3 Canucks prospects off to flying starts in college and junior this season

Nov 14 2019, 4:31 pm

Being one of the worst clubs in the NHL for the past four seasons had better yield some impactful young pieces. Fortunately for the Vancouver Canucks, they’ve hit a few home runs and have already graduated them in Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes.

Their top 2019 selections of Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander will eat up much of the ink as they work their way towards Vancouver, however, this is a pipeline that has several interesting prospects coming from outside the top two rounds.

Let’s catch up on three of them that have been excelling lately:

Jack Rathbone (Harvard, NCAA)

Position: Defenceman
Age: 20
Size: 5-foot-10, 176 pounds
Stats: 3 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 PTS

Sophomore defenceman Jack Rathbone has taken the path less travelled in his hockey career.

The Massachusetts native was a standout in the high-school prep circuit for Dexter Academy, captaining the team, and his 16 goals and 35 points in 23 contests during his draft year in 2016-17 season. It led to him being named to the US High-School All-USA Hockey First Team and a selection by the Canucks in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft.

However, instead of heading straight to college that fall, the smooth-skating rearguard decided to stay at home for one more season to be close to his family – specifically Rathbone’s younger brother who lives with autism and who he has a close bond with.

This delay in his transition to school resulted in him being a little older and a little wiser as a freshman a season ago. The results were evidence of the correct decision having been made. He formed an immediate connection with Hobey Baker finalist and now New York Rangers defenceman Adam Fox, and was named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team.

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This season with Fox gone, Rathbone has become everything for the Crimson on the blueline. And he’s been rewarding the club with their trust in him.

Through three games, the 20-year-old has racked up three goals and six points. He’s accomplished that by being aggressive with his high-end skating and showcasing the transitional play that fans will fawn over.

Harvard has played far fewer games than most NCAA squads, but early on, Rathbone leads all defencemen in points-per-game (2.0) and has been making an impact all over the rink.

With his blend of speed, smarts, and intelligence, the 5-foot-10, 176-pound blueliner should think long and hard whether it’s time to turn pro at the conclusion of this season and begin his foray up the ladder towards Vancouver. That said, Ivy League players often stick around for a season or two longer than they may need in hopes of securing a degree.

The Canucks own his rights until August 15, 2022, so there is little reason to concern ourselves with any possibility of him choosing unrestricted free-agency over signing with the organization.

Tyler Madden (Northeastern, NCAA)

Position: Centre
Age: 20
Size: 5-foot-11, 152 pounds
Stats: 10 GP, 6 G, 4 A, 10 PTS

Sticking in the college circuit, Vancouver’s 2018 third-round selection has continued his ascension towards elite prospect status. Tyler Madden, a 20-year-old pivot, was a pleasant surprise last season – quickly becoming the straw that stirred the drink for the University of Northeastern.

A sizeable role on the US World Junior team, scoring the Beanpot overtime winner, and leading the charge for exceptional goal celebrations highlighted his freshman campaign.

Expectations were justifiably raised heading into his sophomore season and three pointless outings to begin the year were deafening in their silence.

Since then, the talented and tenacious centre has recorded six goals and 10 points in seven games, including his last outing (on his birthday) where he potted a goal, added two helpers, and put nine shots on goal.

It was the dominant performance that we’ve been waiting for.

There was chatter that the American would leave school after last season, but the decision was made to have him return to the Huskies and continue to develop while adding strength to his slight 5-foot-11, 155-pound frame.

It is expected he will be another player with aspirations of joining the Utica Comets at the conclusion of Northeastern’s season.

Carson Focht (Calgary, WHL)

Position: Centre
Age: 19
Size: 6-foot-0, 181 pounds
Stats: 16 GP, 11 G, 7 A, 18 PTS

Here stands a player who will continue attempting to beat the odds. Carson Focht was passed over in the 2018 NHL Draft after producing limited numbers. However, he discovered another gear in the back half of the 2018-19 season and the 19-year-old was rewarded with a fifth-round selection by the Canucks.

Early on in 2019-20, the 6-foot, 185-pound centre has been rewarding the Canucks for taking a chance on him. With 18 points in 16 games for the Hitmen, he places among the top-20 U20 producers in the WHL this season. His 11 goals jump him into the top five on a per-game basis.

Focht is a high-energy pivot who can adapt to the style of play like a chameleon. Up a goal late and needing to hold the fort? He’s your man. Down a couple and looking to rev up the firewagon? He can hang.

This ability, coupled with his play over the last eight months has put him in a promising position to earn a spot as a utility player for the Canadian World Junior team. That would be a splendid feather in the cap of a player who many deemed irrelevant not too long ago.