Whether it’s Bruce Boudreau for reasons of job security or whether it’s owner Francesco Aquilini for reasons of added gate and revenue, it’s more pressing for some people in the Vancouver Canucks organization than others to see the team make the playoffs this season. Likely mandatory in the case of the coach(es), based on what upper management has previously indicated.
This obviously affects line-up decisions and it organically impacted defence prospect Jack Rathbone directly. It’s an age-old NHL prospect quandary.
If the situation is different, and the team has written off playoff hopes and began reorganizing for the future, Rathbone is a regular in the line-up and his development opportunity unbridled. Instead, before being sent down to the American Hockey League to get ice time, his NHL opportunities were limited this season. Yes he made mistakes, yes he seemed ill-equipped in figuring out the NHL game in moments, but how often was he playing in a constant state of stick-grip, a do-or-die situation that made it easy for him to be removed from the line-up.
Given its current state of ongoing desperation, the team couldn’t afford to have him making mistakes. The club is just good enough to try to keep a playoff effort going at this stage of the season and the whole idea of being in business is to win as much as possible and sell tickets.
So instead, this 23-year-old ‘top prospect’ languished as a healthy scratch, playing a grand total of six NHL games, picking up one assist and firing seven shots on goal. He averaged just more than 15-minutes per match.
If the Canucks brass feel he’s truly incapable, that he’s just an “organizational player”, then set him free. If they think he’s still worthy of a serious look, then damn the torpedoes, give him a look. It’s not exactly as if the Canucks are stacked with depth along the blueline although they do have plenty of bodies.
If they don’t want another Quinn Hughes-like player on the left-side — who wouldn’t in the NHL this day and age — then cut him loose. As long as you balance out your blueline size and ‘enforcement’ with other personnel for playoff purposes, see the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche, there’s no reason Hughes and Rathbone couldn’t co-exist and flourish.
That’s if the club still believes the latter is capable.
Vancouver Hockey Insider ran into Rathbone during the team’s festive little trip to Vegas at the end of November. Let’s just say, especially after mostly sitting around for six weeks, he didn’t seem at all a happy camper. Pissed off might best describe it. He didn’t play against the Golden Knights on the 26th, he didn’t play against the San Jose Sharks on the 27th, and he was sent down to the AHL on the 28th. Maybe he knew that was coming.
Rathbone has proven himself at the American Hockey League level. He has three assists in four games since being sent down. Last season, despite an injury that kept him out a month, he carried the Abbotsford Canucks to a postseason berth with 40 points in 39 games.
Right now he’s simply getting ice time and keeping his game in shape. Not ideal for the player, not a bad situation for the club. He signed a two-year contract averaging $850,000 a season in NHL money back on July 1st.
That’s a pretty good deal for the Canucks if they can continue to convince Rathbone to ‘wait and see’. Not a good deal for Rathbone if he’s tired of waiting. There could be a full-time NHL gig at stake, and for that money to become more money in his next deal, Rathbone needs some ice time in the ‘big show’.
At some point, he’ll ask for a trade.