The Vancouver Canucks made a massive round of cuts on Sunday, sending 20 players to the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL.
The biggest name on the list of cuts is Vasily Podkolzin, the team's tenth-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, but he's not the only significant player cut on Sunday. Prospects Danila Klimovich, Aatu Räty, Akito Hirose, Arshdeep Bains, and Aidan McDonough were also assigned to Abbotsford, while defencemen Jett Woo, Matt Irwin, and Jack Rathbone were placed on waivers.
That brings the Canucks down to a roster of 26 players — just three away from the 23-man roster limit.
EDIT: The Canucks announced after Sunday morning's practice that Arturs Šilovs has also been sent down to the Abbotsford Canucks, leaving 25 players on the roster.
Let's break down the cuts and what they mean for the Canucks and the players involved.
Podkolzin was given every chance to make the Canucks. At the start of training camp, he was given the plumb position of playing with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser.
The problem is that Podkolzin didn't do anything with the opportunity at camp and he quickly lost that spot. In the preseason, he was largely invisible but, when he was noticeable, it was for the wrong reasons. There were missed assignments in the defensive zone and didn't accomplish much of anything in the offensive zone.
It was an immensely disappointing performance from Podkolzin, especially because he's already 22 years old and has over 100 NHL games under his belt. The effort is there for Podkolzin but the results are not.
This season could be a significant turning point for Podkolzin. The Canucks need him to have a breakout season in the AHL and prove that he has the potential to be an impact player in the NHL.
It was thought heading into camp that Akito Hirose would compete to be on the left side of the Canucks' third pairing but he never got much of a chance to earn that role. He got into just one preseason game — the lopsided 10-0 loss to the Calgary Flames.
That likely speaks to an organizational belief that Hirose needs time in the AHL before he's ready for full-time duty in the NHL. Hirose is 6'0" but very slight and it affects his ability to win puck battles down low on the boards.
Still, Hirose had a strong showing at the Young Stars Classic and could play a major role in Abbotsford. With his poise with the puck and potentially some power play time, Hirose could quickly earn himself a call-up to the Canucks.
While Arturs Šilovs was not part of the initial round of cuts on Sunday, he was sent down to Abbotsford after Sunday morning's practice. The Canucks clearly wanted to give Thatcher Demko the day off, so kept Šilovs around for the morning.
Šilovs only appeared in one preseason game and was lit up for seven goals by the Calgary Flames. It wasn't really his fault, as he was playing behind a predominantly AHL lineup and the Flames had dressed a strong roster.
In any case, Šilovs wasn't going to win the backup job from veteran Casey DeSmith, who the Canucks acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Tanner Pearson. He earned the starting job in Abbotsford last season and played well in a brief call-up to the NHL. The Canucks have high hopes for Šilovs and will want him to be playing as much as possible rather than sitting on the bench as a backup.
Canucks fans could still see Šilovs with the Canucks this season, however, as he will be the likely call-up in case of injury to either Demko or DeSmith.
Jett Woo, Matt Irwin, Sheldon Dries, Jack Rathbone, and Zach Sawchenko on waivers
There's a chance that not all five of these players make it to Abbotsford, as they could get claimed off waivers, but it's a small chance.
Matt Irwin might be the most surprising cut, as he played 61 games for the Washington Capitals last season and was the presumed seventh defenceman coming into camp — the type of veteran that can be safely stashed in the press box without complaint and be ready to play reliable minutes when injuries strike. For that reason, he might be the most likely player to get claimed of this group.
Irwin showed some toughness in the preseason but also frequently got stuck in the defensive zone. Perhaps he wasn't quite as reliable defensively as the Canucks were hoping. Or, more positively, he likely just got beat out for the job by younger defencemen.
Jack Rathbone is not one of those younger defencemen and the writing is on the wall for the once-promising prospect. After a point-per-game season in the AHL in 2021-22, Rathbone regressed last season. Expected to finally break through to the NHL, he only played 11 games in the NHL and had some significant defensive struggles in those games.
There's still hope that Rathbone figures things out and becomes an NHLer but that hope is growing fainter.
Jett Woo had a bounceback season in Abbotsford last year, putting up 21 points in 68 games and playing some significant minutes for head coach Jeremy Colliton. He followed that up with a strong performance at the Young Stars Classic, looking once again like a legitimate NHL prospect after some shaky development years in the AHL.
Unfortunately, once the pace quickened in the NHL preseason, Woo struggled to adapt. He was on the ice for five of the Calgary Flames' 10 goals in the Canucks' first preseason game and that was it. Still, Woo has a chance to play NHL games this season if injuries strike, as he's moved himself up the depth chart.
Sheldon Dries is a fine depth piece and a dominant AHLer but it's a good sign for the Canucks that he got cut, as it means they have improved centre depth. The additions of Pius Suter and Teddy Blueger meant it was a longshot for Dries to make the roster but he's a fine option to have in the AHL as a potential call-up.
Zach Sawchenko is an AHL backup goaltender, which is the likely role he'll play behind Arturs Silovs in Abbotsford. If he plays NHL games this season, that'll meant the Canucks are in some serious trouble because at least three other goaltenders have gotten injured.
Danila Klimovich, Aatu Räty, Max Sasson, Linus Karlsson, Arshdeep Bains, and Aidan McDonough
This group of six players should play a major role in Abbotsford this season and any one of them could earn a call-up to the Canucks.
Danila Klimovich, Max Sasson, and Aidan McDonough have played on a line together right from the start of the Young Stars Classic and could be the top line in Abbotsford. Klimovich is the power forward, Sasson is a solid two-way player with some playmaking chops, and McDonough is a pure sniper, so it's a classic combination.
