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Canucks Camp Cuts: Lockhart, Young, and Kudryavtsev head back to junior

Connor Lockhart, Ty Young, and Kirill Kudryavtsev will report back to Major Junior, while five invitees also got cut.
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Kirill Kudryavtsev of the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds.

They say the first cut is the deepest, but that’s not exactly true when it comes to NHL training camps. The first cut is pretty shallow, slicing away players that were already on the fringes of the roster.

The Vancouver Canucks made their first cuts on Monday and, as always, Pass it to Bulis is here to explain who got cut and why.

The “why” isn’t particularly hard with the early cuts, though it can get harder as training camp and the preseason goes on. The first cut features just three players actually in the Canucks’ system — prospects Connor Lockhart, Ty Young, and Kirill Kudryavtsev — and the rest were invitees on tryout contracts.

Lockhart heading to Peterborough

Connor Lockhart heads into the 2022-23 season with a lot to prove. He was a late round gamble for the Canucks in the 2021 draft, taking him in the sixth round even though he hadn’t played a single game in the 2020-21 season when it was cancelled by the OHL.

Lockhart had 23 goals and 48 points in 64 games last season — fine production for a junior player but not the type of production that suggests he has an NHL future. The 19-year-old centre is undersized at 5’9” and needs to show a lot more skill in the coming year. He showed flashes of that skill at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton this year, but not enough.

He’ll have an opportunity in the coming season. He requested a trade from the Erie Otters, where he felt his development was stagnating, and the Peterborough Petes traded a bigger younger winger and two draft picks to acquire him for the coming season. Now he needs to prove that the trade request was worth it.

“There were times last year where I felt like I was kind of forced to dump the puck in or make the safe play. My goal is to play in the NHL and any NHL team can find a player to make plays that are safe,” said Lockhart to the Peterborough Examiner. “Obviously it’s good to make safe plays sometimes, I understand that and that it’s part of the game. I feel there are times where I could have used my skills and showcased why I was drafted where I was and I just wasn’t able to do that.”

Young looking to steal the number one spot

Ty Young showed a little of why the Canucks are so high on him at the Young Stars Classic. He has all the attributes that goaltending coach Ian Clark loves in his goaltenders: ideal size at 6’3”, excellent athleticism, and an innate competitive nature that drives him to do whatever it takes to stop the puck.

In his one Young Stars appearance, Young made 28 saves on 29 shots and was unlucky on the one puck that got past him. He certainly didn’t look like a goaltender that had an .899 save percentage last season.

The challenge for Young will be taking the coaching he’s received from Ian Clark and applying it to steal the number one job with the Prince George Cougars from New Jersey Devils prospect Tyler Brennan. That will be tough, as Brennan is the older of the two and is heading into his over-age season.

Kudryavtsev hopes to add more offence

One of the most pleasant surprises at the Young Stars Classic was the play of Kirill Kudryavtsev, the Canucks’ seventh-round pick at the 2022 draft. Players taken that late in the draft frequently have significant flaws that prevented them from getting picked higher, but Kudryavtsev looked smooth and polished, with a mature defensive game and an intelligent approach to breaking out the puck.

It’s not surprising that Kudryavtsev was one of the earliest cuts from the Canucks camp. He’s a long way from playing in the NHL and it’s best that he gets back to the Soo Greyhounds to prepare for his OHL season, where he’ll look to take a step forward in the offensive zone.

“I think I’ve played pretty well, but I can still be better,” said Kudryavtsev at the end of last season. “I need to work on my offence.”

According to his associate coach, Jordan Smith, Kudryavtsev came to the Greyhounds as a defensive defenceman, but he’s been given the green light to do more offensively. Now it’s a matter of seeing how he can build on the 39 points in 68 games he had last season.

“He’s got a great shot, he’s heads up all the time with the puck, he has the ability to make plays,” said Smith, who also praised his excellent positioning defensively, suggesting that the criticisms the defenceman has received for occasional “lackadaisical” play have more to do with being in the right place at the right time and not needing to constantly hustle to chase the play.

Kudryavtsev could quickly climb the Canucks’ prospect depth chart on defence with a big season with the Greyhounds.

Invitees head to Abbotsford and elsewhere

Two of the invitees released on Monday already have AHL contracts and will report to the Abbotsford Canucks: Yushiro Hirano and Chad Nychuk.

Hirano is a great story — last season with the Abbotsford Canucks, he became the first Japanese-born player to score a goal in the AHL. He’s aiming to become the first Japanese-born skater to play in the NHL, following in the footsteps of Yutaka Fukufuji, the first Japanese-born goaltender to play an NHL game. 

He faces an uphill battle to get to the NHL, as he’s already 27 years old and only just stuck in the AHL last season after primarily playing in the ECHL since coming over to North America in 2018. He’s overcome some long odds just to get to where he is today, however, and he’s piled up points at all levels with his excellent shot. If he can get prime minutes in Abbotsford, maybe he’ll keep climbing all the way up to Rogers Arena.

Nychuk was one of the top-scoring defencemen in the WHL last season with 71 points in 64 games, earning him an AHL contract in Abbotsford. He has all sorts of offensive skill but he showed some warts defensively at the Young Stars Classic. That will be the challenge in his career — developing his two-way game so he can be relied upon to play big minutes at the AHL level.

“I learned pretty quick that in order to make it to the next level, I had to be able to take care of both ends,” said Nychuk after signing with Abbotsford. “The last few years I have mainly been focusing on that and hopefully I can keep that moving forward.”

The other three invitees released from camp are defencemen Matt Anderson and Dylan MacPherson and winger Cole Shepard.

Shepard is the most intriguing of the three. He has some high-end offensive talent but has missed some significant time over the past couple of seasons due to hip surgeries. Now fully healthy, Shepard is heading to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL after a trade from the Vancouver Giants last week.

This will be a big season for Shepard, as he looks to rack up the points as an over-age player and catch the attention of an NHL team to earn a contract.

Anderson is a defensive defenceman with minimal upside who is heading to the South Carolina Stringrays in the ECHL.

Dylan MacPherson has spent the last three seasons in the ECHL but he doesn’t appear to have a contract for next season. The Abbotsford Canucks have yet to release their training camp roster — perhaps MacPherson will get an invite.

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