The Vancouver Canucks have a deep prospect pool right now that has a lot of players on the cusp of breaking into the professional ranks. We hope that many of them will go on to successful NHL careers with at least one Stanley Cup in their future, ideally with the Canucks. So without further ado, here are the top five prospects playing outside of the American Hockey League (AHL) right now.
5. Marc Michaelis
2019-20 Team: Minnesota State U – Mankato (NCAA)
2019-20 Stats: 31 GP – 20 G – 24 A – 44 PTS
German-born Marc Michaelis is the latest player to join the exciting pool of prospects the Canucks are putting together right now. After the success they have had with Troy Stecher and Brogan Rafferty, why not dip into the college ranks again?
Michaelis will be an interesting prospect to watch next season as he transitions to the pro game. He’s already 24-years-old with a lot of experience playing with and against men, having participated in multiple World Championships with Team Germany. Additionally, he played the full four years at Minnesota State University and was team captain for two of them. He also finished in the top ten for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to the NCAA’s most outstanding player.
After losing Tyler Madden in the trade for Tyler Toffoli, the Canucks needed to replenish their depth at the center ice position. Michaelis doesn’t have the same potential he does, but he could develop into a very effective energy player who can kill penalties and provide some offensive pop on the third and fourth lines. His leadership, playmaking, versatility and overall two-way game was why they decided to add him to the fold.
The other part to his game is his attention to detail is very good. We think that with our group moving forward when he’s ready to play like he’ll be a penalty killer for us too because he’s good defensively. He’s always on the right side of the puck. He’s a smart two-way player that plays a 200-foot game.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning
Michaelis may never develop into more than a call-up option for the Canucks, but you never know what could happen in this league. Undrafted players seem to have a knack for finding success with the Canucks, so don’t be surprised to see him make an impact either in the NHL or AHL next season.
4. Jett Woo
2019-20 Team: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
2019-20 Stats: 64 GP – 7 G – 39 A – 46 PTS
Jett Woo had a monstrous second half of the season racking up 19 points in 22 games after my midseason prospect update at the beginning of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the rest of the 2019-20 season, so we will never know how many more points he could have put up in the remaining games. After starting out slowly in his first season with the Hitmen, he found a way to turn it around, so that bodes well for his future as he looks to turn pro in 2020-21.
Woo’s propensity for offence and the physical game is what got him ranked as high as 26th in the 2018 Draft. The Canucks ended up selecting him 37th overall in the second round. His Western Hockey League production may not translate to the NHL, but he will provide that old-school defensive game along with solid mobility, a bit of offence and impressive hockey IQ as well.
As I have said before, Woo’s style could be the perfect complement to the offensive wizard that is Quinn Hughes. Think Chris Tanev with more potential for offence, which we already know is the type of partner that has thrived alongside him.
Woo will probably start in the AHL with the Utica Comets, but he is definitely one to watch in 2020-21 as he forges his way into the professional game. The competition for spots will be fierce in training camp as he will have to outperform fellow prospects Brogan Rafferty and Olli Juolevi to even have a chance at a roster spot with the Canucks.
3. Jack Rathbone
2019-20 Team: Harvard University (NCAA)
2019-20 Stats: 28 GP – 7 G – 24 A – 31 PTS
Jack Rathbone continued to impress in his sophomore season at Harvard University. His skating, offensive instincts, and exceptional transition game were on full display many times during the season, proving that he’s a legitimate NHL prospect. Not many fourth-round picks make it to the NHL, which makes what he’s doing even more impressive. So much so, that experts are taking notice.
Outside of his skating, Rathbone’s most impressive skill is his transitional play. It’s also a skill that will help facilitate his elevation to the professional ranks. Rathbone already boasts NHL-level outlet passes. His awareness on the ice, coupled with a soft touch, makes him a threat to bomb lengthy passes at any moment.
If you didn’t know any better, you would think that he was describing Hughes, who was chosen in the first round. That’s not just impressive, that’s mind-blowing. With the lack of defensive depth the Canucks have on the left side, Rathbone could be seen in the NHL as soon as 2020-21. But before that can happen, he will have to sign a contract. Understandably, that has been put on the back burner for him as the pandemic is taking center stage.
The Canucks have expressed interest (in having me turn pro) and that’s something I’m really excited about because it means I’m taking the right steps. But honestly, with everything going and how chaotic things are, and school stopping and hockey coming to an abrupt end like it has, my family and I just didn’t feel this is the right time to make that decision. It just didn’t feel right. We’re going to make that decision later on.
Regardless of when he decides to sign, it will be well worth the wait as we will get to see two dynamic defencemen patrol the Canucks’ blueline for years to come. Couple that with the exciting offensive forwards coming up next, the future is looking very bright indeed.
2. Nils Hoglander
2019-20 Team: Rogle BK (SweHL)
2019-20 Stats: 41 GP – 9 G – 7 A – 16 PTS
Now we get to the main event, the top two prospects the Canucks have outside the AHL. First, it’s Nils Hoglander, who impressed the world with Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship. He not only dominated with his soft hands and NHL-ready shot, but he also scored the goal of the tournament when he used his creativity to execute a lacrosse-style goal. That goal propelled him to 11 points in seven games, which included five goals.
Hoglander returned to Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League and ended the season with nine goals and 16 points in 41 games. Now he will look to turn pro in 2020-21 with the Canucks. The excitement should be at a fever pitch after witnessing what he did in Sweden and the World Juniors this season. He scored two lacrosse goals, and showcased an offensive ability that should translate nicely to the NHL level. His size may be an issue, but the fact that he’s strong on his skates and possesses excellent edges should make that a moot point.
Hoglander did go into a bit of a slump at the end of the season, only scoring two points in 14 games. But as Rogle’s general manager Chris Abbott stated,
…This is a tough league to get points, he is playing against men and is only 19. I am very happy with his development.
I don’t think we need to worry about Hoglander. He probably won’t dominate the league like Pettersson did in his rookie season, but he will have his moments, especially if he ends up playing on the power play and in the top-six. Expect a solid 30-40 points out of him, and a great NHL career in the future. His speed, creativity, work ethic, and overall offensive game will help make that happen.
1. Vasili Podkolzin
2019-20 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
2019-20 Stats: 30 GP – 2 G – 6 A – 8 PTS
Don’t look now, but Vasili Podkolzin is only one season away from joining the Canucks, and he’s finally starting to perform in the KHL. After struggling to gain a footing with SKA St. Petersburg at the beginning of the season, he finally got some regular ice time and more importantly started to produce some offence.
It took Podkolzin a while, but at long last, he had his first goal in the KHL, and it was scored in traditional Podkolzian fashion, driving hard to the net. Then less than 48 hours later, he scored again, making it two goals in two straight games. That performance earned him KHL Rookie of the Week honours.
Then Podkolzin turned his attention to the playoffs and continued to produce scoring one goal and three points in four games. His confidence must be high right now, especially after a strong showing at the World Junior Championships, then another impressive run in the KHL. Too bad the playoffs got cut short due to the pandemic because he was on quite a run before that. Who knows what he could have done if it continued.
Regardless, it seems like Podkolzin has turned a corner in his development and the goals are starting to go in for him. As he prepares for his final season in the KHL, let’s just hope that SKA St Petersberg’s coaching staff keeps giving him the ice time to succeed. If so, he will be more than ready for the NHL in 2021-22, and when that day comes, Canucks Nation will be waiting with open arms.