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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – VANCOUVER CANUCKS – Top 20 Prospect Profiles – Organizational Rank #22

Top 20 Vancouver Canucks Prospects

1. Jonathan Lekkerimaki

Lekkerimäki didn't have the smoothest post-draft season, but he's not the first or the last top prospect to experience that, especially among ones who still have a lot of physical development left to undergo. At his best he is an electrifying offensive winger, able to skate through or around traffic, control the puck at high speeds, and then beat a goalie with slick hands or a well-placed shot. Where he gets into trouble is in his lack of strength and resistance, as it isn’t hard right now for pro defenders to pin him to the boards, box him out of the slot, or otherwise neutralize him when they catch him. Conditioning can be a problem too, struggling to keep his engine running all game or through busy schedules. But once the training catches up to the talent, watch out. He finished his year on a high note , with postseason scoring totals that matched what he produced during the regular season.

2. Tom Willander

Willander’s rise up the draft rankings (including ours) was steady last year. Starting with a standout performance at the World Junior A Challenge and culminating with a steady showing at the U18’s, Willander made himself an attractive option to teams picking around where the Canucks ultimately selected him. One admirable element about Willander’s game is how consistent his decision making is with the puck. He has such a high panic threshold in the defensive end and he rarely gets hemmed in his own zone as he uses his feet and head-up approach to confidently clear the zone. One area of Willander’s game that really improved over the course of the season was his physical intensity level. He slowly became a defensive force and was very difficult to beat one-on-one. With a strong two-way base, good size, a right shot, and a high-end IQ, he has a chance to be a very good NHL defender. He will be taking a rather unorthodox route by attending Boston University next year and should be a standout right away at the NCAA level.

3. Aatu Raty

Räty has a reputation for swinging wildly between hot and cold, which dates back to his time in Finland's highest junior league and has now followed him all the way to British Columbia. It's a real shame too, because when he gets everything clicking in unison, he is legitimately one of the best prospects in the sport. He's at his best when the puck is on his stick and he's feeling determined and confident, maintaining possession in traffic, and making defenders look foolish by throwing them on his back, undressing them, or threading passes right through them. It remains a mystery why he has such a bad habit of taking his foot off the gas and being a passenger instead of a driver. Any coach that can light a consistent fire under him will look like a genius.

4. Jack Rathbone

Rathbone lost a lot of the momentum that he had going for him in 2021-22 and his point totals took a dramatic tumble. Vancouver's early struggles and desperate lineup turnover had ripple effects throughout the organization, and some players never fully regained their balance. The good news is that the Boston native is still wildly talented and should be more than fine in the long run. He is a premier puck-moving blueliner with plus offensive instincts, and that type of player is arguably more valuable in the NHL now than ever before. He manages opposing forechecks with his escapability since he doesn't have enough bulk to help him absorb a lot of hits. Vancouver will need to be careful with Rathbone next season, because he will require waivers to go to the AHL and a lot of teams would jump at the chance to acquire him for free.

5. Aidan McDonough

Convincing McDonough to sign with the team that drafted him instead of going the free agent route after college was a top priority for Vancouver, and they accomplished their mission. Promising him NHL games straightaway was a smart carrot to dangle, and he was rewarded for his loyalty to the team by scoring his first career goal in the show. He is a strong, shoot-first winger who is difficult to box out or tie up when he really wants to get to the net front. Staying with Northeastern for four seasons was a smart decision for the player, because that extra time in the gym allowed him to fill out his frame and improve his conditioning, two necessary gains that he should be easier to maintain moving forward. McDonough might have to start next season in the AHL, but some time down at that level won't stunt his long-term development or progress.

6. Hunter Brzustewicz

Brzustewicz requires many viewings to gain a proper appreciation for. He is far from flashy, but there is real value in his heads-up puck moving ability. Thanks to quick feet, he rarely gets trapped in his own end, making him a breakout machine. He was about as consistent as can be through his first OHL season and his leadership on the backend was one of the main reasons why Kitchener improved so drastically in the second half, enabling them to upset the Windsor Spitfires in round one of the OHL playoffs. His defensive play improved in the second half, too as he learned to use his mobility to put himself in better position to make defensive plays without elite physical tools. Of course, the real concern here is that Brzustewicz tops out as a really good junior defender, without a true role at the NHL level because his game lacks dynamic qualities. However, he’ll return to the OHL this season with an eye on improving his strength and projection, although it may be part of a new OHL organization with Kitchener set to rebuild.

7. Linus Karlsson

Karlsson transitioned quite nicely to North America in his first season, immediately slotting into a top six job in the AHL and eclipsing the 20-goal mark. That was what was expected, as an older prospect who has enjoyed a lot of professional success in Sweden beforehand, but it wasn't a guarantee. He is a Jack-of-all-trades forward who can play different forward positions, do damage as a shooter or a playmaker, handle and protect the puck well, and he doesn't usually sacrifice his defensive responsibilities to cheat for offense. Karlsson has been a go-to guy at times but might be better suited as more of a supporting piece. The Canucks acquired Karlsson from San Jose in exchange for Jonathan Dahlén, and since Dahlén played only one uneventful season with the Sharks before heading back to Europe, it's safe to assume that Vancouver is happy with how that transaction has worked out.

