To say the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect pipeline is bleak would be an understatement. Among the pile of late-round draft picks and struggling junior players, Jack Rathbone stands out as a potential impact NHL player. The crafty defender has been a riser in the Canucks organization, playing nine games with the big club last season before finishing the season in the AHL.
With the recent announcement that Rathbone and the Canucks have come to terms on a two-year, one-way contract, the 23-year-old defender is going to be given every opportunity to play a full season in Vancouver. While he had a rough nine-game stint last year in the NHL, he performed much better in the AHL and will look to carry over that performance to this year.
This season will be big for the Canucks to evaluate Rathbone and get a better idea of his big-picture fit in the organization. Is the Massachuttes native a future stalwart on the blueline or is his skillset too redundant and the Canucks would be better off recouping assets to use elsewhere?
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Breaking down Rathbone’s game

By this point in time, many Canucks fans are familiar with Rathbone’s playstyle. He’s a prototypical modern NHL defenceman as he relies on his skating and smarts more than brute physicality to be effective. He can also create offence from the backend in a jiffy, recording 40 points in just 39 games last season with the Abbotsford Canucks.
Rathbone is a smooth skater with a good eye for the game. He is equally adept at making a long stretch pass to jumpstart the attack as he is skating the puck himself. As the NHL continues to get quicker and faster, Rathbone’s skill set is perfectly suited to the direction of the league.
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The Canucks have been patient with Rathbone, letting him develop his skills at lower levels instead of rushing him into an NHL job. During his 17 NHL games, he has looked overmatched at times on the defensive side of the game, but that’s fairly typical of any young defenceman. As he continues to mature and gain experience, Rathbone can develop the toolbox to become a solid defender, though he will never be a team’s shutdown guy.

What opportunity will Rathbone get?

There will be a chance for Rathbone to seize a full-time position in the Vancouver defence group. He plays on the left side and could slot in on the third-pairing to start the season, perhaps with Travis Dermott, Tucker Poolman, or a player that has yet to join the organization.
One impediment to Rathbone putting up eye-popping numbers will be the other great puck-moving defencemen already on the roster. Quinn Hughes is one of the most electric players in the league at any position and will be next to impossible to knock off the top power-play unit. If he does get bumped, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his 171 career power-play points will be next in line.
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Another issue that Rathbone might face is that his strengths and weaknesses are too similar to Hughes’. If the Canucks feel like they need to be more stable defensively, meaner, or are just worried about having multiple undersized defencemen in the lineup, Rathbone might be replaced with a bigger option. This could mean he misses some games against the more physical teams such as the Minnesota Wild.

Projecting a stat line for Rathbone

Making the transition to the NHL isn’t an easy job for anyone, especially offensive-minded defencemen. That’s part of the reason why Quinn Huges making the professional ranks look no more difficult than college is so impressive. Canucks fans need to temper their expectations with Rathbone and give him the time he needs to become an impact player.
Because of the lack of power-play time, Rathbone will likely struggle to put up points. If he manages to stay with the Canucks for 82 games, a conservative estimate for Rathbone next season might be 2 goals and 10 assists for 12 points. A more successful season would see Rathbone finish with 8 goals and 25 assists for 33 points. 
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At the end of the day, Rathbone proving that he’s an everyday NHL player and staying in the lineup for 82 games would be a win. He’s still at the beginning of his career and is the brightest prospect in the Canucks system.
What do you want to see from Jack Rathbone next season? How many points would he need to get for his season to be considered a success?