking to simply ice the best six defencemen that he has on his roster.
Jett Woo is an option here or he might be used on the second pairing if Keeper isn’t able to find the form that he showed before he broke his leg at last year’s training camp. Woo really took a step back after injuring himself in January. You hope to see him be one of the top-six defencemen and be a player who is used on opening night. Unfortunately, with the additions of Kalynuk, Wolanin, and Keeper — the defence group is pretty loaded with good AHL talent. It’s not for sure that Woo is one of the six defencemen used on night one.
Extra Defencemen: Alex Kannok Leipert, Quinn Schmiemann, Chad Nychuk, Filip Johansson*
Alex Kannok Leipert is a nice seventh defenceman who is improving and has the ability to play wing as well as both sides of the defence. He’s a better option than Woo as a forward. He does a good job on the forecheck and is more physical as a forward. He is aggressive and we like him as both a defenceman and a winger.
Quinn Schmiemann and Chad Nychuk are both left-handed first-year pros coming out of the WHL. Nychuk really impressed us with his puck-possession skills at development camp and he led the WHL in goals from a defenceman last season with 21 goals in 64 games.
As for Schmiemann, he was an early offseason signing of the Abbotsford Canucks and captained the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers. Schmiemann had a quieter development camp than Nychuk but we were at least intrigued by both and will be excited when they draw into Abbotsford’s lineup.
Filip Johansson would surprise us if he stayed in the AHL instead of going back to Sweden to play in the SHL. He didn’t really stick out at development camp. If I’m being honest, I forgot that he was even in attendance most days. We would like to see him in North America because of him being a position of need as a right-shot defenceman, but expect him to be back in the SHL for at least one more year. The Canucks signed him to a two-year deal.
Collin Delia, Arturs Silovs, Mikey DiPietro*
We’re expecting Mikey DiPietro to be traded before night one of the AHL season so it looks like the crease is going to belong to Collin Delia and Arturs Silovs.
We want to see Silovs push for starts this season and with the AHL schedule having so many back-to-backs and weekend games, Silovs should get at least 40% of the starts this season. If he is able to outplay Delia, that would be a massive step in his development.
Having Silovs surpass Delia as the starter would be the perfect outcome in Abbotsford’s crease this season.
There’s still a chance that DiPietro is a Canuck when the season begins. That would make things very interesting as he might be the starter based on pure skill. If DiPietro is around, it’s likely that Silovs heads to the ECHL on a loan as Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin confirmed to our own David Quadrelli that the club does not plan to run three goalies in Abbotsford this season.
We’re hoping to see 28+ starts for Silovs next season and that will mean that he started more than 40% of Abbotsford’s games. That would be very difficult if DiPietro is in the equation. At the same time, if DiPietro is still here on the roster, he showed well during the later parts of the season and could have a wild comeback with the organization. It’s going to be tough though, his agent has already been given the ability to talk to other teams in an attempt to facilitate a trade.
We expect to see Delia and Silovs sharing the crease with the hopes that Silovs can push for and ultimately become the starter by the end of this season.