The 20-year-old Klimovich is entering his third AHL season and looks poised for a breakout year. The 23-year-old Sasson will compete with Aatu Räty to be a call-up option at centre if Pius Suter or Teddy Blueger gets injured. The 23-year-old McDonough has an undoubtedly NHL-caliber shot — the question is whether his skating can keep up with the pace of the NHL.
Räty looked like he took a step with his skating, which was always the major knock against him as a prospect. The 20-year-old centre is a good bet to play at least a few games for the Canucks this season.
Linus Karlsson showed a lot of strength on the puck and a steady, reliable game, but it's still questionable whether the 23-year-old winger has the speed for the NHL game. He was quite good in the AHL last season with 24 goals and 49 points in 72 games, so will likely once again play a big role in Abbotsford.
The Canucks love Arshdeep Bains and it's easy to see why. He's a hard worker and eminently coachable. The Canucks gave him an opportunity to earn a bottom-six job but the competition on the wings was just a bit too fierce.
I have some concerns about Bains' east-west mobility — he's a little stiff and awkward when moving side-to-side and NHL skaters will take advantage of that — but the 22-year-old wingers consistent effort level and attention to detail will get him some NHL games at some point.
Tristen Nielsen, Josh Bloom, Filip Johansson, and Nikita Tolopilo
It's less likely that Canucks fans see any of these four players in the NHL this season but not out of the question. Notably, none of these four players got into the lineup for any preseason games.
Tristen Nielsen, as Chris Faber would say, has that dawg in him. The 23-year-old earned himself an NHL contract with pure dogged determination for the Abbotsford Canucks and that determination may eventually get him to the NHL.
Josh Bloom was a bit underwhelming at the Young Stars Classic. The 20-year-old winger has great wheels but didn't show much touch with the puck. He'll likely start in a bottom-six role for Abbotsford and will have to earn himself a larger opportunity.
Filip Johansson had some struggles at Young Stars and will need to establish himself in the AHL in his first season in North America. The former Minnesota Wild first-round pick is a long way down the depth chart with the likes of Cole McWard, Noah Juulsen, and Jett Woo ahead of him on the right side on defence, so he's got some work to do.
Nikita Tolopilo is a compelling prospect, with the size and athleticism of an NHL starting goaltender. The trouble is that the Canucks have a lot of goaltenders. It's likely that Tolopilo will start the season in the ECHL so he can get a lot of starts rather than competing for the crease in Abbotsford with Arturs Silovs.
Chase Wouters, Quinn Schmeimann, and John Stevens
Wouters, Schmeimann, and Stevens don't have NHL contracts with the Canucks but are signed to AHL deals in Abbotsford.
Of the three, Wouters has the best chance of earning an NHL contract. The 23-year-old centre is the captain of the Abbotsford Canucks and plays a steady two-way game, with particular aptitude on the penalty kill. He doesn't rack up points but as a defence-first centre, there's always a chance that he can earn an NHL look for a fourth-line role in the future.
The remaining players on the Canucks roster
By my calculations, Sunday's 21 cuts leave just 25 players remaining in camp. Here's the list:
Phil Di Giuseppe
The Canucks' roster picture becomes even more clear when this remaining roster gets put into potential lines and pairings. Here are the lines from Sunday's practice, according to Sportsnet 650's Brendan Batchelor:
Beauvillier - Pettersson - Kuzmenko
Di Giuseppe - Miller - Boeser
Höglander - Suter - Garland
Åman/Joshua - Blueger - Studnicka
Hughes - McWard
Soucy - Hronek
Cole - Myers
Wolanin/Brisebois - Juulsen
Demko had the day off after starting Saturday's game against the Edmonton Oilers, so Šilovs took his place at practice. Mikheyev also skated in a non-contact jersey. Head coach Rick Tocchet confirmed that Mikheyev will not play in any of the remaining preseason games and it's up in the air whether he will be ready for opening night on October 11.
If Mikheyev isn't ready to go, then the Canucks' forward lines are essentially set, with Åman and Joshua competing for a spot on the fourth line. Against all odds, Studnicka, who had a terrible season last year, seems to have earned his spot in the lineup with an excellent preseason performance.
When Mikheyev returns, the easiest player to send down to the AHL will be Åman, who is exempt from waivers. In fact, Åman might still need to be sent down for cap-related reasons.
The remaining battles are on defence. McWard remains on the top pairing with Hughes despite taking three penalties on Saturday and it seems like the Canucks want to give him a longer look. He could still get cut and sent to the AHL, leaving one of Soucy, Cole, Hronek, Myers, or Juulsen to play with Hughes.
The battle, then, is for the seventh and eighth spots on defence, with Wolanin, Brisebois, and Juulsen competing for those spots. The Canucks are unlikely to use McWard in that role, preferring to get him big minutes in the AHL if he's not going to be in the Canucks lineup.
Wolanin has struggled at times in the preseason but was the AHL defenceman of the year last season. Tocchet seems to really like Brisebois and the reliable, hard-working 26-year-old could be a good candidate as a seventh defenceman. As for Juulsen, he showed last season that he can play with Hughes in a pinch, which is a pretty nice option to have sitting in the press box.
In fact, as a right-hand shot, Juulsen is almost certain to be the extra defenceman on the right side. If McWard makes the team, the final spot will likely come down to Wolanin or Brisebois. If McWard gets sent down to Abbotsford, both will stay on the roster.