The Vancouver Canucks’ season may have just ended but the team is already looking to next season.
On Tuesday, the Canucks announced several key dates for the 2022 offseason, such as the NHL Entry Draft and the opening of free agency in July. That’s all standard and run-of-the-mill.
The real announcement is that the Canucks will be bringing back the Young Stars Classic to Penticton in September.
"It was a priority," said president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford. "Everybody that was here prior to us getting here really pushed for it. It's something that we've always likes...I think it's so good because it gives some of those players a head start on the big camp. They get to play against players more their own age and it really prepares them for big camp.
"So, I'm excited and excited about the fact that we can move around the province a little bit and let other people see our players."
The annual rookie camp and tournament in Penticton was a highlight for Canucks fans, whether attending in person or watching the games streamed online. It was a rare chance to see the team’s prospects in action in one place and the first look at newly-drafted prospects. For diehard fans, it was the first sign of the season to come and provided the first opportunity to watch Canucks games after a long offseason, as the Canucks prospects faced those of the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
In 2018, for instance, Canucks fans got their first chance to see Elias Pettersson play in a Canucks jersey. He scored three goals, including a very familiar-looking one-timer from the right faceoff circle on the power play. It was a sign of what was to come.
2018 was the last year for the Young Stars event, however, and it was held without the Flames or Oilers, who held their own rookie event in Alberta. In 2019, the Canucks had difficulty securing opponents, with the Flames and Oilers again holding their own event and the Jets flew east to participate in a rookie showcase in Ontario.
The Canucks intended to bring back the tournament in 2020 with all four teams participating, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation. There were hopes to bring it back in 2021, but those plans never went very far with so much uncertainty still surrounding how COVID-19 might affect the coming hockey season.
As a result, prospects like Quinn Hughes, Vasily Podkolzin, and Nils Höglander never participated in the Young Stars tournament.
Now, after a four-year gap, the tournament will make its return. It will run from September 14 to 18 and is hoped to feature four teams.
"We have two other teams committed at this point," said Rutherford. "Ideally, we'd like to have four but we don't right now. There is one team thinking about it. I don't know what more there is to think about but they'll let us know at some point."
The city of Penticton previously estimated that the Young Stars Classic had a financial impact of around $2 million per year.