8. Arturs Silovs

Over the past few years, Silovs has played relatively little, even going back before the pandemic, but somehow it appears to have not really hindered his development, which can't be said for a lot of netminders in his age range. He's also one of the few pro-level prospects in the organization who maintained stability amid all the turbulence, and you always want to see unflappable composure in a goaltender. He has done a very good job taking the natural foundation provided by his huge frame and then stacking improvements in all areas on top. It's still not certain whether Silovs has what it takes to become a true NHL starter, but he has played well enough that the Canucks will now commit to try grooming him for that role.

9. Joni Jurmo

Jurmo is often the epitome of firewagon hockey and while it probably drives his coaches crazy, you can't deny that he's entertaining as hell to watch. Every time the big, mobile defenseman winds up behind his own net with the puck there is an exhilarating chance that something dramatic happens, though that could either be a highlight-reel-worthy rush that leads to a goal, or an utterly brutal turnover from close to his own net that leads to an easy goal against. While his macro game is high risk, high reward, his micro game and fine details are mostly riddled with concerns. It's difficult to rely on a blueliner too heavily when their puck management is not trustworthy. Still, Jurmo is worth continually investing development resources into due to the possibility that he can further utilize his fantastic raw tools to increase the good moments while significantly reducing the bad ones.

10. Josh Bloom

Acquired for depth defender Riley Stillman, Bloom has a chance to develop into a nice piece for the Canucks moving forward. He brings such great versatility to his coaches with his well-rounded game. Thanks to his strong skating base and high IQ, his mark is left all over the ice and he can excel in a variety of different roles. He can lead the charge on the counter-attack, playing an aggressive North/South game. He finds soft spots well in coverage that he can exploit as both a shooter and passer. Over his OHL career, Bloom also developed into a tremendous penalty killer, a role that he should be able to continue to fill at the pro level. Is he the most skilled or creative player? No, and that may ultimately cap his upside as a future NHL winger. We feel that Bloom is an underrated prospect who could make an immediate impact in Abbotsford this season as a first-year pro.

11. Elias Pettersson

The second coming of Elias Pettersson in Vancouver, this one is a mobile defender with the potential to develop into a standout in the defensive end. He’ll return to Sweden this year to play with Orebro and look to continue improving his play with the puck.

12. Danila Klimovich

At first glance, Klimovich’s production in the AHL last year was disappointing, but his 17 goals were tied for second on Abbotsford. He can really shoot the puck and he works hard to use his size to his advantage in that home plate area.

13. Jett Woo

After a weak rookie year with Abbotsford, Woo was much better as a sophomore last season. He may never reach the ceiling that was once prognosticated for him, but he can still be a quality NHL defender, likely in a third pairing, PK role because of his physicality and mobility.

14. Arshdeep Bains

The Canucks signed Bains out of Red Deer after he led the WHL in scoring in 2022. He proceeded to have a solid rookie year in the AHL. A well-rounded offensive player, there is a lot of hope that Bains can develop into a solid bottom six option for the Canucks in the future.

15. Akito Hirose

Signed out of Minnesota State late last year, Hirose was a pleasant surprise as he closed out the year with the Canucks. It’s clear that his high-end hockey sense and mobility will give him a chance of being a longtime pro. The primary remaining question is how well can he defend at the pro level?

16. Filip Johansson

A former first round selection of the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks signed the strong skating defender after the Wild elected not to sign him (a rarity). There is some concern that he’ll never defend well enough to be an NHL defender, but more will be known after his upcoming first AHL season.

17. Tristen Nielsen

Playing on an AHL deal with Abbotsford the last two seasons, the Canucks signed Nielsen this offseason after a strong 2022-23 year. He is a competitive, two-way center who brings versatility to a lineup. Like Arshdeep Bains, there is some hope that he can become a quality bottom six player in the future.

18. Kirill Kudryavtsev

There wasn’t a lot of hype attached to Kudryavtsev’s year in the OHL given his late round selection and how poor the Greyhounds were, however he nonetheless took a very nice step forward. He is continuing to refine his approach, improving the picking of spots to activate, while also improving in the defensive end.

19. Cole McWard

Signed out of Ohio State late last year, McWard finished the year with Vancouver and did not look out of place on the blueline. At the very least, he projects as a quality defensive player because of his size and mobility combination. More will be known about his upside this year over a full year of pro.

20. Max Sasson

Signed out of Western Michigan late last year, Sasson is a potential future bottom six center thanks to his strong two-way commitment. The offensive upside may ultimately be limited, but he could develop into a shutdown, PK type.