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Canucks Camp Cuts: The first cut is the deepest

Breaking down the 16 roster cuts the Vancouver Canucks made on the weekend.

The Vancouver Canucks have made their first roster cuts, sending 16 players packing.

This isn’t exactly breaking news. The Canucks made their first round of cuts in the middle of their preseason game against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. It’s almost as if they do these things without taking into consideration the schedules of busy hockey writers at all. 

Fortunately, none of the players cut were actively playing in the game on Sunday, so no one had to be pulled off the ice and told to head to the dressing room and then keep going right out of the building and down Highway 1 to Abbotsford. 

The Canucks started with a 54-player roster heading into training camp, so this cut pares them down to a more manageable 38 players. That includes injured players like Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte, who are not expected to be ready for the start of the season, and the absent Travis Hamonic. The Canucks will need to get down to a 23-player roster by the start of the season, so more cuts are coming.

As per tradition, PITB will be breaking down all of the cuts throughout training camp and the preseason. While none of the cuts are surprising — none of the players cut had a realistic shot at making the Canucks’ roster — the timing is odd. 

Typically, the first cuts would actually come during training camp — which is why this series is called “camp cuts” — as players who clearly weren’t making the team were sent to their respective clubs in time for their own training camps. That’s not the case this year, perhaps because the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp has acted as a de facto Abbotsford Canucks training camp as well.

Still, it’s an odd situation for two players who were cut and assigned to their Junior teams.

Assigned to Junior: Viktor Persson and Connor Lockhart

Swedish defenceman Viktor Persson was meant to play for the Kamloops Blazers last season but the COVID-19 pandemic left him in Sweden, where he played in three different leagues.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” said Persson. “It was good getting the chance to play on different levels, a different way of playing it was a good experience.”

“I never played against men, I’ve played junior all my life,” he added. “To adapt to the way they play was a good thing.”

This season, he’ll be back in Junior, albeit on a different continent, as he finally joins the Blazers. Unfortunately, he’s already missed their training camp and preseason. Heck, they’ve already played their regular season opener against the Prince George Cougars.

Perhaps it was more valuable for Persson to spend more time with the Canucks coaching staff than to get acquainted with his new team in Kamloops.

Regardless, Persson should play a major role for the Blazers as he adapts to the North American ice and style of play. At Canucks camp, he showed an array of intriguing tools but did look rather raw. It will be a crucial year of development for him.

Connor Lockhart, selected in the sixth round of the most recent draft, also missed his team’s preseason, though he attended their training camp prior to coming to Vancouver. He’ll arrive in time for the start of the Erie Otters’ regular season. 

For Lockhart, it will be a relief just to play: he missed his entire draft year when the OHL cancelled the 2020-21 season, which is a big reason why he was available in the sixth round for the Canucks. That makes him one of the most intriguing prospects to watch in the coming year.

“He’s a hungry kid,” said AHL general manager Ryan Johnson. “He’s hungry to prove us right by picking him and prove everybody else wrong...I want him leaving here with as much information, as much support heading into the season to make up the time that he needs.”

It's interesting to note who didn't get sent down to junior: Danila Klimovich. The Canucks' top pick from the most recent draft is likely to play in the QMJHL this season but is eligible to play in the AHL. Klimovich had a very good training camp.

That said, it's not worth reading too much into him staying with the Canucks. Green reported that Klimovich was dealing with a minor injury that kept him out of the preseason. The team might want to get one more look at him in a preseason game once he recovers before making a decision on where he plays this season.

Loaned to Abbotsford: Karel Plasek, Arturs Silovs, Jett Woo

Three young prospects were sent directly to the Abbotsford Canucks without having to go through waivers.

Karel Plasek was one of the more pleasant surprises of training camp. Plasek had limited success in the Czech league, with 10 points in 44 games, so it was tough to know what to expect from the winger.

At camp, Plasek excelled, showcasing a high-pace game with some sneaky-good hands, earning a rare shoutout from head coach Travis Green.

“I thought Plasek had a pretty good game today,” said Green after the team’s first scrimmage. “As a young guy, it’s not always easy to stick out but I liked his energy and he looked like he can make a play.”

Plasek still has a long way to go to make the NHL and Abbotsford is the best place for him to start that journey but he looks more promising than expected. 

Arturs Silovs looked very good in his one preseason game in Spokane, with a calm, controlled game that still allowed for some acrobatics to make desperation saves when the situation called for it. It looked like his time with Ian Clark last season and in training camp was well spent.

“I thought Silovs gave us some good minutes in net,” said Green, when asked who stood out in that game.

Silovs might have a tough time earning starts with Mikey DiPietro ahead of him in Abbotsford, but if injuries strike in Vancouver and DiPietro gets called up, he looks like he’ll be able to hold the fort in net. 

