Canucks prospects: Who’s ready for an NHL job next season?

A handful of Canucks prospects appear ready for the limelight, with a couple having already shone on the big stage. It was a season of tremendous success, but change is still coming to the Vancouver Canucks lineup. What that change looks like largely depends on what the organization does in free agency. With nine UFA’s and two RFA’s to consider — and the open free agent market to sort through — there’s work to be done for GM Patrik Allvin and Co. But it won’t just be new signings competing for those coveted spots come training camp. A handful of Canucks prospects appear ready for the limelight, with a couple having already shone on the big stage. So let’s take a look at who is the most ready to snag that elusive NHL job next season:

Jonathan Lekkerimaki

His inclusion as a Black Ace during the Canucks’ playoff run raised eyebrows. Could Jonathan Lekkerimaki, the 19-year-old sharpshooter who had yet to play an NHL game, actually suit up in the pressure-packed post-season?

The answer ended up being no, but head coach Rick Tocchet apparently had to think about it. ‘I’m swinging the bat. I’m not scared.’ – Tocchet speaking further on the possibility of Lekkerimaki. Isn’t saying he’s in but makes it clear he’s really thinking about it.

What Lekkerimaki would’ve potentially brought — and what he can bring next season — is a scoring option like no other in the pipeline. The 2022 first-rounder has a world-class wrist shot that helped him bag 19 goals in 46 SHL games this past season. Lekkerimaki was also named the World Junior MVP after scoring seven goals in seven games at the premier showcase event in January. Lekkerimaki looked like a right-handed Markus Naslund here. The Huddinge product even played a half dozen AHL games with Abbotsford a few months ago, scoring once and adding an assist. And it’s not just the shot. The 5-foot-11, 172-pound right-shot winger distributes the puck well and always seems to have a read on the play in front of him. Coming off a tough post-draft season, Lekkerimaki told Postmedia he was “more explosive, faster and bigger” in September. He wasn’t kidding. The plan is for the Canucks’ top prospect to learn the North American game in Abbotsford next season, but all bets are off if he starts popping off in the pre-season.

Linus Karlsson

Consistency. Reliability. You know what you’re getting with Linus Karlsson — the 24-year-old rookie who Tocchet trusted enough to insert into the playoff lineup against the Oilers. And what you’re getting is a responsible 200-foot player who is good along the boards, can absorb contact while making plays and has soft, underrated hands.

“It’s hard to jump into the playoffs and play like that. This guy was f***** unreal for us all night,” Conor Garland said after Game 3 when giving the game puck to Karlsson. From Garly to Karly! Game 3 puck goes to the Linus Karlsson.👏

It’s no surprise that Tocchet likes what Karlsson brings to the forward group. He’s a ‘wall guy’, after all. “I like the fact he’s a guy our organization needs,” Tocchet said in early December after Karlsson played his first few games with the big club. “He is a sticky guy … if his job is to get to the wall and get into a defenceman, he’ll do it.” Karlsson has been a consistent producer in his first two seasons in Abbotsford, scoring at a point-a-game pace with 60 points (23G, 37A) in 60 games last season to lead the team in scoring. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound right-shot winger still needs to improve his skating and get stronger, but Karlsson’s well-rounded game and scoring potential make him an intriguing option.

Aatu Raty

If it wasn’t apparent following the blockbuster trade that brought him to Abbotsford late last season, it should be now: Aatu Raty is a quality organizational piece. The versatile centre/winger may just employ the most professional game of those in the pipeline. Raty, still just 21, has exceptional vision, passing, and 200-foot awareness, while upping his slick offensive game with 52 points (18G, 34A) in 72 games.

Good things happen when the puck’s on his stick.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound forward was even better in the playoffs for Abbotsford, notching two goals and two assists in six games while lining up against the opposition’s best. HEADS UP: RÄTY INCOMING.

A natural centre who played a lot as a winger this season, Raty gives a coaching staff options when inserted into the lineup. Could he be a fit on the fourth line next season? Judging by his progress the past season and a half, it could happen.

Arshdeep Bains

We all wanted it to work. The local undrafted kid, coming off an MVP appearance at the AHL All-Star game and play his first few games with the team he grew up cheering for. Storybook, right?

But what we saw with Arshdeep Bains’ performance in Vancouver this season (8GP, 0G, 0A, -5) was a skilled player not quite ready for the big show. Bains, 23, looked a little out of sync. Even so, the Surrey product earned some glorious chances and nearly buried a couple of them.

There’s nothing like experience, however, and the 6-foot, 183-pound left-shot winger with the silky smooth hands would like to get those mitts on another opportunity next season.

“Every shift, you don’t know if it’s going to bite you in the bum if you make a mistake and at the same time you’ve got to be able to make plays and play your game,” Bains said after a 3-2 win against Boston at Rogers Arena in late February. “So it’s just finding that balance … I’m learning a lot from the guys on the team and how they play.” Bains earned every minute he played in Vancouver. He was the MVP in Abbotsford this past season, notching 55 points (16G, 39A) in 57 regular season games, and followed that up with two goals and two assists in six playoff games. He leaves it all on the ice, each and every night! 💙 Arshdeep Bains is this season’s Most Valuable Player!

Arturs Silovs

Well, duh. It’s hard to consider Arturs Silovs a prospect anymore, after the 23-year-old shocked the hockey world with his playoff heroics. But that’s the world we live in now — one in which the lanky Latvian should be a shoe-in for the backup spot behind Thatcher Demko.

It’s not just the results with Silovs, it’s how calmly and coolly he achieved them — creating that all-important trust with his NHL teammates. He’s got their back, as he showed last season in Abbotsford en route to being named team MVP with a 2.44 goals-against-average and a 26-12-5 record. And while his AHL numbers weren’t as strong this past season, the soft-spoken goaltender’s play in Vancouver did all the talking, with a 2.47 GAA and a 3-0-1 regular season record before going 5-5 in his first taste of the playoffs.

“It was a great opportunity for me,” said Silovs, a restricted free agent, during the player exit interviews. “It was phenomenal to get all the experience and there are always things to improve, but for a goalie it’s more of a mental game. “It’s being calm and composed. It makes your game a lot easier.” Silovs can make Demko’s game easier, too, by taking some of the workload off the often-injured starter’s shoulders.

Vasily Podkolzin

The Podkolzin plan has been in effect since late last season. It’ll be evident if it’s working in training camp. Vasily Podkolzin’s demotion to Abbotsford last season came with a message: move your feet, get to the net and quit playing not to make mistakes. When brought back to Vancouver midway though this past season, the results were mixed. While Podkolzin brought energy and a forechecking presence to the bottom six, he too often looked like a systems player not playing by instinct.

No goals in 19 games would speak to that.

The organization wants the 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-shot winger to be a bull in a china shop. We’ve seen flashes of it, but need more from the Moscow product who scored 14 goals in his rookie season just two years ago. And Podkolzin did pot 15 goals in Abbotsford this past season, so it’s not like he’s lost his scoring touch altogether. Two power play goals for Vasily Podkolzin tonight. 🚨🚨 Great little pass from Aatu Räty in tight.

There’s no reminding the Vancouver fan base that Podkolzin plays with a ton of heart and is well-liked in the locker room. But hockey is a results-oriented business. Doubly so on a team expected to be a Stanley Cup contender next season. We’ll see if Podkolzin can pull his game back together and be the force the Canucks thought they were drafting with the 10th overall pick in 2019.

Source: Vancouver SUN