Travel delays caused Arshdeep Bains to miss the AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday but he made up for it by showcasing his skills in the AHL All-Star Challenge on Monday.
Bains, an undrafted free agent signing out of the WHL by the Vancouver Canucks, currently leads the Abbotsford Canucks in scoring by a wide margin. His 40 points in 40 games are 13 more than the next-best player on the team and he's in the top-ten in AHL scoring.
Accordingly, he was an obvious choice to represent the Canucks at the 2024 AHL All-Star Game and he made the most of his All-Star experience, leading all scorers with five points — two goals and three assists — during a mini round-robin tournament between the AHL's four divisions. That included the game-winning goal for the Pacific Division in the final championship game with just 12.9 seconds on the clock.
That earned Bains the honour of being named the AHL All-Star Challenge MVP.
"It was great," said Bains. "From the start, it was a blast. Every single game went into overtime or was a one-goal game, so it was really competitive."
It's a nice feather in the cap for the Surrey native, who keeps on taking steady steps toward a potential NHL future. He's been underrated and overlooked throughout his hockey career but hasn't let it hold him back.
Bains wasn't just undrafted in the NHL; he was also undrafted in the WHL, only held on the Red Deer Rebels' protected list after attending their training camp. He earned a call-up to the Rebels at 17 when he utterly dominated AAA hockey, racking up 16 goals and 56 points in just 22 games.
But Bains continued to be a late bloomer, as he didn't do much of anything in his draft year ahead of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He had just 18 points in 63 games for the Red Deer Rebels and failed to capture the attention of any scouts. A lone scouting report from Hockey Prospect's 2019 Black Book said it all: "Not consistently noticeable."
He took steps forward in his second and third seasons with the Rebels, putting up 51 points in 63 games, then another 21 points in 23 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, but that still wasn't enough to earn him much NHL attention.
It was only in his final year in the WHL that Bains broke out in a big way. He scored 43 goals and 112 points in 68 games to lead the WHL in scoring, earning an entry-level contract from his hometown Canucks.
That steady progression has continued in the AHL. Told that he would have to adapt his game from being a scorer to more of a two-way player to become successful in professional hockey, Bains evolved at a rapid rate, earning the respect of the Canucks' coaching and development staff.
“He's a really important player for us who can play in all situations,” said Abbotsford head coach Jeremy Colliton. "He's transformed his game to be a two-way, responsible, heart and soul kind of player.”
Bains was even asked to speak to his fellow prospects at the Canucks' 2023 development camp, as the Canucks essentially held him up as the paragon of their prospect development system.
"Why he was chosen to speak is just how open he was to feedback and willing to take that message and adapt it and do everything he can," said Colliton. "His humility in understanding the work he needed to put in to establish himself as a pro. Now, he was one of our most important players at the end of the year. That’s an important lesson for everyone.”
Instead of just becoming a two-way grinder, however, Bains continued to grow his game and, just like he did in AAA hockey and in the WHL, he became a top-tier scorer. It's a solid sign that Bains might be more than just an AHL All-Star.
It seems like it's just a matter of time before he gets an opportunity to prove himself in the NHL with the Canucks. While his teammate, Linus Karlsson, has been running the shuttle between Abbotsford and Vancouver when the Canucks have needed another forward this year, it seems certain that Bains will eventually get his chance, particularly with how highly the Canucks' development staff speak of him.
For Bains, it will be just another chance to prove himself.