Jett Woo looks set to play big minutes in Abbotsford and should immediately become a fan favourite with his physical brand of defence. He had a strong camp and got into one preseason game, where he did not look out of place.

Woo showcased his smooth skating against the Calgary Flames in the second game of the preseason and also created some havoc offensively with his willingness to activate off the point.

There could be an opportunity for Woo to earn his way up to the NHL on the right side of the Canucks’ defence if injuries strike but he’ll have to battle Madison Bowey and Kyle Burroughs for the opportunity. He might be better served by a full season in the AHL after his rookie season was so abbreviated by the pandemic.

On Waivers: John Stevens, Devante Stephens, Sheldon Rempal, Spencer Martin

These four players are also heading to the Abbotsford Canucks but need to clear waivers first. None of the four are going to be claimed.

These four players are essentially just AHL depth. John Stevens played two seasons with the Utica Comets and is a sold AHL centre with leadership capabilities. Devante Stephens provides some size and depth to the defence.

Sheldon Rempal is a little more interesting, with a handful of NHL games to his name and a high-energy game with some playmaking ability. He stood out at times at training camp and could be an option for a call-up for the Canucks in a depth role. At the very least, he should be fun to watch for fans in Abbotsford.

Spencer Martin is the Canucks’ fifth-string goaltender. He’s played three games in the NHL, but has otherwise bounced between the AHL and ECHL. With him, Silovs, and DiPietro in Abbotsford, it will be interesting to see if one of them gets sent to the ECHL. 

Martin is the likeliest candidate to get loaned to an ECHL team but the Canucks might also want Silovs to get more playing time than he would as a backup in Abbotsford.

Released from ATO: Tristen Nielsen, Ethan Keppen, Chase Wouters, Alex Kannok Leipert

These four players are not signed to the Canucks — at least, not the Vancouver Canucks. They’re on AHL contracts in Abbotsford and were in camp on amateur tryout (ATO) contracts.

All four are young enough that they’re intriguing because there’s still the possibility of them playing well enough to earn an NHL deal.

Tristen Nielsen and Alex Kannok Leipert are known to Vancouver fans from their time with the Giants in the WHL. Kannok Leipert was the captain of the Giants for the last two seasons and Nielsen was one of their top scorers.

Kannok Leipert had some nice moments at training camp and looks like he might have some potential as a defensive defenceman, with the added bonus that he’s a right-hand shot, while Nielsen has enough skill that he could potentially work his way up the Abbotsford lineup.

Chase Wouters was the first player signed by Abbotsford. He also made some noise at camp, earning a look in the preseason and scoring a goal against the Flames on a nice setup by Jonah Gadjovich.

Wouters was the captain of the Saskatoon Blades over the past three seasons and played a  total of five seasons with the Blades. At the end of last season, the Blades let him know that they would be retiring his number,  which shows just how much he meant to the team and the city.

As a centre in a Canucks system that doesn’t have a lot of centres, Wouters could get a lot of opportunities. He’s a sound two-way player with a competitive edge and high-pace game.

Finally, there’s Ethan Keppen, who was selected by the Canucks in the fourth round in 2019. While the Canucks didn’t sign him to an NHL contract, they’ve given him a chance to prove himself with an AHL deal.

It’s been a difficult path for Keppen, who had to do everything on a terrible Flint Firebirds team in his draft year, then suddenly got eclipsed by other players the following season. There’s a sense that he never truly got a chance to show what he could do in the OHL.

Last season, Keppen got 7 games in the AHL with the Utica Comets but it was in a tough situation where he wasn’t in the best shape and struggled. 

With this AHL deal in Abbotsford, Keppen is getting another opportunity to prove the Canucks right. He didn’t make much noise during training camp but he’ll be an interesting player to watch in Abbotsford.

Released from PTO: Jarid Lukosevicius, Vincent Arseneau, Ashton Sautner

Finally, there are three players who were released from professional tryout (PTO) contracts and will also be heading to the Abbotsford Canucks. These are veteran AHL players who are not likely to play in the NHL in the future but could play important roles in Abbotsford.

Jarid Lukosevicius has a marvellous name and put up a decent amount of points during his college career in the NCAA. That has yet to translate in two seasons in the AHL but he could potentially score some goals in Abbotsford.

Vincent Arseneau is big and tough, which are his two best attributes, but he’s got the hands and skating to play at the AHL level. He’s a fiend on the forecheck and is willing to drop the gloves, both of which should earn him some fans in Abbotsford.

Ashton Sautner is a long-time Canucks prospect, even getting into 23 NHL games with the Canucks over the past four years. He might have played more if he didn’t get injured in his first game in the 2019-20 season.

Sautner didn’t get re-signed, however, and had to settle for an AHL deal in Abbotsford. On the plus side, his experience should make him a key player for Abbotsford but he’s unlikely to work his way back to the NHL at this point in his career.